16 of the hottest destinations in 2016

The aluminum sides of the Victory Taco trailer in the parking lot of the new Lark Hotel is decorated with colorful logos ...
Mark Boster

The aluminum sides of the Victory Taco trailer in the parking lot of the new Lark Hotel is decorated with colorful logos and signs.

Elsewhere called. It misses you. In fact, it wants you to hit the road soon. Here are 16 destinations that look especially pleasing in 2016.

BOTSWANA

It's a smallish country, about the size of France, with not quite 2 million people. But Botswana, in southern Africa, has the Okavango Delta and the vast Central Kalahari Game Reserve. In fact, 38 percent of the country's territory is set aside for national parks, reserves and wildlife management areas. And as of 2016, it also has 50 years of independence. Before 1966 it was a British protectorate known as Bechuanaland.

Now, as a democracy with a reputation as the least corrupt country in Africa, Botswana is an increasingly popular destination for safari-seekers. In the delta, you can canoe past hippos. In Moremi Game Reserve, you see lions on the prowl. In Chobe National Park — well, you'll find about 50,000 elephants for starters. Among tour operators offering safaris here are Abercrombie & Kent, Micato Safaris and Wilderness Safaris.

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The stunning landscapes of Botswana. Image: AP

Info: www.botswanatourism.co.bw

BOZEMAN, MONT

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Bozeman makes a great gateway to Yellowstone National Park 80 miles south, in part because of Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport. Day by day, this college town (population: about 42,000) seems to sprout more reasons for a visitor to linger, especially if it's summer. The Lark Hotel, opened early this year, has transformed an old motor lodge into a snappy, stylish stop. In its parking lot is the gleaming silver trailer of Victory Taco, a casual food stand that's also a popular summertime ice cream stop for families strolling Main Street.

For more grown-up pleasures, there's Montana Ale Works, which serves hearty meals and about 40 draft microbrews in a big, old railroad freight building. Locals line up for breakfast at the Nova Cafe and Main Street Overeasy. But do remember to get to the national park. It was America's first, after all.

Info: www.downtownbozeman.org


Bozeman makes a great gateway to Yellowstone National Park. Plus they have ice creams and tacos in the same van. Image: Mark Boster

CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA

This Caribbean-facing coastal colonial city is far safer than it was in the dark days of Colombia's internal strife at the turn of the 21st century. The colonial city centre is rich with boutique hotels and restaurants made from old homes. La Vitrola is a long-standing see-and-be-seen restaurant; gourmets head for Carmen Cartagena (seven-course tasting menu, US$78 (NZ$122(, plus wine).

Instead of arriving by way of Bogota or Medellin, many US travellers now fly straight to Cartagena from New York's JFK (JetBlue), Fort Lauderdale (JetBlue) or Atlanta (Delta). Intercontinental, Radisson and the W brand opened hotels here in 2014. A stylish Delano Cartagena is due in 2016. The previously gritty Getsemani neighbour is especially trendy, with night spots and the upscale 10-room Casa Lola hotel (which occupies one building from the 17th century and one from the 19th).

For information on crime and safety, see the US State Department's June 5 warning on Colombia.

Info: www.ticartagena.com/en

DUBLIN, IRELAND

A hundred years ago, Dublin's Easter Rising launched Ireland on a path to independence from British rule.

The armed insurrection brought bloody results, including the execution of 16 leaders, but in 1922 the Irish Free State was established. In months ahead, dozens of centennial events are planned in Dublin, including an exhibition at the National Library of Ireland, lectures at Trinity College and various historical re-enactments. On Jan. 1, the Cross Border Orchestra - whose young players are gathered from Ireland and Northern Ireland - will deliver a Peace Proms performance in the Convention Centre.

The National Museum of Ireland will unveil "Proclaiming a Republic: the 1916 Rising" on On Easter Sunday, wreath-laying ceremonies are planned at spots throughout the city.

Info: www.ireland.ie; www.museum.ie


Ha'penny Bridge Dublin city. Image: Supplied

HARLEM, NEW YORK

For too long, Manhattan above 110th Street was terra incognita among tourists. But that's been changing as the area gains prosperity. Harlem Heritage Tours offers half a dozen itineraries, as does Big Apple Jazz Tours. On lively 125th Street, there's the Apollo Theatre, opened in 1934 and busy with music and comedy acts as well as Wednesday-night amateur acts. Nearby stands the Studio Museum in Harlem.

Sylvia's may be the neighbourhoods best-known restaurant (especially its Sunday gospel breakfast). But there's plenty more well-loved soul food at Amy Ruth's Restaurant and Miss Mamie's Spoonbread Too. The Abyssinian Baptist Church gets so many Sunday morning tourists that it urges visitors to attend 11 am. services, leaving the 9 am. service to members.

Info: www.Harlemheritage.com; www.bigapplejazz.com

IRAN

Many Americans are eager to visit Iran, and several tour operators are helping them. Iran is full of historic towers, mosques and squares, especially in the ancient city of Esfahan (where the atmospheric Abbasi Hotel is a favourite of western visitors). Persepolis, not far from the city of Shiraz, holds some of the most striking pre-Christian ruins outside of Egypt and Peru.

Both destinations are well removed from the Iraq and Afghanistan border zones, which the US State Department urges travellers to avoid. Tehran, more modern, includes many museums. To get there, travellers often fly to Istanbul, then continue on to Tehran or Esfahan. At Distant Horizons in Long Beach, Calif., owner Janet Moore says she is sending 14 groups to Iran in 2016 - twice the number she sent in 2014.

Info: www.distant-horizons.com

MYANMAR

The allure of its culture and scenery has never been in doubt. And now, after decades as an outcast nation controlled by the military, it's edging toward the mainstream. Myanmar's largest city, Yangon, is full of faded grandeur that will remind some people of an Asian Havana.

The Shwedagon Pagoda is a 335-foot golden spire (crowned with diamonds, rubies and sapphires), the nation's most revered Buddhist site. The plains of Bagan, along the Irrawaddy River, are dotted with hundreds of 11th to 13th century temples (and popular with balloonists). Irrawaddy cruises between Mandalay and Bagan are offered by Avalon Waterways, Belmond, Viking River Cruises and others. Lodging can be buggy and rustic, and infrastructure is shaky, but change is coming: Hilton opened hotels at Nay Pyi Taw, the capital, and Ngapali in 2014, with others to follow at Bagan, Inle Lake and Mandalay in 2017.

Info: www.myanmartourism.org; www.lat.ms/1QNND4W

NATCHEZ, MISS.

This small Mississippi city, about 170 miles upriver from New Orleans, celebrates its 300th anniversary in 2016. Natchez is on a bluff above the Mississippi and full of tragic, surprising history (it seems to be the oldest settlement on the river) and elegant architecture. It's also the southwestern end of the Natchez Trace Parkway, a 444-mile scenic highway through Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee that was once a Native American trail. No billboards, no businesses, no commercial vehicles but plenty of cars and bicycles.

Natchez has home and plantation tours; horse-drawn carriages; art galleries; a Museum of African-American History and Culture; more than 40 bed-and-breakfasts and Natchez National Historical Park. That park preserves Melrose, the antebellum Greek Revival mansion of plantation owner John McMurran, and the downtown brick home of African-American barber and diarist William Johnson. Johnson's brick home and McMurran's white-columned mansion give different windows onto life in Mississippi before the Civil War.

The city's birthday celebration at Fort Rosalie, Aug. 3, will feature a 300-gun salute.

Info: www.visitnatchez.org


An exterior view of the five star Montage Laguna Beach resort. Image: Allen J. Schaben 

ORANGE COUNTY, CALIF., COAST

This territory is about as pleasant as California gets. And as these four examples show, improvements continue. In Dana Point, the completion of a $30 million overhaul at the St. Regis Monarch Beach is expected in the spring. (It has two goats on site to supply fresh goat cheese for the restaurants.) Another five-star property, the Montage Laguna Beach, upgraded its spa offerings and further gilded its Catalina, Sunset and Aliso suites.

The former Aliso Creek Inn has been reborn as the Ranch at Laguna Beach. Many rooms opened late this year; the rest, as well as a lobby and restaurant, are due to open early next year. The property aims to be a four-star "ranch chic" resort (with nine-hole golf course and spa). Rates start at about US$249 a night, but once all work is complete, they'll jump up.

At Newport Beach's Island Hotel - the former Four Seasons property next to Fashion Island - a major upgrade was completed this year, delivering a new Oak Grill and bolder colours in the hotel's 292 rooms.

Info: www.stregismb.com

PARIS

Many travellers cancelled their Paris plans within a week of the terrorist attacks against the city (City tourism officials say the hotel occupancy rate dropped 15 points between Nov. 13 and Dec. 8.) Yet many other travellers, eager to send a message of defiance, resolved to get there as soon as possible.


Paris. Still one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Image: 123RF

You can join the latter group any time in 2016 and, chances are, get a warm welcome. The main attractions reopened quickly. At the Grand Palais, the blockbuster Picasso.Mania exhibition, which explores the artist's influence on those who came later, will stay up through Feb. 29. The Philharmonie de Paris, a 2,400-seat music venue in the Parc de la Villette, opened this year

And the Musee de l'Homme, which explores anthropology, reopened in October after six years of renovation. But Paris officials expect first-quarter tourism to be down 10 percent to 15 percent. That, along with the strong dollar, seems to be reducing hotel and tour operator prices.

Info: http://en.parisinfo.com

PENANG ISLAND, MALAYSIA

George Town (population about 500,000), Penang's main city, is a UNESCO World Heritage site with a 500-year history of trading and a hotel boom in progress. As many as 10 new hotels may open in 2016, and a bevy of cruise lines call at the port. With luck, this growth will leave intact the city's most historic architecture and encourage its lively food scene.

George Town was a British trading post from the early 19th century (hence its name) until Malaysian independence in 1957. It gives you British echoes, Malay essence, Chinese and Indian commercial traditions, scattered rickshaws and a stew of religions.

Info: www.tourismpenang.net.my

SAN SEBASTIAN, SPAIN

This city, part of the Basque Autonomous Community on Spain's northern coast, is one of Europe's two 2016 cities of culture. Stroll the creamy sands of Concha and Ondarreta beaches. Take a boat ride to uninhabited Isla Santa Clara. Try surfing at Zurriola Beach. Learn the word pintxo (peen-cho), which are the small plates that figure prominently in Basque cuisine.

Bilbao, home to the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum, is about 65 miles to the east. San Sebastian also has a long roster of civic celebrations, including notable festivals of jazz (July) and film (September).

Info: www.sansebastianturismo.com/en


A ferris wheel is the latest addition to the Seattle waterfront. Image: Mark Boster

SEATTLE

The Seattle light-rail system in April will add stops in Capitol Hill (perhaps the city's best restaurant neighbourhood) and the University of Washington. Later in the year, a new streetcar line will connect Capitol Hill to Pioneer Square. Meanwhile, Pike Place Market will sprout a new western entrance, terrace and plaza area called Marketfront, making room for 47 new market stalls. A Thompson hotel is due to open in 2016 at First Avenue and Stewart Street.

Info: www.visitseattle.org

STRATFORD-UPON-AVON, ENGLAND

Because a mysterious writer and actor named William Shakespeare died in 1616 at age 52, his hometown makes an especially ripe destination. The Royal Shakespeare Co., with two theatres in Stratford, will mount productions of Hamlet, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Cymbeline and Don Quixote (written by Shakespeare's Spanish contemporary Cervantes between 1604 and 1615). In Stratford, where legions visit Shakespeare's birthplace and grave, a "Shakespeare's Schoolroom" attraction is to open in April in the city's 15th century Guildhall. April 23, long celebrated as the day of the bard's birth and death, will be especially busy.

Info: www.shakespeare400.org

WASHINGTON, DC

When its doors open in the fall, the National Museum of African American History and Culture will become the 19th museum in the Smithsonian family, a project more than a decade in the making. Meanwhile, DC tourism leaders estimate that more than 200 restaurants have opened in the last three years - pretty good for a city just 10 miles square. Alongside the Potomac River, the long-closed Watergate Hotel is due to reopen in March after a $125 million renovation. Among its features: a rooftop bar (Top of the Gate); staff uniforms designed by "Mad Men" costumer Janie Bryant; and rates north of US$500 a night.

Also, no matter the results of the Nov. 8 election, there will be a new Trump in town - a Trump hotel, due to open in the fall after a $200 million renovation of the Old Post Office building.

Info: www.washington.org

WILLIAMSTOWN, KY.

Here's a destination for the traveller who's been everywhere and done everything. In Williamstown, a devoted creationist group is building an ark, a 510-foot-long wooden sailing vessel that matches the one described in Genesis. If all goes as planned, the Ark Encounter (and petting zoo) will open July 7, a date chosen based on another passage in Genesis. The builder is AiG (Answers in Genesis), which also runs a Creation Museum nearby in Petersburg, Ky.

The Cincinnati Enquirer estimated the project's cost at US$92 million, paid for with private money, loans and advance ticket sales. Tickets are US$40 per adult, plus US$10 parking.

Info: www.arkencounter.com

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