Tasmania is Australia 's island outpost, a remote destination that's ideal for thrill seekers looking for the next big adventure. To see Tassie's jaw-dropping, prehistoric-looking scenery, embark on the 80-kilometre Overland Track, a five- to six-day trek that snakes between Cradle Mountain and Lake St. Clair through moorlands, forests, glacial lakes and jagged mountains. Between December and March, hardcore rafters can conquer the treacherous rapids of the Franklin River (a full descent takes about a week). Those who are fainter of heart can stick to the island's wine route and explore the emerging art and architecture scene. According to James Lohan of the boutique hotel website Mr. and Mrs. Smith (mrandmrssmith.com), sybarites won't be disappointed: "The just-opened Mona Pavilions in Hobart teams state-of-the-art rooms with a winery and a future museum, and the Saffire resort, opening in 2010, is eagerly awaited by nature lovers and serenity-seekers alike." (Visit www.moorilla.com.au; www.saffire-freycinet.com.au.)
After years of being hammered by bad press about political protests, drug-related violence and swine flu, Mexico is primed for a comeback. The state of Oaxaca - home to the pretty colonial capital of Oaxaca City and the chilled-out surfing town of Puerto Escondido - made Lonely Planet's Top 10 Regions of 2010 list and Mexico City received a mention on Frommer's annual Top 10, citing that the city is "doing well what it's done well for over four centuries" as a cultural and ethnic nexus for Mexico and Latin America. David Lytle, Editorial Director of Frommers.com, adds that the capital is a solid destination for city-oriented travellers., with top museums, amazing archaeology, and perhaps the best food of any city in North America. And in case you thought the only accommodation options are all-inclusive, the hip Mexican hotel empire Grupo Habita has a clutch of chic boutique hotels from Mexico City ( www.hotelhabitamty.com) to Playa del Carmen and is planning to bring modernist glitz back to Acapulco with the reopening of the Boca Chica on Caleta Beach.
On the heels of Beijing's 2008 Olympics, Shanghai is getting ready for her own clos-up as host to this year's World Expo from May to October. "The World Expo may have lost some of its allure through the years," says travel blogger Keith Jenkins, "but the Chinese government is ensuring this one gets noticed with dazzling pavilions, mind-boggling architecture and state-of-the-art technology." The event is expected to draw 70 million visitors and 200 participating countries, including Denmark - which plans to bring in a million litres of seawater and Copehagen's Little Mermaid statue for its display. Don't leave without experiencing the Shanghai skyline from a boat on the Huangpu River, says Jenkins. "You'll pass the stately colonial buildings of the Bund and the glittering skyscrapers in Pudong. The never-ending flow of boats that ply the river will keep you entertained if your neck starts to ache from looking up at some of the tallest buildings in the world."
In February all eyes are on Vancouver as it hosts the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. With improvements in the Sea to Sky Highway and the recently expanded Skytrain zooming from airport to downtown in 25 minutes, Vancouver is ready for the influx of sports fans, athletes, and journalists. But the Olympics last only two weeks and B.C.'s real draw is its vast, stunning wilderness. To the north, the unspoiled archipelago of Haida Gwaii is Canada's Galapagos, an exquisite expanse of mountains, inlets, and old-growth rain forests with strong native roots and an unparalleled collection of vegetation and wildlife that includes whales, black bears, sea lions and some 1 million seabirds. The backcountry terrain of the Monashee Mountains and the more developed Revelstoke resorts are "it" spots for skiers and snowboarders. And with a vibrant restaurant scene in Vancouver and a growing epicurean community in the Okanagan Valley, B.C. is adding fine food and wine to its list of attractions.
The Nicaragua of the 1970s and 1980s - a country associated with the Sandinista revolution and the scandalous Iran-Contra affair - has evolved into Central America's eco-tourism it-spot. It's less well-trodden than Costa Rica and Guatemala, less Americanized than Panama and safer than El Salvador. It has active volcanoes that can be climbed, hot springs that are suitable for soaking, pristine white sand beaches, and lush rain forests that cover more than 20,000 square kilometres of the country. And hotels are arriving, including the newly opened Jicaro Island Ecolodge: a luxurious environmentally friendly collection of casitas that's situated on a private island in Lake Nicaragua. If you tire of beachcombing and of doing sun salutations on the floating yoga deck, then take a boat ride across the lake to Mombacho Volcano and hike up to the cloud forests for some wildlife watching.
More than 15 years after the fall of apartheid, South Africa makes history again as the FIFA World Cup descends on the African continent for the first time ever. While tickets and accommodation won't come easily (matches will be hosted in several cities in June and July), nothing compares to revelling in the festive World Cup atmosphere. "Cape Town will be the biggest winner," says Keith Jenkins, founder of the Velvet Escape travel blog ( www.velvetescape.com ). "The city's spectacular location, fronting Table Bay and backed by the iconic Table Mountain, its beaches, gastronomic delights, stunning scenery, and unique flora and fauna make it a dream holiday destination." For a less frenetic experience, consider escaping to South Africa's rugged bushland. Hikers head to the scenic Drakensberg, a 1,000-kilometre-long mountain range, and the lunar landscapes of Vensterval Trail in Richtersveld Transfrontier National Park which is considered the country's wildest national park. You can also opt for viewing elephants, white rhinos and lions in Hluhluwe- Imfolozi Park, South Africa's oldest game park.
We've been curious about them since Borat exposed his homeland to Hollywood. Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler tipped us off to the Central Asian republics' allure last year, calling them exotic, quirky and interesting. And even though we may not be able to pronounce them perfectly, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan are on our radar for good reason. These ex-Soviet republics are indeed unusual, a curious collision of a vast and diverse landscape, a legacy of harsh Communist rule and a history that's rich with ancient cultures, intricate Islamic architecture and nomadic tribes whose descendants still roam the land. Go now before the hotel developers and restaurant chains realize the potential.
There was a time not too long ago when Bhutan had no currency, no phones and no electricity. Until 1972, outsiders weren't allowed into the tiny Himalayan kingdom. But times have changed, and despite its isolated locale and seemingly archaic practices, Bhutan is now welcoming foreigners in its own way. Measures are in place to avoid overcrowding and to attract the "right crowd". This is not a place for budget travellers: Visitors have to pay a minimum of $200 U.S. per day, and sightseeing excursions are limited to guided visits to stunningly positioned Buddhist temples - the Tiger's Nest Monastery hangs on a sheer rock face - and mountain hikes like the Jhomolhari Trek, which passes through remote villages. In the end, it's a small price to pay to visit the happiest country in the world, where people value Gross National Happiness over Gross National Product.
Compared to well-trodden Argentina and Chile, Brazil is misunderstood. We want to samba during Carnaval and float down the Rio Negro, and yet we don't know much about the rest of this vast and diverse country. Future host of the FIFA World Cup (in 2014) and the Summer Olympics (in 2016), Brazil is inching its way up everyone's hot list, so you should get there before the tourist hordes. One of its best kept secrets is Fernando de Noronha. Only 750 visitors per day are allowed on this archipelago of white-sand beaches, windswept cliffs and colourful sea life; and they have to pay a hefty environmental tax for the privilege. For art connoisseurs, Sao Paolo's art biennal ( bienalsaopaulo.globo.com) is the second oldest in the world - it returns this fall - and the sprawling Inhotim ( www.inhotim.org.br) is a one-of-a-kind publicly funded cultural hybrid that includes a contemporary art gallery, sculpture park, botanical garden, and ecological reserve.
Off-the-beaten-path Laos is the forgotten country of southeast Asia. There are fewer tourists and fewer foreign influences than in Vietnam and Cambodia, which allows for less crowded and more authentic cultural experiences at ancient sites like the Wat Phou temple and in the capital city of Vientiane. Tony Wheeler recommends starting a Laotian adventure in Luang Prabang, the 'capital' of the northern region which has fine old French colonial buildings, charming little hotels, Buddhist temples and monasteries and superb bars and restaurant. "It feels like one of those towns in Tuscany or Provence that are too cute for the postcards," he says. In December 2009, China and Laos signed an agreement to build a cross-border nature reserve to better protect Asian elephants and other endangered species in the area. The reserve in Laos and China's Yunnan province will cover an area that is home to approximately 250 wild elephants.
The experts' favourites
BRAZIL: JAMES LOHAN Uxua Casa According to Lohan of the Mr. and Mrs. Smith website, this hotel - in the fishing village of Trancoso in Bahia - is Brazil's coolest new green hotel. The owner, Wilbert Das, is the former creative director of fashion label Diesel. www.uxua.com
LAOS: TONY WHEELER The Laos Elephant Festival takes place in Sainyabuli every February. Wheeler, the co-founder of the Lonely Planet guidebooks, was there in 2009 and may go again in 2010: "If you've ever wanted to get up close and personal with a pachyderm, this is the place to do it."
BHUTAN: KEITH JENKINS Chimi Lhakhang Jenkins, founder of the Velvet Escape travel blog, suggests you take a stroll through the rice fields and along the trail to this temple, also known as the Divine Madman temple. The Bhutanese, dressed in their finest attire, bring their offerings to the temple every Sunday. M.S.
Special to The Globe and Mail