It’s a brave new world, so pack your bags and head off the beaten track for high adventure and unseen lands. Jaded world-traveller or enterprising explorer, it is time to opt for the uncommon: ditch the glitzy streets of Paris and New York and the plush resorts of Southeast Asia for destinations that pack a punch when it comes to novelty! Here’s our list of the top 5 places you must visit in 2016, if uncommon is appealing to you…
Dubrovnik, Croatia: Lord of cityscapes
Up and coming in Eastern Europe, Croatia is a magical country of wind-lashed coastlines, hoary castles and dreamy islands. Rivalling capital city Zagreb in popularity is the ‘Pearl of the Adriatic,’ Dubrovnik. Its stunning Old Town — with 16th century stone walls encircling masterpieces of Baroque architecture — has already sent Instagrammers into a sepia-tinted tizzy. Now, having served as a location in ‘Game of Thrones,’ and with the sets for ‘Star Wars: Episode VIII’ being assembled this very month, the historical limestone lanes of Dubrovnik are poised for global fame. Once a hotspot for literati like George Bernard Shaw, today there’s talk of the next Bond film being shot here! Get there before 007 does, rent an apartment and spend your days soaking up the sun on a calm Croatian beach.
Bay Islands, Honduras: An underwater wonderland
A lesser-known Caribbean paradise, the Bay Islands should be on the to-do list of all water-babies this year. Honduras is a Central American gem, with white-sand beaches, Mayan ruins and gorgeous colonial cities, but it is this archipelago that has a wealth of treasures underwater. From the massive whale sharks of Utila and the Caribbean reef sharks of Cara a Cara Point, to the huge crack in the reef at Mary’s Place on Roatan and the Jado Trader of Guanaja, there are options aplenty for a keen traveller to explore. Wade through wrecks, walls and reefs — and remember to look out for those sharks!
Baku, Azerbaijan: Eurasian glamour
Bound by the Caspian Sea and Caucasus Mountains, Azerbaijan is every bit as exotic as its name. A study in a variety of climate types within one country, its landscape spans dry desert to snowy mountains and subtropical zones. Baku, the capital city of Azerbaijan, is often described in breathless terms as a fusion of Parisian style and Middle Eastern extravagance, with additional dollops of ambition. The UNESCO-listed Old City (İçəri Şəhər) is flush with stone mansions, cafés and boutiques. Then, literally soaring above it all, are Baku’s showy masterpieces: swanky and hyper-modern trade and entertainment complexes like Park Boulevard and the International Mugham Center. Then there is the Flame Tower — its entire surface covered with LED screens — and the special-effects wonder that is the Crystal Hall concert complex where Shakira, JLo and Rihanna have already performed. Book for Baku; you will not be disappointed.
Jukkasjarvi, Sweden: Sub-zero adventure
With climate change being the topic du jour, the coldest extremes of our fast-heating planet are now some of the most interesting places to travel to. Think pristine wilderness, icy fjords and epic glaciers! The Swedish Lapland is particularly enticing; thanks to what could probably be one of the most jaw-dropping hotels in the world: Icehotel. Located in the village of Jukkasjarvi, by the Torneälven River, 200 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle, this hotel stands like a proud, colossal, shape-shifting igloo from late October to May, when temperatures begin rising above zero. Covering 5,000 square metres, Icehotel offers cold and heated accommodation and, if you survive a night in -5 degrees (near-naked inside a sleeping bag), there are many facilities to enjoy thereafter — from saunas and dog-sledding to renewing your wedding vows at the hotel’s own chapel!
Mongolia: The ultimate outback
Harsh nomadic life and rugged mountains define this landlocked country between Russia and China. You need the spirit of Genghis Khan to traverse its expansiveness, but for this you will be rewarded by a wild topography of wide-open spaces, turquoise blue skies, rivers, forests and deserts. We recommend you avoid the comfort of a Kempinski hotel (yes, they have those) in favour of a tiny ger (that’s a traditional tent). Once you’ve settled in, make time to visit a Mongolian monastery, hike, go horse trekking and lie around counting stars all night — one way or another, this is an uncommon experience that is sure to take your breath away.
Image Credits: miriadna.com, trover.com, nyt.com, cloudfront.net, media.gadventures.com