There’s a phrase we like to use at Traveler to describe certain destinations: “It’s having a moment.” It comes up a lot—that near-impossible-to-pin-down, can’t-put-our-thumb-on-it logic as to why you should visit somewhere, now. We feel an urgent need to get to Namibia; to visit Japan before the crowds do in 2020; to return to Egypt, finally. Travel can be a meaningful way to be an ambassador. So do your part: These 19 editor-endorsed destinations—vetted by editors from both Traveler U.S. and Traveller U.K.—are the best places to go in 2019.
With its otherworldly landscapes (see: above) and elemental emptiness (this is one of the most sparsely populated countries on earth, ranking only marginally behind Mongolia), Namibia has always enthralled us. But there’s a fresh focus on the Southern African nation in 2019 as a pack of lodges have just opened across the country. Serious new safari outfit Natural Selection, whose founders previously set up the much-respected Wilderness Safaris, is behind two of them: tented Hoanib Valley Camp in Kaokoland in the remote north-west, and high-design Shipwreck Lodge on the Skeleton Coast.
A joint venture between local communities and the Giraffe Conservation Foundation, Hoanib Valley Camp was designed by Cate Simpson of Reflecting Africa, riffing off the color and textures of the setting. The interiors also incorporate the geometric patterns of the Himba people, whose temporary settlements dot the landscape between roaming endangered rhino, desert-adapted elephant and giraffe, onyx, springbok and jackal. Farther west, on the windswept sands, Shipwreck Lodge’s striking architecture is inspired by the numerous washed-up boats that are scattered along these wild shores. Just a kilometre from the rolling Atlantic Ocean, it’s a base for dune-climbing, beach-combing for whale bones, and spotting seal colonies. And right up in the Skeleton Coast’s northernmost reaches, where Namibia meets Angola, Wilderness Safaris’ Serra Cafema camp has reopened in the oasis of the Kunene River after a top-to-toe overhaul, with new thatched lodges on stilts above the riverbank.
Back near the capital Windhoek, Omaanda has just opened with 10 traditional-style round thatched huts set within the Zannier Reserve by N/a’an ku sê, a new 9,000-hectare private animal conservancy. It’s the first of two Namibian camps from French hotelier Arnaud Zannier, who was introduced to the country by Angelina Jolie, a fan of his exquisite Phum Baitang hotel near Siem Reap in Cambodia. The second, a tented camp called Sonop, will land in the southern Namib Desert in early 2019. Meanwhile, globetrotting members’ club Habitas has set up a dramatic hillside camp of contemporary, open-to-the-elements lodges in the wilderness of a 35,000-hectare reserve, about an hour from Windhoek airport, cementing Namibia’s place as the most exciting African destination right now. —Fiona Kerr
Istanbul and Bodrum, Turkey
We’ve heard it from our readers, and we happen to agree: It’s time to go back to Turkey. Istanbul’s new airport—expected to be the world’s largest when it’s finished—has opened its first phase and can start receiving 90 million passengers annually. On top of that, major cruise lines have announced they’ll return to Turkey after hitting pause on visiting the country over the last three years; welcoming them back is a new cruise port planned on the city’s Galata waterfront, also expected to open next year. The Galata waterfront is part of a larger development that will house the new Istanbul Modern museum as well as a new luxury hotel, from what we hear.
Down on the coast, meanwhile, a smattering of recently opened hotels are injecting new life into Bodrum—the glitzy resort spot long popular with vacationing Europeans for its sweeping views of the Aegean, luxurious hammams, old stone buildings, and drooping bougainvillea. Following the arrival of Six Senses Kaplankaya and a full renovation of the Mandarin Oriental earlier in the year, Ian Schrager’s Bodrum EDITION arrived this past summer, complete with three buzzy restaurants, rotating pop-up shops, visiting DJs, and one of the most impressive infinity pools in town. Bonus: You can tack on a few days in Greece, too, as Kos is just a 45-minute ferry ride away. —Corina Quinn and Lale Arikoglu
Siargao, The Philippines
The desire to skip town for a white-sand tropical paradise is universal—and for a time, everyone’s paradise was Boracay. The semi-remote island in the Philippines had a small stretch of sand, low-strung hammocks, and pastel sunsets every day. It was picture perfect…until it became the poster child for overtourism, with overcrowding, pollution, and, eventually, a complete closure to tourists for six months. Now, Siargao is Boracay before everyone found out—and better managed. This teardrop-shaped island has long been a surf mecca, with more than 15 world-class breaks (including the legendary Cloud 9) and a handful of locally run surf schools to keep beginners busy. The see-your-toes water is heaven for snorkelers, with healthy coral reefs teeming with life.
A handful of smaller, equally idyllic islands off the coast of Siargao, like secluded Mamon Island and non-sting jellyfish sanctuary Bucas Grande, are perfect for island hopping. Siargao is slightly harder to get to than other destination islands in the Philippines—there are no international flights, and travelers must connect through Manila or Cebu—but that’s a good thing. There are luxe accommodations, like the chic villas of Nay Palad Hideaway (formerly Dedon Island Resort), but it hasn’t been overbuilt (yet). Our readers voted Siargao the world’s top island in 2018. Go now—before everyone else does. —Megan Spurrell
In under 30 years, Berlin has gone from a bleak, gritty, and divided city to one of Europe’s buzziest cultural capitals with a thriving art, music, and food scene. The East Side Gallery Wall Museum, a raging nightlife, and eclectic food markets where you can get traditional German fare, mezze, and BBQ all in one place are reasons enough to visit anytime. But in 2019 Berlin will also be one of the epicenters of the Bauhaus Centennial, a series of events celebrating 100 years of the Bauhaus school of design—Germany’s most significant 20th-century cultural export and one of the most influential movements in modern design. Founded in Weimar in 1919, before moving to Dessau and finally to Berlin where it was shut down by the Nazis in 1933, the Bauhaus school promoted an interdisciplinary approach combining crafts with fine arts, architecture, and design. There are centennial festivities planned year round—the Opening Festival, Bauhaus Week, the Bauhaus-Archiv / Museum für Gestaltung’s special exhibit “Original Bauhaus” at Berlinische Galerie (while the museum itself gets a new wing), and more. So no matter when you go, you’re likely to catch at least one major event. When you need a break from all the art gazing, there’s no shortage of amazing restaurants and bars to choose from. Some of our current favorites include Buck and Breck, Ernst, 893 Ryōtei, and Bone in the not-to-miss Markthalle Neun. — Laura Giannatempo
Bhutan, for many (including some of our office’s most seasoned travelers), is still a Shangri-La of sorts: a mystical, possibly fictional place where the air is thick with incense and pristine hillside villages remain blissfully free of tourists. Thanks to the kingdom’s “High Value Low Impact” tourism policy, where visitors pay a daily fee, Bhutan has received—and educated—select guests each year, delivering guided, super-small group tours (5-10 people) around Bhutanese culture and values while remaining true to itself. Certified local guides double as the trip concierge. Itineraries and hotels are highly customized. Guests may choose to spend one night at a rustic local farmhouse, and the next at an exclusive resort (with upgrade costs) like one of Aman’s five lodges or the new Six Senses Bhutan, which has five individual resorts coming in 2019 that will start accepting reservations from February 1—one of the biggest and best reasons to visit next year. Activities range from visiting the massive dzong temple-fortresses that dot the country, to bird-watching in the many pine forests, to tackling the Snowman Trail, one of the Himalayas’ toughest treks. It’s all part of being in the Kingdom. —Lester Ledesma and Laura Dannen Redman
Just down the Caribbean coast from the Yucatan with a fraction of the tourism, this Central American country on the world’s second largest living coral reef has been buzzing with new openings that are transforming this one-time backpacker haven into a luxury destination. Much of the activity has been focused in the southern town of Placencia, a laid-back fishing village with a new air strip and the world’s narrowest main street. In the last year Itz’ana Resort and Residences, a Hemingway-inspired retreat with 50+ cottages and suites finished in boho-chic decor and vintage finds by fashion-pack favorite Samuel Amoia, and the offshore Gladden Private Island, a rustic-luxe, 3,000-foot, two-bedroom villa, have joined Francis Ford Coppola’s pioneering Turtle Inn.
Up north in Ambergris Caye, Mahogany Bay from Hilton’s Curio Collection is a family-friendly jumping off spot for fly-fishing, exploring caves and Mayan temples, and scuba diving Belize’s famous Great Blue Hole. Meanwhile, Leonardo DiCaprio’s private island eco-resort Blackadore Caye, with its own wildlife preserve, is rumored to be opening imminently; then 2020 will see the opening of Alaia Belize, a Marriott International Autograph Collection hotel fronting a 1,000-foot pristine white beach, followed by the Four Seasons Caye Chapel in 2021, with 30-some overwater bungalows on a sandy atoll reminiscent of the Maldives. The major advantage, of course, is that Belize is only a five-hour flight from New York, with a blend of Mayan, Creole, Mestizo, and European cultures that will guarantee we’ll soon see English-speaking Belize turning up on everyone’s Instagram feeds. —Alex Postman
The Andes have lured travelers to South America for decades—and if you haven’t been, bump it to the top of your bucket list ASAP. With most travelers heading straight for Peru, Chile, or Argentina, neighboring Bolivia has too often been disregarded as inaccessible. Of course, for the vanguard of travelers that’s been the greatest appeal; paired with the allure of La Paz’s mystical Witches’ Market, Incan ruins on the shores of massive Lake Titicaca, treks up the 20,000-foot Huayna Potosi, or otherworldly rock formations of the Atacama Desert (to name a few of the country’s highlights). Now, at long last, Bolivia as a destination is teetering between undiscovered and approachable—and the time to go is now.
The first spots on our list? The otherworldly Salar de Uyuni (the country’s iconic salt flats, pictured), which are receiving their first luxury accommodation this February. This new Amazing Escapes project, Kachi Lodge, will be a collection of glamping domes sprinkled across the infinite white plains, with gourmet dining from La Paz’s Gustu (Noma co-founder Claus Meyer’s fine-dining restaurant). Read: We’d go just to stay there. We’re also keeping a close eye on Bolivia’s Tarija wine region, where a slew of vineyards and wineries are turning out high-quality Tannat red wines and attracting the traveling oenophiles who’ve taken notice. —M.S.
Cabo San Lucas, Mexico
Okay, it’s never not a good year to do Cabo, Mexico’s Pacific Coast playground. But 2019 ushers in so many big-deal openings on the peninsula you that you can expect a whole new fleet of infinity pools cramming your Instagram. In March, Zadún, an oceanfront Ritz-Carlton Reserve hotel, will debut 115 high-design rooms along the Puerto Los Cabos coast, the Sea of Cortez visible from the private plunge pools. This follows on the heels of Hot List 2018 winner Chileno Bay’s push into wellness, with a set of spa guest rooms that give travelers unlimited use of the facilities and fitness classes (though, being on the only swimmable beach in Cabo, you could just blow off the gym and spend your day doing laps in the Pacific). But the most anticipated opening in 2019? The international debut of eco-brand 1 Hotel, arriving at the tip of the peninsula in Cabo San Lucas. Expect paddleboarding, a cooking school, and some of the freshest Mexican seafood around at Edith’s, which is located right next door. —Erin Florio
The opening of the game-changing Grand Egyptian Museum has been delayed again. And yet, the news from the ground is for the first time in 8 years, there’s a waitlist for city hotels and boat trips along the Nile. After a tumultuous few years, Egypt, it seems, is back on the map. It had been hoped that the $1 billion, sleek, marble temple to the country’s antiquities would have swung open its doors by now, revealing, amongst a wealth of other national treasures, most crucially King Tutankhamun’s entire burial collection—more than 5,000 pieces— displayed to the public in an exact replica of the tomb itself. Which means visitors will be able to see everything—bejeweled sandals, embroidered tunics and the Boy King’s death mask—just as Howard Carter did when he made his milestone discovery in 1922. And yet, while everyone waits patiently, elsewhere in the country the momentum mounts. Nile cruise liner Sanctuary Retreats has just launched weekly sailings of its boutique wooden boats, kitted out with art deco fixtures and leather deck chairs to sink into while gazing at Nubian sandstone cliffs and the teeming ancient tombs and temples of Luxor. Oberoi’s ship in the meantime, the Philae, has been given a top to bottom refurb, including a rooftop pool and much fewer, more spacious rooms as well as a spa with views out to Medinat Habu, the resting place of Rameses II and one of the new spots on their itinerary. And in March the much-talked about St Regis will open right on the river, injecting Cairo’s dusty hotel scene with a much-needed dosage of glamour; it’s floor-to-ceiling glass doors opening onto terraces that offer the sharpest views of Cairo’s pedestrian-friendly Corniche promenade anywhere around.. —E.F.
Wait, Japan in 2019? Isn’t Tokyo hosting the Summer Olympics in 2020? Yes, and some 60 million people may have the same idea as you to visit that year; but as the country preps for your arrival, 2019 also looks to be a very exciting time to get to the Land of the Rising Sun. Japan’s first Ace Hotel will open in Kyoto courtesy of architect Kengo Kuma, who designed The Opposite House in Beijing and is also the lead on Tokyo’s forthcoming Olympic Stadium; the Rugby World Cup arrives in September; and the Setouchi Triennale—or the Setouchi International Art Festival, a new-since-2010 contemporary art explosion—returns from April to November across a dozen islands in the Seto Inland Sea. The country also got a new World Heritage site in August—the hidden Christian sites of Nagasaki—and thanks to one writer’s experience, skiing in remote Honshu is now on the bucket list of more than one Traveler staffer. And Tokyo? Tokyo was named the world’s top city for the third year in a row in our 2018 Readers’ Choice Awards, in large part due to its status as the most Michelin-starred city in the world, and its thrill of contradictions: ultramodern, neon-lit skyscrapers and tranquil temples, unmatchable street style and centuries-old etiquette (the Tsukiji Fish Market now has a shiny new location, too). If that’s not enough to convince you, perhaps royalty will: The country is even getting a new emperor on May 1. —Katherine LaGrave
Grand Canyon, Arizona, U.S.
Of the 6.2 million people who made it to the Grand Canyon last year, only some 300,000 actually hiked into it. This February, North America’s biggest chasm celebrates the centennial of its designation as a national park, making it prime time with more tours planned to dip below the rim for a proper Grand Canyon immersion. “Even a small hike into the Canyon’s rock layers creates a much deeper understanding of how enormous and intricate it is,” says longtime Arizona Outback Adventures guide Annemarie Kruse, who equates the descent to a walk back in time through the earth’s crust. Favorite deep-dive trails include the switchback-laden South Kaibab, a hike to the rushing Colorado River that ideally includes at least two nights below the rim (don’t rush there and back in a day); Bright Angel with its easy-to-miss Indian pictographs just after the first rock tunnel; and North Kaibab, a more challenging descent with a loss of 4,000 feet in the first five miles from the remote, alpine North Rim (closed for the winter until May 15). Whatever you do, stay long enough to see the changing light cast deep shades of red and purple. Even better, check out the astronomer-led Star Party from June 22 to 29 and camp overnight in this future International Dark Sky Park (expected to be confirmed in 2019), one of the last places in America to see the Milky Way. —Nina Kokotas Hahn
Whitsunday Islands via Brisbane, Australia
You never have to convince us to visit the Whitsunday Islands, home to some of the world’s prettiest beaches (visit Whitehaven at least once, please) and a stretch of southern Great Barrier Reef that’s way less snorkeled and scuba’d than the Cairns hub up north. But as of December 20, there’s a new way to do it all: Book a for-a-lifetime stay at the Elysian, a new boutique eco-lodge that practically defines secluded (private cove, rainforest all around, 20 guests max at any time). You get ferried around by the resort’s boat, the Lotus, to Whitehaven Beach or picnics on neighboring islands, and you feel like you have the Barrier Reef to yourself, rather than competing with pontoon boats of nature-starved tourists. And the best new way to get to the Whitsundays? Dare we say it: via Brisbane. The once-stodgy business hub has been popping up on our radar all fall, with super-cool city hotels like the Westin Brisbane (seriously—think ten-gallon metal tubs in guest rooms and Aussie high tea), Ovolo The Valley, and The Calile, a James Street spot that seems shipped from Palm Springs, opening. Looks like it’s going to be a big 2019 for Queensland. —L.D.R.
If you’ve only ever used the Sicilian capital as the airport for the island’s coasts and vineyards, this is the year to stick around for a few days after landing. An ambitious mayor, Leoluca Orlando, is helping to breathe new life into the ancient city’s food and cultural scene (he’s largely to thank for Palermo’s run as host of European biennial Manifesta). This year, 17th-century Palazzo Butera will reopen as an art gallery after a mega renovation by Milanese art collector Massimo Valsecchi. And inspired by what they’ve seen in Rome and London, younger Palermitani have taken over their city’s hospitality scene, pushing it beyond poorly it taverns selling decent eggplant alla norma. Bocum does exceptional negronis in a split-level space near Cala while the top local wines are paired with small plates at central Vinoveritas (save room for the sausage ragu at Bisso Bistrot later). Even the hotels are getting a redo. Rocco Forte just announced that he will take over the Grand Villa Igea, already the hottest hotel around, in time for a 2020 debut. —E.F.
Tahiti has long seemed a far-away tease, of exquisite pearls, vanilla- and tiare-scented breezes, and powdery white sand beaches. Except, well, it’s really not that far away: The islands of French Polynesia are an eight-hour nonstop from the U.S. west coast, making them more convenient than Europe, and a recent spate of new routes and airline updates have made Tahiti more accessible—and affordable—than ever. Both United and low-cost carrier French Bee recently launched new routes from San Francisco, while Air France and Air Tahiti Nui upgraded their planes flying between Los Angeles and Tahiti. And though Zika concerns persist in other tropical destinations around the world, Tahiti is home to The Brando, a private island eco-resort that managed to get rid of the problem, in addition to pioneering eco-conscious practices that’ve elevated it as a model for sustainable luxury tourism. Built in the Tetiaroa atoll—bought by Marlon Brando back in the 1960s—the resort is just a 20-minute flight north of Tahiti’s airport; Leonardo DiCaprio, Ellen DeGeneres, Lady Gaga, Bradley Cooper, and this under-the-radar guy Barack Obama have all made the trip. Now it’s your chance. —Cynthia Drescher
Chengdu’s tourist lure has long centered on two Chinese clichés: giant pandas and hotpot. The Sichuanese capital is home to the world’s largest concentration of those doe-eyed bears, and its cuisine has been ravenously exported worldwide. Yet there’s nowhere better to glimpse the future of New China than here, the Middle Kingdom’s coolest city. Domestically, it has a reputation for locals who are both laid-back and cosmopolitan—it was on the Silk Road, after all. In a country where the LGBT population is often invisible, Chengdu is a rare, rainbow-colored exception. Come here to experience the cutting edge of contemporary Chinese culture: Check out the Higher Brothers, a local rap group at the vanguard of the emerging domestic hip-hop scene, and the city’s independent boutiques, like the months-old Kerry RC, more adventurous than their coastal counterparts. Head to the Eastern Suburb Memory complex for an impressive roster for fashion and art; some of those artists double up as tattooists, making Chengdu’s adventurously inked millennials strolling around the new Tai Koo Li luxury mall, the center of the country’s new tattoo culture. Stay at the Temple House next to that mall, and book dinner at the Bridge, a Neri & Hu–designed cocktail bar and restaurant inside a converted walkway that spans the local river. —Mark Ellwood
Puerto Rico spent the first half of 2018 in post-Maria recovery mode—all that mattered was getting the lights on, clearing the roads, and returning to normalcy. But now, more than a year after the storm made landfall, Puerto Rico has not only recovered: It’s been reborn. The need to rebuild inspired many hotels to undertake indulgent renovations, and as of this fall, nearly all have opened their doors. For the former Rockefeller hideaway, Dorado Beach, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, more than 300,000 native plants were reintroduced to the grounds, along with a complete refresh of all 114 guestrooms; at the iconic El San Juan Hotel, a pre-storm $65-million renovation was followed by another restoration of its oceanfront villas, pools, and notoriously lush landscaping. A ton of new Airbnbs have popped up—everything from beach bungalows in the surf town of Rincon to chic lofts in San Juan’s graffiti-covered Santurce. But there’s one reason alone that could convince us to fly down: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony-winning musical Hamilton is heading to San Juan this January, with Miranda reprising the title role. The show will run January 8-23 at the University of Puerto Rico. You can still snag tickets from his Flamboyan Arts Fund, which will use a majority of the hefty $5,000 ticket price to rebuild arts programs on the island. This year, Puerto Rico is the statement trip to take. —M.S.
Houston, Texas, U.S.
Despite being the largest city in the state, Houston’s always been excluded from the list of “cool” Texas cities. (We see you, Austin.) But if you look past the mile-wide freeways and strip malls, the city is finding a way to create its own cool—and 2019 looks to be its standout year. In July, the city (or, rather, the universe) will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing with the restoration of the Apollo Mission Center at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. On the arts side, the Museum of Fine Arts and Holocaust Museum will complete expansions, joining the newly renovated Menil Collection and its drawing institute, the first of its kind in the U.S. And then there’s the food… Next year, not one, not two, but five food halls will open in the city, including a Chelsea Market–style warehouse and the world’s first “chef hall,” a 9,000-square-foot warehouse with five full-on restaurants, each with a 30-seat counter and with people like Gary Ly, former chef de cuisine at Underbelly, in the kitchen. As the most diverse city in the U.S.—nearly a quarter of the population was born outside the country—it’s a multicultural city keeping up with the cool kids. Even a born-and-bred Dallasite like myself can get behind that. —Meredith Carey
Singapore loves to flaunt its assets. This city-state burns bright with light shows and flash designer shopping malls (shopping is the national sport), and made the perfect diamond-studded backdrop for Crazy Rich Asians. The all-Asian blockbuster may have ignited a flame for Singapore as more than just a stopover city, for its tropical British colonial grandeur and futuristic architecture, for street food in the night markets and skyscraping sundowners in Marina Bay Sands’ rooftop pool, and for slings at Raffles, the original grande dame of the Far East, which is undergoing a full facelift and will reopen with a bang in 2019. Joining the fray is the fabulous new Six Senses Maxwell, opening 1 December 2018 in a restored colonial building. There’s desert-island fun here, too, with a bunch of incredible private islands nearby. Hottest spots are eco-chic Cempedak, with its curving, modernist grass-roofed bungalows set among beach and jungle (hotelier Andrew Dixon also opened Nikoi island in the same archipelago), tiny driftwood-charming Pulau Joyo, and beautiful Bawah Reserve, accessed by seaplane from Singapore, with 35 suites that include 11 bamboo overwater bungalows in the bright lagoons of a marine conservation zone. —Laura Fowler
Cruise the Northeast Passage
The Northwest Passage, where vessels slice through previously impassable stretches of the Canadian Arctic (an unfortunate side affect of climate change), has been big news in the cruise industry the past couple years. But for 2019, we are shifting focus to its eastern sister route, the Northeast Passage. In August, Silversea will set sail for the first time ever from Nome, Alaska, to Tromsø in Norway. Passengers with 25 days and $37,260 to spare will tick off a veritable bucket list of near-impossible-to-reach sites, including the polar bear haven of Wrangel Island (pictured) and Murmansk, Russia, the largest city north of the Arctic Circle. (An objective of the Silver Explorer? Venture as far north as possible with the hopes of spotting walrus and seals on the ice.) In between the Zodiac expeditions along the icebergs, the ship’s 144 passengers can expect all the bells and whistles that come with a five-figure price tag, including personal butlers, silver service dining, and whip-fast Wi-Fi so they can make loved ones back home, sick with jealousy every day out at sea. —E.F.