Whether you’re a traveller in search of new horizons, or a holidaymaker looking for a family break with a difference, Sarah Marshall rounds up the most exciting destinations for 2012.
:: Best for... grown-up backpackers
:: Why go now?: Opportunities for visiting Indochina have opened up thanks to the launch of a new direct flight route from London to Vietnam with Vietnam Airlines. Shaving seven hours off the flight time, visitors can now travel in greater comfort with increased possibility for ‘power break’ stays, making Vietnam a viable option for a two-week holiday.
Although long-haul travel may seem like an extravagance in cash-strapped times, day-to-day living in Vietnam is actually very cheap; the Post Office rated it in the top three best destinations for value for money in its 2011 Long Haul Holiday Report.
Travel back several centuries by visiting the world heritage town Hoi An, take a luxury cruise along the Mekong or have a suit made for pittance by a tailor in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly named Saigon).
With 3,400km of sparkling coastline to choose from, beach lovers may also want to explore Vietnam as an alternative to Thailand.
Book it now:
:: WEXAS Travel offers a nine-night Saigon and Luxury Mekong itinerary, from £2,925pp, based on two sharing. Price includes direct flights with Vietnam Airlines, two nights at An Lam Saigon River, a seven-night cruise on the new 26-stateroom colonial cruiser The Jahan and domestic flights. Visit www.wexas.com or call 0845 643 6568.
:: Travelbag offers eight nights at the 4* Victoria Hoi An Beach Resort and Spa (B&B basis) in Hoi An for £969pp. Price includes direct flights with Vietnam Airlines and internal flights. Book by January 30, 2012. Visit www.travelbag.co.uk or call 0871 703 4240.
:: Best for... history buffs
:: Why go now?: Last year marked a century since American archaeologist Hiram Bingham’s discovery of Machu Picchu, but Peruvians would argue 2012 is the real year for celebration.
At the end of 2011, the long-anticipated Casa Concha museum opened in Cusco, housing artefacts from the ancient Inca citadel, taken by Hiram Bingham 100 years ago.
Coupled with the discovery of a new Inca trail to Machu Picchu, there’s now more reason than ever to visit this historical site, recently named by the Huffington Post as the top place to see before you die.
Two new hotel openings in Cusco also look likely to put the ancient Inca capital on every luxury traveller’s map. Orient Express open the all-suite Palacio Nazarenas in June on the site of a former convent, while JW Marriott will open a property on the site of a colonial church. Both will have oxygenated rooms to help guests acclimatise to the 3,400m altitude.
Food is also playing a big part in Peru’s rising international profile, with Lima named by Frommers Guides as the top food destination to visit in 2012. All in all, it’s enough to whet your appetite.
Book it now:
:: Kuoda Travel, based in Cusco, offers luxury tailor-made tours of Peru using local guides and comfortable transport. Visit www.kuodatravel.com to request a customised quote.
:: Best for... culture shocks
:: Why go now?: Curious travellers have always had Myanmar (Burma) on their radar, but up until now the political situation has kept most visitors away.
Following the release of pro-democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest and her subsequent seal of approval for tourism, however, tour operators predict this predominantly Buddhist south-east Asian country will be the place to go in 2012.
Highlights include cruises along the Irrawaddy river and visits to picturesque pagodas, enchanting monasteries and forgotten hill stations.
But the biggest allure is a country largely untouched by the outside world, with only a total of 9,000 hotel beds available.
If you do want to travel responsibly, avoid using government-owned hotels and instead, invest your money in local enterprises.
Book it now:
:: Travel Indochina offers a nine-day Highlights Of Burma escorted group tour, covering Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay and Inle Lake, from £1,045pp, including all accommodation, domestic flights and entrance fees. International flights are extra. Visit www.travelindochina.co.uk or call 01865 268 940.
:: TransIndus offers a 14-day escorted group tour covering Yangon, Bagan, Mandalay, Inle Lake and the ancient capital cities of Ava, Amarapura and Sagaing, from £2,495pp (based on two sharing) including B&B accommodation, flights, internal travel and sightseeing. Visit www.transindus.co.uk or call 020 8566 3739.
:: Best for... adventurous families
:: Why go now?: Viewers of the BBC’s Frozen Planet series with David Attenborough can’t fail to have been mesmerised by the dazzling midnight sun-strewn icebergs of the Arctic. Spitsbergen, the last stop before the North Pole, is rising in popularity as an expedition option for tourists, with the promise of dramatic scenery and wildlife, including polar bears.
As one of the most remote regions of the world, it’s not easy - or cheap - to get there; flights via Oslo and big connection gaps can make journeys 10 hours or more each way, and even short cruises can come in at £2,500 with flights. But it’s undoubtedly a trip of a lifetime you’ll never forget.
With tour operator Exodus now offering a family-friendly programme, it’s also an educational alternative to Santa’s Lapland that’s arguably a better investment all-round.
Book it now:
:: Exodus, the operator who hosted the Frozen Planet crew during the filming of the series, offers a new eight-day Spitsbergen Family Adventure from £3,090 per adult and £2,790 per child (minimum age 10), departing August 1 . Flights are extra. Visit www.exodus.co.uk or call 0845 805 5219.
:: For a shorter adult-only stay, Hurtigruten offers a five-night Polar Encounters voyage to Spitsbergen on selected dates in June, July and August, from £1,794pp (based on two sharing). Flights are extra and can be booked from £844pp. Visit www.hurtigruten.co.uk or call 0844 448 7601.
:: Best for... bargains
:: Why go now?: Once considered one of the most expensive countries in the world, a financial crash in 2008 made this volcanic island in the North Atlantic ocean much more affordable.
The news that easyJet will be launching flights from London Luton to Reykjavik on March 27, with returns from as low as £59, is further confirmation Iceland is now within the average holidaymaker’s budget.
Choose to enjoy a city break with a difference in quirky capital Reykjavik, take a dip in the famous geothermal Blue Lagoon, explore the island’s rugged terrain, or attempt to see the northern hemisphere’s greatest natural phenomenon - the Northern Lights. NASA predicts 2012 will provide the best opportunity in 50 years to witness the enigmatic aurora borealis.
Book it now:
:: easyJet Holidays offers a three-night break in Reykjavik staying at the 3* Cabin hotel on B&B basis for £185pp, including return flights, departing April 12. Visit easyJet.com/holidays.
:: Witness the world’s greatest light display with The Adventure Company’s new five-day Icelandic Northern Lights - Astronomy Kids itinerary, from £1,099 per adult and £1,039 per child (minimum age eight), with expert-led tours, visits to the Blue Lagoon, waterfalls and geysers, and 4WD journeys across glaciers. Price includes flights, B&B accommodation and guides. Visit www.adventurecompany.co.uk or call 0845 287 1198.
:: Best for... creative endeavours
:: Why go now?: From April 20-22, all eyes will be on Liverpool when French street theatre company Royal de Luxe will be bringing their Little Girl Giant to the city as part of commemorative celebrations for the sinking of Titanic.
The creative team, who were responsible for halting London traffic in 2006 with their mechanical Sultan’s Elephant, hail from Nantes, and their return to the UK is likely to ignite interest in this art-friendly French city.
Visit their permanent workshop Les Machines de I’ile, where you’ll find a carousel of fantastical creatures, and a smaller replica of their famous elephant. Their new three-tiered carousel of underwater creatures and sea ships will open this summer.
In 2012, the city will celebrate the final year of their Estuaire cultural festival, with more art installations popping up along the banks of the Loire estuary.
A first-class - and free - jazz festival, Rendez-vous de l’Erdre, also takes place at the beginning of September, with stages set up along and even floating in the river Erde.
Book it now:
:: Eurostar travels from London St Pancras to Nantes from £109 return. Visit www.eurostar.com or call 0843 218 6186.
:: The Hotel Pommeraye is a quirky, centrally-located hotel with doubles from 64 euros. Visit www.hotel-pommeraye-nantes.com