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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Places You Must Go in 2009

Here's where I think you should be travelling in 2009:
is the real Australia, but be warned that everywhere will disappoint afterwards. Must-see spots include World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park and neighboring Aboriginal owned Arnhem Land with their abundant wildlife, lush wetlands and Aboriginal rock art; Litchfield National Park's dramatic waterfalls and waterholes; sultry multicultural capital Darwin; Aboriginal art centre Alice Springs; the ochre gorges, tranquil rockpools and corrugated dirt tracks of East and West Macdonnell Ranges; and that colossal magical red rock, Uluru (pictured).
2. MONTEVIDEO - Uruguay's elegant capital is an easygoing, off the beaten track alternative to Buenos Aires, and just a short boat trip across the river. As much as I love BA (we spent time there in 2007 writing Lonely Planet's Buenos Aires Encounter and it was on my 2008 Must Go list), Montevideo is less touristy, more low-key, and easily as appealing with its lovely architecture, leafy piazzas, and lively beaches. It has a rich culture, the highest quality of life in Latin America, and is very affordable.
3. ETHIOPIA - still an off-the-beaten-track destination, Ethiopia boasts one of the world's oldest and richest civilizations with 80 different ethnic groups and extraordinary archaeological and historical sites such as the Stellae at Axum, hundreds of rock-hewn churches at Lalibela and Yohanes, and the medieval castles of Gondar.
4. MALI - renowned for its music, the magical Festival of the Desert, and for being home to some of sub-Saharan's most intriguing and astonishing attractions, including legendary Timbuktu and the splendid mosque at Djenné, it's Mali's people that really fascinate, from the cliff-dwelling Dogon people to the nomadic Tuareg people.
5. HELSINKI - If the hip boutiques, fabulous design stores, fantastic seafood, and buzzy bars weren't enough, Finland's cool capital has an easygoing attitude and lively arts scene. Unlike Copenhagen or Stockholm, it never feels crowded with tourists, even at the height of summer, and it's ideally situated for exploring Scandinavia, Russia and the Baltic cities.
ABU DHABI - the UAE's sundrenched capital offers a more laidback, authentic and traditional experience of Arabia compared to sister city Dubai (without the traffic and crowds). It also has fine hotels, restaurants and beaches, and in the near future will be a Middle Eastern arts hub boasting branches of the Louvre and Guggenheim. Just an hour away are colossal apricot-coloured sand dunes and oasis town Al Ain.
YEMEN - there are few places left as magical, exotic and unique as Yemen with its astonishing skyscraper architecture, atmospheric old medinas, and rich traditional culture. Visiting Yemen is still an adventure and - depending on what you do - can be a little dangerous. Westerners are kidnapped from time to time when they venture into lawless areas (although they're nearly always returned safely) - this is one place where you must heed the travel warnings.
ZANZIBAR - with spices its main export and a culture and society influenced by its Arab, Persian, Portugese, Indian and African heritage, how could this Tanzanian island not be fascinating? The architecture of the labyrinthine capital, Stonetown, features intricately carved wooden doors and lovely terraces. There are splendid mosques and Persian baths built by immigrants from Shiraz.
MONTENEGRO - with its idyllic beaches, sparkling Adriatic sea, excellent seafood and atmospheric medieval villages, Croatia's diminutive neighbor, Montenegro, offers a similar experience without the crowds - and for less. When you tire of the beaches, there are stunning mountains to explore, and there's a developing wine region.
MARGARET RIVER - breathtakingly beautiful beaches backed by fragrant bushland and eucalyptus forest and miles of lush vineyards - this is one of Australia's most prestigious wine-producing regions after all - chic boutique hotels, retreats and spas set in tranquil locations (I'll bring you a full report soon), brilliant restaurants and buzzy bars, and it's handy to Perth in the north, and in the south, Augusta, Pemberton, Denmark and Albany, sleepy beachside towns surrounded by some of Australia's most beautiful countryside and forests.


Anonymous said...

Great suggestions, Lara. It's about time that Timbuktu was back in vogue.

A few of my favorites for the upcoming year are Bolivia, Namibia, Bodh Gaya (India) and Slovenia

Lara Dunston said...

Thanks! Yeah, places like Timbuktu have remained eternally intriguing but not 'fashionable'.

I'm including it on my list because I think the safer sub-Saharan countries like Mali, one of the poorest places on earth, deserve a piece of the tourist pie.

I was in Bolivia almost 12 years ago and it was wonderful - spent a month or so travelling around - I'm wondering how much it has changed. People tell me I would be astounded at how touristy Peru is now, especially Cusco.

Slovenia is lovely - another under-appreciated country. It's capital is popular with British guys and girls doing their bucks and hen's nights, but I don't think enough people get out and about and explore the countryside and mountains, which are just beautiful.
I want to go to Namibia

A Girl in Asia said...

I love these kinds of lists - Yemen sounds great. I like the idea of Oman too, but my main travel goal this year is to go to Syria!

Lara Dunston said...

Well, you must make sure you take our book with you - the Lonely Planet guide to Syria and Lebanon - and do get back to me if you need some tips.

Thanks for checking in!

Jen Laceda | Milk Guides said...

Hello Lara,

What great suggestions!! I would like to hit them all in this lifetime. But if I really had to choose from this list, I think I would put on my top list: the Northern Territory, Australia; Ethiopia, and Mali.

The parking guy at my work is from Ethiopia. And every morning, before I go to the dungeons, he tells me some little details about his country and his life before he moved to Canada. He is so fascinating, and so is his country.

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, I so hope I can get to Ethiopia this year, where we have some friends working in Addis. They've promised us lots of off the beaten track adventure. But from what they say, anywhere away from the Northern circuits of sights and monestries that you mention can be not for the faint hearted. The country is extremely poor with pockets of famine and not really set up for tourism & the border areas can be pretty dodgy.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Jen

Glad you liked the list. Western Australia is a very underrated part of Australia - people seem to know little about it apart from Uluru and Kakadu, and Australians would rather visit Bali than the NT. But a road trip through the state is amazing - incredible scenery, wildlife area, people are fascinating. I'll post more on the NT in coming weeks as we reflect upon that leg of the trip.

Well, you should share a few of that Ethiopian guys stories...

Hi Heather - nobody knows places like expats (apart from locals of course) so you should take that opportunity to travel there while your friends are there. It is incredibly poor, but tourism is a way for these countries develop and get out of that poverty, so that's why I believe we all need to spend our money in the poorer (safer) countries.

Peru and Bolivia are making lots of hot lists this year, but they were (and many people still are) poverty-stricken - the people living and working with tourists are certainly better off than those that aren't though.

You should get your friends in Ethiopia to do a guest post on your blog...? :)

jj said...

Hi this is a great list. I"ve just been to Sri Lanka and that was fantastic. Two years ago I went to Namibia and that was empty and unspoilt. Oman was fantastic when I visited it but has recently become a lot more popular. I'm hoping it doesn't become another 'Dubai'. If your interested see my travel blog

Happy travelling

Anonymous said...

Bali is one of my favotite place, cheap for our budget and good place for holiday

Lara Dunston said...

Hi Lac

Sri Lanka has always been on my personal list of places to go, but every time I've thought about organizing a trip, trouble with the Tamil tigers has erupted. The last time I attempted to go the airport was closed after a bombing!

I agree, Oman is lovely - very laidback and the forts are wonderful to explore - and it's becoming increasingly popular, but to be honest, the number of tourists actually going there is miniscule so you have no need to worry about it becoming as popular as Dubai - not for a very long time. I'll definitely check out your blog. Thanks for dropping in!

Hi Ayu
You know I've never been to Bali. I'm from Australia originally, and when I first started travelling it seemed that every Australian I knew was going to Bali, so for our first overseas trip my husband and I flew all the way over the other side of the planet to Mexico. Then it was Cuba. Then Mexico and the USA, then South America... so we never got to Bali. I'm curious to see it for myself, so you may see us there one day.

Anonymous said...

That's a great list, except for Helsinki. Two days is just about sufficient for the place - overrated, expensive and boooooring... Most expats in Helsinki will tell you that about the only redeeming feature of this city is its airport with all the air connections to Asia.

Lara Dunston said...

Hi AnnaE - thanks! But I just love Helsinki! We ate at some brilliant restaurants, although to be honest, I'd be quite happy snacking on fresh seafood (esp. the shrimps!) at the market every day. We found the bar scene to very buzzy - it was summer of course when all the Scandi cities are at their liveliest anyway. And the design stores and clothing boutiques are fabulous.

We also found it to be no more expensive than Amsterdam where we'd just spent 2 months, and in fact some thing - such as the seafood at the markets - was great value compared to other northern European cities.

And then the location can't be beaten for those who want to explore the Baltic countries, Russia and Scandinavia.

Brussels also gets criticized for being boring and yet it's one of the most interesting European cities there is with superb restaurants, a fantastic jazz and live music scene, great bars and pubs...

Personally I think boring is a state of mind and what's boring to one person may not be to another.

Perhaps those expats you're referring to in Helsinki shouldn't be in Helsinki. Perhaps they should be living and working in Asia?

Thanks for dropping by!