Our top holiday destinations for 2016
The eyes of the world will be on Brazil next summer, when the Olympic torch burns above Rio de Janeiro, but our tip for a more off-the-beaten-track experience in South America is Peru. It has been 33 years since there was a direct air link between the UK and Lima, but that will change on May 4, when British Airways starts three-times-a-week flights from Gatwick. Take in foodie Lima as well as the iconic Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, before discovering lesser-known sights in northern Peru.
A new cable car, opening in July, will make the spectacular pre-Inca ruins of Kuelap considerably easier to reach; the 20-minute ride will ferry visitors up to explore the largest stone structure in South America, containing more than 450 houses. At the El Brujo archaeological site in Trujillo, which has 4,000 years of history, a new tourist route links the mud-brick citadel of Chan Chan and ruins from Moche culture, which date from AD100-800. If you like a side helping of art with your archaeology, a new trip from Cox & Kings and the Royal Academy of Arts combines the pre-Inca, Inca and colonial periods to reveal the artistic highlights of 2,000 years of Peruvian history.
Details The 15-day Peru Northern Highlights tour, including time in Lima, Kuelap and Trujillo, costs from £2,718pp, including flights, B&B and excursions (020 3553 7886, journeylatinamerica.co.uk). A 15-day Peru: Pre-Columbian and Colonial Treasures tour costs from £3,695pp, including flights, guided sightseeing, B&B and some meals, departing on April 11 and October 3 (020 7873 5000,coxandkings.co.uk)
The British overseas territory of St Helena in the South Atlantic Ocean is about as remote as it gets; to get there, you have to take a ten-day return mailboat trip from Cape Town. However, the new airport opens on May 21, and the first commerical flights will start with Comair, although the date of the start of the service and flight prices have yet to be announced. Part of the attraction is the remoteness of the setting, great walks through the hilly interior, diving, whale-watching, fishing, and the opportunity to learn about Napoleon’s exile on the island at Longwood House. This is likely to be a destination for adventurous travel junkies.
Details For further information see sthelenatourism.com andsainthelenaaccess.com. Discover the World will offer trips with Comair flights (discover-the-world.co.uk)
One of Africa’s leading (and most expensive) safari destinations, Botswana celebrates 50 years of independence in 2016 and hits the big screen as the location for A United Kingdom, a new film starring David Oyelowo and Rosamund Pike. It charts the relationship and marriage between an African king and a white Englishwoman, which was a great scandal in 1948.
Botswana is renowned for offering adventurous safari options, including the new Khwai Tented Camp in the game-rich Khwai community concession. Ideal for those who want the feel of an old-style safari camp, rather than a 21st-century bells-and-whistles version, it will have only six Meru-style tents, all en suite, with verandas that are perfect for some lazy game-spotting. Botswana is also a popular part of overland truck itineraries, and Saga has introduced a 25-night Africa’s Southern Soul itinerary, which takes in an astonishing 3,200 miles, crossing South Africa, Namibia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.
Details An eight-day Aardwolf Safari trip, with two nights in the Khwai community concession, costs from £3,149pp, including flights (020 8232 9777, expertafrica.com). Saga’s African Southern Soul overland trip costs from £3,999pp, including flights, transfers, half-board and travel (0800 0960078, saga.co.uk )
With budget airlines going into Canada big-time in May, there has not been a better time to book a city break or to head off into the country to explore. WestJet, the low-cost airline, will begin 28 non-stop flights a week between Gatwick and Calgary (the gateway to the beautiful Banff National Park), Edmonton, St John’s, Toronto, Winnipeg and Vancouver in early May. WOW air is also starting flights from Gatwick to Montreal and Toronto via Reykjavik about the same time. There are great bargains to be had, especially if you’re flexible with dates. The pound is also strong against the Canadian dollar; five years ago the rate was $1.60 to the pound; now £1 converts to $2.
Details Westjet (westjet.com) has Gatwick-Calgary returns from about £480; WOW air (wowair.co.uk) has returns from about £425
Florida’s theme parks are always a big draw, but next year the pull will be even bigger, with three remarkable rides opening. In Orlando, Universal Studios will unveil Skull Island: Reign of Kong, a multisensory descent into a world of prehistoric predators, presided over by the colossal gorilla himself. SeaWorld will open the shark-themed Mako, the tallest, fastest and longest rollercoaster in the city. And a short drive away in Tampa, Busch Gardens will reveal Cobra’s Curse, a first-of-its-kind “spin coaster”. For little ones, a new Frozen Ever After attraction at Epcot in Walt Disney World will also Let It Go from early 2016, transporting guests to the magical kingdom of Arendelle just in time for its “Winter in Summer” festival.
Details A week’s fly-drive holiday in July for two costs from £1,837, including flights and car hire (0344 5579266, virginholidays.co.uk)
Utah, United States
A land of staggering scenery, Utah offers spectacular skiing in the winter months and some of the planet’s best road trips in the summer. The only problem, for British visitors, has been accessibility — with no direct flights from the UK. That is scheduled to change in May, when Delta Air Lines starts flights from Heathrow to Salt Lake City, and as the US National Park Service celebrates its 100th anniversary next year, there is no better time to go. In 2015, three new “International Dark Sky Parks” were recognised — Canyonlands National Park, Capitol Reef National Park and Weber County North Fork Park — adding astronomy to the state’s list of alfresco activities. To celebrate the centennial there will be a programme of events in every park; for more information see nationalparks.org.
Details A 24-day National Parks Explored itinerary costs from £3,025pp, including flights, room-only accommodation and car hire (01993 838755, audleytravel.com)
With zip lines through rainforests, hot springs heated by volcanoes and jungle rich with monkeys and macaws, Costa Rica has long had a reputation for being a soft adventure centre. Getting there, though, was a chore. In May it will become much easier when British Airways launches a direct service to the family-friendly Central American destination. If you need more inspiration, there are great beaches and world-class surf breaks. To see the best of it, jump off the well-trodden tourist trail and head to luxury hideaways such as the new Hacienda AltaGracia in the south, in the little-visited mountains of Perez Zeledon.
Details One week’s B&B at the AltaGracia, with flights on British Airways and transfers, costs from £2,750pp (020 3603 4453,scottdunn.com)
Since diplomatic relations between America and Cuba were restored in the summer, every man and his dog is keen to see the Caribbean island, with its beautiful crumbling buildings and classic cars, before Starbucks, McDonald’s and the like move in. Interest has become so high that some tour operators say you need to book at least eight months in advance to secure good hotels, although casas particulares — individual houses — can be booked too. The specialist company Last Frontiers says that if you have set places you want to stay you need to plan up to a year in advance, but there is last-minute availability on the less-explored eastern side of the island — home to Santiago de Cuba, the island’s salsa capital, and some lovely beaches and national parks around Baracoa.
Another option is to take a cruise: Star Clippers, Celestyal Cruises and Thomson Cruises operate there. Next spring voluntourism cruises from Miami to Cuba are being launched through the new brand Fathom, under the American giant Carnival Corporation.
Details An 11-day Classic Cuba itinerary, taking in Havana, Trinidad and the Viñales valley, costs from £3,120pp staying in a mix of hotels and casas particulares, including flights, accommodation, tours and some meals (01296 653000, lastfrontiers.com)
Burma has been on a roll since the opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, was released from house arrest in 2010 by the junta. After she led the National League for Democracy to a majority win in the November elections, there was a huge flurry of interest. A raft of new hotels means there are better places to stay and, according to the family tour operator Stubborn Mule Travel, prices are down 10 per cent on 2012 rates. So it’s much easier to take in the sights at Inle Lake, where the fishermen row with their feet, the temple city of Bagan and in the former capital Rangoon, with its famous Shwedagon Pagoda. The country is also modernising in other ways, with many more ATMs in the streets and wi-fi in hotels.
Details Two weeks taking in the key sites in Rangoon, Bagan, Kalaw for a visit to an elephant camp, Inle Lake and the beaches of Ngapali costs from £2,000pp, including flights, accommodation, transport, excursions and some meals (01728 752751, stubbornmuletravel.com)
Simien Mountains, Ethiopia
Slowly taking its place on the world’s tourism map, Ethiopia has two significant openings next year in the spectacular Simien Mountains National Park, each catering for a very different type of visitor. In January, the luxurious Limalimo Lodge opens its doors, with only 14 rooms dotted through the lush grounds, each made using traditional methods and materials, such as rammed-earth walls, thatch and wood. An ideal base for trekking and wildlife watching, Limalimo is surrounded by ten hectares of land, in the heart of the national park.
For those looking for simpler pleasures and to gain a unique insight into life in the mountains, Village Ways is offering a new trip staying in three remote village communities on the southern fringe of the national park. As well as meeting local villagers and staying in thatched “tukul” guesthouses, the trip is a chance to explore the region on foot, away from the well-used trekking route that runs through the centre of the park.
Details The 12-night Highlights of Northern Ethiopia itinerary, including two nights at Limalimo Lodge from £4,740pp, flights and 12 nights’ full board (020 8682 5070, scottdunn.com). An eight-night Village Ways trip costs from £875pp, including two nights’ B&B in Gondar, six nights’ full board in the villages, and a private walking guide. International and internal flights cost extra (01223 750049, villageways.com)
Madhya Pradesh, India
The first bit of good news is that, in August, India decided to include Britain in its e-visa scheme, meaning the days of trips to the visa processing agency, £90 fees and two-week waits have been replaced by a slick, online application that costs £40 and should deliver your visa within four days. The second is that Kipling’s iconic The Jungle Book will be on cinema screens in April, in a new version that mixes live action and animation, with Idris Elba purring his lines as Shere Khan.
Wild Frontiers is running a one-off Jungle Book Tour in 2016, visiting three of the country’s best national parks for tiger-spotting in Madhya Pradesh: Satpura, Tadoba and Kanha — the inspiration forThe Jungle Book. Guests will stay at the Svasara Jungle Lodge in Tadoba, the Renpani Jungle Lodge in Satpura and the Chipcan Jungle Lodge in Kanha.
Details The 12-night Jungle Book Tour costs from £2,795pp, including full board, safari drives and transfers, but excluding international flights (020 7736 3968, wildfrontierstravel.com)
A raft of new tours, trips and trains is set to make the country more accessible to foreign travellers. Japan’s iconic bullet trains get a new route in March, linking Tokyo to Hokkaido, its second-largest island. Known for its seafood, walking and kayaking, and the largest brown bear population in eastern Asia, Hokkaido is an easy first step to exploring beyond the capital. For lovers of Japanese food, MasterChef Travel (mastercheftravel.co.uk) has a Treasures of Japan tour with the 2011 winner, Tim Anderson, which combines daily sightseeing hits with street food in Osaka, sushi in Tokyo and saké-tasting in Nara.
From May, Finnair becomes the only European airline to fly to the city of Fukuoka (via Helsinki), famous for its Hakata Gion Yamakasa festival in July, which draws more than one million visitors to the spectacular parade of floats. The weak yen also helps — the latest Post Office survey found Japan to be the third cheapest long-haul destination, with Tokyo costing 50 per cent less than in 2013.
Details Finnair (finnair.com) will fly from London, Manchester and Edinburgh to Fukuoka from £650 return. A 14-night Wild Hokkaido tour costs from £2,349pp, including B&B, seven dinners, car hire, private guide in Tokyo and transfers, but excluding flights (0117 370 9751, insidejapantours.com)
The Trans-Siberian Railway is celebrating its centenary next year, so what better time to try one of the world’s most iconic rail journeys, travelling from Moscow to Vladivostok covering 5,752 miles? If you don’t count an obscure route from Ukraine to Vladivostok, it is the longest trip along the tracks you can take, lasting six nights. There are options to stop off in intriguing-sounding places such as Perm, Omsk, Irkutsk and Ulan Ude along the way; if you’re planning to break up the ride it’s a good idea to read up on where interest you most in the excellent Trans-Siberian Handbook by Bryn Thomas.
Details One-way fares are from about £420pp in second class (two bunks in a berth) or £695pp in first-class (sleeping two). Seeseat61.com for details; Real Russia (realrussia.co.uk) sells tickets and can help with visa applications (visas are from about £120)
In the summer, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) relaxed its travel advisory to Iran to say that it is safe to visit. So 2016 is set to be a big year for tourism, with the marvellous mosques, bridges and bazaar of Isfahan, the palaces and jewellery museum of Tehran, the tomb of Hafez in Shiraz, the Zoroastrian Towers of Silence in Yazd and the ancient city of Persepolis opening up to visitors.
Details Regent Holidays (regent-holidays.co.uk) has a 14-day tour of Iran from £3,495pp, with flights, hotels with breakfasts included, some meals and travel guides. Or try Travel the Unknown (traveltheunknown.com) or Persian Voyages (persianvoyages.com). FCO (gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice)
It seems we just can’t get enough of Iceland — last year there was a 32 per cent jump in Britons visiting Bjork’s homeland, to 180,500 tourists. However, if you’ve already wallowed in the Blue Lagoon in Reykjavik, seen the impressive geysers and waterfalls on the Golden Circle day trip from the capital and taken in the museum that opened after the 2010 eruption at Eyjafjallajokull, fear not — a new flight next May will open up the joys of eastern Iceland. This part of the country is particularly rugged, with fjords, spectacular waterfalls, bubbling mud pools, whale and puffin watching and the famous iceberg lagoon at Jokulsarlon. Better still, it’s easy to combine it with a trip to the capital. The Air Baltic flight will operate twice weekly from May 28 to September 24 and is chartered exclusively by Discover the World, which has compiled eight fly-drive programmes.
Details A week’s fly-drive exploring the east fjords costs from £1,049pp B&B, including flights and car rental (01737 214291,discover-the-world.co.uk)
Mantua’s biggest claim to fame has always been as the location to which Romeo was banished in Romeo & Juliet. Although the city’s old town was made a Unesco World Heritage site in 2007, it has remained firmly under the tourist radar, until the decision to make it Italy’s Capital of Culture for 2016. The old part of town is something of a Renaissance gem, mostly because of the Gonzagas (Mantua’s equivalent of Florence’s Medicis, who ruled the city from the 14th to the 17th century) commissioning world-class works of art and architecture.
Familiarise yourself with the Gonzagas by heading to La Camera degli Sposi in San Giorgi castle; a spectacular room of frescoes of the family by the 15th-century painter Andrea Mantegna. Follow it up with a visit to their ancestral home, the Palazzo Ducale, and a stroll through the elegant piazzas that spread through the city. And don’t miss the Teatro Scientifico del Bibiena, a beautiful 17th-century theatre, most famous for hosting Mozart, aged 13, a month after it opened.
Details Stay at the Hotel Casa Poli, a chic boutique in the heart of the city with B&B doubles from £96 (00 39 0376 288 170,hotelcasapoli.it). Verona is the nearest airport, 28 miles (45km) away. Ryanair (ryanair.com) is starting flights there next year
Peloponnese peninsula, Greece
One of the most beautiful parts of the Greek mainland opens up further with new British Airways flights to Kalamata from April 30 to September 24. This part of the Peloponnese is in the southwest corner of the region of Messinia, with ancient historical sights to explore, including the Palace of Nestor, the forts at Methoni and Koronia, the extensive ruins of Messini, and the small fishing town of Pylos. In recent years a local entrepreneur has developed the land on the coast; the best place to stay is the swanky new five-star Westin hotel.
Details Sunvil has seven nights’ half-board at the slick Westin Resort Costa Navarino from £1,230pp in June (sunvil.co.uk,costanavarino.com); thomascook.com and sovereign.com also offer trips. BA return flights are from £93 (ba.com); easyJet has return flights from Gatwick to Kalamata from about £90 (easyjet.com)