Lonely Planet has picked the brains of its authors, staff and travellers and come up with the top 10 countries to visit in 2010.
Travellers tend to skip El Salvador, wooed by marquee destinations such as Guatemala and Costa Rica, and unnerved by stories of civil war and gang violence. But the war ended almost 20 years ago, and crime, while serious, is almost exclusively played out between rival gangs; tourists are virtually never involved. And though El Salvador has fewer protected areas than its neighbours, you get them practically to yourself. The only place you might find a crowd is on Punta Roca, El Salvador's most famous surfing spot. And when it comes to cities, none in Central America is smarter or cooler than San Salvador, with first-rate universities, museums and galleries.
Some countries are simply allowed to be, but Germany has had to reinvent itself more times than Madonna. And it has done so again since 1990, when reunification brought an end to nearly three decades of division. In year 20 after its latest rebirth, Germany is still a country where you can witness history in the making. Head to Hamburg, where an entire new quarter is being wrested from the detritus of a 19th-century harbour. Or to Dresden, where the domed Frauenkirche church is once again the diamond in the city's famous skyline. And to Berlin whose climate of openness spawns more creative experimentation than a Petri dish on Viagra.
Seldom does a travel destination satisfy the blurbs that shout 'has something for everyone' but Greece truly does. Whether you're there to poke around ancient ruins, soak in the sun on idyllic beaches, or party till you drop, Greece will leave you clambering for more. It's guilt-free travel – a slice of history served alongside a healthy slice of hedonism – and everyone seems happy. You get to marvel at the dazzling clarity of the light and the waters, the floral aromas that permeate the air, the pervading sense of spirit – and then sit down to contemplate it all while consuming that great Greek combination of ouzo and octopus!
Diversity is what Malaysia is all about. From chaotic and modern Kuala Lumpur to the near mystical wilds of Borneo, there are mountains to tackle, beaches to bake on, coral reefs to dive and malls to shop. And wait till you meet the people. Malays live in rhythm to the mosque's call to prayer, while just around the corner garlands of marigolds are sold in front of towering Hindu temples and the sweet smells of incense emanate from ornate Chinese Buddhist clan houses. Top off a multicultural day with an Indian curry, Chinese noodles, Malay rice dishes with spicy sambal or the region's most famous fusion dish, coconut-curry noodle laksa.
- Feel the pure joy of freestyle Gnawa rhythms and backflips expressing the exhilaration of freedom from slavery in the Djemaa el-Fna.
- Enjoy hot mint tea in a remote village in the Ait Bou Gomez 'Happy Valley', where the warm welcome makes the trip on foot or donkey worthwhile.
- Bask in the glow of ancient auspicious Berber symbols given new life at gallery openings and streetside art stalls in Assilah and Essaouira.
- Get lost and find new friends – and carpets – in the souk mazes of Fez and Marrakesh.
2008 was a watershed year for Nepal – the rebels became the government, the kingdom became a republic and the king became a civilian. With the end of the Maoist uprising, trekkers are once again pitting might and muscle against some of the most challenging trails on the planet. Trekking in Nepal is one of those travel benchmarks, like seeing the Taj Mahal, or diving the Great Barrier Reef, or the first time you eat fried locusts. By the end of your trek, you may vow never to climb anything higher than the stairs around your home town, but the experience of the Himalaya will stay with you for a lifetime.
New Zealand's checklist of essential experiences remains as strong as ever. Spectacular landscapes abound, from sea-level rainforests to plunging glaciers, geothermal springs and barren volcanic plains. Add a hearty pinch of lens-friendly wildlife, proud Maori culture, and fine food and drink, and it's easy to see why the natives are so chilled.
NZ is spearheading the ecotravel revolution, winning international accolades for its ethos towards responsible travel, from minimising visitor impact to involving locals in sustainable tourism practices. When you're gawping at the spine-tingling vistas it's good to know they'll still be there for future generations.
Skirting along the southwestern edge of the Iberian Peninsula, the once-great seafaring nation of Portugal today straddles two very different worlds. For purists, this is a land of great tradition, of saints-day festivals where ox-drawn carts still lumber through flower-strewn streets, and ancient vineyards bring sleepy medieval villages to life during the annual harvest. Meanwhile, in other parts of the country, something decidedly more modern is transpiring. Old city centres are slowly being revitalised. A new wave of boutiques, art galleries and cafes are finding new homes in once crumbling old buildings, and locals are beginning to rediscover the allure of vibrant downtown areas.
South America's smallest country, both in area and population, is easily one of its most diverse; and is known for its peacefully coexisting cultures. Suriname's natural riches range from Africa-like savannahs to beaches raided by endangered sea turtles, to some of the world's largest protected stands of tropical rainforest. Quickly emerging as a prime ecotourism and sport-fishing destination, Suriname has everything you could hope for in a wildlife adventure, including the biggest fish in the world, more than 700 bird species and such fascinating mammals as puma, manatee, tapir and primates.
Suddenly the US is cool again! Be it from Barack Obama, Abraham Lincoln's 200th birthday, or just tightened budgets during the recession, but more Americans are looking backwards – and foreigners too – and taking in traditional American historical sites, beginning with Washington, DC's freebie zone of museums and heroic monuments.
Trains are a great way to see the country. Unlike the highways, trains don't pass constant billboards and fast-food chains, and – while a point-to-point ticket is often cheaper on a plane – good-value passes let travellers make looping trips to five or more stops and curb their carbon imprint at the same time.
This is an edited extract from Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2010 - the best trends, destinations, journeys and experiences for the upcoming year. Out now. © Lonely Planet Publications, 2009. $24.99