The hot list 2016: The 16 best countries to visit for 2016

Decisions, decisions. It's a big world out there, and it's begging to be explored. The question is: where do you go next?

For 2016, there are some exciting options. It's a year of big events, with an Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, the 100th anniversary of the national park system in the United States,  and the naming of a new "capital of culture" in Europe. It's a year in which every country in South America becomes more accessible thanks to increased flights from Australia and New Zealand, and formerly difficult-to-visit nations, such as Cuba and Iran, become ever more welcoming.

Next year is a perfect one for enjoying yourself, but it's also a great time for travellers to lend a hand. Countries such as Vanuatu and Nepal, so recently hit by natural disasters, are back in business, but need tourists and the tourist dollar to fully recover. Others, such as Ghana, affected by proximity to the Ebola crisis, are also poised to rebound.

Wherever you choose to travel – whether the destination is adventurous or easy, expensive or cheap, warm or cold, fun or educational – the most exciting thing is simply making that big decision. Where do you go next? 

We hope this guide can help you on your way.  

NAMIBIA

Why it's hot: This country is larger than France, yet only 2.2 million people call it home. There are huge swaths of open space in Namibia, from the sandy deserts in the south to the vast plains of the north, with small beachside towns, tribal villages, national parks, and towering sand dunes dotted throughout. 

Don't miss: One of the great sights of Africa is watching the sun rise at Dune 45 in Sossusvlei. This is an 80-metre-high sand dune that changes colour from cold black to rich, deep red as the sun lights another flawless day.

When to go: Namibia is a year-round destination, but wildlife viewing is best from May to September. 

More: www.namibiatourism.com.na.

CUBA

Why it's hot: Change is afoot in Cuba – perhaps you've heard. Fidel Castro is all but gone. The US embassy has reopened in Havana. Travel restrictions have been relaxed. Mobile phones and internet have arrived. This country of such individuality, this living, breathing monument to the ups and downs of revolution and freedom, the one-time home of Ernest Hemingway and Che Guevara, the land of salsa and cigars, of rum and rebellion, is on the brink of being forever altered.

And there's good news for potential visitors to Cuba: all of these changes are actually making life easier and more interesting for travellers. Where once you would have been restricted to government-run hotels and restaurants, in the new Cuba, homestay guesthouses – know as "casas particulares" – are opening across the country, putting travellers in direct contact with local families, while independent restaurants and cafes are flourishing. The more the country opens up, the more its people do as well. 

Don't miss: One of Cubans' enduring passions is music, particularly live music. In Havana, the place to see the good stuff, away from the tourist hordes, is Casa de la Musica in upmarket Miramar.

When to go: Cuba can be very humid from June to September, while there are hurricanes from August to October. Any other time of the year, it's warm and pleasant.

More: www.chimuadventures.com/country/cuba.

UNITED STATES 

Why it's hot: Don't let the exchange rate deter you – some of the US's biggest attractions are also its cheapest. Exhibit A: the country's national park system, which celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2016, and continues to provide some of the most amazing travel experiences on the planet. Places such as Yosemite, Yellowstone, Zion, Arches, Glacier and Rocky Mountain are bucket-list destinations that can be accessed, along with 2000 other natural attractions, for about $100 a year. Centennial celebrations will be happening at parks across the country throughout 2016.

And anyone who has been near a TV or newspaper in the past few months will know there's a presidential election about to take place in the US. The vote won't happen until early November, which leaves almost an entire year for the pomp and ridiculousness that is the race to the White House. The best way to experience it is by being there.

Oh and one more thing: 2016 is also the 90th anniversary of Route 66. Time to get behind the wheel.

Don't miss: Hire a car in Las Vegas and take a road trip north to visit some of the country's best national parks: Zion, Glen Canyon, Canyonlands​ and Arches are all within striking distance.  

When to go: The US is the ultimate year-round destination. However, November 2016, during the presidential elections, is going to be a blast.

More: www.visittheusa.com.au; www.nps.gov/findapark​.

MYANMAR

Why it's hot: An up-and-coming destination for some time now, Myanmar might finally be on the brink of full recovery since the election of Aung Sun Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy. Although still rough around the edges, this is a country with plenty to offer visitors, from the colonial charm of Yangon to the temples of Bagan​ and the rustic Inle Lake. This is another of those destinations to visit before everyone else does.

Don't miss: A dawn balloon flight over Bagan deserves to be on everyone's list.

When to go: Peak season is November to March.

More: www.myanmartourism.org.

NEPAL

Why it's hot: Nepal needs you. This is a country heavily reliant on the tourism dollar, and those who depend upon visitors for their livelihood are still feeling the devastation of the April earthquake. The rebuilding process is going to be a long one; however, there are still things for travellers to do. The Annapurna and Everest trekking routes have been declared safe, and accommodation options are regularly reopening.

Don't miss: The Everest Base Camp trek, once overcrowded, is now quiet and serene. It won't stay that way forever.

When to go: If you're hoping to trek, October or November are best.

More: www.welcomenepal.com.

VANUATU

Why it's hot: This is another country that could use a hand in 2016 – and it's not as if you'll be doing yourself a hardship. While the post-Cyclone Pam clean-up continues, pretty much the entire nation is again open for business, meaning you can still relax at resorts, or climb active volcanoes, or scuba-dive on coral reefs, or just hang out and drink kava with the locals. Sounds like a good way to lend a hand.

Don't miss: For scuba-divers, the wreck of the SS President Coolidge, a 200-metre luxury cruiser sunk during World War II, is unmissable.

When to go: Vanuatu is beautiful year round, although temperatures are best from April to October.

More: www.vanuatu.travel.

PORTUGAL

Why it's hot: Portugal is fast becoming known as the epicentre of hotels that focus on design. There are luxury boutique properties such as Memmo Alfama​ in Lisbon, or the stunningly strange (and environmentally sustainable) Pedras Salgadas​ near Porto. Even the hostels in Portugal are fancy – the award-winnning Home Lisbon Hostel is like staying with a wealthy relative, while Yes! Lisbon Hostel is modern and spacious.

Don't miss: A nice hotel is one thing, but you can't visit Portugal without feasting on "pasteis de nata", or Portuguese tarts, from a local bakery.

When to go: Any time of the year.

More: www.visitportugal.com.

CHILE

Why it's hot: There's almost an embarrassment of natural riches in Chile. From top to bottom of this pencil-thin land, stunning landscapes abound – there's the lunar desolation of the Atacama Desert, the rugged, snowy peaks of the Andes, the wineries of Colchagua Valley, the volcanoes and pastures of the Lake District, and famed Patagonia in the south. Chile, often overlooked in favour of its neighbours, is ripe for exploration. 

Don't miss: The street art and nightlife scenes in coastal Valparaiso rival any across the continent. 

When to go: November to February is high season, particularly for Patagonia.

More: www.chile.travel.

ICELAND

Why it's hot: You've seen Iceland. You've seen plenty of Iceland. This spectacular country has played backdrop to TV shows and films such as Game of Thrones, Interstellar, The Secret Life of Walter Mitty​, and Prometheus. Those productions were surely enough to whet the appetite for what truly is one beautiful little land, a rugged, mysterious place of geysers, glaciers, hot springs and volcanoes. Discounted trans-Atlantic flights are also making Iceland a popular stopover destination.

Don't miss: Go for the landscapes – stay for the culture. Iceland has a thriving music scene, best enjoyed at summer festivals such as Westman Islands Festival and Iceland Airwaves. 

When to go: June to August.

More: www.visiticeland.com.

NEW ZEALAND

Why it's hot: They're smart, the Kiwis. They saw a worldwide trend towards cycling, particularly cycling holidays, and they jumped on it. Enjoy life on two wheels? To date, New Zealand has spent $80 million developing a nationwide network of bike paths, from the gentlest beginner tracks to the most teeth-clattering mountain-bike trails, called the New Zealand Cycle Trail. That's more than 2500 kilometres of dedicated bike paths across the country – paths that will take you along coasts, through forests, up mountains, past wineries, across bridges and into cities.

In 2016 New Zealand is all about getting on your bike, but, of course, that's not all our friendly neighbour has to offer. You can still ski. You can swim. You can hike tracks along coastal or mountain routes. You can sip wine, or eat food, or jump off a bridge with an elastic band tied around your ankles. Business as usual. 

Don't miss: One of the newest and most popular cycling tracks is the Timber Trail, an 85-kilometre pathway near Lake Taupo that was once used for logging, but is now the perfect multi-day ride.

When to go: The best times for cycling are the shoulder seasons – autumn and spring.

More: www.newzealand.com.

GHANA

Why it's hot: With the threat of Ebola in west Africa largely stymied, now is the time to head back to Ghana. This is one of the continent's great success stories, a prosperous and peaceful nation that has plenty to offer travellers looking for something a little different. On the coast, there are colonial-era forts, castles and bustling cities to explore; to the north lies the seat of former African kingdoms, broad plains and rolling hills rich with the wildlife for which this continent is famous.

Don't miss: Keep an eye out for tropical birds and monkeys while wandering the 40-metre-high canopy walkways at Kakum National Park.

When to go: Humidity is lowest from October to April.

More: www.ghana.travel.

SARDINIA

Why it's hot: It's not technically a country, although the graffiti on a wall that greets many visitors to Cagliari says everything: "Sardinia is not Italy". And it doesn't feel like Italy – from the white, red and black flags that fly from most balconies to the language spoken and the food eaten. This is an independent state, and a fascinating one. Known for its Mediterranean coastline, long a playground for Europe's rich and famous, Sardinia is also studded with mountain villages and rugged terrain. 

Don't miss: Prepare for a long journey if you drive around Costa Smeralda​: the distances are small, but the photo opportunities on this stretch of coast are  frequent.

When to go: May to October is beautiful.

More: www.sardegnaturismo.it/en.

URUGUAY

Why it's hot: This is South America's little country that could, a charming, buzzing place of colonial-era cities and cowboy-country plains. Uruguay is liberal, enjoyable and safe, and for the most part, it's off the beaten tourist trail, which means you get places such as the coastal capital, Montevideo, the party town of Punta del Este, and the cattle-ranch country of the interior all to yourself. 

Don't miss: Devote a day to wandering the Old Town of Montevideo, snacking on empanadas​, drinking yerba mate, a slightly bitter herbal tea, and taking in the relaxed feel of the place.

When to go: Uruguay is great year-round, although November to March is best for the beach.

More: www.welcomeuruguay.com.

IRAN

Why it's hot: As with Cuba, the floodgates are slowly but surely opening in Iran, and it's already a far easier country in which to travel than you might think. Australian passport holders can obtain a visa on arrival. Visitors are free to move about the country as they please, untroubled by restrictions or police checks. The locals are extremely friendly. The sights – the mosques, the bazaars, the ancient ruins, the teahouses – are as stunning as they are free of other tourists. This is a place to see now.

Don't miss: It's impossible to take a bad photo amid the blaze of colour and light in Shiraz's Nasir ol Molk​ mosque.

When to go: March to May and September to November are best.

More: www.tourismiran.ir/en.

JAPAN

Why it's hot: Japan is a firm favourite among Australian skiers and snowboarders thanks to its reliable and affordable mountain resorts, but this is a country with more to offer than mere waist-deep powder snow for four months of the year. Japan is a strange beast, a place of hyper-modernity rubbing shoulders with thousands of years of tradition. It's a place to go to be emerged in another world, where many things might not make sense, but they're always fascinating.

Don't miss: To see the Japanese at their obsessive best, travel during cherry blossom season – about April – and watch as the cameras come out.

When to go: Japan can be enjoyed year round, although January to March is best for skiing.

More: www.jnto.org.au.

POLAND

Why it's hot: Krakow. That's all you need to know. This city is an architectural wonder easily on par with Prague or Vienna or Budapest, and yet with a fraction of the visitors those near neighbours receive. It's all medieval charm on Krakow's cobbled streets, from churches to museums, synagogues to sprawling market squares. Poland has plenty more to offer – the nightlife of Warsaw, the mountains of the countryside – but Krakow should be enough to draw your attention.

Don't miss: The 16th-century Royal Wawel Castle is the jewel in Krakow's crown, and houses the Leonardo da Vinci painting The Lady with an Ermine.

When to go: High season is summer – May to September.

More: www.poland.travel.

See also: The best 16 cities to visit in 2016

.

Comments