The hottest new travel destinations for 2017: Best countries to visit

So many destinations, so little time. For most travellers, it's not a case of if you'll go next year; it's not a case of when you'll go; it's only a question of: where?

Where do you choose for that dream holiday? Where do you select for that once-in-a-lifetime adventure, that relaxing getaway, that ski trip, that road trip, the culinary tour de force?

For 2017, the Traveller team has put together a few answers. Next year, it will be all about great experiences, all about immersing yourself in a destination, living like a local, of "doing" rather than just seeing.

36 Hours in Antigua, Guatemala

In Antigua, Guatemala, visitors can browse markets, sip espresso at a working coffee farm, eat regional food and hike up volcanoes. Video: New York Times

It will be about trekking in Guatemala, and fine-dining in Cape Town; it will be about haggling on the streets of Fes, and taking a siesta in Seville. It will be a year in which travellers rediscover some of their favourite destinations, places such as Canada, Japan and France, while also setting their sights on countries that are relatively new to the tourism world, including the likes of Papua New Guinea and Georgia.

See also: Countries with the worst and best reputations revealed

Of course, there are no wrong answers when it comes to travel, no bad decisions in choosing a destination. Every country, every city, and every town offers something fascinating and unique. But if you need inspiration for 2017, this is where it begins.

THE 17 COUNTRIES TO VISIT IN 2017

GUATEMALA

Why you should go: Guatemala should be world famous. It should appear on bucket lists as frequently as Peru or South Africa or Egypt. It should be known for ancient ruins such as Tikal, for natural attractions like Lake Atitlan, for colonial towns like Antigua, and even for bustling mountaintop hubs like Quetzaltenango. But it's not, which is good news for visitors, because it means there are fewer people to share it with.

Don't miss: Lake Atitlan is not only surrounded by volcanoes, but also by charming little villages like San Marcos and San Pedro.

When to go: November to April.

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More: visitguatemala.com

*FRANCE

Why you should go: The recent security issues in France have been well documented, and while it never seemed like this would be a country in need of support for its tourism industry, now might be that time. For potential visitors, in one sense it's worth remembering that your chances of being caught up in a serious incident in France are still extremely small (though check smartraveller.gov.au for the latest warnings). In another, even more important sense, it's worth remembering that some travellers will be scared off by the current security situation in France, meaning this notoriously tourist-filled destination might just be a little quieter next year.

Regardless of your reasons, the charms of France will still be there. Whether you're into chateau living in the Loire, or cycling around Provence, sunning yourself in the Riviera, feasting in Lyon, or enjoying city life in Paris, you'll find what you're looking for in 2017. And you'll be helping to support a country that needs a boost.

Don't miss: Even the most parochial, food-obsessed French person would be forced to admit the country's culinary capital is Lyon. Though it doesn't have the global recognition of Provence or the Riviera, it also doesn't have the global inundation of visitors, making a trip to Lyon an unexpected pleasure.

When to go: Year-round.

More: au.france.fr

See also: 32 reasons to love Paris

SOUTH AFRICA

Why you should go: Here's all you need to know about South Africa: it's very affordable, and it's not far away. With the exchange rate hovering at around 11 rand to the Australian dollar, and with direct flights from Sydney to Johannesburg taking only 14 hours (the same as Los Angeles) and costing as little as $1500 return, now is the ideal time to visit Cape Town, or drive the Garden Route, or explore the Drakensburg mountains, or roam around a game park.

Don't miss: Chef Luke Dale-Roberts' Cape Town restaurant, The Test Kitchen (testkitchen.co.za), was recently named No. 22 in the world by 50 Best.

When to go: Year-round.

More: southafrica.net

See also: Southern Africa - the amazing destination Aussies don't care about

PERU

Why you should go: Which is the only city to boast three of the world's top 30 best restaurants? It's not Paris, it's not New York, and it's not London. It's Lima, the Peruvian capital, whose dining scene has gone stratospheric in recent years. While the country's stars, the likes of Central (world No. 4 on the 2016 "50 Best" list), Maido (No. 13), and Astrid y Gaston (No. 30) garner international attention, any dining out experience across Peru will be a good one.

Don't miss: Virgilio Martinez's Central restaurant should be first on the list for food-obsessed visitors.

When to go: May to September.

More: visitperu.com

See: The three-minute guide to Lima

SPAIN

Why you should go: Even if you've been to Spain, this destination is worth getting to know better – each region has its own cuisine, its own traditions, and very often its own language. Get off the tourist trail next year and visit more remote regions such as Galicia and Asturias on the north coast, or Extremadura and Castilla la Mancha in the south.

Don't miss: The Camino de Santiago, a pilgrim's trail from the Basque country in Spain's north-east to the city of Santiago de Compostela in its far west, is becoming a popular way to see the country.

When to go: Summers are hot in the south, and winters cold in the north. Otherwise, visit year-round.

More: spain.info

See also: 20 things that will shock first-time visitors to Spain

PALESTINE

Why you should go: Admittedly, the Palestinian Territories don't figure on many bucket lists, given the stories people often hear. But still, this is a fascinating and surprisingly welcoming part of the world, a place you won't readily forget visiting. While mainstream tourism has yet to arrive, it's still possible to tour cities such as Nablus and even Ramallah, checking out religious sites, eating amazing food, and putting faces to the Palestinian name.

Don't miss: Bait al Karama, the Nablus branch of the Slow Food Movement, a social club and cooking school run entirely by women (baitalkarama.org).

When to go: September to April. For the latest security advice, check www.smartraveller.gov.au.

More: travelpalestine.ps

See also: Why you should visit Palestine

SOUTH KOREA

Why you should go: Korea has been on the cusp of a tourism boom for some time, and 2017 might just be its year. This is, after all, a country rich with culture, though one that has often had to live in the shadow of its more well-known neighbour, Japan. But Korea can hold its own, in terms of food, culture, city life, and for the sheer foreignness that makes this area so interesting.

Don't miss: There's more to Korean food than barbecue – try bibimbap, the fried-rice dish, or Korean-style fried chicken, or anything with kimchi.

When to go: Autumn or spring.

More: visitkorea.org.au.

See also: Fear and fun at the world's most infamous border

RUSSIA

Why you should go: Despite a recent slew of bad press for Russia, including its athletes doping and its politicians possibly plotting world domination, this is a country you want to visit in 2017. As it gears up to host the FIFA World Cup in 2018, Russia is ready to show the world how much it has to offer: it's a country of high culture and world-class sights, a seemingly impenetrable place that rewards those who give it a chance.

Don't miss: The best of Russia is seen from the window of the Trans-Siberian train.

When to go: April to September.

More: russiatourism.ru

See also: Why Russia is Europe's most baffling country

PAPUA NEW GUINEA

Why you should go: Australia's closest neighbour has plenty to offer travellers adventurous enough to make the journey there in 2017 – and those numbers are sure to increase with cruise lines adding Milne Bay and Kokopo to their itineraries. For first-time visitors, the best of PNG is celebrated at its annual events: celebrations like the Mask Festival in Kokopo, the Mount Hagen Cultural Show, and the Canoe and Kundu Drum Festival in Alotau.

Don't miss: The 2017 Mask Festival, scheduled for July, will be one of the most popular events on the calendar.

When to go: May to October.

More: papuanewguinea.travel

See also: PNG - the untamed paradise on our doorstep

BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA

Why you should go: Of the former Yugoslavian states, it's usually Croatia that garners most attention from tourists thanks to its stunning coastline. However, people are beginning to discover the charms of Bosnia and Herzegovina, particularly cities like Sarajevo and Mostar. Both boast fledging arts, music and dining-out scenes, as well as classic architecture that still bears the scars of war.

Don't miss: Stop off at Stari Most Bridge in Mostar to see daring locals and crazy tourists take a leap of faith into the river far below.

When to go: Peak season is from June to August, though shoulder seasons offer better value.

More: bhtourism.ba

THAILAND

Why you should go: You've probably been to Thailand, to Bangkok, or Chiang Mai, or to islands like Koh Samui or Koh Phi-Phi. But there's more to discover here, particularly for those prepared to get off the beaten track. Every region of Thailand offers different food, different culture, and a different attitude. Each is worth discovering.

Don't miss: The Isan region in Thailand's north-east boasts some of the country's tastiest – and fieriest – cuisine. Just order whatever the locals eat, and have a bottle of water handy.

When to go: September to April.

More: tourismthailand.org

See also: 20 things that will shock first-time visitors to Thailand

CHILE

Why you should go: Chile is a country of isolated extremes, from the glaciers of Patagonia in the south to the bleak plains of the Atacama Desert in the north. It's also, however, beginning to gain traction as one of South America's safest countries, a politically stable place that boasts not just those physical extremes, but also artsy hubs like Valparaiso, wine country in the Aconcagua Valley, and rolling green hills in the Lakes District.

Don't miss: The Atacama is ruggedly beautiful, but is also home to high-end resorts like Tierra Atacama (tierrahotels.com).

When to go: Winter for the Atacama, and summer for Patagonia.

More: chile.travel

*CANADA

Why you should go: The big, beautiful, and ridiculously friendly country of Canada turns 150 years old in 2017, which means it's time to celebrate. While most of the action will centre around the capital, Ottawa, which is putting on 12 months of festivals and events, next year will be a great time to be in any part of the country, with events taking place nation-wide.

Even without that as a drawcard, however, you'd be hard-pressed to find a reason not to want to visit Canada. This country is overflowing with tourism attractions, from the ever-popular Rocky Mountain regions of British Columbia, to the cultural capital of Montreal, polar bear spotting in Manitoba, the rugged coastline of Nova Scotia, and plenty more in between.

Don't miss: While it often flies under the radar as a tourist destination, next year Ottawa will be abuzz with activity. Check out ottawa2017.ca for the roll-out of celebrations and events over the next few months.

When to go: You'll find great things to do year-round in Canada, from skiing in the winter to hiking in the shoulder seasons to soaking up city life in the summer.

More: canada.travel

See also: The wild side of the Canadian Rockies

SWITZERLAND

Why you should go: Recently deemed the most beautiful country in the world by the Traveller team, Switzerland really is insanely attractive. While its cities are fun – Zurich has a great restaurant scene, and Bern sits on the Aare River, perfect for floating down on a hot summer day – the true wonder of Switzerland is out in the countryside, from the towering peaks around Lauterbrunnen to the rolling green hills of the Emmental.

Don't miss: Lace up your hiking boots and do the six-hour walk from Schynige Platte to Grindelwald First near Interlaken to experience some amazing scenery.

When to go: Year-round.

More: myswitzerland.com

See also: Six of the best historic Swiss hotels

GEORGIA

Why you should go: Though at one point Ukraine looked on the cusp of entering the tourism mainstream thanks to its Black Sea coastline and charming cities, political unrest there has meant that many tourists – as well as many cruise lines – have had to alter course, and Georgia could be the beneficiary. The former Soviet state shares that seaside location, as well as having a surprisingly good culinary scene and a rich, independent culture.

Don't miss: While its cities have plenty to offer, the best of Georgia might just be its beautiful countryside, which is perfect for hikers and cyclists.

When to go: May to September.

More: georgia.travel

See also: The land of milk and honey

IRELAND

Why you should go: Whether they realise it or not, plenty of people will be seeing Ireland in 2017. That's because the opening scenes of Star Wars: Episode VIII, due for release next December, were shot in County Kerry. That sci-fi stardom is sure to provide a boost to the country's tourism numbers, as Star Wars fans flock to this picturesque location.

Don't miss: Skellig Michael is a jagged outcrop of rock off the coast of County Kerry that was once a monastery, and was more recently the fictional hideout of Luke Skywalker. It's truly beautiful.

When to go: May to September.

More: ireland.com

See also: The spectacular spot where Star Wars: Episode VIII will begin

FRENCH POLYNESIA

Why you should go: While cashed-up honeymooners will always want to head to Bora Bora or Moorea, there's more to French Polynesia than those famously romantic – and famously expensive – locales. In 2017, set a course for the out-islands, to places like Rangiroa in the Tuamoto Islands, which is an almost-uninhabited paradise, or the Marquesas, where it's as much about adventure as romance.

Don't miss: If you're lucky enough to be in the main island of Tahiti at the right time, check out the Billabong Pro surf tournament at Teahupo'o, known as the world's "heaviest" wave.

When to go: April to October.

More: tahiti-tourisme.com

See also: Luxury in the loveliest spot on earth

See also: Ten countries you (probably) haven't visited - but should

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