Kicking back on a beach, cold beer in hand while watching the sun go down is one of travel’s finest pleasures. But there’s something far more rewarding about heaving yourself from bed in the pitch black and blearily traipsing to the top of a mountain or the edge of a cliff to see the sun rise in all its glory. You’ll have the whole day stretching out ahead of you, full of amazing travel adventures to be had. Or, if you’re feeling snoozy, you can always go back to bed afterwards. Head to one of these amazing spots and we promise you’ll be dazzled.
Inle Lake, Myanmar/Burma
Spend a night in a stilt house on Burma’s vast Inle Lake and you’ll be treated to a sunrise of spectacular beauty without having to move more than the five metres from your bed to the balcony. The mountainous backdrop, coupled with early risers out fishing and tending the lake’s lush floating gardens, mean you’ll have plenty of subjects for snaps. Or you can just sit back and drink it all in before crawling back under the covers.
Bryce Canyon, USA
Easily reached by car or a special park shuttle, Bryce Canyon’s Sunrise Point offers early-morning views which you’ll struggle to beat anywhere in the lonesome west. The unique rock formations glow majestically in the rising sun and if you go in winter, the snowy peaks make it even more magical. The view is epic, looking out across the entire Bryce Canyon National Park. Just remember to wrap up warm, against that overnight desert chill.
Okavango Delta, Botswana
Sunrise is one of the best times to see Botswana’s diverse fauna in all its glory. Try a sunrise safari walk with a local guide and you’re more than likely to have a truly unforgettable travel experience. But if the crocodiles and grazing gazelles are already settling down for a day of playing hide-and-seek with safari-goers, you’ll still get shimmering sunlight reflected from the delta’s vast, watery plains as the sun comes up.
Mount Fuji, Japan
Climbing Japan’s highest mountain is by no means easy. Unless you’re a hardened walker, you’ll need to do so in the official climbing season which runs from July-August, when Fuji is free of snow. Yes, it’s busy. But witness sunrise here and you’ll struggle to match the experience anywhere else on Earth. If you don’t hit the summit in time, never fear. The popular Yoshida trail has great views of the sun making its way into the sky.
Shetland Isles, Scotland
The most northerly islands of the UK afford some of Europe’s best sunrise views. The remote beaches make the perfect spot for seeing the sun come up and we promise you’ll be in sweet isolation, untroubled by tourist hordes. It’s best to head here in early spring or late autumn for some sunrise action, as Shetland’s northerly location means the sun spends just a few hours below the horizon in the summer months.
Fiji is blessed with so much turquoise water, white sand beaches, jungle rivers and authentic culture that it almost seems unfair. Whether you’re looking for a decadent resort, family getaway or backpacker adventure, these islands have it all. Wherever you go, expect the warmest welcomes the world has to offer.
The international gateway to the Fijian Islands, Viti Levu boasts a taste of everything the country has to offer from international caliber resort areas like all-inclusive and designer Denarau, to the mountain village of Navala where locals live in traditional thatched bure (huts).
Dive with resident tiger sharks in Beqa Lagoon, kayak or raft the Navua River, snorkel the outrageous reef at Nananu-i-Ra or simply bronze on the dazzling white sands of the Coral Coast on your beach towel – there is a lot to do (or not do) on this island.
The capital Suva is the largest South Pacific metropolis outside of New Zealand and worth a visit to see modern Melanesian life at its liveliest. Meanwhile Nadi, the main transport hub showcases the country’s Indian heritage via sari shops and plenty of yummy curries.
Ah, the Mamanucas. Here is a near-perfect string of wee white sand isles that hover in blue water like some hallucination of paradise. Most are only an hour or so boat ride away from Viti Levu. The Mamanucas are such picture perfect islands that the filmCast Away was filmed on this chain’s uninhabited Monuriki Island – visit it on a day trip.
Meanwhile famous surf spots like Cloud Break lure in wave riders and their families while Beachcomber Island is known as the reigning party resort island of the country. You’re not going to get a whole lot of cultural bling out here but if you want reliably good weather, brag-worthy sand, waiters wielding cocktails and lots tourist of company, the Mamanucas are for you.
The Yasawas pick up the glorious tropical tail of the Mamanuca Islands and bring them north to more quiet and isolated bliss. A high-speed catamaran makes getting there from either Viti Levu or the Mamanucas a cinch and accommodation ranges from lush resorts to laid-back backpacker digs.
Sparsely populated, the land is relatively dry, the beaches white. While the Mamanucas got Tom Hanks, the Yasawas got Brooke Shields when the 1980 filmBlue Lagoon was filmed here. Island hop, explore the clear dark waters of Sawa-i-Lau Cave and snorkel and dive yourself silly on gorgeous reef frequented by manta rays.
Ovalau & the Lomaiviti Group
Levuka on Ovalau was once the capital of Fiji and today it’s one of the only towns in the South Pacific boasting Wild West style colonial buildings. Outside of town, hike jungle-clad mountains and undeveloped coasts of traditional villages.
Despite the fact that this main island and its dozen or so smaller sisters lie so close to Viti Levu, few visitors make it out here. Islands like Leleuvia, Naigani and Koro have very low-key resorts on lost-feeling alabaster beaches, while Wakaya hosts theWakaya Club, one of the country’s most exclusive and beautiful resorts.
Remote and authentic yet easily accessed by plane or ship from Viti Levu, Kadavu is one of Fiji’s best off-the-beaten-path assets. Eco-adventurers will find happiness at the dozen or so resorts that grow their own organic produce and work in tune with the local villages.
Anywhere you stay you’ll have to get there by boat from the main village passing by prehistoric-looking jungle coves chirping with rare and colorful endemic birds. The east part of the island is fringed by the Great Astrolabe Reef, the fourth largest barrier reef in the world, renowned for its cavern and tunnel-filled underwater landscapes, manta rays and phenomenal fishing.
High waterfall-strewn peaks are contrasted with bucolic lowlands of sugarcane and coconut plantations on hard-working, relatively untouristed Vanua Levu.
The main, flower-filled and vaguely colonial settlement of Savusavu attracts sailors with its sheltered green bays and small selection of decent shops, bars and restaurants. Outside town are miles of near-empty beaches, some with resorts, some fronted by traditional villages and others only surrounded by jungle. Rent a 4WD and explore the wilds.
Divers in the know make the pilgrimage to the Rainbow Reef famous for its forests of soft corals. Even more dedicated divers go to the nearby Namena Marine Reserve for the country’s most pristine waters.
Rightly know as the ‘Garden Isle’, Taveuni is the most lush, tropical-flower-laden, waterfall heavy and hiking friendly island in Fiji. Most of the forests are protected and there are peaks to ascend and coastlines to wander. A highlight is the Lavena Coastal Walk that follows the forest’s edge for five kilometers along white and black sand beaches and villages to a lush waterfall.
The Rainbow reef (see Vanua Levu above) is also accessed from Taveuni and smaller offshore islands like Qamea and Matagi hold resorts on stunning remote white sand beaches. Everywhere you go you’ll find accommodation for all ranges from super-luxe to backpacker fun.
Nature has been prolific and creative in Montenegro, producing such iconic draws as the bewitching Bay of Kotor and the buzzy beaches along its Riviera. But be sure to pack a pair of hiking boots along with your swimsuit, for Montenegro’s beauty is no less intense in the wild and rugged interior. A new – and steadily growing – network of hiking and biking trails and improved infrastructure is making this glorious quilt of nature ever more accessible, while creating new employment for locals.
Without fanfare, South Korea has quietly developed into an outdoor recreation destination with untapped potential in golfing, hiking and fishing. Though not quite undiscovered, few people outside the country know about it. That anonymity will likely fade away in 2013 as it bursts onto the world stage hosting a series of major sporting events.
Two decades on from the Velvet Revolution, Slovakia has galvanised to form one of the continent’s fastest-growing economies, joined the EU and ranks right up there in Google searches for bargain ski packages and stag weekends. Now the tourism industry is keen to distance the nation from being all cheap pistes and piss-ups. The image overhaul has been overdue but it’s here, and in time for the inevitable party in 2013.
Forget what travelling the Pacific used to be like – around the Solomon Islands it’s still that way. Forget mass-market or luxury retreats; think engaging eco-resorts, village homestays and some of the best scuba diving anywhere. In the past limited flights, difficult internal transport, a lack of infrastructure, a civil war and some particularly exotic strains of malaria all put travellers off. Today travel is much easier, the civil strife is off the radar and lately even the mosquitoes aren’t so threatening.
Ask any tourist during your trip to Iceland and you’ll quickly see that everyone develops an unconditional love for the little island nation, whether it’s for the mind-bending scenery, the platefuls of delicious lamb and fish dishes, or the sincere local hospitality. The currency crash – which effectively devalued the króna by 75% – also helped make a trip much more favourable to the wallet. As the global economy starts to heal, prices are climbing once more. The spoils of Iceland are no longer a secret, but they’re still yours for the taking – and in 2013 you’ll still be well ahead of the curve.
New low-cost airlines are opening up the southeast of Turkey, and excellent bus services make getting around easy. Explore the historic old towns of Mardin and Midyat, feast on fantastic food in Gaziantep and see the recently uncovered ruins of Göbekli Tepe near Sanliurfa. Experience the Turkish section of the recently inaugurated Abraham’s Path walking trail, where accommodation is in simple Kurdish homestays, a long way from the tourist buzz of the coast or Istanbul’s Old Town.
In the first quarter of 2012 the Dominican Republic saw an 8.4% increase in tourism. With more airlines offering stops to the country’s eight international airports, as well as cruise ships adding the DR as a major port of call, more people are escaping to the land of sun, sand, and surf comparable to anywhere else in the Caribbean.
The best, and most romantic, way to explore the 32 coral atolls of the Quirimbas is by Arabian dhow. Charter one of these traditional sailing vessels and let the crew navigate you to untouched islets where palm trees and turtles are the only residents. Each evening you’ll be deposited on deserted beaches, to eat fresh fish and camp out on the sand.
Set sail across this ridiculously elysian South Pacific lagoon with Captain Fantastic – not only will he stop at Aitutaki’s best snorkel spots and reel off local history, he’ll drop anchor at Honeymoon Island, a well-named hump of sand lapped by turquoise blue. While you take a dip, the Captain will cook up a fishy feast – or you can arrange to be marooned there overnight...
Most Canadian cabins are intrinsically romantic: they conjure thoughts of snuggling by open fires, nostrils tingling with the scent of pungent pine. This one’s even better: nestled on Algonquin Island, in the midst of Kawawaymog Lake, it’s only accessible by canoe. While here, paddle out to look for moose, star-gaze from the deck or get steamy in the floating sauna.
Leave scenic Stockholm to paddle its outlying archipelago in a kayak built for two. There are around 30,000 isles and islets here, so finding one without other people should be a cinch. Also, wild camping (done respectfully) is legal in Sweden, so when you find that perfect private cove, pitch your tent there and claim it as your own.
Santorini is the quintessential Greek honeymoon island. And, yes, its sunken caldera and taverna-tumbling hillsides are pretty dreamy – but they’re pretty busy too. To find sunset-over-the-sea views that are just as good – but without the glut of people – try peaceful Ikaria. This small Aegean isle has little tourism and is tricky to reach, but is all the more unique for it. Come for great food, a village-to-village walking trail, thick forests and empty beaches. Come for all the romance, none of the crowds.