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12 great destinations for 2012: The next six months

Looking for inspiration for 2012? Here's our month-by-month guide to the planet's coolest destinations

Mt Hagan ( Ian@paperboy.com)

European Cities of CultureJULY – European Cities of Culture

The powers-that-be in Brussels couldn't have picked two more different places as European Cities of Culture for 2012. Guimarães, tucked away in the north of Portugal, is one of the country's most important historical cities, with a UNESCO-listed centre and a reputation as the birthplace of the nation. Maribor, Slovenia's second largest city, is a booming metropolis busily recreating itself after centuries of conflict, juxtaposing monuments of the past with brave, new architectural experiments.

The two cities have taken very different approaches in celebrating culture too. Maribor has embraced new media with mash-up workshops, digital 'interventions' and free wi-fi across the city. Guimarães, with its UNESCO-listed historical centre has taken a more traditional approach, with concerts, exhibitions and pop-up spaces designed to show off the stunning medieval architecture to best effect.

Whichever city you chose, you can be sure of a summer that will delight your senses and broaden your mind.

Slovenia travel guide | Plan a trip… More 

Portugal travel guide | Plan a trip… More

Mount HagenAUGUST – Mount Hagen, PNG

Papua New Guinea is the stuff of true travel legends – a distant, exotic, little-explored land with pristine reefs, highland tribes and jungles bursting with the world's most bizarre birds. And it all comes together at the Mount Hagen festival.

Tribes from all over the highlands don industrial-strength face paints and gather in this small mountain settlement to sing, dance and look ridiculously exotic. It's an annual riot of colour, courtship ceremonies, exuberant dancing and tribal traditions. And definitely not to be missed!

Papua New Guinea travel guide | Plan a trip… More

VietnamSEPTEMBER – Vietnam

Vietnam boasts stunning landscapes – the karst outcrops of Halong Bay and the hilltribe-settled mountains around Sapa spring to mind – as well as beaches, charming colonial towns, the fascinating villages of the Mekong Delta and lush national parks. And with Vietnam Airlines now flying direct to Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi from London, it's even easier to get to.

Foodies will love the mouth-watering variety of dishes available – Vietnam’s cuisine is both diverse and delicious. Best known flavours include pho bo (beef noodle soup), spring rolls – either translucent or fried – and the ubiquitous nuoc mam, a powerful fermented fish sauce. In Ho Chi Minh City try the pho ga, a simple chicken rice noodle soup, topped with delicious, fragrant Vietnamese herbs. In Hue tuck into a vegetarian feast at a Buddhist nunnery. Or in Hanoi, the brave can sample a snack of fried scorpions.

There's something for every palate in Vietnam.

Vietnam travel guide | Plan a trip… More

BurmaOCTOBER – Burma

Years of isolation have kept Burma preserved as an unspoiled gem, with creaking teak monasteries and temples of stone, gracefully ageing in a cycle-paced society.

Ethical travellers have long stayed away in protest against the brutal despotic government. But that may be about to change. Aung San Suu Kyi recently sent a personal message to Wanderlust editor Lyn Hughes advocating 'responsible' travel to her country. Travellers can now visit Asia's most intriguing destination with a clear conscience.

A land of ethereal landscapes, gob-smacking temples and friendly people awaits.

Burma travel guide | Plan a trip… More

Falkland IslandsNOVEMBER – Falkland Islands

2012 marks the 30th anniversary of the Falklands War. Islanders are commemorating the end of the conflict with special memorial service on Remembrance Sunday and a series of other events. Visitors, locals and ex-servicemen and women will pay their respects.

The pristine beaches will be hosting other guests too – colonies of elephant seals, sea lions and up to five species of penguin come to breed here. There's no shortage of bird life on this speck in the South Atlantic Ocean either. The 227 different species of birds will keep the twitchiest of birdwatchers happy too.

Falklands travel guide | Plan a trip… More

Mayan TempleDECEMBER – Chichen Itza

It could get a little messy on 21 December 2012. The Winter Solstice marks the end of a 5,125-year-long cycle in the Mayan 'Long Count' calendar and, according to some scholars, that means the end of the world as we know it. When the calender ends, so will we.

Not everyone agrees. For many Mayans it's like a New Year's Eve they've waited a very, very, very long time for. Join the celebrations at El Castillo, the grand pyramid in Chichen Itza dedicated to Kukulkan, a feathered serpent deity.

Want something a bit more atmospheric? Try the Mayan ruins at Tikal, in neighbouring Guatemala. Set in thick jungle with howler monkeys that sound like dinosaurs, you'll get a real sense of what it's like when a world ends.

Mexico travel guide | Plan a trip… More

Guatemala travel guide | Plan a trip… More

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