List Words : Wanderlust team | 28 November

Wanderlust's Travel Hot List 2017 is here!

New flights. New walking trails. New experiences. Here's the definitive guide to the destinations you'll want to add to your travel wishlist for 2017

Canada’s national parks

They’re free and ready to partyMoraine Lake in Banff National Park, British Columbia (Dreamstime)  

Canada’s national parks are spectacular, from the dinky 15 sq km Georgian Bay Islands National Park to Alberta’s vast Wood Buffalo NP, which is the size of Denmark.

But their scale is rivalled by the variety of geography available, taking in snowswept tundra (Wapusk NP, Manitoba), Rocky Mountains (Jasper NP) and the dense old-growth rainforest of British Columbia (Pacific Rim NP).

And to top it off, admission will be free during 2017 to mark 150 years of the Canadian Confederation: the perfect reason to find yourself celebrating in ‘the Great White North’.

From capital Ottawa, head south to Ontario’s Thousand Islands NP and grab a kayak to explore the titular chain of granite that pierces the St Lawrence River.

Further west, Bruce Peninsula NP lies along the western shoreline of Georgian Bay, with fine trails and a marine park to explore, while Point Pelee NP is home to some of Canada’s best birdwatching.Alternatively, Mont-Temblant NP in Québec boasts one of the most dramatic via ferrata on Earth.

With so much choice on offer, this is a party you won’t want to miss.

 

Patagonia, Chile & Argentina

It’s 40 years since Bruce Chatwin explored the region, and you can too with new flightsGuanaco in Torres del Paine National Park, Patagonia, Chile (Dreamstime)

Back in 1977, Bruce Chatwin shook travel writing with the release of In Patagonia. Hitting readers like a hard shot of pisco sour to the soul, four decades on travellers still cling to tattered copies, as ripe a glimpse into Patagonia’s history, people and myths as anything since.

So what better time to follow in his footsteps – especially with the launch of direct flights to Santiago, Chile?

Stand on the beaches of Argentina’s Puerto Madryn, as Chatwin did, where Welsh pioneers first landed in 1865, and continue to Trevelin, the archetypal green valley that the settlers sought.

Track Ruta 40, meeting gauchos and stopping at estancias (ranches) en route; visit Mylodon Cave, where Chatwin sought his mythical sloths, in sight of the white-dusted peaks of Chile’s Torres del Paine NP; and cross into ‘Fireland’ (Tierra del Fuego NP).

But don’t stick to the book: this is a place to forge your own adventure, exploring sub-polar magellan forests, whale-rich seas and sweeping glaciers. Chatwin would heartily approve.

 

Greenland

It’s the wild Arctic adventure you’ve always dreamed of


Arch iceberg in Greenland (Dreamstime)

While Iceland is now justly cemented on most travellers’ bucket lists, next door to it sits a huge country-shaped wallflower. Greenland has seen little tourism growth over the past few years, with visitor numbers regularly peaking around a lowly 15,000 (international flight passengers) in summer; an astonishing figure given the wild possibilities of this often desolate, frequently beautiful frozen land.

But it’s only a matter of time before travellers catch on. The now annual early melting of the Northwest Passage means the arrival of ever-larger cruise ships (the first 1,000+ liner made the trip in 2016), and its ports are getting busier.

But inland there is so much to explore. In summer, trek the stunning west, walking the 164km Arctic Circle Trail across backcountry to Kanglussuaq, where more than 10,000 musk oxen graze. In winter, catch the northern lights rippling across an ink-black sky (Nov–Mar).

Whether kayaking the UNESCO-listed icefjords of Ilulissat, heading south to the Uunartoq island hot springs, or whale-spotting off the coast of capital Nuuk, 2017 is time for travellers to ask this shy partner for a spin. Iceland should start looking over its shoulder now.

 

Jordan

A new world-class hike has just opened
Petra at night (Dreamstime)

Jordan has pulled out all the stops for 2017. No, they haven't built another Petra (although the recent discovery of new sites within that ancient Nabataean city does give the travel icon an added buzz of excitement). Instead, it has joined up existing routes across its northwest quarter to form the Jordan Trail, a new 600km trek.

The route takes 36 days to hike in its entirety, but can handily be broken up into eight bite-sized sections. The pick of the bunch is arguably the headline-grabbing Petra-to-Wadi Rum trail (111km), a week-long hike that starts from the 2,000-year-old ancient city and then meanders through sandstone ‘islands’ en route to the otherworldly sight of Jordan’s famed orange desert.

There are plenty of other highlights, though, from the trail’s opening stretch, negotiating the Roman ruins, green canyons and oak forests of Umm Qais and beyond, to the final procession over the Aqaba Mountains, as they part to reveal the vast expanse of the Red Sea. With temperatures pretty cool (highs of 17ºC) north of the New Year, head there in spring if you want to camp along the way.

Jordan’s also getting a major cinematic outing in Rogue One, the new Star Wars film, the country doubling for Jehda, the spiritual and religious home of the Jedi, like the Jedi’s “Mecca or Jerusalem”, according to the film’s director. Showing off their breathtaking, colourful desert landscapes to millions of viewer is hardly likely to reduce visitor numbers. 

 

The Canary islands

New flights offer easy access to some surprisingly crowd-free treks
Masca Village in Tenerife (Dreamstime)

We love it when places defy stereotypes. The Canaries (Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera and El Hierro) have long been the fly ’n’ flop Mecca, yet few realise what fine hiking trails the islands have – Tenerife even hosts its own walking festival (23-27 May). And with twice-weekly flights with easyJet now running from London Gatwick to La Palma, 2017 seems long overdue to explore them.

La Gomera is the obvious hiking candidate, drawing you into its volcanic interior or walk in the footsteps of Christopher Columbus (who once stopped for supplies). There are plenty of lesser-known alternatives, though, such as tiny El Hierro, the Canaries’ southernmost island, whose recently launched network of walks still fly well below tourists’ radars.

La Palma itself is etched in trails, cresting volcanic ridges and winding the craters that pock the island’s southern spine. Even Gran Canaria boasts its own mini Camino de Santiago, a pilgrimage trail originally linking the island’s two St James-dedicated churches, since extended to create a three-day (77km) coast-to-coast trek. It's time to put away the parasol and lace up your boots.

 

Cambodia

There’s a new Angkor in town
Angkor Wat at sunrise (Dreamstime)  

There’s only one Angkor. At least, that was the thinking until a series of buried Medieval cities were discovered beneath its jungle suburbs last summer. Yet, for the time being, all that is still just fascinating dirt, which is why the opening up of the ‘other Angkor’ Wat, the Temple of Preah Vihear, has us so excited.

Perched high in the Dangrek Mountains and within spitting distance of the Thailand-Cambodia border, the ruins of this 11th-century Khmer temple complex has been at the centre of a long, bitter land dispute between the two neighbouring countries. This escalated to violence in 2008 after UNESCO declared the temple a World Heritage Site for Cambodia. Visitors were still allowed, but at their own risk and under military gaze.

The last shot in anger was fired back in 2011, yet ongoing tensions meant that the UK government only recently lifted its travel warning. Yet the numbers are still just a drop in the ocean compared to the millions stomping around Angkor, which makes this remote, peaceful temple a real hidden treasure.

 

Malawi

Liwonde and Nkhotakota are to become Big Five safari destinations once more
Young elephant (Dreamstime)

Since the turn of the 20th century, Africa has seen its population of around 5 million elephants reduced to a humanity embarrassing figure of 450,000. Pressure from poaching and encroaching cities have devastated its herds, but the small nation of Malawi has a simple solution: release the pressure.

Malawi’s Liwonde National Park is home to 800 elephants (over half the country’s population) yet its reduced borders mean it can no longer support that many. So, NGO African Parks are in the process of relocating 500 of Liwonde’s elephants, transporting them 370km to the Nkhotakota Wildlife Reserve, where the local elephant population has dwindled to just 100.

It’s an enormous task but this NGO has form, having successfully reintroduced lions to Malawi’s Majete Wildlife Reserve in 2012. Similar ongoing projects will see big cats as well as black rhinos reintroduced to Liwonde, then Nkhotakota, as the ‘Big Five’ gradually return to Malawi.

Pay them a visit in 2017, and not only support an incredible act of conservation but explore Africa’s most exciting new safari destination.

 

Luxor, Egypt

You can get there before the crowds returnValley of the Kings (Dreamstime)

Egypt has had its share of troubles of late, but the land of the pharaohs is still untouchable when it comes to historical sights, not to mention one of the world’s great river journeys. Which is why it’s only a matter of time before the visitors that once swarmed its Nile Valley return. Direct flights to Luxor with EgyptAir have already resumed from London Heathrow for the first time since May 2015.

Visitor numbers to the country have halved in recent years and will take time to build up again. So in the meantime, if you’ve ever wanted to see the elegant hieroglyphs of Luxor Temple or ride into the Valley of the Kings and explore its tombs with practically no one in sight, now’s your chance.

Naturally, the best way to see the area is still on a Nile cruise. Try to make time for the famed Temple of Karnak, the largest religious building ever constructed, as well as lesser-known sites such as the stepped pyramid of Saqqara, a 32km trip from Cairo.

But if you only have time to cram in the classics, Luxor was where the pharaohs fought to outspend their ancestors, and they didn’t spend their treasures unwisely.

 

Cornwall, UK

Where the film cameras go, we follow
Rumps Point, North Cornwall (Dreamstime)

With the BBC’s Poldark shining a brooding light on England’s southwestern tip, Cornwall has rarely looked so ripped, its windswept coastal flanks bared in glorious high definition.

The St Agnes cliffs and the coves of Gunwalloe – key locations in the show – have already seen a spike in footfall, and with the county’s castles further north getting the cinematic treatment in 2017’s gritty King Arthur: Legend of the Sword, it’s left us drooling for more softcore Cornwall.

The deep west is true Poldark country, though. Delve into its mining past at the steam-powered Levant mine, near St Just; embrace its salty present in Penzance, taking a boat to spy dolphins and seals offshore; or simply soak up the striking coastline on the 22km Lizard Point to Porthleven trail, wandering desolate coves, isolated beaches and wildflower-strewn cliff tops.

Finish further north, unpicking Arthurian legends at Tintagel Abbey (King Arthur’s alleged birthplace) and Bodmin Moor, where legend has it Arthur received – and returned – his mythical sword Excalibur. It'll be a truly legendary escape.

 

Fiji

Because sometimes a place just deserves a second look
Coral and Blue and Scalefin Anthias Chromis in Fiji (Dreamstime)

Perennial backpacker and honeymooner favourite Fiji tends to suffer from ‘been-there-done-that’ syndrome. Visitors breeze through on RTW tickets or on romantic packages, polishing off island cliches like so many pool-bar cocktails. But you can’t explore 300 islands on a fly-by.

The Yasawa islands are less off-the-radar than they used to be, but this lush, remote archipelago threads an enticing seam west of Fiji’s mainland. Sparsely populated, it's waters teem with manta rays (in season), while exploring its limestone Sawailau caves – only accessible via a submerged tunnel – are a rite of passage.

But Fiji’s hidden gem is the main island of Viti Levu, with its lesser-seen interior seemingly lost to travellers. Raft into the protected wetlands of Upper Navua, climb Mount Tomaniivi (1,323m), or stay in the community-run Stone Bowl Lodge, a former colonial summer house (dating from the 1870s) in Nadarivatu. Talanoa Treks are a good start for inland hikes, with cross-highland treks and stays in villages en route. Just leave some time for hitting the beach afterwards…

 

Portland, USA

The first direct flights from London begin

Tom McCall Waterfront park in Portland (Dreamstime)

Like the pioneers of old, it’s time to head west – Pacific Northwest to be precise. Wanderlust readers know Portland, Oregon, for its hip reputation – 30-plus microbreweries, a small army of food trucks and the world’s biggest indie bookshop will do that.

But it’s also the gateway to the State’s green spine of forested parks and historic trails, and in late May, new direct flights with Delta Air Lines from London Heathrow put the City of Roses back under the travel spotlight.

Cycling is the best way to see Portland – its wide bike lanes put most places to shame. Pedal its bridges and backstreets to get under its skin, then hit the city’s 600-plus food trucks, with the clusters in downtown Alder and Fifth Avenue two of the best known.

Later, escape the pressure of being hip on the trails up nearby Mount Hood.

Fine parks and walks scatter the rest of the state, so explore everything, from driving the original US pioneer route (known as the Oregon Trail) to exploring magnificent Crater Lake NP. There’s more to Portland than cool beer and ‘voodoo doughnuts’.

 

Christmas Island, Australia

Flight times from the UK have now more than halved

Christmas Island (Christmas Island Tourism Association)

Until recently, the easiest way to reach Christmas Island was a four-hour flight from Perth – on top of the 40 soul-squeezing hours it already takes to get to Australia. Step forward Garuda Indonesia.

In addition to new direct links between Jakarta and London Heathrow (14 hours), the airline has also launched weekly charter flights from the Indonesian capital to Christmas Island (50 minutes). Even better, it raises the mouth-watering prospect of splitting a trip between the two.

Fly into Jakarta, spend a few days wandering its old colonial downtown of Kota Tua and hopping the Thousand Islands archipelago, before continuing south to ‘Australia’s Galápagos’.

Trek tropical forests rich in endemic species, snorkel coral-rich waters alongside whale sharks (Nov–Apr) and listen out for its 80,000 nesting seabirds. Head there now and you might even catch one of the world’s great migrations: the annual 120-million-strong red crab exodus, when the whole island rattles to the clatter of tiny scarlet claws.

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Main image: Hiking in Chilean Patagonia (Graeme Green)