Sossusvlei in Namibia boasts some of the highest dunes in the world and spectacular desert scenery. Photo: istockphoto
Sossusvlei in Namibia boasts some of the highest dunes in the world and spectacular desert scenery. Photo: istockphoto

Places to discover in 2020: The alternative hotlist

  • From learning about conservation at the ‘green’ Kalahari to living the simple life in a Mongolian ‘ger’ and exploring one of Europe’s most technologically advanced countries on foot, here are some destinations that offer adventure, inspiration and unique experiences

CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA
CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA

CARTAGENA, COLOMBIA

Given Colombia’s sociopolitical history, it has not always been a nation one would consider as a holiday option. But since the turn of the past decade, it has become much safer. Bogota, the charming capital, tends to be the first port of call as most flights land there, but the real attraction is the historic town of Cartagena, home to the iconic “palenqueras" (fruit sellers) and colonial buildings.

Samarkand, Uzbekistan
Samarkand, Uzbekistan

SAMARKAND, UZBEKISTAN

There has been a surge of interest in Uzbekistan since the Arab Spring. Packed with a fascinating history and spellbinding architectural delights, it offers ample opportunity for adventure. Fly into Tashkent, take the bullet train to Samarkand, followed by a drive to Bukhara and a flight back to Tashkent. Visit the ancient bazaars, “chaykhanas" (teahouses), the astounding mosques and see the smiling faces with gold-capped teeth.

Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

TORRES DEL PAINE, CHILE

From the Atacama Desert in the north to Torres del Paine National Park in the south, Chile is nature on a colossal scale. It is studded with natural beauty in the form of mountains, glaciers, pampas grass, wildflower meadows and lakes. Enjoy a variety of long treks and ride with the gauchos or horsemen. It is home to llamas, guanacos, alpacas, vicuñas and wild mountain lions, which are found in the southern reaches.

Jawai
Jawai

JAWAI, INDIA

In the hinterland of Rajasthan, , between Udaipur and Jodhpur, lies Jawai, where the spectacular outcrops are home to leopards that coexist with the Rabari herdsmen, who view them as the protectors of their temples. Based at the Sujan luxury camp, you can spot the felines at dawn and dusk. During winter months, you can spot about 170 species of migratory birds in the Jawai reservoir.

TALLINN, ESTONIA

Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is a superbly preserved Baltic beauty of medieval towers, tall spires and cobblestone streets, best explored on foot. New Nordic cuisine is quite the rage here, with restaurants offering fresh produce of the sea, lakes and forests. It’s lively yet peaceful and bursting with wonderful sights. One of Europe’s most technologically advanced countries, it is often known as e-Stonia. Skype was invented here and internet is freely available in most places.

KYOTO, JAPAN

Gearing up to receive visitors for the 2020 Olympics, along with Tokyo, is Kyoto, the stronghold of traditional Japanese culture. It is home to some 2,000 temples and shrines, and is crammed with Michelin-starred restaurants, chic cocktail bars and izakaya (pub-eateries). Meet geishas in ancient teahouses, bathe in the picturesque outdoor onsens (a hot spring), stay in ryokans, where walls slide to reveal gardens and courtyards, and learn to cook using fresh ingredients.

Hudson Bay, Canada
Hudson Bay, Canada

HUDSON BAY, CANADA

Explore the remote, vast wilderness of northern Canada, where the tundra, the boreal forest and the Hudson Bay ecosystems come together. You will come across trundling herds of caribou and moose, black bear and red fox. This place is also home to polar bears, and you can see them up close from June to November. It is also one of the best places in the world to view the Northern Lights.

TBILISI, GEORGIA

With a stunning combination of precipitous valleys and soaring heights of the Caucasus mountains, Georgia has emerged as one of Europe’s most exciting destinations. The capital, Tbilisi, has seen a spate of new openings as bijou hotels, restaurants and art galleries pepper its vibrant neighbourhoods. Further afield, trek through vineyards and mountains dotted with watchtowers: man-made monoliths.

TSWALU, SOUTH AFRICA

This privately owned 110,000-hectare game reserve in the “green Kalahari", where species such as lions, rhino and wild dogs are being protected, is a success story worth emulating in other parts of the world. Stay at the stunning, newly renovated villas that blend into the ochre and russet landscape, and enjoy jeep safaris in the morning and evening. Here, it is also possible to walk alongside meerkats, aardvarks and pangolins.

MONGOLIA

This is East Asia’s most fascinating destination. Life outside the capital, Ulaanbaatar, is filled with little luxuries and many adventures. You can spend time with Kazakh people, wielding beautiful golden eagles and thousands of years of tradition, in the western part of the country, live in a ger, a traditional mobile tent, learn how to milk mares, corral sheep and ride camels on the cinematic steppe.

Geetika Jain is a travel writer.

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