Choquequirao, hidden across the deep Apurimac Valley, was the last Inca refuge from the conquistadors, and there’s a growing traveller buzz to see it ASAP. A cable car will squeal into life in 2017 (or later; bureaucratic feet are dragging), gliding up to 3000 visitors a day to the ruins in just 15 minutes. Visit in the early days, or take the four-day trek in Inca footsteps, and have a taste of Machu Picchu all to yourself. You’ll only encounter a couple of visitors – plus the archaeologists who continue to peel back the jungle, which still cloaks two-thirds of the spectacular site.
Close your eyes, and imagine this: you land on a strip of coral, surrounding a glinting lagoon of every hue from lapis lazuli to turquoise – a perfect ring of islets edged with sandbars and ruffled coconut trees. Remember that tropical paradise that appears in countless adverts? Here’s the real thing. As if that weren’t enough, the Tuamotus are billed as ranking among the world’s best dive destinations, and that reputation has never been so justified: the number of dive areas is growing, and a new live-aboard dive boat is launching in 2017.
Perak’s capital, Ipoh, is nurturing a bloom of vintage-style cafes and boutiques. The nucleus of this old-meets-new makeover is Kong Heng Block, surrounding the imaginative Sekeping Kong Heng hotel. Here, cheerful joints like Roquette Cafe, Burps & Giggles and Bits & Bobs pull a vibrant crowd to shop, dawdle and slurp ais kepal (ice balls) in this historic neighbourhood. Meanwhile, guesthouse owners and tour guides on Pangkor Island are starting to lead sustainable nature walks and village tours, thanks to a mentoring scheme by NGO ECOMY. In this sunbather’s paradise, an emerging focus on wildlife is a breath of fresh, sea air.
THE SKELLING RING
A long time ago, far, far away… a small band of monks established a hidden base on a remote, wave-pounded hunk of rock rising out of the Atlantic like a giant triangle. With a setting like this, it’s no wonder Skellig Michael made the new Star Wars location list. To get to this far-flung isle, a boat trip is necessary from the Skellig Ring, perhaps Ireland’s most charismatically wild and emerald stretch of coastline. Glimpsed at the end of The Force Awakens, Skellig Michael will play a bigger role in this year’s sequel and local businesses are gearing up for the expected visitor bump.
No-filter Kauai stole the show in the Jurassic movies and more than 60 other feature films. The island’s ubiquitous aerial tours do deliver jaw-dropping views of the towering Na Pali Coast sea cliffs, cascading waterfalls, and other blockbuster locations. But plunging deep into the Garden Island’s wild side requires hitting a trail. Marked hiking paths lead onto the floor of Waimea Canyon, through the shallow bogs of Alakai Swamp, and across unbelievably lush landscapes. One newer route, the five-mile Wai Koa Loop Trail, passes through North America’s largest mahogany forest. For off-the-beaten-path treks, go with a local, says Hike Kaua’i With Me owner Eric Rohlffs. “A guide can take you to less traveled spots while keeping you safe, and educating you on all things Hawaii, such as identifying instead of trampling plants found nowhere else.” — MARYELLEN KENNEDY DUCKETT
If silence is golden, you’ll discover the mother lode in Finland’s state-owned protected areas. From near the Arctic Circle in Lapland (where the northern lights can be seen up to 200 nights a year), through the 20,000-island Finnish archipelago, and along the rocky beaches on the mainland’s southernmost tip, Finland’s 40 national parks, 12 wilderness areas, and six national hiking areas are sanctuaries for silence-seekers. It’s no wonder that Finns celebrate a hundred years of independence in 2017 with four (winter, spring, summer, and fall) nationwide Finnish Nature Days, and by designating Hossa Hiking Area as the country’s 40th national park. Join the party on a winter digital detox at WiFi-free Torassieppi, a rustic and remote reindeer farm. No phones or other electronic devices are allowed, freeing you to focus on more restorative pursuits, such as reindeer sledding or snowshoeing through unspoiled Lapland tundra, forests, and fells. —MKD
In the Sea of Cortez, an enormous school of jack fish swims near a diver.
PHOTOGRAPH BY CHRISTIAN VIZL, TANDEM
Close encounters of the ginormous marine kind are common in the waters off Mexico’s fingerlike Baja California peninsula. Baja is bordered to the west by the Pacific Ocean and to the east by the Sea of Cortez (also known as the Gulf of California), where behemoths of the sea—whales, great white sharks, and manta rays with wingspans up to 20 feet—and a variety of fish congregate. —MKD
Blending amazing nature and super-cool Iberian culture, the Azores offer accessibility from North America and Europe without the abundance of travellers who have discovered Iceland in recent years. The ‘next Iceland’ analogy extends beyond the archipelago’s positioning as a fascinating cross-the-pond pit stop. Its natural assets resemble an array of superlative sights pulled from other destinations: lush Hawaiian volcanoes, medieval Portuguese villages, gurgling Scandinavian hot springs, towering Irish cliffs and rugged Patagonian craters. But the secret won’t last: the Azores have seen a 31% increase in tourism over the last 12 months, so visit in the 2017 sweet spot before things really take off.
A two-year-old Bengal tiger is seen in Bandhavgarh National Park in the Madhya Pradesh region of India.
PHOTOGRAPH BY RICHARD PACKWOOD, GETTY IMAGES
Why watch the Jungle Book when you can live it? In the heart of India, the regal Bengal tigers immortalized in Rudyard Kipling’s classic series (and subsequent Disney films) are making a roaring comeback. Nearly two-thirds of the world’s growing wild tiger population (up from as few as 3,200 in 2010 to 3,890 in 2015) resides in India. For wildlife-watchers eager to catch a glimpse of the world’s biggest cats, nothing—including Dolby Vision 3D on an IMAX screen—beats watching the majestic creatures prowl their home turf. Thanks to wildlife and habitat preservation initiatives, Central India’s Madhya Pradesh national parks are wild tiger havens. Hop aboard Indian Railways’ new Tiger Express tourist train to go on safari in Bandhavgarh and Kanha, two other tiger-rich parks. —MKD
Change has been a long time coming in the nation also known as Burma, but the election of the first civilian government in half a century has all eyes on the future. No one is pretending that all Myanmar’s problems have gone away, but things are moving in the right direction, and Southeast Asia’s most secretive country is poised to receive an influx of travellers. Visiting comes with challenges, but the reward is a window onto a vanishing Asia, where the difficulties of travel are part of the appeal, and where life moves to the timeless rhythm of chanting monks and monastery bells.