This post was co-authored with Ignacio Maza, Executive Vice-President for Signature Travel Network.
Where do two of the travel industry's most experienced, picky, passionate and peripatetic travelers want to travel in 2016? Combined, we have been to just about every corner of the globe (several times) in their years of worldwide travels. Join us on a personally curated, top ten virtual tour of the world.
Changing political currents, a strong US Dollar, great new places to stay and additional air and rail service open new opportunities for American travelers. Here is our list of the top destinations we are dreaming about. We were not guided by what is most popular, but rather focused on 10 very special destinations that we believe are noteworthy, authentic, and great value for money.
Brazil is more affordable than ever, so now is the time to fall under the spell of the colonial cities of Minas Gerais and the stunning architecture of Brasilia. Experience the beautiful beaches of Itacaré and outstanding snorkeling off Fernando de Noronha island. Dine your way across Salvador da Bahia, including Casa de Tereza, the city's best restaurant. Enjoy dramatic vistas and waterfalls as you hike through Chapada Diamantina Park. Sail the Amazon, dance the night away in Rio, and visit Paraty, Brazilian charm brought to life. The 2016 Summer Olympics are only the beginning.
Congress Building, Brasilia, Brazil
We love Spain, especially for its fantastic art collections, shopping, dining, culture, long list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites (7 within one hour of Madrid alone), active/adventure travel options, wines, and joie de vivre. Experience fine dining in San Sebastian, home to more Michelin starred restaurants per square mile than Paris. Hike the Pyrenees, bike along the Costa Brava, walk on the Camino de Santiago, or search for the perfect tapas in Seville's Santa Cruz district. Spend the night in a castle, a hotel designed by Frank Gehry, an authentic Parador, or in a hip hotel with a rooftop pool overlooking Barcelona.
Alaska beckons this year, with more choices by land and sea than ever before. Sail on ships that carry as few as 22 or well over 2,200 guests. Experience a deeper, richer Alaska, by exploring the rainforests, kayaking along narrow fjords, paddle boarding along calm inlets, learning about the native culture, hiking across a glacier, seeing North America's highest peak - Denali --, or our favorite: driving a team of Alaskan Huskies as you fly across the snowfields.
Shangri-La is alive and well in Bhutan, the legendary Himalayan mountain kingdom that measures 'Gross National Happiness' index, instead of GNP like the rest of the world. Bhutan is special for the wide range of experiences on offer, including hikes to Cliffside monasteries, spectacular landscapes, white water rafting, visits to the bustling markets and ancient museums, but most of all - the opportunity to immerse oneself in a culture that goes back over 3,000 years. After days of exploration and discovery, return to wonderful luxury lodges that are true Zen retreats.
Another great value story for 2016 is South Africa. The options in South Africa can satisfy everyone: adventure and wildlife enthusiasts, foodies, shoppers, culture seekers, wine lovers, the curious and the intrepid. You have not lived until you have seen a pride of lions while on safari, hiked to the top of Table Mountain, paraglided in the Northern Cape, experienced ten native cultures and cuisines, and that's just for starters. South Africa has never been more vibrant or more sophisticated. On our radar: The opening of the new Zeitz MOCAA museum, showcasing the best African contemporary art collection anywhere.
Without a doubt, Japan is one of the most authentic and special destinations in the world, offering travelers the opportunity to experience ancient traditions as well as the future. Get up before dawn to see the world's largest fish market, followed by a meal featuring the freshest sushi. Go 'glamping' in the foothills of Mt Fuji. Visit Himeji Castle, Japan's most beautiful. Stay at a Ryokan, complete with Kaiseki dinner and steaming Onsen bath. Shop in Tokyo's smartest neighborhoods, and watch the fashion-forward Lolitas in the Aoyama district. If you suffer riding Amtrak, imagine zooming through Japanese countryside at 200mph on a sleek Shinkansen train.
Australia is always on our mind. The island-continent has never been more alluring, offering travelers everything from sophisticated and innovative dining, superb snorkeling and diving off the Great Barrier Reef, adventures galore (including swimming with whale sharks off the coast of Western Australia!), over fifty wine regions, vibrant cities, a rich indigenous culture, warm Aussie hospitality, and outstanding places to stay - from tents in the Outback to over-the-top resorts on the beach. Even if you have already visited, return and experience Tasmania, Uluru, Kangaroo Island, Kakadu National Park, and more.
Greece is back on our top list. Instead of an island hopping cruise between Athens and Istanbul, opt for two of our favorite islands, Crete and Naxos. Crete has it all: fantastic archaeological sites (including Knossos, by far the most impressive), the 1,000 ft deep Samaria Gorge, and aquamarine beaches. The island's ancient Minoan civilization, ruled by women and closely attuned to the earth, has much to teach us today. Naxos is rarely on travelers' itineraries, but should be. Home to the mythical gods and Mount Zeus, this Cycladic Island boasts the perfect climate for water sports, particularly windsurfing. Experience outstanding food and wine on both islands and do not miss Kitro, the precursor to Limoncello. Remember, before the Roman Empire, there was Greece.
Britain, more specifically "Royal Britain", is hot. The current royals are interesting but the lifestyles of their ancestors even more so. From the Tudors to the Windsors, their palaces, castles and country houses throughout the British Isles rival the finest museums in the world. Many, including Sandringham, are open to the public at certain times of the year, but others require insider access to enter. The summer opening of the State Apartments at Buckingham Palace is open to all but plan ahead to book the coveted tickets. Our top choices are Burghley House, Chatsworth and Goodwood House. And don't forget the British gardens! Prince Charles' innovative garden at Highgrove will inspire you. Promise.
And finally, thanks to the recent thaw in its relations with the world, Iran is on both of our lists. Closed for so long, the country is rapidly reinventing itself as a coveted luxury destination. Revisit ancient Persia at the still magnificent Persepolis. A highlight of any journey to Iran is the magnificent Isfahan, Persia's capital in the 17th and 18th centuries. Infrastructure still has a long way to go and hotels are far from five-star, but there is a new option. Debuted in 2015, the Golden Eagle Luxury Train travels between Moscow and Teheran in 2016, or round-trip Teheran on the 'Heart of Persia' itinerary.
We hope we have inspired your own wanderlust in 2016.