Travel Destinations

When the publishers of the Lonely Planet travel guides issued their annual list of the best travel destinations for this year there were a few surprises. Gone were some of the over-priced, over-crowded tourist traps of previous years. There are some new entries to peak the curiosity and provide ever-expanding new vistas and experiences for the crowd-weary world traveler. Here’s a partial list in reverse order.

9. Germany
An old favorite that still can pull its weight with the tourism crowd and one of only two European entries that made the list, Germany has much to offer. More than just Oktoberfest, beer and sausages, travelers can delight in specialties from each of the country’s regions.

8. Colombia
A stunning surprise entry on the list for the first time, Colombia may be know for its drug-trafficking and civil war violence, but it’s also the world’s leading producer of fine emeralds. It’s the world’s second leading producer of coffee after Brazil, but the quality of the rich, mild coffee produced here is second to none. One of South America’s most beautiful countries, scenic delights range from still-active volcanoes like the smoldering Galeras to the bubbling mud spews of Totumo near Colombia’s Atlantic coast.

7. India
Mythical, mysterious, enchanting and a hundred more adjectives besides, how could this wondrous place not be on anyone’s wish list of travel destinations? A large percentage, up to 75%, of the population living in large cities speaks at least passable English. I’m surprised it’s only number eight. But it is on the list and deservedly so. Food, festivals, culture and history pour into the streets at every turn

6. Canada
June, July and August are peak tourism months for the USA’s giant Northern neighbor. English is the language of all Canada’s provinces with French being the language of choice in the province of Quebec. There are marvelous winter festivals in Quebec City and francophone Montreal to delight the senses for willing to brave the frigid minus forty and below temperatures. There’s plenty to keep you warm though.

5. Antarctica
Not only know as “that frozen continent at the bottom of the world”, Antarctica is now featured in a number of commercials and travel ads. But with temperatures ranging from degrees F to degrees F, “What’s the attraction?” you might ask. More than you might imagine. There’s not exactly a shortage of wildlife despite daytime temps in the minus teens on a “warm” day. Marine life is also abundant as are formations of ice and snow on the glaciers that the continent feeds. Wanna play with the penguins, anyone? The experience of being there itself is a unique, one-of-a-kind adventure that draws many. Stormy Cape Horn and the beauty of wind swept Patagonia are also near. Scientific expeditions from a number of countries are nearly always in progress. At times the place is not unlike Grand Central Station. Antarctica is certainly not for everyone, but it does have its charms.

4. Mexico
Long a favorite destination of North Americans from the USA and Canada, what’s not to like about this country famous for hot chili peppers and even hotter senoritas? From the beach to bullfights, you can find nearly any form of diversion you like. Skiing in Mexico? You betcha. Mt. Orizaba, North America’s second highest peak is south of the border.

3. Nicaragua
With a stable economy and rock-bottom real estate bargains, this country has caught the eye of investors and ex-pats looking for scenic locales and tranquility. Once torn by civil strife, conditions have reversed and improved to the point it’s now a tourism destination for in the know and savvy on Central American affairs.

2. China
With one billion, three hundred million inhabitants, the world’s most populous country has awakened from its “sleeping giant” image to thrust its presence onto the world scene with a vengeance. Authentic Chinese food, not that “cloned” stuff you get at the chain franchises, awaits you in a variety and abundance that must be experienced to be believed. The Chinese eat and drink things that will absolutely amaze and astound you – and they make it look good too. From the world renowned Great Wall, the only man-made structure visible from outer space, to vast stretches of seemingly as yet unexplored country, even the Chinese are still turning up discoveries and treasures in their own midst.

1. Argentina
It takes two to Tango as they say. If you want to try your hand at Argentina’s national pastime, here’s definitely the place. For meat lovers this is paradise as the beef here is among the best in the world and certainly the best in South America. The beef here is not only great, but there’s plenty of it and it’s cheap by U.S. and European standards. Gauchos, as Argentine cowboys are called, still abound on the grassy pampas and plains that comprise most of the country. There are tours, “tenderfoot” home stays at ranches and plenty of open spaces for a roundup of experiences that’ll leave you wanting more. Be sure to wash down all that succulent tender roast beef with locally produced wines that are surprisingly good at even more surprisingly affordable prices.

So there you have it, the top ten travel destinations for 2006. Where would you like to go this year? Forget the “old favorites” temporarily. Step out; try something new and different for a change. Fish for Piranha in the Amazon region of Colombia, or Bull sharks off its Pacific coast. Explore China’s historical, cultural and epicurean delights. Oomph, Pah, Pah your way through Germany’s scores of different sausages and hundreds of varieties of malted brews. Carve an original ice sculpture in Quebec City, laughing at the record cold temperatures all the way. Fish or canoe one of Canada’s unspoiled lakes with water so pure you can drink it. Whichever direction the wind blows you, you’re bound to enjoy experiences and sights to last a lifetime.