9 Hot New Adventure Destinations to Check Off in 2020
Desert safaris, under-the-radar tropical paradises, final frontiers in the Himalayas and the Arctic... This year's hottest adventure destinations will make you rethink that bucket list.
This small Eastern European nation has flown outside adventure travel radars for years but is becoming increasingly more difficult to ignore thanks to budget carrier Ryanair, which just launched low-cost routes to Georgia this past November. Discover unspoiled natural landscapes, a rich culinary heritage born from the Spice Route, and an ancient wine culture—but not before kicking off your tour in the country’s vibrant and leafy capital of Tbilisi, where you can bed down in stylish new design hotels like the former Soviet printing press turned five-star Stamba Hotel for less than $200 a night. Seeking something more adventurous? Head north to the rustic-luxe Rooms Hotel Kazbegi, where, for even less, you’ll get a front-row seat to one of Europe’s most beautiful mountain ranges.
One of the Caribbean’s most under-the-radar and underrated islands has officially rebounded from Hurricane Maria, and 2020 will be a banner year as a wave of new luxury resorts (the likes of which this island has never seen) open, including the five-star Cabrits Resort & Spa Kempinski. But don’t let that big-budget news fool you: you’ll still find incredible value here, especially if you stay at places like the tranquil and recently reopened Papillote Wilderness Retreat in the heart of the rainforest (whose rooms start at just $80 a night) and fill your days touring the island’s incredible natural wonders, from hot springs to boiling lakes to Morne Trois Pitons National Park—home to Emerald Pool and Trafalgar Falls. Bonus: new flight routes from Air Antilles and Silver Airways are making the island more accessible than ever before.
It’s difficult to compete in the adventure travel category when you share the same continent as Machu Picchu and Patagonia, but this year, the focus has shifted. Bolivia isn’t a stranger to the adrenaline rush—fishing and cruising along the mighty Amazon River, ice-climbing in the Andes, picking up equestrian skills with gauchos… This year, though, it’s all about the otherworldly Salar de Uyuni and experiential new Kachi Lodge. Just six geodesic domes sit at the edge of the world's largest salt flat, kitted out with bespoke furniture, handwoven alpaca throws, art, transparent window cutouts that allow for stellar stargazing and sweeping views of the surrounding altiplano. Spotting resident flamingoes on your drive to ancient archaeological sites and local villages before a hike beside the Thunupa volcano? Yes, please.
Bhutan has been popping up on adventure travel lists for a few years now, but it’s taken until 2020 for the country to really begin luring luxury travelers. The draw—beyond its Gross National Happiness and incredible once-in-a-lifetime experiences like hiking to Paro Taktsang, that is—is the much-anticipated opening of Six Senses Bhutan, a five-lodge collective spread out across the country’s mountains and hillsides that get guests up close and personal with Bhutan’s landscapes, religions, food, and people. (The fifth and final lodge opens its doors this March in Bumthang.) To get there, you still have to secure a tour operator, visa, daily $200-250 per-visitor fee, and roundtrip flight on one of just two airlines that fly here, but trust us—it’s all worth it.
Extreme weather has dealt a heavy blow to Australia in recent months, but Queensland, in the northeast, has remained relatively unscathed—especially the farther north (and farther away from the fires) you go. The skies could not be clearer in the beautiful Whitsundays, an idyllic archipelago halfway up Queensland’s coast, where some of the world’s most luxurious resorts occupy their own private islands and afford unprecedented access to the Great Barrier Reef. Base yourself at InterContinental Hayman Island for the full experience—fishing and snorkeling in the bay, jet skiing and kayaking, helicopter rides to Whitehaven Beach and Hardy Reef, sunset cruises, and gourmet seafood dinners overlooking the water at Pacific. Even farther north, keep an eye out for The Museum of Underwater Art (launching in April), which aims to show reef and ocean conservation in action.
The Arctic Circle
If Iceland sounds perfect but you’re worried about the hype, and Greenland sounds like a good alternative but, hey, it’s just not far enough, here’s an idea: the Arctic Circle. Polar cruises are the most popular (i.e. easiest) ways to travel around this unique, wildlife-rich frontier, but getting there is half the fun. Start out in Tromsø, where 13-day departures aboard Viking Expeditions are bound for Svalbard, the polar Ice Cap, and the Barents Sea. If you’d rather spend more time with Svalbard’s wildlife, tracking polar bears, walrus, and arctic fox, 11-day itineraries with Lindblad Expeditions begin in Oslo before a charter flight to Longyearbyen. Still can’t get Iceland and Greenland out of your mind? Poseidon Expeditions takes you to all three during a two-week voyage from Svalbard to Reykjavík.
Sri Lanka was a hot destination last year, and its popularity continues into 2020. The biggest pros: more affordable flight fares and free 30-day tourist visas for visitors from 48 countries including the U.S. until February (a carry-over from 2019). Once you get there, you might not know where to start—and we don’t blame you. Explore Kandy’s tea plantations or visit the Cultural Triangle’s ancient temples? Track jungle wildlife or swim off the golden southern coast? After landing in cosmopolitan Colombo, we suggest kicking things off by heading inland to Ceylon Tea Trails, a colonial-style bungalow retreat where tea is served at every meal. Afterwards, it’s off to the beach and Chena Huts, a gorgeous all-inclusive lodge that offers private pools and twice-daily safari drives into nearby Yala National Park, home to the elusive leopard and plenty of Sri Lankan elephants.
The safari circuit, which once held steady in tried-and-tried places like Kenya and Tanzania, continues to shift as travelers seek out the new and undiscovered—and luxury lodges race to accommodate them. Last year, it was all about the rainforests of Rwanda and Uganda and their buzzy new gorilla trekking lodges. This year, our eyes are on the desolate sands of Namibia, where bold new design hotels are giving adventurers a luxurious place to rest their heads between game drives through the Namib Desert. There are just 10 rooms at Sonop, a 20s-style sleep featuring telescopes, copper bathtubs, a cocktail and cigar lounge, and dune buggies for tracking down cheetahs and leopards. At andBeyond’s Sossuvlei Desert Lodge, your experience continues past nightfall, when guest room skylights and the observatory’s resident astronomer connect you with the stars. Too remote for you? Omaanda, a thatched-roof dream in the Zannier Reserve, is just an hour’s drive outside Windhoek.
If you think Japan was all over your Insta feed in 2019, just wait until this year’s Summer Olympics. Let the tourists have Tokyo and set your sights instead on Okinawa, a stunning 150-island subtropical prefecture in the East China Sea that some consider Japan’s answer to Hawaii. The manta rays, dugongs, and whale sharks that swim near locals coral reefs make this an incredible place to scuba dive—and we haven’t even gotten to the food (unique from Japanese cuisine) or the history (Okinawa was its own country before becoming part of Japan in 1879). The place to stay right now is the new Halekulani Okinawa, a beachfront oasis that, like its sister property on Oahu, embraces the best of its homeland: ocean views, locally inspired cuisine, and every excuse to stay on island time.
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