The trends of must-visit travel destinations seem to change with ever-increasing frequency. While some places just go in and out of fashion of their own accord, some parts of the world suffer from extended periods of conflict or political isolation which mean they are an entirely different tourist experience by the time visitors can return. Let’s look at some current examples of countries emerging (or re-emerging) as exciting travel opportunities which just ten years ago were off limits.
1. Northern Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is such a popular destination today that it seems impossible it was seen as a risky country to visit so recently, but the 25-year civil war only ended in 2009 allowing this beautiful island to reclaim its rightful place as a tourist paradise. The northern part of the island contains a rich mix of cultural and natural highlights. Five times as many people visited Sri Lanka in 2016 as did back in 2005 and those numbers are only increasing.
Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been a country in isolation for most of the last 50 years. Under military rule for much of that time, it is only since 2011 that Myanmar has gradually opened up again to tourism. From the capital Yangon, to beautiful Lake Inle and the stunning temples of Bagan, there is no shortage of highlights to explore in this previously mysterious country.
Sudan is a country with a fascinating ancient history which people are now beginning to re-discover. Situated south of Egypt and with a long, shared history via the Nubian people, Sudan has its own pyramids, most famously at Meroe, as well the historic cities of Khartoum and Omdurman. Sudan was partitioned in 2011 creating the world’s newest country, South Sudan, and while the fledgling South is still best by conflict and can’t make this list, its northern counterpart is now safer to visit than at any point in the last 20 years.
Colombia has succeeded in ending a long civil conflict between the government and FARC rebels in the last 12 months. A historic peace deal was signed in December 2016 and Colombia has revived hugely as a mainstream tourist destination. Cities whose names were previously synonymous with drug cartels, such as Medellin, are safe to visit and the stunning colonial architecture of Cartagena on the Caribbean Sea coast is now drawing back large numbers of visitors.
The Middle East has been one of the most volatile areas of the world in the last half-century, with some sort of regional conflict having been almost continuous. For most of the 1980s and 90s the place most-associated with civil conflict was Lebanon and its capital city, Beirut. In the last few years, neighboring Syria has become the region’s flashpoint but Lebanon has managed to remain relatively peaceful. It is still a country that travelers should research carefully before visiting, some areas are safer than others, but there seems to be a groundswell of positive opinion that Lebanon is now a viable tourist destination.
6. North Korea
North Korea is possibly the most contentious country on this list as it is governed by a highly repressive regime which is at odds with much of the rest of the world. The relationship between North Korea, the USA and its own regional neighbors remains fluid and liable to abrupt change at any time. It should be noted that US citizens are advised not to visit North Korea at this time, although some people still do, the risk of arrest makes this inadvisable. For Europeans, organized tours are available, but these are the only way of getting access to this most secretive and suspicious of countries in the world right now.
Rwanda is a country coming to terms with one of the most shocking events in recent world history, a brief but unbelievably violent civil war in 1994. Even as the Rwandan people have rebuilt political and civil stability over the last 20 years the tiny country has continued to be affected by the volatile situation of its giant neighbor, DR Congo, which continues to struggle with the presence of violent local warlords. But Rwanda has, almost incredibly, blossomed, becoming a symbol of peace and prosperity in Central Africa. Over the last few years Rwanda has once again become a must-visit destination, with its stunning volcanoes and mountain gorilla population being the undoubted stars.
Barack Obama’s tenure as US President brought about a significant change in US-Cuban relations. Whilst the rest of the world has been enjoying the beaches of Varadero and the unique atmosphere of Havana for years, American visitors have been embargoed from doing so. With restrictions having been lifted in stages throughout 2016 there are now plenty of itinerary options for Americans to enjoy legally via a direct flight.
Iran has been a tempting but unreachable destination for most western travelers since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. But the British government lifted its blanket ban on travel to Iran in the summer of 2015 amidst an improving relationship between Iran and Europe. It would appear in 2017 as though the Trump administration may create a more difficult atmosphere between Iran and the USA, which may make Iran a riskier destination for US travelers, but there is no doubt that Iran is open to visitors and that, away from troubled border regions, it is a safe country to visit currently.
Montenegro is unique on our list in being the youngest country. Ten years ago, hardly anyone had visited it in its current form as the country had only existed for a matter of months after an independence referendum in the summer of 2006. Fast forward ten years and Montenegro is becoming one of the trendiest destinations in Europe with travel magazines and bloggers regularly featuring the spectacular scenery of Kotor in particular. It’s also become a popular destination for cruise ships so if you want to explore Montenegro while it’s still cool, now’s the time!
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