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These Are 2016’s Hottest Destinations

From luxe in Mongolia to gastropubs in Wales, the beauty of Botswana, and snowboarding in North Korea… here’s where you should be booking to go.

12.19.15 5:10 AM ET

The world continues to open up as a fresh crop of destinations lay the groundwork for more mainstream tourism. Our top three picks for 2016 are—now, more than ever—easier to reach, explore, and enjoy. The others are all tangible choices worth adding to your bucket list. No gimmicks here, just a clutch of destinations across the planet that are poised to welcome new guests. So get here before everyone else does. 

1. Mongolia
The land of Genghis Khan just got an upgrade.

New luxury digs are reinvigorating the tired glamping cliche—now yurts come with flushing toilets and steaming hot showers.

Mongolia

Brandon Presser for The Daily Beast

Three Camel Lodge, the true pioneer in Mongolian travel, uses an African safari model to up the ante at its stunning camp in the Gobi Desert, located a stone's throw from the ancient dinosaur graveyards made famous by a museum near you.

Luxury has found a home in Ulan Bator, the capital, as well. The glittering new outpost of Shangri-La Hotel promises a massive upgrade from passable international-style options of the past.

It's a big step for the dusty, landlocked country to open its frontiers to curious but less intrepid travelers. And the upswing in accommodation means a trickle-down effect in the food category as well.

Influenced by Chinese and Russian dishes (plus heaps of mutton), local fare is showing signs of improvements, led by Shangri-La's culinary initiatives.

2. The Azores  
Borrowing the bargain-basement airfare-and-accommodation scheme from its Icelandic neighbors, the more southerly archipelago of Atlantic islands are poised to become the next hot layover spot as you cross the pond.

Owned by Portugal, the islands understandably possess a much more Iberian feel than anything Scandi, but you can expect wonderfully desolate landscapes and plenty of opportunities to connect with a natural backdrop that feels nothing like home.

Ask any local and they'll tell you the travel package deals luring new visitors are best avoided in the off-season (the colder months: late October through April) but everything else is fair game as long you're not married to one island but can hit up a few to discover the islands' sacred diversity—four would be ideal: São Miguel, São Jorge, Pico and Flores.

Big name brands in hospitality haven't yet targeted the region, but several independent options, like Santa Barbara Eco-Beach Resort on São Miguel, are worthy contenders. 

3. Baltimore, Maryland 
One of several cities mired in America's ongoing all-lives-matter dialog, the home of the Orioles deserves as much buzz for its "upcoming coolness" as Detroit's new-Brooklyn messaging over the last couple of years.

The American Visionary Art Museum sets the tone for the city's quirky-cool vibe with its private collection of oeuvres manifested by creatives with no professional training (don't miss the fart machine in the basement).

Encantada, its in-house restaurant, also flexes its food muscles (and mussels) with fresh-from-the-bay fair and noble veggies alternatives. Worthy contenders in the culinary category are cropping up all over, with several notable openings this year, like La Cuchara], where Maryland crab is swapped for hamachi crudo, and San Sebastián-inspired tapas, all at Baltimore prices (read: cheap.)

Perhaps the most promising sign of things to come is The Ivy Hotel, a new luxury property in the Mount Vernon neighborhood.

The beautifully decorated 18-suite manse would feel more at home in NYC or London but is instead a beacon hoping to attract a new type of traveler to town. 

Wales
Although Northern Ireland may feel like next big thing in the UK because of its clutch of Game of Thrones locations, it's Wales that deserves top marks for championing the gastropub movement sweeping across Britain.

Farm-to-table has never been more literal in the Wye Valley and along the Pembrokeshire Coast. Our undeniable favorite is Wright’s Food Emporium near Llandeilo—go for the elevated rarebit. And to burn off all those locavore calories, check out the brand new Surf Snowdonia, a massive artificial lagoon in Conwy Valley built for hanging ten.

Maui & Lanai, Hawaii 
"A wedding in Hawaii? Real original!" So says Jason Segel's sarcastic character in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but America's consummate vacationland is rolling out a crop of brand new holiday fodder next year: the legendary Four Seasons on Lanai reopens at long last, and Maui's so-called upcountry capitalizes on local a cultural experience that’s a far cry from the usual tiki tackiness: the Paniolo, or Hawaiian Cowboy.

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Check out the Makawao Rodeo attracting over 300 horsemen, then head to Haleakala National Park, celebrating 100 years as a protected reserve, to skywatch in the middle of the night.

Botswana
The south African nation celebrates 50 years of self-governance in 2016, and it's well worth helping celebrate a country that has become a benchmark for conservation (stringent wildlife anti-poaching laws) and stable government (democracy reigns with a strong human rights focus) within a struggling continent.

New camps along to Okavango Delta, like the fully reimagined water-based safari at Belmond Eagle Island Lodge, provide further access to one of the largest conglomeration of animals on the planet.  

Hallstatt, Austria 
Instagram is changing the way we discover new dream destinations by subverting the agenda of travel agents with unbridled travel porn. Nowadays, inspirational handles hawk doctored pics of the most exclusive locations around the globe.

Beach vistas (Maldives, Bora Bora etc) are an easy gimme, but the big winner is this tiny town wedged between steep mountains and a quiet lake. You can practically smell the gingerbread baking in the window, imagine what it's like in person.

Martinique
New direct flights to the Caribbean seem to be materializing every day, linking American hubs to a fresh crop of tropical islands.

Norwegian Air’s surprise entry into the US’s budget holiday market will undoubtedly prove to be a game changer and open up French-owned Martinique to a wider spectrum of visitors.

While a sunset swim off the beach at Hotel Bakoua is a must, don’t miss a guided visit to Saint James distillery to learn about the island’s rum history. Made from sugar cane juice itself and not the sugar refined from cane, rum in Martinique is like the champagne of the industry.

Fernando de Noronha 
It's Olympics time again, and this year's soon-to-be newsmaker for woeful unpreparedness is Rio.

Should you go? Sure, if you want to. Visa fees and restrictions will melt away to encourage visitors, but you should really take advantage of your time in Brazil and make a stop in the small island chain of Fernando de Noronha, an eco-tourism Eden with spectacular beaches and plenty of scuba diving.

In fact, Guia Quatro Rodas, Brazil’s version of the Michelin guide, ranked the nation’s top ten beaches and placed the first three all within the small archipelago (Praia do Sancho is considered number one).


North Korea
We’re serious about this one, but not for the reason you think. The “museum” tours to see how the other side lives were trendy a few years back—and plenty of people participated.

Now we’re interested in the Kim Jong Universe for its slopes. Imagine tearing down first-class slaloms with the likes of snowboard superstar Terje Hakonsen, and not another soul in sight.
Dreams come true for $2400 (seven nights), which also includes all the DMZ bells and whistles just in case you want to look around before heading home.