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Up-and-Coming Vacation Spots: Burma, Cuba, Provence & More (PHOTOS)

Need to plan your next grand adventure? From Burma to Cuba, 12 places to see this year. By Nina Strochlic.

There’s nothing wrong with tried-and-true travel spots, but these emerging destinations will set you apart from the tourist pack. Of these 12 up-and-coming places in Asia, Europe, Africa, and Latin America that are worthy of exploration in 2013, some are just opening to tourists. Others are in the midst of transforming from backpacking hubs to luxury destinations, and a few offer special attractions unique to this year. But all are worthy of considerations for your 2013 travel wish list—just try to restrain yourself from booking a plane ticket before you’ve read through them all.

Khin Maung Win/AP

Burma

Over the past year, political transformations have created a more accessible and tourist-friendly Burma. And the country’s stunning landscapes and well-preserved traditions have been shielded from the deluge of backpackers plaguing the rest of Southeast Asia. With increasing economic reforms and the disintegration of the iron-fisted military state, now is the time to go. The British colonial buildings of Rangoon may be a bit run down, but the city’s gorgeous 2,500-year-old pagoda, Shwedagon Paya, gleams like new. Travel to the country’s center and visit Bagan, where you can take a horse-and-buggy ride through more than 4,000 ancient pagodas and temples, a scene to rival Angkor Wat in nearby Cambodia. In the chilly mountains, the serene water of Inle Lake is disturbed only by rowers precariously manning their boats, using one leg for balance and the other to row. Ignore the tourist inconveniences—bumpy bus rides, no ATMs, Internet scarcity—and enjoy traveling as you might have in the 1970s.

Blaine Harrington III/Corbis

The Riviera Maya, Mexico

The Riviera Maya, along Mexico’s Caribbean coast, has been spared much of the violence plaguing Mexico in recent years. For a week or two of luxury, fly straight to Mexico’s Riviera Maya, on the western coast of the Yucatan, and stay in one of the recently constructed luxury resorts and boutique hotels dotting the coastline. Try out the newly opened Amansala Chica, a bohemian beachfront getaway with programs like “bikini boot camp,” “destination detox,” and Mayan healing treatments. After sunning yourself on the pristine white beaches, explore the stunning Mayan ruins in nearby Tulum, a walled seaside city set on limestone cliffs overlooking the Caribbean. Once the Mayan trading port for turquoise and jade, the metropolis plays host to the ancient El Castillo and the Temple of the Frescoes.

Ty Wright/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Cuba

Like Burma, Cuba is benefiting from political reforms and an easing of travel restrictions that have slowly made it a more accessible destination. Americans typically have to route through Canada or Mexico to enter the country, but Havana’s colorful streets, omnipresent music, and flourishing art scene make the travel hassles worthwhile. Venturing out of the city, visit the UNESCO-protected town of Trinidad, where multicolored pastel buildings and quaint plazas offer colonial charm. Just outside of town, take in the unparalleled view of the Valley of the Sugar Mills, and then make your way into the countryside to tour Finca Vigia, Ernest Hemingway’s beloved retreat, where he worked on some of his most famous novels. Better go now to beat the American tourist rush; in late November, the U.S. began renewing educational tour licenses, and Cuba’s tourism minister says the country expects a record-breaking 3 million foreign travelers in 2013.

John Carr, Eye Ubiquitous/Corbis

Mustang, Nepal

The region, advantageously nestled between the Himalayas and Tibet, appears to have traveled through time unscathed. But with recent coverage in National Geographic, The New York Times, and the Vanishing Cultures Project, this tiny, well-preserved Tibetan kingdom is slowly gaining exposure. Long forbidden to outsiders, who were allowed inside only in the early 1990s, Mustang officials recently launched a tourism plan to make the region more accessible to visitors and started a highway project that will connect the remote area to Kathmandu and China. With three towns, a few dozen smaller villages, and dozens of mysterious caves whose origins have puzzled archaeologists for decades, the region is best explored on foot.

Ken Cedeno/Corbis

Haiti

It’s been three years since a massive earthquake left 1 million Haitians homeless and thousands of buildings destroyed, and the country has been struggling to recover. You won’t find beach resorts and Michelin-starred restaurants, but a trip to Haiti will help you get in touch with your adventurous side and do your part to get the country back on its feet. The Haitian tourism ministry has slated $100 million for new developments and hotels in Port-au-Prince. Explore the city’s upscale Petionville neighborhood, home to the wealthy and the Haitian National Pantheon Museum, where you can take a comprehensive look at the country’s history. When you get sick of city life, leave the bustling Port-au-Prince and explore the colonial charms of the country. Relax on the white sands and dive in the coral-filled waters of Amani-y Beach in the port town Saint Marc. Or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, rent a horse and ride up the mountain to see the imposing ruins of Citadelle Laferrière.

Richard T. Nowitz/Corbis

Great Bear Rainforest, Canada

A debate is raging in Canada between environmentalists and oil companies over proposed plans to build the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline across British Columbia, right through the luscious natural wonder of the Great Bear Rainforest. Activists and tourism experts are fighting the pipeline, warning of a potential disaster on the scale of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. The second-largest temperate rainforest in the world, the region hosts black, grizzly, and Kermode bears, along with 17 types of marine mammals in the salmon-filled rivers. Now’s the time to plan a hiking trip through Great Bear Rainforest to experience these ecological treasures before the sticky substance wins out.

Patrick Aventurier/Getty

Provence, France

Provence has long been hailed as the home of some of the most beautiful scenery France has to offer—old news. But this spring you’ll be able to see a lot more of it. In March, a new long-distance hiking trail will be unveiled. An expansive 224-mile, 15-day journey, this trail was pieced together by a coalition of artists, writers, and architects to showcase the region’s more overlooked rural and urban features. It’s been described as “the first metropolitan and artistic hiking trail.” If a city vibe is more your thing, check out nearby Marseille, which was recently named 2013’s “European Capital of Culture” by the European Union and is bursting with artistic and cultural events throughout the year.

Vanda De Mello/Bloomberg, via Getty Images

Douro Valley, Portugal

Try flipping through photos of the Douro Valley’s terraced hillsides, riverside towns, and forested landscapes without immediately searching for flights to Portugal. It’s no wonder that, after churning out wines for 2,000 years, the area is now being hailed as one of the world’s most beautiful regions. Douro Valley has all the quaint features attributed to fairy-tale Europe: monasteries, castles, and charming villages, best seen by taking a boat cruise down the Douro River. Porto, the main city hub and one of Europe’s oldest populated centers, is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and an architecture aficionado’s dream come true.

Hinrich Basemann, DPA/Corbis

Fairbanks, Alaska

Renowned for its diverse beauty, Fairbanks is the perfect place to view the aurora borealis this year, when it will enjoying 240 nights of the northern lights show. During the day the sprawling town is an ideal jumping-off point to explore Alaska’s rugged scenery. Take the highway half an hour out of town and indulge your outdoorsy side with the pristine hiking, canoeing, and fishing available at the nearby 397-square-mile Chena River recreation area. Then relax at the Chena Hot Springs Resort, where the geothermal pools are so hot, the water must be cooled before visitors can take a dip. Don’t leave too early—at night you can watch the northern lights while soaking in the mineral waters.

Aldo Pavan, Grand Tour/Corbis

Crimea

Residents of the former Soviet Union have long enjoyed the secret attractions of this summer getaway—and now others are discovering it. With sunny beaches and palatial resorts, Crimea is primed to become Europe’s fashionable new vacation destination. If beaches bore you, Crimea’s Novyi Svit region is dotted with ancient fortresses and massive palaces, and is famous for vineyards that produce sparkling wine fit for a tsar. After trying the region’s finest bubbly, take a stroll to the secluded Golitsyn Grotto, where Price Golitsyn used to store the wine from the champagne-growing vineyard he founded in 1878. In Yalta, visit the stunning mansion that once played host to Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt while they were redesigning post-WWII Europe. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find some deal-making inspiration of your own.

Francois Perri, REA/Redux

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

Addis Ababa is a vision of contrasts: nestled at the foot of Mount Entoto and surrounded by forest, this 120-year-old city is a jumble of modern skyscrapers, shanty towns, historical landmarks, buzzing nightlife, and religious monuments, all with a mix of African and European architectural styles. The bustling Mercato is Africa’s largest open-air market. On Saturdays, Ethiopians from all regions come to town to buy and sell from the market’s 50 trading sections, including southern Dorze weavers, eastern traders bringing electronics, and nomads showing off livestock. If you’re interested in meeting the creator of modern civilization, Lucy, the oldest hominid skeleton ever found, is kept in the Ethiopian National Museum. (A replica is on display.)

Louis Vest, OneEighteen/flickr.com (CC, img 6630434257)

Cartagena, Colombia

Colombia offers a kind of three-tiered diversity hard to find on the rest of the continent. The powerful drug cartels that once controlled the country and threatened tourism have quieted down, letting the beautiful beach towns, lush coffee-growing regions, and colorful tribal areas draw in visitors. For spicy Caribbean flair, Cartagena in the north has one of the most stunning colonial centers, with winding streets that you could get lost in no matter how detailed your map. A boat ride away, pristine beaches lure in sun-hungry travelers. In the middle of the country, stay in old coffee plantations and learn how Colombia’s staple export is grown and harvested. For that true South American feeling, the southern region is a perfect place to relax in quaint, peaceful towns. If you're lucky, you'll catch the tribal women, bedecked in embroidered robes, coming to market.