The 51st state. America’s hat. Take your pick among the bevy of diminutive nicknames our northern neighbor has suffered—too polite and apologetic to ever form a rebuttal. Of course the joke’s on us now, especially on election night when the Canadian immigration website famously crashed due to a sudden surge in search queries.
Besides the appeal of a progressive social democracy led by a political prince who enjoys topless photobombing, Canada’s immense natural beauty is finally getting the spotlight it deserves. Celebrating 150 years as a nation in 2017, Canada just eclipsed the awesomeness of the American Parks Service centennial by offering everyone a Discovery Pass allowing free admission into any of the nation’s reserves from coast to coast.
Start in Nahanni National Park, in the Northwest Territories—a dense and hidden wilderness carved by glacial canyons and roaring rivers. So utterly remote and spectacular, Nahanni was the first place ever to be inscribed on UNESCO’s coveted list of World Heritage Sites. Pair it with a stay at Blachford Lodge on the vast inland sea of Great Slave Lake—the perfect place to watch the northern lights.
From the surfable shores of Tofino in British Columbia to the ceaseless charm of Newfoundland’s “outport” coastal communities along the Bonavista Peninsula in the east, you could make five separate trips to Canada next year and you’d only be scratching the surface.
2. Hokkaido, Japan
Trendy wouldn’t even begin to describe Japan during the “Bubble Economy” era, and now the buzz is back with a noticeable uptick in international travelers descending upon the Land of the Rising Sun each year. Shinkansen (bullet train) plans continue to be rolled out, creating easy new routes between hubs like Tokyo and Kyoto and smaller destinations.
Long-term plans are already underway to create faster trains and brand new resorts on Japan’s northern island, Hokkaido, making 2017 the perfect time to go before the inevitable inundation of tourists and the increased awareness in Japan leading up to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Long famed for its superlative skiing—coined “Japow” for the pixie dust snow—Hokkaido is already a favorite for Australians, but is suddenly starting to catch on with the mainstream American crowd. The newly refurbished Kiroro, a Tribute hotel, marks the first of several initiatives to bring in international skiers beyond the traditionally popular pistes at Niseko.
Beyond skiing, Hokkaido has a rich culinary tradition based upon locally sourced seafood and high-quality dairy from the island’s farms. Whisky distilling, too, has a proud heritage; the land bears some similar environmental traits to the Scottish Highlands.
3. Cape Verde
Following the lead of IcelandAir, Azores Airlines (originally called SATA), based on the tiny archipelago of Portuguese islands 1000 miles off the coast of Lisbon, will be increasing its transatlantic capacity and service by 46 percent next year. Stops on the islands will of course be offered along the way, but a direct transcontinental link brings a new destination into focus for America travelers: Cape Verde.
A Creole combustion of Afro-Portuguese influence, the volcanic islands off the coast of northern Africa make an interesting alternative to the Caribbean with some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, like Praia de Chaves on the isle of Boa Vista.
4. Nashville, Tennessee
If you search the bowels of the internet for travel trends five years ago, a lot of top 10 lists featured Music City. The titular TV show starring Connie Britton was making its soap-Opry debut just as the city’s penchant for serious BBQ eats was earning a more mainstream reputation.
But now the city’s breaking away from its niche appeal and becoming a worthy destination for every stripe up traveler bolstered by a phalanx of new hotel properties like the Thompson Nashville; the hotly anticipated 21c Museum Hotel Nashville will open in the spring.
Next-level Nashville is marking a great trend in America’s middle, as smaller cities too—like Indianapolis, Indiana, Cincinnati, Ohio, and Lexington, Kentucky—are making strides toward becoming both more livable destinations but also worthy weekending spots for city mice.
We have a very bad habit of lumping geography together in big chunks. It happened with the Ebola outbreak a few years ago when East Africa suffered dramatic losses in tourism when it was West Africa—thousands of miles away—that was under siege. Similarly, many nations in the Middle East suddenly seem like a no-go zone when the unrest splashed across the news is located in very pronounced pockets.
Jordan is perhaps the most heartbreaking victim of these circumstances—a modern and stunning nation that has seen two-thirds of its tourists evaporate over the last five years. Sights of incomparable beauty—like the orange vastness of Wadi Rum, Petra, and the Dead Sea—are yours for the taking.
As the world bemoaned the general lack of organization during the Rio Olympics we thought: If only there were a place with that signature South American joie de vivre but without any of the chaos and hassle. Consider Uruguay. Already a favorite with spend-y Argentinians and Brazilians, it’s got beautiful beaches, gaucho-style farm-fresh beef, a growing wine trade, and a capital city—Montevideo—that’s making a meteoric rise in the food and fashion sectors.
With more natural resources per square foot and more endemic flora and fauna than any other country in the world, the subcontinent-sized island of Madagascar often feels cloaked behind corruption. There might, however, be a change in the winds—the construction of luxury lodge Miavana may be the prelude to a renewed interest in this faraway island and the timing couldn’t be better as mining and logging continue to threaten this delicate biome.
Another country marking an anniversary with pomp and circumstance, Finland turns 100 next year, and is using its centennial to broadcast its own brand of Nordic-esque coolness: quirky design, midnight sun, and the most pronounced sauna culture on the planet.
Winter wonders will be played up in kind with the World Skating Championships being held in the capital, Helsinki.
Globetrotters may be interested to learn that a pause in Helsinki is a perfectly reasonable stop for East Coast Americans on their way to Asia. For example, New York to Tokyo via L.A. clocks you more time in the sky than flying from New York to Tokyo via Helsinki.
Ethiopia further opens its doors in 2017 as its national airline continues helping the country make inroads into becoming a new transcontinental hub. Direct links from the United States are increasing, as is a newfound interest in non-safari African travel. Discover the tribal voices of the Oro Valley and explore the ancient earthen churches of Lalibela.
10. Puerto Rico
While the American media has been busy ascribing a fantastical zoo-like quality to Cuba—“come see it before it changes!”—Puerto Rico has been unfairly recast as the Zika monster. Prices have dipped in PR as a result, and with trendsetters making a beeline to Havana, you’ll have the stunning cobbled streets of Old San Juan all to yourself.
Honorable Mention: Washington, D.C.
Just because Trump doesn’t want to live there doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit! Named best food city by Bon Appetit magazine, and the newest destination to receive a Michelin dining guide, D.C. is poised to remind you that the city’s climate won’t be totally depressing come January.