Where to Go in 2021—Once It’s Safe to Travel Again
Something old, something new, here are a few of our favorite destinations, from European cities to Asian beaches to Brazil’s wine country.
In a few weeks, 2020 will be over. Sadly, the same can’t be said for the coronavirus pandemic. And so, when the new year arrives, many of the world’s borders will still be closed. Hotels, restaurants, and the people who make them hum will still be on the economic brink. And most of you will still be sitting at home instead of out seeing the world.
But there is hope. The vaccines seem to be effective and available soon. So with that in mind we’re going ahead with our 2021 travel destination guide. We like to think there’s something for everybody here—nature, food and drink, urban, beach, etc. We’ll also be giving some love to destinations that have always been popular, but given the devastation wrought by COVID, we think they deserve our renewed support.
Michigan’s Sunset Coast
It’s no secret if you live in the Upper Midwest, but we bet many of you on the coasts and in the South will be floored by the beauty of the western Michigan coastline. You could be forgiven if you think you’re in a charming New England village the first time you go to Saugatuck, and Traverse City is an utter delight. And beyond the majesty of Lake Michigan and its beaches (including the impressive Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore), don’t miss the area’s world-class interior lakes like Torch and Glen. Oh, and definitely stop at a farmstand in the summer for some fresh cherries!
Most first-time visitors to Morocco flock to Marrakech. It’s an inclination that has always perplexed us, because our bias is towards Morocco’s second biggest city—the ancient city of Fes. The ways in which Marrakech can sometimes disappoint (it can be kitschy and you’ll spend a lot of your time fending off offers for drugs) are far from the mind in Fes. Here, wonderful goods abound and the medina (believed to be the largest car-free zone in the world) is made up of hundreds of little streets such that you’re bound to get lost. In this beautiful city, serendipity is still very much alive.
We’re firm believers that with travel and the exchange of ideas, the world can become a slightly more tolerable place. For nearly a decade, hundreds of thousands of Poles have taken to the streets time and again in opposition to measures from the right-wing government. And so while Warsaw is a superb city with a fascinating history (see Anthony Paletta’s informative essay on the recreation of its Old Town during the Cold War), possibly the best museum created in recent memory (POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews), and beautiful palaces like Wilanów, it’s also one of the best places to take a local out for a drink for a night of scintillating political conversation.
New York City
We’re not going to go all Jerry Seinfeld on you, but we love New York and few places were hit harder—both in terms of the deadly early wave and the resulting economic devastation of a year without tourists. And, sure, there’s something sort of lovely about having such a beautiful city empty (when else could you run in Manhattan in the middle of the day?!), but it isn’t the same place without the bustle and chaos. So once it’s safe to travel again, head to the city that never sleeps. Broadway needs spectators. Central Park is still as beautiful as ever (try to find Cleopatra’s Needle!). And if you’ve been countless times and need something new, try checking out the Grand Concourse in the Bronx.
This little Indonesian island punches far above its size in the world of travel—which makes sense given its natural beauty, unique architecture (even Kid Rock recently listed a mansion done up Balinese-style), culture, and warm people. Before the pandemic, Bali was groaning under the strain of overtourism. But given that nearly all of this jewel’s economy is based on tourism, it has been devastated. Our recommendation? Put yourself in the hands of Mandapa, a Ritz Carlton Reserve, like we did right before the pandemic took off. The property is not only gorgeous, but the staff is impeccable.
The fifth-largest of the Hawaiian Islands is one of its least visited by tourists. It has none of the luxury resorts, crowded beaches, or cutting-edge dining of its more popular neighbors. It hasn’t seen its existence and those of its residents (a large portion being of Native Hawaiian descent) oriented around tourism. But this island not only has the world’s tallest sea cliffs, Hawaii’s longest white sand beach, and jaw-dropping waterfalls—it’s rich with history. On its Kaluapapa Peninsula (which you can hike to through the mountains separating it from the rest of Molokai or fly and see the sea cliffs) is what’s left of that which once made the name Molokai famous—a leper colony.
Colombia’s second city is, in our opinion, one of Latin America’s finest. While Pablo Escobar made this city in a valley surrounded by mountains infamous, today the city is significantly safer than Bogota, with attractions ranging from the Botero Museum (the artist was born in Medellin) to the science museum and aquarium Parque Explora. It also has great hiking, nightlife in and around Parque Lleras that you can dance right into, and day trips to places including the 200-meter granite monolith El Peñon de Guatapé. To top it off, Medellin has a great metro system and a funicular that services the neighborhoods clinging to the sides of the valley.
Yes, yes, the BBQ really is that good and worth the stop alone. But the Paris of the Plains is so much more. The city center is a gold mine for turn-of-the-century architecture (don’t miss the Renaissance Revival New York Life Insurance Building) and the city has kept up to date with major projects from starchitects like Moshe Safdie. Across town, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art isn’t just a great museum for a mid-size city—it’s one of the best in the country. If you’re looking for a place to spend the night, you can’t do better than the Crossroads Hotel (its hospitality puts other hotels claiming to have friendly staff to shame) and if you’re craving carbs, one of our favorite bakeries in the country (we always make a stop on road trips) is 1900 Barker in Lawrence, Kansas.
San Carlos Nuevo Guaymas, Mexico
Do you like the beach? How about miles and miles of beach with turquoise blue waters? Less well known than Baja across the Gulf of California, this stretch of Mexico’s Sonoran coast should be on your radar (think dramatic sunsets where the desert meets the sea). If just sitting by the beach bores you, you can hike in nearby Nacapule Canyon or up Cerra Tetakawi (with views of the coast) or head out to San Pedro Island.
Sure, New Zealand got all the praise for its handling of COVID, but the island nation of Taiwan did just as well (if not better) with a whole lot more people and exposure to global spread. While that isn’t a sexy reason to visit a country, there are plenty of those for Taiwan. As the first country in Asia to recognize same-sex marriage, it’s a very LGBTQ-friendly destination. While Taipei will likely be your first stop (great night markets, museums, nightlife), you should also hop on the high-speed rail that will take you to the old Qing dynasty capital of Tainan and its lovely 18th century temples. For a beach getaway, look south to Kenting.
There’s a reason John Denver’s plangent song "Take Me Home, Country Roads" fits West Virginia so well—this oft-overlooked state is one of the most picturesque corners of the world any time of year. There are dozens of Americana-vibe towns ripped from a Norman Rockwell illustration (Shepherdstown, Hinton, Lewisburg, to name a few). For starters, great hikes can be found in Dolly Sods, North Fork Mountain, and the New River Gorge. For history buffs (or those who have enjoyed Ethan-Hawke-as-John-Brown in The Good Lord Bird) it doesn’t get much richer than Harper’s Ferry. But we’d like to suggest the little known Blennerhassett Island, the island in the middle of the Ohio River with a Palladian mansion where Aaron Burr plotted his return after his fall from grace. And for those who need some of that old-school, mega-hotel, retreat-style splurge, there’s always The Greenbrier.
“The scale. The architecture. The people. The colors. The pale red brick against the bright blue sky”—that’s what we once wrote about Toulouse for our series on underrated destinations, It’s Still a Big World. This wealthy midsize city in southern France is one of its most beautiful. It is a city best suited for travelers tired of destinations trailing “must do” lists. It is a city to wander, a place of understated but ever-present elegance. Known as La Ville Rose (The Pink City) because of the pink-ish bricks used in its architecture, Toulouse is a visual outlier among French cities. Plus, in its Renaissance-era tower mansions, you’ll be constantly rewarded for being nosy and poking around open gates.
While Mozambique has been one of the “hot” up-and-coming destinations over the past decade, we’ve got our eye on its tiny land-locked neighbor—Malawi. And while this country known for the friendliness of its denizens may not be on an ocean, the star attraction is Lake Malawi—the fourth-largest freshwater lake in the world. It not only has vast stretches of golden sand beaches, but is popular for water sports, as well as snorkeling and diving given its rare fish species. Most hike-minded visitors will end up at Mt. Mulanje, or if you want to get some elevation but not do the work, you can drive to the plateau top at Zomba. We’ll definitely be visiting Nyika National Park, an expanse of mountain grasslands known for their scenic beauty as well as its large leopard population.
If 2020 taught us anything when it came to travel, it’s that if you’ve always meant to go somewhere—go! We’ve always meant to go to Uzbekistan, the Central Asian country with some of the most important stops along the legendary Silk Road. We wanted to gaze at the magnificent mosques and palaces remaining from the Timurid empire. We had planned to gaze at thousand-year-old ruins from lost civilizations barely holding on against desert sands and modernity. We’d hoped to gawk at the folly of man in the dried up Aral Sea and marvel at the collection in the Savitsky Museum (the second largest in the world of Russian avant garde artwork). This year, however, we’ll make it happen.
Wine Country, Serra Gaúcha, Brazil
Brazilian… wine country?! Yes, you read that right, we’re recommending you go to Brazil and leave its world famous beaches. In recent years, the vineyards in Serra Gaúcha around towns like Bento Gonçalves and Pinto Bandeira have made people take Brazilian viniculture seriously, especially when it comes to sparkling wine. The region still is mostly geared toward domestic tourism, which is a double-edged sword. On the upside, prices are reasonable, things are pretty relaxed, and it doesn’t have that corporate soulless vibe like a lot of wine regions. The downside is that not many people speak English and it can be a bit of an obstacle course arranging things. (For instance, the big car rental company Localiza Hertz at the Porto Alegre airport didn’t have all 50 states as an option for your home address.) A great place to call home during your stay is actually at one of the vineyards—Don Giovanni. To get started, schedule visits at Cave Geisse (whose sparkling rosé is one of the few available in the U.S.), Casa Valduga, and Miolo. One piece of advice—use Google Translate and write them in Portuguese, otherwise places might never reply. Also, while you’re in the area, pop over to Gramado, a sort of Bavarian-esque mountain town beloved by Brazilians.