Plenty of cities are always worth a visit. But when destinations are in the midst of an evolution—bursting with new, standard-setting hotels and restaurants, or chock-full of new cultural attractions—you can expect a spark of electricity in the air. The alchemy of being in the right place at the right time is exactly what transforms a good vacation into a great one.
With that in mind, we’ve scoured the globe for the most exciting openings and events in 2018 and boiled them down to 22 especially compelling destinations. And to make sure you can plan your trip for just the right time of year, we sourced hotel pricing insights from Google and seasonal recommendations from regional travel specialists that we know and trust. Take it from them: The cheapest and most expensive times to go are rarely the best and worst.
You’ve got the vacation days. Here’s how to use them.
While São Paulo is busy pushing the boundaries of a modern megalopolis, one of Brazil’s most laid-back colonial towns is heading in the opposite direction. With a population of 2.6 million midway down the state of Bahia’s laid-back coast, Salvador is emerging from a government-led, five-year historic preservation effort. Its once-abandoned city center, filled with 400-plus-year-old, kaleidoscopic baroque buildings, is abuzz again. The nexus of the country’s slave trade during the colonial era, Salvador remains the beating heart of Afro-Brazilian music culture: A spirited choir and live percussion band accompany mass at the Church of Nossa Senhora do Rosário dos Pretos, and jam sessions erupt each Saturday at sunset outside the city’s seaside Museum of Modern Art (MAM-BA).
Midyear, Brazil’s sexiest hotel chain, Fasano, opens its fifth outpost in a former newspaper office in the up-and-coming Cidade Alta neighborhood; the art deco-inspired Fera Palace, whose rooftop overlooks Salvador’s azure harbor, is already open. Oh, and don’t forget the gleaming beaches.
When to go: Salvador is at its most vibrant during its summer, December through April.
When not to go: Skip the rainy months of June and July. It’s also worth noting that the city shuts down for Carnival’s over-the-top street parties, which run from Feb. 8 to Feb. 14 this year.
Whom to call: Martin Frankenberg of Matuete.
St. Kitts has pulled off a beach-escape hat trick: It feels untouched while being both comfortable and convenient. A quarter of it is preserved as American oceanic rainforest, perfect for hiking through pristine wilderness, but the island also offers the infinity pools and beachfront cafes travelers hope for in a luxe vacation.
After surviving last year’s hurricanes unscathed, the destination got a considerable injection of glitz when the 126-room Park Hyatt opened in November. The first five-star beach resort on St. Kitts, it’s located on a secluded white-sand cove near the island’s southern tip; suites with private pools overlook the Caribbean Sea and the neighboring island of Nevis, while the three-bedroom presidential villa has a private chef and dedicated fitness area. The resort anchors Christophe Harbour, a new, 2,500-acre luxury development and superyacht marina, which means guests have the twin benefits of privacy and quick access to high-end boutique shopping.
In terms of convenience, Delta has begun offering nonstop routes from Atlanta and New York, making St. Kitts more accessible than many of its Caribbean peers.
When to go: May—when you’ll find great deals and few crowds—or the six weeks in November and December that are bookended by hurricane season and holiday madness.
When not to go: Heed the big lesson of 2017, and steer clear of the Caribbean in the peak storm months from June to October.
Whom to call: Lindsey Epperly of Epperly Travel.
Antarctica may get all the attention, but the southern Patagonian ice fields are gradually melting, too. Luckily there are several new avenues for travelers who want to get there sooner rather than later. Bespoke travel company Black Tomato now offers a journey to the untrammeled area of Aysén, letting adventurers explore caves, hike glaciers, and ride down rapids in the least-populated region in Chile. On the shores of Lake Llanquihue is Hotel Awa—a marvel of concrete and glass that adds to the country’s collection of remote, contemporary luxury hotels. It makes a great home base for fly fishing, hikes up snow-capped Osorno volcano, and authentic cultural encounters with indigenous communities.
The areas further south are becoming easier to see by boat: Starting this month, Australia’s new, 210-passenger ship, the Ventus Australis, will sail four-night itineraries through the fjords of Tierra del Fuego; by the end of the year, luxury line Azamara Club Cruises Inc.will introduce a three-week journey that takes in the length of Chile, starting in Lima and winding up in Buenos Aires.
When to go: Early March—the tail end of peak season—when crowds have dispersed, hotel rates dip, and temperatures hover at a comfortable 60 degrees.
When not to go: July. Winters are cold and wet, and most hotels are closed.
Whom to call: Tom Marchant of Black Tomato.
Sitting north of Jakarta and east of Singapore is lushly forested Borneo, home to most of the planet’s 120,000 remaining orangutans. Unlike its neighbors, the third-largest island in the world (Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia all lay claim to parts of it) has yet to register on the traditional tourist map. That’s changing, though, as wildlife enthusiasts race to see these sweet-faced primates before their population declines any further.
Facilitating these untapped adventures are such newcomers as the luxe-leaning Audley Travel and G Adventures, which has a partnership with National Geographic. Charter cruises meander down lazy tributaries of the Lemanak and Kingbata rivers, stopping in on the Indonesian side to see the conservationists at Camp Leakey, whose founder mentored Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, or Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary, an orphanage and rehab center in Malaysia territory.
The itineraries are easily combined with traditional bucket-list destinations—Bali is a popular pick—but why bother? Borneo is a gorgeous treasure trove unto itself, with former headhunting villages tucked amid rice terraces and an increasing number of honeymoon-worthy hotels, such as the newly redone Mulu Marriott, set near the Brunei border, within spitting distance of the craggy karst formations in Mulu National Park.
When to go: Wildlife is best spotted from late May through September. Just know that “dry season” is a relative term here.
When not to go: December and January put the rain in rainforest.
Whom to call: Pat O’Connell of Asia Transpacific Journeys.
As a conflict-free oasis of the Middle East, Jordan has experienced double-digit tourism growth over the past 12 months. The upward trajectory has been spurred by an influx of public and foreign money bolstering infrastructure: The Jordan Trail, a long-distance hiking route from Umm Qais in the north to Aqaba in the south, was recently created by the government’s adventure travel wing. The 400-mile expedition strings the best of the nation’s natural highlights into a journey of biblical proportions—it’s meant to take 40 days and 40 nights—cutting through the jagged Dana Biosphere Reserve and the rock-hewn city of Petra before ending at the Red Sea. Trekkers are encouraged to stay in Bedouin camps and eco lodges along the way, whether they tackle the entire trail or one of eight 50-mile-long sections.
A highlight is Wadi Rum, aptly referred to as the Valley of the Moon, which now has luxurious bubble-dome camps scattered throughout its pockmarked sandstone recesses. Explore the landscape by camel, on foot, or via four-wheel drive during the day, then stargaze from your bed at night. And don’t forget Jordan’s capital: By May, Amman will welcome two new hotels, a W and a St. Regis, offering a plush way to bookend your dusty desert explorations.
When to go: April and October, when daytime temperatures of 75 to 80 degrees F are perfectly suited to Petra hikes and Dead Sea swims.
When not to go: December to February. Desert nights are cold year-round, and they’re punishing in the winter; Amman actually got snow last year.
Whom to call: Jean Newman Glock of Signature Travel Network.
Few international travelers have heard of this port town 60 miles north of Edinburgh. Locally, it’s best known as the 19th-century center of the jute trade and the (supposed) birthplace of orange marmalade. But later this year, Scotland’s first design museum, the V&A Museum of Design Dundee, will open on the city’s waterfront in a gleaming building that evokes a ship’s prow jutting over the water; it will showcase Scotland’s wide-ranging design legacy, including Hunter boots and Dennis the Menace cartoons.
It’s just one piece of a $1.3 billion revitalization project on the River Tay that will also include a new train station, art installations, and an urban beach—cementing Dundee’s status as an up-and-coming cultural hub. Travelers can come on day trips from Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital, or arrive directly by ship: Azamara Club Cruises and Crystal Cruises make their first calls here in July.
When to go: May, ahead of the high-season summer crowds and the seasonal hotel-rate spike.
When not to go: November to February, when the area’s notoriously rainy weather is at its worst and the days are painfully short.
Whom to call: Claire Schoeder of Travel Edge
Since its founding in the mid-5th century, Georgia’s capital and largest city, Tbilisi, has been destroyed and rebuilt more than 29 times. It’s no surprise then that its resilient spirit and creative energy have earned the city comparisons to Berlin in the mid-aughts, before it was widely known as an edgy nightlife capital. Influences from times under the Persian Empire and the Soviet Union have left distinct marks on the country’s culture, most notably in its vegetarian-friendly cuisine, such as the cheese-filled khachapuri pie.
Its nascent hotel scene, however, is entirely homegrown. The five-year-old, fiercely Georgian hospitality brand Adjara has been instrumental in creating an aura of cool with its Rooms hotels in Tbilisiand a ski resort in Kazbegi. This spring, the group introduces the capital’s first five-star property, Stamba, in a Soviet-era printing house; all are part of the Design Hotels collection. Its 2018 expansion plan includes high-design openings in the mountains of Mestia, seaside Batumi, and wine country. Not familiar with Georgian vintages? Wine snobs are: The country is said to be the birthplace of viticulture, with production of strong, antioxidant-packed orange varietals spanning 8,000 years. Consider it just one more item in a long list of surprises that’s drawing such luxury tour operators as Wild Frontiers and Butterfield & Robinson to the burgeoning republic.
When to go: Take advantage of great weather in the spring (April through early June)—or peak harvest season in September and October, when local dishes, such as phkali, a spread made of minced vegetables and ground walnuts, are at their best.
When not to go: Skip the too-hot months of July and August; the long winter season, from November through March, is undesirably cold and wet.
Whom to call: Greg Tepper of Exeter International.