Travel Awards

Where to Go in 2020: Our Top 10 Picks

by Team Fathom
Grampians Grampians National Park, Australia. Photo by Manuel Meurisse / Unsplash.

If we’re being honest, this business of trend forecasting is more than a little arbitrary. After all, the list of places you want to go this year will mostly be dictated by the places you want to go this year. And it’s not like a destination only has a lifespan of twelve months. Indeed, if we consider the destinations that made the cut last year, we still stand by all of them. (In fact, they were on many other experts’ 2020 ranking.) Still, roundups are always good for inspiration, and we are happy to shine a spotlight on the places around the world that especially deserve it.

When we were compiling these selections, in addition to considering which countries offered new hotels or new direct airline routes, we found ourselves looking for destinations that could give us what we seem to need even more lately: a sense of escape, of peace, of faraway-ness, and, maybe, most of all, of hope. Because when the world seems to be going crazy and the news seems too demoralizing to keep up with, nothing soothes the soul quite as much as getting out into the world to restore your faith in it.

Bhutan
Dochula Pass memorial stupas in Bhutan. Photo courtesy of Six Senses.

Bhutan

New year, new decade, proverbial clean slate. Though old habits die hard, we can, at least, focus our future travel on places embracing a promising and dynamic future. Cue Bhutan, a country that has long adhered to “High Value, Low Impact” tourism. The Royal Government treats the landlocked Himalayan kingdom as “an exclusive travel destination based on Gross National Happiness (GNH) Values.” It is, indeed, exclusive: Tourists who are not from India, Bangladesh, or the Maldives must obtain a visa, which is only granted after pre-purchasing a trip package from the Tourism Council (beginning at $240+ per day, including meals, transport, and a tour guide). Six Senses, which has committed to environmental efforts like going plastic free by 2020 and growing over 90 thousand pounds of organic produce for its community, opened four holistic retreats throughout the capital city and countryside last year, with the fifth set to open this spring. Slow and steady and sustainable wins the race. By banning logging exports, protecting forests (which make up 70 percent of the national landscape), harnessing hydropower over fossil fuels, and providing free electricity to farmers, Bhutan will become the first carbon-negative, “organic nation” in 2020. Three cheers to that.

Rwanda
The breathless beauty of Lake Kivu. Photo courtesy of Visit Rwanda.

Rwanda

Here’s to people and places taking control of their own narrative. It has been 25 years since the Rwandan genocide, and in the last two decades, the rehabilitated government has implemented its progressive vision for transforming the country, resulting in sustained economic growth and substantial improvements in living standards. The nation has been thoughtful about facing its past rather than trying to conceal it. In Kigali, one of the most electrifying capital cities on the continent, one can visit the carefully considered genocide memorial, experience the city’s burgeoning art scene, and take advantage of a restaurant boom that includes Heaven, an excellent eco-friendly dining room and 11-room boutique hotel, The Retreat. A concerted conservation campaign has helped local economies as well as a vulnerable population of apes in the Virunga Mountains, a range of extinct volcanoes covered in mist. Rwanda affords one of the only opportunities to come face-to-face with the world’s last remaining mountain gorillas, and anyone who does says it’s life-changing. Several new retreats have put their safari stakes in the ground: One & Only Gorilla’s Nest in the Virunga foothills, Singita Kwitonda Lodge on the edge of Volcanoes National Park, and Wilderness Safaris Magashi Camp in Akagera National Park, home to leopards, large crocodiles, hippos, and newly re-introduced lion and black rhino populations. The stunning Lake Kivu, part of Africa's Great Rift Valley, offers charming beach towns and hikes with serene views and will soon welcome accommodations that are less expensive than the aforementioned luxury options: Mantis Kivu Marina Bay and Mantis Kivu Queen, a ten-cabin houseboat. For so many reasons, this exciting and emerging destination is one to seriously consider.

Salvador
This way to the beach. Photo by Mr. Söbau / Unsplash.

Salvador, Brazil

When it comes to tourism, there’s great momentum for Brazil. The country recently dropped visa requirements for U.S. travelers, introduced direct flight routes from Miami to Sao Paolo, and added connections to the remote area of Fortaleza, making it easier to add a trip to the rainforest and its wildlife sanctuaries. Salvador, the capital of Brazil and main gateway to the northeast state of Bahia, has long been a best-kept secret for its rich Afro-Brazillian culture and cuisine, stunning architecture, picturesque rolling hills, colorful baroque palaces, and coastline that gives Rio’s a run for its money. Several luxury hotels are joining the scene: Hotel Fasano Salvador, housed in the former headquarters of the newspaper A Tarde, overlooks the Bay of All Saints, with expansive apartment-style suites, a rooftop pool, and luxe spa. The 1934 Fera Palace Hotel, a former hideaway for Carmen Miranda and Pablo Neruda, was restored and revived to its original Art Deco glory, a design inspired by the style of New York’s Flatiron building. Bahia’s downtown Pelourinho District, where the Fera is, was once the site of the first slave market of the Americas in 1558; today it is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site with colorful colonial buildings and cobblestone streets. At night, the large squares buzz into the wee hours as crowds gather to watch Capoeira performances and dance to live samba. The Museum of Music in Salvador, cataloguing the rich history of song, will open its doors at the end of 2020.

Get lost on Kyoto's charming city streets. Photo courtesy Kyoto Tourism.

Kyoto, Japan

Gotta love when the Olympics shines its spotlight on a country. (Did anyone even know where Sochi was before 2014?) Tokyo will host the 2020 Summer Olympics, and although Japan is no stranger to tourism, the Games are giving everyone an excuse to roll out the red carpet. Which brings us to Kyoto, the old capital city of temples and teahouses, geishas and gardens. Not to mention a discreet and hard-to-access moss temple. Aside from the iconic natural elements (the bamboo grove, Hazugawa river, endless spring-blooming cherry blossoms), there is also a creative community supporting unique art spaces, artisan enclaves, music stores, and boutiques. Two luxury hotel openings from the fall — Aman Kyoto and Park Hyatt Kyoto — are paving the way for more in 2020. This spring, Ace Hotel Kyoto, will open what will no doubt be a striking past-meets-future design project. Also new this year is the renovated Kyocera Museum of Art, with the inaugural exhibition 250 Years of Kyoto Art Masterpieces. July will bring Hotel The Mitsui Kyoto, the first hotel from the Mitsui Fudoson corporation, which has roots going back to the original 17th-century Mitsui family. That's right: You want authentic? You’ll get it here. Down to the natural hot spring located on site.

St. Barts
Easy. Breezy. Photo courtesy of Le Sereno.

St. Barts

St. Barts is back, baby. After 2017's devastating Hurricane Irma tore through the island, the Caribbean’s little gem is glittering again, chicer than ever. Eden Rock, perched on a rocky cliff along the crystal-clear bay of St. Jean, debuts 37 completely redesigned rooms and three new suites built directly atop the cliff (the area was previously the reception area and the restaurant), a new spa stocked with plant-based Ligne St Barts products, beachside cabanas, a frosè trolley, and a beachside Jean Georges restaurant. Joining the yacht-filled harbor this season is Hotel Barrière Le Carl Gustaf, perched above Gustavia and Shell Beach with 23 private pool villas, a yoga and pilates studio, a French-Caribbean restaurant, and a 360-degree view of the neighboring islands and French West Indies. The beloved and private properties of five-star hotels Le Sereno, Cheval Blanc, and Hotel Christopher have undergone total renovations, offering guests exciting new offerings: wellness retreats, seaside movie screenings, exotic adaptations of fresh rum cocktails. While new port-side restaurants, rooftop bars, beach boutiques, and gourmet grocery stores (with trendy vegan and gluten-free products) bring the island up to speed, it's the revival of the island's beloved tried-and-true landmarks that make returning to the island so special. Maya's and Maya's to Go have reopened, serving nightly specials of fresh fish, ceviche, and to-go sandwiches. Nikki Beach Sundays and lunchtime fashion shows will return with an even bigger party and extended sand-in-your-toes seating (no judgement if you leave the table for a mid-lunch dip).

Prosperous Bay Plain. Photo courtesy of Saint Helena Tourism.

Saint Helena

A few years ago, trendsetters were in a rush to be the first to get to the Azores, an island archipelago in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean that combined nature at its wildest with a hard-to-access location. Now take the Azores and multiply it by ten, and you’re coming close to Saint Helena, farther south in the Atlantic Ocean, a country we’re putting on this list because, frankly, we hadn’t even heard of it until a few days ago. And anyplace that can stay that far under the radar is impressive in our oversaturated times. (As of this writing, #sainthelena has 25.8K posts on Instagram; #azores has 1.1M.) The small volcanic island located 1,200 miles east of Angola and 2,500 miles west of Rio de Janeiro was uninhabited when the Portuguese discovered it in 1502 and is now, with its whopping population of 4,500, one of fourteen British Overseas Territories. That number may swell soon enough, as this year brings the launch of direct flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town, a faster journey than the five-day trip on a mail ship that until recently was the best way in. That the airport landing strip is located on a cliff means adventure starts before you even land. It continues with dolphin- and whale-watching trips, mountain hikes, and nature walks. Saint Helena is home to some 1,000 animal species, 400 of which can only be found here — adding a dash of the Galapagos to your experience. Napoleon was exiled here for his final six years; his home and tomb are among the top local attractions. The other centuries-old local is Jonathan the gay tortoise. (At 189, he’s like a spring chicken in tortoise years.) There are no chain hotels, and the Saint Helena Tourism website doesn’t even include a list of places to shop. It sounds to us like a quiet and cozy little slice of heaven. Please don’t tell anyone about it.

A beach barbecue in Zihuatanejo. Photo courtesy of Thompson Zihuatanejo.

Zihuatanejo, Mexico

"Sleepy surf town" may be the golden phrase in Mexico travel, and though spots like Todos Santos and Sayulita have been notably roused in recent years with an influx of visitors, Zihuatanejo remains delightfully in repose. You’ll find just enough action at Thompson Zihuatanejo, the recently renovated 56-room property that sits directly on the white sands of Playa La Ropa. Rise with the sun (speaking of sleepy...) and accompany hotel chef Freddy to the local fish market before returning back to base with your haul for a beachfront cooking class. Once you've perfected the art of grilling red snapper with a hibiscus cooler in hand, then taken a dip off your swim-up suite, amble up the road to Loot, a gallery/board shop/coffee joint/bar that's the exact amount of cool you’d expect from an under-the-radar surf spot. If you’re looking for beachfront barefoot luxury, head to Lo Sereno Casa de Playa, just up the coast in Troncones. The ten-room Design Hotel is a come-and-don’t-leave spot to recharge and chill. But zip down to Zihua now: Construction on a new 80-meter pier is underway, and with it will surely come cruise ships and crowds.

Australia
Australia: Nature at its finest. Photo courtesy of Emirates One&Only Wolgan Valley.

Australia

Every time we go to Australia, we have the same reaction: Why doesn’t everyone live here? The scenery is dazzling, the food is delicious, the design is inspiring, the arts are innovative, the people are as nice as can be. Let’s name check some favorites: Sydney in June when Vivid, the lights, music, and ideas festival turns the whole city into a canvas. Stopping at all the parks on a road trip along Waterfall Way in New South Wales. A behind-the-scenes tour and tasting at Bird in Hand winery in the Adelaide Hills. Driving the Great Ocean Road just before sunset. Checking into Halcyon House in Cabarita Beach (but definitely not having to check out). Feasting at Jackalope Hotel, which won a Fathom Travel Award as one of The World's Best Foodie Escapes. Eating breakfast anywhere in Melbourne (Australians take the meal to the next level). Horseback riding through the woods at daybreak at Emirates One & Only Wolgan Valley. The contemporary Chinese art collection at White Rabbit Gallery; the weird and wacky Dark Mofo festival in Tasmania. And this is just the southeast. Don’t get us started on the Great Barrier Reef, Margaret Valley and Perth, and The Northern Territory, because we’d be here all day. But speaking of the southeast, you know what isn’t going to keep us from going back? The horrendous bushfires that have been ravaging this part of the country. Australia is enormous, and it is definitely open for business. Now is a better year than most to let our pals Down Under show us what’s so glorious about their homeland.

Photo courtesy of Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle.

Paris

Okay, okay, it’s never not a good time to visit to Paris, which is hardly new or undiscovered or remote or any of the things we said we were thinking about when compiling this list. But this is what sold us on the City of Lights: This spring brings an opening of historic proportions: Airelles Château de Versailles, Le Grand Contrôle, an opulent, 14-room hotel located across three 1681 buildings inside the Château de Versailles. The small boutique hotel company Airelles beat out dozens of better-known chains to win the commission, and did so by promising to deliver a step-back-in-time experience, pairing a careful restoration, period furniture, and priceless art and artifacts with every modern amenity, including a Valmont spa and a haute-French Alain Ducasse restaurant. “Inside the château” means that when the tourists have cleared out at the end of the day, hotel guests will have the place to themselves for midnight strolls through the gardens and Orangery, private tours of Petit Trianon, and special events in the palace. Meanwhile back in town, we can’t wait to check into J.K. Place Rive Gauche, which opened last fall in the former European Consulate on quiet rue in Saint-Germain-des-Prés, to see how they’ve translated their impeccable Italian style into French. Local flea market finds, a Sisley spa, and fireplaces in most of the 29 rooms are a terrific start. And Cheval Blanc, the LVMH hotel company has heretofore preferred to take root in the beachy locales of St. Barts, St-Tropez, the Maldives, and the mountains of Courchevel, will open Cheval Blanc Paris, its first city hotel, along the Seine in the former home of the grand department store La Samaritaine. In terms of art, exhibitions Turner and Botticelli will be at Jacquemart André; Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Matisse, Alice Neel, George Baselitz, and Georgia O’Keefe will be Centre Pompidou; and Cindy Sherman will be at Fondation Vuitton, to name just a few.

Dubai
All glam Dubai. Photo by David Rodrigo / Unsplash.

Dubai

If any city will come close to flying cars in this new decade, it’s Dubai. With the World Expo coming to the Middle East for the first time in 2020, Dubai is preparing for an influx of 25 million people during the six-month event that starts in October, investing billions of dollars to build a site double the size of Hong Kong island — made up of over 130 inter-connected buildings with smart technology. That includes the crown jewel of the expo, the Al Wasl Plaza — with a steel dome that doubles as a 360-degree screen projector. Museum of the Future will debut in October, designed not by a famed developer, but by a robotic computer program. A showplace of a new era, it will be dedicated to sustainability and include immersive theater pieces and exhibitions showcasing the future of food safety, government, climate change, and healthcare (with one deliberately titled Humans 2.0). At night, the sky will be illuminated with 8.7 miles of LED strands. Meanwhile, hotel developers of the City of Gold aren’t shy about galaxy-high construction feats, either. Atlantis, The Palm hotel, a twenty-year-old design behemoth, is getting a sequel: Atlantis Two. At $1.4 billion, the Royal Atlantis Resort & Residences (set to open at the end of 2020) will have two architecturally striking buildings made from what looks like stacked blocks that are connected by a “spa bridge.” Located on man-made Palm Jumeirah island on 150 acres of prime seafront, the property has private infinity pools and a choice of seventeen restaurants, including offerings by Michelin-star chefs Jose Andres and Heston Blumenthal. However, the highest-anticipated development of this year has to be the debut of ME by Meliá Dubai, the only hotel that the late Zaha Hadid designed from the inside out, a cube-like structure with 93 rooms and fifteen bar and dining options, including an outpost of London Japanese hotspot Roka. For a seaside option, MSC Lirica cruise line will homeport in Dubai for winter 2020 with seven-night cruises that depart every Sunday calling into Abu Dhabi, the Sir Bani Yas Island beach oasis off the capital’s coast, and Muscat in Oman before returning to Dubai where guests can visit the World Expo (ticket costs are included in the cruise price). Somehow the world’s most over-the-top city just took it up a notch.

Go More Places

Travel Experts Pick Their Top Destinations for 2020
See our equally relevant list of Where to Go 2019

The Fathom Travel Awards are our ongoing celebration of the best places, services, and products in the world. For this installment, we compiled a list of remarkable destinations we're looking forward to visiting this year. Other Fathom Travel Awards have been granted to The World's Most Romantic Hotels, The Best Travel Blogs and Websites, and The World's Best Foodie Escapes. See all the Fathom Travel Awards

Amelia Mularz contributed to this article.