Travel Awards

Travel Experts Pick Their Top Destinations for 2020

by Team Fathom
Kwitonda Welcome to Kwitonda Lodge in Rwanda. Photo courtesy of Singita.

We always like checking in with our travel insider pals — advisors, industry experts, travel company CEO — to see where they are sending their clients next. The list is diverse and as far ranging as we would expect from insatiably curious globetrotters, and we weren't at all surprised to see that Sicily and Japan are extra popular this year.

Rwanda

Why Go Now? Rwanda is HOT for 2020. The opening of Singita Kwitonda Lodge heralds a new dawn of luxury in the country. Indeed, Singita is the only lodge located along the fence of Virunga Mountains National Park, where gorillas have been reported to linger on the property. One&Only Gorilla's Nest offers a sprawling resort concept with access to the same park, while the two-year-old Bisate Lodge from Wilderness Safaris offers eco-luxe accommodations ideal for explorers who want to linger longer. These combine with the opening of the One&Only Nyungwe House, the sole luxury resort within access to the exceptional primate viewing in Nyungwe National Park. Plus, no visit is complete without a visit to the ever-so-fascinating liberal arts hub of the capital city, Kigali, which rounds out Rwanda as both a culture and nature lover's paradise.

Insider Tip: No trip to Rwanda would be complete without a visit to the ever-so-fascinating liberal arts hub of the burgeoning capital city, Kigali, which rounds out Rwanda as both a culture and nature lover's paradise. The hottest city in Africa right now, Kigali is one of the most progressive cities on the continent. Having emerged from a scarring genocide, the city pays homage to its colored past while embracing an ever relevant art and design scene and particularly stainable and modern approach to urban living.

- Joey Levy, Luxury Travel Advisor, Embark

Villetta Porcini. Photo by Dimitra Koriozos / courtesy of South Australia Tourism.

South Australia, Australia

Why Go Now? While Australia will need all of the support it can get after the dry fire season has subsided, instead of the usual Sydney and Melbourne, set your sights for South Australia, which is undiscovered and deserves to be a destination of its own. Thanks to non-stop flights from Doha, Bali, Hong Kong, and Dubai, reaching capital city Adelaide has never been easier. Arkaba, a 60,000 acre private conservancy in the Flinders Ranges and one of the Luxury Lodges of Australia, has brought in the CEO & Director of South Africa's Welgevonden Game Reserve to completely revamp the lodge and its walking safaris and to ensure Aboriginal people are responsibly employed in the process. On the culinary front, Andre Ursini (of Australian Masterchef fame) launched Villetta Porcini outside Adelaide in November 2019 with a farm-to-table menu that's so exclusive that they don't have a website (yet). Henschke rebuilt their cozy, wood-clad tasting room in 2019, making it the perfect spot to taste their award-winning $1000/bottle Hill of Grace this fall.

Insider Tip: Lose ten pounds before arriving in South Australia so you don't feel guilty stuffing your face.

- Eric Monkaba, founder, TripScaper

Khiva, Uzbekistan. Photo by Timothy Baker for WendyPerrin.com.

Uzbekistan

Why Go Now? Uzbekistan is packed with UNESCO World Heritage Sites that, for now, you can still have almost all to yourself. The legendary Silk Road cities of Khiva, Bukhara, and Samarkand still have whole neighborhoods so unchanged for centuries that to stroll them is the closest thing to time travel. Because the Silk Road has been a crossroads of cultures for 2,500 years and the Uzbek people have a strong innate tradition of hospitality toward strangers, yet the country gets almost no travelers from the United States, those few Americans who do show up are welcomed with genuine enthusiasm. You'll likely find yourself spontaneously invited into people’s homes and to parties and weddings where you’ll be wined, dined, seated at the honored grandfather's table, and invited to dance until the wee hours. Uzbekistan has just started to develop its tourism infrastructure and has a lot of hotel development planned for the next few years — but those hotels are mainly the sorts of modern high-rises that cater to group tours and are located a bus ride away from the historic center of town. So get to Uzbekistan before all those group tours do.

Insider Tip: You won't find five-star creature comforts or reliable Wi-Fi in the hotels in the historic heart of town. And you know what? Get over it. It's worth putting up with three stars in order to soak up the country's most charming inns converted from caravanserais and madrasssahs and easily stroll the ancient neighborhoods at whatever time of day or night you like.

- Wendy Perrin, Travel expert, WendyPerrin.com

The restaurant at Villa Igiea. Photo courtesy of Rocco Forte Hotels.

Sicily

Why Go Now? United's direct flight from Newark to Palermo and the opening of Rocco Forte's long-awaited Villa Igiea will be game changers for Italophiles in 2020. With greater accessibility and a few buzzworthy hotel options, travelers will be flocking to this island gem. As cheekily described by a Sicilian guide as the "toll booth of the Mediterranean," the island exhibits influence from its European and North African neighbors, imbuing its architecture, cuisine, and culture with a distinct Sicilian flavor. While many travelers park themselves in Taormina, we think Sicily's greatest charms unfold in its lesser explored regions. Don't miss the Venice-like canals and trattoria-lined streets of Ortigia, a dreamy island adjacent to Siracusa, or the hilltop towns of Modica, Ragusa, and Noto, where each grandiose Baroque structure seems outdone by its neighbor. And when you're ready to hit the beach, Southern Sicily's golden shores (and Rocco Forte's family-friendly Verdura resort) are waiting for you.

Insider Tip: Hire a car and driver if you're planning a multi-stop trip. Sicilian drivers are aggressive (in a loving, grouchy grandpa sort of way) and the island's winding roads are difficult to navigate. And if you're not blessed with the virtue of patience, good luck finding parking or navigating with a GPS. With a hired car service, you can relax comfortably en route between destinations, collect historical tidbits and cultural cookie crumbs from your driver, and dive deep into Sicily's notable viniculture, worry-free.

- The Team at Local Foreigner

Palermo

Why Go Now? One of the most magical cities in the world, after years under the thumb of the Mafia, Palermo is finally re-emerging as one of Europes' great capitals. At long last the city is gaining a top-notch hotel with the re-opening of the grand dame Villa Igeia in June under the reassuringly luxurious Rocco Forte brand. With direct flights from the United States, the city still feels very much undiscovered — unlike her more obvious cousins on the Italian mainland. Palermo's centro storico is noisy, chaotic, and life-enhancing, bursting with crumbling palazzos, churches, and piazzas that are a joy to explore. Palermo perfectly encapsulates the spirit of Sicily: unpretentious, gritty, and a natural beauty.

Insider Tip: Don't miss Stanze al Genio, a tile museum housed in a pretty private palazzo in Via Garibaldi. And fans of Dolce & Gabbana should look for the old man on Via Alloroare who makes straw bags with pom-poms and ex-votos for a fraction of the designer cost.

- Emily FitzRoy, founder, Bellini Travel

Photo courtesy West Africa Tourism Organization.

West Africa, from Togo to Dakar

Why Go Now? In Africa travel, the zeitgeist is moving away from "big five" game safaris into experiences that are more overtly focused on the modern edge of this extraordinarily diverse continent. East Africa's traditions in khaki and sundowners are feeling increasingly passe, even neo-colonialist, against the pop and fizzle of cities like Dakar in Senegal, Abidjan in the Cote d'Ivoire, and Accra in Ghana. The music, fashion, and contemporary arts scene are all on fire. For a taste of it, check into Ghana's Labadi Beach Hotel in Accra: It feels completely en pointe, where shocking pink boubous — the classic brightly colored West African tunic and pants — make the Emilio Puccis of this world look grey, where Ghanian oligarchs rub shoulders with smiling bellhops, and kids show up in three-piece dinner suits for Sunday brunch. In Dakar, the vibe changes again, at places like the new seven-room Seku Bi — a fashionable little boutique hotels where the cool kids hang.

Insider Tip: You need a guide to access the neighborhood strands. I turn to some of the city Instagrammers; you can also turn to Africa-specialist Journeys by Design, for whom West Africa will be one of the big sells for 2020.

- Sophy Roberts, freelance travel writer and author of the forthcoming The Lost Pianos of Siberia.

Photo by Natasha Sweeney, courtesy of Lima Lamo Lodge.

Ethiopia

Why Go Now? One of the oldest civilizations, culture-rich Ethiopia is the only country in Africa that was never colonized. Infrastructure has gotten better and better, as has the economy, one of the fastest growing in the world. And although the country is opening up to luxury travel, with new emerging hotels like Limalimo Lodge Lodge in Simien Mountains National Park and Bale Mountain Lodge in Bale Mountain National Park, it remains an unspoiled destination for those seeking a mix of culture and adventure. And getting there will be comfortable too, Ethiopian Airlines' state-of-the-art fleet of Airbus A350 and Boeing 787-900 planes.

Insider Tip: Don't miss staying in the capital, Addis Ababa, for a taste of a modern African city. People often skip it and go directly to other destinations within the country, but that's a mistake.

- Marc Kosberg, Travel Advisor, ITG

Photo by Simon Rae / Unsplash.

Northern Corsica

Why Go Now? I'm especially drawn to Saint Florent, a lovely former fishing village nestled in a calm bay at the base of Cap Corse. Northern Corsica is so beautiful — and not nearly as explored as it should be. (Though maybe I wouldn't mind if it stayed that way!) My days here are spent walking the sentier littoral, renting a small boat, exploring the amazing beaches, and kayaking in the river. The food everywhere is amazing, especially at L'Auberge du Pêcheur.

Insider Tip: Find your way to L'Épicerie Scotto on Place Doria, a food shop that could have easily rivaled Dean & Deluca for its delicious offerings. Get truffle mortadella, hand-cut prosciutto, a nice piece of sheep-milk cheese, and a bottle of local wine — and you have the makings of an unforgettable picnic.

- Barbara Muckermann, CMO, Silversea

A rendering of the courtyard at Ace Hotel Kyoto. Photo courtesy of Ace Hotels.

Kyoto, Japan

Why Go Now? It's an exciting time to visit Japan, with a lot of energy around the 2020 Tokyo Summer Olympics. Outside of Tokyo, Kyoto is revered as the cultural epicenter of Japan, a longtime muse for creatives like David Bowie, the Talking Heads, and Akira Kurosawa, with a wellspring of art, craft, nature, food, and history. We fell in love with the city years ago, and are opening Ace Hotel Kyoto this April.

Insider Tip: If you're traveling to Kyoto from Tokyo, you can take the Shinkansen to Odawara Station and visit Hakone National Park as a halfway stop. Many of the ryokans will pick you up in a shuttle, and you can experience a restorative onsen soak on your way to Kyoto. Kyoto is relatively flat and easily accessible by bike. Renting a bike is a great way to see the city street level, and you can take one all the way to Otagi Nenbutsu-Ji, a shrine on the city outskirts that with more than 1,200 Rakan statues. Late night bike rides are also good if you're suffering from bad jet lag.

- Kelly Sawdon, Partner and Chief Brand Officer, Ace Hotel Group

Osaka, Japan

Why Go Now? A quick high-speed bullet train ride from Tokyo will get travelers to Osaka in about three hours, making it an easy stop for those flocking to the thriving foodie town with 97 Michelin stars, including four three-star restaurants. Home to Japan's tallest building and one of its oldest Buddhist shrines, Osaka landed a coveted spot on American Express Travel's 2020 Trending Destination list. We are also thrilled that the stunning InterContinental Osaka, which is widely known for its five-star dining and an elegant spa, is a recent addition to American Express Travel's curated Fine Hotels & Resorts program.

Insider Tip: The best thing about Osaka is that you can visit all year round. It's never too hot, too rainy, or too cold.

-Audrey Hendley, President, American Express Travel

Photo by Andreas Sjövall / Unsplash.

New Zealand

Why Go Now? If you're looking to go to a place where the crowds are not, this is the place. From pristine scenery and Maori culture to locally-sourced food, award-winning wine and adventure activities for all interests, New Zealand delivers true authentic experiences. It's easier than ever to get there from more gateways. New non-stop air service from Chicago just launched, and non-stop flights from New York and Dallas are scheduled to start in October 2020 – adding to the existing non-stop North American gateways of Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, and Honolulu, plus additional service from Canada.

Insider Tip: New Zealand is an outstanding family vacation destination. My wife and I took our three children on a ten-day trip to New Zealand curated by Roseann Iovine, an advisor with Protravel International. We traversed one end of New Zealand to the other, enjoying a jet boat ride on the Shotover River, a stay in a private villa, a breathtaking helicopter ride over Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu, and a trip to Wellington that included private tour of the Te Papa Museum. The highlight was our visit to the Treetops Lodge in Rotorua where the kids learned about Maori culture, got to see wildlife close up, and visited the Hobbiton Movie Set. And, of course, we couldn't leave without experiencing a rugby match.

- Ninan Chacko, CEO, Travel Leaders Group

Photo courtesy of Visit Mexico.

Mexico City

Why Go now? Mexico City's blossoming gastronomic culture, rich history, and growing artist population have made the Mexican capital one of the most exciting destinations of the year. It is home to many of the world's finest restaurants, due to the innovations of young chefs and tortilla radicals. Big hotel chains have realized that Mexico City is an up-and-coming destination, with new hotel openings like Sofitel Mexico City Reforma and two upcoming Kimpton Hotels, and many more in the pipeline. Culturally savvy travelers and foodies alike should be excited to travel and spend time in this dynamic city.

Insider Tip: Mexico City is a city that is meant to be felt by all senses. Take a food tour that includes both street food and fine dining restaurants. Wandering through the markets or tianguis will shock your senses and leave you with a higher sense of understanding and appreciation for the Mexican people. And don't miss the world-renowned museums and art galleries.

- Alexandre Chemla, President/CEO, ALTOUR

Photo by Paul Bauer / courtesy of Vienna Tourist Board.

Vienna

Why Go Now? Vienna is one of the most culturally rich and vibrant cities in the world. The perfect blend of old and new, the city places artistry at its center, from the sweeping beauty of a Strauss waltz to the precise stepping of the Lipizzaner stallions. It's no wonder Vienna served as the birthplace of our rebranding to Virtuoso 20 years ago. I'll be back in March to mark the occasion at our annual symposium. And if you need a single reason to visit in 2020, consider the fact that Vienna was recently named the best city to live in based on the quality of life for its residents.

Insider Tip: Vienna is perfect for country coupling, allowing visitors to add on another destination for a completely new experience. Travelers can easily add Prague, Budapest, or Munich to round out their stay.

- Matthew D. Upchurch, Chairman and CEO, Virtuoso

Halong Bay. Photo courtesy of Red Savannah.

Vietnam

Why Go Now: Formula One comes to Vietnam in 2020 with a brand new circuit through the streets of Hanoi. Zannier Hotels will bring its understated sophistication to a private beach at Bai san Ho, just north of Nha Trang, whilst the Mandarin Oriental debuts in Saigon. Getting there is easy with American Airlines via Hong Kong or the new service from Qatar Airways via Doha. Red Savannah ensures that clients get the best off-the-beaten track experience to avoid the crowds in Vietnam: Clients are steered towarads Lan Ha Bay rather than Halong Bay, as there are only a few boats in this much quieter bay, compared with 500+ boats in Halong Bay. Our Mountains & Meditation itinerary captures Northern Vietnam and can be combined with Central or Southern Vietnam.

Insider Tip: For the best insider foodie experience, ask for Red Savannah's back street food tour where guests ride pillion on the back of a Vespa and experience numerous different authentic foods and flavors of Vietnam

- George Morgan-Grenville, CEO & Founder, Red Savannah

Photo courtesy of Remote Lands.

Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar

Why Go Now: The Mergui Archipelago in Myanmar's south is a must-go in 2020 for its high-end resorts, a new feature for this under-appreciated region. Until recently, the only way to see the Mergui Archipelago in luxury was via a private ship, but Wa Ale Island Resort and Awei Pila Resort mean that travelers can finally dig their feet into the sand and relax in style. Wa Ale is accessible via a three-hour speedboat ride, and whether it is a gourmet meal, a foray into Lampi Marine National Park, or trekking through the archipelago’s jungle trails, this is a world-class resort. Awei Pila, nestled in virgin forests on Pila Island, offers chic, tented villas and eco-friendly design elements aimed at ensuring the archipelago's natural splendor. Remote Lands' Tranquil Island Luxury in Myanmar's Mergui Archipelago itinerary includes both, with options to visit Mergui's local Moken (sea gypsy) fishing village.

Insider Tip: Paddle through the mangroves swamps in Lampi Marine National park for an outer world way to get to know Mergui wildlife. Lampi has been designated an Asean Heritage park for its biodiversity and fascinating mangrove root networks, but is still largely unknown to tourists.

- Catherine Heald, CEO and Co-Founder of Remote Lands

See More Great Ideas for Travel in 2020

Fathom's Top 10 Places to Go in 2020

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