Professional travel writer Brett Atkinson shares his destination hot list for the coming year.
Magazines, newspapers and websites around the world are now listing the top destinations to travel to in 2017. Providing inspiration for the New Year, here's our own spin on the annual tradition.
The first three are places I'm lucky enough to have confirmed for 2017, the next three are on my travel wish list, and the final three destinations are places I'd love to return to.
Pacific Coast Highway, California
Kicking off in mid-January, I'm headed to California for Lonely Planet and will be researching an update of the coastal area from Santa Cruz to Santa Barbara. That will mean driving the spectacular Pacific Coast Highway through misty Big Sur, lots of wineries and craft breweries, and the echoes of great American writers like John Steinbeck and Henry Miller.
Ha Giang, Vietnam
In March I'm returning to Vietnam, a country I've been travelling to for 25 years. This time I'm venturing with my wife Carol and Vietnamese friends living in Hanoi to the far northern province of Ha Giang. Spectacular karst limestone landscapes fringe the border with China and we're planning to take in the colourful weekend markets of the region's ethnic minorities. Knowing my Vietnamese friends, most days will start with a hearty roadside bowl of pho (Vietnamese noodle soup).
In early April Carol and I are flying from Hanoi to the city of Kunming in southwest China's Yunnan province. More tasty noodles will be on the menu – 'Crossing the bridge noodles' is a local Kunming dish – before we head overland to the heritage towns of Dali and Lijiang. Our final destination will be Zhongdian, a mountain town at an altitude of 3160 metres approaching the border with Tibet.
The colourful colonial architecture of Cartagena's Old Town is a big reason why I'd love to visit Colombia, but whale watching along the Pacific coast and staying on a finca (coffee plantation) in the lush Zona Cafetera would be great too. Now that big cities like Bogota and Medellin are much safer, I've also heard good things about Colombia's up and coming food scene.
Namibia's wide open landscapes and southern African big sky country appeal as a great destination for a self-drive journey. Spectacular highlights include the huge desert dunes around Sesriem and Sossusvlei in western Namibia and the wild and windswept Skeleton Coast. I'd also love to channel my inner David Attenborough with wildlife watching in the Etosha National Park.
Japanese food is my favourite cuisine and the city of Osaka is renowned for the best street food in Japan. Apparently the locals are very easygoing and friendly too, and a few days (and nights) tucking into Osakan specialties like okonomiyaki (savoury pancakes), takoyaki (deep-fried octopus balls) and Kobe beef sounds pretty good. Craft beer is also a big deal in Osaka apparently.
Adrift in the Indian Ocean, the huge island nation of Madagascar is a slightly surreal combination of rice paddy landscapes resembling Malaysia or Indonesia, quaint architecture and Citroen cars seemingly lifted from provincial France, and unique flora and fauna including lemurs and giant baobab trees. Fans of laidback island holidays should definitely head north to the area around Nosy Be and Nosy Komba.
Visiting Oman from Dubai was a real surprise a few years ago. Built around a seafront esplanade the sleepy, whitewashed capital of Muscat has excellent souks selling gold and heady frankincense, and the coastal town of Sur is the centre of a boat building industry going back centuries. After a few days 4WD camping in the endless dunes of Oman's Empty Quarter, I'd love to go sailing around the Musandam Peninsula in the north.
Nowhere is changing in southeast Asia faster than the country also known as Burma, and I'd like to go back to the capital of Yangon (Rangoon) for more street food combining Indian, Chinese and Thai flavours. Ballooning above the temples at Bagan is always fascinating, and the cold beer and grilled seafood scene at Ngapali Beach resembles Thailand from a few decades ago. New areas of the country are opening to travellers every year, and trekking around the former British hill station of Kalaw also really appeals.