New York Times “The 45 Places to Go in 2012”

It seems travel these days is all about the lists and of course the New York Times is no different. On January 6 they published their list of “The 45 Places to Go to in 2012” and I thought I would assess the top 10 I either have  interest in or, conversly can’t believe were included (I also listed the slogan the Times used to describe each place).

1. Panama: Go for the canal. Stay for everything else. 
When I visited Puerto Viejo on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, I was literally only miles from the Panamanian border. Unfortunately, I never made it across la frontera, but am happy to see Panama featured on various travel lists for 2012. (It was listed as one of the top 10 places to visit in 2012 by National Geographic Traveler.)  I often feel it’s snubbed/forgotten about by its more famous neighbor to the north, but I’ve only ever heard wonderful things about it.

2.Myanmar: Back on the tourist map after being off-limit for years. 
I was surprised to see Myanmar on the list. Although the fact that activist leader Aung Sun Suu Ki was released by the junta government after 15 years of house arrest in November 2010 is certainly a positive step, are things really any different there in 2012? Are tourist dollars still going to the military junta, are locals still forbidden from speaking with tourists due to the serious consequences they and their family members could face?

3. Tokyo: Last year’s tragedy means more room for tourists.
I’ve read plenty of stories about how Japan’s tourism industry is still suffering greatly, almost a year after the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck there last March. Although hotels are supposedly offering great deals due to their low occupancy rates, airfare rates are still astronomically high. I’m well aware of how far away Japan is from the United States, and yet if tourists are hesitant to visit, shouldn’t better airfare deals be offered?

4. Tanzania: Coming into its own as an upscale safari destination.
I’ve never been to sub-Saharan Africa, so I would be utterly fine with visiting any country there (South Africa, Kenya, Botswana, Namibia).  And yet, I am reading more and more on Tanzania and becoming immensely interested in it, namely the Ngorongoro Crater and the vast array of luxury safari accommodations. It looks incredible by all accounts.

5. Lhasa, Tibet: New luxury hotel brings respite-and controversy. 
One hears the name Tibet and immediately envisions the Dalai Lama, the Himalayan Mountains, and a zen-like environment. They probably would not envision luxury hotels that seem like they belong more in cities like Hong Kong or New York. And yet, next year, the InterContinental and Shangri-La hotel chains are apparently opening behemoth resorts in Lhasa, much to the consternation and horror of those who feel Tibet’s sacredness will be forever destroyed.

6. Havana, Cuba: The Cuban capital is once again within Americans’ reach.
I don’t know about you, but a $5k package trip for one person to visit Cuba for a week, courtesy of Smithsonian Journeys, is not exactly within my reach. Although tours to the “forbidden fruit of the south” are starting to become available, all are through luxury outfitters and not really an option for the working class traveler. So at least for me, Cuba remains off-limits for the foreseeable future.

7. Halong Bay, Vietnam: New ways to visit a natural wonder in Southeast Asia.
I have always wanted to visit…enough said.

8. Space: The final frontier now has a ticket agent. 
Unless you’re God or British billionaire Richard Branson, I really don’t see space as being an option for any traveler, even those that could afford a trip to destination number 6. The final frontier may have a ticket agent, but the cost for purchasing a seat would be utterly unimaginable. Although it’s a clever and certainly unique place, I think it’s a sham the Times included something that obviously is not a realistic option for the majority of the world’s population.

9. The Algarve: Portugal’s riviera gets a new spate of luxury hotels. 
I was seriously close to going to the Algarve on my honeymoon. I ultimately decided against it as mentally I was not quite ready to drive in Europe (I was nervous enough having to drive a rental car in Houston, Texas) and in the Algarve if you want to go anywhere, you do need wheels. However, one day I would love to visit because there are parts of it that look quite secluded and not developed, unlike along the Cote d’Azure in France and the Costa del Sol in Spain. Portugal is after all the most western country of continental Europe.

10. Ukraine: Virginal beaches and czarist palaces-at Old World prices.
As my paternal grandfather’s parents were from the Ukraine, I would love one day to visit “the homeland” even if the villages they came from are in modern day Poland, due in part to the constantly changing borders of Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries. I feel it would be an incredibly rich and deep experience to hear the language being spoken, try the native foods, and experience the culture.

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