Where to Go in 2009

Find out where the hot spots are for the new year, for intrepid travelers and the more conventional.


At the end of each year I read the multitude of lists touting the top destinations for the coming 12 months. There usually are very few overlapping recommendations, and rather than having a concise 10 or 20 of the next hot or best or top or bargain destinations from which to drool over, I end up with a list of closer to 100. This exercise can be frustrating for someone who lives to travel and who has a difficult enough time making decisions.

Also, the relevancy of any year-end travel list depends on one—no, make that two—important questions that should be addressed before planning a

1. What kind of traveler are you?
2. What kind of vacation do you want?

For some people, the answer is easy: There’s only one response for both questions. If you’re like me though, the answers could be endless—adventurous, relaxing, urban, beach, historical, exotic, popular, remote, and so on.

Generally speaking, I tend to favor offbeat destinations that haven’t hit favor with the crowds yet, such as Belfast in 1994, Laos and Vietnam in 2000, Nicaragua in 2001, Colombia in 2006. After having had several urban vacations in a row, I’m planning a lot of exotic beach time and remote adventures for 2009.

This year, however, I get to create our own Top Destinations list, and have based it in part on a review of the different lists already published coupled with trends noted by the TravelMuse editorial staff. So without further ado, and in no particular order, here are what we think will be great destinations picks for 2009:


Popular with backpackers and surfers for a number of years now, the next wave of travelers are giving Nicaragua a serious look. Why? You can fly there from the Eastern United States for under $350, it’s great value against the dollar, getting around is easier than in neighboring Costa Rica, it’s been a safe and stable country for several years, it offers eco adventures and terrific surfing, and there’s a slew of new hotels, resorts and restaurants. Favorite spots: colonial Grenada, the Ometepe islands in Lake Nicaragua, beaches of San Juan del Sur.

Washington, D.C.

Inauguration fever has taken hold of Washington like never before. If you’re willing to brave the crowds in January, read our special inauguration coverage. Beyond that, we expect the city to continue to see record visitors as the excitement from this recent election year continues into 2009.

Yunnan, China

People are a little over Beijing after the Olympics blitz last year, but they’re still fascinated with the mystery that is greater China. Yunnan made the Lonely Planet list, and a friend who lived in Kunming, China earlier this year says the province is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Trek Tiger Leaping Gorge and be charmed by the villages of Lijiang and Dali.


Not unlike the reasoning behind Nicaragua, Colombia is coming into its own after years of being off-limits due to drug-related violence and political unrest. Cartagena, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a good starting place, with its historic town, colonial remains and Caribbean beaches. (It made Frommer’s list too.) Spend a couple days in Bogota seeing its main square, cathedals and excellent museums (I’m a fan of the Hotel Opera). The more adventurous might consider coastal Santa Maria or Cali, or as Lonely Planet recommends, San Andreas and the island of Providencia.


If you’ve already visited Dublin and other parts of the Republic of Ireland, then Belfast in Northern Ireland should be next on your radar. The city’s tourism support has grown significantly since the cease fire a decade ago, with new gorgeous hotels (such as The Merchant), restaurants, pubs and hot nightlife spots added to boot. In 2009, several landmarks, such as the Ulster Museum and Ulster Hall, are primed to reopen.

This country’s economy has been hard hit this year, and its currency value against the dollar is about 50 percent what it was in 2007. Bargains are to be found, plus Iceland is a leader in trendy eco-travel, and you can get there from the East Coast faster than anywhere else in Europe, making for an ideal weekend getaway.


Certainly not an emerging destination, but Peru has been gaining in popularity in recent years. It offers a well-established tourism infrastructure, but without massive crowds. The temples of Machu Picchu are a must, as are Cusco and the capital Lima. Due to its coastal, jungle and mountainous regions, the country is teeming with wildlife, making Peru a great eco-getaway. And don’t overlook the country’s gorgeous Pacific beaches.


Green is in, and there are few, if any, cities in the United States greener and more eco-friendly than Portland, Ore. The recent release of the film Twilight, with its Portland setting, hasn’t hurt the city’s popularity either. It’s also one of the more affordable large cities in the United States, and is near several excellent outdoor sites for hiking, biking, ice climbing, beaches and more.

User Comments

Great Ideas -Thanks! Agree, Nicaragua, you can't go wrong. Also visit the wonderful city of Leon. A great vacation destination.

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