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Why travel in 2020? To discover how the places we love are reinventing themselves

An exciting new lineup of innovations, openings and initiatives mean we’re viewing these five old favourites with a fresh outlook in 2020.

By National Geographic Traveller (UK)
Published 5 Feb 2020, 09:43 GMT
The desert landscape near Cataviña, Baja California.
The desert landscape near Cataviña, Baja California.
Photograph by AWL

No truly great destination stands still. When you return, you don’t go back to the exact same place — you go back to the new iteration. And there’s something of a circle to it all: the more visitors return, the more money can be invested in infrastructure that benefits both locals and temporary arrivals. New hotels and flight routes become viable, neighbourhoods have new life breathed into them and clusters of cool bars and restaurants spring up.

Tel Aviv, Salt Lake City and Baja California are among the places undergoing something of a transformation and in 2020, they’re due to become far better connected. All are evolving, trying new things and opening new lures.

For Vietnam, the results of its recent tourism boom are materialising, with updates including a new metro to conquer traffic chaos and a new airport under construction.

It’s vital that destinations looking to lure in visitors remember that the practical and the inspirational go hand in hand. The less of a headache exploring a destination is, the more easily you can explore it. Being able to discover new attractions and emerging creative bubbles makes sure no repeat visit is truly a repeat.

1. Baja California

Now with direct access from the UK and a raft of new hotels, the beaches, mountains and vineyards of Mexico’s Baja peninsula are no longer just the preserve of holidaying Hollywood.

A hop across the border from sunny southern California, most Americans see Baja as an extension of the Golden State itself. Following the launch of TUI’s direct flights from Gatwick to Los Cabos, Baja California is within easy reach of British travellers, too. Los Cabos itself is a tale of two cities (or towns): laid-back, traditional San José del Cabo and buzzing international Cabo San Lucas, linked by ‘the corridor’ — a 20-mile, beach-fringed boulevard flanked by an increasing number of resorts and hotels. The Viceroy, a white minimalist hotel that appears to float over the sea, put Los Cabos on the map for five-star hotels when it opened in 2018. Since then, a succession of luxury resorts has followed suit, including the Four Seasons, a Nobu Hotel and the Waldorf Astoria to name a few, with an Aman slated to open this year on Baja’s peaceful East Cape overlooking the Sea of Cortez.

Away from Baja’s semi-topical southern tip, you’ll find a classic Mexican terrain: desert landscapes and sunbaked canyons spiked with cactus and, in the peninsula’s north, more than 150 wineries. Wine has been made in this part of Mexico — the country’s major producing area — for hundreds of years, but since the early 2000s, the number of producers has skyrocketed. Baja’s increasingly medal-winning vintages can be sampled as part of tours, or with tasting menus at bodega (wine cellar) restaurants; many, such as Bruma Valle de Guadalupe are adding rooms overlooking the vines and, in some cases, also the waves. And there’s no lack of surf in Baja, a long thin state fringed by the Pacific to the west, and the secluded Gulf of California to the east. This is the place to kick back with a local microbrew, grab a fish taco, and hit the water to scuba with abundant marine life, including multiple species of whale, sharks, sea lions, sea turtles and manta rays.

Words: Sarah Barrell

2. Tel Aviv

Bolstered by Virgin’s direct flights from Heathrow, the beachfront Israeli city is seeing an exciting bedroom boom.

Is this the hottest city in the Med? Quite possibly, if the crop of new hotels is anything to go by. The ‘non-stop city’ has been living up to its moniker with an evergrowing list of openings and extensions that means more rooms than ever. Last year, trendy hotel The Lighthouse upped its room count to 160 and two openings — the playful, retro-chic Dave Levinsky and pod hotel Wom Allenby — now offer affordable options in a city that doesn’t come cheap. And the year ahead brings even more. Design-led Hôtel Bobo will open its doors on the leafy Rothschild Boulevard, channelling a decadent mantra of ‘bohemian bourgeois’. Two further big-name openings are Soho House (marking the brand’s first opening in the Middle East) and Nobu, which will feature 38 rooms, gardens, a pool and a private rooftop. Perhaps the most interesting opening this March, however, is Selina. Founded by two Israelis, the innovative hostel-meets-hotel already has a healthy presence across Latin America, but this is the first outpost in the entrepreneurs’ home country. With an emphasis on catering to the digital nomad community, it’s just moments from the beach in the laid-back neighbourhood of Neve Tzedek. If there’s anywhere that captures the youthful spirit of Tel Aviv, it’s this. And if a spot of winter sun is on the cards, new daily Virgin Atlantic flights from Heathrow mean those sun-drenched sands, legendary nightlife and outstanding food are now little closer than ever before.

Words: Connor McGovern

A leaf hat seller in Quy Nhon.
Photograph by Dylan Voerman

3. Vietnam

Vietnam is bolstering its credentials as a world-class destination with a crop of stylish, high-end hotels that bring luxury from the major cities to coastal idylls.

It seems redundant to speak of Vietnam as a burgeoning destination in light of the enduring popularity of its iconic cities, postcard-perfect beaches and emerald jungles. But recent and upcoming developments are setting the stage for a new phase in its appeal.

The country’s first metro, in Ho Chi Minh City, is being readied for 2021, with the noble goal of reducing the city’s infamous motorcycle and car traffic.

And beyond the cities, the ethereal limestone spires and glittering waters of Ha Long Bay have become more accessible with the opening of a new international airport on the nearby island of Van Don, saving travellers a four-hour drive from Hanoi.

Visitors can check into a glittering array of new hotels. For some truly decadent luxury, Anantara Quy Nhon Villas is a villa-only resort in the coastal city of Quy Nhon that offers in-villa wine cellars and the services of private butlers. Looking ahead, Mandarin Oriental, Saigon will be launching later this year in the cool new Union Square Saigon complex. Then, Bai San Ho will be opening in the second half of the year as a sprawling resort of 71 suites and villas in Phu Yen.

Words: Zane Henry

Zion National Park, Utah.
Photograph by Getty Images

4. Salt Lake City

The gateway to the American West is now open year-round — Delta’s summer service from Heathrow to Salt Lake City has extended to the winter season too.

Curiosity has long been the main lure to Salt Lake City. Temple Square — the Mormon equivalent of the Vatican — offers somewhat ethereal grandeur and the world-famous Tabernacle choir. But it’s the liveliness beyond Temple Square that comes as a surprise.

The restaurant scene is booming, and diversifying in the process. Recent openings include pan-Asian Ginger Street, Hawaiian joint Aloha Hale 'Aina and Southern belly-stuffer Ella Lee's Soul Food.

The drinking scene is changing too, despite Utah’s heavy proportion of teetotallers. The Central Ninth district, in particular, is pulling in tech workers from California, and allowing experimental cocktail bars like Water Witch to thrive.

Beyond the state capital, Utah’s spectacular national parks are a big draw — and the red rock ruggedness of Zion, Bryce Canyon and the Arches are much less crowded in winter. That’s partly because everyone has decamped to the ski resorts, such as Park City, which is less than an hour’s drive from the airport. And, as well as some of the finest snow conditions in North America, there are plenty of quirks — such as being able to ski straight into the High West whisky distillery.

Words: David Whitley

5. Rio de Janiero

There’s never been any doubt that Rio is South America’s most stylish city, but its billing as the world’s first Capital of Architecture ups that accolade to international status

From flashy surf-front high-rises to sprawling favelas, Rio’s architectural landscape is a representation of its stark socio-economic contrasts. A recognition of this drama of imbalance, UNESCO’s new designation aims to demonstrate the crucial role of architecture in sustainable urban development; Capital of Architecture will be a triannual forum of innovation, discussion and inspiration for sparking urban planning solutions. And with such landmarks as Santiago Calatrava’s recently completed Museum of Tomorrow and Christian de Portzamparc’s curvaceous concrete Cidade das Artes cultural complex, there’s plenty to be inspired by already. 

This includes a cooler-than-cool new hotel designed by one of Brazil’s most celebrated fashion designers, Oskar Mestavaht. In the ever-chic Leblon neighbourhood, JANEIRO comes with a floating rooftop pool whose blues seem to bleed seamlessly into the Atlantic below.

If that doesn’t fit your aesthetic, try Jo&Joe Open House. Set to open later this year, these six houses in Rio’s Cosme Velho neighbourhood reputedly set Accor back 20m Brazilian reais (£3.6m). The debut for the hotel brand outside Europe, Accor is slated to invest an additional 30m Brazilian reais (£5.5m) in renovating and furnishing the heritage-listed property to transform it into a colourful 70-room hip hangout. And with Virgin Atlantic offering new direct flights to NEARBY São Paolo, Brazil looks like a wish-list destination far easier fulfilled.

Words: Sarah Barrell

Read the full list of reasons to travel and destinations to visit in 2020 here

Published in the March 2020 issue of National Geographic Traveller (UK)

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