Top destinations for adventure

Feeling adventurous this summer? This year’s travel deals provide the perfect opportunity to seek out something exotic — or get off the beaten tourist track. If you’re looking for inspiration, here are some of Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel picks for 2009:

Top Countries

Algeria: It’s not a destination for the faint of heart — tourist facilities aren’t well developed and many regions are off-limits due to threats of political unrest and terrorism. Still, Lonely Planet notes that it’s a “largely safe, edgy destination” despite being misunderstood, and now is an ideal time to visit before the place is crawling with tourists. So what’s the draw? There are desert landscapes, the remains of Roman cities and yearly festivals — not to mention the Tassilli N’Ajjer National Park (known as the Louvre of Saharian Art for its cave paintings).

Bangladesh: It’s the most densely-populated country in the world, and home to one of the world’s longest beaches (stretching over 120 km) and the highest concentration of tigers. Cultural highlights include the many mosques and temples throughout the country, Biswa Ijtema (the second largest Muslim gathering after the Hajj), the Honey Hunting Festival and Pohela Boisakh (the Bangladeshi New Year).

Canada: Yes, one of this year’s top destinations is home to many of us — it’s time to celebrate it. Lonely Planet recommends taking advantage of opportunities for outdoor activities like kayaking, skiing and whale watching, as well as enjoying the culture and cuisine of major cities like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. (Of course, we Canadians know there’s more to explore than that.) It’s in the spotlight for 2009 with the impending arrival of the 2010 Olympics.

Georgia: Untouched mountain vistas, breathtaking landscapes and unique culture await savvy travellers who are willing to see past the country’s current tensions with neighbouring Russia. Some of the experiences you won’t want to miss are a traditional Georgian meal full of wine, food and song, a massage at Tbilisi’s sulphur baths and some scenic walking tours. If you happen to go in October, don’t miss the Sighnaghi Wine Festival or Tbilisoba, the annual festival celebrating Tbilisi’s founding (and wine, of course).

Greenland: The world’s biggest island isn’t exactly a budget-travel destination, but expert Mark Elliott says the experience “is worth every penny.” It’s a land of icy but spectacular scenery, and a place to watch icebergs by day and the aurora borealis by night. Transportation can be a little tricky, but Air Greenland recently added flights to Baltimore, and it’s possible to pick up a cruise in Iceland too. Why is 2009 such a big year? It marks the 30th Anniversary of Home Rule — and there’s hope that Greenland will take further steps on the path towards independence from Denmark.

Kyrgyzstan : Many people shy away from travelling to a country with “stan” in the name, but this country is more stable than its neighbours — and a great place to indulge your inner nomad with its horse-bound culture. Also known as the Kyrgyz Republic officially (and “the Switzerland of Central Asia” unofficially) it’s a top attraction for sustainable travel and eco-minded travelers thanks to its network of grassroots community-tourism projects. (In other words, your tourism dollars go directly to helping the local people). The country is well-positioned for today’s green travel trends.

Oman: It’s getting a lot of attention lately due to relaxed property laws — meaning that the country is looking to attract foreign investment in the form of people looking to buy beach front properties. Like other neighbouring Gulf States, Oman promises a mix of desert terrain and rich Arabic culture. The country continues to attract a growing number of visitors each year. Islam forms the basis for the country’s culture and laws, but the rules are more relaxed at beaches and hotels, and the country promotes religious tolerance.

Peru: Now is the time to visit before many of its must-see attractions disappear. Heritage sites like Machu Picchu are under threat of damage from too many visitors, Lake Titicaca is threatened by pollution and climate change will soon impact indigenous ways of life. Sports fans will want to hit Huaraz in June for the Semana de Andinismo — a festival of climbing and snow sports. Cultural buffs will want to check out Santa Semana, the Holy Week celebrations leading up to Easter, or the Inti Raymi , a re-enactment of the Inca winter solstice celebrations near Cuzco on June 24.

Rwanda: 2009 marks a grim anniversary: it’s been 15 years since the genocide. Since then the country has come a long way in the recovery process and tourists are once again returning. Lake Kivu attracts visitors with its inland beaches, and the rainforests of Parc National Nyungwe Forest play home to unique plants and animals. However, the defining experience is perhaps a trekking excursion through the Parc National des Volcans to spot the endangered mountain gorillas.

Sierra Leone: It earned a bad reputation in past years thanks to the civil war. Since its end in 2002, and a successful election in 2007, there’s reason to be optimistic. According to the book, resorts are popping up around Freetown, and there are larger projects on the way. With ample opportunities for wildlife watching, it’s set to become the next eco-tourism destination. Now is the time to see this up-and-coming destination in it’s “good old days” before everyone else does.

Top Cities

Not surprisingly, these destinations are on the edgy, adventurous side and will require some physical prep-work and travel safety savvy. If you’re leaning towards a more traditional trip, try one of Lonely Planet’s top cities:

Antwerp, Belgium

Beirut, Lebanon

Chicago, USA

Glasgow, Scotland

Lisbon, Portugal

Mexico City, Mexico

São Paulo, Brazil

Shanghai, China

Warsaw, Poland

Zürich, Switzerland.

Lonely Planet loves Canada too

Canadians planning to travel a little closer to home this year will also be interested to know that our country popped up in other categories throughout the guide. For example, Newfoundland was voted “best for icebergs”, and Alberta’s Moraine Lake gets the nod for “best for reflection” (mountains on the lake, that is). The Yukon River is featured in the Great Rivers section, and it’s also one of the “best eco-trips”.

Of course, there’s more to see than that: Sherbrooke, Quebec is among the “best places to sky watch” thanks to its Dark-Sky Reserve. Toronto makes the “I can’t believe it’s not the capital” list, and Tipi Camp on Lake Kootenay was voted one of the “coolest camps”. And believe it or not, Montreal is one of the “happiest places” but British Columbia’s Blue River is one of the top “places to experience the blues”.

Overall, it’s not your typical travel guide, and you won’t find its pages filled with tourist hotspots like Paris or London. What you’ll find instead is some inspiration and ideas — whether you’re looking for adventure, arts and culture, history, panoramic vistas or some unique experiences.

Do you agree with these top picks, or do you have a better idea for 2009? Tell us in the comments.