Top 10 countries for 2011

Got a pair of itchy feet, but not sure where to take them? It’s never too early or too late to dream up adventures for 2011. With a whole world of options out there, it can be tricky to find the best fit.

Need a little help? The experts at Lonely Planet just released their list of Top 10 countries for 2011 as part of the new Best in Travel 2011 guide. The list includes countries chosen for that little something extra like great value, special events or excitement. While some of these countries may not suit all styles and budgets, they’re still worth a closer look.

Whether you’re planning a trip — or planning to be an armchair traveller — here are Lonely Planet ‘s top picks.

Top 10 countries for 2011

Italy: With its historic sites and diverse regions it’s always a popular choice for travellers. However, this year there’s even more reason to visit: a year of celebrations to mark Italy’s 150th birthday. Watch for special events like concerts, festivals and exhibitions across the country — especially in Turin, the country’s first official capital — that celebrate the rich culture and history. If you’ve already been to the hotspots like Rome and Venice, get to know a new region instead — each has its own unique character and attractions. The 44 UNESCO World Heritage sites and millennia of art and architecture are sure to keep you busy, if you can tear yourself away from the cuisine and scenery.

For more information visit

Albania: Beware: the secret is out! Albania has been gaining favour among travellers, but there’s still time to go if you still want to stay ahead of the tourist throngs. Think mountain vistas, sumptuous cuisine, and sunny beaches on the Adriatic coast, as well as a diverse cultural history — all without the crowds found at other European destinations. In addition to its beautiful landscape and national parks, Albania has been shaped by many influences throughout its history, including Illyrian, Greek and Roman culture. Get to know the capital city Tirana, or head to Butrint — one of the Balkans’ major archaeological centres. There’s a little something to please everyone, from outdoor adventures to vacations on the beach.

Visit for more details.

Bulgaria: Not to be overshadowed by its more famous neighbours, this country is making headway in the 21st century with its membership in the European Union and NATO. If you’re looking for beaches and ski slopes that aren’t yet crowded with travellers, this is the place to head. It’s also the place for some inexpensive indulgence. The country is known for its wine industry as well as its many spas and resorts built on natural thermal spring waters. If you want to escape the cities, there are also a variety of eco and rural tourism adventures where you can experience traditional village life among the mountains and plains.

For more trip ideas, see

Panama: Thanks to the economy, it’s back to basics — and that’s a good thing for travellers. A return to the country’s roots means more local festivals, jungle treks and traditional lodging rather than casinos and glass towers. According to Lonely Planet, much of the country is still pristine green, and 2011 marks the launch of some eco-friendly ideas in Panama City. The new BíoMuseo, a museum celebrating ecological diversity, is set to open in 2011 — and the city’s new Cinta Costeral (Coastal Belt) will put the finishing touches on the newly revived Casco Viejo historic neighbourhood. Naturally, adventure is never very far away, and there are still islands and areas free of roads and people.

For more information, see

Brazil: It’s hard not to think of elaborate celebrations and golden beaches whenever this country is mentioned, but in the next few years Brazil will be centre stage — of the world stage, that is. With the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro on the calendar, Brazil is already busy with preparations. Now is the time to visit ahead of the hype.

While Brazil’s currency remains strong, there is some good news for budget-savvy travellers: Lonely Planet predicts that the thousands of new hotel rooms and increased competition among low-cost air carriers should help bring down costs for travellers.

For more information, visit the Brazilian Tourism Portal.

Syria: Too dangerous, you might say? Threats of terrorism and its “Axis of Evil” status have overshadowed Syria’s culture and attractions until recently. Now international relations have improved and Syria has disappeared from travel warning lists — though most government travel advice still recommends caution and avoiding travel to troubled border areas. Crime rates are low, the locals are welcoming and there’s plenty to do — like touring the historic cities of Damascus and Aleppo. It’s also a place where your dollar will go far once you get there: Lonely Planet notes that a daily budget of $50 USD won’t leave you wanting, because of the country’s low costs and free activities.

A vacation to Syria isn’t for everyone, but this country is worth learning more about. For more information, see .

Cape Verde: Looking for a new sunshine destination? The world is just beginning to discover this volcanic island group off the coast of Africa. With its lush mountains and valleys, sandy beaches and towering volcano, it’s been likened to Hawaii and the Caribbean. However, the major selling point is the sun — there’s plenty of it with tropical temperatures and little rainfall.

Getting there may be more of a challenge than your average winter getaway, but the islands won’t be packed with spring break vacationers.

Tanzania: For adventure, it’s hard to beat this country for variety. There’s a safari to suit any taste from budget to luxury, not to mention hot air balloon and hunting adventures. Diving and snorkeling are popular activities both on the mainland coast and the islands of Zanzibar, Pemba and Mafia. Deep-sea fishing is another big draw, and from the comparatively gentle slopes of the Crater Highlands to the challenge of Mt. Kilimanjaro, there is no shortage of climbing treks to choose from. You’ll also find the whole gamut of African fauna in its national parks.

For more information, visit the Tanzania Tourist Board.

Vanuatu: This Pacific island nation gets the nod for authenticity. Its 83 islands offer plenty of choice for travellers from camping and family-run guesthouses to luxury resorts and private island getaways. When you’re there, enjoy tropical lagoons, towering mountains and hidden gems — minus the crowds.

It’s a little tricky to get to — you have to fly in from nearby nations like Australia and New Zealand — but worth the effort to see it before the islands really catch on. (European vacationers are already wise to this destination.)

For more information, visit Vanuatu Tourism.

Japan: Still think it’s too pricy and not traveller-friendly if you don’t speak the language? Not so, according to Lonely Planet. While the country’s 2016 Summer Olympics bid wasn’t successful, it did provide additional English-language signage and other traveller-friendly infrastructure. According to industry trends, tourism is on the rise to the land of sake, sumo and cherry trees.

A trip to Japan won’t come cheap, but there are ways to get good value for your money. For instance, a Japan Rail Pass offers affordable, unlimited access to the country’s well-developed rail network.

For more information, visit the Japan National Tourism Organization .

What would you add to this list? Tell us in the comments .

For more information about the Best in Travel 2011 guide, visit the Lonely Planet website.

Additional sources: BBC Country Profiles, CIA World Fact Book, government travel advice

Asen’s Fortress, Bulgaria: Photo © Petr Flégl

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