Top countries to visit in 2013

Wondering where in the world to travel next year? The experts at Lonely Planet have a few ideas. Every year, the company selects its Top 10 Countries to feature in its Best In Travel guide. Based on recommendations from its extended community of travellers, panelists select countries that offer a little some extra for the months ahead.

You won’t find a to-do list of popular destinations like France or England here. Lonely Planet is known for favouring off-the-beaten path destinations — especially when there’s good value to be had for your travel dollars. The annual list also highlights up-and-coming destinations before they become popular, and favourite places where something new is happening.

Here’s a look at this year’s top picks:

10. Madagascar

Many people don’t think of the world’s fourth largest island as a tourist destination — yet. Economic crises and political strife have hampered the country’s tourism industry, but Lonely Planet warns Madagascar may soon be on travel agents’ radars again.

What’s the draw? It’s hard to beat the stunning scenery and biodiversity — from beaches to desert to rainforest. You’ll find over 5 per cent of all of the world’s known plant and animal species in this country, and Madagascar offers a paradise for divers and adventurers alike. Be forewarned: the destination is best suited to intrepid travellers as off-roading and private planes or boats are often needed to get around.

For more information, visit (French only) and Lonely Planet’s Madagascar Guide.

9. Dominican Republic

If you’re thinking of a sunny escape this winter, Lonely Planet calls this country “the Caribbean’s ‘next big thing.'” More airlines and cruises now travel to this country, and tourism in on the rise — but you can still find good value for your money.

Of course, there are hundreds of miles of coastline and no shortage of beachfront resorts, but the DR is arguably the most diverse country in the Caribbean. Think rocky cliffs, sand dunes, mangroves and fishing villages, for instance — not to mention four of the five highest peaks in the islands. Much of the country is rural, but a visit to Santo Domingo’s Zona Colonial — the oldest city in the New World — will take you back to its 16th Century Spanish empire roots.

For more travel ideas, see and Top 10 Dominican Republic Experiences.

Monticristi Dominican Republic

Photo Punta Rucia, Montecristi © Domincan Republic Ministry of Tourism

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8. Turkey

If you crave culture and cuisine, Turkey is sure to please. It’s the land of Ottoman splendour and Byzantine frescos, of bustling market places and grand mosques. Best of all: more low-cost airlines and better bus services are opening up the southeast regions.

While Istanbul is a must-see, there’s plenty to do outside the major cities. Float over the “fairy chimneys” of Cappadocia in a hot air balloon, or check out the recently uncovered ruins of Göbekli Tepe near Sanliurfa — a temple thought to be the oldest man-made place of worship in the world. While St. Paul journeyed through Turkey, the latest pilgrimage focuses on another important biblical figure. Abraham’s Path starts in the city of the patriarch’s birthplace, Sanliurfa.

For more information, see

7. Iceland

When the local currency crashed a few years ago, budget-minded travellers got wise to the beauties of this island nation — but you’ll have to hurry if you to stay ahead of the tourist curve. Tourism is already on the rise thanks to its devoted following, and so are prices thanks to a recovering economy.

Don’t let the name deceive you: glaciers only cover about 11 per cent of the country, and they’re just part of land’s natural beauty. Think lush green summers with endless sunshine and winters with a front row seat for the northern lights. When you’ve had your fill of its parks, mountains, waterfalls and ethereal Blue Lagoon, enjoy a city escape to trendy Reykjavík. The country is also a top spot for bird watchers, and horse lovers will want to see its famous Icelandic breed.

For a closer look at the country, see

NEXT: The South Pacific as it used to be, and a cultured corner of Europe gets a makeover.


6. Solomon Islands

Is Hawaii too commercial for your taste? Lonely Planet describes the Solomon Islands as the “South Pacific as it used to be”.  Massive luxury resorts have yet to take over its shores. Instead, you’ll find eco-resorts and homestays among the islands — and some first rate scuba diving.

Civil strife, poor infrastructure, a lack of flights and few internal transportation options have kept many travellers away, but much of that is changing. The Solomon Islands won’t stay a hidden gem for long — especially with all this press coverage. Even the Royal Couple, William and Kate, paid a visit this past fall.

For more information, see the Solomon Islands Visitor Bureau website.

Floating market in the Solomon Islands

A floating market in the Solomon Islands. Photo ©

5. Slovakia

Once the realm of cheap ski getaways and stag parties, Slovakia’s tourism industry is getting an upscale makeover. Treat yourself to a luxurious cruise down the Danube or plan a city stay in Košice, named the European Capital of Culture in 2013. In addition to being its fabulous historic self, the city will be a hub of creativity and celebrations in the year ahead.

For a more active getaway, Lonely Planet also recommends skiing in Jasna, hiking in the Tatras and exploring the country’s national parks — especially the aptly named Slovak Paradise National Park. Architecture buffs will want to schedule a trip to Bratislava to for a blend of medieval and communist sites, while the wooden churches in Eastern Slovakia remain a testament to the country’s folk culture.

For more information, visit Slovakia: Little Big Country.

NEXT: Reborn railways open up the rainforest, and an Asian nation gears up for the Great Outdoors.


4. Ecuador

Get ready to ride the rails! A massive railway project will be finishing up in 2013 that will add new lines and restore the route linking Quito with the coastal port of Guayaquil. The railways are predicted to open up access to the rain forest — and bring in more tourists.

However, Lonely Planet notes the new project won’t be your typical journey. One part will link Cotopaxi, Ecuador’s famed 5900 m-high volcano, to the Nariz del Diablo (Devil’s Nose) — which is already a feat of railway engineering. Soon, the railway will claim one of the steepest drops in the Western World, not to mention some fantastic photo opportunities.

For more information on travel to Ecuador, visit the official Ecuador & Galapagos Islands Travel Guide.

3. South Korea

Did you know South Korea has quietly turned itself into a destination for outdoor recreation?  Neither do most travellers, so now is your chance to enjoy the great outdoors before everyone else catches on. The country will be hosting some major sporting events in 2013, so word will spread quickly!

Trekking, skiing, cycling, golf, water sports… There’s a little something for every outdoor adventurer here. If you’re feeling daring, try white water rafting down the Donggang River or zip lining in Sodol Port where you’ll overlook the ocean.

For more information, see Visit Korea.

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2. Montenegro

Think of it as the country that combines all your favourite things into one package. With its pristine beaches, rugged peaks, deep canyons, historic walled cities, opulent palazzi and welcoming weather, this “pearl of the Mediterranean” is a hotspot for A-list-celebrities and royalty alike.

So why is Lonely Planet giving it the nod for “adventure” and being “off-the-beaten track”? Step outside star-studded destinations like Sveti Stefan and you’ll find an ever-growing network of hiking and biking trails. Improved infrastructure is also making it easier to enjoy the natural beauty of this small country — not to mention providing employment.

For ideas on what to see and do, check out

1. Sri Lanka

This country has had a hard time in recent years — if the civil war from 1983 to 2009 wasn’t bad enough, Sri Lanka was devastated by the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004. Now the country is getting back on its feet and investing in its tourism industry. Travellers can hop a low-cost flight from Bangkok, and they’ll find their budget goes a long way with low prices on everything from food to accommodations.

Long overlooked on many Asian itineraries, Lonely Planet notes this paradise is back on the map. The culture and scenery is no less spectacular than Sri Lanka’s well-travelled neighbours, and you’ll find the food no less tempting. Tour ancient ruins and sacred cities as well as lush natural reserves — the country has eight UNESCO World Heritage sites, after all. When all that adventure tires you out, relax on one of Sri Lanka’s less-crowded beaches.

For more information, visit the Sri Lankan Tourism Board.

Of course, this list is just a sampling of the many destinations Lonely Planet is praising this year. (For the rest, you’ll have to read the guide!) These countries may not be to everyone’s preferences, but it is fun to daydream.

For more travel inspiration, check out Best in Travel 2013.

Photo © Babelon

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