It’s vacation time, but where to go? After all, with air travel cheaper and more accessible than ever before (despite the obvious and entirely credible ecological concerns) you literally have the entire world to choose from.
And while you could just blindly stick a pin in a map like in the days of yore, you could also take a more pragmatic approach and see what those in the know have to say on the matter. And if you’re asking, the travel addicts at Lonely Planet are a great place to start.
With an eye firmly on 2020, the Lonely Planet team has asked everyone they know, from their writers and editors to their social media network and beyond. Whittling it down undoubtedly wasn’t easy, but nonetheless here it is: their top ten countries in the world to visit in 2020.
The Land of the Thunder Dragon is one of the least visited countries on Earth – and it shows in its pristine landscapes, extraordinary Dzongs (monasteries) and people untroubled by many of the things that make modern life so tiring (they don’t even have traffic/stop lights!)
Nestled deep in the Himalaya, Bhutan keeps a strict control on its tourism levels by imposing a daily fee on visitors and limiting numbers. It’s an approach that has kept the mountain kingdom free from crowds and the pollution that comes with them. It’s the world’s only carbon negative country, will become the world’s first fully organic nation in 2020 and is the only one that measure its success primarily on the happiness of its inhabitants. I visited back in 2015, and it remains the single most extraordinary country I’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting.
While England is currently making headlines around the world for all the wrong reasons, its appeal as a vacation destination remains undimmed. The Lonely Planet team highlights its coastline alongside the “timeless treasures” of its historic castles, cathedrals, quaint villages and rolling countryside. It also notes that new sections of the England Coast Path are always opening that, once complete at almost 3,000 miles long, will be “the longest continuous path of its kind in the world, granting access to the country’s entire coastline for the first time.”
3. North Macedonia
A great example of why lists like this have value – who’d have thought of North Macedonia at number three? Granted, one reason may be the name (previously it was just Macedonia) which has only been official since the country’s ‘rebranding’ in 2018 after a decades-long debate with its neighbour Greece. Deep in the heart of the Balkans it’s a country, “renowned for its gastronomy, ancient tradition and nature,” while culture lovers and adventurers will love the new flight routes to “Unesco-protected Lake Ohrid and the recently launched High Scardus Trail, a 495 km (308 mile) trek along the region’s most dramatic peaks.”
From the small to the tiny, the Caribbean island of Aruba and its cultural hub of San Nicolas is “relishing a colorful and creative revival… extending the happy vibes beyond the annual festivities.” Lonely Planet also lauds its “ambitious sustainability efforts,” where it’s offered itself as a test hub for other countries to try out their renewable energy solutions. It’s working to implement a ban on all single-use plastics as well as reef-harming sunscreens in 2020 – all of which should help its gorgeous beaches and bays beautiful for generations to come.
Another nation to get a new name in 2018, the Kingdom of eSwatini as it’s now known (it was formerly called Swaziland) is “one of Southern Africa’s most underrated (and least visited) destinations.” Lonely Planet cites the new international airport, improved roads and conservation areas as a push towards attracting more visitors, so heading there in 2020 will help you beat the future hordes to it. The entry describes the “varied landscapes within its parks and preserves,” that “provide one revelation after another.”
6. Costa Rica
Accessible, safe, biodiverse and flying the flag for sustainable tourism, Lonely Planet explains that “Cost Ricans understand the importance of preserving their slice of tropical paradise and have found a way to invite others in while living in harmony with their neighbors – from leafcutter ants to jaguars.” Aiming to become carbon neutral in 2020, its famed catchphrase pura vida “is more than a saying, it’s a way of life.”
7. The Netherlands
Look past the hedonistic appeal of Amsterdam and you’ll discover a country bursting with things to do, easily accessible via the “excellent train network”. And in 2020 it will celebrate 75 years of freedom since the end of World War II, which means it’s ready to celebrate! “Explore a host of celebrations in stunning cities and get more bang for your euros,” extols the Lonely Planet team. If you can tailor your visit, April and May are the time to go, “as you can take in King’s Day, Liberation Day and the Eurovision Song Contest, which will be hosted in the country this year.” You may want to take that last one with a pinch of salt though.
West Africa’s Liberia is, according to the Lonely Planet entry, “a bit of a mystery” to most outsiders but is full of natural wonders like its “idyllic beaches, washed by some of West Africa’s best surf.” Alongside the chance to spot the famous pygmy hippo, chimpanzees and forest elephants, the team also celebrates the country’s “groundbreaking development deal with Norway to halt all deforestation by 2020.” Reason enough to celebrate and plan a visit then.
Morocco is, according to Lonely Planet, “having a moment,” thanks in no small part to its “time-honored attractions complemented by sustainable-yet-stylish lodging, restaurants… and coastal wellness retreats mixing up yoga and surfing.” Better roads have improved infrastructure and Africa’s first high-speed train means it’s only two hours from Casablanca to Tangier. Marrakesh too will become Africa’s first Capital of Culture in 2020.
Rounding out the top ten is South America’s unsung hero. Thanks to its “progressive social agenda in recent years” with its “marijuana legalisation and open embrace of LGBTQ+ rights and promotion of sustainable tourism” it’s one of the most welcoming and friendly countries in the world. Mix in the “profound beauty of its landscape” and it’s a worthy inclusion to the list.