15 Hot Spot Destinations for Your 2016 Bucket List

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Harbin Ice Festival in China

The purpose of this list is not only to highlight the best places to visit in 2016, but the most unforgettable activities to partake in once you arrive.

 Freeze Your Ass off at a Manchurian Ice Festival

Where: Harbin International Ice and Snow Sculpture Festival, Harbin, China

When: Until February 25, 2016; or starting again in late December

Why: Each year, the festival’s sculptors create a veritable city out of ice and snow, one that lights up at night in dozens of brilliant colors. With temperatures as low as -40ºC (don’t worry, that’s part of the fun!), it’s the world’s ultimate winter wonderland, a fact you can also see in the main image of this article.

How: Fly nonstop to Harbin via Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul, Tokyo and dozens of other Asian cities.

Ride a Boat Through a Lake Filled With Lotus Blossoms

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016

Where: Red Lotus Sea, Kumphawadpi Reserve, Udon Thani, Thailand

When: Before the end of February

Why: The otherwise unremarkable Lake Hong Nan, located just south of Udon Thani city, fills to the brim with bright pink lotus blossoms, creating one of Asia’s—and the world’s—most beautiful spectacles.

How: Fly from Bangkok to Udon Thani, then get a taxi from your hotel to the lake (ideally no later than 5 a.m.) to catch sunrise.

Learn to Ski—or Don’t—in the Swiss Alps

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016

Where: Engelberg, Obwalden, Switzerland

When: Before Easter or after U.S. Thanksgiving

Why: It’s never too late to learn, and if you’re going to attempt to ski at 30 like I did, you might as well go to the best place in the world for it. If you fail like I did, there’s a super fun sled track made of solid ice that’s way harder to suck at.

How: Drive or take a train from Zürich, Geneva or anywhere else in Switzerland.

Take a Walk Through a Real-Life Jurassic Park

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016

Where: Bajos del Toro, Costa Rica

When: All year

Why: I’m not being hyperbolic: The scenery here looks like Jurassic Park! And that’s before you even get to the 300-foot waterfall.

How: If you’re driving, take a day trip from San Jose; if you take a bus, plan to spend the night.

Experience This Place Before Everybody Else Does

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016

Where: Cuba; specifically Havana, Viñales, Trinidad and Baracoa

When: All year

Why: Although Cuba’s been “open” to non-Americans for decades, most stay in the capital and the (terrible) beach resort of Varadero. Unless Marco Rubio makes it to the White House in November, further normalization of relations between the U.S. and Cuba will mean more Americans exploring Cuba, which means fewer opportunities to wander off the beaten path.

How: Fly to Havana from Canada, Mexico, Europe or limited U.S. gateways; travel on Viazul buses.

Explore the World’s Most Chinese City—It’s Not in China

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016

Where: Taipei, Taiwan

When: July to September ideally, but most of the year is fine

Why: The government of Taiwan (i.e. the Republic of China) backs up its claim to being the legitimate Chinese nation with a capital city that blends the ancient and modern better than anywhere on the mainland.

How: Fly nonstop to Taipei from dozens of cities in Asia, Europe and North America.

More info: The Real China?

Visit the Home of Facebook’s Most Quoted Poet

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016

Where: Konya, Turkey

When: All year

Why: Turkey’s been an “it” travel destination for many years, but most people avoid the conservative interior part of the country, barring Cappadocia. The highlight of Konya is the Green Mausoleum, dedicated to Sufi poet Rumi, whose words you’ve almost certainly seen in your Facebook feed.

How: Fly nonstop to Konya from Istanbul.

Eat Yourself Sick With Japanese Street Food

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016

Where: Osaka, Japan

When: All year

Why: Japan’s third-largest city often gets the shaft, but it’s arguably home to the best food—and, especially, street food—in the country. Local favorites like takoyaki octopus fritters and gyoza dumplings are all over the city, but start at Dotonbori pedestrian street to save your sanity—and to enjoy grilled crab (kani) from a street stall.

How: Fly nonstop to Osaka from anywhere in Asia, many places in Europe, Los Angeles or San Francisco; take a Shinkansen from Tokyo.

Hear Both Sides of the Israeli-Palestinian Story

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016

Where: Between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea

When: All year

Why: The only way to (attempt) to understand the most important conflict of our times is to see it for yourself—and to see both sides. A trip to Israel without a trip to Palestine (or vice-versa) is pointless.

How: Fly to Tel Aviv, then take trains and buses within Israel; use a service like Abraham Tours to explore the West Bank.

Drive Amid the Glaciers of the Canadian Rockies

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016

Where: Canada’s Icefields Parkway, between Banff and Jasper National Parks in Alberta

When: All year, but autumn is particularly lovely

Why: Glaciers, mountains and, potentially, fall colors—what more reason do you need? Add in friendly Canadians and adorable roadside wildlife and…well, if you’re not convinced yet, you never will be.

How: Fly to Calgary, then drive to Banff; or fly to Edmonton, then drive to Jasper. I recommend sleeping in Banff, and driving up and down the parkway as a day trip, but you could sleep in Jasper and go at a slower pace instead.

Share Rum and Tall Tales With Papa Zouk

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016

Where: Antigua, Caribbean

When: All year, but avoid hurricane season (May-October) if possible

Why: As one of the lesser-visited islands of the lesser Antilles, Antigua is filled with characters, first among them a German expat who serves up what is perhaps the best seafood—and rum—on the island. After a day on Ffryes Beach and sunset at Shirley Heights, enjoy dinner at Papa Zouk’s Fish and Rum—and keep an open mind.

How: Fly nonstop from U.S. gateways like Miami, New York or Charlotte; or from London.

See Different Colors of the California Coast

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016

Where: California’s Highway 1 Discovery Route, in San Luis Obispo County

When: All year

Why: California’s big coastal cities—and Big Sur—get all the love from tourists, but the state’s central coast is where the magic is, from the unique farm-to-table cuisine on offer at the Gardens of Avila, to America’s answer to the Rock of Gibraltar—and the Pacific’s best oysters—in Morro Bay, to towns like Cambria, Cayucos and Ragged Point.

How: Rent a car in San Luis Obispo; stay in Morro Bay or Avila Beach.

Get Lost in the Mists of the North Atlantic

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016

Where: Essaouira, Morocco

When: All year

Why: Morocco is uniformly magical, but the cool breezes, misty ambiance and crazy quantity of seagulls you find as you explore the medina of Essaouira, perched on the shores of the North Atlantic, is one of the most unique places not only in Morocco, but on the planet.

How: Take a bus or grand-taxi from Marrakech.

Capture the Colors of Autumn in the Japanese Alps

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016

Where: Central Honshu, Japan: The Nakasendo Trail; Takayama; and Shirakawa-go

When: November

Why: The only thing more magical than walking along an ancient Japanese trading route? Doing it as thousands of trees—and indeed, the entire Japanese Alps—blaze in bright colors all around you.

How: Buy a Japan Rail Pass and visit HyperDia.com to plan your train routes.

Take a Terrifying Road Trip Under the Northern Lights

16 Unforgettable Travel Experiences for 2016

Where: Iceland’s Ring Road; in particular, the country’s East Fjords and Snæfellsnes Peninsula

When: December, January or February

Why: Most travelers visit Iceland in the summer, but the Northern Lights aren’t the only reason to take a road trip in winter. The glistening snow cover is gorgeous and the pastel light is priceless, but the true highlight of Iceland during the colder months is the abject—and, sometimes terrifying—solitude you enjoy here.

How: Fly from the U.S. or Europe to Reykjavík; rent a car at the airport.

 

Robert Schrader
Robert Schrader is a travel writer and photographer who's been roaming the world independently since 2005, writing for publications such as "CNNGo" and "Shanghaiist" along the way. His blog, Leave Your Daily Hell, provides a mix of travel advice, destination guides and personal essays covering the more esoteric aspects of life as a traveler.
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