1.Puerto Rico

After a devastating hurricane, an island on its way back

For as long as I can remember growing up in Puerto Rico, El Morro, the indestructible fort with the endless lawns at the entrance to San Juan harbor, was where you went to fly a kite. And on a recent sunny afternoon, just as expected, a couple and their young son were there trying to catch an updraft to loft a plastic butterfly with a long blue tail into the sky.

On Fortaleza Street, an art installation of colorful umbrellas hovered above pedestrians, triggering countless selfies. A short ferry ride away from the old city, at the Bacardí rum distillery in the town of Cataño, visitors sipped cocktails in an open-air pavilion with a roof shaped like a bat in flight.

But as Puerto Rico tries to come back as a premier Caribbean destination after the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria in September 2017, just a short drive from the pricey beachfront hotels, hundreds of residents are still living under leaky tarps, their poverty on display in glaring bright blue.

The tourists celebrating birthdays would not know that the coffee farms will take years to recover — and the red mangrove forests decades — or that commercial fishermen in the town of Luquillo still can’t get their usual haul of lobster, octopus and conch. After the Juan Martín River jumped its banks during the hurricane and took over the dirt road to the beach, the fishermen said, access became so difficult that they need to carpool on four-wheel drive vehicles or they can’t fish as much.

Why should tourists worry about any of this? Isn’t a Caribbean vacation by definition an escape from life’s troubles?

But in the juxtaposition of its two worlds, the tropical paradise versus the struggling island, Puerto Rico is representative of the many fragile places around the globe right now: The islands facing a future of sea level rise and extreme weather. The arctic spots where winter itself is under threat. The cities where a combination of climate change and bad planning has resulted in devastation.

That is why Puerto Rico earned the No. 1 spot on our annual list of 52 Places to visit in the coming year. The island and the other beautiful places at risk raise an urgent question: Do we owe something to the places that make us happy?

“This is the new normal, and people have to look at this new normal and embrace it,” said Martha Honey, executive director of the Center for Responsible Travel in Washington, D.C.

The trend in travel has skewed in recent years toward more awareness and sensitivity — eco-tourism, voluntourism, agritourism, the idea that as visitors we should not cause harm and should seek out authentic experiences that get us deep into the local culture. Perhaps it would not be such a stretch to redefine the relationship between leisure travelers and their dream destinations.

Traveling more consciously is not such a heavy lift, experts like Honey said. A baby step would be to take account of the realities of the place and then incorporate them into itineraries and more targeted spending — get out of the resort, patronize local businesses, reward hotels set back from the ocean with a stay.

If tourists did what Puerto Ricans like me do when they sightsee, they would eat roasted whole pig (“lechón asado”) in Guavate south of San Juan or seafood in the southern town of Salinas or bar-hop in the mountains among roadside restaurants and food shacks (“chinchorreo”).

Many will find that this new way of travel can lead to better vacations because it helps build a connection to the place, Honey said.

Tour operators say that those traveling this winter to Puerto Rico and other islands damaged by Hurricane Maria tend to be “repeats and loyalists” going back to what they already love. After a temporary drop, said Jack Richards, president and CEO of Pleasant Holidays in Los Angeles, which handles travel to 23 islands in the Caribbean, bookings started picking up last June and “Caribbean tourism is back with a vengeance now.”

“Everybody understands that the best way to help Puerto Rico is to book there and help the local economy,” he said.

— MIREYA NAVARRO

2. Hampi, India

An ancient archaeological complex becomes more accessible

At the height of the Vijayanagar Empire in the 16th century, Hampi thrived as one of the largest and richest cities in the world. Its architectural legacy lives on in the southwestern state of Karnataka with over 1,000 well-preserved stone monuments, including Hindu temples, forts and palaces. Spread over 16 miles near the banks of the Tungabhadra River, and surrounded by a sea of granite boulders, the UNESCO World Heritage site has been notoriously difficult to reach, until now. TruJet recently began daily direct flights from Hyderabad and Bangalore to Ballari, a 25-mile drive from Hampi.

— NORA WALSH

3. Santa Barbara, California

The “American Riviera” becomes a hip food and wine haven

Long known for drawing movie stars and millionaires to its resorts, Santa Barbara is now a foodie magnet. Acclaimed Melbourne and Manhattan chef Jesse Singh oversees Bibi Ji, an edgy Indian restaurant — try the uni biryani — with a wine list curated by noted sommelier Rajat Parr. “Top Chef” alum Phillip Frankland Lee presides over the Monarch, a posh Californian restaurant, and Chaplin’s Martini Bar; he will open Silver Bough, a 10-seat tasting-menu venue in January. The Santa Barbara Inn’s Convivo offers upmarket Italian fare and ocean views; nearby, at Tyger Tyger, Daniel Palaima, a veteran of the kitchens of Chicago-based chef Grant Achatz, serves Southeast Asian fare. The city has more than 30 wine tasting rooms that don’t look like their more staid cousins up north.

— SHEILA MARIKAR

4. Panama

New eco-friendly resorts open on the country’s Pacific coast

Two new Pacific island resorts are expanding Panama’s west coast appeal, not far from the marine preserve around Isla Coiba. Cayuga Hospitality recently opened Isla Palenque in the Gulf of Chiriqui, with eight casitas and one villa on a lush 400-acre island. Besides offering access to seven beaches, mangrove kayaking and whale-watching, the resort grows some of its own food, has furniture made from fallen trees and maintains a no-plastics policy, including subbing papaya shoots for straws. In the Gulf of Chiriqui, Islas Secas Reserve & Panama Lodge will open in January on a 14-island archipelago.

— ELAINE GLUSAC

5. Munich

Theater. Art. Opera. What more do you want?

As far as cultural triple threats go, it’s hard to beat Munich, the capital of Germany’s Bavaria region. Its theaters are considered among the most creative and ambitious in Europe, with its two main companies, the Münchner Kammerspiele and the Residenztheater (the latter entering its final year under acclaimed artistic director Martin Kusej) producing more than 30 premieres between January and May 2019. And its museums are decidedly world class, especially since the renovation and reopening of the Lenbachhaus Museum in 2017, with its unmatched collection of the German artists known as the Blue Rider school. But perhaps the best argument for visiting Munich right now is the Bavarian State Opera

— STUART EMMRICH

6. Eilat, Israel

A newly accessible Red Sea paradise

Beneath the prismatic waters of this Red Sea resort on Israel’s southern tip lies a coral reef with hundreds of varieties of neon fish, sharks and stingrays. To get there, visitors used to have to catch a charter flight from Tel Aviv or brave the dusty drive through the Negev Desert. But with the opening early this year of Ramon Airport, set in the Timna Valley and capable of handling 4 million international transit passengers a year, the world will finally get a direct route — with nonstops from Munich and Frankfurt on Lufthansa, and budget carriers flying in from Prague, London and across Europe.

— DEBRA KAMIN

7. Setouchi, Japan

Art and nature harmonize in Japan’s inland sea

The Setouchi region, which includes the Seto Inland Sea’s islands and coastal areas, will host the Setouchi Trienniale 2019, a major art fair held in three seasonal installments. One hour south of the “art islands” via ferry or the Shinkansen bullet train, the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum reopens this spring after an eight-year refurbishment.

— ADAM H. GRAHAM

8. Aalborg, Denmark

Architecture revitalizes the waterfront

Viking long ships once glided through Aalborg’s mighty Limfjord. Today, the city is turning its most famous natural asset into an artistic one. Wildly innovative buildings have sprouted on Aalborg’s shores, including the Utzon Center, designed by Jorn Utzon, the architect of the Sydney Opera House — check out its new exhibition series on inspiring Nordic architects, with a first show that runs through May.

— ANNELISE SORENSEN

9. The Azores, Portugal

The Caribbean comes to the middle of the Atlantic

In the nippy Atlantic Ocean a four-hour flight from the United States, the subtropical volcanic islands of the Azores, complete with UNESCO World Heritage sites and biospheres, await discovery. Mystical green lushness, oversize volcanic craters now turned into lakes, steaming natural hot springs that puff out from the earth, blue hydrangeas by the thousands and the only coffee growers in Europe distinguish the island chain.

— DANIEL SCHEFFLER

10. Ontario Ice Caves, Canada

See them now, as climate change may pose a threat

The ice caves that emerge from the winds and waves that pound the north shore of Lake Superior have always been somewhat ephemeral. But climate change has brought an element of doubt into their future. For now, the caves are a regularly occurring feature, notably along the shoreline near Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, a steel town just across the border from a Michigan town of the same name.

— IAN AUSTEN

11. Zadar, Croatia

Incomparable sunsets, a “sea organ” and untrammeled islands

After the Croatian soccer team captured the world’s attention in the World Cup last summer — its team captain Luka Modric’s inspiring play was particularly notable — soccer fans revved up their search engines and learned that Modric hails from Zadar, a pretty, compact town on the Dalmatian Coast.

— DAVID FARLEY

12. Williamsburg, Virginia

The cradle of American democracy reflects on its past

In 1619, the area that includes the Jamestown Settlement, Williamsburg and Yorktown was home to some of the most significant events in American history: the official arrival of the first African slaves to North America, the convening of the first representative assembly in America and the first recorded proclamation of Thanksgiving in the New World. The area will observe the 400th anniversary of these events all year, highlighted by the Tenacity exhibition at the Jamestown Settlement, which recognizes the contributions of women during the Colonial era, along with an archaeology-focused exhibit in Jamestown.

— JOHN L. DORMAN

13. Las Vegas

Sin City bets big on culture

Sure, there are still slot machines, strip clubs and steaks aplenty, but other options for culture in America’s playground abound. The new Park MGM hosts residencies from two music legends through 2019: Lady Gaga, doing one show of her pop hits and another riffing on American classics, and starting in April, Aerosmith. Also at the Park: a rollicking iteration of the Italian emporium Eataly and Best Friend, a Korean restaurant by Roy Choi, the Los Angeles food truck pioneer, that becomes a hip-hop club after the tables are cleared.

— SHEILA MARIKAR

14. Salvador, Brazil

The country’s original capital gets a makeover

After completing a five-year historical preservation initiative to save its UNESCO designation, Salvador, with its sherbet-colored colonial facades, cobblestone streets and beaches, is gleaming. Rising along the coast of northeastern Bahia, the city’s downtown historic district thrums with vibrant Afro-Brazilian culture, ranging from free weekly performances by samba and drum corps to classical music and capoeira.

— NORA WALSH

15. Danang, Vietnam

A spot for foodies and beachgoers

Danang, Vietnam’s third largest city, is known for being a gateway to the nearby UNESCO Heritage town of Hoi An. But it’s begun to develop a reputation as the Miami of Vietnam, with a strong foodie scene and new hotels and resorts popping up on a 5-mile beach strip, including the InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort, on its own private cove, with hillside villas with individual plunge pools.

— STUART EMMRICH

16. Costalegre, Mexico

A beach vacation, without the crowds

17. Paparoa Track, New Zealand

A new wilderness trail explores a remote national park

18. Puglia, Italy

Baroque architecture and Adriatic beaches in Italy’s heel

19. Tatra Mountains, Slovakia

Off-the-grid skiing, rock climbing and more

20. Calgary, Alberta

A spectacular library adds to a once-neglected neighborhood

21. Olkhon Island, Lake Baikal, Russia

A natural wonder resisting the threats of development

22. Huntsville, Alabama

Time to party like it’s 1969

23. Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas)

Five kinds of penguins, easier to reach

24. Aberdeen, Scotland

The Granite City via brand-new old-fashioned trains

25. Golfo Paradiso, Italy

A rare unspoiled gem on the Italian Riviera

26. Dessau, Germany

A big birthday for Bauhaus

27. Tunis, Tunisia

The spark for the Arab Spring, still lit

28. Gambia

Hippos and chimpanzees — and a renewed sense of hope

29. Northern Rivers, Australia

Along a breezy coastline, boho paradise

30. Frisian Islands and Wadden Sea

Oysters, seals, birds and dark skies on Europe’s wild left coast

31. New York City

New cultural monuments, and remembrances of the past

32. Chongli, China

Witness a winter sports revolution

33. Orcas Island, Washington

A small island is attracting big-time foodies (and Oprah)

34. Uzbekistan

Visa-free travel and reopened borders along the Silk Road

35. Vestlandet, Norway

A bucolic paradise for mountain-climbing beer lovers

36. Lyon, France

Soccer, sausage and fresh air

37. Doha, Qatar

Avant-garde architecture blooms in the desert

38. Batumi, Georgia

A hushed seaside escape

39. Marseille, France

An influx of young creatives gives the city a new edge

40. Wyoming

A sesquicentennial celebration of women’s suffrage in the Equality State

41. Los Angeles

Finally, more than Grauman’s (groan)

42. Dakar, Senegal

An oasis of freedom in a region of unrest

43. Perth, Australia

A city transformed and enlivened

44. Hong Kong

Dazzling infrastructure eases travel but could threaten independence

45. Iran

Tourism cautiously returns to this Middle East jewel

46. Houston

Rebounding bigger and better after a hurricane

47. Columbus, Ohio

Is this the American city of the future?

48. Plovdiv, Bulgaria

A city ready for the spotlight

49. Vevey, Switzerland

A once-in-a-generation winegrowers’ festival on the Swiss Riviera

50. Cádiz province, Spain

Sparkling cities and towns in southwest Andalusia

51. Elqui Valley, Chile

Eclipse mania, and nights of dark skies

52. The Islands of Tahiti

The birthplace of the overwater bungalow ups its ecotourism

— MIREYA NAVARRO

— NORA WALSH

— SHEILA MARIKAR

— ELAINE GLUSAC

— STUART EMMRICH

— DEBRA KAMIN

— ADAM H. GRAHAM

— ANNELISE SORENSEN

— DANIEL SCHEFFLER

— IAN AUSTEN

— DAVID FARLEY

— JOHN L. DORMAN

— SHEILA MARIKAR

— NORA WALSH

— STUART EMMRICH

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