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
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
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
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)
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
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
Tourism cautiously returns to this Middle East jewel
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