The top 8 tourist destinations of tomorrow

The rapidly changing landscape of today’s globalized economy means that countries are developing at breakneck pace. Yesterday’s war zones are turning into tomorrow’s tourist destinations at the blink of an eye, while today’s utopias (see: Dubai) are disintegrating just as fast.

Need more convincing? Check out Hans Rosling’s lecture on the rise of Asia over at TED.

Here at Gadling we have our own humble opinions on the next hotsposts for tourist traffic, not the from the socioeconomic perspective, but rather from that of a road hardened traveler. Take a look below:

The memory of the Yugoslav Wars is too fresh for many of us to think of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a tourist destination, but in the ten years since the conflict, the country and its capital city, Sarajevo have made enormous strides. Long gone are the days of ethnic conflict, strife and war crimes — 2009’s Sarajevo is a charming, cosmopolitan city surrounded by hills, cafés and culture.


At first glance Iran doesn’t look very inviting, what with an authoritarian government intent on building nukes and quashing dissent. But look past the politics and you’ll find a hospitable country with excellent cuisine, rugged scenery, and a fascinating history. Add in a reliable bus system and you can have a relaxing vacation with people who love to meet foreigners. The only danger we faced in Iran was the very real possibility of being fed to death.


Although many Europeans have already discovered Morocco, the North African country is still not on the radar for most Americans– but it should be. Perhaps the world’s safest Muslim country, Morocco features labyrinthine markets, delicious cuisine, and access into an amazing culture few truly understand. Best of all, it’s less than an hour ferry ride from the southern tip of Spain.


Soon, Americans will have the privilege of visiting a country that has heartily resisted the capitalist mode of living. It’s true: traveling to Cuba is like going back in time, but it is so much more than that, too. It’s about embracing a nation that has struggled to find its own voice. But Cuba succeeded, and what lies just 90 miles from Florida is a vivacious country that deserves attention, care, and understanding.


Ten years ago, Colombia was branded as the kidnapping capital of the world. Despite decades of drug trafficking, paramilitary threats, and urban crime, this country with its canyons, seas, cloud and rain forests is quickly becoming one of the South America’s — and the world’s — most breathtaking and hospitable travel destinations.


Visit the only African nation never to be colonized. Ethiopia was practicing Christianity when Europe was still bowing down to pagan idols, and their rock-hewn churches and isolated monasteries are centers of learning and the arts. There are natural wonders too–from chilly mountains to blistering desert to African savanna, as well as some of the highest waterfalls in African and the source of the Blue Nile. The Ethiopians discovered coffee and make it better than anyone else in an elaborate half-hour ceremony. What more could you ask for?


Now that they’re earning the big bucks from the canal, the tropical paradise of Panama makes Costa Rica look like Orlando with monkeys. Recent democratic elections saw a peaceful change of power and an ongoing real estate boom is drawing a funky mix of expats and nature lovers. Come for the beautiful virgin rain forest, stunning wildlife, a fascinating indigenous culture and outstanding seashore on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts.


The cradle of civilization, the home of the Garden of Eden, a unique cuisine and a rich culture.
. .and one of the most war-blighted places in the world. Could Iraq really be the next big tourist destination? A few hardy tour operators and their customers think so. How far will you go to have the adventure of a lifetime?

Coming attractions: Iraq

Could Iraq be the next big adventure travel destination? One hardy tour company and their clients are saying, “Why not?”

There’s no shortage of things to see. Just as Ethiopia is the cradle of humanity, Iraq is the cradle of civilization. Cities like Ur and Babylon had palaces and libraries when my European ancestors were painting themselves blue and dancing around stone circles. Besides Iraq’s obvious historical interest, visitors can enjoy the novelty of being in a country that we so often see on the news but so few of us have experienced in real life.

OK, but. . .

Yes, Iraq’s a rough place. The U.S. State Department strongly advises against going there. It’s not like Iran or Colombia, where you can simply get a visa, fly in, and wander around freely and safely. Iraq is definitely an organized tour sort of country. An organized tour with armed guards.

I spoke with Geoff Hann, owner of Hinterland Travel, a UK company that offers one of the only ways to go to Iraq without a gun or a government contract in your hand. He’s been leading tours to the country since 1970, with a few breaks during the recent wars. He led a Post Iraq War tour in October 2003 but then the security situation deteriorated and he wasn’t able to get back until November 2008. This year he’s run four tours and has more planned for next year.

“Individual Tourism is not yet allowed due to security issues so we have group departures and the visas are arranged accordingly through the Ministry of Tourism,” Hann said.

Hinterland Travel’s tours encompass a lot of the country. Their shortest tour is nine days and covers sights in Baghdad, Samarra, Erbil, Nimrud, Ctesiphon (shown here), Babylon, Najaf, and more. The tour costs 1,600 pounds ($2,600) and includes all in-country expenses such as hotels, transport, security, and an English-speaking guide. Some tours even visit one of Saddam’s old palaces.

Hann warns travelers to be flexible because the situation in the country is very fluid and the itinerary can and probably will change. He says the locals are very friendly and welcoming to international visitors. I’ve never been to Iraq, but I’ve experienced warm hospitality in Morocco, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Palestine, and Iran, so there’s no reason to think the average Iraqi would be any different.

Yes, but what about security?”We have one or two security men with us and they can call up escorts at any time and sometimes we use this facility,” Hann said. “If I have a special group who want extra security or if the numbers are greater than our normal tours then we will have more security with us. But the quiet and anonymous approach will always be the best security.”

The guards and local officials get understandably jittery if people go off on their own, so unfortunately there’s none of the wandering through the souk or playing backgammon in the neighborhood tea shop that I enjoyed so much in my own trips through the Middle East. Hann is optimistic that this will change.

While there’s only a trickle of tourists from the West, Iraq had almost a million pilgrims in 2008, and the number of European tourists has doubled in 2009, so Iraq is not unaccustomed to taking care of travelers. There are more than 750 functioning hotels, although Hann advises that many have been damaged and travelers will have to rough it sometimes.

Travel in Iraq would be a rewarding experience. You’d get a fascinating and exciting holiday and rack up lots of cool points with your friends. You’d also be helping people who desperately need and deserve it. Tourism brings money, money builds industry, and stability is usually quick to follow. If tourists start coming back from Iraq saying how much fun they had, the tourism industry will grow. The local economy will improve, hotels and local services will get repaired, encouraging more tourism, and maybe the warring factions will realize a little stability and profit isn’t so bad after all.

Is that too much to hope for? Are tourists better nation builders than soldiers? Tell us what you think in the comments section.

Get There

Airline service to Iraq changes regularly but it is possible to book a flight. There are flights into Baghdad from various cities such as Istanbul and Damascus through a few travel companies such as IKB.

Hann says his company gives advice on flights and that with a group tour you can get visas on arrival, even if you’re American.

“We have Americans booking on all our departures. There’s no problem for Americans for our visa-on-arrival groups. We submit our group names and details and nationality does not matter,” he says.

So going to Iraq is possible, and no more expensive than a lot of guided adventure tours. But if you don’t have the money or guts to go on this tour, you can always have a staycation and check out the treasures of the Iraqi museum on Google!

Coming attractions: Ethiopia

There aren’t many countries that can truly call themselves unique. France has great cuisine, but so does Italy. India has challenging and beautiful mountaineering routes, and so does Peru.

But Ethiopia really is unique. It’s the only African country that was never colonized, and as far as paleontologists can tell, it’s where the human race evolved from our earlier ancestors.

Ethiopia’s Great Rift Valley is a treasure trove of fossils that have revealed our origins from something not quite human and not quite ape, and our slow evolution into something more recognizable. These fossils, including the famous Lucy, are on show at the National Museum in Addis Ababa. The great lesson evolution has to teach us is that we’re all related. Ethiopia is everyone’s hometown.

Ethiopia’s great history didn’t end with simply giving birth to the human race. It was home to a series of important civilizations that left a rich cultural legacy. The country boasts eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the eleven churches of Lalibela cut out of solid rock. The one pictured here is called Bete Medhane Alem (“Savior of the World”) and is believed to be the largest rock-hewn church anywhere. Another entry to the list is the ancient capital of Aksum with its towering monoliths. Aksum’s rulers controlled one of the ancient world’s great empires for a thousand years from about 50 BC until 950 AD.

Ethiopians are proud of their history and near Aksum is the battlefield of Adowa, where in 1896 an Italian army determined to colonize the country was gobbled up by a well-armed and disciplined Ethiopian force in one of the biggest defeats of a colonial force by a native army in history. The Italians returned in 1935 under Mussolini, this time with tanks and poison gas, and took over for a few brutal years, but they never really controlled the country and got promptly ejected during World War Two.This is a large nation, almost twice the size of France, with several different cultural and ethnic groups and a mix of Christian, Muslim, and animist beliefs. The population of 79 million speaks 83 languages and more than 200 dialects. In the rugged highlands of the north are the Amhara and Tigrayana, who are mostly Christian. In the dry east are the Muslim Harari, whose main city of Harar is considered one of the holiest cities of Islam. The grasslands to the south are home to the Oromo, who embrace various faiths, and tribal animist cultures such as the Mursi, who are famous for the giant rings they put through their lower lips. There are many more ethnic groups, but it would take a book to cover them all.

One aspect of Ethiopian culture many people in the West have discovered is the food. There’s Ethiopian coffee, of course. Coffee was discovered coffee here and the Ethiopians have a pleasant ceremony to celebrate drinking it with friends. There’s also distinct cuisine that’s beginning to catch on in the West. A spongy, slightly sour bread called injera provided a base for a variety of meat and vegetable dishes. There’s lots for vegetarians to eat in Ethiopia, plus Wednesdays and Fridays are traditional fasting days when most restaurants and private homes won’t serve meat. Ethiopian restaurants have become popular in the U.S. and U.K. and provide a good introduction to the cuisine. If you’re in London, try Merkato Restaurant on 196 Caledonian Road. The best I’ve had in England!

If nature is more your style then try the wild and rugged Semien Mountains, another World Heritage Site, that offers unspoiled trekking where you can see rare species found only in Ethiopia, such as the Ethiopian wolf and Gelada baboon. You might also want to dare the Danakil Depression in the extreme northeast. An inhospitable desert 100 meters below sea level, it’s seen a record high of 64.4°C (148.0°F) and regularly gets up to 48 °C (118 °F).

Get there

A number of airlines fly to Bole International Airport in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. Since it isn’t a hugely popular destination prices aren’t very competitive but they aren’t outrageous if you shop around. I got a flight on Egyptair from Madrid via Cairo to Addis Ababa for only 550 euros ($830). Few flights from Europe are direct; most stop in the Gulf or North Africa. One odd thing is that many flights land in the wee hours of the morning. I’m getting in at 4am, so I guess I’ll just change some money at the 24-hour bank, hope one of the airport cafes is open, and wait until sunrise.

I’ll be there from February 9-March 27. It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to see Ethiopia. I’ve been studying the history for years and talking to every expat I can find. Now I’m finally going there! Expect to see lots more about this fascinating country on Gadling.

Coming attractions: Colombia

Ten years ago, Colombia was the kidnapping country of the world, and its second largest city, Medellin, was the murder capital of the world. When I made my first of many journeys to South America ten years ago, I was warned not to go to Colombia. Ten years ago, people who rode with their arms sticking out of a cab and would get their jewelery or watches stolen. I’d also heard of tourists and over innocent family members being taken from their streets and held in captivitiy.

Ten years ago, Colombia was a different place: a crime-ridden, drug-infested nation with a bad reputation for danger. However, when Alvaro Uribe took office back in 2002, the country quickly turned around. Within a few years, the drug cartel and paramilitary threats to civilian safety were halved — and when I stepped foot on Colombian soil in 2007 I was both curious about what the country had to offer and also wary of the threats and potential danger that still lurked.

What I came to find that winter, however, was a country full of vibrant life and rich in natural resources and wonderfully travel-worthy destinations. From its Sierra Nevada mountain range to its Caribbean-induced coastal towns like Cartagena, and the salsa-infused cities of Medellin and Cali as well as the coffee rich cloud forests near Bogota, Colombia has months worth of amazing travel delights.

Here is a sampling of some of the Colombia’s top travel itineraries:

Treasure Hunt: With its pirate past, pre-Colombian history, and indigenous presence, Colombia has some of the most fascinating cultural and archaeological sites in South America. Traveling through this country can be like embarking on a treasure hunt. To ground yourself in Colombia’s rich past, begin your journey in Bogotá, visiting such emblematic museums as the Museo Nacional, Museo del Oro, and Donación Botero. Hop on a bus and head one hour north to Zipaquirá, where the nation’s largest supply of salt is found in a mine so immense that, in 1995, a cathedral was erected underground, inside the mine. The world’s largest underground cross is here. Next stop: Villa de Leyva, a short four hours farther north, where a fascinating pre-historic alligator is on display in the Museo Paleontológico. The Saturday market in town is also a colorful sight to behold. Make your way southwest now by bus or plane to Popayán, which only a few years ago was named one of the world’s gastronomical centers. Here, delight yourself in tasty Colombian cuisine, or try out the Italian, French, and vegetarian restaurants around this gorgeous white city. Two hours away is adorable Silvia, where on Tuesdays you will find a fantastic indigenous market full of traditional wares and goods. Head to Tierradentro from here. One of Colombia’s most fascinating pre-Colombian burial tombs are found under the ground. Spend at least one full day touring many of these cave-like tombs still have their original colorful decorations. Finish your treasure hunt in San Agustín, exploring its gorgeously preserved Parque Archaelógico, where life-size zoologic statues protect burial mounds on the hillside.

Hips Don’t Lie
: Shakira, Colombia’s very own pop-rock queen, says it best in her salsa-enfused song, “I am on tonight and my hips don’t lie and I am starting to feel it’s right. The attraction, the tension. Baby, like this is perfection.” Colombia is a lively center for nightlife and pure fun. It’s not too surprising if you’ve come here more for play than for cultural exploration. If that’s the case, head to the country’s major cities for a taste of the good life: Latin dance and clubbing. You might as well start off in what many consider the Latin American capital of salsa dancing – Cali. Avenida Sexta is full of crazy Vegas-like salsa bars and clubs. The Cali girls, many say, are the prettiest in the country. However, Medellín girls are a bit more sophisticated and this city, the second-largest in Colombia, really knows how to throw a party. The Zona Rosa in El Poblado lights up at night, and foam parties or other crazy, late-night antics are a part of weekend nightlife. If you’re looking for something with a more colorful, Caribbean flair, then you won’t have to look any farther than Cartagena. The best bars and clubs are found along Avenida del Arsenal. If you timed your visit right and are in the area in January, then bus your way to Barranquilla for the city’s crazy four-day Carnaval. With just a little more energy left in that dancing body of yours, head to Colombia’s capital, Bogotá. The city’s really modern and hip Zona Rosa in the north is packed with chic lounges, bars, and clubs.

A Country of Contrasts
Colombia is certainly a country of contrasts. You may find yourself paragliding off an an enormous mountain one day and sunbathing on the beach the next. If you’re searching for a blend of both, try some of these pairings:

  • Desierto Tatacoa & Isla Gorgona – Do you prefer dry or wet conditions? You’re in luck, because Colombia offers both extremes. Tatacoa offers a rare glimpse of dry desert with cactus, sand, and wildflowers, while Isla Gorgona, the country’s largest Pacific island, is covered with lush, tropical rainforest and humpback and sperm whales can be spotted.
  • Salento & Coveñas – Both of these small towns are perfectly secluded, and offer tourists with privacy, but in very different settings. In Salento, visitors delight in the crisp air and gorgeous Valle de Cocora, where the hillside is dotted with “palmas de cera,” the Colombia’s tall, skinny national tree. Then, in Coveñas, the warm, tropical beach is yours for the taking.
  • Ciudad Perdida & Parque Tayrona – Three full days of hiking in the northern Sierra Nevada will take you to an abandoned pre-Colombian town in the clouds, Ciudad Perdida, or the “Lost City.” At 1000 meters above sea level, tourists who have endured the trek will bask in the glory of old times. Then, at sea level, on the way back to Santa Marta is the equally lovely and relaxing Parque Tayrona, another home to the Tayrona Indians, set in calm bays and palm trees.
  • San Gil & Barichara – One of the country’s centers for eco-adventure is San Gil, where repelling, whitewater rafting, and paragliding over the stunning Chicamocha Canyons shouldn’t be missed. Just twenty minutes by bus from San Gil is the sleepy colonial town of Barichara, where the buildings are perfectly painted white with green trim and walking along the cobblestone streets, listening to the patter of horse hooves and observing the men donned in cowboy boots and bush knives leaves little to the imagination of how life used to be.
  • Leticia & Providencia – The most extreme of contrasts is the immense Amazon jungle setting in Leticia with the small, Caribbean island life in Providencia. There’s nothing more Colombian about both: in Leticia, you laze around in small villages camped along the Amazon River; in Providencia, you walk or bike your way around, chatting it up with locals. The opportunity to interact with locals abound, and both are great ports to further exploration of Latin America: Leticia borders both Brazil and Peru and Providencia is a very short plane ride to Nicaragua.

Get there:

The best places to begin and/or end your journey to Colombia would have to be the cities of Bogota and Cartagena. These are the two major international ports that service Avianca flights from all over South America and abroad. If possible, try to fly into one airport and out of the other. Then, depending on your preferred type of travel, head along the Chicamoya canyons to experience the best of Colombia’s natural scenery or through the Zona Cafetera, stopping along the countries biggest cities for a more urban experience.

Coming attractions: Cuba

The buzz about the end of the near 50-year U.S.-Cuba trade embargo is mounting and soon enough American will have the privilege of experiencing Cuba as tourists, like the rest of the world’s citizens have all along. Despite being just 100 miles off the coast of Florida, Cuba is figuratively worlds away from the familiar capitalist lifestyle we lead in the States. From its unique music to its unbelievably resilient and friendly people, this amazing country is certainly more than a coming attraction: it’s a must-see, and you should see it now (or soon) – before the country is Americanized beyond recognition, which it could very well be within ten years or perhaps less.

The first and most important distinction that must be made is that it is not illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba. It’s just illegal to spend money once you get there. It is true, though, that if you travel there you will inevitably spend money, so American tourists should seriously consider whether it is worth the risk in committing such a crime.

If you do decide to travel to Cuba, you are advised not to use your U.S.-based/issued bank or credit cards. That means bringing a big wad of cash and not losing it. Additionally, there is still a steep tax when converting U.S. traveler’s checks and dollars, so it’s best to bring Canadian money or Euros.
Many people believe that Cuba is a dangerous travel destination, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. There is very little crime in Cuba except for the large cities like Havana and Santiago de Cuba. Nearly everywhere you go, locals will go out of their way to help you – so much so that you need to be selective about who to ask for help. Of course, you should always have your wits about you, but travelers needn’t worry about serious crime.

With money and safety concerns settled, it’s time to hit the road and see what Cuba has to offer – and there’s plenty. Here are few highlights of the sights, sounds, and tastes of this beautiful island nation:

  • Havana: Most visitors to Cuba arrive in Havana, which is the perfect launching point for all the sights on the island. Most of the tourist-worthy sights in Havana are located in “Habana Vieja” (Old Havana). Walk along narrow cobblestone streets lined with a mixture of polished colonial buildings and dilapidated apartment complexes. Be sure to walk along the Malecon (the boardwalk) and have a drink at La Floridita, the bar that Hemingway made famous. And, of course, you must take in some salsa music at night in the hip Vedado neighborhood.
  • Trinidad: An 8-hour bus ride from Havana, Trinidad is Cuba’s colonial gem. The maze-like cobblestone streets lead to the Plaza Mayor, where shops skirt the main church and visitors and locals alike take in live music at the Casa de la Musica or open-air stage nearby.
  • Santiago de Cuba: A city with a strong Afro-Cuban history and presence, Santiago de Cuba was the sight for many Revolutionary events such as the historic July 26 attack on the Moncada barracks and Fidel’s victorious march into the Plaza de la Revolucion on January 1, 1959. In addition, Santiago boasts its own brand of salsa called “son,” which means steamy, sizzling nights are ahead of you in such well-known establishments as La Casa de la Trova or Casa de las Tradiciones.
  • Baracoa: This place is all about the outdoors and relaxation. With the enormous plateau called El Yunque, the UNESCO Natural World Heritage Site of Parque Nacional Alejandro de Humboldt, and beautiful Playa Maguana, there’s plenty of exploration and nature for every type of traveler.

To get a real taste of Cuba, I would highly suggest getting off the tourist trail by staying in a local home called a “casa particular” and dining at a “paladar” instead of a mainstream restaurant. Casas particulares are owned by Cuban families who pay a heavy tax to rent out a maximum of two rooms in their home. Staying at a casa particular instead of the larger hotels allows you to learn a great deal about Cuban family life. Similarly, paladares are a small restaurants inside residential homes. The owners of these eateries also pay a heavy tax to run their businesses from home. Most paladares are hard to find, so make sure you ask the locals where to go.

If you sleep and dine locally, you will certainly have more opportunities to have authentic interactions with the locals and learn more about their lifestyle. The hosts are eager to please you, their customer, and they’re equally interested in understanding where you come from and what life is like off their Cuban rock. Most of these families will never see the world outside of their island, so share what you can – or better yet, leave a gift behind for them as a symbol of your appreciation.

Getting there:

There are now direct flights to and from the U.S. and Cuba, but these flights are only offered to Americans on business or naturalized citizens who still have relatives in Cuba. For tourist travel information, offers a good Travelnomics: Calling on Cuba guide, which offers the most comprehensive information on air travel to Cuba.

Read my own travels in Cuba through Gadling’s Cuba Libre series HERE.

Read about Gadling’s other Coming Attractions HERE.