Back in vogue: this year's most surprising luxury travel destinations

By Michelle Johnson | 21 Feb 2019 | Travel

Discover the destinations that have beaten the odds to become 2019's top locations

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* Despite the incredible choice available, it’s Rwanda that’s proving the most exciting tip for 2019. The country’s three national parks – Nyungwe Forest, Akagera and Volcanoes – are designated conservation areas with a remarkable diversity of wildlife

When it comes to this year’s top luxury travel destinations, don’t expect to see the usual suspects on any expert’s list. While exclusivity has been the most steadfast trend of recent years, wealthy holidaymakers are now turning the tables and actively seeking out unique experiences in some very surprising locations.

Gone are the days where a traditional sunshine break involved plonking yourself down on a sunbed in your private ocean villa in the Maldives. Instead, a new wave of extraordinary global destinations is rising from the ashes in countries that, just a few short years ago, might have been considered a last resort at best.

And as travellers in the know are consistently demanding unique experiences from their holidays, these unexpected treasures are meeting the demand with world-class aplomb, combining five-star quality with a focus on community that allows guests to truly immerse themselves in these inspiring areas of rejuvenation, and discover these very special destinations anew.

Here, we put a spotlight on the most exciting – and surprising – destinations to add to your 2019 travel itinerary.

Colombia: into the wild

Exclusivity, privacy, opulence and adventure? A rising tide of experts are heading to a hitherto unexplored part of South America for bespoke escapes that tick every box. For 50 years, Colombia has been largely off limits due to civil war, which officially ended in 2016. But now its capital – the once-infamous Bogóta – is being tipped as the next city break destination. The Athens of South America, Bogóta boasts a historic old town, buzzing cafes and bars, and brilliant museums such as the Museo del Oro, which contains more than 34,000 pieces of pre-Hispanic gold.

But away from the city lights, this biodiverse country’s incredible venture into sustainability and eco-tourism is the reason it’s making headlines. In 2018, it launched a Partnership for Sustainable Growth with the UK to help tackle climate change, and expanded its official conservation policy to protect 109,000 sq miles of untouched Amazon Rainforest.

Colombia is on course to be one of the world’s first – and best – sustainable tourism hubs. As a result, a plethora of new eco-friendly lodges and guided safaris have become available, and it’s easy to see the appeal. The Colombian Amazon is home to a world record 1,826 species of birds, rare orchids, mammals, insects and more, making it an alluring escape for nature lovers.

One such lodge is boutique hotel Cannúa, an 18- room mountainside property in the protected forests of Antioquia, just 90 minutes from cultural capital Medellín. Opening in April, Cannúa promises its guests the ultimate in authentic local experiences.

“We have been committed to a holistic approach to sustainability in every aspect of Cannúa’s development, from its design and building principles to its social responsibility,” said Cannúa CEO Nathan Rodgers. “We are dedicated to the creation of economic and employment opportunities for the surrounding community and are planning to provide guests with opportunities to visit local ‘fincas’ ( farms) and experience the warmth and charm of the incredible people of Colombia first-hand.”

One of the best ways to traverse this unique country is via a private jet holiday, designed by the likes of Abercrombie & Kent, whose expert team specialises in organising experiential retreats on another level. >>

Related: Explore breathtaking culture and community with Ulagalla by Uga Escapes 

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* Colombia is on course to be one of the world’s first – and best – sustainable tourism hubs. As a result, a plethora of new eco-friendly lodges and guided safaris have become available, such as the boutique Cannúa

Rwanda: back to nature

Across Africa, big game spotting is reaping the rewards of a wild new makeover. While popularism and poaching threatened to make this traditional retreat a relic of times past, luxury safaris across the continent are now driving sustainability, conservation and community engagement, revitalising not just the safari adventure but the towns and villages that surround the reserves.

Despite the incredible choice available, it’s Rwanda that’s proving the most exciting tip for 2019. The country’s three national parks – Nyungwe Forest, Akagera and Volcanoes – are designated conservation areas with a remarkable diversity of wildlife, including giraffes, elephants, and chimpanzees. There’s also a growing population of lions, thanks to a pioneering reintroduction and breeding programme to combat the loss of Rwanda’s native big cats.

Most exciting of all, explorers can – permits permitting –trek the impressive Virunga Volcanoes alongside magnificent rare mountain gorillas. “Gorilla trekking is definitely the thing that puts Rwanda on travellers’ radars,” says Richard Butler, expedition leader at bespoke travel company TCS World Travel. “Watching these peaceful giants munch leaves, groom each other and play makes people realise how closely we are related.”

Another rewarding reason to travel to Rwanda is to experience the country’s remarkable rise from past tragedy. The country underwent an intense period of reconciliation and justice following civil war and the 1994 genocide, introducing a monthly day of service and a pledge to become a world leader for women’s empowerment – 30% of parliamentary seats are reserved for women, a figure that is routinely exceeded.

“The way Rwanda has bounced back is a bright light attracting travellers from around the globe,” says Butler. “The steps the country has taken to bring its citizens together, like the monthly day of service and women’s empowerment, are both uplifting and extraordinary.”

The Caribbean: a phoenix rises

If a beach break is more your speed, then a return to the Caribbean is long overdue. After a hard recovery from two Category 5 hurricanes in 2017, Irma and Maria, the region is working hard to let us know its back open for business for 2019.

What’s more, the extraordinary rebuilding efforts and support from across the globe has given these idyllic islands a new lease of life. It’s not just sun, sea and sand that visitors can enjoy, but a genuine sense of community at some of the world’s best resorts. >>

Related: The world’s first female master blender Joy Spence on the premium rum that is a true taste of Jamaica

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* In glamorous St Barth’s, Le Sereno has brought a stylishly cosmopolitan vibe to its own renovation and reopening in late 2018, allowing open-air architecture to let the island’s ocean views do the talking.

The award-winning Secret Bay in Dominica reopened its intimate resort in November, following restoration of six sustainable villas and the opening of a new yoga pavilion and a restaurant, Zing Zing. It has also reemphasised its pledge to hire local employees, purchase regional produce and support Caribbean artisans.

In glamorous St Barth’s, Le Sereno has brought a stylishly cosmopolitan vibe to its own renovation and reopening in late 2018, allowing open-air architecture to let the island’s ocean views do the talking. The small island is renowned as the Caribbean’s culinary capital and, says Sereno Hotels president Luis Contreras, its ongoing rebuild is a truly island-wide community effort.

“We are a small island and relations with our neighbours and the larger community are very important,” says Contreras. “The leadership shown by President Bruno Magras and the team from the local government was instrumental. I am sure that this leadership is also what made other entrepreneurs, hotels and businesses decide to reinvest to make the island even better than it was before Hurricane Irma.”

Egypt: a kingdom returns

One of the four cradles of civilisation, Egypt has always exuded glamour, intrigue and style to everyone from history buffs to Elizabeth Taylor fans. But since the Arab Spring and political revolution of 2011 this once traditional sunshine escape has seen a significant slump in tourism.

After seven years of instability, thanks to massive investment from government and hospitality groups, Cairo is back on the map and lighting up every expert’s wish list. Luxury tours of the North African country still visit such wonders of the world as the Great Pyramids of Giza and offer Pharoah-worthy Nile cruises with an Egyptologist on hand. More intriguing, though, is the regeneration of this ancient city itself.

This year will see the metropolitan capital celebrate a partial opening of the billion-dollar Grand Egyptian Museum, the world’s largest archaeological museum which will exhibit the full Tutankhamun collection for the first time in history, as well as using the latest virtual reality technology for other displays.

“This will be the museum of the 21st century,” says museum director general Tarek Tawfik. “To have a building that harmonises well with these pyramids and provides, for the next generation of young Egyptians, a place where they can really get to know the roots of the civilization of their history – this is something fantastic.”

Visitors can also be among the first to experience the new wave of luxury hotels opening in or near the city this year. The opulent Michael Graves-designed St Regis Cairo opens in 2019, as does Africa’s first ever Waldorf Astoria hotel, following an ambitious restoration programme.

If there’s a common thread among this year’s emerging luxury destinations it’s how, whether recovering from political upheaval or natural disaster, each has risen above previous difficulties. With luxury business investments and government pledges, many countries around the world are pulling ahead of the pack to explore what makes them unique and then sharing that with the world.

Whether they are leaders in sustainable travel or history and culture, these destinations are guaranteed to shake up the luxury travel market as they continue to make headlines – for all the right reasons.

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