By Emma Johnson
2020 was, without a doubt, a year unlike any other for travel. The sudden global ou break of COVID-19 resulted in most trips being grounded to a rather abrupt halt, meaning we were forced to holiday closer to home this year. Although UK-based ‘staycations’ aren’t all that bad, I personally am looking forward to swapping the sights of English countryside for something a little more out-of-the-ordinary, whenever that might be. Now 2021 has sprung upon us, with this seeing the return of dreary winter skies and frosty mornings, our thoughts are no-doubt returning once more to dreams of glistening oceans, golden beaches and warmer climes.
So, whilst we last out national lockdowns, border restrictions and vaccine roll-outs, what could be better than some bucket-list-worthy travel inspiration to start daydreaming about? Here are some of our top choices of destinations for every traveller, perfect for kick-starting your 2021 plans and getting you through the rest of a very long winter!
For the eco-conscious traveller: Costa Rica
Imagine a country that’s one-quarter national park, a place where you could embark on a hike through the rainforest, climb a volcano and surf on glimmering waves before catching some rays on a tropical beach, all in one day. That place is Costa Rica. One of the first countries to begin eco-tourism in the 1970s, today Costa Rica remains a popular destination for those who want to stay closer to nature and live simply amongst the natural environment.
To keep your travels as eco-friendly as possible, don’t book through a tour operator (which are often based in countries like the UK), and stay in an eco-lodge, many of which are completely powered by renewable energy and are carbon-neutral. Support local businesses where you can, buy local produce and try to learn about Costa Rican culture whilst always respecting it. If you’re keen to contribute to the country’s conservation efforts, then volunteering your time at one of the many wildlife-focused projects is a great thing to do. Costa Rica is hugely biodiverse, with an amazing 2.5% of the Earth’s biodiversity squeezed into 0.001% of its surface area.
For the brave adventurer: Greenland
After the turbulent year that 2020 was, many of us long for a sense of true escapism in our 2021 travels, and dream of leaving behind the stresses of our daily lives to experience something completely new and adventurous. Greenland is the perfect destination for this – the world’s largest island, yet one of the most remote places on the planet, known for its icy fjords, powerful glaciers and impressive mountains.
For thrill-seekers, try guided ice treks to the Qooroq Icefjord, rock climbing up the peak of Nalumasortoq and dog-sledding in the winter months. In the summer, enjoy one of the many challenging hikes along the majestic fjords and amongst the world-famous flower valley. With 80% of its surface completely covered by ice, there is no shortage of adventurous pursuits to try, suitable for every traveller’s interests and budget, whatever time of year.
For the wildlife lover: The Cerrado, Brazil
Covering over 20% of Brazil, the Cerrado is the largest savanna region in South America and is located between the Amazon, Atlantic Forests and Pantanal. Home to approximately 5% of the Earth’s flora and fauna, with animal species including the jaguar, maned wolf, giant anteater, marsh deer and giant armadillo, and over 10,000 species of plant (with nearly half of these endemic to the region), the biodiversity of the Cerrado is certain to enthral anyone with an interest in wildlife.
In attempts to tackle the shocking rate of deforestation in the Cerrado, which are currently greater than that of the Amazon, many grass-roots tour operators have started to help fund wildlife conservation efforts, meaning visitors can contribute towards and educate themselves about the human-induced threats to the region and its wildlife. Do your research and make sure that your money is being put towards biodiversity protection before booking.
For the hiking enthusiast: Macchu Piccu and the Inca Trail, Peru:
If lockdown hikes in the English countryside had you craving something where the only scenery doesn’t compromise mostly of fields and sheep, then an expedition along Peru’s famous Inca Trail to Macchu Piccu could be exactly what you’re after. The Inca Trail is regarded as one of the best hikes in the world, with the most-well travelled ‘Classic’ route leading you on a 82km journey over approximately 4 days, towards the jewel of the Andes, Macchu Piccu, one of the Seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Walking the Inca trail also means you’ll travel through the breath-taking Inca ruins of Phyupatamarca and Llachtapata and trek through the dense cloud forest, making it truly a unique trip that should be on every keen hikers’ bucket list!
For the budget traveller: Budapest, Hungary
With affordable accommodation, food and drink and many free things to see and do, it’s no wonder that Budapest continues to be one of the most popular interrailing destinations. A number of the city’s most iconic sights are free to visit, including St. Stephen’s Basilica, the Fisherman’s Bastion and the Chain Bridge, with a free walking tour around the city the best way of making sure you’ve taken them all in. Budapest is certainly one of my favourite European cities for its amazing food scene – try the traditional street food in the Jewish Quarter and some of the local delicacies from the famous market hall and you won’t be disappointed.
For the stressed workaholic: The Greek Islands
If you’re anything like me, and just about now are beginning to feel the rising stress levels as a result of summative essays and a dissertation that won’t write itself, then perhaps you’re dreaming of the kind of holiday where you can just relax and let all of your stress go. A mini-break to the Med could be just what you’re after. If you’re looking for a location that’s more off-the-beaten-track, islands such as Ikaria or Lesvos offer tranquil turquoise waters and golden beaches without the crowds. – perfect for enjoying a cool ice tea, or even a cheeky cocktail or two.
For the foodie: Italy
Italy is a paradise for food lovers alike, and you’d be hard-pressed to find many people who would dispute the fact that the country has some of the best destinations for food in the whole world. Italian cuisine is about far more than just pasta and pizza however, with the country’s different regions all offering a hugely diverse range of local dishes and delicacies. In Milan, try the traditional Risotto, in Bologna, enjoy a large steaming bowl of Tortellini al Brodo, in Rome, be adventurous and try the Trapizzino (a popular street food pizza folded like a sandwich!), and wash it all down with ice-cold gelato in sunny Florence. – what could be better?
For the road-tripper: Slovenia
Slovenia is one of the undiscovered gems of Europe – with stunning mountain scenery to rival Switzerland and a coastline to rival Croatia. Hiring a car and embarking on your very own road-trip is the best way of getting around the country and ensuring you pack all there is to do and see into your trip. Start in Slovenia’s historic capital Ljubljana, before embarking on a scenic drive to the famous Lake Bled, set against the background of the Julien Alps.
If you’ve got the time, take a rowing boat across the crystal-clear waters, or hike up the hill to the majestic Bled Castle to enjoy the most impressive views. Continue your road trip along the Adriatic coast to visit Slovenia’s most famous cavern, Postojna Cave, which has been attracting tourists since 1819. Finish your road-trip by journeying to the UNESCO-listed Skocjan Caves, the largest in all of Europe, where you can admire the great underground canyon and impressive underground river.
Although it’s certain that travel is going to look different post-COVID, this may not be a bad thing. Cities that were once crowded and bustling will suddenly be enjoyable and tranquil again, though it is likely many travellers will pick for more isolated escapes off-the-beaten-track. For now however, whilst we wait, 2021 offers us a glimmer of hope that perhaps, sometime in the not-too-distant future, we might be able to start travelling again.
Illustrations: Isobel Warwick