Top Travel Destinations for 2020
Take Photos, Leave Footprints
By Scott Dicken
Top Travel Destinations for 2020
Why settle for socks in your Christmas stocking when you can give someone a travel experience to remember for a lifetime? Every year I feel a twinge of excitement when the world’s most famous travel guide publisher, Lonely Planet, releases its annual top ten countries to visit, and the 2020 list has just hit the streets. While their list is by no means scientifically generated, their top 10 destination picks reveal the buzz that countries are generating amongst the tourist industry and general public. But how is a savvy gift giver like yourself going to pick from those ten destinations? Without doubt, all ten are worthy of their place on the list, but I’ve chosen to highlight two countries that, despite their diminutive size, have a whole lot to give!
eSwatini (Lonely Planet Ranking Number 5)
eSwatini (formerly the Kingdom of Swaziland) may be extremely tiny and often overlooked by tourists, but what it lacks in size it certainly makes up for in its diversity of wildlife, scenery, and culture:
eSwatini is home to three major safari destinations: Milwane Wildlife Sanctuary, Hlane Royal National Park and Mkhaya Game Reserve. Both Hlane and Mkhaya are home to four (Lion, Elephant, Rhino, and Leopard) of the “Big Five” must-see animals on safari and draw tourists keen to experience a traditional big game safari. In the big game hubbub Hlane and Mkhava generate, the Milwane Game Reserve can often be overlooked. This small, but extremely picturesque sanctuary isn’t home to any dangerous carnivores, which means that visitors are free to mountain bike or even walk through the park! It’s certainly a unique and relaxing safari experience that shouldn’t be missed. From personal experience, I just suggest you exercise caution when mountain biking in the vicinity of Milwane’s hippos!
eSwatini plays host to some of the most dramatically diversified scenery the continent of Africa has to offer. From the ruggedly volcanic Lubombo Mountains, an 800km range that stretches along eSwatini’s eastern border, to eSwatini’s lowveld and fertile valleys, there’s something to appeal to even the most discerning of pallets. This scenic diversity supports a vast array of outdoor activities including a morning of soaring high above eSwatini’s gorges on a zipwire and an afternoon exploring deep beneath the surface of Southern Africa’s only subterranean granite cave system.
eSwatini is home to some of Africa’s most colorful, traditional and authentic ceremonies. If experiencing African culture unimpeded by the typical tourist trappings is of interest, then make sure you time your visit to experience Incwala. Held during the southern hemisphere’s summer solstice, Incwala is a Kingship ceremony shrouded in mysticism and centered on the monarchy. Lasting over a month, this age-old tradition is eSwatini’s most important cultural event and is one of the last remaining examples of traditional African ceremony; so much so that it requires total privacy from tourist interference or participation on certain days (so do plan accordingly).
Costa Rica (Lonely Planet Ranking Number 6)
Costa Rica accounts for a mere 0.03% of the earth’s surface, and yet it manages to pack an enormous 4% to 6% of the world’s biodiversity into that tiny patch of land. Undoubtedly, the highlight of a trip to Costa Rica is the chance to explore some of the best National Parks out there in one of the world’s finest eco-tourism destinations. Here are my three all-time favorites:
Highland Cloud Forests
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is located in Costa Rica’s Central Highlands. As its name suggests, it’s an area often descended upon by dense cloud cover, creating a unique and other-worldly setting for wildlife spotting. Think Jurassic Park without the T-Rex. It’s home to over 100 different mammal species including capuchin and howler monkeys, plenty of big cats including jaguar and puma as well as deer, tapir and the much-loved sloth. It also has 1,200 species of amphibians and reptiles, including venomous and non-venomous snakes, frogs and toads. The Monteverde forest’s walking trails include suspension bridges which allow you access to the forest canopy for a unique wildlife sighting opportunity high above the forest floor. For something even more exhilarating, you shouldn’t miss the canopy zip lines!
Tortuguero National Park offers the chance to feel like a true explorer. Only accessible by boat or light aircraft, this wetland park is a wonderland fringed by tropical rainforest and the Caribbean Sea. Swapping the trappings of modern tourism such as glamorous hotels, swanky restaurants, and tacky souvenir stands for a more ecofriendly vibe, the park has maintained its rugged, back-to-basics appeal. It offers the unique opportunity to spot wildlife by boat and foot that you might not have the chance to see elsewhere in Costa Rica. My personal highlight is visiting the green turtle nesting grounds at night by taking a small boat (kayak or canoe as well) along the park’s myriad canals. This nighttime excursion will also provide the exciting chance to spot caiman, American crocodiles and the elusive West Indian manatee.
Manuel Antonio is one of the smallest national parks in the country at only 16 square kilometers, but it packs a seriously big wildlife punch. You’re likely to see red-eyed tree frogs, iguanas, bats, monkeys (capuchin, howler and squirrel), coatimundi and raccoon. Its pristine beaches are also the start of a vibrant marine wildlife habitat that includes spotted dolphins, humpback whales, sea turtles and manta rays. Head out on one of the many boat tours on offer and you’ll be able to swim and snorkel to your heart’s content. It’s the perfect relaxing way to end a tour of Costa Rican paradise.
Looking more 2020 travel inspiration? Make sure to check out the rest of the Lonely Planet Top 10 destinations: Bhutan, England, North Macedonia, Aruba, the Netherlands, Liberia, Morocco and Uruguay – and don’t forget to check us out online at www.takephotosleavefootprints.com .