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New Horizons

Where is 2023 going to take you? To the lesser-known parts of the Silk Road? The jungles of South America? Or maybe an island paradise in the Philippines? We asked award-winning travel writers and editors what’s on their hit list for the year ahead


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Ian Belcher is a renowned travel writer and editor, traversing the globe for the likes of The Times for more than 20 years, and his must-visit for the year ahead takes him to Central Asia and the Silk Road.

‘Obviously there are great road trips around the world: across the Andes, America, Australia, but there’s some great mystique about the Silk Road,’ explains Ian. ‘Central Asia often gets neglected, but there’s the fabulous history, Islamic architecture, the sellers with their spices – many of whom have been there for generations.' And although many people would struggle to pinpoint the two countries on a map, the section between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan is one of the more spectacular road trips, taking you around some of Asia’s best kept secrets.

‘These countries sing with the sights and sounds of the spectacular Silk Road,’ says Ian. ‘Great mausoleums, exquisitely coruscant in cobalt and turquoise tiles, piles of vibrant spices and vast, awe-striking mountainscapes that climb into the horizon and the Himalaya. Despite a shared history, these neighbours are markedly different. While Uzbekistan blossomed as a cosmopolitan hub of culture and wealth from Silk Road commerce, Kyrgyzstan’s primal wilderness of summits and steppes remains relatively untouched.’ And it’s this sense of unexplored territory that is so seductive. ‘It’s definitely a bucket-list trip for me,’ says Ian. ‘Years ago, I was part of a trip celebrating the one-millionth Land Rover to roll off the production line, by driving from Birmingham to Beijing. I did the Central Asia part of that drive, which gave me a taste, but I’d like to do it properly.

‘In Uzbekistan the big draw is the history and culture,’ he continues. ‘You’ve got the iconic old cities of Khiva, Bukhara and Samarkand, which you’ll often see in pictures. Khiva is a brilliant place to start, with its incredible tiling and old streets with buildings made of mud. Samarkand’s Rukhobad and Bibi Khanym mausoleums are remarkable pieces of architecture, with exquisite domes and minarets. You get tiling in many parts of the world but the tiled architecture on the Silk Road is something else.’

Add in Kyrgyzstan, and the trip goes next level. ‘You’ve got the Tian Shan Mountains – over 7,400m at their highest – and towards China you reach Lake Issyk-Kul.’ And it isn’t just the scenery that’s incredible, he explains. ‘It was all part of the USSR until 1989, when the Empire collapsed, so there are bits of old propaganda: architecture, old rusting signs, rockets from the space race… In fact, you could call it a trip of empires.

You’ve got the Islamic history, culture and sites, then the old Soviet era. It’s the contrast of the two that makes it all the more interesting. It’s not a conventional trip; you have to work quite hard, but it will be very rewarding.’


The Daily Mail’s travel editor Mark Palmer has spent more than three decades visiting the world’s most exotic locations, and for him bucket-list destinations don’t come much more intriguing than Sri Lanka, with a wealth of fascinating history and incredible cuisine.

Sri Lanka has a bit of everything,’ says Mark. ‘It’s got a lot of history, the great sights in the north, a wonderful coast, a thriving capital. Then there’s Galle in the south, which is just an extraordinary place – actually quite chi-chi and sort of western in many ways.’

Sri Lanka falls into the Indian Ocean like a jewel-drop, a prize pendant off India’s south-east coast. The small island nation is often conflated with its vast neighbour, but it overflows with its own diverse culture, languages, ethnicities and history. Once a major trading hub and part of the ancient Silk Road, Sri Lanka saw the coming and going of colonisers and comrades for centuries. Colombo, its largest city, retains an element of old marketplace dynamism and modern, merry chaos. Heading out from the city, the landscape lifts and lowers into a mountainous interior, blue-white beaches and elephant-fat forests and scrublands. Its troubled past means many have yet to see its brimming shores, but there’s never been a better time to visit.

‘I really enjoy going somewhere where there’s a slight backdrop of intrigue and even political scandal,’ explains Mark. ‘The people of Sri Lanka have been through so much in the past 20 to 30 years. First, with the civil war, then the tsunami that devastated the west coast. We haven’t been able to go to Sri Lanka, but now I would love to go back to see what its people are experiencing.

‘Whenever you travel,’ he continues, ‘to know something about the culture and politics of that country makes it all the more fascinating. It’s a good excuse to find out more about the history of a place. It means you can have a more interesting conversation – and that lends itself to a richer experience. It’s also important as a tourist coming from the relatively affluent UK, despite our issues, to know you’re contributing and helping people to live their lives.’

For Mark, revisiting Sri Lanka will mean trying to truly get under the skin of what makes it unique. ‘I’ve done the main sites so I’d like to go a bit more off-beat and try to get the feel of what is actually going on in Sri Lanka at the moment,’ he says. ‘What are people thinking about the future? I haven’t been to the war-torn north, so I would love to experience that.

‘Also, there are so few tourists now, you can go to theseplaces and feel you’ve almost got it to yourself. Consequently, some of the hotels have been offering some amazing deals, so I think it’s a really great time to go.’

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Author and travel writer Mary Novakovich wants to go back to nature in the year ahead, immersing herself in the wonders of Costa Rica.

‘I love the wildlife and the landscapes,’ says Mary of Costa Rica. ‘I also love the contrast across the continental divide, from jungle and rainforest to a land where everything is so completely bone-dry. It’s such a tiny country but with so many different environmental zones. I went to Costa Rica in 2005 and fell in love with everything about it, but now I want to see more.’

If Costa Rica had a catchphrase, it would be pura vida – pure life. The motto falls so readily from locals’ lips that it’s as if the whole country is under the self-fulfilling spell. With laidback warmth and an ever-easy welcome, Costa Ricans (Ticos) form a large part of the country’s monumental charm. But the Central American nation is best known for its unparalleled nature – funnelled between the Pacific and the Caribbean, Costa Rica is a tale of two coastlines with a world of national parks in between. Expect misty cloud forests, marine parks and turtle sanctuaries, with scarlet macaws, four species of
monkey and lolling sloths being just some of the residents.

‘I loved all the wildlife,’ says Mary. ‘Walking through the rainforest and having to dodge howler monkeys sitting up above, seeing spider monkeys, just watching a coati crossing the road and the experience of having a tarantula in your hand.

‘I really wanted to see the Arenal Volcano,’ she continues, ‘which, for the entire three days I was staying there, was completely covered in fog.
On the last morning, the fog lifted just enough to see the furthest edges of the volcano – and that was it. So I really want to go back and see Arenal
properly, and I’d also like to do some hiking when I’m not completely drenched! When I was hiking the neighbouring volcano, it was just chucking it down with rain and it was really hard going.’

The Caribbean coast is also on Mary’s hit list. ‘I didn’t get there last time, so I absolutely have to do that,’ she says. ‘And I’ve also been taken with the idea of Tortuguero National Park, which has much more of a tropical feel to it. I want to go to Tortuguero and lose myself in one of those lovely waterside lodges and just mess about on boats.’ And discovering how much the country has changed since her last visit is also part of the attraction. ‘I’m curious to see what’s happened for Costa Rica in these past 18 years,’ says Mary. ‘How tourism has evolved – I’d like to see what parts have developed in a positive way.’

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Connor McGovern, commissioning editor at Telegraph Travel, is all about the islands.

‘The Philippines has this wealth of islands that are like something on a postcard,’ says Connor. ‘The colour of the water, the rainforest, the beaches look out of this world. That alone is an appeal. Plus I don’t know many people who’ve actually been – I think somewhere else always pops up sooner.’

The Philippines’ 7,640 islands daub the western Pacific like a Pollock painting. Resplendent green islets and beryl-coloured bays are the biggest draws, but the country teems with adventure, culture and nature. Centuries of indigenous trade and colonial influence have made this East Asian nation fiercely unique, reflected in Filipino architecture, religion, arts and cuisine. Beyond the beaches, you’ll find belching volcanoes, neon megacities, vibrant festivals, fascinating palaeontology and some of the highest biodiversity on the planet. With over 300,000sq km to island-hop, the Philippines offers travellers true tailor-made trips.

‘I was planning to go in 2020, but the pandemic happened before I had a chance,’ explains Connor. ‘I haven’t quite narrowed down which islands to visit, but Boracay is one of the big-hitters and its beaches are always on the lists of best in the world. The lesser-known parts are interesting too – like El Nido on Palawan. Then I’m keen to have a couple of nights in Manila to explore the markets, churches and Spanish-era architecture.’

The pull of the wild is also strong. ‘I find the bird life in that part of the world incredible,’ he says. ‘The variety you see in the wild and in sanctuaries is quite special, so I’m keen to do a hike into the forest and along the rivers.

‘Surfing is another thing – I’d love to learn,’ he continues. ‘I don’t think I’d be very good, but I figure if I’m going to learn anywhere, I would do so in the Philippines. It’s got a big surfing culture, with cafés and juice bars and markets along the seafront. I’d love to go and learn in a place where the whole community is based around the beach and the surfing hotspots.’

Then, of course, there’s the food. ‘It’s not a cuisine you hear about very much,’ he says. ‘Filipino food hasn’t had its moment on London’s restaurant scene, but it’s interesting because it has Portuguese, Spanish, Chinese, American and Malay influences and I don’t think there’s anywhere quite like it. You see a lot of similarities with Spanish cuisine, with roasted pigs and beef, tomatoes and lots of vinegar. I’d be keen to try out the seafood broths, steamed meat in banana leaves, meat stewed in tarts… Send me now!’

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A writer, videographer and founder of eco travel site, Richard Hammond is drawn to the extraordinary wildlife, spectacular virgin rainforest and local communities of Guyana in South America for this year’s standout destination.

‘It’s the wildlife I want to see,’ says Richard. ‘I’ve heard it’s possible to spot jaguar, giant river otter, black caiman and eagle among the virgin rainforest in Guyana – it’s conservation in action that’s benefiting from grassroots enterprise.’

Guyana’s deep green mass looks as if it nuzzled its way into South America’s northern coast. Squeezed between Venezuela, Suriname and Brazil’s great bulk, it claims prime Caribbean coastline before spreading south into ancient Amazonian jungle. A former British colony, Guyana is the only South American country where English remains the national language – with a patchwork of Creole, Spanish and Portuguese thrown in. Its nascent tourism,
unbridled wilderness and ecological initiatives have tipped Guyana as the big adventure destination for 2023. With new direct flights from the UK to its colourful capital, Georgetown, starting in spring, this extraordinary country has never felt closer.

‘You get this sense of Guyana being very different from the rest of the continent – it has such a mix of influences,’ says Richard. ‘With many destinations there’s a sense of familiarity – you can roughly say what sort of experience you’re going to have – but with Guyana there’s a surprise element.’ This sense of the unknown is key for Richard. ‘One of the best aspects of travel is spontaneity,’ he says. ‘Some of the best experiences I’ve had are when events haven’t gone to plan but it turned out better than intended. Guyana feels like a place open to spontaneity – I almost don’t want to know too much before I go so I can experience it anew, afresh.’

Understanding local culture is also important. ‘I want to stay in a community-based eco lodge (such as Caiman House and Surama Eco-Lodge) run and owned by indigenous communities, who are being encouraged to show small groups of visitors their ancestral lands,’ he says. ‘It’s still difficult to find community-based tourism enterprises that properly help the people and locality. Guyana has a bottom-up approach – trying to put community benefit first, then build up and bring tourists in based on that idea.’

And even though there’s a flight involved, he’s still looking into the impact he’ll be having. ‘In my role, I tend to focus on places you don’t reach by flying because I think we’ve got to be less casual with how we fly these days. If you’re going to fly, it should benefit the destination. In Guyana, your trip benefits locals, biodiversity, wildlife and nature conservation, and those aims are a really strong reason to fly. You’ve got to make your flight count.’

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Award-winning writer and photographer Jamie Lafferty is based in Glasgow, but his work has been seen everywhere from the The New York Times to the Financial Times. His adventure of choice takes us to the rarely heralded East Timor.

I’ve never been to East Timor,’ says Jamie. ‘It’s one of the four eastern Asian countries I’ve not been to and it looks exceptionally beautiful. There’s indigenous culture, brilliant wildlife, incredible landscapes – but 2023 has a particular draw for me.’

East Timor floats at the edge of Asia’s colossal sprawl, some 500km north of Western Australia’s remote coast. Also known as Timor-Leste (both names meaning the tautological ‘East East’), this small nation is little bigger than Northern Ireland. To say it shares the slim island of Timor with Indonesia glosses over a protracted, bloody past. Portuguese colonial rule was immediately followed by Indonesian invasion and decades of atrocities that lasted until 1999. Now tourism is slowly blossoming along its wild white beaches, which give way to pinched peaks and folds of dark forests hiding geothermal springs, traditional villages and hikes up to Mt Ramelau’s extraordinary outlook. There’s also unparalleled, unspoiled snorkelling and diving at Atauro Island, which has the highest diversity of reef fish and coral species on earth.

This year, however, the focus isn’t on East Timor’s sea or land but its skies, as 2023 brings celestial events to its shores. ‘In 2020 I was in Chile and I got to see a total eclipse and witnessing it was probably the most profound experience of my life,’ says Jamie. ‘Since then, I’ve become something of an umbraphile – I’m very interested in eclipses and where they might be and their incredible predictability. They’re weirdly, madly predictable, for thousands of years past and future.’

And in April 2023, there’s one running across Western Australia and up to East Timor. ‘I would hope the crowds for the eclipse would be significantly reduced in East Timor, compared with Western Australia, and travelling there is regarded as safe now by the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office,’ explains Jamie. ‘When I was an adolescent there was a huge, protracted and horrendous civil war in East Timor. And I think that for anyone who knows the name – and plenty of people just don’t know it exists – the main word association with East Timor is that horrible violence. So I think it would be better to go somewhere that needs a bit of a boost for tourism.

‘But also eclipses tend to stir up big thoughts, and I think that to go somewhere like that and see something serene and beautiful and perfect, having known there was awfulness there, would be a very nice way to spend a day or a week.’

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