Get your passport ready - there's lots of ground to cover in the next 12 months.
Today's fast-changing, hyper-globalised world has no shortage of incredible travel opportunities. This year, we've done all the legwork for you in rooting out the best, pinpointing the biggest hotel openings and cultural events of the year - along with the places you'll want to see now, before they change forever.
And because it's not enough to figure out where to go, we're also helping you decide when to plan each trip, according to hotel price data from Google and insights from our preferred destination specialists across the globe. The cheapest and most expensive times to go are rarely the best and worst.
So get your passport ready - there's lots of ground to cover in the next 12 months.
Leopards are some of the toughest cats to spot on an African safari; in Sri Lanka's Yala National Park, their abundance practically guarantees daily encounters.
And that's only one reason to go. Add to the list ruins that rival Angkor Wat and opportunities to see humpback and blue whales off the country's southern coast, and you'll wonder why so few tourists have caught on.
Chalk up Sri Lanka's short immigration lines to its lack of luxury hotel options - a void that Malik Fernando, founder and owner of Resplendent Ceylon, is hurrying to fill. Already, his first two properties have earned Relais & Chateaux distinction-one is on an old tea plantation in the highlands and the other is built on a jungle-shrouded cliff facing the Indian Ocean. His third project, Wild Coast Tented Lodge, opens this October, with 28 cocoon-like tents on a private beach near leopard-filled Yala; two additional hotels are on the way. It's the luxury travel circuit you didn't know you were waiting for.
: Late January. The weather is cool and the crowds are thin.
When not to go: June and July, when much of the country becomes inaccessible, thanks to nonstop rain and over-the-top heat swells.
Whom to call: Ashish Sanghrajka from Big Five Tours & Expeditions.
The Finns may be a modest lot, but they will have much to boast about in 2017. Helsinki is buzzing with the energy of the country's centennial: A grand hotel called the St. George will open this summer in a 19th-century landmark building, and a showstopping public sauna by Avanto Architects is stoking the flames of a longtime national obsession.
But the real excitement lies in Finnish Lapland, where adventurers on the hunt for "the next Iceland" can find the country's most magical experiences. Such dramatic arrivals as the ultra-mod
and the glass-domed
make plush spots to witness the Northern Lights, which are said to appear there 200 times a year. Luxe outfitter
is launching a private jet expedition to the area that includes an Arctic treasure hunt and ice track racing with champion drivers.
In 2017 Finland will celebrate its pristine natural environments - from its many islands and lakes to forests and peat lands - with elaborate parties in the wild to honor the nation's 100th year. Our top pick: a series of midsummer choral concerts in hidden crannies of the country's national parks, set to unfold simultaneously on Aug. 26.
When to go: June, for the amazing festivals, and July, for endless sunshine.
When not to go: January. The beautiful, snow-covered landscapes don't compensate for the bitter cold and 20-hour stretches of darkness.
Whom to call: Tom Marchant of Black Tomato.
Portugal's position in the pantheon of European tourism has shot from obscure to over the top, and Lisbon, the charm-packed capital, is poised to keep climbing. This year will see added airlift from Delta and United, along with tons of additional beds for discerning travellers to sleep in. (Keep an eye out for Verride Palace, opening in February, where almost all the rooms are suites and the outdoor pool is heated year-round.)
The city's arts scene is getting a much-needed injection, too. The paint has barely dried on the
, which won't be the new kid on the block for long. Soon it'll gain the company of the
(dedicated to Joe Berardo's art nouveau and art deco collections) and the
; both niche concepts will offer fascinating bodies of work.
Use your Lisbon trip as an excuse to explore the nearby Algarve region, which is also stepping up its game. That's where you'll find the new Cascade Wellness & Lifestyle Resort (with its own soccer school) and Europe's first Anantara hotel (with the brand's signature Thai spa). Bonus points if you make it to red-hot Porto, a newly crowned shopping destination that's soon to debut Time Out Market, the Portuguese food court of your dreams.
When to go: November through February. Warm weather during the winter is one reason to love its location in southern Europe.
When not to go: July to October. A dearth of luxe hotels means that snagging a decent room during high season can be a challenge. (But that's what Airbnb is for.)
Whom to call:Virginia Irurita of Made for Spain and Portugal.
By now, Myanmar might feel like old news. The gorgeously lush country, also known as Burma, opened up its borders in 2012 after half a century of political turmoil, catapulting to the top of bucket lists. Five years on, though, its romantic, historic cities have hit a sweet spot for travellers.
Gone are the days of paying for everything in crisp-as-linen US dollars; cash machines have finally become commonplace here, as have televisions, internet access, and mobile phones. Yangon's grande dame hotel, the
, has reclaimed its luster after a head-to-toe makeover, while small, locally owned B&Bs are blossoming into culture-packed boutique hotels. These days, you can even sail a colonial-style schooner to Myanmar's least-trod beaches. And the character of the place is as authentic as ever.
But travel operator Red Savannah's expert on Myanmar, Edward Granville, cautions that this golden period may be short-lived. "Like Eastern Europe in the 1990s, change is in the air," he said. A Novotel arrived last year, Hilton and Conrad are said to be planting flags, and an entire hillside in Inle Lake has been cleared for a mass-market hotel park. In other words: Go before the country reaches a tipping point. It may never be the same again.
When to go: October to March. The weather is cool and dry, the skies are clear, and the sunrises and sunsets downright epic.
When not to go: April to August. It's extremely hot in the buildup to monsoon season-and then extremely wet when the rains finally arrive.
Whom to call: Edward Granville of Red Savannah.
Malta has had few reasons to be in the spotlight since its historic Great Siege, a full 500 years ago. This year, the island nation has many.
After it was announced that Valletta would become the European Capital of Culture in 2018, abandoned Baroque townhouses in the port district became a hot commodity; now they're being reopened as small businesses and stylish inns. The city's Parliament and historic City Gate just got a makeover by starchitect Renzo Piano. And Strait Street, a one-time favorite place for knights to duel, is being redeveloped by the city's architect of the moment, Chris Briffa, who is converting a block of houses at the lower end of the street into bars, restaurants, and (it is hoped) an outdoor theater.
Given the traditional dearth of good hotel options in town, it's especially exciting news that the grande dame Hotel Phoenicia will be reopened in January after a tip-to-toe renovation; its foil, the ultra-sleek Iniala Harbour House, will open later in the year. And while developments like MUZA, Malta's Museum of Art, won't pop until 2018, this is truly the year to go. For one thing, it's still easy to walk in and grab a table at the excellent family-run tavernas you'll find on almost every street. Soon enough, it'll be reservations only.
When to go: Plan for spring, especially Easter, for a true taste of local traditions. Imagine dramatic processions and delicious almond-filled cakes (called figolla).
Worst: August. Aside from the intense heat, many shops may be closed.
Whom to call: Uri Harash of Perfetto Traveler.
In 2017, think beyond Machu Picchu to the Incan salt pans of Maras, the uncharted, snow-capped mountains of Veronica and Sawasiray, and the endless horizon of Lake Titicaca. Thanks to improved infrastructure (and trailblazing travel operators), these places are perhaps even easier to access than the so-called Lost City of the Incas - and with zero trace of the crowds.
The five-star Chilean adventure outfitter
, for instance, made its Peruvian debut with an architectural gem in the Sacred Valley last summer; it's now taking travellers on stunningly remote treks that feel like time warps into simpler times. For those who prefer exploring on two wheels, the luxe bike outfitter
is offering similarly off-the-beaten-path trips.
Adding to the buzz is Belmond, one of the original luxury hospitality brands in Peru, which will introduce South America's first luxury sleeper train in May, connecting Cusco to the traditional villages surrounding Lake Titicaca. It all fits in with new President Pablo Kuczynski's mission to expand tourism into Peru's pristine countryside - which may quickly modernise it, for better or for worse.
When to go: April, when the post-rainy season landscape is at its greenest and the summer travellers have yet to descend.
When not to go: February. The rains are at their worst, and this is a place to be outside.
Whom to call: Emmanuel Burgio of Blue Parallel.
For intrepid travellers, the question is not whether to visit Iran; it's how to get there before an influx of tourists taints the experience. This is no casual undertaking. The visa application process is lengthy and complex; citizens from the US, Canada, and the UK must be on escorted tours; and travellers have to abide by a government dress code.
Take our word for it, though. The hassle is worthwhile. Since 2015's historic nuclear deal was brokered, several companies have launched itineraries and major European airlines have resumed their flights.
On trips such as Cox and King's Heart of Persia, you'll get to roam the desert bazaar of Kerman, ogle Moorish palaces and mosaic-tiled mosques in Isfahan, and see ancient sites like the royal city of Persepolis, which dates to roughly 500 B.C. "These are the kinds of sites that you can't find elsewhere-and which, in places like Afghanistan and Syria, have been tragically destroyed," said Brian Allen, Asia specialist for Mountain Travel Sobek, which has been leading tours to Iran for four years.
Then there's the legendary Persian food and hospitality. "There is a cultural norm in Iran that guests are from God," Allen said. "I frequently hear people say they've been all over the world and never received a welcome like they got there."
As always, check your government's travel alerts website before going to a country that shares complex diplomatic relations with your own.
When to go: Late October or early November, when the climate is just right for outdoor sightseeing.
When not to go: Iranian holidays clog the streets with traffic, and Ramadan makes a trip extra-complicated; this year, avoid the last two weeks of March and the month of June.
Whom to call: George Morgan-Grenville of Red Savannah.
The Caribbean's ritziest island is showing its laid-back side this year, with several long-in-the-works openings set back from the posh Gustavia port.
Of the bunch,
is the most intimate, giving a French plantation house a vibe that skews more gypset-boho than buttoned-up. After a four-year-long, US$40 million renovation,
has put the focus on fun, barefoot luxury. It's on a private, 18-acre peninsula with 67 guest cottages, all done up in a riot of colors with teak floors that blend seamlessly with the lush landscape. And the old St. Barts Beach Hotel has given way to
, where the high/low lifestyle includes an option to take the house car to your preferred beach for no-fuss picnic lunches, with or without Champagne.
It gets even better the farther you get from the yacht crowd. Case in point: At the LVMH-owned Le Toiny, catch a jeep from the hotel in the hills to a pop-up restaurant on the sand. Dishes such as black truffle pasta and lobster linguini are ample proof that you don't have to be aboard the Seven Seas to live large in St. Barts.
When to go: May and June. Amazing weather without the high-season price tag.
When not to go: September, when everything is closed for hurricane season.
Whom to call: Marla Schaffer of Leaders in Travel, Ltd.
Wilderness Safaris is like the Tesla of African tourism. They're safari trailblazers at the top of their game, leading the industry in both conservation and community work and offering no-holds-barred luxury out in the field. So when the company announced it would move into Rwanda this year, Africa enthusiasts immediately took notice.
That's not to say Rwanda is hurting for tourism: It's one of the few places where you can go gorilla trekking, and a new joint-visa program with Kenya makes it easy to come here after a few days in iconic Masai Mara.
Still, Wilderness Safaris' Bisate Camp, which will debut in a secluded stretch of Volcanoes National Park in June, will make it easier than ever to spot silverbacks without sacrificing a single creature comfort. The complex comprises six dome-shaped forest villas, each designed to evoke a traditional Rwandan domicile; inside, you'll find 1,000 square feet of private space, all swathed in traditional local textiles and animal throws. Stay tuned for more: Wilderness already has plans to open a second lodge nearby in 2018.
When to go: Dry season spans from mid-December to early February. Hit the tail end, when early rains attract tons of gorillas and chimps.
When not to go: Gorilla treks are tough enough when the trails aren't covered in mud, so avoid the rainy stretches in the spring and late fall.
Whom to call: Cherri Briggs of Explore Africa.
After more than a decade of controversy and a budget that ballooned tenfold, Hamburg's Elbphilharmonie is now complete. The striking Herzog & de Meuron-designed performing arts complex-built out from a mid-century brick warehouse on the city's historic harbor-isn't just an eye-popping landmark, it's the symbolic crescendo for HafenStadt, a massive, new neighborhood that's been unfolding across 400 acres of unused docklands.