The 20 Best Places To Travel In 2021: Where To Go Next

Where do you want to travel in 2021? Every year, we look at the best places to visit in the coming year. Right now, it might seem inconceivable to think about traveling abroad, due to the global pandemic and travel restrictions that have closed the borders of many countries. But here’s the good news: Things are looking up for 2021. While many places around the world remain off-limits, more and more countries are beginning to open their doors, and they’re doing it with health and safety protocols in place—which bodes well for Americans who want to travel in 2021. Airlines and hotels are also doing their part to implement procedures that allow people to travel safely and confidently.

As a result, travel planners report that vacation bookings are on the rise, and according to travel insurance aggregator Squaremouth, 65% of trips for 2021 are to international destinations. Just ask Melissa Biggs Bradley, founder and CEO of boutique travel-planning company Indagare. “We are definitely seeing an uptick in trip-planning and requests right now for the holidays and into 2021, as well as far-flung international trips,” says Bradley. “Many of our members are planning trips for 2021 and 2022 because they know demand will be high in popular destinations eventually.”

Granted, as countries reopen, travel is going to look a lot different, thanks to new safety, testing and cleaning practices. But the new face of travel is also going to have a silver lining. Not only will once over-touristed destinations be less crowded, travelers will be opting for more isolated places. Experts predict that travelers will also be more thoughtful and responsible when it comes to where they are going and how they are approaching the whole travel experience. And travel companies will be more flexible than ever when it comes to allowing travelers to postpone or cancel trips when necessary.

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Of course, if you’re planning a trip anywhere before a coronavirus vaccine has been released, you should check travel restrictions for the destination you are hoping to visit and consider warnings from the State Department and the CDC. Travelers should also take precautions to keep themselves and others safe. But for naysayers who claim that it is irresponsible to do any kind of travel during a pandemic, consider this: The travel industry employs more than 98 million people around the globe, making up over 3% of all employment. So booking a trip actually helps support people and economies.

Take Africa, for instance. “Much of the continent relies on tourism for employment, conservation and efforts to save endangered animals, as well as to support entire communities,” says Bradley, who points out that because of the pandemic, thousands of rangers have lost their jobs, which means that “poaching is on the rise again.”

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With all this in mind, where should you travel in 2021 if you want to go beyond the U.S. borders? I turned to four women who run some of the most influential travel agencies in the country to see where their clients want to go in 2021—and what they have on their own radars. While some of these countries have borders that are currently closed, the hope is that by 2021, they will be welcoming Americans with open arms. And even if you decide not to plan a trip right now, these are definitely places you should put on your travel bucket list.

Meet the Experts

The Expert: Melissa Biggs Bradley is founder and CEO of Indagare, a members-only, boutique travel-planning company offering curated content and bespoke trips around passion points. From October 26-30, Indagare will be hosting a week-long virtual Future of Travel Summit, with industry insiders and thought leaders weighing in on what’s next in the Covid-travel landscape.

The Expert: Julie Danziger is cofounder and managing partner at Embark Beyond, a luxury travel advisory dedicated to creating thoughtfully designed experiences that go beyond a destination. The company recently launched Private Daycations, a solution for people yearning to explore but hesitant to spend the night away from home. Each Daycation comes with its own private jet for the day.

The Expert: Kimberly Wilson Wetty is the co-president and owner of Valerie Wilson Travel, which started as a one-woman business and is now one of the largest privately owned travel consulting firms in the United States. Renowned for her extensive travel expertise, Kimberly is a go-to expert whose lifelong motto is: “Explore with an open heart and an open mind.”

The Expert: Tania Swasbrook is the vice president at Travelworld International Group, a full-service luxury travel firm specializing in extraordinary experiences. Swasbrook—whose mother founded Travelworld in 1978—grew up in the travel industry. An avid traveler, Swasbrook has a particular passion for wellness, romance and adventure.

The 20 Best Places to Travel in 2021

Kenya 

Chosen By: Melissa Biggs Bradley of Indagare

Why: Kenya is always a classic and its landscapes are the definition of “wide-open,” which will make the country more appealing than ever during the time of social distancing. Throw in some stylish new hotel offerings and it’s no wonder Kenya is topping Indagare’s 2021 hot list. Bradley herself just got back from nearly three weeks in Kenya, which reopened its borders in August, and she plans to return in January with a small group. She says that she was impressed by the way the country is handling Covid, including rigorous testing requirements and temperature-taking practices. “I felt very safe,” she says. Another part of the appeal: “I was able to get into properties like Giraffe Manor in Nairobi, as well as normally impossible-to-book places in the bush, including Sasaab, Segera and Angama Mara.”

Don’t Miss: Diehard travelers might recall fashion designer Anna Trzebinski’s eco-chic safari lodge, Lemarti’s Camp, which closed a few years ago. Now, Trzebinski is back with a magical new retreat called Eden in Nairobi. “It combines Maasai and Samburu elements and traditions with her late husband’s art, her atelier and design collective and her one-of-a-kind style,” says Bradley. “It will be a game-changer and makes it possible to experience Nairobi in a new way.”

Costa Rica

Chosen By: Julie Danziger of Embark Beyond

Why: Costa Rica has maintained one of the lowest Covid-19 fatality rates in Latin America and its government has been recognized for its successful management and containment of the virus, so when the country reopens on November 1 to all Americans who meet the requirements, travelers will be able to return feeling a sense of confidence. Those looking to travel sustainably will also be pleased to see Costa Rica’s progress: This long-time global leader in conservation and sustainability that runs on 99.5% clean and renewable energy plans to achieve complete decarbonization by 2050. Costa Rica also recently became the first country in Central America to legalize same-sex marriage, demonstrating its commitment to welcoming all types of travelers. And besides its adventure offerings (canopy ziplining, surfing, whale watching), the country is enhancing its luxury offerings. “Luxury wasn’t a word associated with Costa Rica (aside from the Four Seasons),” says Danziger. “But now there are incredible, high-touch eco-lodges.”

Don’t Miss: One property that Danziger is excited about is Hacienda AltaGracia, part of the Auberge collection. “This place is just a gem—you can get in touch with nature without having to get out of touch with luxury,” she says. Other exciting openings include the new Nayara Tented Camp (a glamping lodge in Arenal Volcano National Park) and coming in 2021, Six Senses Papagayo (the company’s first resort in Central America) and Botánika Osa Peninsula, Curio Collection by Hilton (where guests can expect an immersive rainforest experience and world-class sport fishing).

British Virgin Islands

Chosen By: Kimberly Wilson Wetty of Valerie Wilson Travel

Why: The British Virgin Islands have always been a sailor’s paradise with pristine waters, secluded beaches, endless breathtaking scenery and 60-plus mountainous islands constantly visible on the horizon. With a December 1 reopening date to American travelers and prestigious new properties and private islands to rent, Wetty says that there’s never been a better time to take a socially distanced vacation in the BVI. “The BVI deserves to be seen again. After rebuilding from Hurricane Irma, the British Virgin Islands were ready for the limelight and then Covid. I can’t wait to see Rosewood Little Dix Bay. And a visit isn’t complete without a day sail and drink or two at the Soggy Dollar and so many other favorite Caribbean beach bars,” she says.

Don’t Miss: One of the most idyllic places in the British Virgin Islands is Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island, which is renowned for being incredibly eco-friendly. This year, Necker introduced three new wind turbines allowing the island to run off 80% renewable energy. In 2021, keep an eye out for the return of Saba Rock, an iconic island rest stop for sailors and yachties.

New Zealand

Chosen By: Tania Swasbrook of Travelworld International Group

Why: “Definitely on most people’s bucket list, New Zealand was one of the countries that has best dealt with Covid,” says Swasbrook, who has found that many travelers are not only ticking off their bucket lists right now, but they are also basing their travels on some kind of purpose, which also includes sustainable travel and being socially distant in nature. “New Zealand ticks off all of those boxes and holds plenty of appeal for its amazing outdoors and isolated escapes—which is why it is perfect for those traveling as soon as it opens up in 2021.”

Don’t Miss: Another lure, according to Swasbrook: “New Zealand is one of the only places in the world that you can experience all four seasons in one day.”

Paris

Chosen By: Melissa Biggs Bradley of Indagare

Why: Since Paris is off-limits right now, that leaves us dreaming and fantasizing about the City of Light–which may be why so many of us are watching Emily in Paris. The city is irresistible, and there’s no wonder Paris is the only destination that is getting its own spotlight during Indagare’s Future of Travel Summit. “There is definitely pent-up demand for Paris right now,” says Bradley. “We can’t wait to get back for brand-new hotels like Cheval Blanc (housed in the historic La Samaritaine) and neoclassical newcomer Hotel Particulier Villeroy in the 8th, with its 11 rooms, suites and apartments.”

Don’t Miss: “We can’t wait to head to the stylish boutiques we’ve been hearing about, like Marin Montagut’s charming jewel-box of a shop on rue Madame in the 6th, as well as ceramicist Marion Graux’s (by appointment) workshop, filled with her chic, understated pieces,” says Bradley.

Mexico Beyond the Beach

Chosen By: Julie Danziger of Embark Beyond

Why: Mexico was one of the first countries to reopen its borders to American travelers, and while the beaches remain popular (keep on reading), the heart of Mexico’s interior is also beating strong. Places to keep an eye on for 2021 include unique spots like the Yucatán’s capital city of Mérida—also known as the White City—which “is seeing a surge in hotel openings,” says Danziger. Mérida’s international airport is also doubling the capacity of its air terminal through important infrastructure improvements. Then there’s San Miguel de Allende, which was recently voted the best small city in the world by Condé Nast Traveler and which Danziger says is “a food lover’s paradise.” Moving into urban landscapes, there’s Mexico City. “It has seen a surge in recent years and this coming year is no different,” says Danziger. “The amazing food and culture is no secret, but the opportunities to explore neighboring towns and villages and fabulous hotels, of course, are really changing the landscape of this city.”

Don’t Miss: In San Miguel de Allende, Casa Adela was recently named to Travel + Leisure’s It List. Perched on a hill overlooking the valley, the eight-acre estate was originally crafted by artists and specializes in indulging, from hot-air balloon flights to soaking in the hot spring-fed outdoor pool.

Mexico On the Beach

Chosen By: Kimberly Wilson Wetty of Valerie Wilson Travel

Why: “Saltwater therapy might be just what the doctor ordered,” says Wetty. “From Cabo to Punta Mita to Mayakoba, the beaches are calling.” As the fastest growing destination in Mexico, Los Cabos—at the tip of the Baja Peninsula—continues to attract new and returning visitors, and airlines flying directly to Los Cabos will be offering more seats than ever in 2021. Punta Mita, a 1,500-acre resort and residential community in Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit, has announced several updates including a new vacation home rental program and a barefoot-chic surf club complete with rentals and instruction. In Mayakoba—an eco-sensitive development on the Riviera Maya—look for a $50 million expansion project at Banyan Tree Mayakoba that will include new beachfront pool villas as well as overwater villas perched above a crystal-clear lagoon.

Don’t Miss: Wetty says she can’t wait to visit the new Four Seasons Resorts Los Cabos at Costa Palmas—the first Four Seasons marina resort. On her radar on the Riviera Nayarit: One & Only Mandarina, which will have treehouses and clifftop villas on an undeveloped stretch of coastline where the jungle meets the beach. As for Mayakoba: “The Rosewood Mayakoba is often my home away from home,” says Wetty. “Can’t wait to return.”

Slovenia

Chosen By: Tania Swasbrook of Travelworld International Group

Why: “Located right next to Italy, Slovenia had been overlooked by tourists up until now,” says Swasbrook. But it’s a top destination for 2021, thanks to leading by example in areas like sustainable tourism: National Geographic recently named it the world’s most sustainable country and its capital, Ljubljana, is known as Europe’s Green Capital. “There’s no doubt that the climate change emergency has brought the topic of sustainable travel to the forefront of everyone’s minds and it has become a massive trend amongst travelers…especially now,” says Swasbrook. What’s also impressive is that Slovenia is a foodie heaven, being named “European Region of Gastronomy for 2021” with six of its restaurants awarded a total of seven Michelin stars in 2020. “Add to that, a focus on nature, gorgeous scenery and a great climate—it all makes Slovenia a place many will head to in 2021,” says Swasbrook.

Don’t Miss: Sleeping under the stars has become one of the most popular ways of vacationing in Slovenia, and acclaimed Michelin-starred restaurant Pikol has taken it to the next level by creating the country’s first floating glamping hotel: Pikol Lake Village, located among the vineyards of Vipava Valley. Another new glamping experience to check out: Glamping Resort Blaguš, a forest resort located near lake Blaguš that feels like waking up in a fairytale. And in spring 2021, keep an eye out for Grand Plaza Hotel, which will be opening its doors in Ljubljana with a restaurant that will offer amazing views of the city and surrounding nature.

Egypt

Chosen By: Melissa Biggs Bradley of Indagare

Why: According to Bradley, 2021 is the moment for Egypt, which reopened to Americans this summer. “Our Egypt classes were some of the most popular virtual travel classes in our Indagare Global Classroom and it’s not hard to see why,” she says. The country houses a third of all of the world’s antiquities and is home to the only remaining place in the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: the pyramids at Giza. Plus, the country represents a good value for travelers.

Don’t Miss: Officially the largest archaeological museum in the world, the long-awaited Grand Egyptian Museum will be fully open in 2021. Located close to the Great Pyramids, it will be filled with dazzling exhibitions, including one showcasing every artifact found in the tomb of King Tutankhamun. “It will be a destination in and of itself for anyone interested in ancient history,” says Bradley, who says that Indagare can help pull off the ultimate coup: private access to parts of the museum.

The Islands of Tahiti 

Chosen By: Kimberly Wilson Wetty of Valerie Wilson Travel

Why: “So many destination weddings, honeymoons and milestone celebrations were put on hold in 2020, so 2021 will be a year for celebrations. And what better place than French Polynesia,” says Wetty. The Islands of Tahiti is also a natural choice for any traveler seeking carefree vacation options, just an eight-hour flight direct from Los Angeles or San Francisco. With naturally pristine, remote and secluded beaches, the destination’s 118 South Pacific islands provide the perfect escape in this new era of travel. What’s more, Tahiti is welcoming all U.S. travelers, with no visa or quarantine period required. (Safety is ensured by pre-testing requirements for each traveler and a self-test that is provided to each traveler while in the destination.) The destination has also implemented a Common Cancellation Policy ensuring that travelers can have peace of mind if their trip is canceled due to border closures or positive test results. 

Don’t Miss: “Sexy overwater bungalows and fantastic water activities offer up the recipe to embrace the simple joys in life with family and friends,” says Wetty. Stay in an overwater villa for the ultimate in luxury (Sofitel Bora Bora Marara Beach Resort is undergoing renovations, slated to open in January 2021), plan your “workcation” in a spacious vacation rental from Tahiti Homes, sail to multiple islands on your own private catamaran with expert yacht charter companies such as The Moorings or connect with the culture—safely—at an authentic Tahitian Guesthouse

Rwanda

Chosen By: Julie Danziger of Embark Beyond

Why: With Covid-19 forcing the world to pause travel, many destinations have started to evaluate how they can manage travel more sustainably in the future. In Rwanda’s case, sustainable travel has been at the heart of everything it does and every tourism product that’s been developed dating back to 2005, when a program was established to help benefit communities near Rwanda’s national parks. Rwanda has done an incredible job of acting quickly to resume tourism activities with additional safety measures in order to protect not only travelers and locals, but also the endangered primates that inhabit their forests. According to Danziger, Rwanda appeals to travelers who have already discovered Africa and want to explore new regions. “It is also a destination that limits the number of visitors, so the fact that not just anyone can go adds to the excitement,” she says. Highlights include Gishwati Mukura National Park, which is undergoing a massive reforestation effort and plans to begin tourism operations (like primate trekking, birding, hiking and more) in future months. Next year will also bring Mantis Kivu Queen, a luxury houseboat cruising Lake Kivu.

Don’t Miss: New hotels are adding to Rwanda’s appeal, especially Singita’s Kwitonda Lodge on the edge of Volcanoes National Park. ”Singita has truly developed a name—once you stay at one you are hooked and need to hit them all,” says Danziger.

Qatar

Chosen By: Tania Swasbrook of Travelworld International Group

Why: An Arab country on the Arabian Sea, Qatar is known for its fascinating culture and its varied landscapes ranging from beaches to desert to the futuristic sky-scraping capital of Doha. “Qatar has a strategy to position itself as the region’s prime spot for travel, sustainable tourism and culture,” says Swasbrook. “Tourism has grown significantly and the FIFA World Cup will be hosted there in 2022.” The Middle Eastern country was also recently voted the number one safest country in the world and it has rolled out Qatar Clean, an initiative developed in response to the Covid-19 pandemic that ensures compliance with strict standards for hygiene and cleanliness at all hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions. The country’s airline is also helping attract travelers who previously just flew Qatar Airlines to get to other areas. “More and more we have seen people incorporate Qatar as part of their trip,” says Swasbrook.

Don’t Miss: Qatar was recently named the “richest country on earth,” partly due to all the glamorous hotels there—including big names like St. Regis, W, Park Hyatt and Ritz-Carlton. And there’s much more to come, with 112 properties under development.

Tunisia

Chosen By: Melissa Biggs Bradley of Indagare

Why: With landscapes ranging from southern desert expanses out of Star Wars to farmland up north, plus archeological sites, seaside villages and a buzzing scene in Tunis—complete with one of the world’s oldest medinas—Tunisia is perfect for travelers interested in history, culture and getting off the beaten path. Tunisia was already creating excitement with the Indagare staff before the pandemic began. “Simone Girner, our creative director, scouted in Tunisia before Covid,” says Bradley. “Now you’ll have the opportunity to experience an Arab nation that defies stereotypes before anyone else.” 

Don’t Miss: The luxury hotel group Anantara recently opened the Anantara Tozeur Resort, set at the gateway to the Sahara and offering easy access to a famous site from the original Star Wars movie, as well as plenty of one-of-a-kind experiences—from soaking in a hammam to dining under the stars, Berber-style.

Maldives

Chosen By: Julie Danziger of Embark Beyond

Why: “The Maldives isn’t a ‘new’ destination, but in 2021 we anticipate it being more popular than ever,” says Danziger. The reason? “Combine recent peace negotiations and incredible new hotels, along with the Maldives being the ultimate for seclusion, and it’s destined for a boom in 2021.” In addition to being a naturally socially distant getaway, the destination has enacted strict Covid procedures and all of the islands’ resorts and accommodations are taking precautions—and then some. Properties like lti Maafushivaru have introduced complimentary PCR testing, eliminating the need for guests to travel off property to a testing facility. Besides that, the Maldives is launching the world’s first destination loyalty program.

Don’t Miss: Danziger is a fan of Velaa, a private island that many will have their eye on for 2021. “It is not pretentious yet it is blow-your-mind wow,” she says. For those looking for a great value, Danziger suggests Niyama, which is “all about understated luxury and truly special.” Other 2021 openings to watch include Patina Maldives, designed by renowned Brazilian architect Marcio Kogan; Ekulhivaru, the first Ritz-Carlton Reserve property in the Maldives; and Centara Grand Muthaafushi Resort & Spa Maldives, which will have an underwater restaurant and a floating cinema.

Ireland

Chosen By: Kimberly Wilson Wetty of Valerie Wilson Travel

Why: “From the lush green countrysides to charming Irish pubs, perhaps a round or two of golf or whiskey, the luck of the Irish is wished upon us all,” says Wetty, who has added Ireland to her hit list for 2021. One of the best things about Ireland is that five stunning areas can be visited in a single trip, offering wonderfully different, yet authentic experiences that are both intimate and breathtaking. This includes the Wild Atlantic Way, a journey that stretches from the beaches in Donegal to the West Cork coastline; the captivating capital city of Dublin; Ireland’s Ancient East; the Hidden Heartlands; and Northern Ireland, with its wild landscapes and great stargazing.

Don’t Miss: In Dublin, The Shelbourne—which is home to the world’s only Genealogy Butler—recently reopened with a multi-million euro refurbishment by Guy Oliver that includes a renovated bar and new offerings like a D.I.Y. Spa Experience that allows guests to curate a personal spa treatment.

Puglia, Italy

Chosen By: Tania Swasbrook of Travelworld International Group

Why: “We saw a resurgence of clients going to Italy pre-Covid and it’s definitely going to be the case again in 2021,” says Swasbrook. “I have quite a few bookings for 2021 and a recent Google trend showed Italy as one of the top searches for ‘travel in 2021.’” Swasbrook says that even for clients who have traveled to Italy before, there is always a new area to visit, such as one of her new favorites—Puglia, which is at the tip of the boot and is known for its whitewashed towns and miles of captivating Mediterranean coast.

Don’t Miss: “Combine any historical sightseeing city with the gorgeous seaside resort of Borgo Egnazia for an amazing vacation,” says Swasbrook.

Antarctica

Chosen By: Melissa Biggs Bradley of Indagare

Why: According to Bradley, this is a phenomenal time to consider bucket-list trips, and one of her favorite locations is Antarctica. “We are excited to be running trips next year to explore the White Continent and already have sign-ups for one of our impact trips, which features biologists and glaciologists and environmentalists on-board throughout the expedition.”

Don’t Miss: Bradley is a big fan of the Ultramarine yacht, which she says is the most “state-of-the-art” expedition ship around. Indagare will be running trips on the ship, which is equipped with two twin-engine helicopters, spacious suites, a spa, sauna and even a polar boutique stocked with the best cold-weather expedition gear. 

Bodrum, Turkey

Chosen By: Julie Danziger of Embark Beyond

Why: With its deep turquoise waters and long beaches lined with tangerine trees, Bodrum has long been a vacation spot for ahead-of-the-curve jetsetters. Now, more travelers are discovering this Turkish Riviera beach town. “In the past, Bodrum has taken a backseat to Ibiza and more recently Hvar, but Bodrum is truly the new St. Tropez,” says Danziger. “We’ve been saying this for years and now, people are catching on. Bodrum is ready to take center stage.” Adding to its appeal is the fact that Turkey has opened its borders to Americans. Plus, it’s a destination where you’ll rarely spend time indoors, thanks to all the open-air restaurants, seaside bars and beachfront clubs.

Don’t Miss: Bodrum has several chic new hotels, including the Bodrum Edition, from Studio 54 founder Ian Schrager, where classical elements meet cutting-edge culture. Another thing Bodrum is known for are the traditional, wooden yachts called gulets. Rent one through the family-owned Zephyria Yachting and cruise along the beautiful Turkish Coast.

South Africa

Chosen By: Kimberly Wilson Wetty of Valerie Wilson Travel

Why: “The best of all worlds,” says Wetty. “Enjoy city life, vineyards and safari all in one trip. Nothing beats a trip to South Africa.” Travelers can head to the bustling hub of Cape Town for its dynamic food and design scene, experience historic sites in Johannesburg, try kite surfing on the coastline of the Indian and Atlantic oceans and experience the renowned safari camps of Kruger National Park.

Don’t Miss: One of the most anticipated hotel openings in South Africa is The Kruger Shalati: The Train on the Bridge. Permanently parked on a bridge in Kruger National Park, the new lodge will have 31 rooms made out of old train carriages high above the Sabie River. Another exciting opening along the border of Kruger National Park is The Ngala Treehouse, which offers a luxury treehouse escape for sleeping under the stars. Set to launch in 2021, The Rockefeller Hotel will be an urban oasis where guests can live, work and play in the center of Cape Town. Expect an on-site spa, a resident DJ and a rooftop pool with spectacular city vistas.

Greece

Chosen By: Tania Swasbrook of Travelworld International Group

Why: Greece is definitely a bucket-list country for history buffs, thanks to its classic and natural wonders. “From Athens to Santorini, there is something for everyone and going to Greece will get you a great mix,” says Swasbrook, who recommends going to Athens first for two or three nights with a stay at the Hotel Grande Bretagne. “Then you hit the islands—mixing it up with the gorgeous and scenic Santorini (with amazing beach clubs and restaurants) followed by the more active and fun island of Mykonos.”

Don’t Miss: On Santorini, Swasbrook loves Grace Hotel, an Auberge resort. Her choice for Mykonos: Bill & Coo Suites, “a glamorous boutique hotel.”

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