With the arrival of a COVID-19 vaccine and—FINALLY—a much-anticipated handle on this virus that has caused such global upset, countries around the world are reopening their borders and welcoming international travellers. And while some may be hesitant to venture forth so soon after such a catastrophic 2020, many are saying 2021 may be the best possible year for travel.
Why? Well, think of all those previously terribly congested tourist attractions and in-demand restaurants and hotels: wide open! With the world only just getting back on its feet, now is the time to plan those travels and make the most of those special deals and discounts and relative quiet.
Previously, in Part 1 of this three-part blog series on the best travel destinations in 2021, we took readers on an exploration of six different countries/cities: Costa Rica, Kenya, New Zealand, Mexico, Slovenia, and, our very own backyard, Cape Town, South Africa. Now, in Part 2, we’re going to travel to Qatar in the Middle East, Puglia (Italy), the Islands of Tahiti, Ireland, Rwanda, and Greece.
Located on a peninsula jutting out into the Arabian Sea, Qatar sits like a veritable jewel of futuristic skyscrapers and ultramodern architecture on the shimmering shores of the Persian Gulf, where desert meets sea. Here, an abundance of wealth is ostentatiously splashed out on the design of buildings that seem to come straight out of a science fiction movie set one century in the future.
But, side-by-side with this modernity are vestiges of a truly ancient culture, which are evident in the citywide songs of the Imam (prayer leader), the fragrant souks (marketplaces), and the Islamic design of many of its heritage buildings. Qatar was also recently voted the number one safest country in the world, which may come as a relief to anyone unsure of travelling to a destination such as the Middle East, which perpetually finds itself in global news headlines (and usually for all the wrong reasons).
So, what is there to do in Qatar? Being the wealthiest country on Earth, there is no shortage of glamor to be found here: glitzy hotels, restaurants, bars, nightclubs, and resorts. You can meander through Souk Wakif, Doha’s ancient marketplace, or walk along the Doha Corniche, waterfront promenade. Then there’s dune bashing, the Museum of Islamic art, a visit to Al Zubarah Fort and the abandoned village, and so much more!
If our words don’t do Puglia justice, the above photo certainly will! Although Italy was amongst the first countries hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a resurgence of tourism here, quite simply because it is so irresistibly beautiful! Puglia perches at the heel of the “boot” of Italy and is known for its twinkling whitewashed hill towns and hundreds of kilometres of stunning Mediterranean coastline.
Here, there is historical sightseeing to do, gorgeous seaside resorts to steep yourself in, olive groves to meander through, and a rather romantic tradition of wine-making to explore. The capital Bari is a colourful and energetic university town; Alberobello and the Itria Valley are home to gorgeous, distinctive stone huts with conical roofs; and Lecce, with its baroque architecture, is known as the “Florence of the South”.
Being southern Italy, food is a key attraction in Puglia too; so don’t expect to honour any kind of diet (unless it’s a “see-food” diet: you see it, you eat it).
The Islands of Tahiti
If one were to call up a picture of your archetypical island paradise, complete with palm-fringed beaches, turquoise water, and tropical climate, the island of Tahiti would be it: the largest islands in French Polynesia, an archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean. Tahiti is divided into two islands: Tahiti Nui (the larger, western section) and Tahiti Iti (the eastern peninsula) and boasts all kinds of exciting attractions like black-sand beaches, lagoons, overwater accommodations, extinct volcanoes, sailing, and waterfalls embraced by thick jungle.
The nice thing about the islands of Tahiti and the greater French Polynesia (there are 118 South Pacific islands) is that they offer visitors so much remote coastline and so many secluded beaches that safe, social distancing is effortless. They’re also pretty good about pre-testing each traveller for COVID-19 and have implemented a “Common Cancellation Policy” so, if your trip is cancelled, you don’t have to worry about losing your money.
Home to Guinness, rolling green countryside, Irish whiskey, dramatic Atlantic Ocean cliffs, and charming Irish pubs, Ireland is, for visitors, the whole package: history, natural beauty, gastronomy, and great drink!
Ireland is a North Atlantic island separated from Great Britain by the North Channel, the Irish Sea, and St George's Channel. Given its size, one of the Emerald Isle’s greatest draw cards is that you can take in five, breath-takingly beautiful yet totally different regions in a single trip, giving you a really diverse yet authentic experience.
Explore the Wild Atlantic Way, which stretches from the West Cork coastline to the beaches in Donegal; the Hidden Heartlands; Ireland’s Ancient East; the beguiling capital city of Dublin; and Northern Ireland, with its wild landscapes and opportunities for stargazing.
Sustainable, safe travel has been at the forefront of Rwanda’s tourism efforts since 2005, when the program to help communities near Rwanda's national parks was established. So, with the world tentatively emerging from COVID-19, Rwanda has responded swiftly in an effort to resume tourism activities with an emphasis on safety, not only to protect locals and visitors, but also its indigenous and severely threatened populations of primates.
Located in the lush, volcanically active Great Rift Valley of East Africa, Rwanda is a destination for tourists whose fascination in Africa extends beyond the typical luxury safari experience. It’s most famous attraction are hikes deep into its rainforests to spot rare, shy birds, and families of gorillas, and it’s the strict limit on tourist numbers that makes these experiences both intimate and safe (from a COVID-19 perspective).
The prospect of travelling to Greece brings to mind the famous cliffs of Santorini, where whitewashed cottages cling to the hillsides, overlooking the glittering Aegean Sea below. But there’s a lot more to this country than these postcard images (although they, in themselves, are enough to convince one to go). For example: there’s Athens, the capital city, which is home to many of Greece’s iconic and historic monuments and landmarks, including the 5th Century B.C. Acropolis citadel with the Parthenon temple.
Greece actually consists of thousands of islands, which are scattered throughout the Aegean and Ionian seas like jewels. In ancient times, Greece was a place of enormous influence, giving rise to the disciplines of philosophy, mathematics, and democratic government. Its contributions to humankind are, in fact, what has credited Greece as being the cradle of Western civilization!
Stay tuned for Part 3 in February 2021
Next month, we take a look at a final six gorgeous bucket-list destinations to explore in 2021, so stay tuned for Part 3!