Where to travel in 2023: The best destinations to visit
(CNN) — New year equals new outlook. Apply this formula liberally to travel planning in 2023.
After nearly three years of travel disruptions and complications, many countries have dropped most of their pandemic restrictions. People are traveling internationally in large numbers, and there’s plenty of pent-up demand to spread around the world.
The Points Guy managing editor Clint Henderson says that now is the best time to book your dream vacation because he expects prices for flights to international destinations to go up dramatically due to a spike in demand as more countries ease Covid restrictions.
Many travelers are charging full steam ahead into the new year — with good reason.
Here are 23 destination ideas from CNN Travel to get you started:
From the main square in Krakow, pictured, to forests, lakes and mountains, Poland invites exploration.
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So whether you fancy that Warsaw palace, a city break to the likes of Krakow, Gdansk, Wrocław or Poznań — all hundreds of miles from the Ukrainian border — or to get away from it all in the forests, lakes and mountains of the countryside — now’s your chance to do some good by taking a vacation. — Julia Buckley
A full solar eclipse will be visible in April in Exmouth, Western Australia. The landscape is worth a long look, too.
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But the state of Western Australia offers much more than some 60 seconds of wonder.
Mersey paradise: Liverpool.
England’s port city of Liverpool, best known around the world as the birthplace of The Beatles, is adding another chapter to its musical legacy.
Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston, a city of undeniable refined, historic beauty, is also looking more closely at its troubled past.
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Charleston parades its past like no other US city, but it often glossed over the history of its Black residents. It’s been taking steps to fix that.
To mark the milestone, there’s a yearlong program, including music festivals and exhibitions. But use the anniversary as a push to visit rather than following a program religiously.
Don’t miss the frothy bell tower of St. John’s church (you can climb it for sweeping city views) or the church of St. Casimir, topped by a giant crown. Got an eye for social media? This is Europe’s only capital city that allows hot air balloons to cruise over the city skyline. — JB
Scenes like this await visitors to Fiji.
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To learn about the local Indigenous communities, travelers can take part in a kava welcoming ceremony — named for the traditional drink at its center — or enjoy a lovo, a meal cooked by hot coals in an underground pit covered with banana leaves.
Fiji Airways now has direct flights from Los Angeles and San Francisco, making it relatively easy to get to the islands. As the Fijians say, bula! — LM
As the fate of the Amazon rainforest hangs in the balance, two eco-lodges around Manaus — the capital of Brazil’s Amazonas state, and gateway to the river — have used their pandemic pause to get even more environmentally friendly.
Guests can take long jungle hikes through territory home to jaguars, pumas and giant armadillos in what’s one of the Amazon region’s most remote hotel facilities, then spend the afternoon in a hammock or by the pool. For 2023, the lodge is planning overnight stays in a creekside tent for small groups.
Don’t miss Manaus itself — eating behemoth Amazonian fish outside the pink 1896 opera house is a bucket list experience. — JB
Enticing flavors, history and proximity to beaches and mountains are just a few factors working in this Greek city’s favor.
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Throw in a popular waterfront and proximity to beautiful beaches and inland mountains, Thessaloniki is surely a contender for one of Europe’s best city-break destinations.
What could make it even better? How about a gleaming new metro system? All being well, November 2023 should see the opening of the main line of an infrastructure megaproject that will eventually connect the city’s downtown to its international airport. Driverless trains will whisk passengers through tunnels whose excavation has added to Thessaloniki’s already rich catalog of archeological discoveries, many of which will be on display in specially created museum stations. — Barry Neild
It’s the first project outside Italy for Daniele Kihlgren, whose part-hotel, part-living history projects keep local tradition alive. A nonprofit delivering money straight to local communities, Sextantio will see guests fishing on the 1,000-square-mile lake, paddling in dug-out canoes, trying local banana beer and wildlife-spotting — and not just the chickens, cows, pigs and goats that roam around the property.
Of course, you’ll want to see gorillas. Adjoining Volcanoes National Park, the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund opened the 4,500-square meter Ellen DeGeneres Campus in 2022. Its visitor center includes exhibits, virtual reality gorilla “encounters” and nature trails.
Over in Akagera National Park, white rhinos — transferred from South Africa in 2021 to aid conservation — are already calving. It’s easier to get there, too. A new route from London joins Brussels, Dubai, Guangzhou and Mumbai as the only direct flights to Kigali from outside the African continent. — JB
Once a major trading and shipping town, Gothenburg is now considered to be one of the greenest destinations in Europe, with 274 square meters (2,950 square feet) of green space per citizen, while 95% of its hotels are certified as eco-friendly.
Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustav, who celebrates 50 years on the throne this year, will be in town on June 4, Gothenburg’s official birthday, and the city’s major anniversary festival is being held in the Frihamnen port district from June 2 to 5, with concerts and art events among the activities on offer.
The festivities will continue throughout the summer until the September 3 kick off of Göteborgsvarvet Marathon, a new 26-mile race following on from the city’s popular half marathon, which takes place on May 13. — Tamara Hardingham-Gill
Ras al-Khaimah, United Arab Emirates
The Dhayah Fort in Ras al-Khaimah is one of the few remaining hill forts in the United Arab Emirates.
When travelers think of the United Arab Emirates, the dazzling skyline of Dubai is usually what springs to mind.
Just 45 minutes from Dubai, it’s often called the “adventure Emirate,” and for good reason. Offering beaches, deserts and mountains, outdoor attractions abound, such as sand boarding, trekking, wakeboarding, skydiving, scuba diving and even the world’s longest zipline.
Three-tiered Kuang Si Falls is just south of UNESCO-listed Luang Prabang.
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Sharing borders with Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, China and Myanmar, landlocked Laos has long been a must-hit spot for time-rich travelers making their way through the Southeast Asia circuit.
You’re still going to have to make some hard choices — there’s a lot to see in Laos.
A modern Indigenous restaurant in Minneapolis has earned one of the culinary world’s highest honors, and it’s not alone in shining light on Native communities in the area.
While Colomia’s busy capital can be congested, it’s also home to the historic neighborhood of La Candelaria.
Caribbean coast destinations such as the Rosario archipelago or the UNESCO heritage list city of Cartagena are rightly top of most Colombia travel wish lists, but also deserving a look-in is the country’s somewhat unsung capital of Bogotá.
Yes, it’s a messy, traffic-snarled urban sprawl, but it’s also a high-altitude crucible of culture and cuisine. There are tours that chart the city’s transformation from graffiti wild west to incredible street art gallery.
Mustang Valley, Nepal
Famed for its mountain treks through ancient trails that once facilitated trade between the Himalayas and India, Nepal’s stunning Mustang Valley sits on the doorstep of Tibet.
In addition to trekking, Mustang visitors can explore ancient villages and Buddhist monasteries. Also not to be missed, the man-made Mustang Caves sit above the Gandaki River and are filled with 2,000-year-old Buddhist sculptures and paintings.
Getting to the Mustang Valley is part of the adventure. Travelers will need to take a 25-minute flight from capital Kathmandu to Pokhara then hop on another plane for the 20-minute journey to Jomsom. The views alone might make this option more pleasing to some than the alternative — a 12-hour drive from Kathmandu. — KC
From the spectacular wildlife to the beautiful national parks and beaches, Tanzania is absolutely bursting with visual splendor.
The East African country holds a seemingly endless list of incredible sights, with Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, UNESCO world heritage site Serengeti National Park, and the Zanzibar Archipelago, among its many highlights.
This year, flag carrier Air Tanzania will launch new routes to West and Central Africa, along with the UK, in a bid to transform the country’s largest airport in Dar es Salaam into a transport and logistics hub, while construction on the country’s first toll expressway is also scheduled to begin.
Meanwhile, the Delta Hotels by Marriott brand is making its Africa debut with the opening of its Dar es Salaam Oyster Bay property later this year. –– THG
Cairo is pulsing with life and a rich blend of cultures.
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While the Pyramids of Giza are the city’s tour-de-force, there’s still more to see. Start with Islamic Cairo. This area has one of the largest collections of historic Islamic architecture in the world. While there, visit the Al-Azhar mosque, which dates back to 970.
The city also has a rich Christian tradition. Coptic Cairo, part of Old Cairo, has a concentration of Christian sites that pre-date the arrival of Islam.
However, Naoshima is so much more than its famous yellow gourd or its works by Kusama.
There are five small, walkable “art islands” in the Seto Inland Sea, which is located between the main islands of Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku in southeastern Japan. The largest collection of things to see — not to mention the only hotel — is on Naoshima. Together, the five champion modern and contemporary art, with emphasis on Japanese artists.
Don’t come here expecting calligraphy and other classical forms. Instead, be awed by Tadao Ando’s massive stone monoliths, a tiny gallery where patrons can listen to nothing but the beats of human hearts, a makeshift thunderstorm created inside a wooden house and an exhibit where jumping in and taking a bath is intended to be part of the artistic experience. — LM
With direct flights to Belize City from about a dozen North American airports, this Central American country is a low-hassle hop for many travelers during the November to April high season.
Farther south, the Great Blue Hole — a massive underwater sinkhole — is an aquatic magnet for both scuba divers and aerial photographers.
But Belize offers way more than its enticing islands.
Lush rainforests, cave networks, winding rivers and rich Mayan archaeological sites invite exploration in a country that’s had an evolving sustainable tourism master plan since 2012. Ruins of the Mayan city of Altun Ha are just about an hour north of Belize City. Or farther west, Lamanai is one of Belize’s largest and most fascinating Mayan sites. — MH
Mexico is arguably as rich in culinary heritage as it is in Mesoamerican archaeological treasures, and Eva Longoria explores many distinctive flavors in her series “Searching for Mexico,” airing on CNN in 2023.
The state of Oaxaca, which Longoria visits, has an especially deep well of culinary traditions. Plus, Oaxaca produces most of the world’s mezcal.
Tlayudas, known as Oaxacan pizzas, are a street food staple. A large corn tortilla is typically layered with lard, beans, traditional Oaxacan cheese, pork and other toppings such as avocado and tomato. The state is also renowned for its seven mole sauces, with recipes that may call for dozens of ingredients from chiles and sesame seeds to chocolate and dried fruit.
In the city of Oaxaca, Mercado Benito Juárez is one of many markets across the state selling items such as dried chiles, fresh produce, handicrafts and crunchy grasshoppers. To sample the state’s increasingly popular beverage, the town of Santiago Matatlán is the place for mezcal distillery tours and tastings. — MH
In the winter, the frozen Rideau Canal in Ottawa becomes the world’s largest skaing rink.
It doesn’t have Montreal’s French flair or Toronto’s international oomph, so the Canadian capital can get overlooked. That would be a mistake. Graceful and understated, Ottawa has its own draws.
Treks through the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest are among Uganda’s highlights.
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There’s considerable change brewing in Uganda’s travel offerings at the moment with the East African country looking beyond the traditional staples of safari and wildlife spotting to appeal to both regional and international visitors.
And why not? From the expansive shores of Lake Victoria to the snowy Rwenzori Mountains, Uganda is a beautiful wilderness playground, with opportunities for adventure including treks through the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest or up to the craters of the Virunga volcano chain or whitewater rafting along the Victoria Nile.