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Destinations to Watch in 2013

Article Summary:

Ecuador, Panama, and Mexico receive top honors on “Conde Nast Traveller’s destinations to watch in 2013″ list.

Photo Credit: Conde Nast

Original Article Text From Conde Nast Traveller:

Destinations to watch in 2013

No longer just a place where ships pass in the night, Panama is the cool Caribbean destination of the moment. There is great change afoot; and it will continue to change over the next few years, with interesting developments that will ensure it becomes known for more than its legendary canal.

Not least of these developments is Frank Gehry’s Museum of Biodiversity, already having something of a Bilbao Effect. It is as striking as the Guggenheim, with trademark shimmering waves in as many colours as the tropical fish that swim through the Panama Canal from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea.

A few miles off-shore, the private, sustainably-developed Pearl Island will open, surrounded by gloriously turquoise waters with 14 private beaches and a handful of lodges to stay in and also to buy.

Downtown in Panama City you’ll find sleek big-hitters to stay in, like The Bristol, Trump Tower (with fabulous rooftop views) and the coming-soon Grace Panama. While in the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Casco Antigua there are cute little hotels in the old colonial buildings, and the whole neighbourhood is bumping and grinding away to dance-of-the-moment, reggaeton. Go now, sink a seco or two, and join them.

At El Otro Lado, a bonkers waterside Design Hotel in the jungle with brightly coloured interiors and fantastic food..

Assuming that the world does not come to an end on 21 December 2012, as the Mayan calendar foretells, the Mayan Riviera is set for a bounteous year in 2013.

On the eastern tip of Mexico, way out in the Caribbean Sea, the Mayan Riviera was until recently a playground for America’s rich and famous with hippy leanings at weekends. But new direct flights with BA and Virgin from London to Cancun make Mexico’s Caribbean coast accessible (as little as 10 hours) for UK players, too. And a smattering of new rustic-chic little properties which have opened around Tulum make great places to stay for discerning travellers seeking barefoot luxury.

The vibe is deliberately hippy-chic, lo-fi by day and up-tempo at night. Design Hotels’ first own hotel, Papaya Playa Project popped up on the sand at Tulum at the start of 2012, transforming raw-wood huts from basic to boho, mixing ethnic textiles and raw food with high-threadcount sheets and disco balls swinging from the palm trees. Amansala Chica has just opened with a similar feel: driftwood furniture, yoga on the rooftop, more than a faint whiff of incense in the air.

Papaya even launched its own ‘pop-up ashram’ for those who want to ‘dip a toe’ into spirituality. And if you think spirituality can’t be dabbled in, ask the Hollywood stars who come here to salute the sun, people-spot in the restaurants (the best of which is Hartwood, set up by a New Yorker), then groove and knock back margaritas at full-moon parties with the best DJs from Miami and Ibiza. Expect impromptu jamming sessions and hand-holding circles.

Away from the busy beaches, there is magic to be found among the ancient Mayan temples and underground in its wild-swimming holes.

But go soon. We’re already hearing whispers about the ‘new Tulum’ – the surfer-town of Sayulita, a thousand miles away on Mexico’s west coast. Set up by surfers in the 1960s, it has a similarly hippy-meets-barefoot-chic vibe. Just don’t mention it in LA.

The Galápagos Islands
What more delightful start to 2013 for armchair travellers than Sir David Attenborough’s latest documentary, Galápagos 3D, on our screens on New Year’s Day?

Galápagos is one of the most fascinating places on earth, an evolutionary melting pot. In the Pacific Ocean, around 500 miles off the coast of Ecuador, the archipelago is renowned for its incredible number of rare and endemic species.

It’s already at the top of many wishlists, for the intrepid and for animal-lovers. So this three-part documentary by the UK’s most beloved naturalist, which shows the islands’ unique wildlife in a more lifelike way than ever, is bound to prompt many to go and see it for themselves.

‘Galápagos is full of drama, full of charismatic creatures,’ says Attenborough. ‘It is one of the most wonderful places in the world. There are extraordinary creatures living there, that live nowhere else… They have remained isolated for so long that they still haven’t become frightened of human beings.’

The entire archipelago is a marine reserve, which should hopefully ensure that its fragile ecosystem remains unspoiled by mass tourism. But the sad news in the summer of the demise of the Galápagos’s most famous resident, Lonesome George – the world’s last remaining Pinta tortoise – might prompt travellers to visit this mythical land before any more of the world’s most extraordinary creatures disappear for ever.

‘Galápagos 3D’ will be first broadcast at 7pm on Sky 3D and Sky 1 HD on New Year’s Day 2013.

Journey Latin America (020 8747 8315; www.journeylatinamerica.co.uk) offers a 10-day trip to the Galápagos Islands, including two nights at Casa Gangotena in Quito and seven nights aboard luxury yacht La Pinta, from £5,986 per person, including flights from Heathrow, transfers, excursions and most meals.

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From Conde Nast Traveller

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