So many places to see in the world. So many people eager to see them.
International tourism reached about 90% of pre-pandemic levels in 2023, and the United States issued a record number of passports. And if you visited any popular destination over the summer, you’d probably argue it was more crowded than ever.
So maybe it’s time to look at places that are still largely undiscovered, or alluring in the offseason, or frequently overlooked for their larger first cities or neighbors. Maybe it’s time to head to places that are making it easier for tourists to visit and those that pay close attention to encouraging tourism that’s sustainable.
With those things in mind, CNN Travel chose 24 places to consider as you make your 2024 plans:
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Sumba Island, Indonesia: With its remote villages, ancient rituals and world-class surf breaks, Sumba is the perfect antidote to the crowds of Bali. See 23 more destination ideas for 2024.
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Tartu, Estonia: One of the most-loved landmarks in Tartu — a 2024 European Capital of Culture — is this statue of kissing students in Town Hall Square.
Turkey’s Black Sea coast: The colorful resort town Amasra is one of the jewels of Turkey’s Karadeniz, or Black Sea region.
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Tainan, Taiwan: Tainan is considered Taiwan’s street food capital. People gather here along pedestrian Fuzhong street.
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Northwest Michigan: The area around Traverse City on Lake Michigan is a tourism magnet in summer, but the fall colors are spectacular, too.
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Trans Dinarica Cycle Trail: This new cycling trail will be the first and only bike route to link all eight countries of the Western Balkans.
Culebra, Puerto Rico: Marine life and beaches — including Flamenco Beach where a rusted tank sits in the sand — are the big draws on unspoiled Culebra.
Angola: Beyond the capital city of Luanda, pictured, Angola has some jaw-droppingly spectacular scenery and cultural treats.
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Saint John, New Brunswick: This Canadian city is an excellent base from which to enjoy the nearby Bay of Fundy, known for the world’s highest tides.
South Korea: The seven cemeteries of the ancient Gaya Tumuli were just inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2023.
Albania: Beautiful beaches, a rich culture and jaw-dropping mountain landscapes await in Albania. Theth National Park is pictured.
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Chile: The otherworldly Atacama Desert is just one of the diverse landscapes visitors will find in long and slim Chile.
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Abrolhos Islands, Western Australia: Off the coast of Western Australia, the Abrolhos Islands are home to some 140 species of flora and fauna.
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Macedonia, Greece: The region of Macedonia in north-central Greece is relatively free from overtourism. There are Byzantine remains in hilltop city Veria.
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Panama: This Central American country holds over a dozen national parks, including Parque Nacional Volcán Barú, the highest point in Panama.
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Galicia, Spain: Beaches, mouth-watering seafood and a historic city forever entwined with the famed Camino de Santiago are among this autonomous region’s many draws.
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Singapore’s outer islands: St. John’s Island has sunny beaches and a 1.7-mile trail highlighting native plants and flowers while shining a light on the island’s colorful history.
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Mérida, Mexico: Yucatán state’s capital city showcases a blend of Mayan and colonial heritage. Rectoría El Jesús Tercera Orden and Parque Hidalgo are pictured.
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Morocco: This North African country is home to nine UNESCO sites, including the historic city of Meknes, pictured. The country has bounced back determinedly after a devastating earthquake this past September.
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Florida’s freshwater springs: The state’s beaches get a lot of attention, but Florida has alluring fresh water, too. Wakulla Springs offers guided boat tours.
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Texas Hill Country: Krause Springs in Spicewood offers a cool dip on a hot day. Hill Country also boasts rolling hills, winding rivers, wineries, barbecue and live music.
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Fujairah: One of the smaller and lesser-known emirates of the United Arab Emirates, Fujairah is filled with spectacular mountain ranges and pristine beaches.
Greenland: Ilulissat icefjord is one of Greenland’s jaw-dropping landscapes. The autonomous territory of Denmark is set to welcome new airports in 2024.
Uzbekistan: Offering visa-free access to citizens of 86 countries, Uzbekistan’s untouched landscapes and well-preserved architecture are ready to awe visitors. The center of the old town of Bukhara is pictured.
For those looking for a beach destination that prioritizes community consciousness and sustainability, the Indonesian island of Sumba delivers.
With its remote villages, untouched forests, ancient rituals and world-class surf breaks, Sumba is the perfect antidote to the crowds of Bali, which is just an hour’s flight away. It might not be internationally famous yet, but that doesn’t mean it’s small. Sumba is more than 4,000 square miles in size (more than 10,000 square kilometers) – twice the size of Bali.
It was the Nihi Sumba resort that brought this island into luxury seekers’ sights when it first opened in 2012. More than a decade on, Sumba has welcomed several new luxury eco-resorts. These include The Sanubari, a series of beachfront villas that opened in 2022, and Cap Karoso, located on the island’s southwest. —Karla Cripps
Frescoes cover the interior of the Rock Church at Sumela Monastery in Turkey’s Black Sea region.
Far less known than the Mediterranean yacht-magnet resorts of Turkey’s Turquoise Coast, the Black Sea region, also known as Karadeniz, offers a very different side of the country. Less touristed and with a cooler, damper climate that produces verdant scenery and delicious black tea, the region has historic towns and villages as well as beaches and adrenaline-producing activities.
In summer, it’s a refreshing escape from Turkey’s more sweltering regions. Visitors can explore ancient streets that still echo to the clang of blacksmith hammers in Safranbolu, soak up beach life in Amasra and climb to where one of the world’s oldest monasteries clings to a cliff at Sumela.
For thrill-seekers, there’s white water rafting, and when winter brings heavy snowfalls, the region’s eastern Kaçkar Mountains transform into a heli-skiing paradise. —Barry Neild
Mana Kaasik/European Capital of Culture Tartu 2024
Tartu is a 2024 European Capital of Culture.
Pucker up. Tartu, in southern Estonia, has been named a European Capital of Culture for 2024 — with special attention paid to kissing. One of this university city’s most celebrated sights is its statue of two students locked in a passionate embrace, but here in the “City of Good Thoughts,” the love-in is more high-minded than carnal.
Tartu is renowned as Estonia’s intellectual center, home to its oldest university as well as the must-visit Estonian National Museum and the impressive Science Centre AHHAA, the largest science museum in the Baltics.
The Old Town is the perfect place to base yourself, but just north of the city center on the banks of the Emajõgi River, Supilinn (“Soup Town”) is also worth a visit. This historic neighborhood filled with pretty, wooden houses was formerly a slum but is now becoming one of the city’s most desirable addresses. —Maureen O’Hare
Tainan is known for its thriving street food scene. Pedestrian Fuzhong street is pictured here.
Celebrating its 400th anniversary in 2024, Tainan has become a Taiwan hotspot on the international stage. This southern city has surpassed the capital, Taipei, to boast the highest overall hotel occupancy rate in Taiwan in the past two years.
What makes it so special? Tainan is considered the street food capital of Taiwan and is loved for its beef soups and oyster omelets, otherworldly natural landscapes (check out Tsao Shan Moon World), scenic sunsets over salt farms, colorful old temples and cool new museums.
It was also listed among Booking.com’s top 10 sustainable tourism destinations in 2023. —Maggie Hiufu Wong
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Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore boasts a number of hikes, including a strenuous one over the towering dunes that leads to Lake Michigan.
Refreshing, unsalty Lake Michigan lures boatloads of tourists in summer, but the shoreline, quaint towns and rolling countryside of Northwest Michigan have plenty to offer year-round. On Grand Traverse Bay, Traverse City makes a great home base for exploring wineries on the Old Mission and Leelanau peninsulas or picking cherries or apples in season. Then fall’s foliage is ripe for peeping, followed by winter’s inviting blankets of snow.
From Traverse City, the scenic M-22 highway winds up the Leelanau Peninsula and hooks back down through Leland, home to a historic fishing village and a collection of interesting shops and galleries. Glen Arbor is another town worth perusing on the way to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, where off M-109 an all-sand, 3.5-mile hike over massive dunes to the Great Lake and back preps hardy hikers for a delicious dinner.
Farm Club, a farm-restaurant hybrid seven miles from downtown Traverse City, serves beautifully prepared dishes showcasing the region’s ingredients — many grown on site — in a minimalist, barnlike space that spills outdoors. —Marnie Hunter
Matevz Hribar/Trans Dinarica cycly route
Spectacular scenery is a big draw along the new cycling route in the Balkans.
Launching in 2024, the Trans Dinarica Cycle Route will be the first and only bike route to link all eight countries of the Western Balkans. The 100-stage trail is designed for cyclists of all abilities and its 4,000 kilometers (2,485 miles) is made up of quiet asphalt roads, forest trails and bike paths.
Riders can enjoy Albania and Croatia’s spectacular coastlines, Kosovo’s national parks, Montenegro’s rugged mountains and lush woodland and sparkling rivers throughout Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, North Macedonia and Serbia.
Riders can get more information and sign up for news of route updates, maps, accommodation and services at transdinarica.com. —MO
A rusting tank makes for unusual beachcombing on Culebra’s Flamenco Beach.
Puerto Rico is large and makes for a great island escape. But what if you want an escape from your great island escape? That’s where little Culebra comes in. It’s about 20 miles (32 kilometers) off the eastern coast of Puerto Rico and world away from San Juan’s noisy, rum-soaked nightlife.
The emphasis here is on outdoor activities and unwinding. Be sure to check out Flamenco Beach, curving for about a mile around a sheltered bay. It has little in the way of waves, making it a superb spot for snorkeling and swimming. And a graffitied tank — a US military relic — offers a striking photo op.
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Cristo Rei in Lubango towers over a landscape that most tourists have yet to discover.
This southern African nation is trying hard to make a break on the tourism scene, having recently introduced a quick-approval tourism e-visa. While major tourism infrastructure might not be up to speed yet, it’s a chance to explore a country still off the travel radar.
The capital of Luanda has a reputation as a pricey party city, but out in the wide-open spaces beyond, Angola has some jaw-droppingly spectacular scenery and cultural treats. Second city Lubango offers Portuguese colonial architecture, an impressive Rio-style Christ the King hilltop statue and access to the Tundavala Gap, a giddying plunge from cool tablelands into shimmering dusty plains.
Also worth a look: the dramatic 1,300-foot-wide (396 meters) Calendula Falls and Atlantic coastline surfing paradises such as Barra do Kwanza and Cabo Ledo. —BN
Tourists walk among the Hopewell Rocks at low tide along the Bay of Fundy.
Not to be confused with St. John’s, the capital of Newfoundland, Saint John is the capital of New Brunswick — also on Canada’s east coast. This charming little city is an excellent base from which to enjoy the nearby Bay of Fundy, famed for having the world’s highest tides.
The city itself is filled with historic architecture, including the Saint John City Market, a National Historic Site of Canada. Built from 1874 to 1876, it’s filled with shops and food venues. A five-minute walk away is the Saint John Arts Centre. Set in the city’s historic Carnegie Building, it’s the only former Carnegie Library in eastern Canada.
In terms of accommodation, there are seaside cottages, hotels, motels, campgrounds, historic inns and B&Bs. Food here is as excellent as you’d expect from a maritime city in Canada, with a broad range from cheap eats to fine dining. —KC
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Andong Hahoe Folk Village showcases the traditional side of South Korea.
With word that “Squid Game” — still the most-watched show on Netflix — is set to return with a new season in 2024, it’s time once again to embrace the K-wave.
Thankfully, travel to the country is easier than ever before. The government is waiving its K-ETA requirement — the electronic travel visa for South Korea — for travelers from 22 countries till the end of 2024 as part of its Visit Korea Year campaign.
This is a country that truly has it all. After exploring futuristic cities such as Seoul and Busan, the cultural and historic side of old Korea awaits at Andong, dubbed the “Spirit of South Korea,” or the seven cemeteries of the ancient Gaya Tumuli, newly inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2023. —MHW
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Albania has a rich culture, including Christian and Muslim history, with historical centers in towns such as Berat (pictured).
Sandwiched on the Adriatic coast between Greece and Montenegro, it’s astonishing that Albania wasn’t more popular as a beach destination before. But its wallet-friendly prices have seen tourism boom here over the past few years — so much so that in 2023, record numbers of Italians flocked across the Adriatic for their bargain summer breaks.
2024 sees the opening of a new airport at Vlorë, on the coast, which will make those beach trips easier. But there’s far more to Albania than its coast. The country has a rich culture, including Christian and Muslim history, with historical centers in towns such as Berat and Gjirokastër, as well as jaw-dropping mountain landscapes (Theth is the most popular).
In 2023, Albania got Europe’s first wild river national park, around the 168-mile (270-kilometer) Vjosa River — or to go really off the beaten track book a self-drive tour with Drive Albania. —Julia Buckley
Kleinjan Groenewald/Courtesy Habitas Atacama
The new Our Habitas Atacama hotel emphasizes sustainability in Chile’s otherworldly Atacama Desert.
Stretching about 2,700 miles from top to toe, long and slim Chile offers a little something for everyone. In the north, spectacular landscapes simulate Mars on Earth in the Atacama Desert, where the 51-room Our Habitas Atacama emphasizes sustainability. The new hotel is a good fit for the “world’s leading green destination,” a title Chile just picked up at the World Travel Awards for the second year in a row.
The natural world puts its best foot forward all over the country: Thousands of miles of Pacific coastline to the west, the towering Andes in the east and lakes, volcanoes and wild Patagonia in the south.
World-class skiing in July and August — a welcome break from the sweltering Northern Hemisphere — is two hours or less from the capital, Santiago. And the new high-altitude Parque Nacional Glaciares near the city protects land in the country’s most populous and historically little-protected area. —MH
Abrolhos Islands, Western Australia
The biodiverse Abrolhos Islands are home to sea lions, dolphins, wallabies, lizards and more.
Every year there’s another installment in the soap opera surrounding the Great Barrier Reef — will it be de-listed by UNESCO? Has the coral regrowth gone well this season?
For tourists who’d rather not wade into the situation, there’s another way to experience some of Australia’s gorgeous underwater bounty. About 37 miles (60 kilometers) off the coast of Western Australia, the lesser-known Abrolhos Islands are home to some of the most beautiful scenery of the country’s Coral Coast, above and below the water.
Humpback whales pass through in the Southern Hemisphere’s winter, and lucky travelers may catch a glimpse of Australian Sea Lions. There are no hotels on the islands, so intrepid visitors can either overnight in the town of Geraldton or splash out for a liveaboard boat, which provides opportunities to watch brilliant sunsets over the Indian Ocean and scuba dive in the early hours when the fish are at their most active. —Lilit Marcus
People promenade by the sea in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second city.
Athens and the islands get more crowded every year, but in northern Greece, the region of Macedonia is relatively free from overtourism. Yet it has everything visitors flock elsewhere in Greece to see: archaeological sites, history-rich towns and beaches galore.
This was the land of Alexander the Great. His father, Philip II of Macedon, is buried at Vergina, where his tomb has been turned into a world-class subterranean museum displaying the finds. Nearby, there are Byzantine remains in the hilltop city Veria, and superb wineries such as Kir-Yianni in the rolling hills around Naousa.
Thessaloniki — the region’s capital and Greece’s second city — is a gastro hub as well as a mishmash of architectural and archaeological eras. Near the city are the sandy beaches of Halkidiki; toward the border with Thrace are archaeological spots like ancient Philippi, and the city of Kavala, whose Ottoman past shows in every building. —JB
Panama City’s historic old quarter is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
It may be most famous for the engineering marvel that is the Panama Canal, but this Central American country is so much more than a transit destination.
Not only does Panama have a vibrant capital city with a historic old quarter that’s listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the country also holds over a dozen national parks, including Parque Nacional Volcán Barú, the highest point in Panama.
Panama City is also the only world capital with a tropical rainforest within its city limits. Visitors keen to delve further into Panama’s cultural landscape in a sustainable way can book community-based tourist adventures through a digital portal called SOSTUR Network, which connects travelers with rural communities and tourism businesses. —Tamara Hardingham-Gill
Santiago de Compostela Cathedral is a pilgrimage site for hundreds of thousands of long-distance walkers each year.
Empty beaches bordered by the wild Atlantic Ocean and framed by the rugged landscape of the Islas Atlánticas National Park. Mouth-watering seafood. And a historic city forever entwined with the famed Camino de Santiago. Welcome to Galicia, an autonomous region in the northwest tip of Spain.
Galicia’s regional capital city, Santiago de Compostela, has long been on the tourist map thanks to its striking 12th-century cathedral, which is the endpoint for the hundreds of thousands of walkers who embark on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage each year. But even if you weren’t planning on packing your walking boots, bustling Santiago should be on your radar.
And for spectacular views, head to Cabo Fisterra, a rocky peninsula home to the picturesque Finisterre lighthouse. The former lighthouse residence is the Hotel O Semáforo de Fisterra. Lighthouses are a bit of a theme in Galicia — there are 19 in total, including the UNESCO-protected 1st-century Tower of Hercules, believed to be the world’s oldest surviving Roman lighthouse. —Francesca Street
Singapore’s offshore islands
St. John’s Island is one of the retreats that awaits visitors who leave the city.
The city-state of Singapore shows urbanism at its finest: biophilic skyscrapers, neon-lit supertrees and six-star hotels all outdoing each other to redefine “luxury.” But venturing off the peninsula is quickly becoming a more interesting option.
Singapore is developing some of its smaller, uninhabited islands by, well, not developing them. Just a ferry ride away from the mainland, Lazarus Island is now home to a few rentable tiny houses made with reconstituted wood and powered by solar energy. Nearby, Sisters’ Island will open the country’s first marine park — including a sea turtle hatchery and coral protection area — in 2024.
Already open for exploring is St. John’s Island, where a 1.7-mile trail highlights native plants and flowers while shining a light on the island’s colorful history, which included a period as a quarantine center during a cholera outbreak. It’s a fitting place to think about life after a pandemic. —LM
People bike along a bicycle route on Paseo de Montejo in Mérida, the capital of Yucatán state.
The Yucatán Peninsula is best known for its tropical beaches, but venture inland, and you’re in for an unexpected urban treat.
“Mérida’s uniqueness comes from a blend of Mayan and colonial heritage,” said David Casanova, who has a real estate YouTube channel on Yucatán state’s capital city with his wife, Megan Sequeira Casanova. “The city’s excitement starts with its diverse cuisine and friendly locals and expands to its year-long favorable weather.”
In town, Paseo de Montejo is lined with historic mansions, museums, art galleries and local vendors. The Casanovas tout the city’s boutique hotels, including Kuka y Naranjo. For nearby getaways, there’s Progreso Beach (less than an hour away), fascinating Mayan ruins and underground water caves called cenotes.
If you’re concerned about personal safety in Mexico, the US State Department rates Yucatán and Campache states as the two safest as of December. —FB
Tétouan in northern Morocco is home to a UNESCO-listed medina.
A longtime travel favorite thanks to its diverse landscape and spectacular architecture, Morocco has bounced back determinedly after a devastating earthquake this past September.
While visitors tend to congregate in popular cities such as Marrakech, Rabat and Fes, the country certainly isn’t short of less crowded spots that are arguably just as alluring. Standouts include Tétouan, the city near the first Regis Hotels and Resorts Morocco property, and the historic Meknes, which is among the country’s nine UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Morocco is proving to be a world leader when it comes to sustainable tourism, with the launch of various initiatives to boost its renewable energy generation. The country is also home to a number of significant eco-friendly hotels, including the Berber-run Kasbah du Toubkal, located at the base of the spectacular High Atlas Mountains. —THG
Visitors at Wakulla Springs will find refreshing 70 F (21 C) degree water.
How would you like to immerse in water clear as gin any day of the year? You can do that in some of the 1,000 or more recognized fresh-water springs scattered around northern and central Florida.
These pristine natural pools provide stable temps and visibility for swimming, tubing, snorkeling, diving, wildlife viewing and more. Here are a few of the best:
Wakulla Springs has a swimming area in 70 F (21 C) degree water, and the state park offers a boat ride tour. The depth at the vent is about 185 feet (56 meters). Rainbow Springs is considered one of the most beautiful in the state. Ginnie Springs, a privately owned site, is renowned for its diving and cavern. —FB
Pierce Ingram/Travel Texas
Luckenbach, a tiny hamlet near Fredericksburg, is a magnet for music lovers in Texas Hill Country.
In the heart of Texas, Hill Country boasts its own natural springs. One prime spot, Krause Springs in Spicewood, lures visitors with more than its spring-fed pool and natural swimming hole — there’s also a butterfly garden full of magical wind chimes. And the Blue Bonnet Cafe — home to some of the world’s most divine cream pies — is just a short drive away in Marble Falls.
Meanderers will also find rolling hills and hiking trails, winding rivers, wineries, barbecue, music and dance halls, plus an explosion of wildflowers in March and April. And in 2024, April also brings a celestial spectacle to Hill Country — the total solar eclipse on April 8.
Gruene Hall in New Braunfels is legendary among Texas’ historic dance halls, and Luckenbach, a tiny hamlet outside the larger German-influenced town of Fredericksburg, has a dance hall and regular pickers’ circles under the oak trees. —MH
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Lesser-known emirate Fujairah boasts beautiful beaches and spectacular mountain landscapes.
One of the smaller and lesser-known emirates of the United Arab Emirates, Fujairah is as mellow as it is beautiful. Filled with spectacular mountain ranges and pristine beaches, it’s significantly less developed than the likes of Dubai and Abu Dhabi, offering an authentic and tranquil vibe that’s hard to beat.
Fujairah has a cooler climate compared with the other emirates because of its mountainous setting, but the winter months are definitely the most pleasant time to visit.
Snoopy Island, a snorkeling spot that looks like the famous cartoon dog lying on his back, is a top draw thanks to its crystal-clear waters and coral reefs, while the cascading waterfalls of the Wadi Wurayah National Park are another must-see. —THG
The jaw-dropping landscapes of Greenland — an autonomous territory of Denmark situated northeast of Canada — are set to get a little more accessible for international travelers this year.
New international airports are opening in Greenland’s capital, Nuuk, and the coastal city of Ilulissat. These aviation hubs promise longer runways that will be able to handle larger commercial aircraft. The climate crisis is a visible, real threat in Greenland, and investment in the tourism sphere is increasing as changing climates pose roadblocks to traditional industries.
Learn more about how Greeenland is adapting, and the stories of the Inuit people who’ve lived in the region for thousands of years at the Icefjord Centre in Ilulissat on the West Coast. Colorful Ilulissat is also home to the UNESCO-listed Ilulissat Icefjord, which offers the staggering sight of a bay filled with floating icebergs. In general, nature is the main event in Greenland, with other highlights including whale watching, dog sledding and Aurora Borealis sightings. —FS
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Shah-i-Zinda mausoleum in Samarkand is among the rich religious and cultural sites in Uzbekistan.
Before the pandemic, Uzbekistan was poised to be the next big thing in travel thanks to a series of ambitious reforms to transform the country into a world-class destination.
Now, its time has finally come.
Offering visa-free access to citizens of 86 countries, Uzbekistan’s untouched landscapes and well-preserved architecture are ready and waiting to awe visitors.
For greater insights into Uzbekistan’s position at the heart of the fabled Silk Road, a historic trade route that ran from China and India to the Mediterranean, the cities of Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva await. Meanwhile, the mountainous Uzbek village of Sentob — about 3.5 hours from Samarkand — was added to UNESCO’s list of “Best Tourism Villages” in 2023. It’s been cited for its commitment to sustainable development, with a focus on nature, organic food and eco and mountain tourism.
Getting around the country is easy thanks to the high-speed Afrosiyob Express train, connecting capital Tashkent with Samarkand and Bukhara. —KC