This year TripAdvisor travelers are heading farther afield, embracing adventure, and seeking out bargains. That’s my take after seeing the 2015 Travelers’ Choice list of the world’s hottest destinations. The four top-rated places are in the Middle East and Southeast Asia—and not one of the top ten is in the United States. Here’s what I find most noteworthy about this year’s top picks:
- Most of the award-winning destinations are not easy to get to or travel in.
The top four—Marrakech, Morocco; Siem Reap, Cambodia; Istanbul, Turkey; and Hanoi, Vietnam—are far-flung (Marrakech is closest, but there are no non-stop flights between the U.S. and Marrakech) and, once you arrive, they can be tricky to navigate. Two more—Buenos Aires, Argentina, and Cape Town, South Africa—are also a long plane ride away. While the top ten do include the usual suspects—London, Rome, and Paris—these cities are outranked by a more unusual European choice: Prague, Czech Republic. Clearly, these destinations, while far-flung, are well worth the trek and the logistical challenges.
- The world’s best destinations include several that are often unfairly perceived as risky.
It’s refreshing to see that safe Middle Eastern destinations such as Marrakech and Istanbul are not being unfairly painted (as they so often are) as a security risk. Sure, they can be tricky to navigate because of their non-Western culture, but that does not make them any less safe to visit than New York City. Marrakech, for instance, was able to turn its Arab Spring into positive energy for the country, and tourism has been booming. It’s also refreshing to see that last year’s alarmist Ebola scare, which led many Americans to unnecessarily cancel trips to South Africa, did not prevent Cape Town from ascending to the top ten.
- Almost all of the world’s hottest destinations represent great value for your dollar this year.
The U.S. dollar buys you about 19% more in Marrakech, 23% more in Prague, 11% more in London, 23% more in Rome and Paris, and 12% more in Cape Town than it did a year ago. Southeast Asia has always been one of the world’s biggest bargains, especially if your goal is exotic luxury for less. All of the award-winning destinations offer affordable, top-rated hotels, bookable on TripAdvisor—for example, in Marrakech, Riad Kheirredine (where rates start at $179 in summertime); in Siem Reap, Shinta Mani Resort ($176); in Istanbul, World Heritage Hotel Istanbul ($135); in Hanoi, Essence Palace Hotel ($58); and in Prague, Hotel Residence Agnes ($195).
- Most of the top-ranked destinations have seen spectacular new hotels open recently.
I’ve been to Marrakech every year for the past four years, partly because of the explosion of splendiferous new hotels—from super-stylish riads (traditional courtyard mansions transformed into guest houses) in the medina to decadent palace-style resorts on the outskirts of town. Each property tries to outdo the next in terms of its exquisite grounds, exotic pools, rose-filled fountains, plush rooftops, and sheer number of decorative silk pillows. Within the next few years, properties from Mandarin Oriental, Park Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton, and W Hotels are scheduled to open in Marrakech as well.
This year TripAdvisor has curated Travel Guides to help you plan your trips to these hot destinations. Having traveled to all of the top ten, I can tell you that Marrakech is the most challenging—after four trips there, I still have trouble negotiating the taxis, navigating the maze-like medina, and bargaining in the souks—so here, too is an Insider’s Guide to Marrakech.
You’ll find more travel advice from Wendy at WendyPerrin.com.