By Maureen O'Hare of CNN
Get your wishlist fired up, Lonely Planet has revealed its 50 top travel destinations for the year ahead.
The travel publishing empire turns 50 this year, and its bumper Best in Travel 2024 list is expanded across five categories: top countries, regions, cities, sustainable travel destinations and best-value locations.
The number one country is Mongolia, chosen by Lonely Planet for its "wide-open spaces, adventure activities, and distinctive culinary and musical culture." This is the world's most sparsely populated country and the Mongolian government is ready to start filling it up a little. This year it declared 2023 through 2025 the "Years to Visit Mongolia," easing entry conditions for international travelers and improving infrastructure, not least with a new US$650 million airport.
Other countries to make the 10 top picks include popular favorites such as Mexico, Croatia and St. Lucia, as well as lesser visited spots such as Benin and Uzbekistan.
The top city on Lonely Planet list is Nairobi, the Kenyan capital, which the travel giant loves for its "unique rhythms, impressive array of locally inspired restaurants, and steady rotation of arts and culture venues." We love it also for Nairobi National Park, just a short drive out of the city's central business district, where you can see more than 400 species roaming the open grass plains while skyscrapers twinkle on the skyline.
Paris, host of the 2024 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, is also on the list, as is Prague, another European capital which is no stranger to tourist crowds. Lonely Planet says the COVID-19 lockdown has allowed the Czech capital to "hit the reset button" and to promote "slow tourism and attractions away from the city center."
The top sustainable travel destination for 2024 is Spain, because of the country's efforts to expand renewable energy, to boost off-season travel and to bring tourism to emerging destinations, such as the port city of Valencia, thereby easing pressures on hot spots such as Barcelona.
The "wild beauty" of South Africa also gets a nod, with Lonely Planet recommending visitors check out the country's "impressive crop of ecolodges" committed to protecting Earth's biodiversity. We also love Babanango, South Africa's big new game park which is transforming the KwaZulu Natal region into a wildlife wonderland.
Easy on the bank balance
The best-value category will be of particular interest to many in these wallet-pinching times. The underrated American Midwest is the top tip here: in cities such as Chicago, Milwaukee and Detroit, "you'll find old warehouses transformed into art studios, new eco design hotels and many Michelin-starred restaurants," says Lonely Planet.
The publisher also recommends Algeria as an under-explored corner of Northern Africa. Pointing out that it's a three-hour flight or less from much of Europe, Lonely Planet says visitors will find "well-preserved Roman sites and fine historic cities" and "an affordable, crowd-free experience."
When it comes to regional picks, the Western Balkans' upcoming Trans Dinarica cycling route is a top choice by Lonely Planet. Opening next year, the 3364km trail passes through Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Hercegovina, Montenegro, Albania, North Macedonia, Kosovo and Serbia, taking in mountain ranges and the Adriatic Sea along the way.
Donegal, Ireland's most northwestern county, has the country's longest coastline and more than 100 beaches - and the chances are good that a visitor might get one all to themselves. Says Lonely Planet, "Here you'll find the highest sea cliffs in Europe and miles of unspoilt coastal hiking trails."
Lonely Planet's Best in Travel 2024:
- St. Lucia
- Western Balkans' Trans Dinarica Cycling Route
- Kangaroo Island, South Australia
- Donegal, Ireland
- País Vasco, Spain
- Southern Thailand
- Swahili Coast, Tanzania
- Montana, USA
- Saalfelden Leogang, Austria
- Nairobia, Kenya
- Paris, France
- Montreal, Canada
- Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Manaus, Brazil
- Jakarta, Indonesia
- Prague, Czech Republic
- Izmir, Turkey
- Kansas City, Missouri
- Patagonia, Argentina and Chile
- Wales' trails
- The Portuguese Way / Caminho Português de Santiago
- Hokkaido, Japan
- Baltic Trails of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania
- Eco-lodges of South Africa
- The Midwest, USA
- Danube Limes, Bulgaria
- Normandy, France
- Ikaria, Greece
- Southern Lakes & Central Otago, New Zealand
- Night trains, Europe