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Hot destinations for 2019
The early months of the new year can be a struggle. With Christmas and New Year all but a distant memory (for many, blessedly so) but the daylight still struggling to make it past 4.30 pm it’s not surprising why January and February are peak holiday booking periods.
If you’re one of those who needs something inspiring and exciting to look forward to, places you may never have considered (yet) this is dedicated to you.
This month, we’re shining the spotlight on up-and-coming destinations. They may be brand new, they may have been slow-burners which are only now getting the recognition they deserve, or they may be destinations whose popularity has taken even us by surprise. Perhaps it’s because of a relaxation in bureaucracy, which make them not just easier to visit, but (being Native Eye trips) actually possible.
Sit back, take ten minutes out of your day to find out which places we think are ‘The Ones to Watch’.
You heard it here first.
Where? Papua New Guinea
Why go now? It’s one of the most culturally diverse places on the planet and certainly, in terms of intact tribal customs, untainted and undiluted by western culture, let alone modernity. We aim to keep it that way with our first departure this June, which will give travellers an extraordinary and culturally sensitive insight into unique customs and a way of life unchanged for centuries; journeying to the remote interior to visit villages where ‘first contact’ is within living memory. A ground-breaking trip to one of the world’s last frontiers.
Stand out experiences: Travelling by canoe along the Sepik river (at 1,126 kilometres long, PNG’s answer to the Amazon), you’ll meet the ‘Crocodile Men’; the Iatmul tribe whose initiation ceremonies involve making thousands of cuts to raise scars resembling scales. For the one being initiated, they are to make no noise; to do so would be considered ‘un-manly’. It’s a ceremony which only happens a few years, and you’ll be allowed to observe; something incredibly few westerners have ever witnessed, a true privilege. Elsewhere, you’ll also view different tribal ‘spirit houses’ where elders commune with ancestors for guidance.
How? Land of the Crocodile Men, 12 days
How much? From £4,899 per person
When? Departing 24th June 2019
Why go now? Off-limits to travellers for many years due to civil war, this is an African nation which is only – slowly – opening up to tourism; partly because the country realises it can’t sustain itself purely on its oil production and, more prosaically, because tourist visas have gone from being impossible to arrange to rather less impossible. Because of this isolationism, Angola’s culture is once again untouched, great news for those wanting to visit the most interesting groups in Southern Africa, including the hunter-gatherer Matua, the fascinating Mucubal people (teeth sharpening practices, elaborate head-dresses); the semi-nomadic Mwila tribe; the colourful Mucuwana and the iconic Himba tribes.
Stand out experiences: Although the awe-inspiring views afforded from the Tunda Vala escarpment, or the wild, windswept vista and shipwrecks which typify the Skeleton Coast (Namibia is on the Southern border) will inspire you, the simple pleasure of waking up after a night under canvas to the sounds of tribal life clucking chickens, cattle going off to pasture, laughing chatter takes some beating for ‘authentic’ experiences.
How? Expedition to Angola, 11 days
How much? Price from £3,499 per person
When? Departing 13th October 2019 (July departure fully booked, sorry. We did say it was a ‘one to watch’)
Where? Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia
Why go now? Sandwiched between the former empires of Russia, Iran and Turkey and sitting at the edge of Europe, we’ve been talking up this area’s appeal since we launched Native Eye. Now, though, it seems more mainstream travel is catching up, with Georgia, in particular, seeming to feature almost monthly in the national travel supplements and newspapers. Whilst our trips will take you much further from the beaten track than most mainstream articles feature, we too have experienced a doubling in bookings over the past year; a trend that will only continue as more and more people journey, thanks to increasing flight availability and routes, to experience this fascinating melting pot of cultures, mountain scenery, traditional villages and (we can’t stress this enough), FANTASTIC food and wine.
Stand out experiences: In Georgia (you may have guessed it already), little beats a traditional feast, whether you’ve chosen to eat in a Tbilisi restaurant or enjoy it in one of our preferred guest-houses or homestays. Tuck in to a smorgasboard of khachapuri (Georgia's equivalent of pizza); grilled meats; fragrant cheeses and fresh vegetables. Elasticated waistbands are recommended packing. In Azerbaijan, there are not just more mud volcanoes than anywhere on earth, but the largest, too. Otherworldly, they are, with NASA geologists comparing them to the uplands on Mars. And, as one of the first nations to adopt Christianity, visiting an Armenian church is a must; the dark interiors are foggy with incense whilst the hypnotic chanting and singing provides an uplifting and emotionally moving encounter.
How? The Edge of Europe, 20 days
How much? Price from £2,599 per person
When? Departing 12th May and 15thSeptember. Please note that the 5thMay and 8th September departures are fully booked
Why go now? It may be the largest country in ‘The ‘Stans’ (indeed, it’s the ninth largest country in the world) but it’s the least visited – for now. With tourist numbers increasing to the other Central Asian states, return visitors are wanting something novel yet fascinating and Kazakhstan more than delivers. Boasting a huge variety of landscapes, from the wide-open, horizon-hugging steppes to the soaring Tian Shan mountains, singing dunes and the Kazakh equivalent of ‘Monument Valley’, our favourite place is the deserts of Mangistau, a place that’s only been open to western visitors for the past five years and we are, as far as we’re aware, the only UK operator to offer it. Think: salt pans, underground mosques, multi-coloured mountains and the shores of the Caspian Sea. It’s an arresting place to visit, utterly, utterly wild, a place you’ll have completely to yourself.
Stand out experiences: If you’re au fait with the Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia, then Mangistau’s stand-out attraction, the Sor Tuzbair salt pans may appeal.. Unlike Bolivia, though, you’re unlikely to see another tourist whilst visiting, which makes camping there overnight all the more unique. A lake with no water, the saline pans can appear as a giant mirror on sunny days, reflecting the pinks, blues and reds of the vast skies.
How? Hidden Kazakhstan, 16 days
How much? Prices from £3,199 per person
When? 11th May 2019
Where? Ivory Coast
Why go now? Like Angola, The Ivory Coast has been off the tourist map for the past few years due to social and political problems. Now, though, with its rich tribal culture, crumbling colonial architecture and languid tropical atmosphere is back and welcoming intrepid travellers. There’s no shortage of takers, either. This year, we’re running five departure dates, including guaranteed departures.
Stand out experiences: The Ivory Coast boasts and incredibly rich culture, and tribal life thrives here. No visit here would be complete without witnessing the elaborate mask dances and rituals of the Dan, Fulani and Senefou peoples, nor, in stark contrast and quite at odds with the rest of the country, a visit to the enormous basilica in Yamoussokkro. Whilst its size is startling – it’s larger than that of St Peter’s in Rome, what’s even more extraordinary is how the place transformed from what was originally a tiny village to become the country’s political capital.
How? Ancient Gods of West Africa, 11 days
How much? From £2,499 per person
When? The next available departures are: 2nd March, 13thApril, 9th November and 28thDecember
Where? Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova
Why go now? Just as Georgia and its nearest neighbours are enjoying a rise in popularity, so too have the lesser-known breakaway states of Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova; reflected glory, perhaps? Although no-where near as popular as Georgia and friends, these countries are certainly experiencing a cultural resurgence all the same. If you’re looking for somewhere with a rich heritage, just as intriguing as its better-known rivals, but, despite its increasing appeal still ‘out there’, make these your 2019 must-dos.
Stand out experiences: For somewhere virtually unknown to western tourists, these countries have ‘wow’ experiences in bucketloads. In Belarus, there’s the fairy-tale medieval castle at Mir (itself a former seat of Jewish learning and one-time centre for Roma horse trading) as well as one of the last primeval forests in Europe. In Ukraine, you can visit the infamous and still haunting Chernobyl site (safe to look around for limited periods) to experience a snapshot of history, frozen in time (quite at odds with the simply stunning Carpathian Mountains), whilst in Moldova, you’ll visit the unique republic of Transdneistr, a country which doesn’t officially exist…
How? Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova, 16 days
How much? Price from £2,675 per person
When? 9th June and 7th September 2019
We do hope that our ‘insider’ tips have inspired you, planted the seed for future adventures or, at the least, made those January blues a shade lighter. 2019 is going to be an exciting one for us at Native Eye and we’ve lots up our sleeve as the year progresses.
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Until next time and on behalf of us all at Native Eye, thanks for listening.
The Native Eye Team
Call us on 01473 328546
or email [email protected]