The Best Destinations for 2024: When to Visit Our Top Picks
The Best Destinations for 2024: When to Visit Our Top Picks - Dreaming of the Deserts - Visiting Petra, Jordan
Petra, an ancient city carved into the rose-hued cliffs of southern Jordan, has long captured the imaginations of travelers seeking adventure in the Middle East. As one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage site, Petra deserves a spot on every bucket list.
The best time to visit Petra is in the spring or fall, when daytime temperatures hover around a pleasant 25°C (77°F). I recommend aiming for March-May or September-November. Summer is scorching, with temps frequently exceeding 40°C (104°F), making it difficult to fully explore the expansive site. Winters are mild, but rainy.
Arrive early, ideally by 8 am before the crowds and heat set in. Purchase a two-day ticket (55JD/~$77 USD) to avoid feeling rushed. As you enter through the narrow gorge known as the Siq, the anticipation builds. Stay alert for caches of ancient carvings hinting at Petra's rich history as a crossroads of powerful empires.
Finally, you'll glimpse it ahead: the awe-inspiring sight of the Treasury's Hellenistic facade carved into pink stone cliffs over 2000 years ago. Resist the urge to sprint ahead! Pause like the traders of old did when they first caught sight of this spectacular structure.
Then, wander deeper into the labyrinth past ornate tombs, temples, and staircases to uncover Petra's many secrets. Let your imagination run wild! As you climb worn steps towards sacrificial altars, contemplate the Nabataean priests who once slaughtered animals here. Or, while resting in the shade of the Colonnaded Street, picture merchants arguing prices for spices, silk and medicines.
Make time to hike up to the Monastery, Petra's largest monument, and enjoy sublime views over the site's ruins sprawling across the desert basin below. Its imposing size and remote cliffside location make it easy to understand why the Monastery was likely a temple rather than a convent.
What else is in this post?
- The Best Destinations for 2024: When to Visit Our Top Picks - Dreaming of the Deserts - Visiting Petra, Jordan
- The Best Destinations for 2024: When to Visit Our Top Picks - Island Life in the Azores - When to Go
- The Best Destinations for 2024: When to Visit Our Top Picks - Epic Adventures in West Iceland
- The Best Destinations for 2024: When to Visit Our Top Picks - Follow the Footsteps of Dinosaurs in Terra do Meio, Brazil
- The Best Destinations for 2024: When to Visit Our Top Picks - Taste Testing in Kitakyushu, Japan
- The Best Destinations for 2024: When to Visit Our Top Picks - Back to Basics in Java, Indonesia
- The Best Destinations for 2024: When to Visit Our Top Picks - Savoring History and Culture in AlUla, Saudi Arabia
- The Best Destinations for 2024: When to Visit Our Top Picks - Dramatic Landscapes in Big Bend National Park, Texas
The Best Destinations for 2024: When to Visit Our Top Picks - Island Life in the Azores - When to Go
With volcano craters, thermal springs, and black sand beaches, the remote Azorean islands are gaining fame as an off-the-beaten path gem. Mid-way between North America and Europe in the Atlantic Ocean, the archipelago belongs to Portugal though it feels worlds away.
The Azores shine between April and October when the mercury climbs into the pleasant low 20s Celsius. July through September are the warmest and driest months. However, there’s no need to avoid the Azores in winter - temperatures only drop to around 10° Celsius. The biggest downside is rain and wind, but if you don’t mind bundling up, you’ll be rewarded with fewer tourists and lower prices.
Base yourself on São Miguel, the largest island with direct flights from North America and Europe. Ponta Delgada is the colorful capital and makes a great homebase. Wander cobblestone streets lined with whitewashed buildings sporting black basalt trim. Duck into little shops to try local cheeses, pastries stuffed with pineapple jam, Passionfruit liqueurs, and the area’s famous pineapples.
Nature lovers will be in paradise exploring São Miguel’s diverse landscapes. Don’t miss hiking past twin lakes filled by mineral rich springs in Sete Cidades. Or gaze into the sensational blue crater lakes of Lagoa do Fogo. Take a whale and dolphin watching tour to spot these gentle giants leaping near shore. Visit the steaming fumaroles of Furnas valley and taste meaty stews cooked underground by geothermal heat.
Travelers seeking off-the-grid adventures should hop a short flight to Flores. Called the island of flowers, Flores overflows with hydrangeas, calla lilies and more. The diverse terrain spans emerald peaks to rugged sea cliffs. Hike through UNESCO protected Laurisilva forest along centuries-old stone paths. Paddle past towering waterfalls in the Caldeira crater lake.
Take your time exploring charming villages where locals still sport traditional skirts and scarves. In the coastal town of Fajãzinha, generators provide power and villagers bake bread in centuries old communal ovens. Nearby, uninhabited islets house lone lighthouses, weathered fisherman’s shacks, and little else. With limited development, Flores feels like going back in time.
The Best Destinations for 2024: When to Visit Our Top Picks - Epic Adventures in West Iceland
Tucked away in Iceland’s remote Westfjords region, Hornstrandir Nature Reserve has become a mecca for hardcore hikers seeking wild, rugged adventures devoid of crowds. This uninhabited peninsula, characterized by plunging sea cliffs, mossy lava fields, and panoramic fjord views, offers some of Iceland’s most spectacular scenery. Reaching Hornstrandir requires commitment – no roads lead to the reserve. Visitors must either hike in or catch a boat from Ísafjörður, the Westfjords’ largest town.
Once in Hornstrandir, prepare to be awestruck by the desolate beauty and immersed in nature 24/7. Hardy locals used to inhabit the peninsula before abandoning their isolated homesteads in the 1950s. Now arctic foxes are the islands’ only residents, scavenging fish scraps left by seabirds. Without roads, power lines, or development of any kind, Hornstrandir provides a chance to experience Iceland’s wild side.
Hardcore trekkers tackle the 6-day, 37 mile Hornstrandir Trail tracing the peninsula’s length. Highlights include Alftavatn’s emerald lake backed by half-moon cliffs, panoramic views over countless islets and skerries from Hornbjarg’s sea cliffs, and the chance to soak in piping hot natural geothermal pools tucked into the landscape. Just be ready to traverse steep passes, grapple up scree slopes, and navigate unbridged streams. Facilities and signs are nonexistent, so come prepared with navigation and survival skills.
For a shorter adventure, take a day hike to Hornsleitisskali Hut, once used by local farmers. The 5-6 hour, 9 mile roundtrip trek meanders through hilly tundra blooming with purple lupine in summer. Scan the seas for whales and seabirds like puffins and arctic terns. Then savor sweeping vistas of the fjord from the abandoned hut’s doorstep.
Boaters can explore Hornstrandir from the sea, dropping anchor in deserted fjords to hike or simply soak up the tranquility. Cruise past spouting whales and bellowing walrus. Watch puffins and guillemots swoop over slate cliffs rising straight from the sea. Kayakers can paddle through sea caves and around rocky islets for seal and birdwatching. Just beware of the cold water and waves which demand experience.
While the solitude and untouched landscapes are Hornstrandir’s allure, the extreme isolation also demands respect. Weather shifts rapidly bringing heavy rain, thick fog and fierce winds. Trails are unmarked requiring navigation skills to avoid getting lost. Make sure to pack wisely with extra food, first aid, and weatherproof gear. Consider joining a guided tour for added safety and insights into the area’s ecology and fascinating history.
The Best Destinations for 2024: When to Visit Our Top Picks - Follow the Footsteps of Dinosaurs in Terra do Meio, Brazil
Far from Brazil’s bustling cities lies Terra do Meio, 3.3 million acres of pristine rainforest in Pará state's southeast. Safeguarding biodiverse Amazon forest and rare species like the giant anteater and jaguar, Terra do Meio has another claim to fame - footprints from long extinct dinosaurs. Along the Itaituba River, 100 million year old tracks record the comings and goings of armored plant-eaters called sauropods.
During the Cretaceous Period, Terra do Meio’s riverside mudflats were a Mecca for enormous dinosaur species. Massive sauropods like Brontosaurus left quadrupedal tracks measuring over three feet long. Bipedal theropod carnivores like Tyrannosaurus Rex stalked along on two legs. Smaller reptiles and early mammals scurried amongst them. When creatures stepped in the soft dirt, they left lasting impressions which hardened into fossilized trackways over the eons.
Today, visitors to Terra do Meio can literally walk in these lumbering giants’ footsteps along the Itaituba’s banks. Guides lead hikers on routes traversing wide swathes of dinosaur tracks, many heading towards the ancient riverbed. It’s humbling to envision a 60-foot sauropod plodding along, swishing its tail, millions of years before humans existed. Tracing the varied tracks provides insight into these creatures' sizes, speeds, and behavior just like following animal prints in today's mud.
While seeing dinosaur tracks elsewhere often requires visiting paleontology museums, Terra do Meio provides an incredibly rare chance to discover them in situ jungling with toucans, monkeys and macaws. Adding to the adventure is the multi-day trek required through dense Amazon rainforest simply to reach the secluded site. Visitors fly into Santarém before embarking on river journeys involving small boats, hiking, and nights camping in hammocks.
While Terra do Meio’s sheer size and remoteness have helped preserve the tracks, they also leave them vulnerable. Guiding provides income to locals who otherwise might turn to logging. But too much trampling by tourists can degrade the impressions. Conscientious hiking is a must. Stay strictly on pathways and avoid stepping in prints. Experienced guides provide essential education on respecting the tracks while moving carefully.
The Best Destinations for 2024: When to Visit Our Top Picks - Taste Testing in Kitakyushu, Japan
Tucked between the Sea of Japan and verdant mountains, Kitakyushu offers a delightful blend of natural beauty, urban energy and culinary delights. As Japan’s gourmet city, Kitakyushu boasts over 2,000 eateries ranging from traditional mom-and-pop shops to Michelin star restaurants. Locals adore food so much that “shokuyoku” (appetite) is their town motto.
Epicureans visiting Kitakyushu delight in embarking on eating expeditions to savor every morsel of fare this cuisine Mecca offers. Start by perusing vibrant morning markets like Kokura Central Wholesale Market, Japan’s largest fish market. Seafood straight from local waters dazzles from glistening tuna and salmon to oddities like sea cucumber.
Next, explore Kokura’s nostalgic former castle town. At cozy cafes, partake in the ritual of monjayaki, a specialty of making delectable savory pancakes at your tableside. Choose from endless ingredients like cabbage, squid, mochi (pounded rice), egg or cheese to mix into a watery batter that cooks on a built-in grill before you. Fun and delicious!
For lunch, join locals slurping steaming bowls of tonkotsu ramen, a regional obsession. Rich, creamy pork broth with al dente noodles, garnished with pork belly and pickled greens will warm you on cold days. Or opt for lighter fare like sushi and sashimi highlighting the day’s catch.
In Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost main island, regional fare reflects influences from mainland Asia. Jjang-tteok are chewy Korean-style rice cakes smothered in spicy sauce. Butaman steamed pork buns originate from China as does tantanmen featuring ramen doused in sesame and chili oil.
By dinnertime, hungry foodies make their way to Yatai Village, home to over 20 tiny food stalls specializing in everything from grilled meats to oden hotpot. Listen for shouts of “irasshaimase!” (welcome) as you stroll, sniffing smoky aromas. Chat with local patrons as you slurp noodles side-by-side at counters. Joyful energy and camaraderie fills the air.
Nightcaps await in Kokura’s entertainment district replete with casual izakayas for beers and shared small plates. Or cozy up in a jazz club with fine whiskey listening to mellow tunes. Karaoke bars let you sing out post-dinner energy belting out classics, enka ballads, or J-Pop hits.
The Best Destinations for 2024: When to Visit Our Top Picks - Back to Basics in Java, Indonesia
Tucked away on Indonesia’s most populated island, Java, remote Gunung Kidul treats adventurers to tranquil villages, unspoiled beaches, and spiritual encounters primarily untarnished by modernization. While development transforms much of Java, this regency rings true to ancient ways preserved through generations. Immerse yourself in profound Javanese customs, nature and village life largely unchanged for centuries.
In Gunung Kidul, typical headlines of economic growth and technological gains matter little. Here, life’s rhythms follow the tides, seasons and religious rituals honed over the ages. Witness farmers tending rice paddies like their ancestors using water buffalo and simple plows. Women balance baskets of fruits as colorful as their traditional Javanese dress. Just beyond each village, jungles rumble with wildlife.
Such scenes feel increasingly rare in 21st century Java as urbanization accelerates. Yogyakarta, Java’s cultural heart, sits just two hours north of Gunung Kidul but feels worlds apart. Its universities, shopping centers and traffic conjure images of modernity, not the Java of past centuries present in Gunung Kidul.
This timeless region enthralls travelers seeking spiritual rejuvenation and cultural immersion. Unelectrified villages allow urbanites to detach from devices and reconnect with community. Participate in temple ceremonies filled with chanting, incense and offerings prepared meticulously by barefoot women in lace kebayas. Receive blessings from village elders. Unplug your senses as Gamelan orchestras awaken deep consciousness with hypnotic gonging and drumming.
Spend silent mornings meandering through rice fields listening to insects trill. Wander forested hills learning ancient herbal remedies from medicine men just as Javanese royalty once did. Visit cave temples guarded by mythical demons and mediating ascetics seeking transcendence. Experience the moving hospitality of villagers proudly welcoming you into their homes.
Such memories stay with you, reminding what matters most are not material gains but human connections. For a truly authentic experience, stay in a homestay, bonding with local families through shared meals, cultural discussions and village activities. Avoid sterile hotels that isolate you from time-honored customs. Rise at dawn for prayers, savor homecooked fare and try crafting batsik wax prints. Before falling asleep to a chorus of geckos, reflect on the day's experiences. How have they shifted your perspective? What will you bring home to enrich your life?
The Best Destinations for 2024: When to Visit Our Top Picks - Savoring History and Culture in AlUla, Saudi Arabia
Tucked amid the desert landscapes of northwestern Saudi Arabia, AlUla is an oasis backdropped by towering sandstone cliffs that has served as a cultural crossroads for millennia. As a waypoint along ancient incense trading routes stretching from southern Arabia to the Mediterranean, AlUla nourished a vibrant mix of civilizations throughout history. Traces remain today in archaeological sites like Hegra, Saudi Arabia’s first UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ruins of Old Town AlUla, and rock art depicting epics from bygone eras.
For history buffs and culture vultures, AlUla provides a deep dive into the past while experiencing warm Arabian hospitality. Flying into AlUla’s dainty yet fast-growing airport, you’ll get your first glimpses of the honey-hued sandstone cliffs ringing verdant palm groves. But save the splendid scenery for later – it’s time to turn back the clock at Hegra. Here the formidable Nabataeans, who also built the famous city of Petra in Jordan, carved over 100 monumental tombs into hillsides 2,000 years ago for their capital city of Hegra. Clamber through narrow openings into cool, hushed tomb chambers adorned with elaborately detailed carvings signifying wealth and social status. Gaze up at soaring facades sculpted into the cliffs. As you trace delicate motifs of vines, palm leaves and goblets, contemplate the skilled hands that chiseled these magnificent structures centuries ago using only rudimentary tools.
Heading into Old Town AlUla, mudbrick dwellings identical to those still inhabited across the Arabian Peninsula transport you back to ancient life. Duck through wooden doors into dark rooms showcasing original palm frond ceilings, brick shelves for storing dates, and cool cellars. Imagine caravans full of myrrh, frankincense and spices lumbering through town, greeted by market shouts. Today, artisans faithfully preserve ancient crafts inside these historic homes. Watch them weave baskets from date fronds in intricate geometric patterns passed down through generations. Glimpse women baking traditional khubz bread in earthy communal tannour ovens little changed since ancient times.
The Best Destinations for 2024: When to Visit Our Top Picks - Dramatic Landscapes in Big Bend National Park, Texas
Tucked into Texas' southwestern corner along the Rio Grande, Big Bend National Park showcases the dramatically diverse beauty of the Chihuahuan Desert. As America’s largest protected expanse of this fragile ecosystem, Big Bend captivates with an incredible diversity of landscapes spanning wooded mountains, steep canyons, and wide open desert. Here, the Rio Grande has carved deep gorges through an impressive variety of rock revealing eons of geologic history. The constantly changing terrain enthralls hikers eager to soak up solitude and scenery around every bend.
One glance at the Chisos Mountains rising dramatically from the desert floor makes clear that Big Bend is far from flat. The Chisos reach nearly 8,000 feet, an improbable sight in southern Texas more associated with cactus than fir trees. Multiple trails let hikers experience high mountain splendor then descend through vegetation zones to the desert lowlands. A vigorous full day option climbs over 4,000 feet from the desert floor into the Chisos Basin. After some steep switchbacks through oak and juniper woodlands, the South Rim Trail emerges onto sublime panoramas. Gaze out over the park’s Hudson River-like inner canyon carved by the Rio Grande framed by the Sierra del Carmen of Mexico.
For a less strenuous mountain hike, tackle the 4.8 mile Window Trail. Starting from Chisos Basin, descend switchbacks under the dripping rocks of Lost Mine Canyon. Blanketed in moss and ferns, it feels cool and lush compared to the arid desert. The payoff is one of Big Bend’s most spectacular sights at the trail’s end - the precariously eroded Window poured through by a seasonal waterfall. Frame up photos capturing the Window’s graceful curve or simply sit and absorb nature’s beauty.
While the Chisos deliver Big Bend's biggest wow factor, the desert has its own allure. Vast and silent, it imparts deep tranquility. One of the best ways to experience the desert is via the park’s unpaved Ross Maxwell Scenic Drive. The road rambles through diverseChihuahuan Desert biomes home to curious creatures like roadrunners, jackrabbits and javelina. Pull off to explore Castolon Historic District’s 1920s adobe buildings or hike into Santa Elena Canyon. Here sheer limestone cliffs tower 1,500 feet above the Rio Grande showcasing the waterway's incredible power to carve through solid rock. Stand dwarfed at the end of the 1.4 mile trail watching sunlight dance across the canyon’s polished walls.