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2024 “It” Destinations

By January 16, 2024No Comments

Whether your vacation goals are simple or sophisticated, our advice is the same: Lock that trip in now. Beloved European destinations are already booking up for next summer as everybody’s gunning for the same suites (on land and at sea).  Even under-the-radar hot spots are limited, so make sure to act fast if you’re interested in the destinations that made our “it” list.The secret weapon for making sure you get where you want to go, the way you want to do it – is to use a professional travel advisor.  So get inspired now and start planning soon. Santa Barbara Travel Bureau’s advisors are standing by ready to assist.

Hanging bridges in the cloud forest.  -Getty Images

COSTA RICA    It’s easy being green in this Central American sanctuary.

National parks cover a whopping 25 percent of Costa Rica, a country whose other bragging rights include a deep bench of biodiversity and a conservation-focused ethos that’s made it a darling of sustainable tourism. “Costa Rica is booming for us,” says Sean Benner, the Latin America product director at tour company G Adventures. “We’ve surpassed our pre-pandemic traveler numbers.” The outfitter is adding to its Costa Rica offerings in 2024 with two new itineraries that feature higher-end hotels and more elevated experiences than its classic tours, such as soaking in hot springs in the shadow of the Arenal volcano and glamping in the Talamanca Mountains. The tour operator will run its first-ever small-group trips to Corcovado National Park, a remote haven for wildlife spotting on the unspoiled Osa Peninsula.

Get There: G Adventures’ new eight-day, round-trip-from-San-Jose tours, include a jaunt through the country’s northern half and one in the south. (They can be combined into one 15-day deep dive.) Highlights include kayaking in Tortuguero National Park and visiting a G Adventures-supported coffee cooperative in the north, and exploring the Osa Peninsula’s rain forest in the south. Book G Adventure tours with Santa Barbara Travel Bureau to take advantage of additional savings.

CAPE VERDE ISLANDS    A new way to cruise this African archipelago.

Scattered in the North Atlantic about 350 miles off the coast of Senegal, this lush ten-island archipelago is a hidden gem for nature lovers, who come here to hike volcanic calderas, explore quiet fishing villages, and laze on beaches that rival the Med’s. Centuries of influence from Africa, Brazil, and Portugal (the islands, with deep roots in the transatlantic slave trade, gained their independence from the latter in 1975) make for a multicultural mélange of diversions, from dancing to traditional music on São Vicente to sampling Creole-spiced seafood at a beachfront spot on Boa Vista. While tourism is a big industry here, the islands still have that laid-back, undiscovered, spotty-Wi-Fi vibe that many intrepid travelers seek.

Get There: Ponant’s ultra luxury newly revamped 32-passenger Le Ponant, which recently became the first yacht to join Relais & Châteaux, will explore the Cape Verde islands in 2024 on a seven-night round-trip-from-Mindelo voyageBook a Ponant cruise with Santa Barbara Travel Bureau to take advantage of additional specials.

Mompox’s riverfront perch.  -Alamy

THE MAGDALENA RIVER     Get lost in the rhythms of Colombia on a new river-cruise route. 

Cutting through Colombia’s western half, the Magdalena River was a crucial trade route between the Andes and the Caribbean, and those who still call its banks home comprise a melting pot of Indigenous people and European and African descendants. Late next year, AmaWaterways will become the first major cruise line to take travelers down the Magdalena, on a pair of seven-night itineraries. Calls include the UNESCO World Heritage town of Santa Cruz de Mompox – once a wealthy center for trade and now revered for its well-preserved colonial mansions and churches – and lively Barranquilla, home to Colombia’s largest Carnival, which takes place every February. Sailings either begin or end in Cartagena, a colonial gem worthy of a few extra pre- or post-voyage days. Start by exploring the Old Town and its cobblestoned streets, sixteenth-century pastel homes, and palm-fringed plazas, including the famous Plaza de Bolívar. Then follow the sounds of salsa to the vivid Getsemaní neighborhood, just beyond the city’s murallas (walls), for spectacular street art, hole-in-the-wall bars, and some of Cartagena’s most notable restaurants, including vibrant, contemporary Caribbean fare at Celele.

Get There: Seven-night itineraries on AmaWaterways’ 60-passenger AmaMagdalena, set to launch next November, sail between Cartagena and Barranquilla. (Its 64-passenger sister ship, AmaMelodia, will debut in May 2025.) Book an AmaWaterways river cruise with Santa Barbara Travel Bureau to take advantage of additional specials. 

Astir Palace Hotel, just down the coast from Athens.  -Getty Images

THE ATHENIAN RIVIERA       New resorts and old-school haunts command attention on mainland Greece’s coolest coastline.

In-the-know Greeks have been frequenting this pine-speckled peninsula since the 1950s, but it wasn’t on the international radar until a few years ago, when the Four Seasons transformed the Astir Palace Hotel Athens, once frequented by the likes of Frank Sinatra and Brigitte Bardot, into a Hellenic hot spot. More ultra-chic resorts have followed, and now travelers are discovering the island-style sophistication just 30 minutes from Athens. The riviera’s primary activity is beach-hopping – from family-friendly Varkiza to secluded Legrena and glamorous Astir – and just like on Santorini or Páros, dining ranges from old-fashioned tavernas and souvlaki joints to chic restaurants. Visit generations-old pastry shop Aqua Marina for baklava and cream-filled phyllo, beachfront Krabo for seafood, Astir Palace’s Michelin-starred Pelagos for a special meal, and the cliffside Island Club & Restaurant for some quintessential Greek Isles-inspired dancing until dawn.

Get There: The 127 rooms and ten private homes at One&Only Aesthesis, which just opened on a forest reserve fronting the Saronic Gulf, invite guests into sleek spaces with floor-to-ceiling windows, midcentury modern furniture, and bar carts stocked with Greek spirits. Book with Santa Barbara Travel Bureau to receive breakfast daily and a $100 hotel credit.  

BARCELONA       Witness the Catalan capital’s green revolution.

Travelers strolling, nibbling tapas, and window-shopping down the long, wide streets of Barcelona’s Eixample district might not realize those avenidas and their gridded octagonal blocks were the work of urban planner Ildefons Cerdà, who introduced them after the Old City became too dirty and cramped in the nineteenth century. Later, Antoni Gaudí broke that monotony with dreamlike structures such as Casa Batlló and the near 150-years-in-the-making (and not yet completed) Sagrada Família. Now, the famously congested city is being aerated again with a new set of green lungs. An urban-rejuvenation plan is banishing cars from many Eixample thoroughfares, turning them into tree-lined pedestrian- and bicycle-only avenues, parks, and playgrounds with the goal of creating 21 green streets and large squares each by 2030. Some are already completed, making it easy for travelers to hop among the shops and bars along the Carrer del Consell de Cent. Or they can head off the beaten path to the agricultural Parc Agrari del Baix Llobregat, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2024.

Get There: Stay in the city center at the recently revamped 120-room Hotel El Palace Barcelona – its 15,000-square-foot rooftop, home to a pool, garden, restaurant, and open-air cinema, is one of the largest in Barcelona.  Sagres Vacations works with Santa Barbara Travel Bureau advisors to craft tailor-made Spanish experiences, such as culinary, wine and architectural tours.  Book with Santa Barbara Travel Bureau to receive breakfast daily and a $100 dining credit. 

Splashdown in Bonaire.  -Getty Images

BONAIRE       The Caribbean island that’s home to more than just great diving.

There’s not a single stoplight on Bonaire, a 111-square-mile island sitting in the southern Caribbean beside Aruba and Curaçao. Outside Kralendijk’s downtown, the landscape is sparse, but beyond the sandy, palm-lined roadsides, travelers find one of the Caribbean’s most exciting diving, surfing, and sailing scenes, thanks to the island’s near-constant trade winds. Bonaire’s culinary scene is becoming as exciting a draw as its natural attractions: There’s caviar-topped potato salad (served in a golden egg) at Brass Boer, one of the island’s finest options, run by chef Jonnie Boer of the Netherlands’ three-Michelin-starred De Librije; Dutch-style homemade bagels at Bagel & Bloom; and a six-course dinner on the Melisa, a 50-foot yacht-cum-restaurant where guests can expect fresh lobster, wine pairings, and a solid sunset perch. Don’t leave without at least one sunset on King’s Beach, paying homage to the island’s resident flamingo population with a Flamingo gin and tonic from Ocean Oasis.

Get There: Spend a day on Bonaire hiking, diving, and snacking on frikandel (deep-fried sausage) on Celebrity Cruises’ nine-night round-trip-from-Fort Lauderdale voyage on the 2,852-passenger Celebrity EquinoxBook a Celebrity Cruise with Santa Barbara Travel Bureau to receive additional amenities.

NIESEKO       Powder to the people in Japan at everyone’s next favorite ski destination. 

Northern Japan, especially the island of Hokkaido, receives a lot of snow – last year, one storm dumped 12 feet, more than some marquee resorts in the Alps get all winter. “Skiing in Japan is no longer a hidden gem: The snowfall is out of the bag, and word has spread about the abundance of fresh powder,” says Rick Reichsfeld, president of tour operator Alpine Adventures. He’s seen a huge increase in interest in Niseko, one of the country’s most popular ski resorts, noting that “travelers who went for the first time last winter were so wowed, they’re ready to go back again with more friends.” But it isn’t just bottomless powder drawing skiers to Niseko: There’s a slate of new luxury hotels, Japan’s muscle-soothing onsen (hot springs) baths, Hokkaido’s fresh seafood, and some very good Japanese whiskies (one of the best, Nikka, is distilled locally). “When you add in the incredible sushi, ramen, and hospitality, you’ve got an amazing ski vacation,” Reichsfeld says. Yet another reason to make plans for Japan next year: Janu Tokyo, the first outpost of a new hotel brand from Aman, is set to debut this winter in Tokyo’s new Azabudai Hills development. Expect a more social vibe than at its ultra-private (and ultra-luxe) big sister, with 122 rooms and suites, eight restaurants and bars, and a massive 43,000-square-foot wellness center.

Get There: Alpine Adventures’ custom Niseko tours can include everything from air and ground transfers to ski rentals and lessons, lift tickets, and lodging. Check into the 100-room ski-in/ski-out Park Hyatt Niseko Hanazono, which has its own onsen, a ski valet and rental shop, and 11 bars and restaurants, including an omakase sushi spot and Niseko’s only cigar lounge. Book with Santa Barbara Travel Bureau to receive breakfast daily and a $100 dining credit.

Pantelleria in bloom.  -eStock Photo

PANTELLERIA         In search of la dolce vita – and Italian wine – without the crowds. 

It’s a trek to reach Pantelleria – which sits between Sicily and Tunisia, a 45-minute flight from Palermo – but for travelers who covet bewitching topography, multicultural soul, and a refreshing absence of high-design flashiness, this tiny, windswept, middle-of-nowhere island is Eden. Volcanic activity whittled Pantelleria’s landscape of caldera-formed valleys, mountains, and jagged, cove-dotted coastline, home to ancient stepped-stone terraces and whitewashed, dome-roofed dwellings called dammusi. Sunsets are poetic – mystical, even – and they cap off days spent swimming at secluded inlets such as Cala Tramontana or diving into the blue-green sea from a lava perch at Balata dei Turchi. Plan to dedicate at least a day or two to soaking in the island’s hot springs – from Specchio di Venere, with its therapeutic mud, to Gadir’s ancient Roman stone-hewn bathtubs – then spend the rest of the time visiting the vineyards that blanket the island and popping into family-owned cafés for classic dishes that spotlight Pantelleria’s acclaimed capers.

Get There:  Santa Barbara Travel Bureau advisors have many on-site tour partners, with our favorite being Target Travel to create custom itineraries on Pantelleria, including boutique accommodations, winetasting excursions, guided hikes, and more.

PARIS     The City of Light gears up for a gold-medal summer. 

Paris always draws a crowd, but next July, thousands of international athletes and spectators will descend on the city for the 33rd Summer Olympic Games making the city an “it” place to be. The spectacle begins with Parisian flair: For the first time ever, the opening ceremony’s parade of nations will take place on boats. Competitors are set to cruise along the Seine from the Austerlitz Bridge to the Eiffel Tower, past revelers and landmarks that include Notre-Dame cathedral, slated to reopen at the end of 2024 after a five-year closure. Secure tickets ASAP (your travel advisor can help), then make plans to toast the Games at Cravan, Moët Hennessy’s debut cocktail bar, spread across four floors inside a renovated seventeenth-century building in the Saint-Germain neighborhood. Later, settle in at Créatures, the lofty summer-only restaurant atop the Galeries Lafayette, where TikTok-famous chef of the moment Julien Sebbag prepares flaky croissants and vegetarian sharing plates alongside championship-worthy views of the city.

Get There: Steps from the Opéra, Kimpton St Honoré’s 1917 art nouveau facade is an appetizer for the elegant style found inside its 149 rooms. Take refuge from the street-level madness at the hotel’s Sequoia rooftop bar. Book with Santa Barbara Travel Bureau to receive a welcome amenity, breakfast daily, and a $100 dining credit.  

Amanpuri digs.

PHUKET     Thailand’s full-moon party island is about to get a Hollywood upgrade. 

It started with Maui and followed with SicilyThe White Lotus effect, as it’s been dubbed, has turbocharged interest in the holiday destinations of the smash HBO series’ well-traveled (and less well behaved) characters. For its third season, projected to debut sometime in late 2024, rumor has it that the crew is landing on Thailand’s largest island, Phuket, where hijinks will undoubtedly ensue – as well as a real-world surge in popularity. Producers are still mum on which resort will serve as the film set – the internet speculates that it might be the recently renovated Amanpuri, which spills down a coconut grove onto a honey-hued beach, or Trisara, with its templelike villas and private infinity pools. Either way, days on Phuket are filled with jungle treks, long-tail boat trips around whisper-quiet bays, and fresh coconuts in the shade of swaying palm trees. More serene still is nearby Koh Yao Yai, where visitors lounge on powder-white beaches, water buffalo graze near roadsides, and the new Anantara Koh Yao Yai Resort & Villas looks out to Phang Nga Bay’s dramatic karst formations.

Get There: Fresh from a three-month renovation, Amanpuri’s 84 villas are like tiny Thai temples to beachside bliss. Upping the chill factor: a Kengo Kuma-designed hilltop izakaya and a Spa House with a host of hydrotherapy facilities and an alfresco Jacuzzi lounge. Book with Santa Barbara Travel Bureau to receive breakfast daily and a $100 dining credit.

VALENCIA   Pedal through Spanish gardens in Europe’s new Green Capital. 

The birthplace of paella and the home of the actual Holy Grail, Spain’s third-largest city is adding a new superlative to its list: the European Commission’s 2024 Green Capital. Visitors will see why Valencia earned the nod while exploring its nearly 100 miles of bike paths and 54 million square feet of green spaces, from the sprawling Turia Garden to the new Parque Central. Other perks on the Mediterranean port city’s periphery include birding paradise Albufera Natural Park and the Huerta, vast farmlands that sustain Valencia’s superlocal dining scene.

Get There: Sagres Vacations works with Santa Barbara Travel Bureau advisors to craft tailor-made Spanish experiences, such as bike tours that spin through Turia Garden and the old quarter to glimpse the Holy Grail at Valencia Cathedral.

ASPEN        The Colorado resorts on- and off-slope offerings have reached peak glitz.

Already one of the world’s poshest mountain destinations, Aspen becomes even more desirable this season with the multimillion-dollar renovation of the Buttermilk Base Area and the unveiling of Hero’s, a new 153-acre ski terrain on the upper part of Aspen Mountain. Hero’s adds 1,220 vertical feet of powder-cloaked trails and glades to Aspen’s vast expanse, and its high-elevation, northeast-facing perch can sustain natural snowfall for longer stretches, meaning it’s the pocket of mountain everyone will want to shred this winter. The recent arrival of the Michelin Guide in Colorado is giving Aspen’s restaurant scene some extra love, with sleek tasting-menu spot Bosq earning the resort’s first Michelin star. For the pinnacle of oh-so-Aspen après-ski, make tracks for the mountaintop AspenX Beach Club, which rings in its third season with more guest DJs and dining options. Even the shopping is getting chicer, with new boutiques from Fusalp, Gucci, Hermès, and Bottega Veneta.

Get There: Aspen’s sleekest address is The Little Nell, a 92-room ski-in/ski-out retreat at the mountain’s base. In December, the hotel will debut its renovated spa (with Dr. Barbara Sturm skincare treatments), a redesigned wine bar, and stress-busting, high-tech smart mattresses from Bryte in several of its rooms and suites. Book with Santa Barbara Travel Bureau to receive breakfast daily and a $100 dining credit.  

Travel Tip-  Restaurant reservations typically open 30 days prior in Aspen, and they fill up quickly, so book fast. Two new spots that are “it” right now: Catch Steak and Las Montañas.