Where we're planning to go this year - join us!
While the arrival of the New Year often means new diets and resolutions, it also means a slew of new vacation days! With their upcoming travels in mind, the members and editors of VirtualTourist.com have selected their "Top Ten Destinations to Take On in 2013."
Cristo Redentor e Pão de Açucar by Pedro Kirilos Courtesy of Riotur/Rio Tourism
One of the most recognizable skylines in the world, some of the greatest beaches on Earth- it's not hard to see why travelers flock to Rio. Since the city is hosting the World Cup next year, as well as the Olympics in 2016, VirtualTourist members are trying to visit the city before prices rise and even more tourists descend. While the sands of Ipanema and the sounds of Bossa Nova are obvious draws, there is much more to Rio than caipirnhas and Copacabana. The unique terrain of the city provides for a number of spectacular lookout points: members suggest either Tijuca National Park, the largest urban park in the world with 710 meters (2, 329 feet) of altitude (where you will also find the Christ the Redeemer monument) or Sugar Loaf Mountain, which is reached by cable car. Another oft overlooked aspect of Rio is the city's architecture landmarks - the Biblioteca Nacional and the Museu de Arte Moderna are must-sees for those interested in evolution of Brazilian architecture.
Rijksmuseum by John Lewis Marshall, courtesy of Rijksmuseum
The city of Amsterdam has long been a favorite of VirtualTourist members, but 2013 promises to be a truly red-letter year for the canaled city. Rijksmuseum, the cornerstone of Amsterdam's Museumplein, is reopening after over more than a decade of renovations, including a complete reorganization of the museum's artifacts into a chronological presentation. Vases and artifacts will be displayed next to paintings from the same period, presenting a complete view of the evolution of the Netherlands' culture and art. On May 1, the Van Gogh Museum will also be reopening after renovations, celebrating the 160th anniversary of Vincent van Gogh's birth. However, if you plan on visiting before April 25, you can still see 75 of Van Gogh's most famous works on display at the Hermitage Amsterdam. Many visitors explore the city by bike, but you can also try skates during Friday Night Skate, a skate tour every Friday from 8pm to 10:30 pm that starts near Vondelpark. You can also explore the city by taking a boat ride on the city's canals, which are celebrating their 400th anniversary this year. A city famous for fun after dark, another unique program this year is 24H Amsterdam, an event planned to showcase all that a particular neighborhood of Amsterdam has to offer over a 24-hour period. The first 24H Amsterdam will take place in the historic Centre district on January 12 through 13. Don't fret if you miss it - there will be four more 24H Amsterdam nights throughout the year in other areas of the city.
Sibiu, Romania courtesy of Romanian National Tourist Office North America
Sibiu, Romania courtesy of Romanian National Tourist Office North America
With exploring Eastern Europe becoming more mainstream, Romania is rapidly turning out to be a great destination for budget-conscious travelers. Bordering Hungary, the Ukraine, and the Black Sea, Romania contains some of Europe's most well-preserved medieval towns. VirtualTourist members will be hosting their annual member meeting this June in Sibiu, a township in historic Transylvania, with plans to explore the Old Saxon architecture of Brasov and the hilltop citadel of nearby Sighisoara. While staying in Sibiu, visitors should see the Bruckental Museum, the region's finest art museum, which has been operating since 1790, even longer than the Louvre. And yes, this is the land of Dracula, or at least the origin and inspiration for Bram Stoker's novel can be traced back here. Two castles that should not be missed are Bran, a Gothic fairy-tale structure near Brasov, and Corvinesti Castle, located in nearby Hunedoara. Multiple members are also planning on traveling south to visit Bucharest, Romania's capital, or seeing more of Eastern Europe, like Moldova, Budapest, or Slovakia.
Photo Credit: Iguanas on the Galapagos, Courtesy of Ecuador Tourism
Every year, more VT members make the trek to experience the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. One of the most fragile environments on Earth, the islands, their national park and the marine biological reserve comprise the only province totally surrounded by water. Though the islands were removed from the UNESCO's List of World Heritage in Danger over two years ago, the ecosystem and its unique species are still fragile and undoubtedly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Ecuador has also taken steps to make traveling to the islands easier than ever: this year, new railway lines will link the capital of Quito with the coastal port of Guayaquil. In addition to visiting the Galapagos, VirtualTourist members also recommend visiting Cuenca, a colonial city famous for its architectural sites and variety of buildings and only a 2 hour and 50 minute drive from Guayaquil, the most common port of entry to the Galapagos.
Photo Credit: Oriental TV Pearl Tower courtesy of Shanghai Municipal Tourism Administration
The primary bastion of economic growth in Mainland China, Shanghai is an interesting juxtaposition of historic buildings and booming growth, and it's never been easier to visit than now. Starting on January 1st of this year, visitors from 45 countries will be able to stay in Shanghai (as well as Beijing) for 72 hours without needing a visa. Start your three days at the Shanghai Museum, located on People's Square, and get an introduction to the city and China's fascinating history. A great comparison between old China and new Shanghai can be seen by strolling Dongtai Road's antiques shops, followed by a visit to Moganshan Road, the buzzing location of many Chinese contemporary art galleries. Lastly, don'Ât forget to take in the skyline and light shows at night - the Pearl Tower, Shanghai World Financial Center, and other towers in the Pudong district provide great views, as do the hotels across the river on the Bund.
Atacama Desert Courtesy of Turismo Chile
Stretching 4,270 km (2,653 mi) along the Pacific Ocean, Chile's length and range of latitudes (from subtropical to subantarctic) create incredible biodiversity and a variety of natural settings to see and enjoy. Most travelers planning to visit Chile will want to do so in the next few months, as this is the country's summer season, meaning temperate weather and a chance to explore areas of Chilean Patagonia that are difficult to traverse in other seasons. Torres del Paine National Park is in splendid form during these months, and the region'Âs famous winds are the most manageable they will be all year. However, there is no shortage of incredible spots to see in Chile year round, like the Atacama Desert, Santiago, and Valpariso. One of the most arid places in the world, the Atacama is an especially great site for avid starwatchers since the sky is completely clear about 340 days a year. Santiago, Chile'Âs capital city, is a growing metropolis and located adjacent to fantastic vineyards. Valpariso, only 74 miles (120km) from Santiago on the coast, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site known for its sloping hills filled with colorful homes and Chile'Âs most vital port.
Sigiriya courtesy of Sri Lanka Tourism
The island of Sri Lanka has long been a fly-over country for most travelers, due to its extensive history of civil unrest, but it's time for this jungle isle to shine. After over four years of stability, it is becoming a popular destination for budget conscious travelers wanting to try something new in Southeast Asia.
For travelers looking for a safari experience, Sri Lanka offers just as much amazing wildlife as Africa, but is much more budget-friendly. Wild elephants, leopards, and spotted deer are just a sample of the mammals you can see in one of the island's fourteen national parks. Yala National Park, the most visited and second largest national park in the country, is vital for the conservation of Sri Lankan Elephants. Another site VirtualTourist.com members strongly recommend is Sigiriya, the ruins of the capital built by King Kassapa I in the 5th century. While the rock itself is quite a difficult climb, the site is surrounded with some very impressive urban planning techniques - members say a simple walk around the grounds is fulfilling and the view from the plateaus is exceptional.
Aurora Borealis in Iceland, photo by Ragnar Th Sigurdsson, Courtesy of Iceland.is
For most nature lovers, Iceland is a fixture on their travel bucket lists as the island nation is filled with dramatic natural landscapes and unique features from hot springs to lava fields to glaciers. Many members comment that while some activities such as the Blue Lagoon and the Golden Circle Tour seem touristy when planning a trip, they are well worth the organized tours and crowds upon arrival. Members residing in Iceland strongly recommend Skaftafell National Park and JökulsÃ¡rlÃ³n, the island's largest glacier lagoon, which is situated between Skaftafell National Park and Höfn. Somewhat off the beaten path but undoubtedly worth the trip, Dettifoss in North Iceland is an amazing sight and the most powerful waterfall in Europe. A unique natural occurrence that makes visiting Iceland this year a major priority is this year'Âs Northern lights display. Predicted by NASA as one of the brightest displays in over 50 years, Iceland is one of the best locations to view this phenomenon. Visiting Iingvellir National Park, a UNESCO Heritage Site, on a night before the end of March means your best chance to witness the lights.
Trinity College Dublin by Chris Hill Courtesy of Ireland Tourism
This year, many members are making the journey back to Ireland, some for the first time and others to celebrate their Irish heritage. The country is hosting a year-long heritage and cultural celebration called The Gathering, inviting both those who claim Irish ancestry or just an interest in Ireland to visit the isle and experience the communities, traditions, and culture of the isle. The city of Dublin, with sights such as Kilmainham Gaol, is a well-known tourist destination, but the literary side of the city is attracting more and more visitors. The Book of Kells, housed in Trinity College, attracts over more than 500,000 visitors each year. It is not the only sight to see at Trinity College's Old Library, as many will recognize the building's "Long Room," one of the most exquisite libraries in the world. The Dublin Writers Museum occupies an 18th century mansion and celebrates the lives of Ireland's four literary Nobel Prize winners (Seamus Heaney, Samuel Beckett, George Bernard Shaw, and William Butler Yeats), as well as other popular authors of Irish descent, such as James Joyce and Oscar Wilde.
Victoria Falls, Zambia
Victoria Falls courtesy of Zambia Tourist Board
Traditionally, the majority of visitors to Africa's Victoria Falls have visited on the Zimbabwe side of the Zambezi River. However, with the unpredictable political situation in Zimbabwe, many travelers are now approaching the falls from the Zambian side. Although Livingstone, the town on the Zambian side of the river, is not nearly as developed as the Zimbabwean side, it still provides the same spectacular views of Victoria Falls. Mosi-O-Tunya National Park, which encompasses the falls on the Zambian side, provides an opportunity to see multiple spectacles in one day. In addition to the falls, visitors often spot antelope, zebras, giraffe, and even elephants crossing the Zambezi and walking freely through out the park. Lower Zambezi National Park, also on the Zambezi River, is known for both its incredible fishing and fantastic birdlife so it attracts hobbyists of all kinds. Zambia is also famous for its "walking safaris," where a game guide leading travelers deep into the bush with nothing but a few yards between them and an elephant or troop of baboons.
Whether it's the seeing awe-inspiring nature sights or soaking in a piece of history that inspires you to travel, we hope 2013 is filled with exciting adventures and great memories. For help planning your next trip, check out tips, reviews, and travelogues at VirtualTourist.com.