We’re calling it early! Our i-escape experts reveal the best long-haul destinations for next year. Prepare for major wanderlust.
1Gili Air and Lombok, Indonesia
Kate Parsons, Head of Reservations
Thankfully, the chilled Gili islands trio has bounced back vigorously from the 2018 earthquake. Gili Air is ideal for those hankering after desert-island feels and jaw-dropping blood-red sunsets. No cars mean you can wander between horse-drawn carts, taking in the whole island in a couple of hours. Gaze across the ocean to Indonesia’s second-tallest sacred volcano, Gunung Rinjani, as it watches over nearby Lombok. It’s a must for those looking to trek up to the spectacular Segara Anak Crater Lake at its summit. Water babies can catch the start of Lombok’s best surf breaks in November.
When to go: November to beat the crowds and clasp onto the last of the dry weather before the rains come. However, Lombok doesn’t have a monsoon season.
Best place to stay: Sidle away from the crowds at this very private hideaway in a quiet corner of Gili Air island. Over on Lombok, this collection of striking cubist lodges includes a stunning five-course Indo-fusion dinner.
Lucy Richardson, Assistant Editor
Costa Rica is an environmentalist’s paradise, boasting a trailblazing approach to the protection of its natural wonders which other destinations can only envy. Committed to eradicating single-use plastic by 2021 (the first country to do so), Costa Rica now boasts an incredible 166 protected areas of forests, mountains and shorelines. If you’re interested in seeing genuine ‘climate action’, now’s the time to explore Costa Rica’s world-class conservation programmes. Especially take a tour of Tortuguero National Park. It’s a mass green turtle nesting site on the Caribbean coast that can only be reached by boat or plane.
When to go: The ‘green’ season in May (hot, sunny mornings with an afternoon downpour) brings quieter adventures. Avoid the US summer holidays in June and July.
Best place to stay: Wake up to the sound of monkeys chatting at Hotel Punta Islita on the Pacific Coast. Or take the family to this rustic cabin near Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
3Koh Phra Thong Island, Thailand
Michael Cullen, Director of Hotel Partnerships
If you’re looking for somewhere in Thailand with total peace and seclusion and with miles of unspoiled beaches, Koh Phra Thong is the place. Located off the western coast near Kuraburi, this stunningly beautiful island is a paradise for spotting rare wildlife, including a huge colony of hornbills and sambar deer (which like to swim in the ocean). There are hundreds of varieties of birds and reptiles and crab-eating monkeys. Plus, the island is the only substantial colony of the endangered lesser adjutant stork in Thailand. If you’re very lucky, you might just glimpse a turtle nesting on its empty beaches. So empty, in fact, that Koh Phra Thong wins hands down for the fewest number of tourists per beach-mile in the whole of Thailand. Reason enough to visit soon.
When to go: The best time is November-February when the weather is cooler (30°C) and there is little rain.
Best place to stay: This stunning, back-to-nature island hideaway on a deserted beach has exemplary eco credentials and lush rainforest on your doorstep.
4 Langkawi, Malaysia
Nadine Mellor, Kids Collection and New Hotels Editor
Shrouded in virgin rainforest, Langkawi’s famous dramatic peaks are best viewed from the SkyCab (the steepest cable car climb in the world) or curved suspension Skybridge in the northwest of the island. With increased flight frequencies from the UK and Europe, this ‘jewel of Malaysia’ has never been easier to explore. There’s an amazing array of bird and butterfly life to spot, and don’t miss discovering (by boat) the ancient geological formations and mangrove forests in UNESCO-listed Kilim Karst Geopark. In fact, there are at least 99 islands to explore.
When to go: Flee the run-up to a commercial Christmas at home and make the most of 30-35°C temperatures before the high season kicks in.
Best place to stay: This trailblazing luxury resort has flawless rooms, a private beach, and is enveloped by 10-million-year-old virgin rainforest. For romance, try one of these eight antique Malay houses rebuilt on a century-old coconut plantation.
5 The Yucatán, Mexico
Ben Reed, Bookings Consultant
The Yucatán packs a huge punch for a small area, with historic colonial towns (Merida), Aztec ruins and cenote swimming holes. I absolutely loved Isla Holbox. It still feels gloriously shabby round the edges with tropical, colourful, hippy vibes. While it’s popular with locals at the weekends, it’s still so easy to find a quiet corner to soak it all in. Blissfully free of traffic, cool little bars and good value restaurants (serving the best fresh ceviche) combine with powder-white beaches to create the perfect place to drop out, sit under a palm tree and drink mojitos while chatting to the pelicans.
When to go: Late November-early December has lower rates, less risk of hurricanes and rainfall tapers off.
Best place to stay: This chic bolthole in Isla Holbox includes sunrise yoga and kayak hire. Check out Xpu-Ha beach to discover this luxurious hotel – the former home of an Italian Duchess.
6 South Goa, India
Rosanna Spence, Editorial Assistant
South Goa’s peaceful charm is reminiscent of the north’s attraction decades ago. If trance parties and endless beach bars pumping out wobbly basslines aren’t your cup of tea, head for the south’s 127 beaches. You can unearth gems like Butterfly Beach (you’ll need a boat to explore it) and Insta-worthy Palolem with its technicolour beach huts and swaying palms. The shallow waters allow endless paddling opportunities for your little explorers. You can also spot the odd pig having a good old root around the stretching sands at low tide.
When to go: November for the greenest, exotic scenery. December before the Christmas season (or stay for New Year if you don’t mind busier beaches). February-March for the Goa Carnival.
Best place to stay: Sleep any closer to the sea at Agonda Villas and you’d wake up with gentle waves washing over you. Further up the golden coastline and hidden in the hilltops is a collection of thatched cottages.
7 Torres del Paine, Chile
Jenna Woollon, Bookings Consultant
As a non-hiker, I was amazed by how Torres del Paine captivated my soul. The reflection of its breathtaking mountains in the emerald lakes would have been enough, but the surrounding countryside, the wildlife and the epic wilderness were cherries on top. Chile’s spectacular national park is a genuine trip-of-a-lifetime destination: a place where you really feel at the edge of the world. It’s also the ultimate hiker’s heaven. Still, non-hikers can revel in the jaw-dropping scenery, the absorbing quietude and the starry skies. Visit in December 2020 for the ultimate experience – a total solar eclipse.
When to go: Early March sees fewer tourists and lower flight prices. It gets cool at night, but you can still enjoy late-summer sunshine on most days.
Best place to stay: Enjoy a dome with a view at this excellent eco-camp with unrivalled views of the Milky Way. Or rejuvenate your spirits with amazing adventures, delicious food and wine, and Jacuzzis-with-views at this stunning modernist hotel.
8Hoi An, Vietnam
Marta Purwin, Bookings Consultant
During an extended trip travelling from north to south Vietnam, Hoi An was by far my favourite place. The Old Town is a celebrated UNESCO world heritage site, but the entire city lives up to its name: ‘peaceful meeting place’. It’s best navigated on a bicycle. You can weave through its colourful ancient lanes while snapping away on your phone – Hoi An is a photographer’s dream. It really comes alive in the evenings, with glowing lanterns and bustling street markets serving the most delicious Vietnamese food. No wonder it won Top City in the World Travel + Leisure World’s Best Awards. I would definitely recommend taking a day trip to the marine-protected Chàm Islands. These eight pristine islets are the least developed in Vietnam and, for now, largely unexplored by the tourist crowds.
When to go: The dry season runs from February-August (temperatures can reach 38°C). July is best for fewer crowds and a spectacular view of the full moon.
Best place to stay: This fantastic-value boutique resortis a five-minute cycle from Hoi An’s UNESCO centre. Afterwards, travel 45km down the coast to this secluded hideawaywith great beach vibes.
9 Thaa Atoll, Maldives
Jake Hamilton, Editor
The days of the Maldives being an untouched paradise are, sadly, quite over. Today, this honeymoon magnet welcomes 1.5m tourists a year across 130 resorts. But paradise isn’t completely lost. Its least visited region, the astonishingly beautiful Thaa Atoll, contains over 40 uninhabited islands, hundreds of coral reef systems and just a single hotel. It’s also the place for night-swimming with whale sharks. But visit soon: a brace of large resorts is on the horizon, which could spell the beginning of the end for this wild blue heaven.
When to go: The dry season starts November, with warm temperatures (29°C) and fewer crowds. Avoid the peak Christmas holiday period.
Best place to stay: Tucked away in the southern reaches, this seriously seductive island-retreat is the only hotel in Thaa Atoll. It’s blessed with cream-white beaches, stylish overwater villas and a dazzling sapphire lagoon. Just 60 minutes by seaplane from the airport.