Dedicated list tickers will have been interested to learn which countries Lonely Planet guides have recently nominated to be the top ten to explore in 2013. Focusing on where they think visitors should consider going, rather than where they have already been, the Lonely Planet team have pulled together the views of staff, travel writers and the wider travel community. Explore runs tours to eight out of the ten nominated countries. So, are you ready to tick some of them off?
1) Sri Lanka – beautiful beaches, friendly people, plentiful wildlife and numerous Buddhist temples and other historical sites – we agree; Sri Lanka is hard to beat. Yala National Park is said to contain the highest density of leopards in the world while off-shore, giant blue whales patrol the tranquil waters. Evidence of the importance of Buddhism is everywhere; the impressive cave temples at Dambulla are not to be missed. One of the Explore team loved Sri Lanaka so much that he got married there and came up with his own top ten highlights.
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2) Montenegro – a hidden corner of Europe which deserves to come out in the limelight. Only gaining independence in 2006, this part of former Yugoslavia is steeped in history and blessed with tranquil lakes bordered by green pastures and sprawling forests – perfect for outdoor activities like walking and cycling. The highlight for culture lovers will be Kotor; this UNESCO listed town dates back to medieval times and sits in a beautiful lakeside location.
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3) South Korea – wedged between China and Japan, this high-tech nation is not always top of mind for travellers - but it should be. Visitors can experience everything from the buzz of the big city in Seoul to the tranquillity of life in a Buddhist Temple. Top of the list of ‘must-sees’ is Jeju Island; the residents of this volcanic outcrop have developed their own unique culture and traditions, perhaps inspired by the natural beauty of their surroundings.
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4) Ecuador – straddling the equator and lapped by the Pacific Ocean, Ecuador is a land of towering volcanoes and plentiful wildlife enriched by traditional Andean culture. Offshore, the allure of the Galapagos Islands is hard to ignore. This chain of volcanic islands is home to many endemic species of birds, plants and reptiles with a landscape which is largely unspoilt by human activities. Observing the antics of friendly sea lions or the courtship rituals of blue-footed boobies are reason enough for Ecuador to be at number four.
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5) Slovakia – sitting snuggly in the heart of Europe, this nation was born in 1993 when it parted from Czechoslovakia (now the Czech Republic). Less crowded than the better-known Alps, Slovakia’s High Tatras Mountains are a magnet for trekkers with endless trails past mountain lakes, flower meadows and forests. A more relaxing but equally enjoyable pursuit is riding on wooden rafts down the Dunajec River towards the border with Poland. The river winds its way to the dramatic splendour of the Dunajec Gorge – the deepest in central Europe.
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6) Iceland – with landscapes which wouldn’t be out of place in Lord of the Rings and local legends of the ‘hidden folk’ to match, Iceland is a great place to truly get away from it all. Thundering waterfalls, spouting geysers and crackling glaciers make this a destination for lovers of the great outdoors. Long daylight hours in the summer months allow you to make the most of your time; when you need to relax, head for the mineral-laden waters of the Blue Lagoon spa for a long soak in its bath-like waters.
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7) Turkey – nestled on the borders of Europe, Asia and the Middle East, Turkey’s unique culture has influences from all. The ruins of Greco-Roman cities and the dramatic stone heads at Nemrut Dagi give a fascinating indication of life in ancient times while the beautiful Turquoise Coast is the perfect place to go walking or relax on a boat. Natural wonders such as the bizarre fairy chimneys of Cappadocia and the travertine formations at Pamukkale are unique to this part of the world. Also home to two of the seven wonders of the ancient world, it is fitting that Turkey has seventh place in our list.
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8) Madagascar – following its separation from the African continent, the wildlife here evolved in a completely different way, meaning that much of it is endemic. Endearing lemurs represent the primates while colourful chameleons champion the reptile family. The tropical climate allows all manner of brightly coloured flowers and butterflies to flourish in a land that is like no other. Wildlife enthusiasts should definitely visit!
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