Editor’s Note: In gearing up for the announcement of the Top Destinations for Indie Travelers in 2013 on Janary 3, we thought it would be fun to republish all the top destination articles from the past 5 years. Here is the very first of its kind that we published, way back on January 7, 2008.
BootsnAll.com, the website for independent travelers, announces its Top 10 Destinations for 2008. The writers and editors of this global travel information and resource site have compiled ten great destinations that combine history and culture with value for travelers who prefer to arrange their own trips and challenge themselves in the most fascinating places in the world.
You’ll read a lot about “hot” destinations at any given time, and often by the time you’ve read about a place that means it’s suddenly overrun by visitors and its prices are rising while its quality is waning. We’ve done our best to include destinations that are timely but also should be solid choices for years to come.
10 – Buenos Aires
One of the nicest European cities of all is actually in South America. After its currency collapse in 2003, this gorgeous place got embarrassingly cheap for foreigners, but that won’t go on forever, so don’t wait too long. Vegetarians may find beef-obsessed Argentina a bit challenging. It won’t be a deal-breaker, though, as this cosmopolitan city has something for everyone, including a diverse nightlife scene that usually goes until dawn or later. Brush up on your Español before you go – it will help you experience the city more completely.
9 – Budapest
The capital of Hungary is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Unlike some other Eastern European destinations, visiting is still very cheap compared to the West. The old town district of Castle Hill is a highlight of this huge city, and the hearty portions of the paprika-accented food win over most who try it. You can spend days just admiring the classic architecture, but the city is also an excellent place to begin an exploration of the many historic Hungarian villages nearby.
8 – Morocco
This moderate Muslim country is easily visible and quickly reachable from the southern coast of Spain, but it feels a world away. Quickly pass through the “border-town” city of Tangier and on to Rabat, Fes, or Marrakech for a pleasant cultural shock on a backpacker’s budget. Choose Fes or Marrakech, and add in a smaller city to escape the constant tourism push, but skip the chaotic capital of Casablanca. For those with a bit more time, trekking the Atlas mountain ranges makes for an unforgettable adventure mixed with a cultural experience that contrasts nicely with Morocco’s bustling cities. Even for independent travelers, a tour using a local guide can be a great way to see all the magical parts of Morocco and avoid its often frustrating tourist traps.
7 – Chiang Mai, Thailand
This walled city in the Himalayan foothills is 700 kilometers north of Bangkok and is known as the gateway to northern Thailand. Over 300 Buddhist temples in all different styles dot the area, with the 13th century Wat Chiang Man being the oldest. An important trading center for many centuries, there’s plenty to do during the frequently steamy days. The famous Night Bazaar with its bargain crafts and fashions is the place to spend the cool Chiang Mai evenings. The fact that hotel rooms start around US$5.00 per night, and traditional Thai mini-resorts can be found for not much more, only sweetens the deal. This is a great place for a minor splurge for long term travelers in Southeast Asia.
6 – Ethiopia
Forget what you might have thought about Ethiopia before, this large East African country is not depressing or completely parched. A growing tourist infrastructure is making it easier to discover for adventurous travelers. Having never been colonized, Ethiopia has its own fascinating history and culture, which mix nicely with one of the most impressive networks of well preserved national parks in the world. The Omo Valley in the east provides an unforgettable look at African tribal life today. Hotels in Ethiopia start under US$10.00, but luxury is available if you’ve got the money.
5 – Queenstown, New Zealand
Anyone who has been to New Zealand knows that Queenstown is the tourist mecca of its South Island. During winter the city is filled with snowboarders and skiers; for the rest of the year, the Bungee-jumping and adventure-travel crowd moves in, so the nightlife is good year round. This postcard-perfect mountain city on a lake is also so charming that you’ll want to move there before you even reach the center of town for the first time. You can have a great visit using public transportation, but if you’ve rented a car or campervan, your possibilities for exploring the area greatly increase. Queenstown is not terribly cheap, but it’s not a budget buster either.
4 – Sicily
This endlessly scenic island off Italy’s toe has its own ancient culture and even its own language, but in some ways it’s also more intensely Italian (and noticeably cheaper) than the main tourist cities in the north. The plentiful seafood is both exotic and simple, and the abundant vineyards ensure the wine keeps flowing at a very reasonable price. Check on the bustling capital of Palermo or the beach resort/fishing village of Cefalù at any time, except the sweltering and steamy summer. Ancient Greek ruins can be found in many areas and Mt. Etna – Europe’s largest active volcano – is easy to explore as well.
3 – Jordan
The Middle East can sound scary and that helps keep Jordan from being overwhelmed with tourists, but this safe and welcoming country where most people speak some English – eco-tourism is quickly catching on – offers a fascinating look at the region with surprisingly few headaches. Don’t linger in the modern capital of Amman. Instead, spend a couple of days in the ancient city of Petra and another couple checking out the stunning desertscapes of Wadi Rum. Spring and fall are the best times to visit, but brave visitors are welcome all year round. As long as things remain stable in Jordan, it’s bound to start getting crowded in years to come.
2 – Belize
This tiny English-speaking Central American country feels frozen in time, but in a very good way. Paved roads are a rarity on the popular tourist islands where most visitors go. Belize has world-class scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing, sailing, sea-kayaking, cave-tubing and jungle expeditions, mixed with fascinating Maya culture. It’s one of the cheapest Caribbean resort destinations now, but don’t wait too long. Developers and even celebrities have caught on (Leonardo DiCaprio is building an eco-resort on a private island in Belize and Francis Ford Coppola already owns a couple of places), so it won’t be this way forever.
1 – Nepal
Most famous for being home to half of Mount Everest, there is a lot more to do in this ultra-photogenic country than follow a Sherpa into the sky. Trekking adventures for all skill levels are available throughout Nepal, and crowds still tend to be minimal for now. Check out some Bengal tigers, elephants and Indian rhinos during a guided jungle tour in the Royal Chitwan National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The capital of Kathmandu – which dates back to the 8th Century AD – is filled with temples, but also has a sturdy tourist infrastructure. Hotels for under US$10.00 per night are easy to find, but so are international business-class hotels for those with deeper pockets.
Read our Top 10 lists from other years:
- Top 10 Destinations for Independent Travelers in 2009
- Top 10 Destinations for Independent Travelers in 2010
- Top 10 Destinations for Independent Travelers in 2011
- Top 10 Destinations for Independent Travelers in 2012