We've got the inside scoop on how you can check places like Cuba and other hot spots off your bucket list—plus some need-to-know info about the spots you should hold off on visiting until political tensions calm down a bit.
We've been keeping an eye on all the bucket list-worthy places that made news in 2014 and early 2015 so you don't have to. Here's Budget Travel's definitive list of the places you should visit this year, where you should tread carefully, and which spots are worth waiting for until things calm down a bit.
Cuba has been making news a lot lately, especially with American and Cuban officials working together more than ever to restore the relationship between the two nations. As a result, restrictions that once made travel to Cuba nearly impossible are now starting to ease up. While it's not as easy as just booking a flight and lounging on a beach all week, Americans interested in traveling to Cuba to visit family or to participate in religious, student or journalist-related activities, cultural performances, sporting events, or educational People-to-People tours will no longer have to face as much red tape as in recent years. According to an article by the New York Times, Americans will still need to fit their trip into one of the acceptable travel categories listed above and keep all receipts from activities in Cuba for up to five years following the trip. On the bright side, you'll be spared the hastle of waiting to be approved for a license on a case-by-case basis, you'll soon be able to use American credit cards on the island, and you'll be allowed to bring home up to $100 worth of Cuban cigars in your $400 souvenir limit.
To Go or Not to Go: Go! Friendly Planet's Discover Havana tour starts at $2,399 per person for a six-day trip when you book through this link by Feb. 24th. Other affordable options include their Highlights of Havana & Varadero tour, a seven-day trip from $2,799 per person, and Colors of Cuba, a nine-day adventure through Havana, Cienfuegos, Trinidad, Cojimar, and Santa Clara, from $3,699. SmarTours also offers an 11-day trip to Cuba from $2,999 per person when you book by Mar. 12th.
Los Cabos: Cabo San Lucas & San José del Cabo
Nowadays, it's hard to tell that this part of Mexico's Baja California Peninsula was hit by Hurricane Odile back in September of 2014, and we're happy to report the entire area has been bouncing back nicely ever since. Within just a few weeks of the Category 3 storm, Los Cabos International Airport was back to operating as usual, power was restored, and most hotels and restaurants were able to start the clean-up process and reopen in time for the busy 2014 holiday season. According to an article by The Seattle Times, Cabo San Lucas and nearby Medano Beach are bustling again, while other spots closer to San José del Cabo and along Cabo's Corridor, where the brunt of the damage was, are looking better every day. Don't let last year's hurricane stop you from heading to the beaches of Los Cabos in 2015!
To Go or Not to Go: Go!
If you've always wanted to see the pyramids up close, this is the year to visit Egypt—we even named it as one of Budget Travel's best budget destinations for 2015! While the country has been making headlines since 2011 due to political unrest, there are currently no Travel Warnings in effect by the U.S. State Department, and tourism is expected to increase thanks to super-affordable hotel rates—think major chains like Hilton, Starwood, and Marriott for less than $125 a night, and our favorite find, The Pyramids View Inn, an American-owned B&B that offers amazing views of the Great Pyramids and Sphinx and rates from $30 a night. Visitors can also expect fewer crowds at some of Egypt's biggest bucket-list-worthy attractions. Just remember to stay vigilant whenever you're in touristy areas and to avoid public demonstrations, which can sometimes end in violence. As of press time, the Egyptian Tourism Authority advises visitors to stick to larger cities like Cairo, Alexandria, Luxor, Hurghada, and Aswan, as parts of the northern Sinai and spots outside the Cairo metropolitan area are still considered to be dangerous.
To Go or Not to Go: Go! But remember to check the travel.state.gov website for updates.
People around the world watched in disbelief when the Sydney hostage situation unfolded in December 2014, but "lone wolf" style attacks like that should not stop anyone from visiting this popular Australian hotspot. Located in New South Wales and home to such wonders as the Sydney Harbour Bridge and the legendary Sydney Opera House, the city will be hosting major events like the ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 this year. You can expect spectacular summer weather a little while longer (their summer happens during our winter, so now is a good time to visit, especially as Sydney enters its shoulder season), whale watching along Australia's east coast from May to November, and a chance to explore scenic Sydney Harbour Islands National Park, with ferries departing from Circular Quay several times a day. We even dug up a few travel deals from Qantas Vacations to help get you on your way, like the 11-Day Best of Australia: Melbourne, Reef, and Sydney package—from $2,559 including airfare from L.A., three nights in Melbourne, three nights in Cairns, and three nights in Sydney among other perks—and the 10-Day Best of Australia's Outback package—from $2,959 including airfare from L.A., two nights in Alice Springs, two nights near Uluru, and four nights in Sydney.
To Go or Not to Go: Go!
Ever since Vietnam opened its doors to tourism in the early 1990s, visitors have flocked to experience the country's vast history and culture, warm hospitality of its people, and to feast on the food—trust me, try everything, it's delicious! There's something for everyone in Vietnam—visit the places where history was made up close in Ho Chi Minh City, wander the French architecture-filled streets and colorful markets of Hanoi, tour ancient palaces and pagodas in the Imperial City of Hue, wander the ancient riverside enclaves of lantern-loving Hoi An, or kayak among the caves and islands in Ha Long Bay. The best part? Once you get over the sticker shock of the airfare, Vietnam is very affordable. World Spree offers a budget-friendly seven-night tour that includes round-trip airfare from L.A. or San Francisco, accommodations in five-star hotels around Vietnam, several guided tours, a luxurious overnight cruise in Ha Long Bay, and time to explore Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Hue, and Hoi An, from $1,899 per person.
To Go or Not to Go: Go!
In recent years, the Peruvian tourism industry has been working on improving its hotels, airports, and overall infrastructure to help the country emerge as a major tourist destination. And it's working. Travelers are branching out beyond the big bucket list items like Machu Picchu and the Peruvian Amazon, and visiting places like Lima, Cusco, the Sacred Valley, Arequipa, and Puno. Spend some time getting to know this fascinating place where Quechua, the ancient language of the Inca, is still spoken right along with Spanish and English. Visit bustling cities like Lima, where you can explore Spanish monasteries, go for a stroll along the Pacific in a Gaudí-inspired seaside park, and sample world-class Peruvian cuisine all in one day. Spend some time learning about the violent, oppressive Spanish takeover of the Incas in the oh-so-charming city of Cusco, where you can visit Coricancha, the site where a church was built on top of a partially-destroyed Inca temple. Try chicha morada (a purple-corn based fruit juice), sip a pisco sour (a cocktail so delicious it is the national drink of both Peru and Chile), and sample new foods you never knew you loved—when in doubt, go for lomo saltado, a delicious combination of Peruvian beef, rice, maize, and salad; or go big and taste alpaca steak or cuy, a traditional guinea pig dish seasoned with a tasty blend of Peruvian spices. If you're not a fan of traveling on your own, tour companies like G Adventures and Intrepid Travel offer a variety of affordable trips to Peru—we recommend G Adventures' Machu Picchu Adventure tour, which includes time in Lima, Cusco, the Sacred Valley, and Machu Picchu with a local guide to help give you an insider's perspective throughout, and the unique opportunity to visit two projects by Planeterra that help give back to the local community.
To Go or Not to Go: Go!
With the U.S. dollar doing better than ever, this is they year to take that trip to Europe you've been dreaming about—especially if you've always wanted to visit the City of Light. In what looks to be a result of the horrendous terrorism attacks that took place in early 2015, The Wall Street Journal reported a 3 to 4 percent drop in hotel bookings compared with those in 2013, although additional security measures at major Paris attractions and throughout the city's Jewish Quarter will hopefully help to stifle fears for visiting the city. In the meantime, if you plan to go, we recommend staying in an Airbnb or HomeAway vacation rental to get a true Parisian neighborhood experience, or if you're looking for an affordable hotel option, check out Accor Hotels, a popular brand that puts you near the center of all the action for less. If you're looking for budget-friendly accommodations and the chance to bond with your fellow travelers, check out Generator Paris, a hostel designed like a boutique hotel, that opened in Paris' hip 10th Arrondissement above Canal St. Martin on Feb. 1st, 2015. (We're huge fans of the Generator Hostels' London and Barcelona properties, and can't wait to check out the new one in Paris!) Rates at Generator Paris start at $29 for a bed in an ensuite shared room or from $112 a night for a private room.
To Go or Not to Go: Go, but keep an eye on the news in case of any developments.
We know, we know, there's Ebola in Africa. Well, guess what? It has also turned up on other continents and in other countries and around the world, including the United States. While it is important to take proper precautions to avoid the further spread of this deadly disease, it's also important to remember that you can really only catch the virus if you are in direct contact with infected people, fruit bats, primates, or items like needles and syringes that have been contaminated by their bodily fluids, meaning the chances of an average visitor to Africa coming down with Ebola are relatively slim. That being said, tourism to other countries far from the outbreak has been rather bleak over the last year, although, geographically speaking, not wanting to visit countries like South Africa because of Ebola cases more than 3,000 miles away would be like saying you don't want to visit Florida because there were cases of Ebola in Alaska. You can still visit South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya, Namibia, Botswana, and plenty of other African countries without worrying about coming into contact with the virus—the South African Tourism Board even released this statement about Ebola last year, saying, "No cases of the Ebola virus have been reported in the country, and the government is confident of the systems and protocols that are in place to address any incidence of the virus." If you'd like to do something to help victims of the disease, please consider donating to an organization like Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, or the United Nations Foundation's Ebola Response Fund.
To Go or Not to Go: Avoid travel to Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in West Africa, the three most heavily affected countries, for the time being, but otherwise, GO!
Israel & Palestinian Territories
This part of the world is full of cultural and historical treasures near and dear to the hearts of most major religions, yet violent conflicts between the people who live in this region are constantly making headlines. As of right now, the U.S. State Department's Travel Warning for Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza advises against travel to the Gaza Strip, although technically a ceasefire has been in effect since Aug. 26th of last year. We would suggest traveling to Israel with a tour company for the time being, just to be on the safe side—Gate 1 Travel, G Adventures, and Intrepid Travel all offer affordable guided trips that won't break the bank.
To Go or Not to Go: Go, but exercise caution and pay attention to updates on travel.state.gov.
With ongoing conflicts between Ukraine and Russia worsening every day, we can't recommend traveling to the Eastern Ukraine / Russian border area until things calm down. The U.S. State Department's Ukraine Travel Warning currently states, "Despite the signing of a ceasefire agreement in September 2014, violent clashes between Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces continue in parts of the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk, resulting in thousands of injuries and deaths. In addition, Russian military forces continue to occupy the Crimean Peninsula and are present on the eastern border of Ukraine."
To Go or Not to Go: Don't go.
With mounting threats by terrorist groups like ISIS and an ongoing and unpredictable civil war, the U.S. State Department continues to warn American citizens against traveling to this area—its Syria Travel Warning currently states, "No part of Syria should be considered safe from violence. The potential for hostile acts exists throughout the country, including kidnappings and the use of chemical warfare against civilian populations."
To Go or Not to Go: Don't go.