Where in the world to go in 2012
Cuba, Panama, Tokyo and Oakland, Calif. are among the top places to go in 2012.
Northwest Travel Guides
There are destinations to satisfy every appetite and curiosity for 2012. The New York Times asked authorities in various fields about the best places to understand the world, hunt for treasure, see art, eat and hear music. Here's some of the places they selected:
Go for the canal. Stay for everything else.
It's been 12 years since Panama regained control of its canal, and the country's economy is booming. Cranes stalk the skyline of the capital, Panama City, where high-rises sprout one after the next and immigrants arrive daily from around the world. Among those who have landed en masse in recent years are U.S. expatriates and investors, who have banked on Panamanian real estate by building hotels and buying retirement homes. The passage of the United States-Panama free trade agreement in October is expected to accelerate this international exchange of people and dollars (the countries use the same currency).
Among the notable development projects is the Panama Canal itself, which is in the early stages of a multibillion-dollar expansion. Even Panama City's famously dilapidated historic quarter, Casco Viejo, has been transformed. The neighborhood, a tangle of narrow streets, centuries-old houses and neo-colonial government buildings, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997 and is now a trendy arts district with galleries, coffeehouses, street musicians and some of the city's most stylish restaurants and boutique hotels.
— Freda Moon
Copenhagen's culinary awakening and Stockholm's trend-setting fashion may have ignited the world's current infatuation with Nordic culture; now Helsinki is poised for the spotlight. The International Council of Societies of Industrial Design has designated it the World Design Capital for 2012.
Design has long been part of the city's DNA, but in recent years the scene has been increasingly energized: The official Design District has ballooned to encompass 25 streets and nearly 200 design-minded businesses, which range from shops selling housewares and furniture to boutique hotels and clothing stores. Design has infiltrated the restaurant scene as well, notably the elegant Chez Dominique and the hot newcomer (and Michelin-starred) Olo.
On top of all that is the spectacular new $242 million Helsinki Music Center. Student ensembles from the Sibelius Academy — the sole university in Finland devoted exclusively to music — will perform in the striking glass-walled space, and both the Vienna Philharmonic and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestras will give concerts in 2012.B
— Ingrid K. Williams
Back on the tourist map after being off-limits for years.
With renowned cultural treasures, world-class boutique hotels and deserted beaches, Myanmar has long been high on intrepid travelers' wish lists. For years, though, heeding calls by the pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and others, many stayed away in protest of Myanmar's authoritarian regime.
Now, however, this is changing.
Since November 2010, when Myanmar's rulers held nominally free elections and released Aung San Suu Kyi after 15 years of house arrest, the boycott has been lifted and Myanmar is set for an influx of visitors.
But locals are aware of the potential downside of tourism as well. Aung San Suu Kyi has called for sustainable development and "trickle down" tourism where dollars will do the most good.
With these goals in mind, nestled along the banks of meandering Lake Inle in eastern Myanmar, the ViewPoint eco-lodge combines locally sourced materials with individually tailored activities supporting the local economy (like garden-to-table lunches at an island village house).
— Ceil Miller-Bouchet
The Olympics! The Queen! Charles Dickens turns 200!
Dotted with construction sites, London is preparing for the pomp and circumstance of the Olympic Games and the Diamond Jubilee celebration of the Queen's 60th year on the throne. New stadiums, public spaces and shopping centers are emerging on the city's eastern edge; a 137-room Waldorf Astoria has opened on a 400-acre estate near Heathrow Airport.
But it's not all sport and royalty. On a street of chocolate-box Georgian houses in Bloomsbury, the Charles Dickens Museum will reopen in time for the author's 200th birthday. Across town, Warner Brothers Studio Tour will open the Harry Potter studios to those keen to re-live the films. The Rolling Stones, celebrating their 50th anniversary, might tour again, with a possible finale here. And Robert Redford will inaugurate a London outpost of the Sundance Film festival at the O2 Arena in April.
— Ravi Somaiya
New restaurants and bars beckon amid the grit.
Tensions have cooled since violence erupted at the recent Occupy Oakland protests, but the city's revitalized nightlife scene has continued to smolder.
The historic Fox Theater reopened in 2009 and quickly cemented its status as one of the Bay Area's top music venues, drawing acts like Wilco and the Decemberists.
Meanwhile, the city's ever more sophisticated restaurants are now being joined by upscale cocktail bars, turning once-gritty Oakland into an increasingly appealing place to be after dark.
— Ingrid K. Williams
Last year's tragedy means more room for tourists.
The thought of traveling to Tokyo will most likely make some people nervous. Though the city is about 180 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi power plant, the site of the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl — and the State Department recommends travelers avoid only the area directly around the disaster site — Tokyo has suffered as well, a problem of perception as much as reality.
But from another vantage point, it's a perfect time to visit. A decrease in tourism and business travel is making the city all the more accessible and welcoming.
— Oliver Strand
Coming into its own as an upscale safari destination. For the last several years the number of tourists going to Tanzania has been edging up, according to East African travel specialists like Hippo Creek Safaris and Abercrombie & Kent. But it wasn't until several violent attacks on visitors to neighboring Kenya that the numbers really took off, as Tanzania started to absorb skittish Kenya-bound safari seekers.
Not that Tanzania is coasting along solely on Kenya's troubles; it's always had Mount Kilimanjaro, after all. And now other attractions are being discovered, too — places like Gibb's Farm, a small lodge from which guests can hike to the Ngorongoro Crater area, a prime destination for big game viewing.
— Gisela Williams
The Cuban capital is once again within Americans' reach.
The only thing that lies between Americans and the sultry streets of Havana these days is the Florida Straits, since the Obama administration has widened the kind of travel allowed. A growing list of organizations have licenses to operate trips to Cuba, including National Geographic Expeditions, Austin-Lehman and the Center for Cuban Studies. There are also more flights from more U.S. cities: Fort Lauderdale and Tampa recently joined New York, Miami and Los Angeles on the list, and Chicago will be added this year.
The "people-to-people" rules require Americans to interact with Cubans (sun-and-sand vacations are still prohibited) so tours involve meeting with art historians, organic farmers and others.
— Victoria Burnett
International mole festival. Need we say more? May 5, 2012, is the 150-year anniversary of Cinco de Mayo, the date when, in 1862, an outmanned Mexican army defeated the French troops of Louis-Napoleon Bonaparte. The occasion will be marked with a fiesta in Puebla, the chief spot in Mexico that celebrates the holiday. Ahead of the May festival, the city, the affluent capital of one of Mexico's safest states, is building a light rail line similar to the one in Mexico City and renovating public spaces. Privately, Museo Amparo, which holds one of the country's most impressive collections of indigenous and colonial-era artifacts, has undergone a $17 million update and expansion.
— Freda Moon
With breweries and brewpubs, a sunny heaven for suds lovers.
Even in times of tight budgets, finely crafted beer remains a relatively approachable luxury, and few U.S. regions have more brewing momentum than San Diego County. Maybe it's time, then, to think about building a beer safari in the land of sunshine, fish tacos and hopped-up American IPAs. Long established craft breweries like Karl Strauss Brewing Co. and the cheeky Stone Brewing Co. have mentored brewmasters and created demand for some seriously offbeat ales.
The area has long been a hotbed of garage-based hobbyists, so it's no surprise that the region also has a tradition of dedicated home brewing. The result is a cluster of small breweries, like the tiny but soon-to-expand Hess Brewing.
And there are numerous opportunities for rigorous but never dour beer tastings, at staggeringly comprehensive shops like Bottlecraft Beer Shop & Tasting Room and Pizza Port Bottle Shop, as well as beer-obsessed taverns like Hamilton's and O'Brien's and restaurants like Local Habit. Those looking for full immersion can pack a stein for the fourth annual San Diego Beer Week in November.
— Sara Dickerman
A new Indian biennale will make its debut in this coastal state. Last year India hosted its first pavilion at the Venice Biennale. This year the country inaugurates a biennale of its own. To be held in the southwestern state of Kerala, the Kochi-Muziris Biennale will feature contemporary painting, film, sculpture, installations, new media and performances by Indian and international artists. Most of the action will unfold in the colonial city of Kochi, whose contemporary art scene already offers more than a dozen venues, from the 2-year-old David Hall — a 1695 Dutch colonial mansion — to the longstanding Kashi Art Cafe, a restaurant-gallery-garden-cafe. To host the events, the city's 19th-century Durbar Hall and other old buildings are getting top-to-bottom face-lifts.
But the most remarkable historical reclamation project is happening in the biennale's other Kerala site, Muziris. A fabled ancient port that traded spices and silk with Egypt and Greece two millennia ago, Muziris mysteriously vanished sometime after the fall of Rome. Archaeologists have recently located and started to excavate the vanished settlement, which opened to tourists this year.
— Seith Sherwood
Modern art spruces up Austria's imperial capital.
After a flurry of activity, Vienna's venerable museum scene is prepped for a banner year. July marks the 150th birthday of its native son Gustav Klimt, the Vienna Secessionist master whose dreamily erotic gold-leaf paintings have become some of modernism's most popular (and expensive) works; in a range of exhibitions throughout 2012, more of his pieces will be on display in one place than ever before.
And in a city known for its starchy reluctance to change, two pre-eminent institutions have taken on ambitious new directors: Christoph Thun-Hohenstein, the influential former director of the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York, was announced as the new head of the sprawling Museum of Applied Arts, and the Museum of Modern Art reopened in September after extensive renovations and the appointment of a new director, the German curator Karola Kraus.
— Charly Wilder
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