Like Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia, Laos, “the land of a million elephants”, offers an abundance of temples to marvel at, jungles to hike and caves to explore.
Yet this south-east Asian nation doesn’t suffer from the same level of overtourism affecting its neighbours.
Chris Greener, senior productexecutive at InsideAsia Tours, says the operator has launched new Laos itineraries that take clients away from the crowds, including a gastronomic experience that’s tipped to be a highlight for 2019.
“Laotian food is little-known outside of this fascinating landlocked country. With its unique take on Asian cuisine, the Laotian gastronomic experience is every bit as good,” he says. “Luang Prabang is leading the way in launching the country as a foodie destination, with fine-dining restaurants in abundance and Michelin-starred chef Bee Satongun – voted the best female chef in Asia, 2018 – opening her new Paste at The Apsara restaurant.”
The nine-night Flavours of Laos itinerary will have clients tucking into a Lao barbecue at a sin dat dinner, sampling kao ji pate – a baguette with a spicy twist – and joining locals on the island of Don Loppadi for a lunch of fresh river fish.
Book it: Flavours of Laos is priced from £2,535pp (excluding international flights) with transfers, meals and accommodation included.
Thanks to its appearance in Joanna Lumley’s Silk Road Adventure, which aired in September, the Central Asian country of Uzbekistan is set to rise in popularity, according to Tara Kennaway, regional product manager for Asia at Intrepid Travel.
“Travelling along the Silk Road is becoming an ambition of travellers, and Uzbekistan offers adventurous clients the chance to step away from the mainstream and explore a rarely visited path,” she says. “Furthermore, e-visas are now available, making it easier than ever to travel there.”
Responding to a 110% year-onyear growth for Uzbekistan, Intrepid has created a new tour in time for next year. Highlights of the nine-day Uzbekistan Adventure include the capital Tashkent, known for its Soviet-era architecture and museums of relics from the Timurid dynasty; a visit to the Ismail Samanid mausoleum and Ark Fortress in Bukhara; and camping in the Kyzylkum desert.
Book it: Intrepid offers the Uzbekistan Adventure from £945pp with accommodation, activities and select meals included.
When it comes to once-in-a-lifetime experiences, an expedition cruise in Antarctica should certainly make for a jealousy-inducing dinner party anecdote.
Martin Johnson, co-founder and director, Polar Routes, says the delivery of 11 new ships in 2019 offers clients an increasing range of product and price points, making the region more accessible than ever.
“From small, former Russian research vessels that are all about maximising time on the ice, to new hybrid expedition ships that offer a wealth of onboard facilities and some great landings, there is plenty for customers to choose from,” he says.
Johnson cites Hurtigruten’s Chilean Fjords, Antarctica and Falklands – Great Explorers and Wildlife cruise, where clients will journey onboard the new MS Roald Amundsen, as one to watch.
“An expedition cruise is the best way to see Antarctica, and there is no end to the special experiences you can enjoy, like sitting on beaches with thousands of penguins to kayaking among the ice floes and camping under the stars.”
For agents who are less confident selling expedition cruises, Johnson welcomes them to reach out to the Polar Routes team for free training and holiday recommendations.
Book it: Polar Routes offers the 17-night Hurtigruten cruise, with five nights in Chile, from £9,699pp.
Visiting locations associated with tragedy may seem an odd choice for a holiday; however, “dark tourism” has seen a surge in popularity over the past few years. Regent Holidays has capitalised on the trend, adding an extra September 2019 departure for its new Highlights of Ukraine Group Tour, which includes a day trip to Pripyat – a town that was abandoned after an explosion at the nearby Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986 left the area highly irradiated.
Andrea Godfrey, product manager – Baltic States and Russia at Regent, says: “Ukraine is coming back stronger than ever, and holidays are the best value they have ever been. It’s a cheaper alternative to Russia and clients don’t need a visa to visit.”
The 11-day tour encompasses a visit to Kiev and its key attractions – the Golden Gate, Saint Sophia’s Cathedral and Monastery of the Caves, before time in the Carpathian Mountains and a chance to relax on one of Odessa’s Black Sea beaches. Regent also sells tailor-made tourscombining Ukraine’s three cities.
“Most clients want to include Kiev, Lviv and Odessa, using trains to link them. The cities provide an amazing insight into the complex history of Ukraine and all have fascinating museums, unique architecture and top-class restaurants,” says Godfrey.
Book it: Regent o ers Highlights of Ukraine from £1,449pp, including flights and the services of a guide.
With Foreign and Commonwealth Office warnings subsiding over the last few years, new areas of Colombia have begun to open up for tourists, says Isabelle Mazille, product manager at Journey Latin America.
“An area beginning to welcome tourists is Yopal – the gateway to Colombia’s Llanos wetlands, which rivals Brazil’s Pantanal region. During a recent trip, I spotted capybaras, anacondas, giant anteaters, caiman, crocodiles, howler monkeys and a huge array of birds.”
She says the operator’s recently launched 12-day O the Beaten Track Colombia Safari Adventure is ideal for nature lovers.
“Thanks to a daily direct flight from Heathrow to Bogota on Colombia’s national airline, Avianca, this South American nation is back on the map for people wishing to discover one of the most exciting, naturally diverse and friendly countries on the continent,” she adds.
Book it: Journey Latin America offers the Off the Beaten Track Colombia Safari Adventure from £2,494pp with mid-range accommodation, excursions and selected meals included.
Tourism to West Africa understandably suffered after the Ebola outbreak, but with many countries now rid of the virus, Chris Duncan, product manager at G Adventures, is confident that 2019 will bring a new lease of life into the region.
Duncan says: “We’re seeing increasing demand from travellers looking to return to West Africa and, due to the lower tourist numbers and absence of Ebola, now is a fantastic time to tour destinations such as Senegal.”
He says G Adventures’ 10-day Senegal and The Gambia tour, which first departs in June 2019, was designed to make the most of both nations’ historical attractions, culture and breathtaking scenery.
“Clients can enjoy everything from remote islands and deserted beaches to Dutch forts. On Goree island, there is a museum charting the history of the African slave trade, while back on the mainland travellers can watch locals collecting salt from the waters of Lake Retba, which has 40% salinity and is an incredible shade of pink due to the rare algae that thrive in it.
Book it: G Adventures sells the Senegal and The Gambia tour from £1,599pp with local guides and the services of a Chief Experience Officer included.