National Geographic and its readers have picked the best trip to take in 2014. Some are places you have heard of and some are new locations that are like a breath of fresh air for travelers. Here are the five that I would like to take and you can see the rest of their suggestions here.
1. Bolaven Plateau, Laos
The general manager of the Jhai Coffee Farmers’ Cooperative stoops to grab a handful of rich red soil. “This is what makes coffee from Laos special,” Ariya Dengkayaphichith explains, letting it trickle through calloused fingers. “Here on the Bolaven Plateau we’re standing inside the bowl of a giant extinct volcano. This is probably the most fertile place in Southeast Asia.” Slowly making its way onto coffee connoisseurs’ itineraries, the Bolaven Plateau is blessed with a cool climate, regular rainfall, and abundant nutrients, and produces the major share of the burgeoning Laotian coffee crop. Hot, dark, and bittersweet, Lao coffee—served with a layer of condensed milk—delivers a caffeine kick aimed squarely at reluctant risers.
“Growers don’t use chemicals here because the soil is so good,” says the singularly named Koffie, a Bolaven-based Dutch roaster and restaurateur who one suspects may have changed his name. “It’s organic farming made simple.” Despite its heady brew of culture and scenery, the Bolaven Plateau is frequently bypassed by travelers. Koffie shakes his head at all those missing out. “Wake up, man. Smell the beans.” —Daniel J. Allen
How small is this itty-bitty monarchy? “You might run into the prince and his wife at the grocery store,” says Sandra Thurnheer, an Internet entrepreneur and native-born Liechtensteiner who loves her “dwarf country” with its many castles and quirks. “We have this minority complex, and we’re proud of it,” she adds, boasting that Liechtenstein prints some rather rare stamps.
This patch of Alpine meadows, craggy peaks, and vineyards finds itself wedged between Austria and Switzerland. What it lacks in size, Liechtenstein makes up for with a mighty landscape that swoops up from the marshy green banks of the Rhine into the cloud-kissed Alps. “It’s as if the whole country is leaning on those mountains!” says Thurnheer, recommending a good walk in the hills. Named after the ruling prince’s mother, the Princess Gina Trail sends hikers through scenery with singular views of three different countries.
Beyond the banks and billionaires, Liechtenstein grants a glimpse into Europe’s oldest traditions, like Lenten bonfires and autumn’s Wimmlete (the grape selection for winemaking). Sip a glass with a heaping plate of käseknöpfle (cheese spaetzle), and this place feels anything but small. —Andrew Evans
Guyana, a land the size of Kansas, may be the best kept secret in South America. “About 80 percent of Guyana is still wild forest,” says Annette Arjoon-Martins, chair of the Guyana Mangrove Restoration Project and one of many Guyanese passionate about safeguarding their land’s extravagant natural resources—including what likely is Earth’s largest single-drop waterfall.
“We have one of only four intact rain forests left on our planet,” says local conservationist Sydney Allicock. A Makushi Amerindian, Allicock and fellow Makushi developed Surama Village Eco-tourism. “Our guests come to watch for toucans and scarlet macaws, spot otters and caimans on riverboat excursions, and spend the night in our hand-built thatched huts.”
Chances are you’ll have the place to yourself; Guyana has yet to make it onto bucket lists, in part because it remains, as Surama guide Gary Sway puts it, “blessedly undeveloped. Even many Guyanese have little idea how vast our rain forest is. The Iwokrama reserve, down the road, covers a million acres.”
“It can feel like a lost world here,” says Englishman Colin Edwards, who moved to Guyana after he fell in love with the vast Rupununi savanna, and built Rock View Lodge. “Sir Walter Raleigh, when he came upon this magnificent landscape, thought he’d found El Dorado, the fabled land of gold.” —Jayne Wise
4. Sarajevo, Bosnia
Franz Ferdinand’s counselors urged him not to go to Sarajevo. He didn’t listen. Like many before and after him, the Austro-Hungarian archduke misread the region and underestimated its people. The gunshots fired a century ago—on June 28, 1914—in the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina took his life and lit the fuse for World War I.
The world irrevocably changed that day. But Sarajevo, which has endured three devastating wars and rebuilt under six national flags in the century since, still retains much of its character. Thick coffee cooked in copper pots perfumes the air in Bašcˇaršija, the Ottoman-era bazaar. Silversmiths and rug merchants haggle and banter on the cobbled streets. Secessionist buildings, erected during the archduke’s empire, sit alongside minarets punctuating the skyline. And obelisk Muslim headstones lean this way and that on patches of grass scattered between the oldest mahalas (neighborhoods).
Called “the world’s most dangerous city” during the war of the 1990s, Sarajevo is now among Europe’s safest capitals. Visitors—no longer just postwar gawkers—stroll busy avenues to historic sites wedged between Muslim, Jewish, and Christian places of worship. The renowned Sarajevo Film Festival is held every summer. Tourists and locals alike, led by in-the-know guides, are rediscovering pristine hiking trails in the surrounding Dinaric Alps.
Sarajevo’s reemergence is perhaps best symbolized by the National Library’s long-awaited reconstruction. Destroyed, along with some two million books, in 1992, the pseudo-Moorish landmark is scheduled to reopen as Sarajevo’s Town Hall (its original purpose in 1896) in time for the commemoration of Franz Ferdinand’s assassination. “In 2014 the eyes of the entire world will be directed at Sarajevo,” says Mayor Ivo Komšić. “This time not as a tragedy but as something entirely new.” —Alex Crevar
5. Nyungwe Forest National Park, Rwanda
How does a nation overcome the gut-wrenching stigma of a genocide, now two decades past, and proclaim to the world that it is a safe and surprising place to visit? For Rwanda, one strategy is to highlight a tract of unspoiled mountain rain forest rife with chimpanzees and a dozen other primates plus hundreds of species of birds—namely, Nyungwe National Park, in the southwestern corner of the country.
Nyungwe, which became a national park in 2005, exemplifies the farsightedness of a government that is channeling aid money toward preserving the best of Rwanda’s natural beauty, while bringing in tourist dollars that benefit surrounding communities. An example is the USAID-funded Nyungwe Nziza (Beautiful Nyungwe) project, which recently built a canopy walkway above a forested canyon—a thrilling perspective on the park and its residents.
Chimps are the star attraction in Nyungwe, though they’re not as readily watchable as the famed “in the mist” mountain gorillas farther north in Virunga National Park. Far easier to view are colobus monkeys. The world’s largest community of them lives in Nyungwe. The park hasn’t yet gained renown among birders, but it will. Almost 300 species abide here, including showboats like the oversize, clown-headed Ruwenzori turaco.
“Nyungwe stands out among Africa’s intact mountain rain forests for its size and diversity,” says conservationist Bill Weber, who with his wife, Amy, pioneered the gorilla tourism project in Virunga. “It’s a place where people can spend several days and really get to know a rain forest, having different experiences each day.” Visitors can hike trails to peaks and waterfalls, and meet locals in Banda Village near the park entrance. Should one ask residents whether they are Tutsi or Hutu, the answer will almost certainly be “We are Rwandan.” —Robert Earle Howells