Every travel magazine and major publisher is full of persuasive suggestions at this time of year about places you must not miss if you are to keep up with the in crowd. But which recommendations should you ignore? Here’s my pick of places and attractions that don’t live up to the buzz that surrounds them.
New York’s Freedom Tower
New York’s my favourite city, but even the best of us has a few flaws. Don’t bother with the New Year’s Eve ball drop in Times Square; you won’t see much unless you watch it on TV and the weather’s often so cold everyone rushes indoors straight after midnight. Its latest high rise has been open a while now, but is still being touted as a must visit attraction for 2016. The elevator ride to the top, speeding through centuries of the city’s development in under a minute, is impressive, but the reflections and fingerprints on the glass windows of the observation deck aren’t. Ascend the Top of the Rock instead for the best views of the city, putting the Empire State Building in pride of place in what’s arguably the world’s most iconic skyline. Read my comparison of the two towers and how they stack up to the Empire State here:
I don’t have anything against Haiti, per se, more the marketing surrounding this impoverished Caribbean nation. 2015’s lists were full of how this was the next up and coming destination, but when I visited in February, I quickly learned that infrastructure lags way behind potential. We’re not just talking about punctuality here: there were tyres being set alight in the capital’s streets in protest about rising fuel prices, a luxury bus set alight and a terrible tragedy caused by a live cable at carnival. Give it a few years more for the country to recover from the 2010 earthquake and preceding flood damage, but don’t put it out of your mind entirely – this is one to watch.
Now this one’s a tricky one. I visited this fascinating country in 2003, a year in which the travel experts suggested you “go before it changes”. For perhaps every year since, that same advice has been trotted out, with thousands of tourists dutifully doing as asked. Go, by all means, but go because you want to, not because you are worried this charming country won’t wait for you.
Northern Lights in Iceland
Iceland is one of my most favourite destinations on the planet; I loved it so much when I first visited I went back to get married there. A multitude of incredible sights awaits, from the iceberg-strewn Jokulsarlon beach to the gushing geysers and impossibly scenic waterfalls of the Golden Circle. But the one thing you can guarantee with Iceland is that you can’t guarantee the weather and there’s nothing like a cloudy sky to ruin your chances of spotting the Aurora Borealis. If you want to see the Northern Lights, try Norway instead.
The new cable car to Kuelap, Peru
2016 looks like a good year for Peru, especially seeing as British Airways are introducing direct flights after what seems an interminable wait. Machu Picchu is getting more and more crowded, so in an effort to entice people away, the northern fortress of Kuelap is being pushed as an alternative. A cable car is set to open later in 2016, but some reports are incorrectly suggesting it will shave four hours off the hike to get there. It won’t. The current hike from the main visitor centre car park is an easy one; what the cable car cuts short is the drive there along some so-so roads. Be aware that Kuelap’s no match for Machu Picchu, but the area has many as yet unspoilt attractions for intrepid visitors. Don’t believe the hype and wait. Go now, before the cable car opens and the hordes arrive.