Trying to decide where to go in 2019? Every year, we compile our list of the best places to travel in the coming year, with a focus on islands and beach destinations. These tropical locales are buzz worthy for 2019, with new hotel openings, nonstop flights, exciting cruise calls and noteworthy celebrations. From the Adamans to the Whitsundays, here are our best places to travel in 2019.
1. Antigua & Barbuda
Thanks to Delta’s new nonstop flight from New York’s JFK to V.C. Bird International Airport, the 108-square-mile island of Antigua and its tiny sister island, Barbuda, are primed for weekend getaways. (Hurricane Irma severely damaged Barbuda in 2017; the island is still recovering, but one of its most lauded properties, Barbuda Belle, reopened in fall 2018.) Plan a trip for late April, when Antigua Sailing Week brings a new kiteboarding competition to the islands. Those looking for something unique should head to Antigua’s Valley Church Bay, where the Wild Lotus Camp introduced the Caribbean’s first beachfront glamping sites last summer. The canvas tents come with double beds and private showers, plus fire pits and loungers for roughing it in style.
2. Big Island, Hawaii
When the Kilauea Volcano erupted May 2018, it shut down Hawaii Volcanoes National Park for more than four months. But all is now back to normal around the 4,000-foot peak, and most of the park is open and safe for visitors. Resume plans to hike, bike, or drive around the park, or book a cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Pride of America and let the line handle your excursions. To promote the ship’s return to the Big Island, Norwegian is offering free or reduced round-trip airfare to Honolulu from several U.S. and Canada cities with cruise bookings. The seven-day sailing includes stops on the Big Island, Maui, Oahu, and Kauai.
3. Cancun, Mexico
The beauty of Cancun (beyond that azure water, of course) is the destination’s broad appeal: Dreamy beaches for the laze-the-day-away crowd, nearby Mayan ruins and cenotes for adventure-seekers, and a solid tequila scene that has cemented Cancun’s status in the spring break hall of fame. New accommodations set for 2019 celebrate this variety: On the Riviera Maya, an all-inclusive Nickelodeon Hotel will cater to families come summer, while the sleek Ushuaïa Cancun — sister property to Ibiza’s Ushuaïa — promises adults-only digs and DJ-powered dance parties. New nonstop flights on Southwest Airlines launching in March from Milwaukee, Raleigh, San Antonio and Pittsburgh make getting to paradise even easier.
4. Canouan Island
It’s not exactly a breeze to get to this buzzworthy Caribbean island, part of the St. Vincent & the Grenadines island chain, but those who embark on the trip — usually via a charter flight from St. Lucia, Grenada, or Barbados — say it’s worth it. A huge part of the allure: September 2017’s opening of the Mandarin Oriental, Canouan. The former Pink Sands Club property is the first Mandarin Oriental in the Caribbean, and the intimate, 1,200-acre compound wows with personal butler service, a jaw-dropping infinity pool, and a signature “Beach of the Day” program.
- Crete, Greece
Skip the crowds in Santorini and Mykonos and head south to Crete, the largest of the Greek Islands. Crete offers a quiet countryside, charming fishing villages, medieval ruins (this is the birthplace of Zeus, legend states), plus affordable hotels, villas, and Airbnb rentals. And in summer 2019, the Mirabello Beach & Village hotel in Agios Nikolaos will reopen as a Wyndham Grand property. Wherever you end up on the 3,200-square-mile island, some standout Cretan cuisine is likely nearby: The island’s strong farming and fishing communities mean locally sourced dishes are abundant. Don’t leave without trying dakos, Crete’s version of meze.
Cuba has experienced a visitor boom since it reopened to tourism for U.S. travelers in 2015. Restrictions are still in place — you can still only visit on a People-to-People cultural exchange visa — but that didn’t stop 619,000 U.S. travelers from visiting the country in 2017. One of the easiest and most popular ways to visit is on a cruise — Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Seabourn, and Silversea will all add new Cuba-centric itineraries in 2019. And come 2020, Richard Branson’s hip new Virgin Voyages cruise line will make Cuba one of its inaugural ports of call.
- Galapagos Islands
Darwin’s playground is home to some of the world’s most pristine wilderness — plus tortoises, iguanas, 22 endemic species of land birds, and more. Several outfitters lead nature-centric expeditions to the archipelago — some 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador — including Celebrity Cruises, which will debut a new 100-passenger ship purpose-built for the Galápagos this year. The Celebrity Flora takes it maiden voyage in May, and expeditions will include snorkeling off of Santiago Island and riding in a Zodiac through the islands’ mangrove ecosystems.
- Ischia, Italy
Italian author Elena Ferrante’s four-book series, the Neapolitan Novels, tells the story of Lenù and Lila, who grew up in Naples and spent summers on Ischia, a volcanic island in the Bay of Naples known for its thermal spas and laid-back lifestyle. The books have sold more than 10 million copies worldwide, and HBO adapted them into a miniseries, My Brilliant Friend, which premiered in November 2018 — further sparking readers’ desires to see the story’s real-life setting. At the Hotel Regina Isabella, a new three-night package includes a tour to the locations described in the books, plus a creative-writing workshop with a local literature professor.
- Kiawah Island, South Carolina
Golfers should book it to this quaint island off Charleston’s coast: It’s home to the No. 1 golf course in South Carolina, the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island Golf Resort, which is gearing up to host the PGA Championship in 2021. As a result, the resort is in the midst of a $200-million redevelopment that will add a new 150-room hotel and a state-of-the-art conference space by the end of 2020.
Happy birthday, Madeira! The four-island archipelago, an autonomous region of Portugal located off of Africa’s northwest coast, celebrates its 600th anniversary in 2019. Milestone events will take place across the main, mountainous island of Madeira throughout the year (be sure to toast the island with a glass of its eponymous wine); and hotels debuting in the New Year include the Savoy Palace in the capital city of Funchal, and the Pestana Churchill Bay, which opens in the sleepy fishing village of Câmara de Lobos this spring. (Yes, the Churchill is a nod to Winston the Prime Minister, who frequented the island in the 1900s.)