The terraces of Moray, Peru (photo: Pedro Lastra)

Where to Go Now: The Hottest 2018 Travel Destinations

By AMA Staff

At AMA Travel, we take the “been there, done that” philosophy seriously—our 200-plus travel counsellors and product specialists have visited a combined 132 countries around the globe. We know city secrets, off-the-beaten-path beaches and cultural experiences—and we can’t wait to share them with you at our favourite 2018 travel destinations.

PERU: INCA IMMERSION
A trek through the Sacred Valley and its Incan roots

Hiking up a rocky trail, I spot a figure herding sheep in the valley below. It’s the first sign of humanity we’ve seen since jumping out of the van in the windswept village of Zapacto, nestled in Peru’s Urubamba Mountains.

Two days earlier I flew into Cuzco, the seat of the Incan Empire for 500 years until it fell astonishingly quickly to the Spanish in 1533. Though vanquished as a political power centuries ago, the indigenous Quechua culture remains remarkably strong in this corner of South America. Its roots run as deep as the ancient quinoa and potato plants still cultivated on the terraces of the rugged Andean region known as the Sacred Valley.

I’m learning that walking is the ideal way to explore the roots of this civilization. And what an industrious one it was: Flourishing between 1400 and 1533, Incan engineers designed a network of cobbled roads totaling more than 30,000 kilometres. Used largely for trade and communication, messengers known as chasquis often ran upwards of 200 kilometres per day. Not us: We’re biting off a less onerous 10 kilometres between the villages of Zapacto and Pampallacta.

I nearly trip over an elderly but spry Quechua woman who suddenly appears as her flock of sheep graze nearby. She’s spread out a blanket topped with handwoven scarves and belts. She discreetly slides a cell phone into her dress. This is pop-up retail Andes-style—and proof that we’re not the only foreigners to walk this path.

That evening, I sip a Pisco sour in the lounge of my resort near a side valley along the Rio Urubamba. Sipping the tart libation, I reflect on the contrasting experiences of my day: the plush comfort of my hotel and the shepherdess, whose traditional way of life has changed little over five centuries, except for that cell phone!

The next day, we set out for the ruins of Moray, an extraterrestrial-looking installation of terraced amphitheatres. As we descend into Moray, its scale becomes more impressive; it is much larger than it appeared from above. Strolling on a terrace, I run my hand along a wall of stones meticulously placed long ago by Incan masons.

After Moray, we trek to the salt mines of Maras. In these ponds, saline water emerges in the valley and is channeled into a honeycomb of terraced ponds, where the water evaporates. The remaining salt is exported worldwide and the ponds are popular tourist attractions in their own right. As I take a sip of the salty water, I gear up for my next destination: Machu Picchu.

Before you tackle this natural wonder, book early: There are only 500 permits issued per day. And you can only get a permit through an officially licensed company like G Adventures. Try to travel between May and September during Peru’s winter dry season, especially if you’re hiking the rugged trail. —Andrew Findlay

SEE IT WITH AMA
Cuzco to Cuzco (G Adventures)
: A 7-day, small-group experience (max. 16) combining culture and hiking on some of the world’s top trails. Your purchase of this tour helps employ more than 560 local guides, cooks and drivers.

From $1,349/person (land only); flights from $795/person
March 2018-December 2019 departures
Call an AMA Travel specialist: 1-866-667-4777

2018 travel destinations Southeast Asia lombok indonesia beaches
Finding some Zen on a Lombok beach (photo: Robert Harding/Alamy)

SOUTHEAST ASIA: BEST BEACHES
After you’ve seen the temples, find your Zen on a pristine beach

Sea and tranquility: Lombok, Indonesia
Bali’s neighbour to the east, the island features white-sand beaches, largely untouched by development. Seek out the secluded Kaliantan and Mawun beaches on the southern shore. Senggigi Beach to the west is busier, but boasts irresistible sunsets and resorts offering top-notch spa services.

Like a local: Koh Samui, Thailand
Combine relaxation with revelry on Chaweng Beach, a stretch of sand on Koh Samui’s eastern coast. It’s backdropped by a vibrant town with a range of shops, hotels and eateries. Head to Central Festival Samui or Chaweng Walking Street for shopping, or get authentic Thai fare at Phensiri Thai Bistro.

Surfer’s paradise: Bali, Indonesia
Bali’s southwestern Bukit penin-sula is famous for surfing, with a number of beaches boasting varied surf breaks. The half-kilometre stretch of golden sand and limestone cliffs known as Balangan Beach is particularly gnarly. Accessible but not yet overrun, it has excellent views and long, consistently fast waves. For newbies, surf schools and rental shops dot the beach.

Divine for divers: Koh Rong, Cambodia
On the unspoiled western shore of Cambodia’s second-largest island, Sok San Beach presents an excellent opportunity for underwater explorers. It’s far enough from the main tourist area that snorkelers can look for seahorses amongst the colourful coral in relative seclusion.

SEE IT WITH AMA
Beaches of Bali (Silk Holidays): An AMA-exclusive departure to experience Bali’s beautiful beaches, including airfare from Edmonton or Calgary. Enjoy 12 nights at your choice of hotel on Kuta or Sanur beaches, where you’ll get airport transfers, daily breakfast, a free dinner at the resort, three full-day and two half-day tours, plus a 90-minute massage. AMA Members also save 50% on your choice of a cooking class or Ubud rice field walking tour.

From $2,299/person (including flight and tax)
May & June departures
Call an AMA Travel specialist: 1-866-667-4777

2018 travel destinations ireland wild atlantic way driving
Ireland is great for road trips (photo: Bernard Golden/Alamy)

IRELAND: DRIVE IT YOURSELF
Discover the culture and landscape of the Emerald Isle at your own pace

Only 275 kilometres at its widest point—and with a total area just a bit larger than New Brunswick, Ireland is perfectly suited for leisurely exploration by car.

Booking a self-drive vacation with AMA Travel, such as an eight-day Essence of Ireland tour, from $1,281/person (land only), offers maximum flexibility, but with the security of pre-arranged accommodations at every stop on your journey. Our experts can help you select from more than 800 inns, B&Bs, hotels and even castles for your nightly rest. We can also book your roundtrip flight to Dublin for as low as $757/person.

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Upon arriving in Dublin, you’ll have time to see the sights. Check out the renowned collection of books and prints at the Chester Beatty Library or embark on a walking tour based on James Joyce’s life and works. Or learn how Ireland’s most famous export is made at the Guinness Storehouse.

Once you’ve picked up your rental car, head south toward the likes of Waterford and Cork (the latter is home to the Jameson whisky distillery). You’ll have to drive on the left side of the road while in Ireland, but it’s not as hard as it sounds. Continue west to Killarney and the 179-kilometre Ring of Kerry—a scenic route known for its ocean vistas—then set your GPS northward and head up the Atlantic coast toward Cong, Galway and eventually Dublin once more.

See AMATravel.ca/Adventure for even more Irish self-drive ideas.

2018 travel destinations South Africa Kapama Game Reserve Boulders Beach penguins Cape Town Johannesburg
Kapama and Boulders Beach (photos: Kapama Game Reserve; Craig Howes/Cape Town Tourism)

SOUTH AFRICA: ANIMAL KINGDOM
Up-close, only-in-Africa animal encounters

Nestled next to Kruger National Park, Kapama Private Game Reserve offers the best of both worlds—fierce wildlife and total pampering. On twice-daily game drives you’re likely to spot the “big five” (elephant, lion, leopard, rhino, buffalo). Or head to the River Lodge Spa to soak in an infinity pool in the African bush—don’t be surprised if a curious pachyderm saunters by.

Visit Kapama as part of the Southern African Highlights tour with Lion World Travel (from $5,599/person, departing November 12; flights from $2,200/person). The 13-day adventure begins in Cape Town and ends in Johannesburg. Spend two nights in Kapama Game Reserve to venture out on four game drives in this remarkable refuge. You’ll also fly to Victoria Falls for a sunset cruise on the Zambezi River and guided tour of the falls, capped off with a traditional Boma dinner, an authentic African experience. Includes eight nights at four-star accommodations, transportation in luxury air-conditioned vehicles, games drives in open-sided vehicles, daily breakfast, two lunches and four dinners.

Boulders Beach: In the early 20th century, millions of African penguins happily ambled around the continent. Just 26,000 breeding pairs remain today. To help these curious creatures (once called “jackass penguins” due to their donkey-like braying), the Boulders Beach Penguin Sanctuary provides a protected refuge. Penguins roam freely on the public beach.

2018 travel destinations India Jaipur
Jaipur, India (photo: Gavin Hellier/Stocksy)

INDIA: HIGH AND LOW
Live like a maharaja or revel in a cheap-chic holiday in India

Stay | High
Raj Palace, Jaipur: Dating from the 18th century, it’s been home to Raj royalty for generations. Run by Princess Jayendra Kumari Ji, the lavish hotel is a destination unto itself, with a subterranean pool and Bollywood movie screenings. From $418/night.

Stay | Low
The Blue House Guest House, Jodhpur: Clean, colourful and located in the centre of Old Town with its exotic markets and frenetic buzz. Don’t miss the rooftop restaurant for views of the 15th-century Mehrangarh Fort. From $35/night.

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Eat | High
1135 AD: Dine like a king or queen in this lavish eatery, housed at the top of Jaipur’s Amber Fort. Dine on Mughlai, Rajasthani and North Indian delights. Ask for a table in the lush outdoor courtyard.

Eat | Low
Gypsy: This Jodhpur resto offers a 29-dish thali—a massive Indian tasting menu—featuring local specialties like Dal Baati Churma and Balushahi, for about seven bucks Canadian (364 rupees).

Buy | High
Jewellery: Founded in 1852, Jaipur’s Gem Palace is one of the oldest jewel merchants in the world—and perhaps the most over-the-top. Shop for ruby, emerald and diamond baubles, all made in the on-site workshop.

Buy | Low
Spices: Jodhpur’s top purveyor of spices is Mohanlal Verhomal Spices, (MV Spices). Several outposts sell everything from cumin to coriander, plus countless kinds of curry. Sip a cup of masala tea as you peruse the goods.

SEE IT WITH AMA
When planning your Indian holiday, we recommend travelling in October/November or March/April for the most pleasant weather. Consider booking a group tour—they’re very budget-friendly and more relaxing since someone else does the planning. The Golden Triangle tour visits Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, and starts at $1,000/person (land only); flights from $975/person.

2018 travel destinations New Zealand Milford Sound
New Zealand’s breathtaking Milford Sound (photo: Will Patino)

NEW ZEALAND: NATURAL PARADISE
Rugged landscapes make New Zealand’s South Island a dream for outdoorsy types

You know the crystal-blue vista of Banff’s Moraine Lake? The frozen plain of the Columbia Icefield? Dare we say they pale in comparison to New Zealand’s dramatic terrain. Milford Sound, just one part of Fiordland National Park, is bounded by sheer cliffs and mountains. Boat and helicopter tours take visitors to gaze at Mitre Peak, Lady Bowen Falls and other natural attractions throughout the year, though visiting in October—in the midst of the Kiwis’ springtime—means you’ll enjoy longer, sunnier days without too much rain.

Travelling overland nets even more scenery, especially aboard the TranzAlpine train from Christchurch to Greymouth. From there, hire a private car or book a coach tour to Hokitika Gorge and Aoraki/Mount Cook National Park—whose namesake 3,724-metre summit overlooks the turquoise waters of Lake Pukaki—as well as the sizeable Franz Josef and Fox glaciers.

After sufficiently “gorging” on peaks and gorges, Stewart Island is a dreamy off-the-beaten-path destination, just an hour’s ferry trip south of the mainland. The island has just 400 human residents but some 20,000 brown kiwis—plus a range of other unique sea and shorebirds like albatrosses, penguins and petrels.

SEE IT WITH AMA
New Zealand 14-Day Escorted Tour
: AMA’s Travel Guy, Roland Van Meurs, knows New Zealand so well that he’s practically a Kiwi himself. Join him on a guided tour to experience the South Island, including transportation, sightseeing by private vehicle, 13 nights of four-star accommodation, daily breakfast, two lunches, three dinners and prepaid gratuities.

From $5,449/person (land only); flights from $1,850/person
October 14–27, 2018
Call an AMA Travel specialist: 1-866-667-4777

2018 travel destinations Australia
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is a must-dive (photo: Redbrickstock.com/Alamy)

AUSTRALIA: WATER WORLD
Awesome H20 activities in Queensland—Australia’s gateway to the Great Barrier Reef

Walk amongst waterfalls
The coast is hardly the only place to “take the waters” in Australia. About 100 kilometres south of Brisbane, Springbrook National Park features 6,725 moutainous and rainforest-covered hectares full of rivers and cascading waterfalls. One must-see: the 100-metre-high Purling Brook Falls.

Shipwrecks and sand dunes
Almost the entirety of Moreton Island, off the Queensland coast, is a protected national park; its pristine landscape affords many opportunities to get active and enjoy nature. Try a guided snorkel, paddling in a transparent-hull kayak to see coral reefs and shipwrecks, or even sandboarding.

Wonder of the world
Book a coach tour from Brisbane or Gold Coast to the seaside resort town of Bargara, where you can spend some time underwater, taking in the marvels of the Great Barrier Reef. When not ogling the world’s greatest ocean attraction, take a surf lesson, snorkel in a coral lagoon or visit a sea turtle research centre.

SEE IT WITH AMA
Explore Queensland on a self-drive vacation. You don’t need an International Driver’s Permit, but you’ll have to drive on the left side of the road. A Coast & Hinterland package includes 7-day car rental, 6 nights accommodation and ferry transfers.

From $1,343/person; flights from $1,465/person
AMATravel.ca/Adventure

2018 travel destinations Costa Rica sloth
A Costa Rican sloth encounter (photo: D. Hurst/Alamy)

COSTA RICA: ALL-NATURAL GETAWAYS
Go wild in the Costa Rican rainforest

Costa Rica is the poster child for biodiversity with more than 500,000 different species—that’s four percent of world’s total. Such lush flora and fauna make the Central American nation the perfect destination for nature and animal lovers.

For rainforest exploration, plan a getaway during the dry season, from December to April. To see a bit of everything, book the nine-day Welcome to the Rainforest adventure with Exotik Tours ($1,739 per person land only—flights can be as low as $478, depending when you book).

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You’ll visit San Jose, Tortuguero National Park, Arenal Volcano and the Monteverde Cloud Forest. The land price includes eight nights accommodation, transportation and sightseeing, plus daily breakfast and three lunches and dinners.

For even more animal encounters, book a tour of the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica, the only facility dedicated to injured and orphaned sloths. These fascinating tree-huggers seem lazy, but their slo-mo movements smartly conserve energy to compensate for a painstakingly slow digestive system.

To start planning your Costa Rica getaway, visit AMATravel.ca/Adventure.

The Löyly sauna in Helsinki (photo:

SCANDINAVIA: DESIGN DESTINATIONS
The Nordic marriage of form and function in Stockholm, Norway and Finland

Stockholm’s art
Art really is all around in Stockholm. Since the 1950s, subway platforms in the Swedish capital have been embellished with mosaics and paintings to transform a mundane commute into an enjoyable experience. Touted as the “world’s longest art exhibit,” the displays span 110 kilometres and cover 90 of the subway’s 100 stations.

Hop off at Kungsträdgården station to pop into the equally impressive Moderna Museet. The gallery houses Swedish surrealist works and avant-garde installations, alongside masterpieces by Dali, Picasso and Warhol.

Artistic achievement need not involve paint and canvas. Take in some audio art at the ABBA Museum, a shrine to Sweden’s revered pop band.

Oslo’s architecture
Norway is the homeland of ancient Vikings, but its architecture is thoroughly modern. Since the 1930s, visionary architects have bent and twisted the urban landscape. If you arrive in Oslo by train (a five-hour ride from Stockholm), you’ll pass by the Barcode, a block of tall, narrow buildings erected to resemble the scannable lines of a checkout code.

Closer to the harbour, you can literally walk on award-winning design. You’ll feel like a kid climbing a jungle gym as you stroll on the sloping, white roof of the Opera House, which dips down into clear water of the Oslofjord.

Public art surrounds you in the city: Vigeland Park is lined with surreal sculptures of babies behaving badly.

Helsinki’s fashion and decor
Sweden specalizes in cheap-chic furniture, but Finnish designers rule the fashion world. Finland is home to that purveyor of perky prints, Marimekko. The popular printmaker has churned out bold textiles since 1951. Today, it’s a home decor staple the world over. The Marimekko Factory Outlet is the top spot for discounted fabrics.

At the HAM, a.k.a. the Helsinki Art Museum, the mission is simple: “To bring joy and boldness to the city.” It often features fashion and decorative-arts exhibits. And pop-up markets near the museum sell everything from hand-printed postcards to baby toys.

End your day with a Finnish sauna. On the city’s waterfront, Löyly provides a modern twist on the experience.

SEE IT WITH AMA
Voyage of the Midnight Sun (Holland America)
: We recommend visiting Scandinavia during summer months to experience the Midnight Sun, when daylight remains visible throughout the night. Departing from Amsterdam, cruise past pristine fjords aboard Holland America’s newest ship, the ms Konningsdam. You’ll visit Norwegian ports, including Bergen, Haugesund, Eidfjord and Flam.

From $2,573/person (plus tax, cruise only); flights from $1,547/person
June 10–24, 2018
AMA members receive $50 USD/person beverage card, plus exclusive dining experiences
Call an AMA Travel cruise specialist: 1-866-989-6594

2018 travel destinations croatia split
Looking out over Split, Croatia (photo: xbrchx/iStock)

CROATIA: LUXE LIVING
A taste of luxury along Croatia’s Dalmation Coast

The Romans loved their luxury, so it’s no surprise they found the landscapes, wine production and Mediterranean diet to be attractive lures when they arrived on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast. As my coach tour heads south along the coast, tour director Karin Kollarova sums up the essence of the destination: “Croatia is a great example of the mixture of past influences from so many neighbouring nations, which makes it such a fascinating country to explore.”

I begin my tour of this hugely eclectic country in Split, the largest city of the Dalmatian Coast. It dates back to the Greeks, who established the colony of Aspalathos in the sixth century BC. The Romans later created the Province of Dalmatia, and Emperor Diocletian, who ruled from AD 284 to 305, chose to retire here.

Diocletian built his palace on the waterfront at the beginning of the fourth century. His home in Old Town Split is one of the best-preserved Roman structures, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the heart of the Riva area of the old city. The palace’s underground complex is a series of rooms that once stored food and wine, but we see that some parts have been made into homes, as locals moved in during later centuries. Today, TV fans flock here as it’s a filming location for Game of Thrones.

Moving on from Split the next day, our coach heads south through the Neretva River Valley. We stop at a roadside stand for oranges, lemons, figs, almonds and olives. Sugar-coated orange and lemon peels make for satisfying snacks as the coach descends from the mountains back down to sea level. To enjoy this bounty and Croatia’s sunny temperatures, try to visit in September when it’s still warm—in and out of the water.

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Arriving in the village of Mali Ston on the Peljesac Peninsula, the imposing 14th-century Wall of Ston comes into view. But this sleepy village really attracts tourists for its legendary oysters. European flat oysters have been farmed here for more than 700 years. Locals boast that even Napoleon Bonaparte loved the local mollusks.

For Pero Sare, owner of the local restaurant Bota Sare, this area is home. His family has lived here for decades, continuing the local tradition of oyster farming. “Because of the wine and the exceptional seafood, Croatians have always come to Mali Ston,” he says. “Now tourists are discovering what we have to offer too.”

At Sare’s farm, oysters are quickly plucked from the water and shucked. The coastal delicacy slides across my palate, accompanied by its briny sea scent. It’s followed by lunch on the terrace at Bota Sare: grilled octopus, steamed mussels, lobster and chilled Croatian Posip, a popular type of white wine. Soaking in our seaside view, we offer up a toast to this country, which presents palate-pleasing vintages, a wealth of European history and a taste of Dalmatian hospitality. Paradise in the 21st century. —Waheeda Harris

SEE IT WITH AMA
Croatia Sailing Adventure (Intrepid)
: See Croatia aboard a private boat with a few fellow passengers (max. 8). This eight-day, hands-on sail is geared to 20- and 30-somethings and lets you learn a few skills by assisting on deck (no experience necessary). In between tasks, take a dip in the Mediterranean or go ashore to explore fortresses and sip vino on a cobblestone terrace.

From $1,901/person (cruise only); flights from $1,262/person
May & September departures
Call an AMA Travel cruise specialist: 1-866-989-6594

2018 travel destinations japan mount fuji
Japan’s eclectic sights (photos: Japan Gram)

JAPAN: MOST INSTAGRAMMABLE
Cool, quirky and stunning sights in the Land of the Rising Sun

Mount Fuji
Japan’s tallest mountain—and still-active volcano—stands at an elevation of 3,776 metres. The Japanese consider it a sacred site and many make annual pilgrimages. Head to the onsen (spa) town of Lake Kawaguchiko for the best views.

Taiyaki cakes
The ultimate Japanese street food, taiyaki are fish-shaped cakes with sugary fillings. First baked in a Tokyo sweet shop in 1909, they’re made of waffle batter and are typically filled with sweet azuki bean paste, chocolate, custard or matcha.

Matsusaka Castle
Though it’s now in ruins, this historic castle dates to 1588 when it was built by samurai warrior Ujisato Gamo. The impressive walls still stand, as do the Gojoban-Yashiki (castle guardhouses), where its brave samurai defenders lived.

Kimono festival
Nagahama’s annual Kimono Garden Party welcomes a thousand-plus robe-wearing women, who flock to the city like a swarm of fluttering butterflies. The event attracts women and girls sporting traditional or modern kimonos.

Misogi Festival
Held every December in the city of Gifu, hundreds of local men perform the misogi (purification) ritual in the Nagara River. The cold-water swim looks like a Japanese version of Canada’s polar bear dip, but it’s actually a 600-year-old Shinto ritual.

Noh masks
Masks have been used in Japanese ceremonies since ancient times. Today, they take centre stage in Noh plays, a traditional form of theatre. There are hundreds of different Noh masks, each representing different people, animals and facial expressions.

SEE IT WITH AMA
Essential Japan (Europamundo/Silk Holidays)
: Think of this seven-day adventure as a really long hop-on/hop-off tour: Start at any point on the trip; stop if you want to explore on your own and rejoin the tour after. Stops include Tokyo, Mount Fuji, Kawaguchiko, Nagoya, Kyoto, Nara and Osaka. Plan your tour between March and May or September and November when there is little rainfall and mild temperatures.

From $2,929/person (land only); flights from $923/person
Call an AMA Travel specialist: 1-866-667-4777