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 buzzworthy 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. And just around the corner, the Timbers Kiawah Ocean Club & Residences opened in October 2018 with 21 beachfront vacation homes perfect for a family vacation.
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.)
It might be one of the world’s most unconventional contemporary art destinations, but this island in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea is a bastion of thought-provoking artistic expression and architecture — from Yayoi Kusama’s iconic Pumpkin sculpture that sits on the pier in front of the famous Benesse House museum and hotel, to the Tadao Ando-designed Chichu Art Museum. In 2019, the Setouchi Triennale will take place across 12 islands in the Seto Inland Sea, including Naoshima. Visitors can expect rotating art exhibits, installations, and interactive experiments from predominately Japanese artists.
Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico in September 2017, but more than a year later, this soulful island has bounced back. Several hotels and restaurants have reopened, many with new amenities and menu updates. The best way to support the island’s continued recovery? Book a trip. The New Year promises even more additions, including the reopening of San Juan’s Caribe Hilton in January, plus a brand new Four Seasons Cayo Largo Resort currently slated to open in late 2019. Hamilton fans will be happy to hear that Lin-Manuel Miranda is making good on his promise to bring the mega-popular musical to the island: He’ll reprise his role as Alexander Hamilton in January at the University of Puerto Rico.
Punta Cana, Dominican Republic
It’s all about the all-inclusive in Punta Cana, a resort getaway on the Dominican Republic’s easternmost tip. Head here if your idea of a dream escape is checking in once and knowing everything is handled. In December, Spanish hotel chain Melía opened The Grand Reserve at Paradisus Palma Real, complete with swim-up suites and a Natura Bisse spa. The new, adults-only, Hedonesque-style Temptation Punta Cana is slated to open later in 2019.
This island nation off India’s southern coast feels like Bali may have 20 years ago: an emerging, diverse destination that packs just as much cultural appeal as it does tropical allure. The country only recently opened its doors to tourism in 2009 at the end of a 26-year civil war, and a decade later, its tourism infrastructure is solid — and very much on the rise. Tourism has grown by 15 percent in 2018, and the government expects to welcome 4 million annual visitors by 2020. Most travelers fly into the capital city of Colombo and head south to the beach (Unawatuna) or inland to Udawalawe National Park for a safari, but one of the best ways to see the country is on a multi-day tour that offers a little bit of everything. Abercrombie & Kent‘s 14-day adventure includes temple and tea plantation visits, game drives, and more.
St. Barth was yet another Caribbean island that took a beating from Hurricane Irma in the fall of 2017; and while much of the past year was spent on recovery, 2019 will be all about getting back to glamorous on this notoriously glitzy isle. Many of the island’s most exclusive properties will reopen in December 2018 — including Cheval Blanc St-Barth Isle de France, Le Sereno, and Le Barthélemy Hotel & Spa. Later in 2019, Le Guanahani and Eden Rock-St. Barths will return with updated guest rooms and new dining outlets. Plan your trip for May, when the weather is still great, but shoulder season pricing makes the elite island more accessible.
Dreamy, bucket-list spot Tahiti — the largest island in French Polynesia — may feel like a world away, but it’s actually only an eight-hour flight from Los Angeles. Air Tahiti Nui’s new 787 Dreamliner fleet makes the jaunt even more comfortable. (Couples can even preorder a bottle of Champagne to get the celebration started.) In October, United Airlines became the first U.S. carrier to fly nonstop to Papeete — and the nine-hour flight from San Francisco recently expanded to year-round service. In 2019, the island will commemorate the 250th anniversary of James Cook’s arrival: expect plenty of festivals and cultural events throughout the year.
Todos Santos, Mexico
Los Cabos had a huge new hotel boom in 2018, and farther south, Puerto Vallarta is making waves, but in-the-know travelers are booking it to Todos Santos — Mexico’s bohemian, laid-back surf enclave. The costal getaway is about an hour’s drive north of Cabo San Lucas (thanks to a new highway that opened last April), and the place to stay is Hotel San Cristóbal, the latest project from hotelier Liz Lambert, known for Marfa’s hip El Cosmico hotel. Check into one of the 32 funky-chic rooms before heading into town for vintage shopping at Mixtica and fish tacos at Jazamango. Prime season for snorkeling with whale sharks in nearby La Paz falls between November and June, but surf lessons at Mario Surf School are available year-round.
Queensland’s Whitsunday Islands are home to some of Australia’s most gorgeous beaches, and the 74-island archipelago (70 of those islands remain undeveloped) is a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. After it reopens in July following extensive renovations, the ultra-luxe Hayman Island by InterContinental will take visitors to the reef by boat, helicopter, or seaplane. Coral-bleaching events (caused by climate change) have damaged and even killed off some areas of the Great Barrier Reef in recent years; while reports out of Australia state that the reef is showing signs of recovery, coral reefs are still especially vulnerable to climate change, says the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Go see them now before it’s too late.
For years, regulations issued by the Indian government kept travelers away from the Andaman Islands — a remote, 325-island Bay of Bengal archipelago — for years, but recent changes have made 29 of them accessible. Head to Havelock Island via a 2.5-hour catamaran journey from Port Blair, and check into the new Taj Exotica Resort & Spa, Andamans, the islands’ first luxury property. Part of India’s opulent Taj hotels chain, the resort comprises 50 stilted villas overlooking the rainforest-fringed Radhanagar Beach. Spend days here practicing yoga, kayaking through mangroves, and island hopping in one of the resort’s private boats.
Editor’s Note: Visiting tribal reserved areas in the Andaman Islands is prohibited. In November 2018, American John Allen Chau went missing when he illegally visited one of these restricted areas. Be sure to review the entry formalities for foreigners before planning a trip and, as always with travel to other countries, be respectful and follow the rules.