"Seven scintillating spots top this year's 'hot' list"
by Arthur Frommer
Thursday, January 5, 2006
San Francisco Chronicle
A lot of people approach the New Year by composing a list of new locales to
visit. My own collection of "hot destinations" (meaning they are surging
in popularity) is seven places strong:
1. Buenos Aires: Though the Argentine currency and economy have recovered a
bit, the weak peso still sells at three to the dollar (it used to be one to
the dollar) and Argentina remains a bargain for accommodations, food and nearly
every other purchase. Tourism to its capital city (a place of steaks and tango)
continues to grow, explaining last month's decision by Continental Airlines
to offer direct service from Newark to Buenos Aires. This is the latest in a
series of U.S. airlines (American, Delta and United among them) to fly there
-- a remarkable amount of flight service.
2. Beijing: The capital of China is covered with construction cranes, as billions
of dollars worth of building takes place in preparation for the 2008 Summer
Olympics. The Chinese currency remains badly underpriced, making everything
there a bargain. More and more tour operators are announcing easy-to-book, easy-to-use
packages for both your flight and your stay. Every politically curious American
ought to have a look at this fast-growing world power, whose cultural heritage
is also giving way to modernity; see it before the hutongs (old neighborhoods)
are bulldozed for new skyscrapers.
3. Croatia: This former division of Yugoslavia has been free of violence for
more than a decade. Its tourist highlight, Dubrovnik, has been restored to a
medieval appearance and is once again vital and enchanting, as are all the other
glittering resorts of its Adriatic coast, such as Split and the picturesque
offshore islands. Its capital, Zagreb, is humming with culture and cafe life.
And because its prices are among the lowest in Western Europe, it is attracting
the most savvy of tourists.
4. Israel: After an absence of several years from the tourist scene, abandoned
by travelers fearful of suicide bombers, Israel has returned to the world of
international tourism. Its security has greatly improved in recent years, and
it is sufficiently calm that Americans, in particular, have begun returning
in numbers. Once again, tour companies are offering air-and-land packages for
a week's stay in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem at bargain rates. Other packages take
you to all major parts of a country that is surprisingly prosperous and developed.
Recent travelers report that they saw an entirely different country from what
they recalled from previous visits.
5. Tahiti: Mainly because of the decision of its national carrier,
Air Tahiti Nui, to offer nonstop service from Los Angeles and New York, Tahiti
(both the namesake island and its sister islands in French Polynesia) is a very
hot destination for people who crave the atmosphere and setting of the "old"
Hawaiian Islands. Tahiti remains a lightly developed tropical paradise where
time stands still, where news of the outside world seems irrelevant, and where
the visitor can connect with his or her best inner feelings.
6. Japan: In December 2004, the U.S. dollar bought just barely 104 Japanese
yen. As of December 2005, the dollar buys nearly 117 Japanese yen. That's an
increase of more than 10 percent for the dollar. While it doesn't transform
Japan into a cheap destination, by any means, it does moderate the cost of visiting
Japan. And a great many Americans, including those impressed by the popular
new film "Memoirs of a Geisha," will be making a trip there this year.
Japan is never uninteresting: It is clean, safe and friendly -- and a memorable
7. Charleston, S.C.: This bastion of the old Confederacy has experienced a
major renaissance in recent years. Its several-block-long market, once the center
of a slummy area, is now surrounded by a trendy collection of boutiques, cafes
and gourmet food shops. Its antebellum homes are refurbished and gleaming; its
restaurants are reputed to be among the best in the South. With New Orleans
rebuilding, Charleston will receive especially heavy visits in 2006 -- and deservedly
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