Are you a trend-setter who likes to get ahead of the crowds? Do you embrace the latest fads or steer a mile wide? Are you curious as to which destinations are our most popular and what are the latest destination trends?
It’s been another whirlwind year in the adventure travel world. Different countries yo-yo up and down in the see-sawing popularity stakes. And to help you navigate your way we’ve compiled ‘The Stubborn Mule Measure’ to give you the inside track as to which destinations are going to be big news for the coming year, which are the also rans and which are the ones to watch.
Where will YOU be going?
Sri Lanka (still)
It’s the destination that Lonely Planet put in the top spot in its annual ‘Best in Travel awards’ which came as a surprise to pretty much nobody. For several years, Sri Lanka has also been Stubborn Mule’s best seller by some margin. And why wouldn’t it be? It offers the family traveller all the mystique and culture of its much larger neighbour, but with slightly less overwhelming ‘chaos’. There’s culture, historical sites, stunning scenery and tropical beaches that, depending on what time of year you travel, are best at Christmas, Easter and Summer (school holiday heaven). With welcoming people and delicious food, what, we ask, is not to like? With new hotels being opened almost by the month too, we can’t see Sri Lanka being toppled from its perch for some time. Take a look at our Family Holidays in Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka with kids Top 10 to see if you agree.
Costa Rica (ditto)
Since British Airways introduced direct flights linking Gatwick to San Jose in 2015, Costa Rica’s star has risen high for UK visitors. With flight times just under 11 hours this tropical destination, renowned for its untouched quality, volcanic scenery but most of all for its more-wildlife-than-you-can-shake-a-stick-at appeal, is tantalisingly close. There’s ziplining! Turtles! Cloud Forests! Kids love it. Parents adore it. If you haven’t got it on your wish-list yet, take a look at our family friendly itineraries (summer, Easter and Christmas options) and our Top 10 Costa Rica with Kids blog.
For Stubborn Mule founder, Liddy, Oman is her stand out destination for 2019. Having travelled there earlier this year, we in the office are STILL hearing her wax lyrical about the quality of the hotels, the infrastructure, the friendliness, the desert activities (we could go on – see our Oman with kids top 10 blog). Whilst definitely on the costlier side compared to some other SMT destinations (but no ‘Dubai’), this Middle Eastern destination has fast cottoned on to the burgeoning family travel market. Go now, before everyone else does (sample Oman itineraries here). A short-ish flight time, too.
Number 6 on the Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel list, Jordan has great ambitions for tourist numbers in the next two years, with 7 million tourists anticipated by 2020. Safe, stable, packed with World Heritage sites and awe-inspiring desert landscapes, it is easy to see the appeal. For families, it’s hard to beat the winning combination of exciting activities (camel or mule ride anyone?) and properly jaw-dropping ancient ruins. Also of interest are the new low-cost EasyJet flights to Aqaba, bringing the world famous destination closer than ever before. Have a look at our Jordan family holidays section and sample Jordan itineraries. You’ll thank us.
For Stubborn Mule, Vietnam is our top seller in South East Asia. Cambodia and Thailand follow close behind but we think Vietnam’s adventurous credentials make it particularly stand out, as our Top Ten Vietnam with Kids blog shows. Over the past few years, new direct flights and cheaper fares have also made it an attractive option, whilst its two-climate status means that we can tailor-make a school holiday friendly itinerary depending on when you’d prefer to travel. Then there’s the pho (that’ll be a big bowl of steaming noodles if you aren’t au fait with Asian food).
Two members of the Stubborn Mule team have Egypt on their family travel agendas in the next four to five months and so, it seems, have others. Having been off the travel map in recent years, Egypt is definitely back. For 2019, visitors will experience the long-awaited opening of the Grand Egyptian Museum (due first quarter of the year) which has been relocated and built overlooking the pyramids of Giza. Its new site will house over 100,000 artefacts, many of which have never been previously shown and, when complete, will be the largest museum in the world devoted to a single civilisation. Check our our sample Egypt itineraries.
It’s been difficult to decide which category suits Borneo best. Yes, it’s been hotter than ever before for 2018, but recent publicity about orangutans and the threats to their survival mean we expect a real spike in tourism in the year ahead. There’s the added bonus that any trip to see these ‘old men of the forest’ will support on-the-ground conservation projects. This is just one of the reasons we’ve earmarked it as a must-do 2019 family adventure holiday experience.
It’s already the fastest growing tourist destination in the world but two upcoming events will see Japanese tourism explode: its hosting of the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and the Olympics the following year. Although a new destination for Stubborn Mule, we’re not expecting the phones to ring hot trying to squeeze in attendance at a rugby game or event. What we do expect are far greater numbers of family travellers wanting to make the most of this Far Eastern destination at all times of year, not just during the spring Cherry Blossom season. Hot springs. Bullet trains. Sumo-wrestling. Geisha-watching…..! Get in touch for a sample itinerary.
Kenya is the classic safari destination but there’s no denying that it has had a difficult few years. However, those of us who grew up in the 80s, and may have always had a little bit of a hankering to have our own farm in Africa, are delighted to note that its popularity is once again on the rise. And David Attenborough’s compelling ‘Dynasties’ episode on the Mara Lions hasn’t hurt. For families, the fact that Kenya is only one of two sub-Saharan African destinations served by direct flights from the UK (South Africa being the other) is a big bonus for family travellers. If you need help to decide on which safari to choose, East or Southern Africa, do take a look at our handy family safari guide.
Having experienced a disastrous earthquake in 2015, the Himalayan Kingdom of Nepal has emerged if not unscathed, then re-built with ambition to suit: the tiny country, squished in between India and China hopes to attract 1.5 million visitors by 2020, a year it has already earmarked as Visit Nepal Year. We should clarify that Nepal has always been a popular destination for western tourists (see our photo gallery here), a mecca for climbers and hikers. Now, though, it offers the family traveller a wealth of non-trekking activities too. It’s also wanting to win over Chinese and Indian tourists, so if you want to experience it at its as-yet-uncrowded best, go, and go soon. Choose which of our Nepal itineraries would suit you best (active and not quite so active options!)
India is the marmite of Asia, a love-it / hate-it kind of a place that seems to divide opinion in a way that other countries just don’t. Or at least, it divides opinion in the outside world. At Stubborn Mule we are emphatically in the love-it camp. There’s just nowhere like it. The crazy streets, holy cows breezing through the traffic, dreadlocked holy men meditating in temples…it’s just so visually incredible and exciting to visit.
It’s also on the up. 2019 will mark 150 years since the birth of Gandhi, making it a historic year to visit. And the boom in Indian airlines now starting to operate flights to Europe mean that the cost of visiting is getting lower….flights to Mumbai can be sourced for as little as £330. If you’ve never experienced the colour, vibrancy and chaos that India offers, maybe this could be the year to try India’s Top Ten Experiences with Kids?
It’s the last time we’ll mention the Lonely Planet ‘Best in Travel’ but, yes, Belize is another Top 10 destination for 2019. This is what they said: “Its Caribbean coast is fringed by the world’s second-largest barrier reef; its interior is riddled with some of the most extensive and accessible cave systems in Central America; and its people are an exotic mix of Maya, Mestizo, Garifuna, Creole, Mennonite and expats.”
Although currently many travellers might struggle to place Belize on the map, the tide is turning. The government is moving to fully protect its unique marine environment, new eco-resorts are taking advantage of the country’s stunning cayes (islands) and jungle hideaways, and travellers are discovering a slice of Central America that’s relatively little visited, safe and tantalisingly easy (and quick) to get around. Get here before the inevitable crowds do. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so here’s what we’ve got to ‘say’ about Belize in our ‘Armchair Traveller Photo Gallery’.
According to new research, China will be the world’s most visited tourist destination by 2030. And, far be it for us to question the link between a news source and a hidden agenda, but Air China has found that one in four Brits have China earmarked as a top bucket list destination. This despite the fact that nine out of ten Britons have never visited. Yet. China’s attractions need little introduction, with the iconic Great Wall, Terracotta Warriors, Giant Pandas and Forbidden City well known to most. But this really is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg. There are few places on the planet which offers such diversity, in terms of landscape, culture and history, as our travellers often tell us. Here’s what we think are the best things to do in China with kids.
DOWN BUT NOT OUTS
It was the hottest ticket in town for 2015-2016, so hot that The Guardian interviewed us about our concerns that Cuba’s infrastructure might struggle to cope with the wave of tourists. It did struggle, and record numbers of tourists travelled there to try to ‘beat the American visitors’ following a thawing of diplomatic relations between Cuba and the US under Obama.
Following a somewhat dramatic change in administration and policy with Trump, the imperative to get there soon to beat the crowds has dissipated and the pressure’s off. Whilst Cuba remains a popular destination (see our Top 10 Cuba with kids activities here), we (and we’re sure, the Cubans) are rather glad that the island’s infrastructure, beaches and colonial charm won’t be over-touristed any time soon. What could your ‘Postcards from Cuba’ say to the folks back home?
Burma – Myanmar
What a difference a few years makes. Back in Stubborn Mule’s early days, Burma (Myanmar) was the destination that everyone was talking about. Having been effectively off-limits for years, the tourists arrived in large numbers and the Burmese people opened their hearts, homes and borders to open minded travellers.
Certainly it was our biggest seller by a country mile. But times have changed and widespread concerns over human right abuses by the government have led to a significant cooling in its appeal for many would-be visitors. It’s a charged debate with compelling arguments on both sides. We are strongly of the opinion that tourism in Burma remains a good thing and we enthusiastically still encourage families to travel there (read Burma-Myanmar travel – Yes or no?). But you may or may not agree. For a more in depth discussion, do read, Should you travel to Burma.