First timer’s guide to Spain
A must-read guide for anyone planning their first trip to Spain. The best insights on when and where to visit and ...Find out more
We often hear about great holiday destinations that suddenly turn bad, because of a revolution or a sudden rise in crime. There’s no wonder we get the feeling the world has become a more dangerous place.
But has it?
What about places that have changed for the better? What are some holiday destinations that were bad, but have become good?
Some places are chronically dangerous and won’t get better until there’s a fundamental change in the society. And there are also short-term issues that put a place off the holiday map for a while, but they come back pretty quickly.
The United Nations has done research that shows the tourism to a destination affected by terrorism takes 13 months to recover. So by that reckoning Paris is good to go right now, and Brussels will be back to pre-attack tourism levels by April 2017.
But what about those long-term cases, places that are not as dangerous as we imagine?
The classic case – and my number one pick is Colombia.
Once notorious for the cocaine trade and the deadly battles between gangs fighting for control of that trade – some of you may have seen the TV series “Narcos” – but Pablo Escobar was arrested a decade ago. The war with the FARC rebels (always wanted to say that on telly) is all but over with a peace deal in the pipe.
In Bogota and Calli you’ll need to be very aware of your belongings, but in Cartegena and Santa Marta on the Caribbean coast, it’s beautiful and very friendly.
Number 2 is The Balkans: Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedoania.
I was in the Serbian capital Belgrade earlier this year and it was fantastic: great food (especially if you like meat), brilliant wine (same latitude as France) and very friendly people.
But it’s not somewhere I would have gone a few years ago – frankly you couldn’t because there was a war going on. Belgrade was bombed by NATO in 1999, that’s not ancient history, but it’s long enough ago for it to be not a problem anymore.
Number 3, and for similar reasons, the end of a long war with separatist rebels – Sri Lanka. A beautiful country with strong traditions, and because of its size it’s more manageable than a trip to India. Australian chef peter Kuravita is of Sri Lankan descent and we know what beautiful food he makes using traditional ingredients. And of course if you like a cup of tea, this is heaven.
Number 4, and this is for the adventurous types – Myanmar.
Just about the last Southeast Asian nation to open up to tourism. Just 5 years ago you needed a government-issued guide to take you anywhere, now independent travel is allowed. There are still problems in some provinces, Rakhine in the south-west, is best avoided but Mandaly, Lake Inle and Yangon are all relatively safe and welcoming to visitors.
I’m putting some of those same “once were bad” destinations on this list because they don’t have hordes of tourists forcing up prices yet.
Belgrade was really cheap – I was there for a conference and paid for a meal for 5 one night, a couple of beers each, some wine and plenty to eat. The bill was $150 total. It would’ve been $150 a head in Sydney or Melbourne.
Also really cheap because of the exchange rate is South Africa. Magnificent landscapes, beaches, mountains, shark cage diving and of course game watching…. All at prices where 1 Aussie dollar gets you 10 rand.
A bit over Bali, try the Gili islands off Lombok. There are 3 main islands, each with a different feel, but they’d have to be the cheapest place on earth to get your scuba diving license. The prices haven’t reached Kuta madness levels either.
In the South pacific, Fiji remains great value if you pick the right island, but you can also try The Cook Islands. Not as crowded as Fiji, and with a decent, but not expensive, standard of living.