How our favourite holiday destinations have changed in 2021

Never go back, they say. But while it’s true that you may be disappointed if you try to recapture the past, one of the most rewarding aspects of travel is to return to a favourite place and see how it has changed – how it reveals a new dimension or an unexpected side to its character.

So in optimistic anticipation of the re-opening of the world next year, we have asked our experts to update us on what has been happening in your favourite destinations over the past couple of years – and what there is to look forward to when you finally head back to the places you love.

They have found plenty for you to get your teeth into. Take New Zealand, a perennial favourite, which topped our last Reader Awards in 2019. Omicron willing, international travel is – at last – expected to restart in spring 2022 and according to Bryn Reade, visitors to the Land of the Long White Cloud will find a host of new experiences, with a special emphasis on environmental knowledge and also the insights offered by “Maori-led” tourism. 

Meanwhile, Japan, your second favourite, had a disappointing Olympics from a tourism point of view, but once it re-opens, the investment looks as though it will pay dividends. Danielle Demetriou says a vast number of new hotels have opened in the past two years as well as more subtle developments, such as rural art projects.

Completing the top three, that paradise of island escapism, the Maldives, has also been busy. Remarkably, some 13 new island resorts opened during the pandemic and a dozen more new arrivals are expected in 2022.

Other favourite destinations which have invested heavily in tourism include Greece, where a plethora of stylish hotels has opened, and Uganda, which has several impressive new lodges. Costa Rica has a new national park, San Lucas, which few overseas visitors have yet managed to see. 

And if that doesn’t sound energetic enough for you, how about Bhutan’s new 250-mile trek, the Trans Bhutan Trail? It would be a fascinating way to explore a country which – of all your favourites – makes a virtue of the fact that it changes so little. 

Those are just some tasters – for the full menu, read on. Today marks the first in our four-part series, with a new selection of destinations to look forward to tomorrow, and every day following until the 1st. All in all, once we get omicron nailed, there is an awful lot to look forward to.

1. New Zealand

The Land of the Long White Cloud held the title of your most beloved country consistently from 2012 until 2019. So, apart from the mountains, fjords, rivers, lakes, marine life, ancient forests, volcanoes, great walks, beaches, wine, friendly locals and bungee jumping, why did Telegraph readers keep voting New Zealand their favourite long-haul travel destination?

There is so much to see and do, but of course, since March 2020, it has been hardly anyone’s destination. In 2019, 3.8 million people visited; by the end of the following year numbers were down by 75 per cent. And 2021 has been even worse.

But all that is about to change when we welcome the return of our international whanau (family) on April 30 2022 (omicron, pi, sigma, tau, upsilon, etc, notwithstanding).

In the interim, the country’s operators have taken the opportunity to rethink the tourism model. “We’ve trained our crew in environmental restoration,” says Juhi Shareef of Tourism Holdings Ltd, which conducts tours of natural attractions such as the glowworm-filled caves at Waitomo in the North Island. “Our black-water rafting guides, for example, better understand the Waitomo Caves ecosystem and can pass this knowledge on to our visitors in the spirit of kaitiakitanga – shared guardianship – of New Zealand’s natural environment.”





The Dark Sky Project visitor centre at Lake Tekapo is a serious draw for the area


Credit: Miles-Holden/Tourism New Zealand

One area of innovation is Maori-led tourism. Ngai Tahu opened its award-winning Dark Sky Project visitor centre at Lake Tekapo in 2019 to immerse visitors in astronomy, mythology and custom. The Footprints of Kupe Experience, which opened last year in Northland’s Hokianga Harbour, uses theatre, animation and special effects to tell the story of the Polynesian explorer. It is the second in a trinity of justly lauded experiences in the north: from the living prehistory of the 2,000-year old kauri trees of the Waipoua Forest, via the Polynesians’ discovery of the islands at Hokianga, to the signing of New Zealand’s founding document at the Waitangi Treaty grounds. It’s the New Zealand you know and love – but now you can dive deeper.

How to do it: You, Me & Friends (00 64 2143 8493; youmeandfriends.co.nz) offers an eight-day self-drive Northland tour from £1,690 per person (minimum two travelling), excluding flights

Bryn Reade

2. Japan

2Steam rising into the night in a hot spring onsen bath. A glimpse of Mount Fuji floating above a sea of skyscrapers. The sound of bamboo whisking matcha in a hushed tea room. The white nose of a bullet train gliding into a station. There are countless reasons to visit Japan, which rose two places in the 2019 awards.

And when its borders reopen, there will be one more reason to add to the list: a vast selection of new hotels and travel hotspots have come to life during the past two years, from deluxe skyscraper accommodation to rural art meccas, a string of establishments are new to the scene. In the capital – where the Tokyo Olympics fuelled countless new projects – hotel highlights include the Tokyo Edition in the city’s Toranomon district (a second will open in Ginza), with its hip, jungly lobby and minimalist Kengo Kuma-designed guestrooms, and the Four Seasons Hotel at Otemachi, an elegant skyscraper affair. 

There are also hints of a shift away from city hubs towards something at which Japan excels: nature. Countless smaller gems are popping up in mountains, fishing islands and forested valleys: from Azumi Setoda, Adrian Zecha’s minimalist island escape near Hiroshima, to Zenagi, a “wellness and expedition hotel” in a historic three-room property in a lush corner of the Nagano prefecture.





 In bloom: new retreats include Zenagi, a ‘wellness and expedition’ hotel in Nagano


Credit: Getty

Creativity is another buzzword – as reflected in Naoshima, the iconic art island in the Seto Inland Sea, where the Setouchi Triennale art festival kicks off in the spring, along with the launch of two new museums. 

Some things, however, never change: be prepared for Japan to be as safe and clean as ever, with hand washing and mask wearing elevated to sacred new heights, plus the nation’s famed omotenashi hospitality firmly in place.

How to do it: Japan Journeys (01234 567567; japanjourneys.co.uk) offers a self-guided Japan Arts Revealed package, taking in a raft of creative hotspots including Tokyo, Kyoto, Naoshima and Arita. From £1,495 per person, including 10 nights’ three-star accommodation, transfers and a seven-day JR rail pass, excluding international flights

Danielle Demetriou

3. The Maldives

The Maldives, with its pure shores, exquisite seas and sensational snorkelling, has long been a favourite of those seeking a relaxing break in paradise. 

After seeing a plethora of resort openings and a record number of visitors in 2019 – with a dozen more resorts in the 2020 pipeline and a new international airport terminal in the making – the pandemic should have been a disaster for a country where tourism accounts for nearly 30 per cent of GDP. But thanks to its unique, naturally socially-distanced topography, a one-island-one-resort policy and sensible health protocols, the archipelago was able to reopen to international travellers without the need for quarantine in July 2020 – just four months after borders slammed shut across the globe. 

Since then, the country’s tourism industry has made an impressive recovery. The last half of 2020 brought just over half a million visitors and the launch of 13 new resorts, including JW Marriott Maldives and Kagi Maldives Spa Island. This year, the destination has welcomed more than 1.1 million visitors and 10 new hotels, with the ultra-luxurious Fari Islands development stealing most of the thunder. 





Waiting for you: sun loungers at Patina Maldives, one of three resorts on the man-made Fari island cluster


Credit: Georg Roske

“We’ve seen a big demand,” says Marco Den Ouden, general manager of the design-led Patina Maldives, one of the three luxury resorts that inhabit the man-made Fari island cluster. “We’re seeing bookings for our larger rooms being snapped up by guests from all over the world as families look to reconnect.”         

Whether you are travelling with the family, as a couple, flying solo, or looking for a spa retreat, a dive trip, a romantic celebration or an indulgent all-inclusive, the Maldives has it covered. So with 12 more properties expected in 2022, the only dilemma you will have is deciding where to stay.

How to do it: Turquoise Holidays (01494 678400; turquoiseholidays.co.uk) offers seven nights at Patina Maldives in a one-bedroom beach pool villa, half-board, including speedboat transfers and international economy class flights with Qatar Airways from Heathrow (via Doha) from £5,365 per person

Lee Cobaj

4. Bhutan

The Kingdom of Bhutan, in the Eastern Himalayas, might be surprised to learn it came in at number four on our 2019 favourites list, given that the Land of the Thunder Dragon hasn’t changed much since the first 287 visitors were allowed into the country in 1974. But Bhutan’s appeal may be less a whim of fashion and more down to the logic that, if you’re going to travel far, you might as well go somewhere authentic.

That authenticity is certainly being preserved: Bhutan’s borders have remained closed to all foreign nationals, including British citizens, for the duration of the pandemic. And it has announced no plans to reopen them. This mysterious mountain kingdom is becoming even more of an enigma.





Treading lightly: Bhutan’s Buddhist culture is key to a way of life that values nature, with half the kingdom designated a national park


Credit: Getty

Half the kingdom is national park: to the north rise sacred peaks – with those over 19,600ft high never to be climbed – while in the south, forested hills ebb away to sub-tropical plains. It is watched over by a predominantly Buddhist culture, preserving a way of life within the cycle of reincarnation: here, you reap what you sow.

The famous Tiger’s Nest monastery, clinging to a mountainside near Paro, is the iconic image of Bhutan (and the hike to the top can be strenuous, taking up to five hours). Adventure-seekers should try the Trans Bhutan Trail – a 250-mile trek along the former ancient east-west trade route. For most, though, Bhutan offers a relaxed holiday: visiting temples; day-trekking; bathing in hot springs; and observing the colour of daily life.

How to do it: Intrepid Travel (0330 808 7335; intrepidtravel.com) offers a nine-day Premium Bhutan small group escorted tour from £2,810 per person sharing, based on travel in September 2022, including all accommodation, guiding, excursions and transport, but excluding international flights

Will Robson

5. South Africa

South Africans are a resilient bunch. “Worse places to be trapped,” they shrugged, sipping from chilled glasses of excellent and affordable wine (“No other wine industry possesses such energy or excitement,” writes master of wine Tim Atkins in his 2021 South Africa Special Report) when the excellence of their medical science was recently rewarded with another punitive travel ban and the overnight loss of almost £50 million in cancellations. 

From enjoying easy last-minute bookings to benefiting from pay-less-stay-longer rates, we locals like to celebrate silver linings, rediscovering what Telegraph readers – who voted Cape Town their favourite city in 2019 for the seventh year running – already knew: this is one grand place to be. 

With tourism and hospitality sustained for two years by a small domestic market, changes have, for the most part, been incremental. Self-catering cottages are in big demand, resulting in a spate of new cabins in remote areas, usually with outdoor tubs to wallow in, such as those you will find at Leopard Valley in the otherworldly Cederberg. 





Barrels of fun: stay at Kalmoesfontein Farm in Swartland, feted for its chenin and shiraz wines


Credit: Kalmoesfontein

Farm stays remain popular, too, particularly on those farms that produce superlative wines, such as Kalmoesfontein in Swartland, feted for its chenin and shiraz, or gorgeous Brookdale, a luxurious new exclusive-use homestead amid vines planted in the lee of the Drakenstein mountains. There is also the new Coot Club, officially launching in May 2022, but already offering a handful of cottages on the mesmerising Kleinrivier lagoon, often fringed with pink flamingos. 

While these options lie two hours or less from Cape Town, intrepid foodies have been making for the north and Tswalu reserve to experience Klein Jan. The restaurant showcases the surprisingly rich bounty of the Kalahari desert in a way that is multisensory, edifying and delicious: chef Jan Hendrik has created a truly transportive experience. 

In a world of such instability, it’s nice to know that some things never change and many of your favourites remain – such as De Hoop which, with its footprint-free beaches, is still the prettiest coastal reserve in the country. Worse places indeed.

How to do it: Timbuktu (020 3808 3860; timbuktu travel.com) offers a six-night escape in the Cederberg mountains from £690 per person and a six-night road trip in the Overberg from £1,200 per person, including car hire, accommodation and some meals but excluding international flights

Pippa De Bruyn


Check back tomorrow to find out what’s changed for holidays in Italy, Canada, Botswana, Australia and Namibia.