The Top 12 Destinations in 2012

Laura Mortkowitz

The hottest destinations of 2012, whether you're looking for adventure, cities, culture or isolation.

Travel + Leisure

With the end of the year right around the corner, has unveiled its picks for the hottest 12 destinations for 2012. Next year seems to be the year of adventurous travel and many of the picks reflect that, but there are also plenty of remote getaways.

Some of the destinations reflect cities and regions that are reinventing themselves, from Panama’s facelift to the cultural revolution in Arkansas. No matter what you want a vacation to provide, there’s bound to be something here to catch your interest.

12. Bentonville, Arkansas

This may be a surprise. For some people, the town has no meaning. For others, it’s the headquarters of Wal-Mart. But for the youngest heir to retail giant, Bentonville is the home of her project to make the region a culture destination.

complete with her collection of American art. The museum has everything from Colonial portraits to Andy Warhol’s contemporary art.

And as a member of the Wal-Mart family, Walton knew one way to bring in visitors: admission is free.

In November, Alice Walton opened the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art,

The resorts here may be remote, but they offer history and nature with tropical birds, boat safaris, a protected deepwater bay and island ruins.

11. Mozambique’s North Coast

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Located on the Indian Ocean coastline, this area “has upped the ante in recent years” with the luxurious resorts that have been appearing, according to .

10. Panama

What is arguably Panama’s biggest attraction, the Panama Canal, is currently under construction to double the canal’s capacity. When the facelift is complete in two years, it will coincidentally also be the 100 year anniversary of when the Panama Canal opened.

The country is going through some other changes that make it worth a visit. Biomuseo, “a series of rain-forest-like gardens and biosphere galleries” is opening. Also, the beaches of the Pacific coast have been getting buzz after celebrities have been sighted there.

9. Hamburg, Germany

Although, Hamburg has always been cosmopolitan, the city has never been known for design. The HafenCity development is looking to change that and revive Hamburg. HafenCity is a 388-acre project being built in phases on the city’s old docks. It won’t be complete until 2015, but there are already new hotels, boutiques and restaurants that are drawing tourists in.

8. Southern Bahia, Brazil

This trip is for people who are really looking for seclusion in an exotic place. The villages of Corumbau and Caraíva are 30 miles away and a four-hour ride over dirt roads away from the nearest airport.

But once there, you can snorkel among the coral reef or hike through the tropical forest without worrying about crowds.

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7. Xishuangbanna, ChinaTypically overlooked for Tibet, this corner of the Yunnan province is at the foot of the Himalayas. The population here is ethnically diverse with an ancestry that makes the people “feel less Chinese and more a blend of Thai Lao, and Burmese,” according to .

The area has rain forests; Buddhist temples; tribal villages of local groups like the Dai, Hani and Yi; and wild elephants.

6. Costa Navarino, GreeceTypically, tourists visiting Greece make their way to the beaches on the country’s islands, like Mykonos. However, there is a hidden gem on the peninsula that’s ready to make its debut.

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The new Costa Navarino resort is aiming to turn the virtually unknown Messenia region into a new hotspot. The area is “filled with sun-drenched valleys, Byzantine churches, and sandy dunes that border the crystal-blue Ionian Sea,” according to .

Abu Dhabi is competing with Dubai to capture the attention of the world and it has three museums in the works to remake its skyline: the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi, the Louvre Abu Dhabi and Zayed National Museum.

The city is a true dichotomy between new and old. Although it’s one of the oldest cities in Portugal, Guimarães is experiencing a burst of cultural creativity. So tourists can visit the ruins of an Iron Age settlement or visit one of two cultural centers — Vila Flor Cultural Center and Center for Arts & Architecture Affairs — to learn about the latest in Portuguese music, theater, film and art.

5. Abu Dhabi4. Guimarães, Portugal

3. St. Vincent and the Grenadines

Typically, these 32 islands south of St. Lucia are for the very rich and they have been under the radar over the years. However, the new airport, which opens next year, means the general public has easier access to the islands.

The stay is still pricey, with villas and resorts costing $1,000-plus a night.

2. Toronto

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Over the last few years Toronto has undergone some changes “led by remarkably hip restaurant, fashion, and nightlife scenes,” reports.

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Native Matt George, who owns a men’s clothing boutique and a bar, told that Toronto has a huge community of new immigrants creating new ideas and infusing various ethnic cultures into the city.1. Sri Lanka

After three years of prolonged peace in an area that has been rife with civil war, visitors can truly enjoy the towns in hills and pristine beaches of Sri Lanka. Since the country’s fighting ended, it seems expected that Sri Lanka is “on the cusp of a tourist boom.”

The beach destinations on the southern coast are just outside the popular town of Bentota. And in the northwest the government is scheming to transform the area into a big resort destination.