Punctuate 2011 with meaningful experiences. Choose from options that girdle the globe – from cricket bats and birthday parties to sobering memorials or a copy of Led Zeppelin IV.
Here’s our pick of the 10 best things to do next year, fresh from Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2011.
1) Hug a tree in the Amazon
The UN is declaring 2011 the International Year of the Forest, with events planned from El Salvador to Bulgaria to help promote and preserve the globe’s forests. Sounds like a good time to travel to the ultimate forest, the Amazon. The region, which is about as broad as the continental US, is filled with opportunities, even in the wake of deforestation. Brazil’s main hub for the Amazon is Manaus, which can be reached by plane or a five-day boat ride inland from Belém. You can book tours to hike in the jungle, spot dolphins, toucans and monkeys, fish for piranha and opt for luxury cabins on stilts. Try going in June and July when high tide means “hikes” are done by canoe. Trips can also be arranged from places like Leticia, Colombia or Iquitos, Peru.
Brazil’s Mamirauá Reserve (www.mamir aua.org.br), the nation’s oldest sustainable reserve, really gets “eco” right . Stay in the floating Pousada Uacari (www.pousadauacari.com.br) or in cabins on stilts.
2) Cricket in India and Sri Lanka
You can break the ice with locals in India by talking Bollywood or curry, but why let the real national pastime take the backseat? Cricket reigns here above all else, and in 2011 (the 290th anniversary of the first recorded match in India) it is no contest. In February and March, India and Sri Lanka host the Cricket World Cup (India’s third time). India has never won at home – only winning in England in 1983 – and all eyes will be on three-peat champions Australia. Wherever you are, get some makeshift lessons and connect with locals. Or see if you can get a seat at Mumbai’s newly renovated Wankhede Stadium for the final.
3) Visit the new 9/11 memorial in New York City
New York’s World Trade Center site has been closed to the public since 9/11, but on the 10th attacks this September, the National September 11 Memorial and Museum opens the site for public viewing for the first time. Construction of nearby towers (including the Freedom Tower) and the memorial’s museum will be ongoing, but in the six-acre plaza, one can view waterfalls lined with the names of all 9/11 victims and get a sneak preview of two recovered “tridents” (steel columns) from the former World Trade Center that will fill the museum atrium in 2012.
The not-for-profit organisation running the memorial plans to open the museum by 11 September 2012. Get more information at http://www.national911memorial.org.
4) DIY wonders of the world list
The overlap of Ancient Wonders of the World, Wonders of the Underwater World and Wonders of the Industrial World grows in 2011, with the New Wonders of the World’s second edition, this time focusing on nature. It is all decided by public vote, with many good candidates including Venezuela’s Angel Falls, Argentina/Brazil’s Iguazu Falls and Vietnam’s Halong Bay. Spend 2011 trying to visit all seven or create your own list. Seven Wonders of the Sports World, or maybe Top Seven Smug Politician Failures or Top Seven Places that Stink?
The New Seven Wonders of the World Foundation (www.new7wonders.com) unveils the results of the new list on 11 November 2011.
5) Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico
The birthplace of tequila, mariachis and the Mexican broad-rimmed sombrero, Guadalajara is without a doubt a memorable spot to party. It is a nice alternate gateway to Mexico City for accessing nearby colonial towns like San Miguel de Allende and Guanajuato. And it is set to really let loose from 13 to 30 October when the Western Hemisphere’s Olympics – aka Pan American Games – comes knocking. The games, held every four years since 1951, feature 5,000 athletes representing 42 countries.
6) FIS Nordic World Ski Championships in Oslo, Norway
Nothing beats the flag-waving frenzy of Norwegians cheering on their skiers at any winter event and that only escalates when the event is local. Oslo hosts the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships from 24 February to 6 March, a serious skiing affair of 21 events including the famed Holmenkollen Ski Jump, site of the world’s oldest ski jump. At its museum you can learn about the delicate art of ski jumping and skiing’s 4,000-year history, as well as take a simulated ski jump for a laugh (a queasy laugh anyway).
You can visit Holmenkollen’s Ski Museum all year (www.skiforeningen.no); for more on the event check its website http://www.oslo2011.no.
7) Climb a ‘stairway to heaven’
Robert Plant swears the lyrics to the Led Zeppelin’s rock anthem “Stairway to Heaven” (turning 40 on 8 November; long live rock!) were written off the cuff, and that there are not Satanic messages when you play the “a bustle in your hedgerow” part backwards. But with a little imagination you can place the “stairway” near Bron-Yr-Aur, the Welsh cottage where Jimmy Page first put together the immortal chords. In the south of Snowdonia National Park, the 892m Cader Idris is the big climb here, reached in five hours along the rocky Ty Nant Path or Dolgellau Path – or with stronger thighs via the Minffordd Path. Views up there can make you wonder.
Page’s old cottage is near Wales’ “green capital” Centre for Alternative Technology, incidentally home to one of the world’s steepest funicular trains. You can arrange tours and stay in eco-cabins (www.cat.org.uk).
8) Isle of Man Tourist Trophy motorbike race
A haven for tax dodgers and outdoorsy types most of the year, the remote oddball Isle of Man transforms in May and June for the Tourist Trophy, an engine-revving motorbike race that attracts 50,000 people every year – and 2011 is its 100th birthday. You can reach it by plane, or boat from Liverpool, and you can see much of the island by rental bike or on foot; the 95-mile Raad ny Foillan is a complete circuit of the island. Peek at past Tourist Trophy winners at the Manx Museum in the island’s main town of Douglas.
Keep up to date with contestants and past TT glory at the race’s website (www.iomtt.com).
9) Indy 500 in Indianapolis, USA
On the subject of engines and 100th birthdays, the US’s premier motor race also turns 100 in 2011. Indianapolis Motor Speedway hosts the event over the Memorial Day weekend in late May, but celebrates the race all month. You can take a bus tour of the 2.5-mile oval track any time – at a snail-like 60km per hour. (see http://www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com).
Plan way ahead if you want to join the 450,000 fans at the actual race. See imstix.com for ticket information.
10) Write a postcard
E-books, mobile phone apps, augmented reality – we live and travel in a world of instant information and sore thumbs. This year is a good time to pause and revisit that ol’ travel chestnut: the postcard. What started a century ago as a craze of keepsakes (recipients cherished them as much as travellers sending them cherished their actual experiences) has lost out to wi-fi, text messaging and Flickr images. A shame. Sending a postcard leads to all sorts of local life commonly missed – stationery shops, post offices, funny stamps – as well as the art of actually writing with a pen.