With 2015 soon coming to an end, the internet's best travel websites have jumped onboard the trend wagon to predict the top travel destinations for 2016. As backpackers we love a good 'unsuspecting' and 'up and coming' country to visit right? So we decided to chat to the people who know best - our staff - and compile a list of our very own top picks for 2016, including some of our favourite 'off the beaten track' countries, as well as a few cheeky popular destinations. Here it goes...
1. Sri Lanka
You've probably noticed throughout the last 2 years that more and more friends (or friends of friends) are travelling to Sri Lanka and we can see why. Flights are affordable and the country is still reasonably cheap and un - touristy. We had a chat to Jordan (hostel manager, St Kilda bar crawl host, Sushi enthusiast and all round top bloke), who recently travelled Sri Lanka by Tuk Tuk and Scooter. In his words, "30 years of civil war came to an end in 2009 which opened Sri Lanka's doors to tourism with attractions including tea plantations, wildlife viewing, jungles and beaches. Right now as the word is still getting out, there's an opportunity to get in before the tourist crowds. But don't expect it to last for much longer."
The Daily Mail is enthusiastic in predicting Iran as a top tourist attraction for 2016, following the government's recent initiatives with the world powers to loosen visa conditions and reform the historic nuclear deal with the Middle East. We weren't too sure about this one, so we had a chat to a Base staff member who is Iranian born and bred and whom chose to remain anonymous in the fear of getting assassinated. He responded to the Daily Mail's article: "Daily Mail is soooo wrong. There is no way Iran would become a top destination for backpackers. Why would people go to a country where you can't legally drink? However places to visit in my opinion would be the city of Shiraz where you can visit Persepolis. Isfahan is nice too." We'll let you decide this one!
This one is a personal pick! Columbia has for a long time been associated with drugs, corruption and crime (most likely a result of US anti - communism media stemming from the 60s). Those that have travelled onward to Columbia to escape the priciness and tourists of Peru and Ecuador will tell you otherwise. Piers (yet another Base legend, hostel manager and a man that boasts a head of hair so majestic that you can't NOT buy the man a beer), taught English in the capital city of Bogota for three months. He describes Columbians as "some of the friendliest and most inquisitive people I have ever met. Such varied terrain means that there's always something to see, do and photograph. It's got everything, from the laidback Caribbean coast, to football madness and a fierce political history and a morbid history that still resonates today."
The world class surf beaches and chilled atmosphere of the central american country of Nicaragua has also popped up on next year's top destination lists across the web. While we had Piers on the topic of travel, Nicaragua kept popping up in the conversation, mentioning that it "is a lot more affordable and relaxed than southern neighbour Costa Rica, attracting a huge surfing community and adventurous travellers" - a 2016 must!
5. South Africa
South Africa has been on the radar for a number of years, but international tourism has really taken off recently. Luckily Simon (marketing guru, the face of Base and a man that could crack a Queen's Guard into a fit of laughter), was born and bred in South Africa. Simon gave us the insider tip "head to the southern tip of Africa in 2016 for great food and wine, great beaches or get lost in Kruger National Park while spotting animals in the wild. An absolute must do for the bucket list."
We will leave this one up to Tom (the heart and soul behind Australia's most instagrammed hostel, a man whom has travelled far and wide and as you will learn by his words to follow - more than just a pretty face). "While still shrouded in political turmoil between the Chinese government and Tibetan natives, this country is incredible. The landscape alone warrants a visit but a visit to any of the small towns between the capital Lhasa and the Nepalese border towns lead to cabaret bars filled with jolly folks downing shots of beer, the poverty is obvious as is the fear of the current Chinese rule. But there is a seemingly undiminished contentment in the faces of those you meet. If you have the time head to a little western town called Lhatse - best Momo's you will find (Tibetan dumplings)!
And another top tip from Tom. 'It's been a long time since I was in Jerusalem, about 6 years, but I loved my time in Israel. It's one of the most fun, exciting countries I've visited on my travels. Jerusalem is clearly the historical and cultural capital and the winding cavernous streets that populate the old city are full of exciting landmarks. People wise it's by far the most packed in, forced diversity I've witnessed. I'd recommend jumping on the bus from the Damascus Gate to the West Bank city of Ramallah. The Palestine people have been given a bad rap for a long time, but I met some of the friendliest people I've ever met during my days in Ramallah - try Taybeh the Palestinian beer, or sit with the old gents on the sidewalks for a Hookah and a game of Shesh Besh." Tensions and violence have escalated the last week in Jerusalem. Always check safety cautions with your local government.
Iceland has been on our radar for the last year or so and has been listed in Traveller's 2016 best travel destinations, primarily for the country's "natural attractions, from the hot springs to its striking mountains and plains," as well as the capital city's thriving "artistic scene." Iceland's geysers, glaciers, thermal springs and sulphuric smell of egg in the air are comparable to the volcanic activity of New Zealand (which may or may not be why we included Iceland in this list) - either way, it's on our list. Iceland... we're coming for you!
9. Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico is small and diverse, which means you don't have to travel too far (or blow a hole in your budget) to experience all that the country has on offer. Rainforest, rocky coastlines, surf beaches, mountains and Caribbean islands... what more could you ask for? The historic capital city of San Juan is home to World Heritage Listed 16th century Forts, El Morro being the most popular, and has catered for backpackers in the form of cheap hostels, food and a bustling party scene. To save your dollars and chillax, we recommend a trip to the popular island of Rincon off the Puerto Rico's west coast. The island boasts world class surf, tropical rainforest, scuba diving, snorkeling, whale watching and beach front bars.
If you've watched the hilarious Australian sitcom Summer Heights High (if you haven't do yourself a favour and give it a squiz - it's ball breakingly funny), then you've probably had an inkling to visit the remote pacific island of Tonga. Timo, the manager of Base Welllington (German born and bred, a lover of fine coffee and beer, and yet another Base legend) recently visited Tonga and described the "hidden treasure" as "one of the most unique, untouched Kingdoms still existing in this world. The heritage of this little jewel dates back to the 12th century. I recommend a visit to the supermarket in the charming capital of Nuku'alofa where there is a weekly vegetable and fish market and perhaps the best chicken rotisserie in the pacific. The highlights are the massive variety of snorkel opportunities, whale watching from the beaches and take a public bus - it's well worth the experience!"
Named in Lonely Planet's Best Countries to visit in 2016, Uruguay has also made our list! Why? It's cheap and a little off the traditional South American trail. Nestled between Brazil and Argentina, this little touch of paradise is really only visited by those backpackers not following the tradition route from Rio to Buenes Aires. Uruguay's La Barra Beach has constantly been named one of the world's best party beaches. Need we say more?
One country that continues to pop up in every 'up and coming' destination article is Cuba and lucky for us, Dave (cool, calm and collected Base Operations Manager, quirky and creative in nature and the main man behind the smooth runnings of Base) recently returned from a trip to Cuba. "Visiting Havana is like being immersed into a nostalgic wonderland. 54 years ago the embargo cut Cuba off from most of the world leaving it much as it was in the early 60's. Although slightly weathered, the cars and architecture remain a sight to behold. The streets have a rich latin flavour with music and smile s and friendly characters. This year President Obama announced the US renewing of ties with Cuba and opening the borders. Get over there now - before everyone else does!"
Fiji! We absolutely love Fiji and there is no surprise that this overwhelmingly friendly country made Lonely Planet's Best of 2016 list. Many of the staff at Base have travelled to Fiji over recent years, including a very recent visit by Base Airlie Beach Resort Manager Kellie (the party atmosphere of Airlie Beach's favourite hostel is a clear resemblance of Kellie and her ability to not just work hard, but play hard, yet is still experiencing Bounty Rum withdrawals). The main island of Fiji, Viti Levu is bursting with culture, history, rainforests, southern surf beaches and world class snorkelling and scuba diving on the northern coast. The main attraction however, of course, is the abundance of islands off the Nadi coast to choose from! Manta Ray Island is one of our favs (with the opportunity to snorkel with Manta Rays), as well as Beachcomber Island (the infamous party island with the communal 24 bed Bure). Fijians are by far the happiest and friendliest hosts we have ever come across, making Fiji number 13 in our Top 2016 Backpacker Destinations!
Of course! And yes, we may be a little biased here BUT Australia has been cleaning it up on the world stage this year! Not only did Australia make Lonely Planets Best of 2016 List, but earlier in the year Melbourne was voted the world's world's most liveable city, whilst Sydney came in at top spot as the world's most friendliest city! Australia has a little something for everyone; from a unique culture to endless stretches of surf beach, the world's largest living organism (the Great Barrier Reef), the world's oldest living organism (the Stomatalites) and the world's largest sand island (Fraser Island)! One person that knows this all too well is Lydiane (Frenchie born, now Australia citizen and the lady that makes all of your Base reservation dreams come too). She arrived in Australia 7 years ago and since has never left, starting as a receptionist at Base and working her way up to Head Office potential. Living in Sydney, Lydiane claims that she is "living the dream." If you have yet to make the great Aussie road trip, add it to your bucket list for 2016 - and don't forget to pop into a Base to say hi!
With the recent Earthquake that shaked Nepal in April 2015, any tourism to this humble country will help rebuild the economy, so of course, Nepal makes our 2016 must do list! Trekking through the Himalayas has for long been a major tourist attraction and Everest and the Annapurna ranges have recently been re opened to the public. I myself (Katie, the women that gets paid by Base to play on Facebook all day) was lucky enough to trek through Nepal's Annapurna Sanctuary last year. The ten day trek through the Rainforest and villages was challenging, rewarding and mind blowing. The views of the mightly and glowing 'Fish Tail' from Annapuran Base Camp really put into perspective just how insignificant we really are. Much of the guest houses in Pokhara and Kathmandu are still open for business and the Nepalese people, despite the tragic events, remain friendly and hospitable. Nepal is extremely affordable for any budget conscious traveller and the country's rich history, colourful Stupas, bustling cities and mountainous wonders are a sight to be seen. Tip: Try the local Dal Bhat!
16. New Zealand
Traveller.com.au named New Zealand in their top 2016 must see list, and guess what? There's no way that we were going to overlook the second country that we call home! In 2016, New Zealand will launch a new cycle trail that will allow you to bike your way through most of the country! This year Queenstown was named the world's sexiest (we may have altered the title) airport landing. Why does New Zealand make the cut? Backpacker buses make for an affordable yet flexible means of travel throughout the country, and a great way to meet other travellers. The country's landscape is so diverse that your entire New Zealand journey will be made of vastly different snapshots and experiences: Volcanic Lakes, Hiking through Mountains, Learning to surf in Raglan, White Water Rafting down the world's highest commercially rafted waterfall, Hobbiton, Bungy Jumping, Skydiving, Hanggliding - the list goes on!
Photo: Lake Pukaki, New Zealand via Jacks (born and bred Kiwi and the lady that gets sh*t done at Base Queenstown)