Travel: The insiders' guide to 1999

What were the best travel discoveries of 1998, and where should you be going next year?
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The Independent Culture
For travellers and the travel industry alike, 1998 has proved a momentous year. While the World Cup disrupted travel in our favourite foreign country, France, British Airways sold two million flights in a weekend at absurdly low prices. The travel industry consolidated, so that much of it is now in the hands of a few huge companies, while the small specialists extended their tentacles into ever more exotic territory. For the soundest advice from the travel experts, we asked intrepid explorers and industry insiders for their best travel discovery of 1998 - and their top travel tip for 1999.

"My favourite place in 1998 was Mato Grosso in the Amazon. It's an amazing bit of forest, really beautiful - and it still has lots of jaguars and turtles. For me what is so exciting is that this was where Colonel Fawcett disappeared. He was the explorer who set out to look for a city of gold. It might even still be there!

"For 1999 I'd recommend going to Mongolia. There's nowhere in the world that is so nomadic, almost half the population lives in tents. But not for much longer, since the country is opening up quickly. Get there before the nomads settle down like the rest of us."

Benedict Allen, explorer and author of `Edge of Blue Heaven'

"1998 was the year I discovered the rollercoaster in a Las Vegas hotel called New York New York. Go to the top of the skyscraper and hurtle down for the scariest ride of your life.

"My tip for a great holiday in 1999 is to buy your holiday now. Travel agents will be trying to breathe some life into the flagging retail market by pushing silly bargains after Christmas."

Jeremy Skidmore, editor of `Travel Weekly' newspaper

"My best travel discovery of 1998 was without a doubt the Sierra Madre mountains in northern Mexico. The canyons are staggeringly deep and quite tourist-free.

"At the Tsodilo Hills in the Botswana desert - the sacred site of the bushmen - I literally stumbled into a new camp being established by a guy called Andy MacGregor. It's the perfect place to see in the millennium."

Martin Buckley, traveller and writer

"1998 for me was the year I could both stand and sit in a Chinese bus. I spent three days in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, using buses extensively. Normally I found a comfortable seat and if I did not, I could still stand without stooping although I am 6ft 5in. Prices may have gone up, from 4p to 7p in the last year, but is any traveller likely to complain?

"1999 will be the year of indulgence for many travellers. From Moscow to Singapore, luxury hotels are slashing their prices to encourage tourists to take the place of the now bankrupt business travellers. Airlines, too, are tempting `ordinary' tourists up front. Recessions are good news for travellers - take advantage of them whilst they last."

Neil Taylor, of the specialist tour operator Regent Holidays

"My best discovery of 1998 was Turkish Cyprus. It is beautiful and both the people and the magnificent sites are untouched by the nastier aspects of tourism. The people are wonderfully trusting and all those ancient places appear unmanaged.

"My top tip for next year would be to visit Canada: in particular, go to Manitoulin Island on the Great Lakes. North American Indians make up one-third of the island's present population and the place takes its name from one of their great gods. It is the world's largest freshwater island and the perfect spot for water-based activities - what's more, if you go in early August you may catch the annual three-day festival at which Indian dancing groups from all over Ontario perform."

Susan Griffith, editor of `Work Your Way Around the World'

"This year Watchdog put holiday building sites firmly on the agenda. Now tour companies are getting their acts together to let holidaymakers know in advance that the hotel they booked may be surrounded by JCBs, stone-cutters and drills. All the tour operators have to do is find those affected customers equivalent places to stay once they've admitted there are building works. Therein lies the rub. Some tour companies will insist the customer pay extra for a better-class hotel or else settle for a three- star instead of the (noisy) four-star they originally wanted, and indeed, booked up to a year in advance.

"Watchdog's tip for the traveller in 1999 is don't lose or have your passport stolen between leaving home and boarding the plane. Apart for the fact that you won't get on the flight, one Watchdog viewer found out the hard way that her travel insurance wouldn't pay back the price of her subsequently cancelled holiday. The way her travel insurance is underwritten assumes that the passport would be lost or stolen abroad and not in the UK."

Helen O'Rahilly, editor of `Watchdog' and `Weekend Watchdog'

"My travel discovery of 1998 is undoubtedly the Mani peninsula in Greece, because there you find a timeless, ancient world in a modern setting.

"1999 is my 25th anniversary of writing and publishing travel guides, so my tip has to be buy a good guide book and then find places the author doesn't know about - that's the real adventure."

Hilary Bradt, writer, tour leader and publisher

"The best thing about 1998 was the improvement in agrotourism in Romania. Village homestay schemes became better organised and far more widely available. Since the revolution everyone's been saying that the great things about Romania are the people and the villages. 1998 is the year that they have finally got it together, thank God!

"1999 will be the year of Berlin. With the federal government moving in and the accompanying building scheme being implemented on a grand scale, Berlin'll be fantastic."

Tim Burford, guidebook writer

"My discovery this year was Budapest, a fantastic city, full of atmosphere, and in a great situation with the river running through it.

"My top trip for 1999 would be taking the recently opened high-speed train link from London to Berlin to see how Germany's new capital is shaping up. And all this comfortably in a day."

Brendan Fox, editor, Thomas Cook timetables

"My travel discovery of 1998 was San Pedro de Atacama in the Atacama desert in Chile. The desert scenery is spectacular and there is loads to do. It's not far from the Valle de la Luna.

"Remember in 1999 that a number of insurance policies don't cover travel in areas like Chile, for which the Foreign Office has issued an advisory warning against non-necessary travel. Unscrupulous travel agents may not warn you that your travel insurance policy is invalidated if your destination is so designated. Check before you go that you are fully covered."

Chris Parrott, tour operator, Journey Latin America

"In 1998 I discovered that cowboy culture is alive and well in Wyoming. And then I also discovered that you should never ask a cowboy to take off his hat - his hair will almost inevitably be all flat and greasy underneath!

"In 1999 go to Cuba for fantastic music and architecture. The place is in a time warp and has a unique vitality. Sooner or later the US embargo is bound to be lifted and the danger is that Cuba will turn into just another Florida."

Lyn Hughes, editor of `Wanderlust' magazine

"Global warming all over the world was one of the significant themes of 1998, so Antarctica was the place to go, because it is the location both the least touched and fastest endangered by that threat. This was a year that also saw a travel explosion on the Web, with companies like On-Line providing myriad different ways of accessing travel information.

"The places to go to in 1999 are all very strange. Go to Panama before the American flag comes down at the end of the year, or to Macao before it is handed back - also at the end of the year. For a taste of millennium fever South Pacific style, try Kiribati, although be warned that all the South Pacific islands have announced that they don't have the facilities to meet the anticipated influx of millennium travellers. I, on the other hand, intend to do all my travelling early in the year and to see in the millennium - bug and all - in a rare Christmas in Britain."

Sarah Miller, editor of `Conde Nast Traveller' magazine

"1998 saw the rediscovery of Croatia as a popular holiday destination. From nowhere, the Nelles Guide to Croatia and the Adriatic Coast suddenly began to sell in large quantities. 1999 will see an increasing trend for Croatia as a holiday destination and a number of new guides are due to come out then.

"On 11 August there will be a total eclipse of the sun and the place to go to see this happen is Cornwall - if you can still find any accommodation. The must-have guides are The Royal Greenwich Observatories' Total Eclipse of the Sun, by Steve Bell, and the Yarner Press's Total Eclipse of the Sun in Cornwall and South Devon, by Pam Hine. Both are already proving very popular."

Andrew Steed, map buyer for Stanford's

"I suppose my best discovery of 1998 was Southern American food - grits, biscuits and gravy, barbecue, burritos. I'd only dabbled with it before.

"My tip for 1999 is go to the American South, especially Austin, Texas, the best city in America besides the big ones. It has a young population and there's always something going on in one of its 50 or more music venues. Between them these cater for everything from hard-core country & western to alternative punk. It's also a great base from which to see the South, or the Third Coast as they like to call it down there."

Tim Perry, author of `Rock & Roll Traveller UK and USA'

"My favourite discovery of 1998 was the Postbus in Scotland. It was just a wonderful experience going into the lost and hidden places of Scotland and meeting en route the brilliant post-women who run post offices from their garden sheds. The service, which operates all over the UK, exists for those people living in areas where other forms of public transport aren't available.

"My travel tip for 1999 would be to take a look at the ever-expanding Tourism Concern website (www.gn.apc.org\ tourismconcern). It contains a community tourism directory which highlights those places around the world where local and, frequently, poor people are managing to own and to control their own tourism when they lack the facilities to market it themselves."

Patricia Barnett, Tourism Concern

"My discovery of 1998 was the Caprivi Strip in the north-east corner of Namibia. It used to be a no-go zone between Angola and South Africa. I travelled there by car from Namibia's capital, Windhook, drove down the strip itself and went south into Botswana. It was an expectation-plus- one experience, and particularly great for a birdwatcher like me.

"The trip for me in 1999 will be another drive, this time from Australia's northern territories to its southern ones: from Darwin to Broome. It is a wonderfully wild drive which involves much planning. I shall be in search of the black grasswren, a bird found in western Australia."

Keith Betton, the Association of British Travel Agents

"In 1998 STA's best travel discovery was Laos. We had always known it was an up-and-coming destination, but this year its status was confirmed by a substantial increase in the number of bookings to go there. It is generally visited as part of a joint trip, along with Vietnam and Cambodia.

"For 1999 we would recommend Africa as the destination for the young, independent traveller. Its Ivory Coast and, indeed, much of the west, is very unexplored and, on the east coast, the Bazaruto Islands off Mozambique are particularly beautiful."

Dawn Howell, PR and promotions manager of STA Travel

"Sabaudia, a tiny town south of Rome, was my discovery of 1998 - a Fascist architecture holiday resort.

"My travel tip for 1999 is don't go to Sabaudia (I want to save it for myself)."

Stephen Wood, skiing correspondent of `The Independent'

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