New Zealand is backpackers' latest nirvana

THAILAND, INDIA and Nepal are passe. Asia has been replaced by far-flung New Zealand, Chile and Namibia as the backpackers' favourites. And Stansted Airport in Essex has been voted the best European airport in a poll of 1,200 independent travellers.

The southern hemisphere took the main prizes in the Readers Awards announced last night by Wanderlust magazine and The Body Shop. New Zealand, the most distant nation from Britain, just edged out Chile for first place, while the traditional backpackers' destinations in Asia failed even to make the top 10.

New Zealand has launched a big campaign to lure visitors and the authorities will be pleased that Australia achieved only seventh spot, with Guatemala.

Chile led a strong contingent of Latin American nations; Peru took fifth place, while the former Inca capital, Cuzco, in Peru, which lies two miles up in the Andes, was voted top city worldwide. "Cuzco was a big surprise to us," said Lyn Hughes, editor of Wanderlust. "Peru's publicity usually focuses on the likes of Machu Picchu and the Inca trail."

Southern Africa performed strongly, with Namibia and Zimbabwe in third and fourth place respectively. The highest-rated European country is Scotland, in sixth place overall, but its capital, Edinburgh, achieved only 18th place among favourite cities.

Half the top 10 favourite cities are European destinations: Venice, Bruges, Prague, Rome and Barcelona. The no-frills Go airline starts flights to Barcelona and Prague tomorrow; it already serves Rome and Venice. Its home base is Stansted.

Neither Go nor any of its rivals made the top 10 in the airlines category. This bears a strong similarity to polls in other publications, with Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways and Emirates taking the leading three places. Singapore's airport, Changi, was voted best worldwide. The highest-placed British carrier is Virgin Atlantic, placed sixth. British Airways was 19th.

Cuba will be disappointed it did not make the top 10 and that its airline was voted worst worldwide: "Cubana are in a class of their own," said Ms Hughes.

Another notable failure was the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, voted worst city in the world. "This suggests its nickname of `Nairobbery' is still in popular use among travellers," Ms Hughes said.

WHERE'S HOT

New Zealand

The backpackers' paradise, where you can bungee jump to your heart's content - and all the safety instructions are in English

Chile

This thin slice of South America is still a hot place for Britons, despite the awkward matter of the former dictator, General Augusto Pinochet

Namibia

Tried Timbuktu? Peered at the pyramids? Done Capetown? If you want to get in to Africa, then Namibia is the next hip destination

WHERE'S NOT

Thailand

It seems there is only so much Alex Garland and Leonardo DiCaprio a traveller can take

India

A country that has gone down in independent travel history and, more recently, in popularity

Nepal

Past its peak, according to Wanderlust readers, but Nepal's popularity will undoubtedly rise again

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