The NY Times' 52 Places to Go in 2019: Reaction, Highlights & Other Ditties

Snapshot from the northwest coast of Puerto Rico (Image: Zach Castillo,  Unsplash )

Snapshot from the northwest coast of Puerto Rico (Image: Zach Castillo, Unsplash)

The calendar has flipped to 2019, and only nine days into the new year the good folks over at The New York Times have gifted us with their annual list of 52 destinations that travelers the world over might like to consider hitting up over the next 12 months. With more than 15 locations across Europe, a dozen or so in North America, and a smattering of other choices from Asia, Africa, South America, Australia, and the Middle East, the “52 Places to Go in 2019” list contains options for just about everyone.

Not surprisingly, I’ve already seen some complaints across the Internets (mostly on Twitter) concerning this year’s list, though. One grievance I came across that did seem to have some merit was the fact that the list gives the United States a little too much credit. Outpacing all other countries, there are 10 entries from the U.S. this time around.

It’s not difficult to see why places like New York City (No. 31) and Los Angeles (No. 41) made the cut, but seeing Wyoming (No. 40) and Williamsburg, Virginia (No. 12), alongside destinations like Marseille, France (No. 39), and Japan’s Setouchi Islands (No. 7) does warrant a double take. Consider that both of those American locales are celebrating significant anniversaries — the 400th anniversary of the convening of the first representative assembly in America and the first recorded proclamation of Thanksgiving in the New World, among other events, in Williamsburg, and the 150th anniversary of women’s suffrage in Wyoming — and their inclusion doesn’t seem so odd, however.

If there is anything to be upset about in terms of the U.S.’s 10 entries, it would be the inclusion of Las Vegas (No. 13) and Columbus, Ohio (No. 47), in my opinion. The opening of the new Park MGM resort, as well as some new craft cocktail bars at the Venetian, and the seventh edition of the Life is Beautiful festival were provided as rationale for including Las Vegas, but I’m just not buying it.

Columbus, meanwhile, finds itself at No. 47 this year by virtue of its status as one of the U.S.’s fastest-growing cities, as well as the revitalization of the Scioto Mile and the recent opening of the National Veterans Memorial and Museum and of some new restaurants and businesses in the city’s Short North Arts District. Here, again, I have a tough time believing those items are enough to warrant inclusion on the 52 Places list. It would have been nice to see another African or South American destination instead, as each of those continents only received three entries apiece.

This inviting shore awaits somewhere in Panama’s San Blas Islands (Image: Angel Silva,  Unsplash )

This inviting shore awaits somewhere in Panama’s San Blas Islands (Image: Angel Silva, Unsplash)

All right, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s take a look at this year’s top five, which I can totally get down with. Coming in at numero uno on this year’s list is Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory that is still working hard to get back to normal after being devastated by Hurricane Maria in fall 2017. Performances of the musical “Hamilton,” with Lin-Manuel Miranda reprising the lead role, at the Centro de Bellas Artes Luis A. Ferré in San Juan this month in an effort to raise funds for arts organizations on the island certainly doesn’t hurt the cause. And remember: U.S. citizens do not need a passport to visit.

Following behind Puerto Rico are Hampi, India (No. 2), which recently became more accessible thanks to direct flights offered by TruJet; Santa Barbara, California (No. 3), which makes the list thanks to a plethora of food and wine options; Panama (No. 4), where two new island resorts opened recently; and Munich (No. 5), a renowned arts destination in Germany’s Bavaria region.

While only one of last year’s top five destinations — No. 1 New Orleans, which celebrated its tricentennial in 2018 — was realistically in reach, I’d say Puerto Rico, Santa Barbara, and Panama are all places I could potentially travel to this time around.

Outside of 2019’s top five and the U.S. destinations I’ve already mentioned, as well as those I haven’t, other easier-to-reach spots on this year’s list (given you’re a middle class American such as myself) include the Lake Superior-carved ice caves near Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario (No. 10); Costalegre, Mexico (No. 16); Calgary, Alberta (No. 20); and Aberdeen, Scotland (No. 24), considering you take the Caledonian Sleeper train from London, as the list suggests.

If you’re after something that’s more out of the way, maybe try one of these:

  • No. 21: Olkhon Island — Surrounded by Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest at just over a mile, Unesco refers to this island as “the Galápagos of Russia”

  • No. 23: Falkland Islands — With a human population of about 2,500, it will be just you and the penguins on these islands off the coast of Argentina

  • No. 34: Uzbekistan — Improved ground and air travel regionally and an easier visa process got this central Asian nation known for its mosques, mausoleums, and other Silk Road sites on the list this year

  • No. 38: Batumi, Georgia — Lying in wait on the Black Sea, Batumi, the second-largest city in Georgia (no, not the state), is preparing to take some of the spotlight from Tbilisi with new hotels and the ongoing restoration of its historic Old Town

  • No. 42: Dakar, Senegal — The westernmost point of the entire African continent, the seaside city of Dakar is a great place to soak up some sun or catch a wave

The frosty frontiers of Olkhon Island (Image: Sergey Pesterev,  Unsplash )

The frosty frontiers of Olkhon Island (Image: Sergey Pesterev, Unsplash)

Somewhat surprisingly, this year’s list also includes Iran at No. 45 (coincidence?). “The appeal of Iran for adventurous travelers is obvious: the monumental ruins of ancient Persia, the spectacular, centuries-old mosques of Shiraz and Isfahan, the Grand Bazaar and Golestan Palace in the bustling metropolis of Tehran,” writes the Times’ Stuart Emmrich. Similar to Cuba, Americans can only travel to Iran as part of an organized tour.

I’d like to say I agree with Ben Groundwater, who wrote an article titled “Why We Should Travel to ‘Dangerous’ Places” for Adventure.com a couple years back, but I don’t know if I’d try this one just yet. It isn’t very promising, after all, when the U.S. State Department says there is a very high risk of arrest and detention of U.S. citizens in Iran.

While there are still many more destinations of note on this year’s list that I could yammer on about, let me highlight just one more and then I’ll leave the rest to you. If you think back to August 2017, you might remember that the entirety of the contiguous U.S. experienced a total solar eclipse for the first time in nearly 100 years. Well, now it’s Chile’s turn.

Folks down that way will experience a total eclipse of their own this summer, which is the reason that the Elqui Valley, a winemaking region that sits 250 miles north of Santiago, comes in at No. 51 this year. If you’ve already got plans on July 2, don’t fret, there are other reasons to visit this haven for nature lovers. Named the world’s first International Dark Sky Sanctuary in 2015, travelers also have the option of hiking through vineyards or strolling through the streets of Vicuña, the area’s largest city.

Check out The New York Times’ complete list right here. For a look back at 2018, this link has you covered.

-LTH