Top Destinations 2017
1. PICOS, SPAIN
The Picos de Europa are a dramatic range of mountains in the northern provinces of Spain (Cantabria, Castille y Leon and Asturias) in the middle of the Camino de Santiago. A two hour flight from Dublin or London to Santander and a scenic two and a half hour bus ride sees you at the trail start in time for evening meal and tapas. A stone’s throw from the famous Camino de Santiago, the Picos offer you the opportunity of quieter trails, authentic Spanish culture and villages and routes with stunning visual backdrops in the limestone mountains that make up the Picos. The Spanish equivalent of a mini set of Alps, in late June and early July they are uncrowded, fresh, welcoming and wonderful.
2. LADAKH, INDIA
Ladakh, a Buddhist ex-kingdom with picture-perfect gompas (Tibetan Buddhist monasteries) dramatically crown rocky outcrops amid whitewashed stupas and meditational mani walls topped with countless mantra-inscribed pebbles is no. 2 on our list. Colourful fluttering prayer flags spread their spiritual messages metaphorically with the mountain breeze. Prayer wheels spun clockwise release more merit-making mantras. Ladakh’s remarkably well-balanced traditional society has much to teach the West in terms of ecological awareness. While most Ladakhis are cash poor, traditional mud-brick homesteads are large, comfortable and self-sufficient in fuel and dairy products, organic vegetables and barley used to make tsampa (roast barley flour) and chhang (barley booze). Such self-sufficiency is an incredible achievement given the short growing season and very limited arable land in this upland desert, where precious water supplies must be laboriously channelled from glacier-melt mountain streams.
3. EVEREST, NEPAL
With it’s vibrant culture, bustling capital and the best trekking in the world – it’s easy to see why Nepal has been voted by Lonely Planet as one of the Top 5 Countries to visit in 2017. Nepal has something for everyone with its magnificent snow-capped mountains, tropical jungles, colorful history, and rich culture. The Nepalese people are friendly, welcoming, and understandably proud of their beautiful country. Nepal has, not only, Everest, Earth’s highest mountain, but seven more 8,000m (26,246 ft) peaks for some of the best trekking in the world. Sitting below the Himalayan mountain peaks, the busy capital of Kathmandu is a fascinating city, with colourful markets, ancient Durbar Square, the Buddhist Stupas, and Hindu Temples. It can take a lifetime to fully explore the mountain trails of the Himalaya and the atmospheric temple towns of this beautiful country, and many trekkers come back again and again.
Bhutan is a unique destination – a place that has been isolated for much of its recent history, it is sometimes known as the last Shangri-La. It is a Buddhist nation with only about 800,000 citizens. It has long, winding roads around impressive peaks and ample forests, often still untouched by human activity. Bhutan is working hard to hold onto its festivals and traditions while adopting enough technology to modernize services, but travel is a challenge. Public transportation is limited and the government requires guides for foreign visitors. Namaste Nomad has experienced guides who can show you the villages where Bhutanese still wear traditional clothing and the buildings are preserved as they were hundreds of years ago or take you on wild treks that few foreigners ever see.
5. SIKKIM, INDIA
Sikkim is among the loveliest destinations in India. And what variety in such a small state: plunging rhododendron-clad mountain valleys in the north, West Sikkim’s atmospheric Buddhist monasteries, monumental religious statues in South Sikkim, and friendly and cheerful urban centres in the east. Then there are stunning views of Khangchendzonga, the world’s third-highest mountain (8598m), visible from almost any viewpoint in the state. Little wonder that this tiny former Himalayan kingdom is such a haven for all travelers.