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AARP’s 2018 Top International Destinations

  • Global Travel

    A record 136 million U.S. passports are in circulation, meaning more Americans are making global travel dreams come true. Here are AARP’s prime international destinations with timely appeal for mature vacationers in 2018.

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    The Caribbean

    Before hurricanes Irma and Maria hammered vacation spots including Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, St. Martin, St. Thomas and St. Barts, the region was expecting a banner year. Caribbean Tourism Organization Chairman Dionisio D’Aguilar still expects a record number of tourists in 2017 and 2018, since 75 percent of the area emerged unscathed. Popular destinations such as the Dominican Republic, Aruba, Jamaica, St. Lucia and Barbados are postcard perfect. Others are rebuilding and need support from their lifeblood: tourists. See island-by-island news at caribbeantravelupdate.com.

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    Valle de Guadalupe, Mexico

    An easy drive from San Diego (take day trips with a designated driver via companies such as Baja Winery Tours or stay over at delightful boutique hotels), this burgeoning wine region has been called “the next Napa.” Yet it retains its Mexican flavor. The Ruta del Vino (wine route) helps visitors explore more than 50 wineries between Tecate and Ensenada. A drive down a dusty dirt road may yield a Michelin-caliber restaurant that offers wine pairings, such as Corazón de Tierra, located near the Vena Cava winery. Expect a crush of tourists for the grape harvest and festival, which typically take place in August.

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    Sri Lanka

    This compact island nation southeast of India, once known as Ceylon, was named Asia’s leading destination at the 2017 World Travel Awards. It’s making a bid for more American visitors and celebrating its 70th anniversary of independence in 2018. So put frequent-flier miles to use, touch down in the capital of Colombo, then spend time basking on beaches, visiting tea plantations and temples, and admiring bountiful flora and fauna. Sri Lanka has lush forests, more than 300 gushing waterfalls, 400-plus species of birds and a small population of leopards. You can whale-watch and ride an elephant in a single day.  

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    Istrian Peninsula, Croatia

    While Dubrovnik and Split in southern Croatia are packed with vacationers, this northwest region bordering Slovenia and not far from Italy is unknown to many Americans and well worth exploring. (Europe guidebook icon Rick Steves loves it.) Istria contains beach resorts such as Opatija, considered the crown jewel of the Croatian Riviera, with a 7.5-mile oceanfront promenade. Marvel at Roman ruins in Pula, including a well-preserved amphitheater that hosts concerts and mock gladiator fights. Istria’s ancient hill towns — including Motovun, where race car driver Mario Andretti was born — are reminiscent of Tuscany. Food and Istrian wine are delectable and affordable. Top your pasta with locally foraged white or black truffles — without breaking your budget.

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    Exotic River Cruises

    Explore the Rhine. The Danube. The Seine. Lovers of river cruises — and their number is growing, especially among the over-50 set — have been there, done that. Today, what floats seasoned travelers’ boats are the Amazon, Ganges, Volga, Yangtze and more. Book an Irrawaddy River outing, which navigates the waters of the once-out-of-bounds Myanmar (formerly known as Burma). New rivercraft for 2018 include Avalon Waterways’ all-suite 36-guest Saigon, due to launch Mekong River outings in September, and Viking River Cruises’ all-suite 52-passenger Viking Ra, which will ply the Nile starting in March. 

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    Madeira, Portugal

    Rebounding from fires that did damage in 2016, this tranquil island in the Atlantic boasts a year-round moderate climate, seaside resorts, mountain villages and inviting walking trails along stone irrigation channels called levadas. The capital of Funchal received the European Commission’s Access City Award in 2017, reflecting an effort to make its beachside promenades, tourist attractions and hotels hospitable to those with limited mobility. Portugal also is a European destination known for lodging and dining options catering to the budget minded.

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    Luang Prabang, Laos

    If you’re feeling adventurous, this UNESCO World Heritage site in north central Laos is charming an increasing number of American visitors. It was named one of Travel + Leisuremagazine’s “Top 10 Cities in Asia" and "World's Top 15 Cities" of 2017. The city’s name, by the way, derives from a revered local Buddha image. Buddhist temples and monks in saffron-colored robes collecting alms meld with stunning French Colonial architecture and a multitude of festivals for a memorable getaway. Raves Frommer’s travel guide: “It is hard not to employ superlatives, and pretty much everyone who has spent time in the town does. It is a place where history, atmosphere and terrain combine to create something of astonishing beauty.”

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    Machu Picchu, Peru

    The mystical, magical 15th-century terraced Inca complex that's surrounded by jagged Andes peaks already is one of the world’s most popular bucket-list destinations. But if you want to see it, go soon. Because of tourist hordes, new regulations were imposed last July clamping down on visitation time and requiring every visitor to go in with an official guide. No longer can you roam alone with resident llamas at dawn. You also cannot get naked (people did) or take in a metal-tipped walking stick. To avoid the bumpy shuttle bus ride to the nearest town of Aguas Calientes, splurge on the Belmond Sanctuary Lodge by the entrance gates.

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    Chengdu, China

    Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing get the lion’s share of attention. But animal lovers with wanderlust should consider the capital of China's Sichuan province in the southwest. Chengdu is known for giant pandas and spicy cuisine (try kung pao chicken and Szechuan, aka Sichuan, stuffed pancakes). Visitors can play panda keeper at the Dujiangyan Panda Base outside the city. They feed and interact with adorable black-and-white bundles of fur, including popular Bao Bao, shipped from Washington, D.C.’s Smithsonian National Zoo in February 2017. Chengdu also is a TripAdvisor Traveler’s Choice destination, with hotels, restaurants and a Sichuan Cuisine Museum that offers cooking classes.

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    The Cotswolds, England

    Today’s world is nerve jangling. So step back to a more placid period. Gaze at emerald fields on rolling hills and stone cottages with thatched roofs, or linger over a pint in centuries-old pubs. A short train ride from London, these villages and towns south of Stratford-upon-Avon are guaranteed to lower your blood pressure. At the Three Ways House hotel in Mickleton, join the Pudding Club, which is dedicated to preserving traditional English desserts. To become a "member," you must sample seven belly busters, such as sticky toffee and date pudding, jam roly-poly, spotted dick or syrup sponge. As you toddle off to bed, heartburn-inducing headlines seem far away.

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