Some destinations would be worth visiting this year either due to relatively easy access or because of events taking place there.
It's the beginning of another year and the ideal time to plan for the next 12 months. For the more adventurous this would include going to places not previously visited. While travelling to some destinations during the course of the year might be inevitable for some due to work, others may need to explore new locations purely for leisure. If that is the case, a few of the following destinations should be worth your while. And if you have the time and can afford it, you might just as well try them all and make 2013 a year of discovery!
Durban and Nelspruit
There are two reasons why it makes perfect sense for destinations in South Africa to rank high in places to visit early this year. First, it is summer in the Southern Hemisphere at this time of year. Second and most importantly, South Africa will host the next edition of the African Cup of Nations kicking off January 19 through February 10. This would be a good opportunity to visit a destination adept at hosting international tourists at a time when fellow visitors from around the African continent and the world at large would be also be around.
Durban, a coastal city off the Indian Ocean is increasingly becoming a favourite holiday destination, with clement weather and one of the world's largest marine parks as major attractions. Opportunities to have fun abound in Durban, ranging from Bungee jumping off the top of the Moses Mabhida stadium to shark cage diving at the uShaka Marine World. This is in addition to its long stretch of clean beaches where one can swim and surf in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean. There are also cruises in catamarans and yachts where you can dine and party on board while appreciating the impressive Durban skyline. And if you're lucky, you could get to see a school of Dolphins in the wild.
Nelspruit on the other hand, isn't what you would describe as a typical destination for a Nigerian traveler, with its tourist attraction being the nearby Kruger National Park, home to Africa's Big Five game: the lion, the African elephant, the Cape buffalo, the leopard, and the rhinoceros.
A survey by South African Tourism about a year ago identified vibrant nightlife and shopping among the interests that rank high on a Nigerian travellers itinerary, rather than a safari. However, with the Nigerian national football team set to play all its group matches in Nelspruit, it should be an opportunity to buck the trend, do something atypical and spend time in the wild in between football matches.
Rio de Janeiro
Staying down south and staying with the football theme, Brazil would be hosting the Confederations Cup in June this year. The competition is seen as a dress rehearsal for the World Cup that would take place in the same country a year after. Add to the fact that Rio is the designate host city for the 2016 Olympics and you realize that the party is in Brazil for the next three years.
Talking about parties, you don't have to wait till June to have a good time in Rio; the Rio Carnival which is the world's largest street party takes place between February 9 and 12. It would be a good time to visit the city which normally is a cultural melting.
Getting a visa to Brazil is relatively easy and fast, and while the official language is Portuguese, one can get by with English in the major tourist destinations of Ipanema and Copacabana. Both beaches are close to the Corcovado mountain, atop where the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue stands with open arms, looking down on the city of Rio.
The larger than life Christ the Redeemer statue defines Rio
Dubai has over the past few years become of the most visited cities for Nigerian travelers who go there for both business and pleasure. This trend is set to continue as a growing middle class with disposable income in Nigeria coupled with easy access to visas making this a desirable destination.
The desert city with the largest immigrant population in the world has superb infrastructure with numerous iconic buildings, liberal policies (compared to neighbouring countries in the region) and is a great location for shopping, partying, sunbathing, fine dining and sporting events.
Apart from the regular tennis, golf and Formula One events that take place in Dubai annually, it would also be one of the venues for the World U 17 Championship holding between October and November in the UAE. This is sure to interest many Nigerians, and should be a good time to visit.
Exotic Visa-free Destinations: Cape Verde, Seychelles, Barbados
It is no secret that high up on the list of stumbling blocks for the average Nigerian to surmount when planning a trip abroad is getting a visa. However, this should not inhibit the explorative spirit inherent in the average Nigerian. Rather it should be an opportunity to discover new lands. Ghana and Gambia have benefitted from Nigerian travelers who would rather do without the visa issues. But there are way more exotic destinations waiting to welcome you as a Nigerian if only you are ready to push the boundaries.
Four Island destinations that dreams are made of are accessible to Nigerians. Cape Verde, Seychelles and Barbados are all locations ideal for leisure and are also famous honeymoon destinations.
Cape Verde, a country spanning an archipelago of 10 islands in the Atlantic off the coast West Africa is the closest. Just like the others it boasts a picturesque landscape with ample beaches and is an economy totally dependent on tourism. The only drawback though is that Portuguese is the official language. With the world increasingly becoming a global village, this shouldn't be too much of a problem.
On the other side of the continent in the Indian Ocean lies Seychelles, an island country spanning an archipelago of 115 northeast of the much larger island of Madagascar. Seychelles, with an estimated population of 87,000, has the smallest population of any African state but also has the highest Human Development Index in Africa.
The good news is that as a transit point for trade between Africa and Asia over the centuries, the islands have fallen under both British and French control; both languages are official languages there.
A few months ago while speaking with THISDAY, the country's minister of culture and tourism, Alain St. Ange extended an invitation to Nigerians, promising that Seychelles is a welcoming destination for citizens of the West African nation.
Outside of Africa and visa free is one of the world's most developed tourist destinations, Barbados. Relations between Nigeria and the Caribbean country is improving by the day and with the official language spoken being English, it is expected that Nigerians would start visiting in droves. Join the party.
Lagos and Calabar
Nigerians don't only like to travel they love to have fun too. There are not too many places on the African continent that can boast the night life of Lagos, especially towards the end of the year when many of those in the diaspora come back to celebrate with loved ones. If nothing else, the clubs in Lagos are not only packed full, the music - which of recent is almost exclusively Nigerian - is world class.
There are also numerous concerts with world-famous international artistes performing. Chris Brown, Mavado, Tiny Tempah and Big Sean were some of the international acts in Lagos last year and this year is sure to top that.
Beach soccer, with its high entertainment value is also in the mix at this time of the year as some of the best teams in the world return for the COPA Lagos beach soccer tournament.
Calabar which is now widely renowned for its annual festival and carnival is also worth visiting in December. It is a month-long celebration with different international dimensions. Senegal-born American artiste Akon was the headline act of the Calabar festival that featured the best Nigerian entertainers, just as the Sao Paulo carnival champions, the Thobais Vai Vai band strutted their stuff at the carnival proper. Nothing would cap the year better than celebrate and relax in equal measure at two of Africa's favourite leisure destinations.