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Top emerging travel destinations for US travelers in 2020

Our lives revolve around referrals. Whether you’re looking for a new laptop or a new dentist, you ask around for other people’s opinions. Travel is no different. When you see a stunning landscape on Instagram, don’t you always research the location?

There may be no better referral for travelers than where others are heading these days. Skyscanner crunched the numbers from the past two years to find the top 9 up-and-coming destinations that are seeing increased tourism from fellow travelers in the USA. Some of the latest trending vacation spots might even surprise you.

Emerging destinations: key highlights

  • Foodies aren’t crossing the pond as much for the best in local gastronomy. It’s the Americas that are drawing their fair share of tourism for unique food experiences.
  • US travelers are branching out beyond safaris and seeking immersive cultural experiences in North and West Africa.
  • It could be the language, culture, history or food, but US travelers are visiting Spanish-speaking destinations more frequently. In fact, they make up almost half of our emerging destinations list.

#1 Asheville

YoY growth in Bookings: 75%

Asheville’s popularity has skyrocketed as its well-developed local beer and gastronomy scene continue to make a name for North Carolina’s sixth-largest city. At this up-and-coming travel destination, experience some of USA’s most beloved craft breweries, like Wicked Weed Brewing, Highland Brewing, and Sierra Nevada Brewery’s east coast facility.

Beer! As the Brewery Capital of the USA, the Asheville area boasts 60 craft breweries. Beer may be the star of the show, but its supporting actor is definitely the local culinary scene with its fair share of James Beard Award-nominated chefs.

Most popular: March to May and in October
Most affordable: November to February
Least crowded: June to August and November to February

Fall foliage in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Leaf enthusiasts will enjoy a visit from the middle of October to early November to see the vibrant colors of the changing leaves.

– Hike a portion of the famous Appalachian Trail.

– Visit Wicked Weed Brewing’s Funkatorium to sip samplers of sour beer.

– Admire the historic Biltmore Estate, USA’s largest home, and enjoy an afternoon strolling through its opulent gardens and grounds.

#2 Accra

YoY growth in Bookings: 60%

You will find Accra as number 2 on our list of emerging destinations for US travelers. Ghana’s oceanside capital city is a draw for those who truly want to get off the beaten path for an immersive cultural experience. It’s a vibrant city where old traditions live on and intermingle with modern-day society. Rub shoulders with locals as they buy wares at outdoor markets or run their startups at cafés. The locals are friendly and hospitable, so say hello!

Afrochella. This daylong festival celebrates African culture with live music, local cuisine and contemporary exhibits that display art, photography, and even graffiti.

Most popular: March to May and September to November
Most affordable: June to August
Least crowded: June to August and December to February

At The Republic Bar, sip on a creative cocktail made from akpeteshie, Ghana’s national spirit produced by distilling palm wine or sugar cane.

– Shop at Markola Market for food, spices, clothes and other local goods.

– Cool down with a refreshing coconut, sold around the city by vendors with carts. Tip: find a cart that offers them chilled.

– Enjoy the sun and surf at popular Labadi Beach.

#3 Madrid

YoY growth in Bookings: 42%

If there was ever a poster city for slow travel, it would be Madrid, which makes it into position 3 on our list of emerging destinations. There are gems waiting to be discovered on every street, from old-world architecture to statues to cozy cafés serving mouthwatering tapas. Take time to appreciate the art, culture, cuisine and myriad entertainment options that this up-and-coming European holiday destination has to offer.

Museo Nacional del Prado. The Prado, as it’s known, is a renowned art museum with an expansive collection that includes masterpieces by Raphael, El Greco, Rembrandt, and Diego Velazquez.

Most popular: March to May and September to November
Most affordable: December to February
Least crowded: June to August

Visit charming Capricho Park. It’s a peaceful place to relax and enjoy a picnic lunch. You’ll be surrounded by nicely landscaped greenery and not many people.

– Tour the Royal Palace of Madrid, which dates back to the mid-1700s. Get there early to avoid the crowd.

– Experience Spain’s famous flamenco dancing. This colorful and energetic art form can be enjoyed in dance halls throughout the city.

– Go to the city’s largest flea market, El Rastro, on Sundays. Find everything from art to antiques among the thousands of stalls.

#4 San Juan

YoY growth in Bookings: 40%

As a Caribbean island, Puerto Rico is well-known for its striking beaches and panoramic seascapes. The island is also still healing from the destruction that Hurricane Maria brought in 2017. Tourism dollars are helping this destination recover and get back on the map as one of the trending travel destinations. San Juan is a great option for travelers who want a quick getaway from the hustle and bustle of everyday life on the mainland.

Old San Juan historic district. Take a tour through history by visiting the Castillo San Felipe del Morro and Castillo de San Cristobal fortresses.

Most popular: Mid-December to mid-April and July
Most affordable: May and August to September
Least crowded: October to Mid-December

To the southeast of San Juan is Vieques island. Mosquito Bay is a sight to see at night when microorganisms light up the water for a spectacular bioluminescent display.

– Explore Puerto Rico’s 29,000-acre rainforest. El Yunque National Forest is home to waterfalls, coquí frogs, the Puerto Rican parrot and a great deal of diverse flora and other fauna.

– Budding astronomers will be enchanted by Arecibo Observatory, where the famed Arecibo Telescope continuously monitors the farthest reaches of our galaxy.

– Take a stroll through Santurce in San Juan to see the murals that some of the world’s most talented street artists have created.

#5 Marrakech

YoY growth in Bookings: 40%

Marrakech’s location makes it perfect for a variety of activities, from trekking in the High Atlas Mountains to riding camelback through the famed Sahara Desert. Travelers love getting lost (on purpose) in the city’s maze of a medina. Not to mention the airy square Jemaa el-Fnaa, known for its unique mix of stalls ranging from vendors hawking freshly squeezed orange juice to snake charmers who coax live cobras.

Jemaa el-Fnaa. Marrakech’s main square and marketplace is lively by day, but absolutely bustling at night. Enjoy free smells as you walk down aisles of food stalls–and be sure to try the freshly grilled meats.

Most popular: March to May and December to February
Most affordable: September to November
Least crowded: June to August

Short trips to the Sahara. The world’s largest hot desert is within reach of Marrakech, so… why not? Multi-day tours allow you to experience riding a camel in the desert, visiting the gorgeous High Atlas Mountains, and exploring the fortified village of Ait Ben Haddou, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

– Explore the maze of Marrakech’s 11th-century medina, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

– Designed by French painter Jacques Majorelle, Majorelle Gardens is a lovely, quiet green space outside of the busy center of Marrakech.

– Take a cooking class to learn how to use a tajine to make authentic Moroccan couscous dishes and more.

#6 Sao Paulo

YoY growth in Bookings: 34%

Foodies are pouring into this trending Brazilian metropolis for its incredible range of gastronomic pleasures. Churrascarias, Brazilian steakhouses where servers bring skewered meat tableside to be sliced directly onto your plate, garner much attention, but Sao Paulo’s barbecue just scratches the surface of its vibrant food culture.

Soccer. Locals take the sport very seriously, and as a result, there are four main soccer stadiums. Fans of the sport (or anyone who wants to enjoy a lively arena) absolutely must experience a game in Sao Paulo.

Most popular: June to November
Most affordable: December to January and March to May
Least crowded: December to February (with the exception of when Carnival takes place)

There are many museums in Sao Paulo, but the Museu da Tatuagem de São Paulo flies under the radar. This space is dedicated to the art of tattoos and what they represent to cultures around the world.

– Join a food tour for an introduction to the local cuisine, and take a cooking class to bring the city’s flavors back home to your kitchen.

– Grab some street food and have a picnic in Parque do Ibirapuera. Afterward, take a stroll along one of its many walking paths.

– Pick up fresh, exotic fruit, local spices, and delicious prepared foods at Mercado Municipal. It boasts ~300 vendors. Visit this busy market on weekdays when the crowds aren’t as large.

#7 Tokyo

YoY growth in Bookings: 27%

Japan’s capital is simultaneously exotic and familiar, busy with pockets of calm, and ultramodern yet traditional. Food is to be treasured and treated with respect, as is evidenced by Tokyo’s 100,000+ restaurants and the fact that the city proudly holds more Michelin stars than Paris. It’s a city to slow down in and appreciate the pleasures, whether it’s a stroll at a solemn temple or savoring the chef’s selection of freshly prepared sushi.

Toyosu Fish Market. If you want to catch the world’s largest and busiest fish market, you need to get there by 5 am. Watch as chefs eagerly bid on prized tuna.

Most popular: March to May and June to August
Most affordable: December to February (with the exception of the days surrounding New Year’s)
Least crowded: September to November

Omoide Yokocho, known colloquially as “piss alley.” Don’t let the off-putting name fool you. Locals love this street for its izakayas and food stalls that serve grilled skewers.

– Visit during peak cherry blossom season (late March to early April) for a spectacular display of pink and white petals that make Tokyo look like it’s part of a fairy tale.

– Watch a sumo match at Ryōgoku Kokugikan for a uniquely Japanese experience.

– Join a sea of people to cross the street at Shibuya Crossing, the world’s busiest crosswalk.

#8 Buenos Aires

YoY growth in Bookings: 25%

Buenos Aires certainly isn’t a new tourism destination for US travelers, but it’s growing in popularity because of the unique gastronomy experiences it offers. One is the puerta cerrada, or “closed door,” restaurant. Think of these as pop-up restaurants, but in a chef’s home. They’re only open a couple of days a week, making reservations difficult to obtain, but it’s well worth the effort.

Buenos Aires is full of culture and Latin flair, from dramatic tango performances to sensational cuisine. It’s what makes travelers fall in love with this trendy vacation spot.

Most popular: December to June
Most affordable: September to November
Least crowded: July to August

Go to Esquina Homero Manzi for a tango show that will leave you spellbound.

– Argentines love their steak and wine, so there’s no better way to enjoy local cuisine than by eating asado paired with a Malbec.

– On Sundays, visit Feria de San Telmo, a lively street market with hundreds of stalls.

– Dress to the nines and go to the opera at Teatro Colón, recognized by National Geographic as one of the 10 best opera houses in the world.

#9 Panama City

YoY growth in Bookings: 23%

As number 9 on our list of emerging destinations, Panama City is often overlooked when US travelers want to go south of the border. That’s changing as more attention is being drawn to the results of Panama’s sustainable tourism efforts, like eco-friendly resorts and unique restaurant concepts housed in restored colonial buildings.

The Panama Canal. It’s an artificial waterway that stretches 51 miles to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

Most popular: December to April
Most affordable: Mid-April to November
Least crowded: October to November

For the best view of Panama City and the Panama Canal, go to the top of Ancon Hill, which overlooks the entire city.

– Lace up your walking shoes and head to Casco Viejo, a charming historic district with colonial buildings and boutiques.

– Learn about the natural history of Panama at the Biomuseo, designed by architect Frank Gehry.

– Visit the ruins at Panama Viejo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that marks the oldest European settlement on the Americas’ Pacific coast.

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