Beat the January blues by planning a holiday. Sarah Marshall provides some inspiration with a look at this year's top ten trending destinations.
Connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, the Panama Canal was an epic feat of engineering which dramatically changed maritime trade when it opened on August 15, 1914. This year's centenary is a good excuse to visit the central American country, which is now serviced by Air France flights via Paris. With less tourist resorts than neighbouring Costa Rica but sharing a similar biodiversity, the country is begging to be explored now rather than later. Rainbow Tours (www.rainbowtours.co.uk) offer a 10-night Best Of Panama itinerary from £2,930 per person, which includes visits to the Canal, Western Highlands and cloud forest and the islands of Bocas del Toro.
Twenty years ago, in 1994, Rwanda hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. But two decades on, this small progressive country in the heart of Africa has become a conservation success story. Tracking a fragile but slowly increasing population of mountain gorillas on the slopes of the mist-shrouded Volcanoes National Park is on every wildlife lover's bucket list, while further south, chimpanzees can also be spotted in the Nyungwe National Park. But equally as fascinating are the people; peace and calm now reigns in the beautiful rural countryside, a world far removed from the horrors sensitively documented in Kigali's Genocide Memorial Centre. Explore (www.explore.co.uk) offer six-day tailor-made packages to Rwanda from £2,090 per person including flights, accommodation, a tracking pass and some meals.
3. Toledo, Spain
Nicknamed "the Greek" after his Cretian origins, 17th century artist El Greco spent most of his life working in Spanish city Toledo. Hailed as paving the way for the Expressionism and Cubism movements, he is best known for his tortured, elongated figures. To commemorate the 400th anniversary of his death, the whole country is gearing up for a series of events, including major exhibitions of his works in both Toledo (from March to June) and Madrid's Prado Museum (from June to October). Kirker Holidays (www.kirkerholidays.com) offer a three-night trip to Toledo, with B&B hotels, flights, car hire and entry to The Greek Of Toledo exhibition at the Museo Santa Cruz in Toledo, from £598 per person.
4. Chengdu, China
According to the United Nations World Tourism Organisation, China is set to become the most popular tourist destination in the next seven years. One of the big attractions is an opportunity to see the country's native bamboo-munching Giant Pandas. While it's extremely difficult to spot these passive creatures in the wild, breeding and research centres in Chengdu allow close encounters with the black and white bears. Launched last September, new direct flights with British Airways have increased accessibility. Departing September 2014, Wendy Wu (www.wendywutours.co.uk) offers a fully inclusive 10-day trip to China, including a visit to Chengdu with panda ambassador and Countryfile presenter John Craven, from £2,590 per person.
5. Eastern Sicily, Italy
Tourism has been bubbling away in eastern Sicily for some years, but it's popularity is set to explode - especially since Mount Etna, Europe's largest active volcano, was added to Unesco's World Heritage List last year. New twice-weekly Ryan Air flights from London to Comiso airport and additional Alitalia services from London to Catania are opening up the eastern part of the Italian island, while TV's Inspector Montalbano is bringing the wild landscapes and ebullient local life to a wider audience. Sunvil Discovery (www.sunvil.co.uk) offer a seven night B&B stay at Feaudo Vagliasindi agriturismo in Randazzo, from £817 per person, including BA flights from London and car hire.
6. Yorkshire, UK
With the Tour de France 2014 starting in Yorkshire on July 5 and 6 this year, thousands of visitors are set to descend on the regions rolling Dales and historic market towns. So it's no wonder Lonely Planet has named David Hockney's favourite stomping ground as a place to go in 2014. This year's race will pass through the Swinton Estate, which is also home to a luxury castle hotel. The hotel can arrange a private roadside area for anyone wanting to watch the race, or can loan bikes to those who want to have a spin along the winding roads themselves. Their Tour de Yorkshire package costs from £190 per person, per night, full board and includes free use of bikes and a cyclist's massage. Visit www.swintonpark.com
Economic improvements and a safer environment have enticed visitors to return to the wildlife-rich parks of Zimbabwe. Guiding here is excellent, with certification requiring a four-year study, and guests are able to observe a wide variety of game at close hand. With very competitive rates and a number of new lodge openings, numbers of visitors are steadily increasing. The completion of the Victoria Falls airport has also opened up opportunities for more flights, with Emirates and Etihad set to launch new routes this year. Expert Africa (www.expertafrica.com) offer the seven-day Grysbok Safari from £2,238 per person, including flights from London and full-board accommodation at Hwange National Park.
8. Austin, Texas
Famous for it's live music scene, with bands playing nightly along Sixth Street and festivals such as South By Southwest and Austin City Limits taking place every year, this hip Texan city is buzzing with excitement. From March, British Airways will operate its new 787 Dreamliner from London to Austin, and predicts a healthy rise in passengers. Spend days scouring quirky shops and hanging out in cafes, or exploring the State Capitol building - apparently bigger than the one in Washington State. Flights with British Airways (www.ba.com) cost from £537 return. Rooms at the hip Hotel San Jose start from £122.60 per night with Mr and Mrs Smith (www.mrandmrssmith.com).
9. South America
With the spotlight on Brazil for the year's World Cup (June 12 to July 13), South America will be on everyone's radar. Cox & Kings have reported a 30% increase in bookings to the region, with most people choosing a multi-country trip to make the most of their visit. Stay in Rio de Janeiro, where city, beach and jungle overlap, soak up the thunderous Iguazu waterfalls and admire the elegance of Buenos Aires on Cox & King's (www.coxandkings.co.uk) eight-night Wonders Of The New World trip through Brazil and Argentina, from £2,695 per person for a private tour, including flights, accommodation and some meals.
When the weather is good, driving around Iceland is simple: one 832-mile ring road loops around the volcanic island. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the completion of Route One, making a self-drive trip this summer particularly timely. Fly into the capital Reykjavik, where highlights include the Skogafoss waterfall and Blue Lagoon thermal baths, then head north to second city Akureyri and the stunning Westfjords. Stopping off at fishing villages along the way, the trip should take a week. Make a detour to new visitor attraction Pompeii Of The North, where houses destroyed by a 1973 volcanic eruption on the southern Vestmannaeyjar islands have been reconstructed. Go to www.visiticeland.com for more information. Wow Air (www.wowair.co.uk) fly from London Gatwick to Reykjavik from £74 one way.