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ULTIMATE GUIDE TO THE WORLD 2009

Top 10 must-see spots around the globe

Whether it's because they're newly affordable, like the Big Island or Britain, or just plain fascinating like Alaska or Syria, one travel writer sets her sights big.

February 08, 2009|Susan Spano

ROME — People always ask me how I decide where to go.

I read, I see movies, I stare at maps, I dream.

And in doing so, I arrived at these 10 places that are tops on my list for 2009. Some are old favorites that are newly affordable. Others have a special reason to shine this year or are suddenly being talked about by well-traveled people I know. A few are raw, off-the-beaten-track destinations that I doubt can long remain un-transformed by globalization.

Money's tight, so I know I won't get to them all. On the other hand, tough times have forced travel providers to reduce prices, meaning that now may be the time to take the grand tour.

If you disagree with my choices or have other ideas, let us know by writing to us at tellus@latimes.com.

Alaska

See Rome and die, they say. But it would be a sad thing to kick the bucket without having been to Alaska.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday, February 11, 2009 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 28 words Type of Material: Correction
Travel wish lists: An article in Sunday's Travel section about travel wish lists credited Frederic Chopin as the composer of "Claire de Lune." Claude Debussy was the composer.
For The Record
Los Angeles Times Sunday, February 15, 2009 Home Edition Travel Part L Page 3 Features Desk 1 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Travel wish lists: An article in the Feb. 8 Travel section about travel wish lists credited Frederic Chopin as the composer of "Claire de Lune." Claude Debussy was the composer.

America's 49th state has as much knockout scenery as all the lower 48 put together. And it's celebrating its 50th anniversary this year with special events and travel deals on items as diverse as national park lodges and RV rentals, described at www.travelalaska.com.

Alaska touring options abound: taking the train from Anchorage to Fairbanks, passing 20,320-foot Denali; kayaking around 3.3-million acre Glacier Bay National Park; or staying at a fishing lodge where guides can help you catch a 50-pound salmon.

But my favorite way to see the great northern wonderland is the Alaska Marine Highway Ferry System, which covers the nooks and crannies of the coast from Dutch Harbor in the Aleutian Islands to Bellingham, Wash.

Four routes are described at www.dot.state.ak.us/amhs, including the 600-mile Inside Passage, which weaves through a maze of coastal islands. The facilities are spartan compared with a cruise ship, but the fellowship and scenery are unparalleled.

Botswana

Get a copy of "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency," by mystery writer Alexander McCall Smith, starring a "traditionally built" lady sleuth who tracks down clues in a little white van along the rutted roads of Botswana.

There are now nine books in the series, with a new installment, "Tea Time for the Traditionally Built," out in April. In March, HBO will air a seven-part series based on the books filmed on location in Botswana.

The true beauty of these books is their setting: dry, land-locked Botswana with its vast, empty Kalahari Desert and wildlife-rich Okavango Delta.

Prime time to visit is from April to October, the dry season when elephants and lions congregate in Chobe National Park, Moremi Wildlife Reserve and the Linyanti Marshes. For information on these and other Botswana attractions, see www.botswanatourism.co.bw.

To track down settings used in Smith's mysteries, check www.alexandermccallsmith.co.uk.

Hawaii

Each of the Hawaiian Islands has its devotees, but for scenic diversity, big is best, if you ask me.

Five times as large as Maui, its nearest neighbor, the island of Hawaii has the highest mountain in the chain, snow-capped, 13,796-foot Mauna Kea; awesomely active Kilauea volcano; Hilo, the island's funky county seat; the breathtakingly scenic Saddle Road; historic Parker Ranch; deep Waipio Valley; orchid farms; beaches; sugar mills; and Kona coffee.

Since the beginning of the year, airlines, tour companies and hotel chains serving Hawaii have been offering deals that make a Big Island visit too attractive to postpone.

Check out www.gohawaii.com and look for good rates from resort chains with lush properties near Kona International Airport on the island's beachy western coast.

Other sites to explore: www.hawaii.com; www.travel-hawaii.com; www.hawaiianairlines.com; www.pleasantholidays.com; www.nps.gov/havo/ (Hawaii Volcanoes National Park).

Katmandu Valley

After a decade of political turmoil that kept travelers away, peace has broken out in Nepal.

The monarchy was formally abolished last year, leaving the little landlocked Himalayan nation a struggling young democracy, dependent on tourism for development.

That's why I want to go back to Katmandu this year. Nepal needs encouragement.

Of course, my motives aren't purely altruistic. The temperate valley encircled by rice terraces has seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, including the exquisitely restored town of Bhaktapur; white-domed Boudhanath Temple, a center for displaced Tibetan Buddhists; eerie, shrine-filled Palace Square in Katmandu; and the Hindu ghats at Pashupatinath.

Katmandu also has attractively priced hotels, the colorful old hippie neighborhood of Thamel, world-class shopping, all the cuisines of Asia and warm, winning people.

From the centrally located valley, bus and van tours are available to Pokhara in the Annapurnas, Mt. Everest and Lhasa, the Tibetan capital.

The U.S. State Department has issued a warning about Nepal, based on sporadic political unrest. But that hasn't stopped major tour companies, including Myths and Mountains and Geographic Expeditions, from taking tour groups there.

Info: www.welcomenepal.com.

Malacca, Malaysia

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