See the eclipse in Africa
An annular solar eclipse — when the Moon passes between Earth and Sun, and appears to possess a ring of fire — is due in September 2016. Along the line of totality, few optimum viewing spots are as idyllic as Mozambique’s barefoot island Quilalea. Its sole property, the Azura hotel, has just nine seafront villas to go with the four beaches, house reef, hammocks, turtles and giant baobab trees. Expert Africa has block-booked the hotel for the eclipse, and spaces are already vanishing.
Details Eight nights’ full board leaving August 27, and including Ibo Island, cost from £3,727pp, including internal flights (020 8232 9777, expertafrica.com). Return international flights to Pemba cost from an extra £1,350pp (flysaa.com)
France with Paddy Ashdown
The former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Paddy Ashdown, will make his debut as a historical trips lecturer in southern France next summer. Together with fellow expert Martyn Cox, he will lead a tour exploring locations where French Resistance fighters undertook their clandestine war against the Germans. The trip stops at safe houses, haunting Oradour-sur-Glane — a town whose entire population was murdered by the SS — and Vercors’ battlefield. Lord Ashdown’s presence has already initiated a flood of inquiries, with only a few spaces left on the tour.
Details Seven nights’ full board in four-star hotels leaving June 8 costs from £2,275pp including transfers and guiding (01722 713820,historicaltrips.com). Return flights to Toulouse cost from £216pp (ba.com)
Head to Cuba
It was inevitable. As US restrictions on its citizens travelling to Cuba continue to ease, the Caribbean island has seen a 36 per cent rise in American visitors, the launch of five new flights and educational US tour companies beginning group trips. Those firms have, consequently, begun block-booking Cuban hotels, making space mighty hard to come by for us Britons. Black Tomato reports fast-diminishing availability at premier digs such as Havana’s Saratoga Hotel.
Details Eight-night, country-wide luxury itineraries featuring the Saratoga cost from £3,550pp, including flights, transfers, B&B and private tours (020 7426 9888, blacktomato.com)
Race for Rio
The Olympics descends on Rio de Janeiro during August 2016 with an injection of Brazilian passion. Most of Rio’s hotel rooms have been booked by the International Olympic Committee and will only be available within official, event-inclusive packages, or last-minute at hiked prices. (Buy tickets from cosport.com.) Journey Latin America is therefore advising visitors to plump for digs somewhere like Buzios, a beach resort 90 minutes from Rio, while space permits. With airfares also certain to soar as the Olympics near, some Usain Bolt-like speed is crucial.
Details A 12-night trip during the Olympics costs from £2,860pp including return flights to Rio, transfers and B&B in Buzios’s Porto Bay hotel (020 3468 0992, journeylatinamerica.co.uk)
Monaco’s Grand Prix
It’s the most glamorous date in the Formula One calendar, explaining why viewing spaces at May’s annual Monaco Grand Prix tend to disappear faster than Lewis Hamilton’s Mercedes. To be in pole position to see if Lewis can grab another win, book into the swanky Fairmont Hotel: it overlooks the famous Hairpin, so you can admire Lewis’s laps from a private rooftop terrace.
Details Four-night breaks cost from £5,749pp, including return flights to Nice, private transfers and B&B at the Fairmont Monte Carlo with rooftop terrace access (020 7593 1899,kirkerholidays.com)
Cosiest cottage in Wales
One of the UK’s most popular self-catering cottages, Driftwood in Anglesey has already sold out almost 60 per cent of its 2016 weeks, with only a handful of slots left in the peak July-September season. Much of that comes via repeat business, and it’s easy to see why these holidaymakers are so permanently smitten. Sleeping 2-4, this island bolt hole is also pet-friendly, only 150 yards from a beautiful beach, well positioned for pubs and walks, and “realistically priced” — brochure-speak for an absolute steal.
Details Driftwood (ref. 4196) costs from £302 to £712 per week (01244 352300, sykescottages.co.uk)
Top boutique hotel on the Amalfi Coast
You need to move rapidamente to secure Italy’s choicest Amalfi Coast boutiques. Take the seven-room Villa dei D’Armiento, near Sorrento: the May-July 2016 period is already more than 60 per cent full, with bookings of five nights or longer mostly impossible. Lengthy reservations in August and September are easier to come by, but only until flights for those months go on sale in October. Confirm your stay now for this villa and its private balconies, Murano chandeliers, lemon groves and pool.
Details Double rooms at Villa dei d’Armiento cost from £200 per night B&B (020 7520 3100, expertoitaly.com). Flights to Naples are from £200pp (ba.com)
Birds and cricket in South Africa
Apparently, many cricket fans are also avid twitchers — no cheep jokes about Graeme Swann or Aaron Finch, please — explaining why two new Naturetrek tours, both pairing birdwatching with England v South Africa-watching next winter, are selling out fast. The first includes attendance at The Wanderers throughout the third Test, and the latter tickets to two ODIs. Both visit Kruger National Park to spy bustards and African scops owls, but there are just ten places remaining.
Details The Test Match tour departs January 12 and costs from £3,995pp. The ODIs depart February 5 and cost from £4,495pp. Both include return flights to Johannesburg/Cape Town, transport, 15 nights’ half board and guiding (01962 733051, naturetrek.co.uk)
Hike the Inca Trail
Peru’s Inca Trail is a magnificent multi-day hike connecting the Urubamba River to Machu Picchu via cloud forests and crumbling fortresses. To undertake it, you need a permit. The year’s permit quota is available in mid-January, when tour operator reps purchase as many as they have advance bookings for. This year permits for May, July, August and September sold out in hours. Which means you need to reserve them in advance. As in now. Right now.
Details Exodus’s Inca Trail tour costs from £1,999pp in May, including return flights to Cusco/Lima, transfers, nine nights’ B&B, guiding, dawn tours of Machu Picchu and permits (0845 004 6285,exodus.co.uk)
Go wild for Yosemite
You also need permits to visit California’s Yosemite National Park, which has enjoyed record demand since the release of Reese Witherspoon’s film Wild. A new cap introduced in February this year stipulates that only 45 daily permits be issued for the 3,370m-high Donohue Pass — used by both the John Muir and Pacific Crest Trails to exit Yosemite. To snaffle one for the July-September peak period, you need to act about ten months ahead.
Details Departing August 5 or September 5, guided 21-day hikes along the John Muir Trail from Yosemite to Mount Whitney cost from £2,490pp including transport, almost all meals, luggage transfers and permits (0800 0744135, worldexpeditions.co.uk). Return flights to Mammoth Lakes (via LA) cost from an additional £1,100pp
See the best of the Great Migration
The fabled Great Migration, in which two million wildebeest, gazelle and zebra move en masse in search of the greenest grass, is a never-ending journey. However, the optimum viewing times come when the omnivores crash vulnerably across the Grumeti (typically June) and Mara (July/August) Rivers. An elite squad of predators — lion, leopard, cheetah, crocodile — lie in wait. Of course, those mobile viewing camps pitched closest to each river invoke the greatest demand. At Lemala Mara, you’ll need to reserve before November to secure one of its eight luxurious tents for next July or August.
Details Five nights’ full board at Lemala Mara in July costs from £3,595pp, including return flights to Kogatende and transfers (01603 283517, realafrica.co.uk)
A new Orient Express train journey
Inaugural departures of new Venice Simplon-Orient-Express routes are always hot tickets, with a large army of rail buffs chomping at the booking bit. On June 2, the famous trains will embark on a new one-night journey from London to Berlin via Paris, and cabin availability for the first trip is already limited. Travel is in original, art deco-style carriages intended to evoke the roaring ’20s.
Details Prices start from £2,210pp, including full board in a double cabin. Packages featuring Berlin accommodation, transfers and return flights are also available (0845 077 2222, belmond.com)
Snorkel with orcas in Norway
Between November and February, remote northern Norwegian fjords provide a rare chance for humans to snorkel with orcas. November’s the very best time to go as it affords the longest daylight, upping your chances of catching the killer whales as they gorge on herring shoals. Alas, this is no secret and the limited places need to be booked at least a year in advance. Dawdle and you really will miss the boat.
Details Three-night trips aboard M/S Sula, a former fishing trawler, cost from £3,495pp in November including return flights to Tromso, transfers, full board and a night dive (020 3582 4990,originaltravel.co.uk)
New Year’s Eve in Sydney
If you want to experience Sydney Harbour’s New Year’s Eve firework show first hand, you need to act soon for 2016. December flights fill shortly after going on sale (normally in early February) while high-floor rooms at harbourside hotels book up faster still. Champagne can be sorted nearer the time.
Details Incorporating a Deluxe Harbour View Room at the Shangri-La Hotel over New Year’s Eve, tailor-made “Sydney, Byron Bay & Great Barrier Reef” itineraries cost from £6,450pp, including return flights to Sydney, transfers and 14 nights’ B&B (020 3642 8551,bridgeandwickers.co.uk)