BEIRUT: Another New Year and globetrotters are compiling lists of cities to check off their bucket lists. Each year, the majority of Lebanese opt for nearby – visa-free – destinations such as Istanbul or accessible, Francophone destinations such as Paris. But this year, some Lebanese travelers are planning more unusual escapes than the French Riviera, from ancient Latin American cities to hipster hotbeds like Portland, Oregon.
For Majed Traboulsi, 29, the No. 1 destination for 2014 is, unequivocally and to the surprise of many, Cuba.
“I love the culture, it’s very rich,” he says with a tinge of enthusiasm. Seeing the Latin American country before its ailing former president, Fidel Castro, dies is important to Traboulsi.
“It’s been able to maintain its traditions. It is poor and simple, but also fun,” says Traboulsi, an IT manager. In addition to Cuba’s intriguing politics, he’s particularly excited about attending a wild party or two, which he had heard much about.
Berlin is a close second for Traboulsi, who says the German capital has a lot to offer to a young traveler, especially a techno enthusiast in search of concerts.
“I love everything about Germany, culturally speaking, and there are a lot of interesting places [to see],” he added.
Traboulsi has already traveled to Cambodia and Vietnam, and says he is not as interested in common tourist hubs like Rome or Amsterdam. “The places that are less typical are always better,” he says.
Like Traboulsi, 24-year-old graduate student Hana Dakwar is looking farther afield, saying she will be opting for the alluring and colorful Indonesian island of Bali this year.
“My brother went there on his honeymoon. I saw pictures and I thought this would be perfect for an adventure,” Dakwar says, adding that the rafting and hiking opportunities are a major draw. “I love nature and nature-related activities.”
The tropical island is often depicted as a romantic paradise – just watch “Eat Pray Love.” But for adventurers and eaters, there’s plenty to do besides basking in its lushness. Surfing and diving are on offer, as well as a smorgasbord of seafood lunches and dinners.
Dakwar’s last trip was to Marmaris, a Turkish port town brimming with pebbly beaches and a bustling nightlife. That’s not surprising, as travel agencies say Turkey, Istanbul in particular, remains one of the most sought-after travel destinations for Lebanese throughout the year.
“[Requests] for Turkey don’t stop,” Liliane Daher, agency manager at Nakhal, tells The Daily Star. “It’s close, it’s very affordable, and it has everything: sea, snow, security and events.”
Nour Homsi, manager at Barakat Travel, echoes Daher’s comments, saying the agency receives at least five requests a day to visit Istanbul.
Other than the short flight there – about an hour – Homsi says its climate is close to Lebanon’s and it’s a relatively inexpensive city. Turkey doesn’t require Lebanese to apply for a visa, a sometimes expensive and futile process for other destinations.
Journeys to the Southeast Asia, such as to Thailand and Malaysia, are also popular for honeymooners during the summer season, Homsi adds.
Pauline Bader, who works at the customer services department at Wild Discovery, says Dubai and Greece also make for popular destinations during the summer. Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh is popular year-round, Bader says, with several Lebanese opting to celebrate the New Year on the attractive coastal strip.
Other popular destinations include France and Italy, summer cruises, as well as ski destinations in winter such as the Alps.
But Istanbul and European cities don’t satiate Naim Frewat’s wanderlust, he says. Frewat, a technical adviser at GIZ, a German international development organization, says his ideal destination for 2014 is the city of Portland in the northwestern state of Oregon.
Frewat, 33, says he hopes to visit the American city during the fall season for the idyllic scenery of the changing seasons.
“It’s a beautiful city, with its nature and rivers, and the tall redwood trees,” Frewat says. “You have to go somewhere you’d love to go to, and I don’t want to run into other tourists or Lebanese, or else why would I travel? I would’ve just gone to Gemmayzeh for that.”
The call of far-off places isn’t just for the young and restless; older travelers are also interested in plunging into the unfamiliar. Imane Assaf, mother of three, has more adventurous places in mind for 2014: India, Bali, Sri Lanka and South Africa, all of which are growing in popularity, travel agencies say.
“My family and I just got back from Sweden,” Assaf says. “It was fantastic. It was like an adventure trip, it was perfect for the kids.”
While the Scandinavian country experiences excruciatingly cold temperatures during the winter, that did not hinder this daredevil family from going all out.
“My husband is not adventurous, but he has to cope,” Assaf, founder of non-profit organization Ahla Fawda, says with a hearty laugh. “So we try.”
Asma Jabbour and her family have already been to Malaysia, the Philippines and the United States. This year, she says, they will be heading to Mexico.
“My daughter wants to see the Mesoamerican pyramids,” Jabbour explains.
“We love to travel as a family,” she says, adding that they are always looking for adventure wherever they can find it, and long, tiring plane rides to faraway places are definitely worth it.
“We don’t like to just sit down somewhere, we want to walk around, explore the place.”