Destinations you couldn’t visit in 2010 but can in 2020



Slide 1 of 27: While overtourism is leading some hot spots to close their doors to visitors, albeit temporarily, others are just beginning to open up. Whether it’s a place that was previously considered a no-go area, a country that’s eased travel restrictions or even somewhere that no one knew existed 10 years ago – now is the time to discover or perhaps rediscover these incredible destinations.
Slide 2 of 27: Cast your mind back to 2010 itself when a volcano named Eyjafjallajökull caused all kinds of disruption, and not only because it’s tough to spell. Its series of relatively small eruptions halted air travel in Europe and beyond. The volcanic eruption caused an ash cloud that led to around two-dozen countries closing their airspace, leaving flights grounded and travelers stranded.
Slide 3 of 27: While travel to Iceland, and many other parts of Europe, was impossible during that period, the event brought worldwide attention to the Nordic country and its dramatic, spurting, lunar landscape of geysers, lava fields, glaciers and hot springs. You can even descend, via an elevator, into the (thankfully dormant) Thrihnukagigur volcano, which opened to tourists in 2012.
Slide 4 of 27: After more than 50 years, US travelers can finally visit this culturally and culinarily rich country – with a few caveats. The Obama administration reached an agreement to lift the commercial travel ban in 2016, allowing tourists to legally visit the Caribbean island for the first time since 1963. President Trump has since reinstated restrictions so general tourist travel is once again banned. Travel is allowed for reasons including family visits and “support for the Cuban people”.

Slide 5 of 27: For the latter, tourists would need to prove they are contributing towards the local economy and patronizing Cuban-owned businesses from B&Bs to paladares (independent restaurants). Humanitarian projects are another legitimate reason for travel. So, while it is complicated, there are opportunities for visitors to discover the country’s varied landscapes – from Havana’s colorful streets to soft beaches and the verdant Viñales mountains. Keep an eye on the State Department website and the Treasury’s guidelines for updates.
Slide 6 of 27: The Middle Eastern country, which has been criticized for its human rights record, has opened up to non-religious tourists for the first time. Previously, visas to the desert kingdom were restricted to workers and their dependents and Muslims on pilgrimage to sites in Mecca and Medina. Now, since September 2019, citizens of 49 countries – including the UK and US – can travel to all but those two holy cities as part of an effort to boost tourism and modernize Saudi Arabia’s image.
Slide 7 of 27: The move opens up fascinating architectural and archaeological attractions to tourists, including intricate palaces, the millennia-old tombs of Madâin Sâlih and the Jubbah rock carvings, believed to be around 10,000 years old. The Red Sea coast, home to barely touched beaches, waterside mosques and the world’s tallest fountain, will be another draw, as will Jeddah Tower – set to be the world’s tallest building once it’s completed in 2020.
Slide 8 of 27: This African island hasn’t been off-limits, but new rules mean travel there is easier than ever. Madagascar introduced a Tourist e-Visa in 2019, so visitors of all nationalities can simply apply online rather than needing to attend an embassy. Just be sure to do it at least three days before travel, choosing from 30, 60 or 90 days. Then you just need to print it out or save it on your phone to show on arrival.
Slide 9 of 27: It’s the perfect time to explore the country’s beauty, which is both dreamy and diverse. The landscape ranges from roads flanked with chunky-trunked baobab trees to mist-shrouded rainforest, and from sandstone canyons to white sandy beaches. Then there are the country’s most famous residents – lemurs. The island is home to around 60 species of the primates, from the familiar ring-tailed lemur to the teeny-tiny pygmy mouse lemur.

Slide 10 of 27: Part of the Russian empire for two centuries, Uzbekistan became an independent state in 1991 and is beginning to relax its entry requirements too. The country extended its visa duration from seven to 30 days in December 2017 and announced that travelers from 45 countries including the UK, Australia and Ireland will be able to travel without a visa. US passport holders are among those who can now apply for an e-Visa online.
Slide 11 of 27: Citizens of 101 countries, including the UK and US, can also transit through without a visa. It’s all part of a drive to attract tourists, and there’s plenty to admire here. Land-locked Uzbekistan was at the center of the Silk Road trade route and is home to the UNESCO World Heritage cities Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva. See mosques and domes decorated with ornate mosaics, and gaze over cemeteries that look like beautiful, miniature cities.
Slide 12 of 27: Complex and, at times, bloody periods of civil unrest and conflict have meant Sri Lanka has been on and off limits for the past few decades. The northern Jaffna Peninsula was particularly badly hit, slowly opening up to tourists following the end of the country’s 26-year civil war in 2009. The Sri Lankan government declared a further state of emergency in March 2018, though it was lifted in August 2019, and countries including the US relaxed their travel advisories.
Slide 13 of 27: It’s easy and relatively inexpensive to get around the vast and varied country, whose landscapes climb from sandy beaches to the lush mountain forests of the Central Highlands via rainforest and tea plantations. The Jaffna Peninsula remains off the usual tourist trail yet it’s well worth exploring, from its eye-poppingly ornate Hindu temples and star-shaped port to its delicious, delicately fragrant curries.
Slide 14 of 27: The 1986 Chernobyl disaster is widely considered the world’s worst nuclear accident. A misjudged experiment at a nuclear power plant, in what was then the Soviet Union, triggered explosions and released radioactive material into the air, leading to mass evacuations and at least 50 deaths. Many others are believed to have died in the immediate fallout, and still more born with deformities and radiation-induced illnesses. For obvious reasons, the site was strictly closed to the public – until 2011.

Slide 15 of 27: HBO’s acclaimed 2019 series on the accident and its fallout has renewed interest, and several tour operators now run expeditions into Pripyat, in the exclusion zone. Wandering around this ghost town, littered with empty buildings and an abandoned amusement park, could seem mawkish, and you have to sign a waiver acknowledging the risk of radiation exposure. But it can be a fascinating and sobering experience if treated with the respect it – and the people affected by the disaster – demands.  No man's lands: places where time stands still
Slide 16 of 27: You couldn’t visit the world’s largest cave system in 2010 because you probably didn’t know it existed. Very few did, in fact. Son Doong Cave, in the Quang Binh Province close to the Laos border, was stumbled upon in 1999 by farmer Ho Khanh, who sought refuge there from a storm. Awed by the vast subterranean world, which has its own lake, river and jungle, he reported his discovery to the British Caving Research Association (BCRA) – but it was a decade before they located it again.
Slide 17 of 27: At more than 650-feet (198m) deep and three miles wide, and with stalagmites up to 80-feet (24m) long, it’s the largest cave complex ever discovered. Its existence was announced to the world in 2010, and tourists have been allowed to visit since 2013. Oxalis, the only permitted tour operator, runs a four-day expedition with a jungle trek, rope climb, kayaking and camping in the depths of the cave. It’s physically demanding, but absolutely worth it.   Discover more of the world's underground attractions
Slide 18 of 27: Forget the views from the Eiffel Tower. This 16th-century Gothic bell tower has views of Paris’ most famous landmark, along with Notre-Dame, the Pompidou Centre and hilltop Montmartre. Yet it’s remained closed to the public for most of its five centuries, during which time its neighbors have perished: it was part of the medieval Church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie, destroyed during the French Revolution.
Slide 19 of 27: It was used as an ammunition plant in the 19th century, when its bells were removed. Yet its intricate and ornate external beauty remained and, after a meticulous restoration, it opened to the public in 2012. Now only five people at a time are allowed to join guided tours to ascend the narrow, 300-step spiral staircase to the top. Visit the onsite information desk to reserve a spot.
Slide 20 of 27: The north African country suffered a huge decline in tourism in 2010 and 2011, when demonstrations and civil resistance led to the toppling of dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in what’s been called the Jasmine Revolution. It’s since reopened to international visitors, though several countries imposed travel bans following the 2015 terrorist attack on the seaside resort of Sousse.
Slide 21 of 27: Those restrictions were lifted in 2018, with the US State Department advice now relaxed to advising caution when visiting – though the UK Foreign Office warns against travel in certain parts of southern and western areas, particularly close to the Libyan border. Tourists are slowly returning, drawn by caramel beaches warmed by winter sun, Arabic and Roman architecture, and the country's distinctive, spice-infused Mediterranean cuisine.  These are the world's unforgettable Roman ruins
Slide 22 of 27: Chile was hit by one of the largest earthquakes in history in 2010. Measuring a magnitude of 8.8, it caused buildings to collapse, devastated coastal areas and triggered a tsunami, killing more than 500 people in total. Though the capital, Santiago, was relatively unscathed the northern city of Constitución, coastal La Serena and UNESCO World Heritage city Valparaíso were among the worst hit.
Slide 23 of 27: A state of emergency was declared with blackouts across the country, which has been widely praised for its swift action and recovery efforts. Taxes were increased temporarily to expedite repairs and home rebuilding, while evacuation drills helped to minimize the impact of future quakes. Tourism across the country was hit hard, though visitors have since returned in droves to explore the country’s mountainside vineyards, hillside towns and mysterious Easter Island heads.  No-go: the world's incredible places you aren't allowed to visit
Slide 24 of 27: A May 2007 fire, started because an industrial vacuum cleaner was left on, threatened to destroy the 19th-century tea clipper at its home in Greenwich, London. Thanks to quick work by firefighters, and the fact that parts of the framework were in storage ready for conservation work, the ship was salvageable – though it took five years and more than $64.4 million (£50m) to restore it to glory.
Slide 25 of 27: The ship reopened to the public in 2012, when people could step aboard once again to learn about the history from its 1870 maiden voyage from London to Shanghai and its journeys to China for tea, to its role as a training vessel for naval cadets.
Slide 26 of 27: The country was a favorite on the safari circuit for good reason: Hwange National Park is roamed by lions, herds of elephant and African wild dogs or painted dogs, the latter featuring in David Attenborough’s Dynasties series. And visitors can now once again gaze upon the spectacular Victoria Falls, whose thundering cascade can be heard (and felt) from miles away.  Now see the destinations you could visit in 2010 but can't in 2020
Slide 27 of 27: Decades of political and economic turmoil meant that, for a long time, Zimbabwe’s striking natural beauty and heritage sites were pretty much off-limits to tourists, yet that has been changing – slowly, at first, and then quite dramatically since Robert Mugabe resigned as president in 2017. Travelers are still advised to exercise increased caution, but the country’s beauty is more accessible than ever.  5 ways to reduce the carbon footprint of your next holiday

From no to go

Iceland

Iceland

Cuba

Cuba

For the latter, tourists would need to prove they are contributing towards the local economy and patronizing Cuban-owned businesses from B&Bs to paladares (independent restaurants). Humanitarian projects are another legitimate reason for travel. So, while it is complicated, there are opportunities for visitors to discover the country’s varied landscapes – from Havana’s colorful streets to soft beaches and the verdant Viñales mountains. Keep an eye on the State Department website and the Treasury’s guidelines for updates.

Saudi Arabia

The Middle Eastern country, which has been criticized for its human rights record, has opened up to non-religious tourists for the first time. Previously, visas to the desert kingdom were restricted to workers and their dependents and Muslims on pilgrimage to sites in Mecca and Medina. Now, since September 2019, citizens of 49 countries – including the UK and US – can travel to all but those two holy cities as part of an effort to boost tourism and modernize Saudi Arabia’s image.

Saudi Arabia

Madagascar

This African island hasn’t been off-limits, but new rules mean travel there is easier than ever. Madagascar introduced a Tourist e-Visa in 2019, so visitors of all nationalities can simply apply online rather than needing to attend an embassy. Just be sure to do it at least three days before travel, choosing from 30, 60 or 90 days. Then you just need to print it out or save it on your phone to show on arrival.

Madagascar

Uzbekistan

Part of the Russian empire for two centuries, Uzbekistan became an independent state in 1991 and is beginning to relax its entry requirements too. The country extended its visa duration from seven to 30 days in December 2017 and announced that travelers from 45 countries including the UK, Australia and Ireland will be able to travel without a visa. US passport holders are among those who can now apply for an e-Visa online.

Uzbekistan

Jaffna Peninsula, Sri Lanka

Complex and, at times, bloody periods of civil unrest and conflict have meant Sri Lanka has been on and off limits for the past few decades. The northern Jaffna Peninsula was particularly badly hit, slowly opening up to tourists following the end of the country’s 26-year civil war in 2009. The Sri Lankan government declared a further state of emergency in March 2018, though it was lifted in August 2019, and countries including the US relaxed their travel advisories.

Jaffna Peninsula, Sri Lanka

Chernobyl, Ukraine

The 1986 Chernobyl disaster is widely considered the world’s worst nuclear accident. A misjudged experiment at a nuclear power plant, in what was then the Soviet Union, triggered explosions and released radioactive material into the air, leading to mass evacuations and at least 50 deaths. Many others are believed to have died in the immediate fallout, and still more born with deformities and radiation-induced illnesses. For obvious reasons, the site was strictly closed to the public – until 2011.

Chernobyl, Ukraine

HBO’s acclaimed 2019 series on the accident and its fallout has renewed interest, and several tour operators now run expeditions into Pripyat, in the exclusion zone. Wandering around this ghost town, littered with empty buildings and an abandoned amusement park, could seem mawkish, and you have to sign a waiver acknowledging the risk of radiation exposure. But it can be a fascinating and sobering experience if treated with the respect it – and the people affected by the disaster – demands.

Son Doong Cave, Vietnam

Son Doong Cave, Vietnam

At more than 650 feet deep and three miles wide, and with stalagmites up to 80 feet long, it’s the largest cave complex ever discovered. Its existence was announced to the world in 2010, and tourists have been allowed to visit since 2013. Oxalis, the only permitted tour operator, runs a four-day expedition with a jungle trek, rope climb, kayaking and camping in the depths of the cave. It’s physically demanding, but absolutely worth it. 

Tour Saint-Jacques, France

Tour Saint-Jacques, France

Tunisia

Tunisia

Those restrictions were lifted in 2018, with the US State Department advice now relaxed to advising caution when visiting – though the UK Foreign Office warns against travel in certain parts of southern and western areas, particularly close to the Libyan border. Tourists are slowly returning, drawn by caramel beaches warmed by winter sun, Arabic and Roman architecture, and the country’s distinctive, spice-infused Mediterranean cuisine.

Chile

Chile

A state of emergency was declared with blackouts across the country, which has been widely praised for its swift action and recovery efforts. Taxes were increased temporarily to expedite repairs and home rebuilding, while evacuation drills helped to minimize the impact of future quakes. Tourism across the country was hit hard, though visitors have since returned in droves to explore the country’s mountainside vineyards, hillside towns and mysterious Easter Island heads.

Cutty Sark, UK

A May 2007 fire, started because an industrial vacuum cleaner was left on, threatened to destroy the 19th-century tea clipper at its home in Greenwich, London. Thanks to quick work by firefighters, and the fact that parts of the framework were in storage ready for conservation work, the ship was salvageable – though it took five years and more than $64.4 million to restore it to glory.

Cutty Sark, UK

Zimbabwe

The country was a favorite on the safari circuit for good reason: Hwange National Park is roamed by lions, herds of elephant and African wild dogs or painted dogs, the latter featuring in David Attenborough’s Dynasties series. And visitors can now once again gaze upon the spectacular Victoria Falls, whose thundering cascade can be heard (and felt) from miles away.

Zimbabwe

Decades of political and economic turmoil meant that, for a long time, Zimbabwe’s striking natural beauty and heritage sites were pretty much off-limits to tourists, yet that has been changing – slowly, at first, and then quite dramatically since Robert Mugabe resigned as president in 2017. Travelers are still advised to exercise increased caution, but the country’s beauty is more accessible than ever.

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