5 destinations to watch in 2009

A destination in the midst of inventing itself. Another preparing for its year in the world spotlight. Cities and regions gearing up for year-long parties. Our top picks for destinations to watch in 2009 are bursting with up-and-coming, you've-gotta-see-this attitude. Not only are these destinations on the rise, but each offers good value to travelers looking to vacation affordably in the coming year.

Plus, find out what cities and countries are celebrating big milestones and hosting major festivals. From Alaska's 50th birthday to the major party in London surrounding the 500th anniversary of Henry VIII's ascension to the throne, 2009 is ready to party. And festivals such as Homecoming Scotland 2009, which welcomes back people of Scottish heritage and "Heart Scots" who just really like the country, offer even more reasons to hit the road.

With this much excitement to come, 2009 just got a whole lot more interesting.

Riviera Nayarit

Riviera What? If you haven't heard of the Riviera Nayarit yet, that might be because it's just that new. The 200 miles of Pacific Coast and mountains north of Puerto Vallarta launched itself as a brand new destination just last year. Since then, it has been busy putting itself on the map, investing major time and funds into building new tourism infrastructures.

The region extends as far north as the colonial beach town of San Blas. Between Puerto Vallarta and San Blas, you'll find just about every vacation experience possible. From the bohemian surf town vibe of Sayulita to the luxury resorts and Jack Nicklaus golf course of Punta de Mita, the towns along the coast cater to all budgets and interests. Colonial towns and traditional Huichol villages in the nearby Sierra Madre Mountains offer a whole other dimension to the traditional beach vacation.

There's plenty to do, too. Endless beaches, six major golf courses, cultural experiences, archeological sites, and adventure activities like snorkeling, whale watching, surfing, and even swimming with dolphins and sea lions will likely start drawing bigger crowds as more people catch on to the appeal of Mexico's newest Riviera.

Since the Riviera Nayarit is so close to the major airport in Puerto Vallarta, it's easy to get to and airfares are competitive from departure points around the U.S. Southwest just announced a partnership with Volaris, which will extend Southwest's reach from points around the U.S. to Puerto Vallarta, though not until 2010.

There is also a wide variety of accommodations options offering something for every budget. For instance, at the Four Seasons Punta Mita, rates start at $535 a night. But at B&Bs in the smaller towns, rates start at around $60 a night. Vacation rentals can be even more affordable for groups traveling together. Plus, because it's not yet a major tourist destination like neighboring Puerto Vallarta, and because the region is spread out, it's easier to find affordable activities and food in the towns of the Riviera Nayarit.

Vancouver

With the 2010 Winter Olympics just around the corner, Vancouver is going all out with preparations for its time in the spotlight. By visiting in 2009, you can reap the benefits of all the new infrastructure developments while enjoying the city and everything it has to offer. And as a place voted Best City in the Americas by Conde Nast Traveler three years running, the expansions and improvements are really just icing on the cake.

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