Travel & Leisure
updated 12/28/2011 10:19:13 AM ET 2011-12-28T15:19:13

Imagine lazing in a hammock on a remote beach in Panama, where boldface names like Angelina Jolie and Michael Jordan have been spotted. It’s a trip within reach—rustic-but-stylish hotels start at $99—and a country that’s remaking itself for 2012.

Discovering new destinations might seem next to impossible, but one of the wonders of travel is that there’s always someplace new on the horizon. And even when you think you know a place, there’s a hidden side ripe for exploration. To uncover 2012’s most exciting destinations, T+L crisscrossed the globe, bringing back everything from Toronto’s new hot spots to secluded resorts in northern Mozambique.

Some of our picks reflect travelers’ increasing thirst for adventure and desire to immerse themselves in local ways. “Our clients are interested in remote, off-the-beaten-path destinations that still retain their traditional culture,” says Scott Wiseman, president of Abercrombie & Kent USA.

Take Xishuangbanna, at the foot of the Himalayas in China’s southern Yunnan province. Though often overlooked in favor of Lijiang and Tibet, it’s home to an ethnically diverse population that still follows age-old customs—making it the place to get a cultural fix without the crowds. And a luxurious new Anantara resort means roughing it is not required.

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Looking for something even more remote? It’s hard to top Corumbau in Brazil’s southern Bahia. The original inhabitants named it "far from everything" for good reason: a sojourn requires a bone-rattling, four-hour drive from the nearest airport. The rewards—deserted beaches, super-fresh seafood—make up for the journey.

For each destination, we’ve provided a breakdown of the kind of traveler it’s well suited to, the best time to go, and how to get there. Not all the destinations for 2012 are exotic and far-flung. Cutting-edge architecture and youthful creative energy are driving a renaissance in Guimarães, one of Portugal’s oldest cities.

Culture is also making over places such as Bentonville, AR, which Walmart heiress Alice Walton has graced with a free world-class museum of American art on 120 wooded acres.

Whether you’re a jet-setting sybarite, a design buff, or a thrill-seeking flashpacker, the places we’ve collected here will inspire you to make 2012 a year of new discoveries. —Jennifer Chen

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