How We Chose the Best of the World 2014

This month National Geographic Traveler announced 2014’s must-see places in the annual Best of the World feature. From Argentina to Oz, the final lineup reflects what’s authentic, culturally rich, sustainably minded—and, of course, superlative in the world of travel today.

We sat down with editor Amy Alipio to discover what makes some of these destinations worthy of a visit.

Megan Heltzel: What is Best of the World?

Amy Alipio: Readers, friends and family always ask us, “Where should we go next?” So we launched our first Best of the World list in the magazine in 2012 partly as a way to answer that question once and for all. But people keep asking us, so we keep doing it, and this year’s is our third annual list. It’s a way for us to highlight destinations doing things right: keeping it real, managing their resources sustainably. I like to think of it as the travel-world version of the MacArthur genius awards.

MH: What makes the 2014 list special?

AA: This year’s list is special because for the first time we opened up the nomination process to our readers. We sent out a call online via Facebook and Twitter, and people responded with some really great–and surprising–destinations, from Saudi Arabia to Wyoming. So picking one from their list was actually really difficult.

MH: How do you select the destinations featured on the list? What are you looking for?

AA: There are a lot of end-of-the-year travel lists out there, and ours differs in that we’re not chasing the numbers–the travel statistics for most visitor arrivals, most searched on the Web, the most trendy, that kind of thing. These are places nominated by our well-traveled global network of writers, editors, and explorers. We’re looking for places that aren’t just superlative and timely but also authentic and sustainable-minded. Then the Traveler staff discuss and debate and eventually narrow down that list to 20.

MH: There were some surprising destinations on the list this year–Rwanda being one of them. Why should people put Rwanda on their travel list?

AA: Rwanda at first seems like an unlikely addition to the Best of the World list. I mean, you say the name and your mind conjures images of violence. But the genocide is now two decades past. And the country is struggling to let the world know that it is well along the path to healing and unity. One of the ways Rwandans are doing this is by emphasizing its awesome natural beauty and biodiversity, and Nyungwe National Park is a jewel in that crown. We wanted to encourage our readers to take a second look at Rwanda.

MH: There are so many wonderful national parks in the world; what caught your attention about Rocky Mountain?

AA: At Nat Geo, we love our national parks, and Rocky Mountain National Park is actually marking its centennial beginning in September 2014. It was kind of a no-brainer to include it on our list.

MH: Another surprising addition to the list was Liechtenstein. Can you tell us a little about this choice?

AA: Liechtenstein is one of those European destinations that don’t get a lot of coverage–maybe because it’s so small, maybe because it doesn’t have that one well-known iconic attraction that everyone puts on their bucket list–but when our Digital Nomad Andrew Evans visited, he had nothing but praise for the country.

MH: How did you select Córdoba out of all of the lovely places in Argentina?

AA: As it happens, Time’s Person of the Year, Pope Francis I, hails from Argentina and belongs to the Jesuit order, and you could say the same two things about Córdoba. The city was once the largest Spanish colonial city in Argentina, and it’s packed with 17th-century Jesuit structures, including Argentina’s oldest university. 

MH: Why was Sochi selected?

AA: As the site of the Winter Olympics, Sochi is kind of the most obvious choice on our Best of the World list, yet how many people know where Sochi really is and what it looks like? I love our writer’s description of it: “Atlantic City as imagined by the tsars, then reinvented by Putin-era developers.”

Amy Alipio is an associate editor at National Geographic Traveler magazine. Follow her story on Twitter @AmyTravels. Megan Heltzel is an associate producer on National Geographic Travel’s digital team. Follow her story on Twitter @MeganHeltzel.