Top spots to visit in 2016

This year will see the region’s airlines adding capacity to new and popular destinations.

Yinchuan, Ningxia in China. Getty Images
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Another year, another bucket list for a seemingly ever-shrinking planet. Those based in the UAE will continue to benefit from being at the centre of one of the world’s most enviable aviation hubs. This year will see the region’s airlines adding capacity to popular destinations such as Thailand, Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the Philippines, the United States and the United Kingdom, as well as further code-shares and new routes bringing even the most unlikely destinations within easy reach.

On February 1, Emirates will launch the world's longest non-stop flight with a direct service to Panama City, the airline's first destination in Central America, and the only direct route from the Middle East. The flight will take over 17 hours, and also open up Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Belize, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela. Much closer to home, Emirates has also just started a second gateway into Istanbul. Last month it launched a direct flight to Bologna in Italy, which will come into its own for leisure travellers from spring onwards. If you're bored of the Taj Mahal, how about telling your friends you're off to Yinchuan in Ningxia? From May, Emirates will start two routes in China. Yinchuan, with a large Muslim population and Indo-Saracenic architecture, is the location for the China-Arab Expo. The second destination, Zhengzhou in central China, is a mostly industrial and trade hub.

Etihad Airways has recently launched flights to Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, Baku in Azerbaijan and Tbilisi in Georgia. Dar es Salaam will mean that those travelling to east Africa on a safari can avoid Nairobi; the capital is also very close to Zanzibar. Baku and Tbilisi, from spring onwards, are must-do city breaks for the new year. On January 15, the airline will launch a new direct service to the Moroccan capital Rabat – the only direct link between the city and the UAE. The existing service to Casablanca, just 85km away, will continue.

FlyDubai has recently launched 14 new destinations, including four in Iran (Shiraz, Esfahan, Ahwaz and Lar), two in Pakistan (Quetta and Faisalabad), two in Saudi Arabia (Gizan and Jouf), plus Hargesia in Somaliland, Asmara in Eritrea, Astana in Kazakhstan and Nishny Novogorod in Russia. While a sharp decline in the Russian rouble makes now a great time to go to Russia, Asmara and Astana look particularly interesting, as does, for those able to travel to Saudi Arabia, Gizan. In the south-west corner of Saudi on the Red Sea coast close to the Yemen border, the city is surrounded by mountains containing hot springs, and, just off the coast, are the protected Farasan Islands, 100 coral-reefed islands with white sand beaches. Jouf, in the north of the country, boasts a number of ancient sites and an international border with Jordan.

rbehan@thenational.ae