(CNN) — It’s never too early to start planning for next year’s big trips.
National Geographic is getting an early start, too, releasing its Best of the World list in late October with 25 must-see destinations for 2023.
Respect — for the people and their cultures, for the land and its conservation — is an overarching theme of the list, which is divided into five official categories.
The hope is that 2023 will be not just a big return to travel but also to rediscovering wonder, said Amy Alipio, senior editor for National Geographic Travel.
“Because when you are awed by something, you treat it with respect. And that spirit is something we want to encourage with this list,” Alipio said.
The list focuses on destinations that have community-led conservation efforts, healing and heritage journeys and ways for travelers to give back as well as places that are doing important work in ecotourism, sustainability and inclusive travel.
A young nang keo dancer performs in Luang Prabang, Laos’ former imperial capital that is now reachable by bullet train.
Kike Calvo/Nat Geo Image Collection
Looking at community
National Geographic has introduced a new category in this year’s list, replacing “sustainability” with a broader “community” category.
“It’s about broadening the focus on the people striving for sustainable destinations and the various ways that manifests, from making travel more accessible to supporting local businesses,” Alipio said.
Sustainability has been woven into every category a bit more. The other four categories are nature, culture, adventure and family.
The five destinations listed under the “community” heading represent a diverse range of strengths.
Ghana is listed as an important destination for Black heritage travelers in West Africa.
Alberta, Canada also makes the list.
“They have been a leader in Indigenous tourism, basically getting travelers out there learning the stories and the ways of life of the First Nations here in North America,” and their vibrant, contemporary cultures, Alipio said.
In Laos, a new high-speed train is making the country more accessible to visitors and bringing economic opportunity to locals.
The Great Lakes city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, is listed in part because it has been “really supportive of its creative community,” Alipio said, citing Bronzeville, which is opening a cultural center focused on African American art.
And in Greece’s Dodecanese Islands, Karpathos is a standout for sustainable tourism with female leadership.
Big openings, small crowds
The list is not without big new attractions. The long-awaited Grand Egyptian Museum outside of Cairo figures into Egypt’s appearance on the 2023 list in the “culture” category. And Charleston, South Carolina, will soon be home to the International African American Museum, which is set to open in January.
US wilderness features on the list in two categories, with an emphasis on getting away from the crowds.
Utah, where five national parks are a huge draw, appears in the “adventure” category in part for its efforts to direct tourists to some of its lesser-known areas to combat overtourism.
Slovenia, “a longtime leader in sustainable tourism,” is pairing cycling trails with visits to vineyards, cheesemakers and other food producers in a way that earns it a slot in the “nature” category with a culinary bonus.
The Scottish Highlands, Portugal’s dazzling Azores volcanic archipelago and Botswana also make the “nature” list for their efforts toward conservation and sustainability.
Young sperm whales in waters surrounding the Azores. The Portuguese archipelago is on National Geographic’s Best in the World list in the “nature” category.
Andy Mann/Nat Geo Image Collection
Family, adventure and culture
Colombia has been in the spotlight with the Disney movie “Encanto,” making it a timely choice for the “family” category. In California, San Francisco’s Crosstown Trail is another spot perfect for family adventure.
Speaking of “adventure,” that category also includes Choquequirao, Peru, an Inca site to rival Machu Picchu that is becoming more accessible and spurring economic development.
And New Zealand, long an adventure capital, makes the list as excitement builds with travel’s resurgence.
The Austrian Alps also provide great opportunities for adventure within the Bergsteigerdörfer network of 29 mountaineering villages.
Asia, which has been slower to reopen from the pandemic, features prominently in the “culture” category. Busan, South Korea, appears in the category for offerings from craft brews to Asia’s top film festival.
While China remains closed to international tourism, its Longmen Grottoes in Henan Province also make the “culture” list as new technology brings attention to one of the largest collections of stone statues in the world.
Elephants graze among the lush waterways of the Okavango Delta in Botswana, which appears in the “nature” category.
Beverly Joubert/Nat Geo Image Collection
National Geographic’s Best of the World 2023 list:
Appian Way, Italy
Busan, South Korea
Longmen Grottoes, Henan Province, China
Charleston, South Carolina
Big Bend National Park, Texas
Revillagigedo National Park, Mexico
Dodecanese Islands, Greece
Trinidad & Tobago
San Francisco Crosstown Trail, California
Manchester, United Kingdom