This, our seventh annual “places rated” list, is not a popularity contest. It’s an assessment of authenticity and stewardship, an evaluation of the qualities that make a destination unique, and a measurement of “integrity of place.” Thus the remote coast of Namibia, Africa, can rate notably higher than the popular—perhaps too popular—North Jersey shore.

Evaluating an entire destination involves such unquantifiables as aesthetics and cultural integrity, so we decided the best way to measure a place would be through informed human judgment. We assembled a panel of 340 well-traveled experts in a variety of fields, including historic preservation, sustainable tourism, ecology, geography, site management, indigenous cultures, archaeology, and travel writing and photography.

We asked the panelists to evaluate only the places with which they were familiar, using our customary six criteria, weighted according to importance: environmental and ecological quality; social and cultural integrity; condition of historic buildings and archaeological sites; aesthetic appeal; quality of tourism management; and outlook for the future.

Experts began by posting points of view on each place, anonymously, to ensure objectivity. After reading each others’ remarks—a variation of a research tool called the Delphi technique—panelists then filed their final scores. The list of panelists who participated in this survey is available here.

The resulting Stewardship Index rating represents the average of informed judgments about each place. Like the scores posted by Olympic judges, our experts’ ratings reflect both measurable factors and intangibles (style, aesthetics, culture). And like Olympic athletes, each of the destinations rated here has an opportunity to improve.

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2014 Traveler Photo Contest

  • Picture of a supercell storm in Colorado.

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    See all the winning images from the 2014 Traveler Photo Contest.