Travel off the beaten path gives you that real sense of exploration in a world of overtourism and dense crowds. But where are those hidden gems that are really worth visiting?
The world’s top destinations are sinking under the weight of tourist crowds – in Venice, that’s quite literally.
Overtourism pushes out local residents out while Instagram hashtags turn sleepy villages into selfie-stick nightmares.
But how do you get off the beaten path for a more authentic experience?
I’ve teamed up with some of my favorite travel bloggers to get their picks of the hottest up-and-coming destinations – that are well off the tourist radar.
Here are the best destinations for travel off the beaten path:
1. Sao Tome and Principe
Affectionately known as the “Chocolate Islands,” Sao Tome and Principe is a tiny island nation off the coast of west Africa. You can’t get much further off the beaten path than this.
And with flights from Lisbon, these islands are easier to reach than you might realize.
The landscape feels Jurassic with volcanic shorelines and impenetrable rainforest interiors. It’s the sort of place where you’d imagine a Pterodactyl soaring through the skies.
There’s a lot here to captivate adventurous travelers who want to explore a country unchanged by tourism. The best places to see in Sao Tome and Principe revolve around nature – with a healthy dose of heritage thrown in.
Mountainous Sao Tome is the main island, though it’s still just a drop in the ocean at 30 miles long. Here you’ll discover the crumbling remains of coffee and cacao plantations taken back by the jungle. They make for haunting and atmospheric scenery.
This former Portuguese outpost won its independence in 1975 and the resulting decline in international trade marked the end of most plantations.
The beaches in Sao Tome are the stuff of dreams. Praia Jale tops the list with its sandy swathes, coconut palms and turtle hatchlings in season. Covering much of the southern part of the island, Obo National Park attracts climbers and seekers of epic treks through virgin forest.
Tiny Principe, on the other hand, is just a short flight from Sao Tome and is even more remote than its sister island. This World Biosphere Reserve is all about eco lodges, deserted beaches and whale watching. Hiking and snorkeling are part of everyday life for anyone who ventures this far.
– contributed by Heather of Conversant Traveller
2. Dugi Otok, Croatia
Dugi Otok is one of Croatia’s most beautiful islands and a real insider’s spot away from the tourist crowds.
This island pearl is known among connoisseurs for its peace and relaxation. Dugi Otok has romantic fishing villages and secluded beaches that invite you to dive in.
There’s also plenty of unspoilt nature, authentic coastal towns and breathtaking beaches.
Sakarun Beach is one of the better-known beaches with dreamy white sand and Caribbean blue waters. It’s been chosen several times as one of Croatia’s most beautiful beaches.
Veli Zal is much quieter and equally beautiful. This secluded beach is still relatively untouched – so there are no crowds, bars or restaurants.
Telascica National Park is another highlight on the southern end of the island. The park’s untouched nature, majestic cliffs and warm Silver Lake Mir amaze visitors. The beautiful port of Sali is another must-see with its colorful houses and great spots for a romantic dinner.
The best time to visit Dugi Otok is from May to October, when you can expect fantastic weather and lots of sunshine. You can easily reach the island via a 2-hour ferry from Zadar. And while you won’t find any big hotels, Dugi Otok has lots of nice private apartments to rent.
– contributed by PlacesofJuma
3. Le Marche, Italy
Le Marche is an underrated Italian region full of long sandy beaches, mountains and rolling hills. In spring the meadows in the foothills are bursting with wildflowers.
Nestled in central Italy between the Apennine Mountains and the Adriatic Sea, Le Marche is a region of great contrasts.
The town of Urbino – birthplace of Renaissance artist Raphael – is home to the 15th-century Palazzo Ducale, filled with masterpieces of Italian art. In the south is Ascoli Piceno, home to one of the most dazzling piazzas in Italy – the elegant Piazza del Popolo.
The little villages that dot the hillsides of Le Marche are particularly worth seeking out. Mass tourism doesn’t reach these hidden gems and they offer traditional scenes of rural Italy. Each year the villages celebrate the harvest. Communities take to the streets to celebrate, even those that produce a single vegetable or grape variety.
In the north of the region there’s a protected coastline of dense forest and steep white cliffs. There are remote beaches reached only by boat with crystal waters for swimming. The rest of the coastline is very popular with Italian families – the beaches are sandy with lively promenades packed with visitors in the evenings.
The wine produced in Le Marche – both red and white – is not as well known as those from other regions, but definitely worth trying. Don’t miss the tempting Pecorino white and the Rosso Piceno red.
– contributed by Annabel of Smudged Postcard
It’s often on bucket lists, but Antarctica is very rarely visited.
Only about 10,000 people visit this underrated continent annually to stand in awe of its untouched beauty. It’s a location unlike anywhere else on Earth.
Visitors are only allowed from November through March, most of whom come via cruise ships from Argentina. Expedition and smaller cruises (of 500 or fewer passengers) give you more time on land. And being on land gives you the opportunity to walk – within a safe distance – alongside penguins and seals.
This pristine continent is known for its natural beauty but there’s also plenty of things to do in Antarctica. From hiking dormant volcanoes, to kayaking past icebergs and penguins, and learning about its unique geology, Antarctica is the trip of a lifetime for adventure seekers.
Truly courageous travelers can brave the icy waters for a polar plunge or go camping and spend the night on land. These excursions will leave you awestruck at Antarctica’s breathtaking beauty.
A variety of cruise companies travel to Antarctica, all certified to protect the continent’s nature while providing their services. Quark, Hurtigruten, and GAdventures are the top expedition cruise companies for the region.
While traveling to Antarctica can be difficult and expensive, it’s a trip that stays with you for the rest of your life.
If Antarctica is on your bucket list, move it to the top.
– contributed by Pamela of The Directionally Challenged Traveler
5. Talacre, Wales
Wales is a wonderful yet underrated destination full of sandy beaches, castles and waterfalls.
This northern part of the UK – just 30 minutes from Liverpool – is a perfect destination for a weekend break.
But if you want to venture off the beaten path, head to Talacre Beach for a beautiful lighthouse and stunning sunsets.
This beach isn’t visible from the expressway and it’s easy to miss. But it’s an incredible spot both for swimming and learning about history. This part of Wales was an important location during World War II.
Talacre is one of the best beaches in Wales with its beautiful sunsets, a long sandy coast, and a lighthouse that’s a photographer’s dream. It’s a very romantic and idyllic spot with wonderful views that never get crowded.
Talacre is also a tiny village with a population of less than 350. But it has plenty to offer.
You’ll find lots of sand dunes but also sumptous restaurants and cafes. This small community welcomes visitors with beach shops and attractions for kids, but it’s still a hidden gem.
Talacre offers an unforgettable experience whether you take a walk on the beach or lookout for rare species of birds at RSPB Point of Ayr – Dee Estuary.
– contributed by Ukeveryday
6. Northern Basque Country, France
Visitors to France rarely make it to the Basque country – most people think the Basque country is only in Spain.
But here’s a little-known fact: the Basque region has seven provinces – and three of them are in France.
Drive south along the coast from Bordeaux and you’ll reach the city of Bayonne, known for its colorful houses, ham and Basque culture. Bayonne is also the birthplace of French chocolate, first spotted here at the wedding of Louis XIII.
Beyond Bayonne, the Atlantic coast stretches to the Spanish border and cuts through glorious cliffs and wide sandy beaches. These include Biarritz, the birthplace of Europe’s surfing craze and the site of Napoleon’s fashionable sea baths.
Saint-Jean-de-Luz is a bit further south, and maintains its small fishing village feel despite its popularity among French vacationers.
A half hour inland, the Basque country is dotted with villages so delightful that many make the list of France’s most beautiful villages. There’s Sare and the nearby mountain of La Rhune, and Espelette and its famous dry red peppers.
Beyond the villages, the green valleys undulate among the Pyrenees, a world away from the bustle of the coast.
Plan your one-week Basque itinerary to cover all the highlight inland and along the coast – and don’t miss this under-the-radar region of France.
– contributed by Leyla of Offbeat France
7. Coastal Mississippi, USA
Coastal Mississippi is a hidden gem with gorgeous beaches, fresh seafood and quaint towns just waiting to be discovered. And it’s all just less than 90 minutes from New Orleans.
There’s 62 miles of coastline with a mind boggling stretch of soft sugar sand and spectacular views of the Gulf of Mexico. The section from Henderson Point Beach to Gulfport is a scenic coastal drive with beach views and lots of free parking just steps away from the sand.
Coastal Mississippi invites intrepid explorers to dig into its secrets.
Paddle on Wolf River and find petrified wood, see gators in the empty bayous, or head to the barrier islands for some solitude. Stroll the quaint downtown streets of Bay St Louis and Ocean Springs. And discover more small beach towns before mass tourism hears of them.
Phenomenal oak trees are everywhere – and some are more than 500 years old. Enjoy these Coastal Mississippi hidden gems before the world learns about this magical place!
And don’t miss the local seafood. Some of the best and freshest US Gulf Coast shrimp, oysters, and fish arrive several times a day into these small harbors.
Try the spicy shrimp and grits at Sycamore House in Bay St Louis and some local French Hermit oysters at White Pillars in Biloxi. There’s also the impeccably prepared seafood at current James Beard semi-finalist Vestige in Ocean Springs and the famous po’ boys at Bozo’s Grocery in Pascagoula.
Coastal Mississippi is packed with tasty seafood spots to savor – and plenty of hidden gems for lovers of unspoilt coasts and small-town America.
– contributed by Charles of US Gulf Coast Travel
8. Java, Indonesia
This stunning Indonesian island is right next to Bali – but it only gets a fraction of the international visitors.
East Java is becoming more popular thanks to amazing volcano craters like Mount Bromo and Kawah Ijen. The Mount Bromo sunrise and crater hike is especially spectacular. And Mount Ijen is so unique with its blue volcanic lake that’s actively mined for sulfur.
East Java is also home to the epic Tumpak Sewu Waterfall, nicknamed the “thousand waterfalls” of Indonesia.
Central Java, the most visited part of the island, is home to the city of Yogyakarta with the ancient Hindu temples of Borobudur and Prambanan. These temple ruins date back to the 9th century and now they’ve been meticulously restored. There’s also plenty of nature outside the city, like the Dieng Plateau and its volcanoes and scenic crop terraces.
West Java has lots to see off the beaten path. Travel to Kawah Putih for a bright turquoise volcanic lake. Or head to the coast to take in Ciletuh Geopark, some of the biggest waterfalls in Indonesia.
– contributed by David and Intan of The World Travel Guy
9. Sri Lanka
From rolling green mountains to pristine beaches, Sri Lanka beckons to be explored.
It has something for everyone whether you love adventure, history or just want to relax.
Dive into some culture in the sacred city of Anuradhapura. Wander through ancient temples and ruins and learn about Sri Lanka’s fascinating and complex history. Not many tourists make this trip, but you won’t be disappointed.
Head to Sigiriya Rock for an unforgettable, unique experience. An ancient fortress lays atop this giant column of rock. Climb the whopping 1,200 stairs and marvel at the beautiful jungle below.
Ella is a beautiful destination for outdoor enthusiasts. Hike to Little Adam’s Peak or watch the sunrise over the Nine Arch Bridge. Or get further off the beaten path at Diyaluma Falls. These magnificent falls stand at an impressive 220 meters, the second-highest in the country. Swim to the edge at the top and marvel at the falls from above!
But no trip to Sri Lanka is complete without a day at the beach. There are many to choose from, but Mirissa stands out. This elusive paradise is away from the crowds and offers complete tranquility. Though you’ll have to use your treasure hunting skills to find it.
– contributed by Jen of Dabbling in Jet Lag
10. Waikato, New Zealand
New Zealand might be high on people’s bucket lists but the Waikato region is often passed by.
The Waikato region stretches from the Bombay hills to Lake Taupo. The main city is Hamilton, with a population of 170,000.
The region is New Zealand’s heartland and the seat of the Maori king. You can see his home in the small town of Ngaruawahia just north of Hamilton.
The Waikato region features miles of rolling green farmland. Just drive a few minutes out of town to see all the cows and sheep that New Zealand’s famous for.
The Tasman Sea in west Waikato boasts the famous black sand surfing beach of Raglan, known for its hippie vibes and the Raglan Roast coffee brand.
The Coromandel Peninsula, on the eastern edge of Waikato, is a popular holiday destination for families with its beach towns, sunny weather and smaller waves.
You can get around the region by bus, but it’s best to hire a car to explore all the quaint small towns. Don’t miss the giant L&P bottle in Paeroa, the giant apple in Waitomo, and the giant sheepdog in Tirau. It’s worth spending a weekend in Hamilton to see the river city’s themed gardens, boutique shops and foodie laneways.
– contributed by Kate of Kate Abroad
11. Sfakia, Crete
Nestled in the Southern part of the Aegean Sea, Crete is the largest cyclade island – and the most adventurous to visit. It’s well off the beaten path with 440 hiking trails that promise diverse landscapes and experiences.
Crete is sprinkled with mountain ranges and boasts centuries-old Venetian fortresses and ports that still stand today. There’s also a stunning archaeological museum at Heraklion, Venetian history in the old town of Rethymno and palace ruins that conjure up ancient Greek mythology.
But the South Coast’s Sfakia region is the island’s most offbeat destination. Spend an afternoon hiking the Samaria Gorge, visit the hidden whitewashed village of Loutro Crete, and stumble upon deserted coastlines like Sweetwater Beach.
If you’re feeling more adventurous, go camping in the wild and get the clearest, cerulean blue beaches all to yourself.
– contributed by Antoine and Marielle of Offbeat Escapades
12. Alentejo, Portugal
The Alentejo region in south Portugal is often overlooked by tourists who head for the neighbouring Algarve. But not many travelers know all that Alentejo has to offer.
In Alentejo, you can have a beach holiday filled with outdoor adventures, local culture and plenty of incredible food and wine.
The region’s wild coastline is part of the beautiful Costa Vicentina Natural Park. And it boasts some of the country’s most beautiful and unspoiled beaches. It’s perfect for a European beach holiday without crowds.
There’s sandy beaches, small fishermen’s villages, rugged limestone cliffs, and freshly caught seafood. For adventure lovers, Alentejo offers surfing, diving, hiking and mountain biking in some incredible landscapes.
The Alentejo region is also an amazing destination for wine connoisseurs and produces some of the country’s best wines. Take a few days to drive around the picturesque wine estates, taste the local wines and try some regional specialties. Local foods include cured ham, goat and sheep cheeses, Alentejo-style pork, Paio sausages, and egg and cinnamon pudding Sericaia.
And don’t miss Evora for some fascinating history and culture. The town is often called an open-air museum and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s filled with various monuments and includes a Roman Temple and medieval walls. Despite its incredible heritage, Evora isn’t a mass tourist destination and has preserved its authenticity.
– contributed by Alya and Campbell of the Algarve Family
13. Lugano, Switzerland
Head to beautiful Lugano in Southern Switzerland for an off the beaten path experience – and plenty of sunshine, blue lakes and stunning hiking trails.
Shop in the pedestrian-only downtown and enjoy the Mediterranean climate while strolling along the promenade alongside Lake Lugano. Walk along the water’s edge from the base of Monte San Salvatore to Monte Bre. A weekend in Lugano is such a refreshing getaway.
Funiculars will take you to the peak of both these mountains for some incredible views of Lugano from above. Or hike the many trails around these mountains or back down.
Take a local boat tour for some fun on the water. Or catch a boat to nearby Gandria – a perfect hidden gem with quaint local restaurants. Walk along the coast or rent a pedal boat and find your perfect swimming spot on the lake.
Spend the evening taking a sunset walk along the promenade and pause for a break at one of the red benches. Sunsets in Lugano are quite special and a perfect end to a day of exploring.
– contributed by Zoe of Together In Transit
14. Symi, Greece
This tiny Greek island is known for its beaches and colorful neoclassical homes. But it gets far fewer visitors than its famous neighbours.
Spend a day on this gorgeous island for a taste of the atmosphere. Or stay for a few nights to experience the true magic of this sleepy wonder.
Symi is built on the exports of its sponges – and these famous sea vegetables still fill many of the town’s boutiques.
But their existence is threatened by the rising sea temperatures. These days the art of diving for sponges is more of a side hustle for local fishermen than a full-fledged occupation.
Explore Yialos, where you alight from the ferry, with its colourful terraced houses and neo-classical architecture. Make your way up the Kali Strata to the old village, take a dip in the aptly named Paradise Beach, discover the island’s history in its intimate museums, or hop on the colourful tourist train to explore the attractions.
Stay longer to delve into the more remote locations, dramatic hidden beaches and impressive religious monuments. Book into a secluded hotel for a real taste of the Greece of yesteryear.
– contributed by Nadine of Le Long Weekend
Azerbaijan – or the “land of fire” – is a fascinating country filled with Zoroastrian temples, mud volcanoes and stunning hiking trails.
Historically more closed-off than its neighbours, Azerbaijan is an off the beaten path destination in an underrated corner of the world.
Azerbaijan’s capital Baku artfully blends history with modernity in a well-preserved Old City. It’s home to Silk Road caravanserais and beautiful mosques, elegant European-style parks and flamboyant modern architecture. The Flame Towers are the most striking landmark – a set of three skyscrapers that resemble dancing flames.
The rest of Azerbaijan tells a very different story.
Located in the South Caucasus where Europe meets Asia, Azerbaijan’s history goes back millennia. You can see this history at the petroglyphs at Gobustan, a day trip from Baku, and inside the ancient Zoroastrian fire-worshiping temples. Or venture to the Absheron Peninsula for landscapes of flaming mountains, mud volcanoes and ghostly oil rigs set deep in the Caspian Sea.
Don’t miss the town of Sheki, a UNESCO World Heritage Site where the opulent Palace of the Sheki Khans is decorated from floor to ceiling with miniature paintings and stained glass. The mysterious Nakhchivan Autonomous Republic is only accessible by air and features Alinja Castle, an impressive fortification dubbed the “Machu Picchu of the Caucasus.”
Tour the vineyards, hike through candy cane-striped hills, visit Europe’s last Soviet-style collective farm or bathe in crude oil in this unforgettable nation. To get even further off the tourist itinerary, head to the Talysh Mountains for remote hiking trails and stunning scenery.
– contributed by Emily of Wander-Lush
16. New Hampshire, USA
When people dream of New England, they dream of Maine’s rocky coastline or Vermont’s mountain villages. But you can get both those things in New Hampshire.
New Hampshire is an underdog, but not among New Englanders. They know how great it is. The White Mountains are home to excellent hiking and camping (and the state’s portion of the Appalachian Trail), and Mount Washington, the highest peak in the region.
The Lakes Region, just south of the White Mountains, is rich in rolling hills, shimmering blue lakes and the rollicking, island-studded Lake Winnipesaukee.
The Monadnock region is home to some of the most beautiful small towns you’ll ever see – like straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting.
Come in early October to see New Hampshire at its best clad in the world’s most spectacular fall foliage. Drive down the Kancamagus Highway, a scenic byway in the White Mountains, for an hour-long adventure packed with hiking trails, historic sites and scenic viewpoints.
See the best in New Hampshire and drive around, explore the small towns, stop for cheese or cider donuts and cool off at a waterfall. It’s a magnificent state to reconnect with the great outdoors.
– contributed by Kate of New Hampshire Way
Slovakia is often overlooked but it’s got lots to offer with magnificent mountains, beautiful towns, fairytale castles and impressive ruins.
The capital Bratislava and the second-largest city Kosice are both perfectly European with charming old towns, quaint cafes and great vibes. And they’re both great alternatives to overcrowded Prague and Budapest.
There are many more incredible places to visit in Slovakia. The country has numerous picturesque medieval towns – many of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
But it’s the nature – and especially the stunning mountains – that’s Slovakia’s real highlight.
Explore the numerous mountain ranges perfect for hiking. The High Tatras are the most popular with their breathtaking views. Or head to the nearby Low Tatras or Fatra Mountains for a more rugged and wild experience.
The Slovak Paradise National Park is a stunning hidden gem with some 300 km of hiking trails, including steep ladders lodged between cliffs and other thrilling obstacles.
Slovakia is also very affordable by European standards. You don’t have to worry much about overpriced transportation, dining or hotels.
– contributed by Kamila of My Wanderlust
18. Almeria, Spain
Nestled in Spain’s beautiful Andalusia, Almeria is a less explored city with crystal clear seas, pristine beaches and historic buildings.
Unlike the touristy Malaga and Seville, Almeria has a slower, relaxed atmosphere without the crowds.
Visit the Alcazaba de Almeria, a beautiful Moorish fortress-palace that’s one of the best things to do in Almeria. Walk through this palace for sweeping panoramic views and a look back at Moorish times.
Almeria’s cathedral is another historical gem and a unique site that blends Gothic and Renaissance architecture.
Head outside the city for some of Andalusia’s most beautiful beaches. Take a day trip to Cabo de Gata National Park for wild, isolated landscapes and volcanic rock-formations. This park has vegetation and wildlife that you won’t see anywhere else in Southern Spain.
Take some time to explore the region’s whitewashed villages like Los Escullos, El Faro and San Jose.
Almeria is also home to the Tabernas Desert, one of the few semi-arid deserts in Spain. Book a tour to visit this magical desert. And don’t miss the Oasys Mini Hollywood theme park – a surreal site used to film spaghetti Westerns in the 1960s.
– contributed by Cristina of My Little World of Travelling
Montenegro is a tiny European country with staggering mountains that plunge into the Adriatic Sea, picture-perfect medieval villages and incredible caves and grottos.
Not many tourists know much about Montenegro – but it really offers everything. There are amazing hotels and dining, fantastic beaches and incredible national parks. Costs are still reasonable compared to Europe’s more crowded destinations.
Head to Lake Skadar National Park, some 65 km from Kotor, to marvel at the largest lake in Southern Europe and Europe’s largest bird reserve. Take a day trip to the lake and enjoy a cruise on its pristine waters. Glide through thousands of lily pads and uninhabited islands for an absolutely beautiful experience.
Or spend a few days island hopping. Rent a bike or go hiking – and of course there’s lots of swimming. Many islands have ruins dating back centuries, churches, old villages and fortresses.
To get further off the beaten path, don’t miss the ancient seaport of Ulcinj. Once infamous for its pirates, today Ulcinj has a largely Muslim population with beautiful mosques and coffeshops.
Cetinje is another gem that dates back to the 15th century, with cozy museums and a beautiful monastery.
– contributed by Nicole of Go Far Grow Close
20. Democratic Republic of Congo
The Democratic Republic of Congo is one of the world’s most captivating countries – but tourists usually run in the opposite direction when it’s mentioned.
Africa’s second-largest country offers unforgettable experiences. Travel down the mighty Congo River, experience Kinshasha’s vibrant music and nightlife and see rare African wildlife like bonobos, okapis and gorillas.
Eastern Congo has some of the best destinations. The biggest draw is the incredible Virunga National Park, one of the most biodiverse places on earth.
Go gorilla trekking in Virunga National Park for a bucket list experience that stays with you forever. Join a small group led by rangers into the jungle-clad volcanoes, where you’ll spend an hour with a gorilla family. It’s magical!
Unlike other African safaris, mountain gorilla trekking is an intimate wildlife experience where you can observe the animals from up close. You’ll get within a metre or two of these gentle giants.
Spend a night on the rim of an active volcano for another bucket list adventure. Mount Nyiragongo stands at 3470m and offers an epic hike. It’s quite challenging but nothing can describe the feeling when you reach the summit and look down into the crater below at the world’s largest bubbling lava lake.
Stay at an upscale lodge right inside Virunga National Park – or rent something more budget friendly in the nearby city of Goma. Lac Kivu Lodge on the shores of Lake Kivu is a gorgeous spot that’s highly recommended.
Congo has it all if you’re looking for bucket list experiences without the tourist crowds.
– contributed by De Wet of Museum of Wander
21. Northumberland, England
England’s most northerly county is often passed over by visitors heading to Scotland. But Northumberland has incredible history, stunning beauty and fairy-tale castles.
There are more than 70 castles here. Alnwick Castle is the most recognizable – and the location used for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter movies. But it’s just one of the reasons to visit the lovely market town of Alnwick.
There’s also the Holy Island of Lindisfarne with a tidal causeway that’s only accessible at certain times.
And don’t miss Lindisfarne Castle, a stunning ruined priory, for a beautiful walk and the Lindisfarne Mead that’s still made here with a centuries-old recipe. It’s one of the best things to do in Northumberland.
Head further offshore to the Farne Islands where puffins, migratory birds and seals make their home.
There’s also the stunning Longstone Lighthouse with incredible views and an equally interesting history. The lighthouse is known for a heroic rescue when the lighthouse keeper’s daughter Grace Darling saved the survivors of an 1838 shipwreck. Her story is beautifully narrated at the RNLI museum in the village of Bamburgh just down the coast.
Northumberland is England’s least populated county – and that makes its wildness all the more special. The rugged landscapes at the National Park and Kielder Water are spectacular.
Northumbrians also know how to make you feel welcome – so don’t miss the local fare. Smoked kippers are a famous breakfast item. Head to the Robson smokehouse in Craster for the best spot to dig into these herrings.
– contributed by Sarah of Northumberland’s Best
22. Anaga National Park, Tenerife
Tenerife is visited by thousands of tourists, but it boasts a beautiful hidden gem – Anaga Rural Park. Located in the north, where most tourists don’t reach, the park is filled with unspoiled wilderness far from the beach-going crowds.
Anaga National Park was created in 1987 and it’s now a UNESCO Protected Site.
The Anaga Mountains cover 8% of Tenerife and they’re considered a primary shelter from the Atlantic winds. The mountains reach heights of up to 1,000 meters and the park has its own unique climate. Unlike the rest of the island, Anaga gets a ton of rain.
And this constant humidity preserves the relict laurel forests.
Venture inside the forest and you’ll feel like you’re in a fairy tale. There are mossy trails, twilights of tree crowns, branches curved into arches, paws of giant ferns and overgrown steps leading up into the hills.
The park appeals especially to lovers of trekking and active hiking.
The Cruz de Carmen village has a hiking center with lots of info about the forest and its many trails. There’s a variety of trails for all levels of experience.
Some trails lead hikers into tiny villages where there are still residents leading secluded lifestyles. Other trails lead to the cliffs or down to the ocean with excellent cliffs for rock climbing.
– contributed by Alejandra of Tenerife-Is
Samoa is an unspoilt country that’s still free of sprawling hotel resorts. It’s a place where you can sleep on the beach in a hut – and it’s all just a four-hour flight from New Zealand.
This gorgeous South Pacific nation includes 18 islands – and many are uninhabited.
Apia is the bustling capital where you can snorkel on the beach, marvel at the ornate Immaculate Conception Cathedral, browse the colourful market and explore the fascinating Samoa Cultural Centre.
Or take a tour of the home and gardens of Treasure Island author Robert Louis Stevenson, who lived and died in Samoa.
Hire a car and explore the rest of this stunning tropical island. Hike in the forests and see Samoa’s hidden waterfall Sopoaga. It’s a landscape straight out of Jurassic Park.
Snorkel over pristine, remote beaches or swim above giant clams at the Giant Clam Sanctuary for a very unique experience.
Attend a Fiafia night to experience some traditional music and dance that culminates in the spectacular fire dance. The harmonic singing and rousing rhythms will give you goosebumps.
– contributed by Sinead of Map Made Memories
Mauritania is one of the world’s least visited countries but it’s an incredible destination for large swathes of the Sahara Desert, the famous iron ore train and a rich multifacated culture.
There’s an iron ore mine and one of the world’s longest trains deep in the Sahara Desert. The country built a massive train route that’s 704km long to move the iron from the desert to the Atlantic Ocean.
Hitchhike on the iron ore train and ride it from the mines all the way to the coast for one of the world’s most epic and raw adventures. It’s just you, the desert sun, and the incredibly powerful train speeding through parts of the Sahara untouched by man.
Head to Chinguetti to marvel at its 13th century medieval trading center that was once the center of trans-Saharan trade routes. Today it’s an otherworldly city threatened by the encroaching desert sands. There’s also an old fortress of the Amazigh tribes that dates back to the Middle Ages.
This ancient desert city is a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its incredible library. Don’t miss the library’s collection of hundreds of ancient manuscripts (which you can view with the permission of the head librarian). These ancient text are incredible pieces of art that are amazing to peruse – even if you can’t read Arabic.
Feast on fresh seafood in the capital’s Nouakchott Fish Market where sellers haggle every morning.
Nouakchott also has an incredible boat graveyard. The beaches are home to thousands of old abandoned boats marked with graffiti and aged by the sandy winds. The boat graveyard continues to expand as locals still dispose of their boats there.
And don’t miss the Banc d’Arguin National Park for sandbanks, rocky beaches and a booming diversity that includes dozens of migratory birds.
– contributed by Shannon of Adventuring With Shannon
25. Northeast India
Northeast India is a region of eight diverse states – all with very different cultures and landscapes. It’s also home to some of the best offbeat treks in India.
Arunachal Pradesh is blessed with the Eastern Himalayas and shares borders with both Tibet and Myanmar. But it’s one of India’s most underrated regions.
Assam is home to the largest inhabited river island Majuli, a beautiful natural oasis where locals have preserved their old traditions and crafts. It’s also famous for its one-horned rhinoceros.
Manipur is the jewel of the Northeast with the magical Floating Loktak lake. The lake supports numerous masses of vegetation where local fishermen built makeshift floating huts.
Meghalaya is the abode of clouds and the land of waterfalls, caves and scenic landscapes. Visit Mawlynnong, Asia’s cleanest village, and the Living Root Bridges of Meghalaya – aerial bridges built by weaving the roots of the Indian rubber tree. The bridges have connected the locals for generations. Stop and refresh yourself with a dive into the blue transparent natural pools beside the waterfalls.
Nagaland is a land of 16 diverse Naga ethnic groups – each with their own language. Explore offbeat hiking trails like Dzukou Valley, Mount Saramati and Mount Japfu. Witness the state’s cultural diversity at the annual Hornbill Festival in early December – a week-long celebration of colorful performances, crafts, sports and ceremonies.
Mizoram is home to the Mizo people and known for its vibrant bamboo Cheraw Dance. It’s also a hotspot for adventures like paragliding.
Sikkim is another Himalayan State and home to the world’s 2nd highest mountain. The hospitality of the Lepchas, Bhutias and Nepalese in Sikkim is unbeatable.
– contributed by Joydeep of The Gypsy Chiring
Bosnia isn’t usually the go-to destination in the Balkans (it’s often overshadowed by neighboring Croatia and Montenegro.) But that’s a real pity because Bosnia is a treasure trove of cultural and historic gems.
The capital Sarajevo, where a 1914 assassination sparked World War I, appropriately boasts a number of history museums. Learn about World War I and the Bosnian War in a variety of fascinating exhibits and galleries.
Head to the small city of Mostar, just two hours from Sarajevo, for the iconic Stari Most, a reconstructed medieval bridge. Walk along the narrow alleys and discover all the market stalls teeming with local goods. Load up on coffee, rahat lokum and intricate copper and metal trays.
Head to the Old Bridge Museum to learn more about the history of the structure, considered the greatest architectural achievement in the Ottoman-controlled Balkans.
If you’re a nature lover, head to the Kravice Waterfalls. Less than an hour from Mostar, these scenic waterfalls tower at 25m high. They’re a popular daytrip destination for both Bosnians and Croatians.
Kravice is also a great spot for swimming because temperatures don’t ever rise above 20 degrees. Stop at one of the local restaurants and bars for a cold drink in the summer months.
– contributed by Alina of World of Lina
27. Otavalo, Ecuador
Otavalo is an incredible cultural hotspot with vibrant markets and stunning waterfalls that most tourists don’t know about.
Just 2 hours from the capital Quito, the cultural haven of Otavalo is nestled in the mountains. It’s known for its vibrant market and the endless rows of street vendors selling handmade alpaca products. But it’s still rare to spot another tourist.
Visit the Otavalo Market in winter (October through May) to experience warmer temperatures. Explore on a Saturday when the market is in full swing.
Roam the cobblestone streets and chat with the vendors (learn some Spanish phrases since no one speaks English and the WiFi is weak). And try some amazing street food like mozzarella stuffed plantains and empanadas.
Take a taxi to the trailhead for Peguche Waterfall – a beautiful rainforest with stunning views and enchanting waterfalls. It’s also very family-friendly so there’s alpacas to pet and shallow pools to swim in.
To get to Otavalo, take an Uber from Quito for about $45, or ride the local bus for $2.90. Just be aware of your belongings as pickpockets are common.
There are plenty of hotels in Otavalo, but travel a bit north and stay at the Samia Lodge Airbnb. You’ll get unbeatable views overlooking Otavalo and the amazing hospitality of the Ecuadorian countryside.
– contributed by Emily of Emily Embarks
Pakistan is a dream for mountain lovers, adventure travelers and those who love to immerse themselves in culture. And there’s no group of people quite as friendly as Pakistanis.
Tourism in Pakistan is growing but it remains in its infancy. This means you can go weeks without seeing any other travelers.
Scams are rare in Pakistan – and the hospitality of the locals in every corner of the country is second to none.
Pakistan has record-breaking peaks and stunning beaches that rival those of Oman. Explore Mughal history, feast on a delicious and varied cuisine, and discover the remnants of ancient civilizations as you travel this incredible destination.
Pakistan has enough to fill up your itinerary for weeks – from the cultural capital of Lahore, to the hundreds of historical sites throughout Sindh, to the greenery of Swat Valley and the unbelievable mountains of Gilgit Baltistan.
Don’t miss the Chitral district (especially Upper Chitral) and Interior Sindh (especially the town of Sehwan) to explore Pakistan at its best. These two locales are so different they might as well be different countries. But they both showcase the rare side of Pakistan that few travellers ever see.
– contributed by Samantha of Intentional Detours
This tiny Central American nation has incredible scenery and a plethora of activities for adventure lovers and culture buffs.
Tourism is growing but Belize is still off the beaten track. And while the Belize islands get the majority of tourists, the country has plenty of other attractions to offer.
Belize is home to the Great Mesoamerican Barrier Reef (the world’s second largest reef) and the UNESCO-listed Great Blue Hole (one of the world’s best diving spots).
It’s also home to some of the most stunning Mayan ruins, including Lamanai, Caracol and Xunantunich.
Cave tubing is the iconic Belize adventure. It involves floating down the cave in an inflated tube. Don’t miss Belize’s incredible spelunking, or cave exploring, for one of the best things to do in Belize.
Head to San Ignacio, a tourist hub near the Guatemala Border. From there you can take day trips to Mayan ruins, zip line in the jungle, and visit the famous ATM caves profiled by the National Geographic.
– contributed by Daria of The Discovery Nut
30. Northern Arizona, USA
With its red rock landscapes, ancient monuments and experimental desert communities, there’s a lot more to Northern Arizona than just the Grand Canyon.
The region’s forests of ponderosa pines are a great escape from the Phoenix summer heat. And the charming small towns, natural wonders and highway curiosities make for an unforgettable American road trip.
Head to Flagstaff to explore its historic downtown and railroad district. And stop for lunch at its microbreweries. Hike through the Walnut Canyon National Monument for geological cliff formations, junipers and pine, or explore the Native American pueblo sites at Wupatki.
Don’t miss the stunning red rock landscapes of Sedona. Cool off in the waters of the Slide Rock State Park, attend a yoga session and browse for souvenirs in the city’s New Age boutiques.
Williams is a small town spliced by the legendary Route 66. The main road boasts saloons, soda fountains and plenty of Route 66 signage. Stop by for some nostalgic Americana.
The Tonto Natural Bridge State Park is another noteworthy stop for its travertine bridge. Watch a small waterfall trickle down into the creek and the surreal formations that tower above. Stop in charming Pine for some woodfire pizza and green hiking trails.
Prescott’s historic downtown and white-columned courthouse feels straight out of Gilmore Girls. Don’t miss this charming city especially during the holidays, when it earns its nickname of “Arizona’s Christmas City.” There are festive parades, holiday cheer and all the vibes of a small-town Christmas.
And don’t miss Arcosanti, an experimental town by Italian-American architect Paolo Soleri nestled in the Arizona desert . It’s an exploration of arcology, the meeting point of nature and architecture, and features a molten bronze bell casting studio and boutique.
31. Siwa, Egypt
With its breathtaking salt lakes and Amazigh culture, the isolated Siwa Oasis is Egypt’s best kept secret.
Take the 10-hour trip from Cairo down bumpy desert roads. You’ll be rewarded with palm trees, ancient temples and desert swimming holes.
Just 50 kilometers east of the Libyan border, the Siwa Oasis has its unique culture, language and traditions protected for centuries from outside influence.
Sit at a campfire at night and you’ll hear Libyan and Amazigh songs. Shop for embroidered scarves downtown adorned with Siwi geometric lines and circles. Or feast on meals of dates an olives, the staples of this oasis’ agriculture.
Or have a candlelight dinner under a cluster of palms at one of Siwa’s incredible upscale eco lodges.
Siwa’s spectacular salt lakes are crystal blue and perfect for floating like on the Dead Sea. A good off-roader will take you across sand dunes to one of Siwa’s dozens of freshwater lakes for a refreshing dip.
For ailments like rheumatism and sore muscles, indulge in a traditional sand bath. You’ll be buried neck-deep in the mineral-rich sands that have brought relief to generations of locals.
For history buffs, there are sites like the Mountain of the Dead where tombs date from the 26th Dynasty of ancient Egypt. The nearby temple in Aghurmi is best known for Alexander the Great’s visit in 331 BC.
There’s also Siwa Lake for biking, swimming and sipping on Siwi tea infused with lemongrass.
And don’t leave without a shopping trip at the Shali, Siwa’s small downtown that dates back to the Middle Ages. The Shali was founded in 1203 as a fortress to protect inhabitants from raiders. Called “the city of mud,” it’s build entirely from a unique mix of salt and clay.
Tips for travel off the beaten path:
Travel slower. Take a train, rent a bicycle for a weekend in the country or hire a van for a week of camping. When you get away from the typical plane, new roads open up.
Connect with the locals. Local residents know the overrated destinations and the spots worth seeing. Read local blogs and join Facebook groups for local walking tours.
Book with niche tour groups. It’s not profitable for a huge tour company to offer trips off the beaten path. And you may not always have time to arrange your own solo tour. A small, niche travel company can be invaluable for exploring a country’s lesser-known destinations.
Be brave. You’ll come up against disbelief from family and friends when you share your travel plans . Stand firm and go after what you want – not what others say you should see.
Try a boutique hotel. Stay at a small boutique hotel with history and charm. A good hotel will connect you to the local community. And it offers a more unique experience than a chain skyscraper. Fewer guests mean the staff have more time for personalized service.
Walk more. Walk whenever you can. Before your trip, get on Google Maps and map out all of your must-see sites at your destination. Then pick a hotel roughly in the middle of those attractions. This will let you explore more of the city on foot.