If you want to avoid the crowds and the coaches, discover unspoilt islands and pristine national parks, or maybe even be warmly greeted by locals who have perhaps never met tourists before, then head off the beaten track. Some of these destinations may be new stars on the rise, some may be secret pockets in some of the most popular countries to visit, but they each promise their own memorable adventures.
Who doesn’t love a phoenix story, a tale about overcoming adversity? When Albania emerged free from the shackles of Communism in the early 1990s, it was incredibly backwards, and although Albania has now arguably caught up with the rest of Eastern Europe, its isolation has led to ancient mountain codes of behaviour, archaeological sites and villages where time seems to have stood still – but this just adds to Albania’s charm. This isn’t all that Albania has to offer; with coastlines on both the Adriatic and Ionian seas and an interior criss-crossed by the Albanian Alps, there’s an abundance of sheer natural beauty to be admired. A thriving capital, Tirana, is waiting to be explored, whilst the Albanian Riviera is populated with traditional Mediterranean villages and stunning beaches to rival other top European coastal destinations – Albania is an up-and-coming Balkan star.
Go to: Tirana, Albania’s capital, renowned for its colourful architecture dating back to the Ottoman, Fascist and Soviet eras; the UNESCO-listed town of Berat; Sarandë, Durrës, Vlorë and Dhërmi are all known for their beaches - head to Dhërmi in particular for sea turtles! For hiking, backpacking and waterfalls, visit Theth.
With its dazzling, clear aquamarine waters and pristine pure white sands, Anguilla sounds so far so typically Caribbean. However, as a mostly flat desert island, no nonstop flights from the U.S. and no port for cruise ships to dock, Anguilla offers a low-key escape, complete with a relaxed vibe. Its locals value privacy and peace – no Jet Skis are allowed for fear of noise pollution – and it makes a charming alternative to the nearby hustle and bustle of the more boisterous St Martin.
For perhaps the ultimate in remote adventures, head to the South Pole and the seventh continent, the incomparable Antarctica, renowned for its unique frozen landscapes and remarkable wildlife. Each season brings different sights for visitors, from peak whale sightings to hatchings of baby penguins, or receding pack ice allowing ships to explore further south. Although tourism to Antarctica dates back to the 1950s with Chilean and Argentine ships starting to carry fare-paying passengers to the South Shetland Islands, a formal association for visitors or private-sector travellers was not set up until 1991. With visitors numbers restricted to preserve the sustainability of the landscape and wildlife, and its remote location a trip to Antarctica is truly off the beaten track, and a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
The land of the thunder dragon, Bhutan is an extraordinary country, a Himalayan kingdom with a strong, traditional Buddhist culture, complete with famously colourful dance festivals (tsechus), and a reputation for mystery and magic. Also known as the land of serenity and the land of happiness, the Bhutanese pride themselves on a philosophy of ‘Gross National Happiness’. Here you’ll discover red rice, and a plethora of natural wonders, as you explore mountains carpeted with thick forests, home to unique mammals and birds; the law requires at least sixty percent of the country must always be forested for all future generations. The landscape is strewn with majestic fortress-like dzongs and monasteries, and you’ll meet charming, friendly and well-educated local people.
Go to: Thimphu, the increasingly growing capital, which may recently have seen the introduction of vehicle traffic and is starting to grow, yet you’ll still discover some incredible Buddhist sites, including the massive Tashichho Dzong, and meet crimson-robed monks and government ministers wearing traditional ghos and kiras on your travels. Other destinations to check out in Bhutan, where you’ll discover more examples of the unique Bhutanese dzongs include Paro, near the famous Tiger’s Nest monastery, the former capital Punakha, and Phuntsholing, where you can also discover a wildlife refuge. Nature lovers should head to Royal Manas National Park, Bhutan’s oldest national park and home to clouded leopards and Bengal tigers, or Jigme Dorji National Park, the second largest in the country, where you can look out for snow leopards.
Best known for its orangutan population (or the ‘wild men of Borneo’), Borneo is a rugged island in the Malay archipelago, and is shared between the Malaysian states of Sabah and Sarawak, the Indonesian state of Kalimantan and the tiny kingdom of Brunei. Travellers keen to explore its wild jungles and pristine coral reefs head to Borneo, but it is no longer quite the hidden gem it once was, with the advent of package tours and cheap flights from Southeast Asia. However, ringed by rock walls and dense forest, and only discovered in 1947 by a British pilot, the Maliau Basin is one of the last areas of untouched jungle and has been justifiably called ‘Borneo’s Lost World’. Home to around 38% of Borneo’s species, from gigantic seraya trees to clouded leopards and Sumatran rhinos, Maliau is now protected as a nature reserve, and about five hours’ from the nearest city (Kota Kinabalu) – and two hours’ off-road driving to the nearest road – Maliau is an isolated haven genuinely off the beaten track! For an alternative to Malaysian Borneo’s more popular orangutan reserves (Sepilok and Semenggoh), head to the riverbanks of Tanjung Puting National Park in Kalimantan. Indonesia’s first orangutan rehabilitation centre offers the opportunity to float down the Sungai Sekonyer river on a traditional klotok (houseboat) for a few days’ wildlife watching, looking out for exotic species such as gibbons, sambar deer, crocodiles, the strange-looking proboscis monkey, hornbills, flying squirrels and possibly, with luck and a guide, the chance to possibly find a wild orangutan nest. Meanwhile, for some of the most peaceful hiking to be found on the island, head to the Kelabit Highlands. Inhabited by the Kelabit tribe, these remote uplands are visited by far fewer visitors, and the main hub is the small village of Bario, from where trails winding out across the hills pass settlements where people still live in traditional longhouses, and continue to farm fruit, vegetables and the special variety of Bario rice, and you’ll gain an unique insight into the region’s traditions and splendid natural beauty.
Over a century ago, Rudyard Kipling wrote that Burma ‘is quite unlike any place you know about’, and this still remains the case. Glistening pagodas, gleaming with goldleaf, bustling markets, and friendly locals – made up of over 100 different nationalities – beckon, and in many ways you’ll often feel like you’ve travelled back to yesteryear, with locals getting around in trishaws and, particularly in more rural areas, horse and cart. Women are smothered in thanakha (traditional make-up), and you’ll see grannies chewing betel with mouths crimson with blood-red juice, and many men will still be wearing traditional longyi. For many years, great swathes of the country was previously off-limits, but in recent years, it’s slowly become more accessible, and it’s taking steps towards democracy. However, as the country opens up there’s a parallel trend for the introduction of modern-day conveniences such as mobile phone coverage and internet access (admittedly still incredibly patchy and unreliable) and internationally linked ATMs, as well as tentative steps towards democracy. Our advice to you: go to Burma as soon as possible!
Go to: Yangon, Mandalay, Bagan, and Inle Lake are the best-known places, and are beginning to develop for tourism with the construction of hotels, particularly in Yangon and Mandalay. If you’re on an Irrawaddy river cruise, you will no doubt visit small, riverside villages which still retain their rural customs and provide a large dose of authentic Burma. To go even further off the beaten track, try a Chindwin river cruise, sailing through dense jungles and deep gorges, passing high cliffs, and visiting remote villages, and into Nagaland, home of the Naga tribes.
In many places, Chile boasts glorious, untamed wilderness still untouched by human intervention. It’s a wondrous country of extreme landscapes – desert, lakes, mountains, glaciers, beaches, and winelands – many within just a few hours’ drive of each other. The world’s driest non-polar desert, the Atacama, found in the north of the country, the winelands in the middle, and the snow-capped Andean peaks in the southern Patagonian region are the country’s top destinations to head to. You’ll discover familiar European architecture in German and Italian-founded towns, but also discover indigenous traditions. Chile might have been considered less glamourous than its neighbour, Argentina, but it’s built up its economy and a steady democracy since the end of the Pinochet era, and is today one of South America’s most quietly confident countries – and it’s got a lot to be confident about!
Go to: Caleta Condor, arguably Chile’s most remote beach, although large swathes of the western coast remain isolated and hard to access, so there is some tough competition for this title. The Caleta Condor, however, is jaw-dropping, and really is way off the beaten track: accessible by a two-hour open-ocean boat ride or two-day trek from Bahia Mansa or a nine-hour 4WD/trekking/boat combo from Rio Negro, the journey is part of the adventure, and the reward is one of Chile’s most astonishing spots. For more adventures – and Chile is one of the great adventure capitals of the world – head to Parque Pumalin, one of Chile’s finest private parks, which protects 715,00acres of unspoilt Patagonian landscape near Hornopiren. Parque Pumalin boasts excellent kayaking opportunities, through misty fjords, past spectacular waterfalls and sea lion colonies, natural hot springs and gorgeous snow-capped scenery. Chile’s best known national park, Torres del Paine National Park, features some of the most breath-taking peaks, glaciers, rivers and lakes of the Andes, but if you’re not strapped for time and want to see somewhere less visited, head to Coyhaique, an alternative launch pad for adventures from fly-fishing, trekking the ice cap or rambling the Carretera Austral. Whilst most oenophiles head to Chile’s better known wine regions – the Maipo, Colcagua and Casablanca Valleys – veer off the well-trodden wine trail, and head to the up-and-coming Maule Valley, 224 miles from Santiago. Here, you’ll meet a group of maverick winemakers, bucking traditions and producing exquisite wine, and you’ll enjoy a memorable and unique wine-tasting experience. No lines, no tasting rooms, no wine clubs – the independent boutique winemakers are involved in every step, from hand-harvesting the grapes through to pouring the wines for you. For a fascinating insight into the indigenous Mapuche culture, head to the tiny town of Curarrehue, just 25miles from the Argentine border near Pucon. With 80% of its population indigenous Mapuche, Curarrehue is home to one of the highest Mapuche populations in south-central Chile, and makes for fantastic immersive experiences.
Once considered untouchable and unsafe due to internal violence, with recent improvements to security, Colombia has slowly started to reassert itself on the tourist map, entering many bucket lists yet again. This balmy, mountainous land, famous for its coffee, and with coastlines on both the Caribbean and Pacific has a lot to offer the intrepid and discerning traveller, with all the diversity and allure typical of South America. Its colonial past appears frozen in time, with colourful, picture-perfect towns seemingly unchanged from the days of the conquistadors and the Spanish settlements, still largely untouched by modern progress, and as the home to some 1,800 species of bird (76 of which are endemic), it’s arguably the world’s best country for birdwatchers.
Go to: the wonderfully preserved Cartagena, and the charmingly colonial villages of Barichara, Mompox and Villa de Leyva, while thrill seekers should head to the adventure capital of San Gil. Providencia boasts a world-class reef ideal for divers, and the Pacific coast (no longer off-limits) is popular with whale-watchers between the months of July and November. Caffeine addicts will love the ‘coffee axis’ formed by the towns of Armenia, Manizales and Pereira, whilst bird watchers will delight in Nature Reserves such as Cerro Montezuma and Tayrona National Nature Park.
Africa’s hidden gem, Ethiopia, is coming into its own as a rising star destination; in 2015, it was proclaimed the World’s Best Tourist Destination by the European Council on Tourism and Trade and lauded for its ‘excellent preservation of humanity landmarks.’ And what incredible landmarks it has to offer! From the ancient royal capital, Axum, of the earliest Ethiopian Kingdom, strewn with multi-storeyed carved granite obelisks and ancient remains, and the 12th century rock-hew churches of Lalibela and ancient monasteries, to the many ruined castles of Gondor, including the majestic Fasil Ghebbi, once home to the country’s emperors in the 17th and 18th centuries, Ethiopia’s rich history is proudly showcased. Its capital, Addis Ababa, boasts cultural attractions including the National Museum, and the Menelik and Jubilee Palaces. However, its remarkable landmarks are not all manmade, and the country has some truly dramatic landscapes to offer, too: the Semien Mountains are one of Africa’s major mountain ranges, and are home to a variety of species including Walia ibex, Semien fox and Gelada baboons, whilst more than half of the world’s rare and endangered Ethiopian wolves call the Bale Mountains home. Perhaps most extraordinary is the Dallol Depression and Ertale Active Volcano, one of the remotest spots on earth and a unique land formation within the Great Rift Valley system, it’s at the same time both an enchanting yet unforgivingly hostile environment. However perhaps Ethiopia’s greatest treasure may be its incredibly captivating people; heading to the lowlands of the southwest, you’ll come across more memorable adventures and experiences, and some of Africa’s most fascinating tribes.
Lying over 600 miles from Ecuador’s coast in the Pacific Island, the volcanic archipelago is home to some of the world’s most unique and astounding wildlife, sheltered by its isolated terrain. Famously visited by Charles Darwin in 1835, and named after the massive Galapagos tortoise, the Galapagos Islands are one of the world’s foremost destinations for wildlife-viewing. However, with strict limits and restrictions on visitor numbers making landings, travellers can enjoy fascinating encounters with wildlife without the crowds, and these islands remain unspoiled.
Greenland not only boasts magnificent scenery but, with virtually no roads and the world’s sparsest population, it’s got vast expanses of untamed wilderness, and those with a sense of adventure can freely wander on foot, by ski or by dogsled – or splurge on helicopters and boat rides to gain breath-taking insights into the majesty of the natural splendour Greenland has to offer, ranging from mountainscapes and glaciers to stunning fjords. Although its population may be sparse, you will find charming pockets of brightly coloured villages comprised of picture-perfect wooden cottages, and emerald-lawned sheep farms in the south.
Despite its charming craftsmen communities, relaxed cities, great swathes of verdant forests, diverse wildlife, including the famous lemurs and many species found nowhere else, and sun-kissed beaches, Madagascar remains something of an undiscovered secret. Off the southeast coast of Africa, Madagascar sits in the gloriously sapphire waters of the Indian Ocean, boasting pristine reefs just perfect for diving and snorkelling.
Go to: the ancient hillside complex of Ambohimanga, where you’ll find the ruins of royal palaces and a burial ground, and the Avenue of the Baobabs for a memorable drive down a road lined with ginormous centuries-old trees. There are a wide variety of national parks to admire Madagascar’s rich wildlife; Isalo National Park boasts a wide range of terrains from sandstone formations and deep canyons to palm-strewn oases and grasslands, while Amber Mountain National Park is famous for its waterfalls and crater lakes, and Nosy Mangabe is a small island reserve accessible only by boat. Between the months of June and October, head to Cape Sainte Marie to spot humpback whales.
Sealed off for much of the twentieth century from the rest of the world, Mongolia became a byword for isolation, but the twenty-first century promises a turnaround, as Mongolia opens up, and visas are relatively easy to acquire. Renowned for its nomadic culture and great outdoors, head to Mongolia for an intrepid al fresco adventure, sleeping in a herder’s ger, a traditional felt yurt, and maybe even help round up the sheep! Locals are incredibly hospitable, welcoming in travellers, making for a refreshing and immersive experience. However, Mongolia isn’t just vast steppes, rugged mountains and glassy-smooth lakes; the capital of Ulaanbaatar (admittedly not the most attractive city) is developing at dizzying paces. Perhaps the best time to visit is July, to witness Mongolia’s unique Naadam Festival, a traditional display of competitive games measuring skill and strength, pre-dating the legendary ruler Genghis Khan.
Found in Africa’s southwest, Namibia is a fascinating and remarkable country of unique landscapes – from the undulating dunes of the Namib Desert to the bizarre lunar-like landscapes of the Moon Valley, and the Skeleton Coast, a barren, evocative area dotted with skeletal shipwrecks, which indigenous Namibian tribesmen called ‘The Land that God Made in Anger’. Not far from the Skeleton Coast, Damaraland is a vast, untamed wilderness, best known for the ancient rock art at Twyfelfontein. Namibia also boasts diverse wildlife, from the flamingos, seals and whales of Walvis Bay to the abundance of species including lions, leopards and giraffes and endangered black rhinos residing in Etosha National Park, which boasts a salt pan so large it can be seen from space. And yet, despite all this, Namibia remains one of Africa’s hidden treasures!
Go to: Swakopmund, a coastal, colonial city on the edge of the Namib Desert; its location makes it ideal for adventure sports, whether surfing or dune climbing, or the small, cosmopolitan city of Windhoek, which boasts a thriving food culture and distinctive German architecture. However if you’re into remote trekking, head to Fish River Canyon.
This Himalayan country has long been the ultimate destination for mountain climbers, with eight of the world’s ten tallest mountains located in the north of the country, including the iconic Mount Everest, the highest point on earth. It’s a country of adrenaline rushes: river rafting, bungee jumping, canyoning, climbing, kayaking, paragliding and mountain biking all offer fantastic thrills against some of the most dramatic backdrops to be found on earth. But that’s not all Nepal has to offer: stroll through the medieval city squares of the country’s capital, Kathmandu, and the ciites of Patan and Bhaktapur, and join Tibetan Buddhist pilgrims at stupas and monasteries; an unrivalled collection of sublime temple art, palaces and hidden backstreet shrines can be admired in the Kathmandu Valley. Wildlife including tigers, red pandas, rhinoceros, yaks and snow leopards can be found in the country’s national parks and nature reserves, making for excellent nature adventures.
Previously considered unsafe, following the Nicaraguan Revolution in the 1980s, Nicaragua has bounced back, with the lowest crime rate in Latin America. Yet, it’s still the least visited country in the region, so has retained its authentic, off-the-beaten track feel, despite a recent expansion in tourism. Nicaragua has much of the volcanic landscapes, colonial architecture, untamed forests, and sunkissed beaches (on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts) typical of Latin America, but without the signs and the crowds, making it a refreshing alternative to some of its busier neighbours. Nicaragua’s best-preserved colonial town, Granada, is renowned for its elegance and meticulously restored cathedral, immaculate plaza and graceful mansions and beautiful internal courtyards, whilst León is far less polished, but equally charming with crumbling 300-year-old colonial houses, intersperse with revolutionary murals, and brimming with a vibrant energy. It’s great for a dose of adventure, too, whether diving through underwater caves, canoeing through wetlands and looking out for alligators, trekking through jungle, or surfing the big barrels of Rivas, and bird watchers are treated to some 700 species of birds!
Go to: León and Granada for excellent examples of colonial architecture and charm; Lake Nicaragua, Central America’s largest lake, home to sawfish, tarpon and sharks (despite being a freshwater lake); Ometepe, the largest island in Lake Nicaragua, formed of two volcanoes, home to the large populations of white-faced Capuchin monkeys, as well as mantled howler monkeys and spider monkeys; and nature reserves can be found at many places, including Jinotega, Estelí, and Mombacho Volcano National Preserve, whilst excellent beaches (particularly for surfing or snorkelling) can be found at Rivas and the Corn Islands.
Another example of a country emerging from a tumultuous past, Rwanda is unfortunately usually remembered for the devastating Rwandan Genocide in 1994, one of the worst mass genocides in history. However, it’s also known for its mountain gorillas (and the film ‘Gorillas in the Mist’), and as one of only two countries in which these magnificent creatures can be visited safely, mountain gorillas are a major reason to visit Rwanda. One of Africa’s smallest countries, the so-called ‘Land of a Thousand Hills’ is blessed with a relatively cool climate thanks to its high altitude, rolling hills, grassy uplands and mountains, and boasts an abundance of wildlife, lakeshore beaches around Lake Kivu, and glorious natural beauty, including the astounding biodiversity of Nyungwe rainforest, and the savannah and plains wildlife in Akagera National Park.
It’s a miracle and something of a mystery that Slovenia remains one of Europe’s best-kept secrets, considering its excellent location, sharing borders with Austria, Hungary, Croatia and Italy. From the bustling capital of Ljubljana, sweeping alpine scenery, medieval castles, and a flourishing culinary scene, not to mention excellent wine regions, Slovenia promises a little something for practically everyone!
Go to: Go to: the lakeside town of Bled in the foothills of the Julian Alps, overlooked by the 11th century Bled Castle, the compact Adriatic city of Piran (pictured) for charmingly medieval cobblestoned streets and buildings, and the charismatic capital, Ljubljana, renowned for its green spaces museums, and the thriving café culture. For an adrenaline rush, head to Bovec, where you can get your thrills canyoning, rafting, skiing, zip-lining and camping.
This Central Asian country boasts some of the region’s most impressive, showstopping sights, and is blessed with some of the most favourable climates and natural conditions. A cradle of culture for over two millennia, many of Uzbekistan’s main cities were crucial trade points for the Silk Road, linking East and West. Cities such as Samarkand, Bukhara, both cities which prospered from the Silk Road, and Khiva, Uzbekistan’s first city to be listed as an UNESCO World Heritage Site, are popular hot spots thanks to their rich histories and culture, impressing visitors with their stunning mosques, medressas and mausoleums. However, Uzbekistan boasts a far wider-ranging appeal, with attractions ranging from the shrinking Aral Lake (once one of the four largest lakes in the world), possibilities to go fishing, camel-back riding, and stay in a yurt to be found in the Aydar Lake region, to the remote fortresses of Karakalpakstan and the boom town capital of Tashkent. There’s even some great ecotourism opportunities to be found in the Nuratau Mountains, and Uzbekistan’s mountains are great for mountaineering and rock climbing, with the highlands Chimgan range the most accessible from Tashkent, where other activities including hiking, horse riding, hang-gliding and mountain skiing are popular. Meanwhile, the deserts of Kyzyl Kum are home many rare animals. However, wherever you go in Uzbekistan, and whatever you experience, you will be greeted warmly by a people renowned for their friendliness, for whom a tradition of hospitality is a strong part of their cultural and national identity.
For a different perspective on the mighty Victoria Falls, cross over to the Zambian side, where in the Mosi-O-Tunya National Park, you can spot antelope, zebras, giraffes - even elephants - roaming freely in the park, as well as being dazzled by the majesty and power of these spectacular Falls, one of the world’s greatest natural phenomena. Through this small, landlocked southern African country three of Africa’s greatest rivers flow: the Zambezi, the Kafue and the Luangwa, defining the country’s geography and setting the rhythms of life for its people. The Zambezi, which feeds the cascading thunders of Victoria Falls, is popular for exhilarating adventures, from canoeing to rafting through raging rapids, and also makes for excellent river safaris, snaking through the Lower Zambezi National Park, creating lagoons attracting elephants, hippos and buffalos. The Lower Zambezi National Park also encompasses floodplains, grasslands and fertile forests, and is home to an abundance of diverse wildlife, including large packs of wild dogs. In fact, Zambia not only boasts Africa’s second largest national park - Kafue National Park, through which the Kafue River flows - Zambia is famous for its walking safaris, and is also one of the most unspoilt wildlife havens in Africa, which are even more satisfying with a lack of crowds.
If you are interested in visiting any of these destinations, our dedicated travel specialists can arrange your ideal travel adventure for you!
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