It's easy to get caught in the typical tourist routes while traveling, and although I love cities like Paris and Rome, I have also found it valuable to connect with fellow travelers and get ideas for new places that might have otherwise not caught my eye. Today's post is a collaboration that I've done with several other travel bloggers, who have shared with me some of their favorite "Off-the-Beaten-Path" destinations. With their help, I have put together a list of 13 unique places to visit in 2017. How many of these places have you been to?
Kingdom of Lesotho
Welcome to Lesotho, Africa's 'Mountain Kingdom!' Lesotho (pronounced luh-sue-too) is a beautiful, mountainous hidden gem in Southern Africa. Home to endless mountain ranges, raging rivers, some of the world's friendliest people, a ton of sheep, and one of the largest dirt bike championships in the world, Lesotho is an 'off-the-beaten-path' traveler's dream.
Lesotho is a unique African country: it's completely surrounded by another country (South Africa), much of the country is at such a high altitude that it snows there in the winter (they even have an amazing ski resort!), it's one of only a couple remaining African monarchies, their traditional dress is a blanket, and they have one of the highest literacy rates in all of Africa. This tiny little country has even stolen the heart of Prince Harry of England, who runs an aid organization to support the people of Lesotho.
When traveling to Lesotho, don't miss "the pub in the clouds," Africa's highest pub, which is located on the mountainous border of South Africa and Lesotho. You also should rent a 4x4 and explore the mountain roads by car, then eventually by foot. There is endless hiking, waterfalls to be explored, and picturesque views everywhere you look. I'd also recommend visiting some of the villages, such as the village of Ramabanta, where the locals are so friendly that they'll invite you in for a meal or a sip of their home-brewed beer. There isn't much more of an authentic experience than this.
**side note: We're actually going to take a group of travelers to Lesotho and South Africa in 2018, so if you're interested, let me know and I'll get you some info!!
At the top of my bucket list last year was Cuba and I crossed it off in April. Traveling to Cuba as an American is becoming easier, and I took advantage of a cheap flight from Mexico. I spent 10 days in Cuba but could have easily spent a month. Most people spend their time in Havana or Varadero. Havana is amazing and you should spend at least 2 nights there, but Varadero is a popular resort beach town. Yes, it has a gorgeous white sand beach but it doesn’t scream CUBA. My favorite place was Trinidad Cuba just 3 hours from Havana. There are daily buses from Havana, or you can rent a car, as it’s an easy drive. During the day I loved wandering down the cobblestone streets and stumbling upon little local restaurants & shops. If you’re looking for the iconic Cuba photos with old cars, cobblestone streets, and colorful homes, Trinidad is the place. When the sun sets, head to Casa de Musica in the Central Plaza for some music and mojitos. And yes, the mojitos are AMAZING.
Similan Islands, Thailand
One of the most memorable places I have visited to date are the Similan Islands, in Thailand. I went on a 4D4N scuba diving trip in this Marine National Park, accessing the different islands and sites from a liveaboard boat. Throughout the journey, we enjoyed stunning scenery with blue skies, bright sunshine, and glimmering turquoise waters. These contrasted beautifully with the dark rocks and vibrant greenery of the islands. The waters were incredibly clear, with visibility extending up to 25m. Snorkeling and scuba diving are both popular activities, and I was blessed to witness the abundance of corals, fish and other marine life in the Andaman sea. During certain seasons, lucky visitors might even get to see whale sharks and manta rays! The scenery is as picturesque as it is above the surface, with large boulders and reefs giving some structure to the underwater landscape. With warm temperatures all year round and the diving season running over the winter months, I highly recommend visiting this destination to escape from the cold!
Simien Mountains, Ethiopia
Ethiopia has something for everyone. It’s a diverse country with so much culture, history, food and wildlife. One of my favourite cities in Ethiopia is Gondar in the north, near the Simien Mountains. It is often called the Camelot of Africa for what it used to be – the home of the Emperor and the Royal Enclosure and Castles. I had some of the best Ethiopian food in Gondar. I would start my mornings with a proper Ethiopian Coffee and then move onto a healthy breakfast smoothie of mango and avocado with a splash of lime. Ethiopia also has fasting days, which are fasting from meat - so the vegetarian options are amazing. Most meals start with injera which is an Ethiopian flatbread made of Tef, which you will find has a slightly sour taste and usually includes several types of lentils, stews and curries all on one plate!
Not far from Gondar I went trekking in northern Ethiopia in search of the Gelada Baboon which is only found in the Simien Mountains. Its not really a baboon, but a monkey, and it is also known as the bleeding heart monkey. There are several treks in the Simien Mountains offering amazing scenery and plenty of wildlife such as the ibex, caracal, and Ethiopian wolves. The Simien Mountains are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and are well worth a visit as there is nowhere similar on earth.
Phu Yen, Vietnam
If you’re looking for a gorgeous non-touristy destination in Vietnam, Phu Yen should definitely top your travel bucket list. Located in central Vietnam, this beautiful province features pristine beaches, breathtaking landscapes, a great variety of fresh and cheap seafood and a real sense of peace and tranquility. My most favorite attraction in Phu Yen is Mui Dien Cape, which is also the easternmost point of Vietnam’s territory. There is a lighthouse here where you can have a stunning 360-degree view of the blue ocean below. In addition, Mui Dien Cape also attracts travelers with a nearby deserted beach called Bai Mon. You need to walk through huge sand dunes shining under the sunlight and a small clear channel with lots of fish in order to access this beach. How cool is that? Like a hidden gem on the travel map of Vietnam, Phu Yen offers a true haven from all the hustles and bustles of other popular destinations in Vietnam.
Content from Fiona - Fiona Travels From Asia
Cape Verde is an archipelago West African nation of 10 islands located in the Atlantic. It was discovered by the Portuguese in the 15th century, and the languages spoken are Portuguese and Creole. The capital is Praia, located in the island of Santiago. Each Island in this country has its own characteristics and unique landscape: some are great for hiking or enjoying the beach, others are more mountainous, arid, volcanic and even tropical. However, when I visited, I stayed in Sal Island, a place known for its beautiful beaches, resorts and water sports, as well as an arid landscape. Apart from relaxing by the beach with turquoise water, I also couldn’t miss exploring every part of it. Some of the “sightseeing” spots are Fontana (a private beach), Palmeira (rock fishing spot), Buracona (or blue eye, which is a huge cave where you can see clear deep blue water at the bottom), Monte Grande (for a great view of this arid Island), Pedra Lume and the Salt Mine (if you are looking for a great experience floating on a salt lake located between a volcano crater) and the capital Espargos. Hope you have the chance to visit this beautiful country!
Bourtange, The Netherlands
The fortress village of Bourtange in the east of the Netherlands is far from the usual tourist sights in Amsterdam, so it’s not surprising that it is relatively unknown. Nevertheless, it’s a stunningly restored example of a star-shaped fortress, originally intended to defend the border with Germany. Not only is the fortress intact as it was in 1742, but the village (population 50) inside the earthen walls is authentic and charming. Wander the cobbled streets, but also take a walk around the whole village on the wall-top path, which allows you to get a sense of what a complicated series of structures the fortifications were. Several small museums are worth a visit to learn about life in this border post.
During my three-week stay in Serbia, I got to explore the country’s stunning mountainous region with my Serbian friends. We drove along hairpinned roads through the Dinaric Alps, which are home to many species of wildlife, including wolves and bears. We also hiked through an old railway in Uzice, where I got to see the second oldest hydroelectric plant in Europe.
The highlight of my trip was visiting Drvengrad; a hilltop ethnic village built by Serbian film director Emir Kusturica. Characterised by log cabins and cobbled lanes, Drvengrad serves as a cultural hub for aspiring filmmakers. The village also has a library, an underground cinema named after Stanley Kubrick, and a cake shop serving delicious, homemade sweets.
Despite boasting an impressive landscape and a rich, ethnic culture, Serbia remains one of the least visited countries in Europe. Make sure you get to visit this amazing country before it becomes a popular tourist destination!
Sorsogon is located in the Bicol region of the Philippines. Unlike its sister provinces though, this place isn’t very well known. Sorsogon has tropical islands and beaches, adventure-packed attractions and the relaxing ambiance of a typical rural province.
In Matnog, you can island hop to see Juag Lagoon Marine Sanctuary, the Matnog lighthouse which stands in an isolate island, and Calintaan Cave where you can find a hidden beach inside and beaches with pinkish sands. I loved every moment of island hopping here, even the boat ride where we passed by islands and communities that, although not part of our stops, offer views that can only be described as simple and beautiful.
For the more adventurous spirits, Gubat in Sorsogon has waves for surfing. Bulusan Lake, with a view of the active Mount Bulusan, is a place for kayaking. Lastly, Donsol offers that once-in-a-lifetime activity – swimming with and diving to see whale sharks.
We’d been to Sorsogon twice already, the last for a short stay in summer. Even then, we were accompanied by few vacationers only. Sorsogon is one of those off-radar destinations that really do deserve to be visited more.
I visited Lake Malawi often when I lived in Malawi long ago, and it is still one of my favorite places on earth. Surrounded by three countries – Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique – Lake Malawi is the southernmost lake in the Great Rift Valley. It is long, narrow and deep, home to species of cichlids that exist nowhere else.
Beautiful white sand beaches line the lake, with a range of campgrounds, lodges, inns and hotels to suit any budget. The waves are gentle, and the water is safe for swimming. You can enjoy a variety of water sports like sailing or kite sailing, but in particular, don’t miss doing some snorkeling or diving to view the colorful cichlids.
There’s nothing better than enjoying a simple meal of fresh fish, sitting outside, overlooking the lake as the sun goes down. Malawi is quiet in a way I’ve seldom experienced elsewhere, especially in the evening. You might hear the murmur of other visitors talking, and perhaps a rooster crowing out of time in the distance. Mostly, though, you’ll hear the gentle splash of the waves on the beach. Heaven.
Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada
I’m Canadian, and I didn’t know about Cape Breton until I was looking to tie in a mini-vacation before my cousin’s wedding on Canada’s East Coast. Located four hours north of Halifax, the Nova Scotia island is the perfect place to relax and enjoy the stunning scenery. The dark green trees cover every inch of red rock; the fog billows down the mountainsides; roads twist around jagged cliffs; the deep blue ocean softly comes upon the red shore. At every turn in the Cabot Trail, I was in total awe of how beautiful Cape Breton is. Some popular (and worthwhile) activities on the island include whale watching, hiking the Skyline Trail and going to a ceilidhs at the Celtic Music Interpretive Centre. It’s advisable to go during peak season, because restaurants and shops are generally closed from October to May, as there are only 100,000 permanent residents on the island.
I had never heard of Parga, Greece until a tour from Turkey to Croatia took me there. I instantly fell in love.
Parga is an adorable coastal town that has everything you could want in a vacation spot: Beaches (including a secret one as pictured!), a castle, cooking classes, coffee houses, adventurous activities, and a great nightlife. The town is quite quiet during the day to allow for relaxing on the many beaches or wandering through the small shops. There’s even a place to get a fish manicure which was one of the highlights of my trip!
As the sun starts to set, a new part of the city starts to wake up. Along the beach are many restaurants. They all had outdoor patios which allowed you to dine with the wonderful breeze while people watching. Each one also had an indoor area if that’s more your style. What was really great is that each restaurant had a totally different vibe, so everyone could find a place that suits them. Parga was equal parts chill and excitement, and I can’t wait to go back.
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Chi Phat, Cambodia
Have you heard of Chi Phat? Probably not! Searching for adventure, we headed to this little village in the Cardamom Mountains where they are doing BIG things in eco tourism.
First stop was the Wildlife Release Station. A little oasis on the edge of the rainforest where animals have been rescued from illegal smugglers are rehabilitated and prepared for release back into the wild. We joined the local rangers on their rounds on monkeys, hornbills, pangolins and sun bears, sneaking peaks around hides so we didn’t disturb feeding animals.
After just one night enjoying clear, starry skies, it was on to the big smoke of Chi Phat village. We spent our time exploring and relaxing but there are plenty of options for those wanting more adventure. Bird watching, sunset cruises, kayaking and mountain biking are all on offer. Local villagers used to make their money in logging and wildlife trafficking, but now are able to earn an honest and sustainable income leading tourism activities and running guesthouses.
How many of these 13 places have you visited? Do you have any recommendations for other great Off-the-Beaten Path destinations that we've missed in this list? Share in the comments below.
I believe in God's grace through Jesus. I love to learn, in a variety of contexts - reading God's Word, interacting with people from diverse backgrounds around the world, and as a student of Linguistics and Foreign Languages at Western Washington University. Pages of My Passport is dedicated to sharing this journey of learning through written and visual content.