If you’ve spent much of your lifetime traveling and think you’ve seen it all, odds are, there are still quite a few destinations you haven’t experienced. From strolling the narrowest street in Europe to discovering Stone Age tools on a remote island, there’s something new to experience all around the globe. Whether you plan to sample the local cuisine, enjoy unspoiled natural beauty, or walk historic cobblestone streets, you’ll find even more hidden gems in these 15 rarely talked about spots.
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Bigge Island, Western Australia
Bigge Island, one of the largest sandstone islands, is home to some of Australia’s most impressive Aboriginal rock art, with examples from both the Wandjina and Gwion. These incredibly preserved images are believed to be more than 50,000 years old, making them possibly the oldest art on earth. The island is also home to an idyllic tropical beach, but as it’s often dotted with crocodile tracks, swimming here is probably not the best idea. As the island is separated from the mainland by Scott Strait, there are no predator feral animals, which makes it an ideal habitat for creatures like monjon rock wallabies and northern quolls. Unfortunately, you won’t find accommodation here – the only way to access the island is by cruise ship.
Peninsula Valdes, Argentina
The Galapagos Islands and the Amazon aren’t the only destinations for close up encounters with wildlife. The Peninsula Valdes also has exciting opportunities for spending time with fascinating marine creatures, including elephant seals. The beaches here are home to more elephant seals than any other continental destination on earth. From June to December, southern right whales pass the shores of the Patagonian peninsula and thousands of Magellanic penguins inhabit the coastline, sometimes burrowing just a few feet from parking lots and roads.
Hoi An, Vietnam
As with most places in Vietnam, the street food in Hoi An is mouthwateringly delicious and very affordable. But Hoi An in particular, is widely regarded as the country’s culinary capital, with signature dishes that are seldom seen outside of the region, owing their complexity to hundreds of years of trade in and out of what was once one of the most important ports in southeast Asia. Local dishes include white rose dumplings and cao lau, thick rice noodles that rest in a light broth served with pork, mint, basil, peanuts, lettuce, sprouts and croutons. Just a few miles from the Old Town, an enchanting streetscape of old Vietnamese, Japanese and Chinese houses transformed into galleries, antique stores, restaurants and bars, is the main tourist beach, with an array of resorts that offer activities like wind surfing, kayaking and jet skiing.
Wupperthal, South Africa
Wupperethal, a tiny but picturesque village near the Cederberg Mountain Range northeast of Cape Town, is a place where you’ll see farmers lugging their produce to market on donkey carts as well as white buildings with beautiful gardens that look as if they were taken from a scene in the English countryside. Its rural location has prevented it from becoming too touristy like many of the other towns in the Western Cape. This region is also known as one of the best rooibos tea growing areas in the country, and you’ll find it at a shop in the village selling various rooibos products and teas. The Cederberg Wilderness Area makes a great day trip, filled with dramatic natural beauty, from towering mountains with clear rock pools to valley citrus orchards, twisted rock formations and the wind-sculpted Stadsaal caves. Several of the cottages offer accommodations in town, or if you’re up for it, you can pitch a tent at the Algeria Campground along the Rondegat River.
When you think about romantic destinations, most likely, places like Paris or Venice come to mind, but the Rajasthan oasis of Udaipur might surprise you. This lakeside treasure of opulent palaces, majestic forts and cobblestone streets exudes romance. You’ll find peace and tranquility unlike most places in India, offering visitors an especially tantalizing taste of the region’s glorious past. As you approach the city, Udaipur is like a mirage on the edge of the Thar Desert. The streets of the richest kingdom of Rajasthan overflow with jewelers, craftsmen and artisans with the old city walls, while men wear their mustaches long enough to twirl, women wear blindingly bright saris and musicians passionately sing gypsy ballads.
While it’s not for those who are afraid of heights, Tusheti is a paradise for hikers and other travelers, nestled deep in the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia, with villages clinging to precariously steep slopes. The breathtaking landscape is dotted with stone shrines, mountaintop castles and centuries-old defensive towers – and, recently open to visitors after the dissolution of the USSR and the Rose Revolution, it can be explored on foot, or by saddle. You’ll see countless sheep grazing everywhere, alongside the glacial lakes, near jagged peaks and the rolling grasslands. After dark, enjoy drinking out of a ram’s horn and reveling with locals, who are not only some of the friendliest people on earth, but they definitely know how to have a good time.
Wulong Karst National Geological Park and Three Natural Bridges, Chongqing, China
Many travelers pass over Chongqing for Chengdu as a hot foodie destination and the home of the panda, but Chongqing is certainly worth a visit with its extraordinary yet lesser-known attractions. It’s the launching point for scenic boat trips down the Yangtze River as well as being home to Wulong Karst National Geological Park, with its karsts forming a range of stone bridges and deep mountain valleys, including the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Three Natural Bridges. To reach the bottom of the first stone bridge, you’ll take a glass-fronted elevator and then walk the rest of the way into the valley. A traditional pagoda-topped Chinese structure that was the set of the film “Curse of the Golden Flower,” can be found at the bottom. As the building complemented the dramatic setting so well, it was left in place.
Most visitors to Medllin who are looking for a taste of a more traditional, authentic Colombia, settle for visiting “Pueblito Paisa,” a replica of an Antioquian country village, but locals know where to find genuine “paisa” towns: the Vuelta al Oriente, a looping day-long drive. This eastern circuit winds through the mountain countryside and is dotted with one tranquil plaza after another. It starts in Medellin at the Via Las Palmas, and heads southeast into towns like El Retiro, La Ceja, Carmen de Viboral, Marinilla and La Union, before returning to Medellin. Look for caballeros on horseback as well as wonderful shops with ponchos, birdhouses and woven baskets. In El Retiro, relax in the peaceful main square, overlooked by picturesque white-washed Nuestra Senora del Rosario church, and admire the color and facades of the colonial architecture.
Picos De Europa, Spain
The “Peaks of Europe” are found deep in the shadow of the European Alps and the Pyrenees. A hiker’s paradise, the mountains at the heart of Spain’s first national park are surprisingly often overlooked. They form one of Spain’s most breathtaking landscapes, with the range split by the Garganta del Cares, where limestone cliffs soar up to nearly 5,000 feet above the stream. A number of caves can be found here, which local cheesemakers use to naturally mature the Roquefort-style cheese. Hikes in the Picos are incredible diverse, with treks to suit all levels, including everything from a casual stroll to three-day hikes. The trails around 7.5-mile Cares Gorge are some of the most popular, and spectacular, providing the chance to explore river valleys and climb into the mountains.
Brasov’s central location in Transylvania makes it popular as a base for skiing, hiking and exploring the surrounding mountains and countryside, but it’s also a great destination on its own, boasting everything from old world charms to dynamic modern city life and gorgeous scenery. Get lost in a maze of cobbled streets, baroque and gothic architecture, visit the town museum or take the walking tour. You can even stroll the narrowest street in Europe: Strada Sforii, or Rope Street, a 4-foot wide street. When it comes to food, you’ll find an array of fabulous offerings, including local Romanian fare as well as international delights.
Iles de la Madeleine, Senegal
This is a land that time forgot. Iles de la Madeleine is an uninhabited archipelago 2.5 miles west of the coast of Dakar in Senegal. The black volcanic peaks are home to nesting cormorants and rare, red-billed tropic birds that sing from the unique dwarf baobab trees, which can’t be found anywhere else on earth. This nature lover’s paradise also boasts northern gannets, terns, skuas and black kites. The largest of the islands, Sarpan, is known for its Stone Age tool finds. Though most boat trips off Dakar are constructed for game fishing, guides can be hired to take visitors to explore this ornithological sanctuary turned into a national park.
Koh Laoliang, Thailand
Koh Laoliang is a small island park surrounded by a marine reserve, with a pristine beach and no bungalows. A place of true unspoiled natural beauty, Laoliang Resort is the only place to stay here. Open for just half the year, it was built without cutting trees down and sans concrete. Accommodations are large tents with mattresses, sheets and blankets. While it’s luxurious for camping, it is still camping. Electricity is available at night via a generator, while a fan helps to cool against the tropical heat. You’ll find a basin of freshwater to rinse the sand off your feet as well as showers and toilets in an open-air, bamboo-walled bathroom. Enjoy amazing snorkeling right in front of your camp as well as kayaks that can be taken out for a tour around the island.
Pitcairn Island, South Pacific
There are few people who can say they’ve actually spent time on Pitcairn Island, a tiny island in the South Pacific that was settled by mutineers from HMS Bounty. The less than 50 inhabitants here today are descended from the band of British mutineers and their Tahitian lovers. The locals are struggling to find new settlers – so much so that land is free and plentiful. Unfortunately, it’s not easy to get here as the closest airport is over 300 miles away on Manareva Island, and from there you’ll have to take a three-day ocean voyage. There is just one general store, though the island does have electricity and Internet. Accommodation is provided through local residents, sharing their homes, culture, language and lifestyle.
Saba, Dutch Caribbean
Known as the “Unspoiled Queen of the Caribbean,” there are no mass resorts, or even beaches, on this 5-square-mile island. Saba is likely to remind you of what the Caribbean used to be – lots of genuine locals and virtually no tourist traps. There are no franchises. Just idyllic gingerbread houses and well-kept gardens, along with small eclectic bars and eateries that are perfect to pop into after a day of diving or hiking a mountain rainforest trail. Though it’s just a 12-minute flight south from St. Maarten, it feels as if you’re worlds away.
Cafayate offers a small town feel despite being Argentina’s second wine center after Mendoza, world renowned for its aromatic dry white wine, but also producing some fine reds, including cabernet sauvignon and Malbec. The city is incredibly scenic too, with pre-Andean peaks, romantic street-side cafes and hilltop estancias, though the main reason to visit is the wineries. Rent a bike to get out and enjoy the free wine tours, and free tastings. A goat cheese factory is also open to the public for tours and tasting, pairing perfectly with a glass of fine vino.