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While some of us are content traveling the well-worn tourist path, others prefer mostly undiscovered destinations. While those seem to be fewer and fewer these days, there are still some fantastic hidden secret spots waiting to be found.
If you’re looking for tranquility and relaxation, but you don’t want to spend your days twiddling your thumbs, choose Roatan. One of Central America’s more overlooked tropical destinations, this island is rarely found on a beach enthusiast’s travel bucket list, but that’s only because most have never heard about it. A mecca for snorkelers and divers, it’s home to the Caribbean’s largest barrier reef as well as an abundance of tropical resorts and idyllic beaches that sit at the edge of warm cerulean waters filled with thousands of marine creatures, canyons, and the most extensive variety of coral and sponges in the region. Even if you don’t want to spend all of your days in or on the water (kayaking and sailing are popular too) you’ll find practically an endless number of other things to do, like playing golf surrounded by some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet, heart-pounding zip line rides through the jungle, beautiful parks packed with waterfalls, exotic birds and even monkeys.
Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina
One of the best places to visit in the Balkans, Mostar is a little historic village in Bosnia & Herzegovina that is a photographer and a nature lover’s dream. Spanning a deep valley of the Neretva River, visitors can watch daring locals jump off Stari Most Bridge, gaze up at beautiful old Turkish houses and enjoy a refreshing swim in the nearby Kravice waterfalls. Developed in the 15th and 16th centuries as an Ottoman frontier town, and during the Austro-Hungarian period in the 19th and 20th centuries, its famous Stari Most bridge, from which young men on the cusp of manhood would traditionally dive, was completely destroyed in the 1990s conflict, but today it’s been returned to its former glory. The beauty of this city lies in its turquoise river, refined minarets and shiny white stone, but with reminders of its brutal past visible in the bullet hole-laden walls and bombed out buildings nestled among the shops and cafés.
You’ve probably heard of Oslo, but Bergen is a fantastic lesser-visited, must-see city in Norway that’s surrounded by nature, and offers picturesque water views as one of the prettiest destinations in the country. As it’s been getting an increasing amount of attention lately, you may one to visit sooner rather than later to enjoy it relatively tourist-free. In this highly walkable city, you can stroll from Bergen Aquarium on one side, to Floibanen Funicular on the other in just 20 minutes, though you may want to add a little extra time to admire the street art. By taking the Floibanen Funicular to the top of Mount Floyen, you’ll discover the enchanting Troll Forest that’s home to the powerful woodland beings known as trolls that are popular in Scandinavian folklore. Taking a boat excursion to enjoy the beauty and grandeur of the fjord system is another must-experience in Bergen.
Ostuni, Puglia, Italy
One of the most charming small towns in Italy, Ostuni is a hilltop town that sits just five miles from the turquoise waters of the Adriatic Sea. The medieval walled city was built without a plan, and by stepping into its confusing webs of streets and maze of alleyways, staircases and arches, it’s easy to tell, but it also makes for a fun adventure. Stroll past the stark white structures that dazzle in the southern sun, brightened by vibrant blue and green wooden doors as well as the occasional geranium pot and cacti. Turn one way and reach a dead end, another and you might just discover a glimpse of the sapphire sea. At the highest point of the city is the 15th-century Gothic cathedral, rare in this region where most of the churches are austere Romanesque or ornate Baroque. Nearby, streets are lined with boutiques and souvenir shops selling all sorts of fashions at a bargain price, local olive oil, $3 bottles of wine, and all sorts of other goods.
Margaret River, Australia
While the Margaret River region in Western Australia is well-known to Australians themselves, with its many beautiful beaches, plentiful sunshine, surfing, vineyards, micro-breweries, and gourmet restaurants, most tourists visiting this country tend to stick to the eastern coast, visiting places like Melbourne, Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef. But this region has a whole lot to offer, as mentioned, plus a number of spectacular caves. One of the best places to visit in Australia, travelers can take part in an especially unique caving experience at one or more of three caves that are easily accessible and famous for their dazzling formations: Mammoth, Jewel and Lake. At Lake Cave, visitors descend a staircase to marvel at a primeval lost world, before stepping into one of the most breathtaking caves on the planet. With mirrored reflections, it’s especially jaw-dropping. Jewel Cave features one of the longest straw stalactites discovered in any tourist cave on the planet at over 19 feet, and Mammoth Cave boasts an array of formations that angle off in all different directions – natural light seeps through the entrance to give it a more “livable feel.”
Often referred to as the “Rice Bowl of Cambodia,” Battambang offers an ideal slice of life away from busy Siem Reap. While there are no golden beaches, no capital city buzz, and no Angkor Wat, it is home to a number of Buddhist shrines and picturesque temples. The surrounding countryside lends itself perfectly to exploring via bicycle, and there are a number of rental shops where you can take one out for the day. Ride past simple shacks, through celebrations on village streets and by monasteries that echo the sounds of chanting. Taking a river kayaking excursion or riding the “bamboo train,” whizzing through jungle undergrowth, rattling across tiny bridges and past rice paddies offers even more unforgettable adventures.
Cuba is on pace to be the next big thing in travel, but most visitors are still heading straight for the capital city of Havana. Few venture to the “Pearl of the South,” and with its colorful facades, wide streets and charming French and Spanish colonial architecture, Cienfuegos rightly deserves its nickname. Considered the nation’s best-kept secret, this UNESCO-listed city is believed by many to be it’s most beautiful. Grab a mojito and mingle with the locals in the historic center and explore its strong cultural scene which includes one of Cuba’s finest Chamber Orchestras as well as an outstanding art scene. “Art in your Hands,” a coop art studio, hosts eight artists in residence, each with their own unique expertise and artistic style – they paint and design carvings and engravings with wood, pressboard, stone and linoleum.
If you want to go far off the beaten track, it’s hard to beat the island of Manono. Just a little more than a decade ago was the first time it was set up with electricity, and there are still no cars whatsoever. You’re unlikely to encounter many other tourists on this tiny isle either. Locals live in traditional open-air fales, and the only sounds you’ll hear are those of silence – and the occasional gentle lapping of the waves against the shore. It takes less than two hours to circumnavigate the entire island, and you’ll pass all four of its fishing villages in the process, as well as the marine-protected lagoon, which is ideal for snorkeling or simply jumping in for a refreshing dip. To get here, all you have to do is cross the lagoon by boat from Manono-uta on the mainland.
Visiting Corfu feels like a visit to an entirely different time and place, a destination where ancient history and modern sensibilities peaceful coexist. And in Perithia, the oldest village on Corfu located in the northern mountains of the island, you’ll truly feel as if you’ve been transported to ancient times. A UNESCO world heritage site and a magnificent example of the island’s history, it dates back to the 14th century, though it’s likely there have been inhabitants long before that. Walk the stone paths that are mostly tourist-free, and discover the small but welcoming eateries serving up delicious traditional Greek cuisine in a natural setting. You can also spend time checking out some of the older homes, hiking the surrounding mountains or joining a guided tour to learn more about the village and its history.