As a travel blogger for 7 years, I’ve become quite aware of how tourism concentrates in a few popular destinations.
For example, 9 times out of 10, first-timers in Southeast Asia will go to Thailand or Bali. And if you’re on your first trip in South America, you’ll surely end up in Ecuador or Peru. These trends are really obvious from search statistics and social shares.
There’s nothing wrong with these popular picks, but what if you want to go somewhere a bit more original?
Somewhere that not everyone already has on their bucket list?
Well, I thought I’d highlight a few such destinations. Overlooked by the masses, these are some of the underrated travel destinations that I just can’t stop raving about.
And while the world is currently at a standstill due to the pandemic, we can always look forward to traveling to these places when this becomes possible again.
This tropical archipelago off the coast of Africa is the definition of a hidden gem. For sure, Cape Verde is a somewhat obscure country. Perhaps you have not reallt heard of it. But you should know that it’s a wonderland of hiking trails (especially the island of Santo Antao), volcanic landscapes, reefs teeming with life, cities with music-filled streets, and positive vibes.
It’s also an incredible winter island-hopping destination, with sun and balmy temperatures when the northern parts of the globe are grey.
The island of Sal is an all-inclusive resort destination, but the rest of the archipelago is perfect for a backpacking trip. This is known mainly among some French, Portuguese, and German travelers, but the country seems quite off the radar among English-speaking travelers.
Don’t miss my 7 reasons why Cape Verde should be your next travel obsession.
Georgia & Armenia
When I visited a few years ago, Georgia (the country) just blew me away. It defied what I’d expected from a post-Soviet state, with its capital Tbilisi just being utterly charming, warm, quirky, and filled with life. Meanwhile, the Caucasus mountain range is home to some spectacular hikes and traditional Georgian villages with ancient defense towers.
Although Georgia is gradually becoming more discovered, it remains one of the lesser-known travel destinations.
Neighboring Armenia is poorer and has worse infrastructure, but it’s perfectly paired with Georgia within a single itinerary. I loved the cafe culture of Yerevan and Armenia’s numerous monasteries, some of which were built inside caves.
Don’t miss my 5 reasons why I loved traveling in Armenia.
The landlocked Asian country of Laos is often overlooked in favor of tropical beach destinations like Thailand or Malaysia. But it’s easily one of my favorite countries in the region — home to great cuisine, unspoiled rainforests, ancient Khmer temples, and many sleepy rural villages.
Older backpackers have told me that Laos today is much like what Thailand was 20 or 30 years ago. I don’t know if that’s true, but it certainly feels like it. Laos may lack the buzzing metropolises of Thailand or Vietnam and it may not be as developed as its neighbors, but that is exactly its charm.
Don’t miss the Gibbon Experience, an ecotourism project home to dizzyingly tall tree huts in the middle of jungles of Nam Kan National Park. You can not only stay the night in the treehuts, but also zip around between tree huts using a combined 15 kilometers (9 miles) of zip lines. It’s one of my favorite memories of Laos.
If you ask me, Transylvania is one of the most beautiful and interesting regions in Europe. (Yes, it’s the setting of the Dracula novel! But it’s also a real place.)
From the delightful historical cities of Brașov and Sighisoara, to its wild nature still home to bears and wolves, it’s a raw little slice of Europe.
It is actually a region of Romania, but I know that many people sadly have preconceptions about this country. I noticed this especially in the UK, where I used to live, where Romania is somehow associated by some with crime or with ‘gypsies’ (no, those are Roma people, not Romanians). But please travel in Romania and you’ll see for yourself what a friendly and gorgeous country it is.
Bolivia, I guess, is not for everyone. This landlocked country at the heart of South America is one of its poorest and has some of its worst infrastructure. If you’re expecting a nice holiday in Bolivia with every possible convenience, you might not like it. (Some people on a tour with me in the remote Atacama desert complained there was no wine or WiFi — and hated their trip.)
But if you’re up for an adventure, I’m telling you Bolivia is 100% where you need to go.
It’s where I did some of the most epic stuff in South America, from exploring the salt flats of Uyuni in a jeep for several days, to mountainbiking down the infamous ‘Death Road’, or simply hiking through the Andes away from the crowds found in Peru. I also loved Bolivia so much that I stayed in Sucre for a month to learn Spanish.
Bolivia works really well as an add-on to Peru. You can spend a week in Cusco and Machu Picchu, which is touristy as hell but considered by many obligatory, then go to Bolivia for a more raw experience away from mass tourism.
I put together a guide to backpacking in Bolivia, which is a couple of years old now but will still tell you all the key things you need to know.
Looking for perfect tropical beaches, amazing snorkeling, and world-class surf spots? Then the Philippines is simply the place to go.
Sure, the island of Palawan became very well known in recent years, leading to some overcrowded beaches. But with over 7,000 islands in the Philippines, there is always some new corner to discover. I think the islands of Cebu, Bohol, Luzon are highly underrated travel destinations, among countless others.
What probably stops the Philippines from being a lot more popular with (Western) travelers is that it doesn’t quite conform to the stereotypical image of Asia. I mean, there are no Buddhist temples or spicy stir-frys here. But the country has such a fascinating mix of cultural influences, having been once colonized by both Spain and the USA. And since so many Filipinos speak English, you can have a lot more contact with the locals.
For some tips on where to go, check out my backpacker’s guide to the Philippines.
Colombia is hardly a travel secret, though the perception persists that it is a dangerous country to visit. It really doesn’t have to be. Along the tourist trail in Colombia, safety levels are comparable to other parts of South America. I suppose its appeal is still mainly with backpackers, rather than with families looking for a stress-free holiday, but I nevertheless highly recommend Colombia if you’re looking for somewhere unique to go.
The cool thing about traveling Colombia is that you’ll get experience South America in miniature: it has both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts, the start of the Andes mountain range, and the Amazon rainforest. But what I loved most about Colombia myself were the people, their enthusiasm for their music and soccer, and the welcoming atmosphere.
One of my favorite experiences was to hike the 5-day Lost City trek, as well as visiting the gorgeous colonial city of Cartagena, and the cultural hub of Medellin, which thanks to over a decade of urban revitalization is not the place you might imagine after watching Narcos. Trust me, it’s an amazing country to travel.
These are just some of my personal favorite destinations. Got some underrated destinations of your own to recommend? I always love to hear suggestions in the comments!
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