As a travel blogger for 10 years now, I’m well aware that most people gravitate towards certain popular destinations, such as Thailand in Asia, or Costa Rica in Central America. And I get it — with these countries, you’re just going to what you’re going to get. And they’re great!
But… what if you want to go somewhere a bit more original?
Somewhere that not everyone already has on their bucket list?
I actually find it so much fun going to destinations that are a little less known. I love how they have the capacity to truly surprise you, not to mention offer so many more locations that are still unspoiled. So, let me highlight here several of my favorite underrated destinations that are still often overlooked by the masses…
This tropical archipelago off the coast of Africa is the definition of a hidden gem. Unknown to many, 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 island-hopping destination during winter, with sun and balmy temperatures when the northern parts of the globe are grey.
The island of Sal is an all-inclusive resort destination, though the rest of the archipelago is perfect for backpackers. This is known mainly among some French, Portuguese, and German travelers, though the country seems quite off the radar among English-speaking travelers.
Cape Verde is safe and welcoming; don’t miss my 7 reasons why Cape Verde should be your next travel obsession.
Let me level with you: I knew next to nothing about Albania before I went there. It’s a country that few people are talking about (yet).
But… then it turned out to be one of my favorite European destinations!
One of the fascinating aspects of Albania is its history. For a long time, it was known as the ‘North Korea of Europe’, as it was completely isolated from the world during its decades under dictatorship. It led to Albania developing on a different track to neighboring countries like Greece or Italy, while already having a totally distinct culture with a unique language. (Today, Albania is a democracy and emerging economy.)
What’s even more to like about this forgotten part of Europe is just how unspoiled it is. The coastline is still near pristine, while Albania’s Alps offer truly fantastic hiking trails and old towns from the Ottoman Era are well-preserved and highly inviting. I have a feeling we’ll be hearing more about Albania in the future; some are already calling it “the next Croatia”.
Oh, and the best part? Albania is dirt cheap, almost as budget-friendly as the really cheap parts of Asia.
Check out my guide to Albania and get inspired to go.
Georgia & Armenia
When I first 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.
Neighboring Armenia is poorer and does not have as developed of a tourist infrastructure, though 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.
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.
For some inspiration, check out my 5 reasons why I loved traveling Romania, or my tips for planning a road trip through Transylvania.
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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Thanks for making this list! Colombia has always been a desire and your input gives me a bit of reassurance. I’d love to read your insights on other countries with bad reputations. Keep up the great work! Cheers!
Brazil is the funnest country, Sao Luis do Maranhao is a charm, Unesco world heritage site. Lencois in Maranhao and in Bahia are both great. Good surfing down the coast. The beaches in Paraiba and Rio Grande Do Norte are spectacular. Forianopolis in the South. Colombia, Santa Marta and the terraces that equal Machu Picchu and go through all eco systems. I didn’t go, still pretty dangerous at that time. Colombian Amazon is well-preserved. If you can get down the Cucuta. People love the rafting in Bucuramanga. Mompos is a special colonial town. The town of Mocoa has the most beautiful plaza and a good gateway if you want to drink yage with the Native chiefs. Good read is One River. Gold museum in Bogota is one of the wonders of the World. Very cool town in south of Colombia near Ecuador called San Augustin, that’s where some of the gold came from. Bolivia is great everywhere. Peru cordillera blanca hiking or biking from Huaras is sensational, that was in the 80s. Trujillo has great ancient civilization. Titicaca from either Bolivia or Peru side is worth the trip. Tequille island if it’s still in good shape. Kastelorizo Southern and eastern-most greek island. Turkish Black Sea coast is really beautiful and good for camping. Dahab in the Sinai used to be a really fun place. Siwa Oasis in the western desert of Egypt on the Libyan border is where you will find the Oracle. There are some nice beach spots at the southern border of Spain and Portugal. Norway is the most beautiful country and great for camping. Sarajevo old Turkish town is interesting, some cultural and historical things to see. People are very kind.
Marek, yes I know Bolivia and heard great stuff about Albania and lived in Colombia and traveled it extensively. I also was in Transylvania in 1990 and have a lot of crazy stories about that trip. When I lived in Thailand in 1992, I had a copy of a personal journal someone wrote for other travelers about how to get around Laos in those days. I should have crossed the border when I was visiting a friend in Khon Kaen. I guess it’s waiting for me this summer. I sent you a query about some ideas for a trip with my family this July-August for SE Asia unless you have another idea for us. We do need to go to visit family in Brazil, but it is the winter. Kids are young to be trekking far in the Himalaya or the Andes. The gibbon zip sounds great. A few cool places like that in the region, beaches and mountains that we can pop around to would be ultimate. Thank you
I’d recommend visiting the island of Dominica (NOT DOMINICAN REPUBLIC). Dominica is one of the least 10 visited places on the planet and the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. But it’s rugged. roads are wide enough for one car, the most delicious Passion Fruit is best bought at roadside stands, it’s best to have a local guide of which there are many when you enter the dense jungle. Many dormant volcanos, warm mud baths to soak in, birds that you will never see anywhere else….there is no other place like Dominica. But this is not a place for those who want the all inclusive touresty spot, all manicured with rooms made.
The treasures that one finds in Dominica are worth it. The home I rented with its view of the sea and interesting design will always remain in my memory. Probably my favorite surprise was the tiny family restaurant where one sat outside next to the sea. The mother had spent months perfecting a recipe that would make an invasive fish species taste delicious and reduce the population of that fish. Her end recipe was so delicious I had it every night. Then we learned that the son had studied pastry making under a Paris Chef and thus all meals ended with a delightful desert surprise. I wish I’d visited this island when I was younger. My daughter was able to climb the cliffs up to beautiful waterfalls, while the guide insisted I stay midway watching them but not making the final part of the climb. How I wanted to be up there, but he was right to stop me in what turned out to be a very pleasant pond with a far reaching view.
Hi Mary, I heard a few great things about Dominica – and your comment reaffirms I really want to go there! What’s held me off so far is that it’s hard for me to get there at a decent price, but I hope to find a good deal on a flight someday. Thanks for sharing your wonderful experiences.
this is really good list, have to travel to these places.
I was hoping the blogger would mention the name of Nepal as well. Nepal is also equally beautiful country and it is still underrated. People are nice and mountains are cooler. Good read though. Thank You
Laos was one of the countries I was so sad to miss during my time in SE Asia. Love this post. Thank you!
Wonderful content Marek! I do agree Thailand and Bali, Indonesia are one of the go-to places of travelers when it comes to South East Asia.
I liked your list of underrated travel destinations. I’m looking forward into visiting Palawan, Philippines and Georgia. hopefully this pandemic will soon subside for us to travel safer.
Thank you and travel safe!
Great Post! I was planning to go to Europe this past summer but of course, had to cancel. I can’t wait until I can finally go!
Hi Marek! I loved this post! Like you, I’m a long term traveler and have been living this way for almost 5 years now. During that time, I was lucky enough to visit some of these underrated destinations you visited, like Transylvania, Bolivia, and Colombia.
Going to Romania wasn’t something I planned, it just kind of happened, but I absolutely agree is an incredible destination. Sighisoara was a pleasant surprise, and even though the people seem a little cold for me (I’m South American, so…) they were really nice and nothing like the pre-concept most Europeans had against them.
As soon as coronavirus crisis is over, I hope I can travel again, and I’ll make sure I put Laos and the Philipines on my budget list.
Thank you for sharing!
Great to hear from a fellow long term traveler! Ha, it must be strange how closed some people must seem if you’re from a very expressive culture. Fingers crossed we can travel again soon, thanks for your kind comment Ayelen