Off the Beaten Path: 10 Underrated Destinations Worth Discovering in 2023
Off the Beaten Path: 10 Underrated Destinations Worth Discovering in 2023 - Hidden Gems of the Caribbean
With its turquoise waters, swaying palm trees, and white sand beaches, the Caribbean conjures up images of well-known hotspots like Jamaica, the Bahamas, and the Dominican Republic. But venture off the beaten path and you’ll discover that this region is chock full of under-the-radar destinations waiting to be explored.
One such hidden gem is the island of Dominica. Nicknamed the “Nature Island,” Dominica boasts steep, jungle-covered mountains, 365 rivers, boiling lakes, and the second largest boiling lake in the world. Go hiking through Morne Trois Pitons National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and keep an eye out for the island’s famous resident parrots. Or soak in the natural volcanic hot springs in a surreal setting. With far fewer tourists than its Caribbean neighbors, Dominica offers an authentic, unspoiled experience.
Further south lies the undiscovered island of Bequia, the largest island in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Old-world charm is alive and well here, with locals relying on donkeys and fishing boats to get around. Spend your days exploring deserted beaches, snorkeling crystal clear waters, and wandering the quaint waterfront capital of Port Elizabeth. For the ultimate laidback vibe, grab a drink at historic watering hole De Reef and watch the boats bob gently in Admiralty Bay.
Off the coast of Nicaragua, Little Corn Island awaits. Getting to this pristine Caribbean escape takes some effort, with a puddle jumper flight followed by a boat ride required. But you’ll be rewarded with empty beaches, unspoiled jungle, and world-class diving. Spend your days snorkeling and spotting sea turtles, your nights enjoying beachside seafood BBQs under the stars. With no cars and a population of just 1,200, this castaway cornucopia offers the perfect tranquil getaway.
Finally, for off-the-grid adventure, there is charming French Guiana on South America’s North Coast. A French overseas region, Guiana offers a perplexing mix of Gallic influence amid lush Amazonian wilderness. Base yourself in the capital Cayenne and make day trips to explore jungle-clad hills, raging waterfalls, deserted beaches, and fascinating wildlife like giant otters and scarlet ibis. Visit the European Space Centre and the site of the former Devil’s Island penal colony for an intriguing dose of history. With far fewer visitors than its neighboring countries, French Guiana provides a unique window into France’s presence in South America.
What else is in this post?
- Off the Beaten Path: 10 Underrated Destinations Worth Discovering in 2023 - Hidden Gems of the Caribbean
- Off the Beaten Path: 10 Underrated Destinations Worth Discovering in 2023 - Europe's Best Kept Secrets
- Off the Beaten Path: 10 Underrated Destinations Worth Discovering in 2023 - Asia's Undiscovered Wonders
- Off the Beaten Path: 10 Underrated Destinations Worth Discovering in 2023 - Africa's Up and Coming Hotspots
- Off the Beaten Path: 10 Underrated Destinations Worth Discovering in 2023 - South America's Hidden Treasures
- Off the Beaten Path: 10 Underrated Destinations Worth Discovering in 2023 - Australia and Oceania's Secret Spots
- Off the Beaten Path: 10 Underrated Destinations Worth Discovering in 2023 - North America's Overlooked Destinations
- Off the Beaten Path: 10 Underrated Destinations Worth Discovering in 2023 - Small Town Charm Around the World
Off the Beaten Path: 10 Underrated Destinations Worth Discovering in 2023 - Europe's Best Kept Secrets
Though it may seem there’s no stone left unturned when it comes to tourism in Europe, this endlessly fascinating continent still has its fair share of hidden gems. Venture off the crowded capitals and postcard destinations, and you’ll be richly rewarded with Old World charm, immaculate natural beauty, and local culture unaffected by the masses.
Take Slovenia, for example. Tucked away between Italy, Austria, Hungary and Croatia, Slovenia dazzles visitors with its pristine Alpine lakes, imposing peaks, and tiny but mighty capital of Ljubljana. Base yourself in Ljubljana for easy day trips to rapids-riven rivers, karst caves, and the stunning Lake Bled. This pint-sized capital blends Habsburg grandeur with a hipster vibe, its riverfront cafes and cobbled lanes made for aimless wandering. And with far fewer tourists than nearby Italy or Croatia, you’ll feel like you have this green slice of heaven all to yourself.
Or how about the unsung region of Cantabria in northern Spain? From its jagged coastline dotted with tiny fishing villages to its rolling green hills, Cantabria offers a slower-paced counterpoint to its flashy neighbor, the Basque Country. Make a beeline for Santillana del Mar, whose cobblestoned streets and medieval architecture look untouched by time. Nearby, Altamira Caves provide a fascinating glimpse into prehistoric life. And outdoor enthusiasts will have endless options, from surfing off Santander’s beaches to hiking the vertiginous peaks of the Picos de Europa. Free from crowds and overdevelopment, Cantabria taps into the essence of rural Spain.
Off the Beaten Path: 10 Underrated Destinations Worth Discovering in 2023 - Asia's Undiscovered Wonders
Asia is a vast continent full of famous destinations like Bangkok, Bali and Beijing. But venture beyond the well-trodden tourist trail, and you’ll discover places that seem frozen in time, where age-old traditions still hold sway and nature remains unspoiled by progress.
Take Kalaw, a former British hill station in Myanmar. Situated high above sea level, this charming town exudes colonial charm, with its bungalows and gardens evoking the 1920s. Rising all around Kalaw are the Shan Hills, home to many of Myanmar’s hill tribes. Get acquainted with their fascinating customs on a trek between remote villages. As you hike through pine forests and drink tea with tribal elders, it’ll feel lightyears away from modern life. The web is filled with tales from spellbound visitors who felt like they’d stepped into an older, simpler world.
Or how about Nan, a small provincial capital in northern Thailand near the Laos border? Nan exudes laidback charm, with its lazy Ming River, ancient temples and crumbling wooden shophouses. Days here are best spent wandering antique lanes, mingling with saffron-robed monks, and grabbing noodles at tiny food stalls. Come evening, relax at riverside bars as colorful dragon boats drift by. With few foreign tourists, Nan offers a glimpse of everyday Thai life far from the madding crowds. Thailand aficionados say it’s their favorite place in the kingdom, an undiscovered gem unchanged by the vagaries of time and tourism.
And let’s not forget Korčula, a sleepy island off Croatia’s glittering Dalmatian Coast. Heavily wooded Korčula has a lost-in-time vibe, with quiet cobblestone lanes linking medieval squares flanked by Gothic-Renaissance churches and palaces. The island’s crown jewel is picturesque Korčula Town, whose fascinating fishbone street pattern dates back centuries. Wander the pedestrian alleyways and soak up the unspoiled charm, then relax over grilled fish and local Grk wine as the sun sets over the Adriatic. It’s like stepping into a medieval Mediterranean painting. Explorers say Korčula offers all of Dubrovnik’s charm without the crowds.
Off the Beaten Path: 10 Underrated Destinations Worth Discovering in 2023 - Africa's Up and Coming Hotspots
Africa remains a vastly underappreciated destination, with most travelers flocking to well-known favorites like South Africa, Kenya, and Morocco. But this massive, diverse continent is filled with emerging hotspots waiting to be discovered by intrepid explorers.
One such rising star is São Tomé and Príncipe, a pair of tiny volcanic islands off West Africa’s Atlantic coast. Cloaked in rainforest and ringed by pristine beaches, “STP” combines natural beauty with a unique cultural blend stemming from its Portuguese colonial past. Wander crumbling roças (plantation estates), hike verdant peaks like Pico de São Tomé, and find deserted palm-fringed beaches where giant leatherback turtles come ashore. Sample distinctive cuisine fusing Portuguese and West African influences, like calulu de peixe stew. With few tourists and an unhurried vibe, STP offers adventurers an unspoiled tropical paradise.
Further up the Atlantic coast, Cape Verde is a remote island chain whose alluring mix of white-sand beaches, volcanic peaks and Afro-Portuguese culture is catapulting it onto travelers’ bucket lists. Take to the turquoise waters to spot humpback whales, seek total tranquility on uninhabited islets like Ilhéu Branco, or hike the Serra Malagueta mountains for dizzying panoramas. Afterward, unwind to morna, Cape Verde's soulful folk music. While the main islands of Sal and Boa Vista have seen more development, adorable port towns like Mindelo on São Vicente and Ribeira Brava on São Nicolau still embody old-world charm.
Down the continent’s eastern coast, Mozambique has emerged as a beach lover’s paradise after years of turmoil. With one of Africa’s longest coastlines, Mozambique dazzles with unspoiled white sand beaches, warm azure waters, and a beguiling blend of African, Arab and Portuguese influences. Unwind at chic beach resorts on the Bazaruto Archipelago, take a dhow to remote tropical islands like Vamizi, or explore colonial-era architecture in Ilha de Moçambique, a UNESCO World Heritage site. Adventurous eaters can indulge in spicy seafood stews infused with coconut and lime. After years in the shadows, Mozambique now shines as an alluring beach destination.
Off the Beaten Path: 10 Underrated Destinations Worth Discovering in 2023 - South America's Hidden Treasures
Beyond the Instagram hotspots like Machu Picchu and Rio de Janeiro, intrepid wanderers are uncovering South America’s hidden treasures. Venture into this beguiling continent’s undiscovered corners and you’ll be richly rewarded with jaw-dropping natural sights, vibrant indigenous culture and colonial charm untouched by the ravages of mass tourism.
Take Punta del Este, an upscale beach resort on Uruguay’s Atlantic coast that mimics the Hamptons or French Riviera minus the pretentiousness and crowds. Miles of empty golden sand beaches stretch toward the azure waters, perfect for swimming and surfing. The charming town center exudes Mediterranean flair with low-slung houses and upscale boutiques. Just don’t miss the sunsets, when locals and visitors alike flock to Playa Brava to watch the sun sink into the sea amid fiery hues. Punta del Este offers Riviera glam without the masses.
Colombia’s untrammeled Amazon wilderness also promises once-in-a-lifetime experiences for intrepid jungle trekkers. While the Amazon primarily straddles Brazil, Colombia’s share near Leticia offers far easier access and fewer tourists competing for glimpses of wildlife like giant river otters, sloths, piranhas and scarlet macaws. Local guides lead small groups deep into virgin rainforest, past gushing waterfalls, through indigenous villages and into untouched corners teeming with exotic flora and fauna. One visitor described floating down a jungle river past breaching pink dolphins as a “magical glimpse into our planet’s awe-inspiring biodiversity.”
Another hidden Colombia highlight is the immaculate colonial city of Cartagena. Enclosed within 13 km of colonial stone ramparts, Cartagena’s fantastically preserved walled city exudes romance with its pastel-hued mansions bedecked in bougainvillea, leafy plazas and horse-drawn carriages clip-clopping down cobblestone lanes. By night, live music wafts through the sultry air as locals and visitors mingle in candlelit bars and cafes. Dubbed the “Jewel of the Spanish Main,” Cartagena offers a Latin American answer to Europe’s medieval masterpieces like Dubrovnik, minus the tourist hordes. One smitten visitor declared it “paradise found.”
Off the Beaten Path: 10 Underrated Destinations Worth Discovering in 2023 - Australia and Oceania's Secret Spots
Most visitors to Australia and Oceania flock to the big names like Sydney, Fiji and New Zealand. But veer off the typical tourist trail and you’ll uncover exotic escapes that rival their famous neighbors, free from crowds and commercialism.
Take Norfolk Island, for instance. Lying in the South Pacific between New Caledonia and New Zealand, this Australian external territory dazzles with pine-clad cliffs, deserted beaches and rich history. Descendants of the infamous mutineers from HMS Bounty still live here, speaking a blend of 18th century English and Tahitian. The Mutiny on the Bounty story comes alive through landmarks like Fletcher’s Christian’s descendants’ homesteads. Between history lessons, be serenaded by thousands of seabirds along coastal trails, feast on local rock lobster and dive some of the South Pacific’s best sites. With green hills cascading down to turquoise bays, Norfolk feels like a South Seas daydream.
Or how about Tonga, Polynesia’s forgotten kingdom? Pristine islands like Vava’u and Ha’apai exude tranquility, with smiling locals, humpback whales breaching offshore and timeless scenes straight out of Mutiny on the Bounty. On Lifuka Island, deny your western instincts and slip into “Tonga time.” Snooze in a thatched fale right on white coral sand beaches, feast on fresh seafood like “Ota ‘ika” raw fish salad, and sail to deserted islets where the 21st century never happened. The planet’s last kingdom untouched by mass tourism promises stress relief tongan-style.
New Zealand aficionados also suggest venturing beyond crowded favorites like Queenstown into the rural heartland of the North Island. Base yourself in arty little Napier, whose fascinating 1930s architecture stems from destructive earthquakes. Nearby awaits the otherworldly landscape of Hawke’s Bay, blessed with surreal coastal formations, DLomax_, exotic wildlife reserves, , and some of NZ’s best wineries. . Or lose yourself down forgotten back roads through rolling green hills dotted with sheep farms and obscure rural pubs, a journey sure to realign the soul. Beyond flashy destinations like Queenstown or Auckland, rural NZ taps into Middle Earth magic free from crowds.
Off the Beaten Path: 10 Underrated Destinations Worth Discovering in 2023 - North America's Overlooked Destinations
Beyond busy American cities like New York and L.A. or Canada's most popular parks lie overlooked towns and natural areas waiting to be discovered by travelers seeking authentic local culture. Venture into America's heartland, Canada's Maritime provinces or Mexico's lesser-visited colonial cities for rich rewards minus the crowds.
Take Santa Fe, New Mexico. Though nowhere near as popular as giant western cities, Santa Fe oozes singular charm. This historic town blends Native American and Hispanic heritage, with 400-year-old adobe buildings lining sunny plazas dotted with galleries and cafes. Wander narrow lanes and duck into lovingly preserved churches, weaving between locals in colorful sarapes speaking Spanish in hushed tones. The Plaza buzzes with mariachi music and the smell of chiles rellenos wafting from cozy restaurants. After dark, grab a margarita and let live flamenco rhythms pulse through your body. Visitors say Santa Fe embodies the soul of the American Southwest.
Or head to Canada's remote East Coast, specifically Newfoundland. Picturesque fishing villages like Quidi Vidi and Trinity exude olde world charm, with candy-colored row houses facing inlets filled bobbing with fishing boats. Nearby, massive icebergs cleaved from Greenland glaciers drift down Iceberg Alley off Newfoundland's northern tip - a profoundly moving spectacle of nature's raw force. Hiking trails thread through the forested interior past rushing rivers and rocky bluffs where Vikings first landed 1,000 years ago. Though far-flung, Newfoundland taps into Canada's essence - rugged landscapes, small town kindness and once-in-a-lifetime encounters with wilderness and wildlife.
Off the Beaten Path: 10 Underrated Destinations Worth Discovering in 2023 - Small Town Charm Around the World
Sometimes the most rewarding travel experiences come not from famous cities, but from venturing off the beaten path into rural areas and small towns where authentic local culture still thrives. Getting to know these communities provides a window into everyday life for regular people, not just the curated experiences of big tourist destinations. As veteran shoestring traveler Rick Steves puts it, “small towns offer a chance to appreciate the universal joys, challenges and rituals of everyday life.”
Take Český Krumlov in the Czech Republic. This exquisitely preserved medieval town snuggled in a curve of the Vltava River looks lifted from the pages of Grimm’s fairy tales, with its cobbled lanes, colorful Baroque architecture and towering hilltop castle. Away from Prague's crowds, Český Krumlov offers a glimpse into medieval Bohemian life. Wander the town’s twisting alleys, peek into dimly lit taverns, marvel at secrets hidden inside dark castle corridors. Then replenish with hearty Czech fare like roast pork and dumplings, brewed to perfection here for centuries. Český Krumlov brings fairy tales to life.
Or how about Bibury, an idyllic Cotswolds village in England's West Country? Oozing storybook charm, Bibury’s honey-hued cottages cluster around the River Coln, which burbles under a 17th century stone bridge. Take a rowboat onto the river for panoramic views of Bibury’s beauty, hike wooded trails above town, then cozy up by the fire in one of Bibury’s historic inns. Bibury even has a house made of cheese. This perfectly preserved rural gem offers a magical glimpse of old England.
Equally rewarding is Dwali, a traditional Indian village deep in Karnataka’s rural heartland. Visitors can stay in ancestral homes and experience daily life – drawing water from the village well, cooking over open fires, learning ancient holistic practices like yoga and ayurveda. Nights bring festivities like dancing and spiritual chanting. While providing needed income to Dwali, visiting enhances cultural understanding of timeless rural Indian customs that nourish the soul.