Off the Beaten Path: 5 Underrated Travel Destinations You Need to Visit in 2023
Off the Beaten Path: 5 Underrated Travel Destinations You Need to Visit in 2023 - The Idyllic Indonesian Island You've Never Heard Of
Tucked away in the southwest corner of Indonesia, hundreds of miles from the tourist hotspots of Bali and Lombok, lies the island of Sumba - an undiscovered paradise unknown to most travelers. With its rugged natural beauty, fascinating indigenous culture, and deserted white sand beaches, Sumba offers an authentic Indonesian experience far removed from mass tourism.
Despite being part of the same archipelago, Sumba feels worlds away from the rest of Indonesia. SGambled across its savannah interior, interspersed by lush green valleys, Sumba has a wild and untamed vibe. Herds of horses roam freely across its rolling hills, water buffalo wallow in muddy pools, and locals in ikat textiles tend to rice paddies using traditional methods unchanged for centuries. It's a side of Indonesia most visitors never experience.
Sumba's isolation has allowed its indigenous Marapu religion to thrive. The island's unique stone tombs, megalithic monuments, and animist rituals hark back to ancient times. Villagers make offerings to Marapu deities seeking protection and prosperity. They bind themselves to nature through Pasola festivals, frenetic bareback horse battles using blunt spears. It's a photogenic window into a mysterious culture.
But Sumba's most alluring draw is its coastline, with world-class surf spots and beaches to rival anywhere in Indonesia. Pantai Nihiwatu, featured in the film Eat Pray Love, impresses with a perfect left-hand tube wave peeling along an empty 2.5km expanse of golden sand. Meanwhile, the palm-lined bays around Waingapu offer snorkeling with manta rays and sea turtles in aquamarine waters.
Luxury eco-resort Nihi Sumba has put this overlooked isle on the map, enticing surfers, adventurers, and paradise seekers with its remote beach location and endless activities. But it's still possible to lose yourself in Sumba's wild charm by basing yourself in local villages like Tarimbang with access to waterfalls, megalithic tombs, and empty swathes of sand.
What else is in this post?
- Off the Beaten Path: 5 Underrated Travel Destinations You Need to Visit in 2023 - The Idyllic Indonesian Island You've Never Heard Of
- Off the Beaten Path: 5 Underrated Travel Destinations You Need to Visit in 2023 - A Cultural Hub in Colombia Worth Stopping For
- Off the Beaten Path: 5 Underrated Travel Destinations You Need to Visit in 2023 - Morocco's Blue City - A Photographer's Paradise
- Off the Beaten Path: 5 Underrated Travel Destinations You Need to Visit in 2023 - The European Countryside's Best Kept Secret
- Off the Beaten Path: 5 Underrated Travel Destinations You Need to Visit in 2023 - Discovering Portugal's Charming Coastal Towns
- Off the Beaten Path: 5 Underrated Travel Destinations You Need to Visit in 2023 - Go Back in Time in This Historic Polish City
- Off the Beaten Path: 5 Underrated Travel Destinations You Need to Visit in 2023 - Trekking Through Kyrgyzstan's Majestic Landscapes
- Off the Beaten Path: 5 Underrated Travel Destinations You Need to Visit in 2023 - Georgia's Capital is Full of Surprises
Off the Beaten Path: 5 Underrated Travel Destinations You Need to Visit in 2023 - A Cultural Hub in Colombia Worth Stopping For
Tucked away on Colombia's Caribbean coast, the walled city of Cartagena offers a vibrant mix of history, culture, and colonial architecture unlike anywhere else in the country. Once a key Spanish port, Cartagena's old town remains incredibly well preserved, with cobbled streets lined by colorful buildings with ornate wooden balconies. It's a living museum that transports you back to the 17th century when Cartagena was one of Spain's most important New World cities.
Wandering Cartagena's streets is a feast for the senses. Horse-drawn carriages clip-clop past stately mansions blooming with bougainvillea. Street food vendors waft aromas of sticky honey rice and fried fish. Local women dressed in flowing dresses sell slices of exotic fruits. All while salsa music drifts from open doorways.
Beyond the walls, Cartagena's outer neighborhoods have a totally different Afro-Caribbean vibe. Here you can witness women braiding hair on the sidewalk, spontaneous street parties with blasting reggaeton, and some of the country's best seafood eateries. The striking Castillo San Felipe fortress overlooks the city, great to explore or take in sunset views.
Cartagena really comes alive at night. Locals and tourists flock to open-air bars in the Getsemani district to drink and dance salsa. With live bands and DJs, venues like Café Havana draw huge crowds. Or for a more low key evening, listen to live jazz at iconic bar and restaurant Cafe del Mar.
Culturally, Cartagena hosts several can't-miss events. The Hay Festival in January brings renowned authors, poets and thinkers from Latin America and beyond. While the colorful Flower Festival each August sees the streets filled with local florists' elaborate displays. And at Christmas, the city glitters with festive decorations and lights.
Off the Beaten Path: 5 Underrated Travel Destinations You Need to Visit in 2023 - Morocco's Blue City - A Photographer's Paradise
Nestled at the base of Morocco's towering Atlas Mountains lies Chefchaouen - the famous Blue City that has become Instagram-famous in recent years for its vivid blue-washed Medina. With practically every wall, door and staircase coated in striking shades of blue, it's a photographers dream and one of Morocco's most visually stunning destinations.
Unlike the earth-toned clay buildings found in many Moroccan cities, Chefchaouen's approved palette is limited solely to variations of blue, from vivid cobalt and sky blue to more subtle baby blue and aquamarine tones. And there's a practical reason behind this unusual color scheme. The blue pigment, made from a chalky mineral, helps repel mosquitos and keeps the buildings cool in Morocco's blazing summer heat.
But it's the visual impact that makes Chefchaouen so instagenic. The entire Medina glows with a mesmerizing blue aura that looks especially dazzling under the sun. Cobalt doorways stand out brightly against whitewashed walls. Intricate geometric patterns and moroccan tiles in shades of blue adorn alleyways and riads. Striking blue staircases zigzag up the hillside overlooking the valley below. Every twist and turn reveals a new shade or hue like venturing through a real-life Pantone swatch.
The best views come from the Spanish Mosque perched high above the Medina. From here you can snap that perfect postcard shot of the Blue City set against the rugged Rif Mountains. Or get lost wandering the labyrinth of steep lanes within the old walls and discover hidden lookout points. Early mornings or late afternoons cast the most brilliant golden light and shadows that make the blues pop even more.
Of course, Chefchaouen has much more to offer than Instagram backdrops. There's a lively daily kasbah market with Berber handicrafts. Traditional weaving workshops to witness the intricate textile process. Cozy cafes serving mint tea and Moroccan pastries. And hilltop guesthouses called riads with rooftop terraces overlooking the sea of blue buildings below.
Off the Beaten Path: 5 Underrated Travel Destinations You Need to Visit in 2023 - The European Countryside's Best Kept Secret
Tucked away in Central Europe, flanked by Austria, Germany, and the Czech Republic, lies little-known Slovakia. This wildly beautiful country remains an under-the-radar destination for many travelers. Yet it's home to fairytale-esque castles, epic mountain ranges, historic old towns, and a wealth of natural wonders just waiting to be explored.
Venturing into Slovakia's rugged countryside reveals unspoiled rural landscapes dotted with traditional wooden folk architecture. Quaint villages like Vlkolínec and Ždiar feel frozen in time with their colorfully painted log houses and farmsteads. In sharp contrast, modern concrete Brutalist structures left over from the Soviet-era still stand stoically amidst fields and forests.
Outdoor enthusiasts flock to Slovakia for its top-notch hiking. The rocky peaks of the High Tatras offer challenging trails past icy blue lakes and thundering waterfalls with the chance to spot wild bears, wolves, lynx and eagles along the way. Or take a more leisurely stroll through Slovenský Raj National Park's gorge landscapes crisscrossed by suspension bridges and ladders.
Equally scenic are Slovakia's numerous cave systems. Taking a boat ride through the UNESCO-listed Skocjánske Jame caves reveals an underground world of stalactites, stalagmites and rare fauna. At Ochtinska Aragonite Cave, rare aragonite mineral formations create a sparkling frozen waterfall. The music and light shows inside Gombasecká Cave and Dobšinská Ice Cave make for a magical experience.
For culture vultures, Slovakia boasts an impressive density of castles and chateaux. From imposing clifftop ruins like Spis Castle to the elaborate Baroque Bojnice Castle that looks straight out of a fairytale. And history buffs will delight in perfectly preserved medieval old towns like Levoča and Bardejov protected as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Off the Beaten Path: 5 Underrated Travel Destinations You Need to Visit in 2023 - Discovering Portugal's Charming Coastal Towns
Portugal boasts nearly 500 miles of scenic Atlantic coastline dotted with picturesque seaside towns that serve up a delightful slice of Portuguese life. From north to south, charming coastal gems tempt travelers with pristine beaches, fresh seafood eateries, historic quarters and captivating ocean views.
The vibrant city of Porto provides the perfect base to explore northern Portugal's coastal wonders. Just south lies the former Roman settlement of Vila Nova de Gaia, its colorful waterfront lined with port wine cellars. Further down the coast, the quiet beach town of Espinho charms with its 19th century casino-turned-hotel facing long stretches of golden sand.
Venturing south of Porto leads to Aveiro, dubbed the "Venice of Portugal" for its network of gondola-filled canals flanked by Art Nouveau buildings. The nearby coastal village of Costa Nova delights with its iconic striped cottages in vivid hues of red, yellow and blue. Continuing along the Silver Coast unveils the laidback surf hangout of Figueira da Foz and the turreted Fort of Santa Catarina guarding over the Mondego River's estuary.
Beyond the capital, Cascais represents Lisbon's most enticing coastal escape. This ritzy resort town captivates with grand mansions, beachfront hotels, lively markets and a historic citadel perched above the sea. Nearby, the pastel-washed fishing village of Sesimbra sprawls across green hills overlooking a sheltered bay dotted with boats.
Further south, Portugal's Algarve region entices sun-seekers with over 100 miles of sandy shores and tranquil coves. The dramatic cliffs and secluded beaches around Lagos offer exceptional natural beauty. Charming Tavira unfolds along the Gilão River estuary, its Renaissance architecture and Roman bridge beckoning travelers. And the beach towns of Albufeira and Vilamoura serve up buzzing nightlife, waterfront eateries and activities galore.
Off the Beaten Path: 5 Underrated Travel Destinations You Need to Visit in 2023 - Go Back in Time in This Historic Polish City
Step back in time to the glory days of Poland in the historic city of Kraków. As one of Europe's most captivating old towns, Kraków provides a portal into medieval Poland when the city thrived as a major center of trade, culture and academia. Meandering through atmospheric lanes, monumental squares and centuries-old buildings immerses you in the storied past of Poland's former royal capital.
Kraków escaped significant damage in World War II, leaving its UNESCO-listed medieval core magnificently preserved. Market Square, the largest medieval town square in Europe, will impress with its striking arcaded buildings and towering Gothic spires. The 14th-century Cloth Hall dominates the plaza, housing Renaissance-era stalls selling amber, handcrafts and souvenirs. Nearby, Europe's oldest still-operating pharmacy has concocted remedies since 1319 inside its ornately adorned interior. Just outside the square, horse-drawn carriages wait to give leisurely tours through the Old Town.
Wawel Castle and Cathedral transport you to when Kraków was the seat of Poland's monarchy for over 500 years. A former fortress, royal residence and prestigious seat of learning, this complex showcases architectural styles spanning from Romanesque to Baroque. Wander through royal chambers with original furnishings and tapestries before descending into the cathedral's crypt to see the tombs of famous historical figures like astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus.
For medieval ambiance, stroll down Grodzka Street lined with buildings dating back seven centuries. Here you'll find many historic churches like St. Andrew's with its timeworn Romanesque architecture and the striking blue and gold Gothic altarpiece of the 14th-century Church of St. Peter and Paul. Nearby, hidden courtyards beckon you to explore, while cellar restaurants serve Polish dishes harking back to medieval recipes.
By night, Kraków's Old Town becomes even more enchanting. Under the glow of lanterns, the narrow lanes take on a fairy-tale aura, especially around quaint St. Mary's Basilica on the Main Square. Stop at one of the oldest cellar pubs in Kraków like Piwnica Pod Baranami, where poets, artists and intellectuals have gathered since the 1950s to drink, debate and revel in the city's nostalgic allure.
Off the Beaten Path: 5 Underrated Travel Destinations You Need to Visit in 2023 - Trekking Through Kyrgyzstan's Majestic Landscapes
Far off the typical backpacker trail, the remote Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan remains one of the world's last undiscovered trekking paradises. With over 90% of its land covered by the Tian Shan and Pamir Alay mountain ranges, Kyrgyzstan lures adventure seekers with seemingly endless alpine landscapes begging to be explored on foot.
Crisscrossing these high-altitude ranges are ancient nomad trails just waiting to be traversed, with each valley and pass unveiling ever more spectacular scenery. Glaciers carve their way between snow-dusted peaks over 20,000 feet tall. Icy blue lakes shimmer beneath vertical rock faces. Fields of wildflowers sway in high alpine pastures dotted with roaming herds of horses and yaks. And local shepherds' yurts and flocks of sheep offer glimpses into a way of life mostly lost in our modern world.
One of Kyrgyzstan's most epic treks follows the 170-mile Trans Alai Range traversing from peak to peak along old Silk Road caravan routes. Along the way, you'll overnight in village homestays and remote camping spots surrounded by pine forests, alpine meadows and views of Lenin Peak soaring skyward. Or venture along the 130-mile Karakol Valley route from flower-filled pastures up to the turquoise Ala Kul lake with the ice-glazed peaks of the Tian Shan mountains soaring above.
For those short on time, even mini multi-day treks like hiking from Altyn Arashan to the stunning alpine Karakol lake deliver phenomenal high-mountain scenery without extreme difficulty. Day hikers can summit 4,400 foot Peak Kolsai for panoramic views across the Chon-Kemin Valley or tackle the strenuous 8-hour climb up 11,800 foot Mount Suleiman near Issyk Kul lake.
With the majority of travel services still operating on simple terms in Kyrgyzstan, booking treks need not be complicated or expensive. Local trekking agencies in hub towns like Karakol and Bishkek can arrange everything from guides to pack horses, drivers for drop-off/pick-up, camping gear and homestay accommodation in villages along the routes. For solo travelers or small groups, joining a guided trek group makes logistics easy.
Off the Beaten Path: 5 Underrated Travel Destinations You Need to Visit in 2023 - Georgia's Capital is Full of Surprises
With its winding cobblestone lanes, terraced hillsides adorned with grandiose architecture, and an eclectic cafe culture, Georgia's charming capital Tbilisi serves up plenty of surprises for visitors. After just an hour strolling through the Old Town's alleyways, it becomes apparent why this is one of Eastern Europe's most captivating undiscovered gems.
Shadowed by the mountains overlooking the Kura River, Tbilisi beautifully fuses European and Middle Eastern influences in architecture, cuisine and atmosphere. Intricately carved wooden balconies poke out overhead as you wander past colorful houses in hues of rose, yellow and teal stacked up the hillside. Suddenly, ornate domed sulfur baths fed by natural hot springs appear, remnants of the city's Ottoman and Persian influences. In contrast, the Italianate patios and piazzas mingling with Art Nouveau facades speak to 19th century Russian imperial tastes.
But take the rickety funicular up to Narikala Fortress for Tbilisi's most stunning viewpoint. Here you can gaze out at the jumbled cityscape of church spires and minarets, Soviet concrete blocks next to ornate theaters, all set against a backdrop of towering green mountains. The juxtaposition brilliantly encapsulates Tbilisi's multi-layered history and culture.
Delving into the Old Town's nooks and crannies brings pleasant surprises. A tranquil waterfall cascading beneath stone archways. Whimsical Gabriel sculptures tucked into hidden corners. Spice stalls aromatic with an exotic array of seasonings echoing Tbilisi's past as an eastern trading post. And gaping at the golden frescoes adorning Tsminda Sameba Cathedral, one of the largest Eastern Orthodox churches in the world located on St. George's Hill.
But Tbilisi's most fascinating allure is found by strolling its myriad cafés and bars housed in atmospheric converted buildings. Courtyard cafés with cozy nooks perfect for whiling away afternoons over a glass of local Mukuzani wine and cheesy khachapuri bread. Literary haunts like Café Gabriadze with its wispy hanging lamps where Georgia's intelligentsia once debated long into the night. There's even a café located inside an antique Soviet railcar on Rustaveli Avenue.
Nighttime brings another side of Tbilisi's charms, as locals and tourists alike flock to the bars and clubs of the Shardeni Street neighborhood. With its graffiti-adorned walls, strings of glowing lights overhead, and lively crowds serenaded by street musicians, Shardeni feels miles away from the tranquil Old Town just blocks away. Hidden basement speakeasies and bohemian rooftop lounges keep the scene buzzing into the wee hours.