Vienna, Thailand, touristy Mexico… all cool comfortable travels we’ve experienced. But sometimes you want to do something less comfortable. And I don’t mean comfort in terms of dirty, I mean tourist infrastructure.
All these destinations may not be incredibly far-flung or off the beaten path, but they are spots where it’s a little more like exploring, and a lot less like being at home. In fact, some of these destinations still have a lot of tourism. Comparatively though, these are hidden gems.
1) Civita Di Bagnoregio, Italy
It’s an old Italian town, with no roads to it because it’s an island in the sky.
Couldn’t I just end it there?
We carried our bags across a long skinny bridge up to this tiny little town where we spent a couple of days (thanks a ton Julie!). It was also slow season (winter), so that could have contributed to the placid feeling. So yea, we pretty much met like all 4 people living there, and spoke to the one who knew english.
Every night it was just us and old stone buildings, and I guess the other 4 people were inside. Thus, it’s a killer combo staying there. No people and incredible views.
Now tourism is hugely picking up. I was shown the stats for tourists for the last 5 years, and let’s just say that it went from nothing to a lot in a short amount of time. It will likely continue to increase, but most tourists come in a tour group and cross the bridge, snap pictures and keep going. That’s it.
There is a bigger more popular version nearby called Orvieto, but being in silence is what this was about.
2) Zakynthos, Greece
Zakynthos is another place about to boom. If you’ve never seen a picture of Zakynthos… then you’ve never been online. It’s all over tripadvisor now, stunt videos, travel agencies, and everything else.
It’s because it’s actually that beautiful that this island makes the list. Ever heard of Santorini? Of course. Zakynthos? Most people haven’t. And people who do, don’t get to explore the island. There were some tiny tiny little towns we stopped in, where it’s me, the mayor, those three old ladies, and the restaurant owner.
The island is absolutely stunning. If I don’t return there soon, someone slap me.
Plus, it’s home of the best restaurant ever – Malanos. I would not lie about food. Unlike taxes, food is a serious issue. This is the best food ever. Go for lunch. Ask him to show you the lunch dishes. Then try all of them.
Seriously, the island is like an arid mediterranean paradise.
3) Udaipur and Jodhpur, India
It’s unfair to name two because they were both excellent. But one is more scenic and the other more adventurous.
Udaipur is an incredibly beautiful gem but hardly a hidden one. Like a oasis , it’s a town of lakes in the middle of a lot of dry nothing. It’s truly a sight with the red Indian sun setting on the incredible buildings surrounding this lake.
This is also home to many very very high end hotels – like the Taj Lake Palace. So it’s apparently the vacation spot for the mega rich as well. A must see.
Then there is the not so touristy Jodhpur. It’s a 6 hour bus ride (and $4) through mostly dry lands with occasional sightings of monkeys (the squirrel of India), peacocks, camels and the usual.
But Jodhpur has a completely different feel. It’s not a destination. But it happens to be the “blue city” at the base of a huge and impressive fort. The blue buildings crawl around the elevated fort, making getting from one end of the city a few minutes longer than one would expect for a town that size.
No, the reason it took an extra 5 minutes in the rickshaw is the cows. Cows, in the middle of every street, and with no intention of moving any time soon. This town is not the fast paced big city vibe. It’s a very local feel.
We just sat on the fort walls looking over the blue city for an hour as the monkeys invaded and the sun set. Rarely a tourist, and there were especially none all the way to the end of the blue city where we were.
There is way more to do in Udaipur as a tourist, or at all. But there’s way less I understand in Jodhpur.
4) Hallstatt, Austria
I’ve already written about how dreamy this place is. But isn’t every alpine lake town dreamy?
Touche. But how many alp towns has China built a replica of?
I’m not sure how many, but I do know of at least one: Hallstatt.
Even the drive from Salzburg to Hallstatt is divine. It’s one of the few times in western Europe Ive thought, “this is a different world”. At some elevation culture changes, I suppose.
The town itself isn’t the most far-flung, it’s just simply incredibly scenic as it’s completely surrounded by the mountains. And it’s very very far from any thing that resembles hustle and bustle. Although that’s kind of the pace of Austria, but the nearest city* is Salzburg, which is already a place that should have an asterisk next it.
Touristy? Yes, the majority of the people there are tourists. But even in peak season when I’m sure there are way more tourists, it’s still a town you can throw a rock across. And you don’t have to walk very far to get away from people.
* City in this case is more like a town you can walk across.
5) The Back Way To Machu Picchu, Peru
If you ever want an adventure, I’ve got a recipe.
- Be broke.
- Be stubborn about both seeing Machu Picchu and not paying the steep train prices because it’s the only reasonable way to get there.
- Be okay with walking a mile or a few.
Once you have those ingredients you can make your way around to Machu Picchu.
See there is no road that goes to the base town of Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes. But there are roads to the town on the other side of the Machu Picchu mountain. It is on the other side of the mountain, but the walk is completely flat. It’s just along a set of train tracks that follow this river. Given how flat it is, it’s an easy walk.
Here’s how we did it:
- Get a bus from Cusco to Santa Maria. This is many hours. More than 6 I think.
- Get a taxi from Santa Maria to Santa Terrersa. This is by far the scariest part. It’s a oneway road and it completely drops off into a river… that’s like 600 feet down. 30 minutes max.
- We spent the night and left our bags in Santa Terresa. But this is optional.
- Take a collectivo or taxi to the “hydro-electric(a) plant”. There will be a bunch of local workers there and a tiny train station. 10 minutes.
- Walk or be lucky enough to catch the morning train. I have no idea when the trains come, but we just missed one early in the morning and then saw none on our walk. 1-2 hours.
Once you’re in Aguas Calientes you do like everyone else does and take the overpriced bus up to Machu Picchu. Not even I was walking up those stairs, then walking around, then walking back. We did walk down them though… which is how I know that little shuttle bus is worth it.
Then we did it all in reverse.
The best part is walking around on the train tracks. Just wow. I mean, we are looking straight up at Machu Picchu and the light is shining through into this river gorge. It’s lush, it’s completely peaceful, and the only sounds are from the flock of parrots we saw over the river.
The bus ride was long, but a great cultural experience and ultimately, you’re climbing high into the Andes, which is worth seeing.
The taxi ride is something I’ll talk about for the rest of my life, but being slightly scared of heights, I’m not sure I could do it again. But it’s all part of the experience.
Warning: There will be no luxury hotels on this route or first class beds on this bus. But you might sit next to an indigenous mountain woman like we did. Who… Just wow.
Then once up at Machu Picchu, I’m pretty sure you enjoy it that much more. Or less, because you’re tired but I’ve only tried it one way so far, so I can’t say. But it is the most epic site of ruins to see. Angkor Wat is up there on my ancient ruins list, but this was a more far-flung experience.
6) Pisco Elqui, Chile
I have no idea how we ended up in this tiny tiny little town. And I can’t remember why it took so long to leave… because there is nothing to do in the town. But we made tons of adventures outside of town.
The town is cool on its own, as it’s in this wine valley that’s surrounded by the enormous Andes. The land is utterly bare. Not a hint of green on any mountainside. Then along the river, and when the vineyards are in full bloom, the bottom is starkly green. Just green, brown, and blue.
This town is not an adventure though. It’s seriously not a town, but more like a couple of blocks.
But the hiking was wild. We saw a panther at the top. I was excited to tell our hosts, but I’m not sure how impressed they were. There are some wild canyons and rivers going through these mountains. If you want to spend for a guide or horse, it might be worth it just to see the area (although we didn’t have a guide or horse ourselves).
If not obvious, wine tasting is recommended. And if you’re familiar with Chile or Peru you may be familiar with the famous drink Pisco, which originally comes from Pisco Elqui (both Peru and Chile claim they invented it though). It’s a big local drink and a lot of it comes from this valley.
Also, this is a major hub for astronomers. If the clouds are kind, pick some time to go to an observatory.
In a way it’s the center of nothing, with lots of things to do. Does that make sense? Like, hiking can be done without people. And apparently astronomers don’t like people, or people don’t like astronomers. And I’m pretty sure everyone there works on a vineyard, but I could be making that up.
7) Park Du Bic & St. Lawrence Seaway, Canada
Have you ever seen the “Triple Rainbow” video?
Well, that was pretty much my reaction as we were driving towards the sunset, down the St. Lawrence Seaway. We had no idea this tiny National Park existed, but it was honestly the best sunset I’ve experienced.
This area, and Prince Edward Island, it’s what I picture Iceland to be like. Unreasonably green, lush, tons of flowing water, and a touch of fairy tale landscapes – red clay cliffs, green lands covering houses, karst mountain shapes over water.
Canada is huge and beautiful, but considering just how beautiful this area is, it’s surprisingly unknown and not talked about.
There are beautiful spots all over the world that get comparatively less tourist traffic. Maybe it’s a personal thing, but having too many people ruins being in nature. It’s why Yosemite isn’t my favorite – it’s more like Disney Land. It’s why Phuket isn’t my thing – it feels a lot like being in a crowded water park. Even in Bali, people don’t leave the southern tourist route (Kuta to Ubud) and never see the volcanos, culturally rich villages, and great snorkeling.
This is a hipster thing of seeing it before it’s cool. It’s simply that I love to have cultural experiences while traveling, and I’m sorry, but being around a bunch of Europeans is not the culture of Thailand. Well… it kind of is now, but you know what I mean.
Thus, a great travel destination is a lot of beauty, with the sensation of exploring. I don’t have to be the first to discover that place, but I want to see something starkly different.
For that reason, I’d love to hear other suggestions on these great travel destinations! Do you know of any far-flung or not popularly talked about spots? Would love to hear it, and then go there.