7 Best Unique Travel Destinations

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

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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

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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

  Udaipur, 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.

Jodhpur, India

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 wait.

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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

Hallstatt

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

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If you ever want an adventure, I’ve got a recipe.

  1. Be broke.
  2. Be stubborn about both seeing Machu Picchu and not paying the steep train prices because it’s the only reasonable way to get there.
  3. 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:

  1. Get a bus from Cusco to Santa Maria. This is many hours. More than 6 I think.
  2. 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.
  3. We spent the night and left our bags in Santa Terresa. But this is optional.
  4. 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.
  5. 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

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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.

 

Conclusion

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.

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23 Responses to 7 Best Unique Travel Destinations

  1. Alice says:

    Hmm, I don’t think you were trying to be offensive, but my husband is an astronomer, and astronomers are generally very friendly people like him! You do realize that when observing, they are asleep during a lot of the day, and working all night, right? When he goes to Chile, he’s pretty much just up on a mountain, working at the observatory! So I’m not sure where that statement came from.

    • Jamba Rogers says:

      Clearly the author has some sort of prejudiced feelings against astronomers. It’s the year 2014 and it is truly a shame that Ant-Astronmytism still exists. I believe that someday we will live in a world where man and his telescope can walk together in public and not get looks and rude comments.

    • Drew Macomber says:

      Hey Alice,
      It was meant to be a kind of joke. I’m joking because observatories are always and naturally in the middle of nowhere. I don’t actually think they are antisocial. Sorry for the confusion.

  2. Andrew Joubert says:

    Hey drew, it drew, love your site. I dont know a any unknowns outside of the US. But on a road trip through the US, mono lake in cali is pretty cool, and the canyon lands in Utah are endless people less awesomeness.

    • Drew Macomber says:

      Funny we were talking about Utah with a friend yesterday. Went to canyonlands once but it was super odd as we were completely alone. Would love to go back though. Looked up mono lake on google, looks odd and awesome.

  3. Jessica says:

    Loved this post! Love hearing about unique travel destinations!!

  4. Jamba Rogers says:

    Jamba is pleased with this post. Bring Jamba more posts like this one.

  5. Rachel says:

    We are taking our five daughters to Machu Picchu this summer, and I have been contemplating your route ever since you first published it last year. Surely I can handle 30 minutes of terror to save nearly $1000 on the train. After all, we survived the death road to Coroico (20 years ago when we were fearless and childless). How bad can it be?

    • Drew Macomber says:

      I actually have a video, albeit the worst quality video ever – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aVdsOUBG6oc

      But I’m sure you can do video search for it and find better ones. I mean, I did it there and back. It’s more in hindsight… like that’s a scary road. I would pay like $5 more and ask them to go extra slow. :-p

  6. Astronomer (43, Male) Seeking 18-25 Telescope says:

    Any telescopes looking to spend some nice evenings together, call me.

  7. Shiny Red Telescope says:

    Hey there, I’m a telescope. I’m 19. I’m a little shy. Let’s get together and take the asteroid belt off this solar system’s pants. Wooooh!

  8. Tara says:

    “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.” I don’t suppose you got pics of the parrots? We took the tourist train to Machu Picchu last time we were there but going back in 2016-not for the ruins but for the birds!

  9. Kevin says:

    Some of my favourite unique and non-touristy experiences have been:

    Avebury Stone Circle in England. Everybody knows about Stonehenge, but few people bother to visit its older sibling not too far away. Unlike Stonehenge, you can actually walk amonst and touch the stones. There is also an atmospheric pub right inside the stones where you can grab a pint and sit outside and ponder the mystery. When we were there 15 years ago, we pretty much had the place all to ourselves and that was in the middle of summer.

    Harpers Ferry, WV. Harpers Ferry is mostly famous for John Brown’s raid. It’s a very well preserved and pretty little town. Yes, it’s normally very touristy, however by the time the sun goes down, not just the tourists, but literally everyone is gone. We stayed (as of three years ago) in the one B&B in the town centre, and we will never forget walking the deserted streets at night. We actually felt like it was 150 years ago and that a ghost might pop out at us at any time!

    George Washington Bridge, New York City. The Brooklyn Bridge is crowded at all times of the day with tourists, but even few New Yorkers know about walking across the GW. No, the view of the Manhattan skyline is not as good, however the views of the Hudson River and Palisades more than make up for it. I belive it is also the only place one can walk between the states of New York and New Jersey as the other bridges don’t offer pedestrian access.

    Bermuda out of season. Normally of course, Bermuda is very touristy, however we visited in February a few years back. Yes, it is generally a bit too cold to lounge on the beach, however that’s not our thing anyway. We went to all the museums, historic houses, and walked all the nature trails, and we were pretty much the only ones there at every place! We also loved Bermuda because there were no chain restaurants, no Starbucks, and we generally just felt like we were far away from home even though we weren’t.

  10. Temo says:

    Drew, I really enjoyed the post. What’s your recommended way to get to Civita Di Bagnoregio from Rome?

    • Drew Macomber says:

      So we did it on the same trip where we rented a car with friends and saw Switzerland and Rome (lot of driving). So we drove to the parking lot.

      But there is a train from Rome to Florence, and it will stop in the neighbor bluff Orvietto. Apparently there are a few busses that go to Bagnoregio (I assume it means the town on the other side of the bluff). And the bus would be to “Cotral”. Don’t know how often that bus is, but Orvietto is a cool place to wait.

  11. Susan says:

    Wow, amazing. 7 years ago I spent the night (only one) in Civita di Bagnoregio. It’s almost surreal. The silence is overpowering. Sorry to hear about the tourist busses. Maybe it won’t destroy the serenity of that special place. And, I’ve been to the Saltzkammergut a couple of times. It’s incredibly beautiful, and Hallstat is in the most stunning location. Fantastic how these places are some of your favorite spots. Have you made it to Sicily yet? That’s high on my list, as is southern Italy in general.
    Thanks for a great post, and a wonderful blog!

    • Drew Macomber says:

      I haven’t been to Sicily. I hear that’s where the real magic is. So want to go.

      I could spend some serious time in Saltzkammergut. Would love to stay in Hallstatt for a while. But there’s more I’d love to see going west in Austria. And I like Bavaria as well.

      Thanks for commenting Susan!

  12. Elena says:

    Amazing list! I would have add the Togean Islands here too. Though the place’s hard to reach (a 14 hour ferry ride from Manado or Gorontalo, Sulawesi) it’s totally worth it!

    3 small hotels on one island, no wi-fi and cell-phone connection, gorgeous white sand beach and huge a,ount of corals. I’ve been writing about it in my recent post http://www.elenastravelgram.com/2014/05/most-unique-destination-indonesia.html

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