For some reason, there’s always something special about visiting destinations that other travelers aren’t flocking to. We all secretly love that feeling you get when it seems like you’re the only tourist around, even when that’s clearly not the case.
There’s no doubt that the world’s top travel destinations like Paris or Tokyo have rightfully earned their place within the hearts of travelers for their famed landmarks and world-class attractions. That being said, as intrepid travelers before us have discovered, there are many equally photogenic and beautiful places all over the world—you just have to work a little harder to get to them!
If you’re in need of an adventure, and you’re ready to (literally!) go down the road less traveled, here are our eight favorite spots that will help you achieve just that.
1. Koh Lanta, Thailand
Although Thailand isn’t a best-kept secret destination anymore, there are still a few places in the country that certainly don’t have the many tourists like Phuket. Koh Lanta, accessible by ferry through Krabi or Phuket, remains an unspoiled paradise for its visitors. Accommodating budget or luxury travelers alike, this island serves up an idyllic backdrop for couples on a romantic vacation, or friends looking to relax for a few days before continuing on the backpacker circuit. It easily wins the “best all around” title among the countless number of beaches in Thailand because of its beauty and myriad of activities. Whether you experience its world-class diving, kayak through mangroves, or get a Thai massage on the beach, Koh Lanta will quickly make its way onto your “favorite beaches ever” list.
Where to Stay: Crown Lanta Resort
2. Las Pozas, Xilitla, Mexico
While Xilitla may not be considered “off the beaten path” for many Mexicans, it is certainly a unique destination that will make for a memorable vacation that goes beyond the more popular Mexican tourist spots. In this town you’ll find Las Pozas, a garden which was built as a “surrealist eden” in the middle of the jungle. Created by the eccentric British aristocrat Edward James, this garden became his playground on which he built his “castle” alongside dozens of surrealist statues in the 1960s. Surrounded by spiral staircases that lead to nowhere, waterfalls, and cenotes, Xilitla is the perfect place to truly unplug and enjoy yourself. When you’re done exploring the garden, check out the local markets and restaurants in town before calling it a night in James’ hotel, Posada El Castillo.
Where to Stay: Posada El Castillo
3. Palawan, Philippines
In the westernmost island of Palawan, Philippines, you’ll find the perfect mix of incredible landscapes, pristine beaches, and reefs teeming with exotic marine life. Because there is so much to see here, the best way to get the most out of your time in Palawan is with Tao Expeditions. On this unique expedition, you can explore Palawan’s beauty in ways most tourists will never get the chance to experience. Since Tao has made special arrangements with the locals, each night you’ll dock at a different virgin beach to have dinner by a campfire, and sleep en plen air. By day, you’ll visit small villages or snorkel some of Palawan’s best reefs as you make your way to the next tiny island. An added bonus is that all of the food and snacks on the expedition are freshly caught and prepared daily and, simply put, they will completely blow your mind. Tao takes place over five days/four nights, and you can choose whether you’d like to make it a private party, or join others from around the world with their open group expeditions. As their website will tell you, these expeditions are geared towards people who don’t mind roughing it a bit, but we think they’re more than worth it.
Where to stay: Tao Expeditions provides accomodations
4. Alleppey, India
If you like the idea of cruising on a boat (but are looking for something a little less rugged than Tao Expeditions) you can find an equally amazing experience in Alleppey, India. Located on the southwestern coast of India, this part of the country lives off of the rivers and canals that run through the stunning state of Kerala. Luckily for us, tourists are able to cruise these canals by way of a houseboat for as many nights as they’d like, allowing for an intimate view of life in this part of India. Cruising by lush scenery, you’ll hear faint sounds of Indian music as you watch the locals take their water taxis to work, and see women in their beautiful saris tend their waterfront gardens while you enjoy one of the delicious meals the houseboat’s chef has prepared. The houseboats range from basic accommodations all the way to more luxurious rooms; just be sure to see exactly which one you’re getting before booking it to avoid any surprises!
Where to stay: in one of the many Alleppey houseboats
5. Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Most travelers are familiar with the beautiful colonial town of Antigua, but often miss the chance to visit the breathtaking Lake Atitlan that’s just a short car ride away. Engulfed by towering volcanoes, Lake Atitlan’s cool weather, and stunning scenery is the type of place that makes travelers want to stay forever. There are several small towns surrounding the lake that are all different in their own right, so choosing which one to visit will depend entirely on your taste for relaxing or partying. Regardless of where you stay, Lake Atitlan’s vibe and affordable prices paired with Guatemala’s beautiful culture will probably make you want to put down a deposit on a hillside cabin as soon as you get there.
Where to Stay: Casa Palopo
6. Koh Rong, Cambodia
While the ancient temples of Angkor Wat are sights that must be visited at least once in your lifetime, Cambodia also has a beautiful little secret off of its coast called Koh Rong. This island is the closest thing you can get to the movie The Beach these days. Just like the movie, the locals on this beach want to keep it relatively secret. Though it’s easily accessible by ferry, and dozens of tourists do come and go everyday, this island refreshingly seems to be lost in time (with the exception of wifi, which has found its way here, of course). There are no roads, which means all of the goods that come from the mainland have to be pulled up and down the beach by water buffalo. The few locals that live here, unlike the movie, live in perfect harmony with the expats, giving Koh Rong that true peaceful island vibe. Locals say that the island won’t be the same in five to ten years, so it’s better to go soon before the major resorts move in!
Where to Stay: Bongs Guesthouse
7. Moab, Utah
Carved into the characteristic red stone peaks, valleys, and arches of Southeast Utah, the city of Moab is a maverick among traditional get-away cities. It’s classic old west desert landscape is vast and rugged yet completely enchanting – truly an outdoor lovers paradise. With activities ranging from wine tasting at a riverside ranch to mountain biking through a tangle of beautiful trails to multi-day river rafting trips and hot-air balloon rides, there is something for anyone who enjoys nature. A Jeep trip through the iconic Arches National Park to see the awe inspiring Delicate Arch is a must-do as well, and a sight you will never forget. Make sure to come in the late spring or early fall for perfect weather.
Where to Stay: Red Cliffs Lodge
8. Cartagena, Colombia
A fascinating dream town where colonial Spanish architecture meets the blue of the Caribbean is a good way to describe the city of Cartagena. With a vibrant art and literature scene, and the warmth of the Colombian people, this city has danced its way into the hearts of travelers all over the world. Often compared to Havana, Cuba for its beauty and charming old town feel, Cartagena has managed to preserve its heritage while also keeping up with the modern world. Here, you can spend your days relaxing by the beach, or wandering its colorful streets while popping in to gorgeous family-owned boutiques. Regardless of how you spend your time in Cartagena, everyday will be a wonderful sensory overload, and you’ll be the envy of your Instagram friends!
Where to Stay: Ananda Hotel Boutique