25 little-known destinations that should be on your radar

When it comes to planning the vacation of your dreams, sometimes you need to think a little outside the box – and by that, we mean opting for a fresh vacation spot that's never crossed your mind before
Petra, Jordan. Photo: Shutterstock
Petra, Jordan. Photo: Shutterstock

Petra, Jordan. Photo: Shutterstock

If you need a dose of inspiration to get you going, consider these 25 little-known destinations that should definitely be on your travel radar

1. The Kvarner region of Croatia

The Kvarner region is hands-down Croatia's beachside triumph; a hidden slice of heaven that the Daily Mail once aptly described as combining "the Belle Epoque architecture of Nice, the grandeur of Vienna and the gorgeous terracottas and yellows of the Italian Riviera." In other words, it's that amazing. Hiding in the Adriatic Sea, the Kvarner Gulf and the islands that dot the coast going south are the real stunners here. Rab is known as "The Happy Island," while Pag has a reputation for over-the-top parties. Meanwhile, Krk entices visitors with a bit of culture and old-world charm.

2. Malé, The Maldives

As far as paradise beaches go, it really doesn't get much more heavenly than the Maldives. The capital city of Malé is an island with an urban flair. Surrounded by the warm, cobalt waters of the Indian Ocean, it provides visitors with a much-needed dose of city energy; a beachy metropolis where even the "skyscrapers" are fantastic shades of bright coral and vivid blues. Sultan Park, Medhu Ziyaarai Shrine, and the National Museum are top attractions in this extraordinary cityscape.

3. Thimphu, Bhutan

The tiny Himalayan country of Bhutan has a reputation for being ultra-spiritual. A regular stopover for Buddhist pilgrims, this tranquil destination is famed for its ancient monasteries and sacred temples. But there's more to Bhutan's story than blessed monuments and holy sites. The capital city of Thimphu brings something a little different to the table. This is where tourists and locals alike go for moonlit lounges, live music, popular nightclubs, and a bit of local shenanigans. Still, Thimphu is anything but ordinary. The city is famous for not having traffic lights. Instead, local policeman control traffic flow using old-school hand signals.

4. Botrivier, South Africa

For a bit of inspiration in the African countryside, add Botrivier to your travel itinerary. This small town is all charming vineyards and sweeping landscapes; vast green plains and hilly mountaintops. In a word: awe-inspiring. If visitors fancy a bit more excitement, posh Cape Town is only an hour away. The cosmopolitan city is buzzing with cultural treasures and outstanding restaurants galore, making for a nice break from the rugged terrain of Botrivier.

5. Cusco, Peru

Ancient relics of the once-booming Inca empire are alive and well in Cusco, Peru, making it a hidden travel treasure in South America. While Lima reigns supreme as the go-to destination for a dose of modern Peruvian culture, Cusco is where to go to celebrate the country's magnificent history. The area is known for its mind-blowing Inca architecture; an explosion of age-old structures that were years ahead of their time in terms of design. Once in Cusco, visitors can also travel over to wondrous Machu Picchu.

Morning sun rising at Plaza de armas with Adean Moutain, Cusco, Peru. Photo: ShutterstockMorning sun rising at Plaza de armas with Adean Moutain, Cusco, Peru. Photo: Shutterstock

6. Kangaroo Island, Australia

In South Australia is the mesmerizing Kangaroo Island; a wonderland of dazzling beaches and (as the name implies) incredible local wildlife – the island is loaded with protected areas and conversation parks. This means you're bound to spot everything from wallabies to Australian sea lions to bottle-nosed dolphins. Stay at a bushland cottage with your own wilderness sanctuary before sampling some of the island's freshly caught seafood and local wines.

7. Phnom Penh, Cambodia

For a different side of Asia, consider branching away from tourist-drenched destinations. Cambodia is a wonderful departure from the norm, offering up unmatched cultural experiences at every turn. The riverside city of Phnom Penh is home to attractions like the Royal Palace and the National Museum of Cambodia. For years, this little-known gem was dismissed as nothing special, but up-and-coming Phnom Penh is proving everyone wrong these days. Today, it's jam-packed with luxury hotels and up-market shopping districts. The markets are also phenomenal, especially the Psar Chaa and the Russian Market.

Read more: 17 places to visit in Asia this year

Wat Ounalom in Phnom Penh, headquarter of Cambodian Buddhism. Photo: ShutterstockWat Ounalom in Phnom Penh, headquarter of Cambodian Buddhism. Photo: Shutterstock

8. Park City, Utah

For a wintery escape, you might want to think twice before hitting the overcrowded Swiss Alps or Aspen. Instead, it's Park City that's attracting snow bunnies to Utah. This gorgeous part of the US includes nearly 400 miles of trails, upscale shopping, family-friendly fun, and some of the best ski resorts around. But Park City goes beyond winter fun, offering up opportunities for outdoor adventure all year round. For those who prefer something more mild, there's no shortage of culturally-rich events in town. Each August marks the kick-off of the Kimball Arts Festival, which features hundreds of artists along with live music, beer and wine gardens, and more.

9. Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai's reputation is anchored in ancient Wats and world-renowned night markets. And while tourists in Thailand tend to flock to glitzy Bangkok, more and more are beginning to make their way to the treasures in the northern city of Chiang Mai. Less hectic, this relaxing alternative is alive with revered temples and cultural epicenters. Visitors can also make their way over to the Chiang Dao Elephant Training Centre to catch a glimpse of these gentle giants bathing in the river. From there, hop on a raft through the verdant countryside for an unparalleled view of the city.

10. Monteverde, Costa Rica

Monteverde is a dream destination for nature enthusiasts, especially those craving something a little on the wild side. Here, you'll find a cloud forest reserve brimming with fluorescent fungi, indigenous frogs, and gorgeous local birds. This Costa Rican jewel is also home to the Sky Walk tour in Monteverde park, which boasts hanging bridge adventures, tranquil nature trails, and jaw-dropping views of the forest. Travelers looking to break away from the 9-to-5 routine and get back to nature are in for a treat.

Bridge in Rainforest - Costa Rica - Monteverde. Photo: ShutterstockBridge in Rainforest – Costa Rica – Monteverde. Photo: Shutterstock

11. Ceillac, Côte d’Azur

Where French wines are concerned, Côte d’Azur is known for its light, fine rosés – making it a top choice for a summer wine tour. Its capital, Marseille, is perhaps its most popular tourist destination, which means that many travelers often forget about the oft-overlooked Ceillac. Nestled in the Hautes-Alpes in Provence, it's located just over 357 miles from Paris. Breathtaking alpine scenery sets the stage for skiing by winter, hiking by summer. For a refreshing departure from bustling French hotspots like Paris and Nice, this little escape is downright heavenly. If exploring by foot, prepare to come across pools of placid, turquoise water hidden in the quiet, serene valleys of the Alps.

12. Vang Vieng, Laos

Roughly halfway between Vientiane and Luang Prabang is Vang Vieng, an idyllic locale that serves as a paradise of sorts for hikers and outdoor lovers. Adventure activities are abound in this little pocket of Laos (think tubing, river rafting, rock climbing, and cave exploring). By night, the lively bar scene won't disappoint, either. Where food is concerned, Vang Vieng is also an ideal spot for snagging some authentic Thai-Lao cuisine. If you like big thrills and semi-roughing it in the wild, put this one on your list.

13. Valkenburg, the Netherlands

The small municipality of Valkenburg is home to the highest castle ruins in all of the Netherlands. This little-known luxury travel gem is loaded with mystical underground caverns, wild, green nature reserves, and loads of family attractions – including Familypark Valkenier. What's more, this charming little getaway is relatively close to one of the world's most massive indoor ski slopes: SnowWorld. You can find your way there by jumping on a train or driving from Maastricht.

14. The Galápagos Islands

Tiny but spectacular, the Galápagos Islands remain a tempting destination in Latin America. They represent a real treat for nature enthusiasts and history buffs; this is where Charles Darwin worked out his theory of evolution. This isn't all that surprising, given the extraordinary wildlife that live in these parts. This includes 58 bird species, giant tortoises, and playful sea lions and dolphins. This bit of paradise, located roughly 600 miles from mainland Ecuador, is also home to the famous "Avenue of the Volcanoes," as well as some of the world's best dive sites.

Marine Iguana resting on lava rocks at Santa Cruz Island in Galapagos Islands. Photo: ShutterstockMarine Iguana resting on lava rocks at Santa Cruz Island in Galapagos Islands. Photo: Shutterstock

15. Big Sur, California

Before you hit up Los Angeles or San Diego, take a closer look at Big Sur. This majestic patch of rocky terrain is dotted with jarring seaside cliffs, twisty roads, and spectacular vistas of the Pacific Ocean and beyond. The best way to take it all in is on the famous Highway 1, where you can discover Big Sur right alongside the Santa Lucia Range. The region is a premier hiking spot on the West Coast, drawing both outdoor enthusiasts and lovers of the great outdoors – as well as ordinary folks looking to escape the hectic demands of everyday life.

16. Hangzhou, China

Just a hop, skip, and a jump from Shanghai, Hangzhou is a postcard-perfect destination – especially its cherished West Lake (Xi Hu). This lovely spot is altogether romantic, offering up unmatched views of the city's forested mountains, elegant bridges, and traditional pavilions and pagodas. Hangzhou is also celebrated for its beloved tea, misty hills, and sacred temples. In fact, it was once the capital of the ultra-sophisticated Southern Song dynasty.

A Pavilion Bridge In West Lake, Hangzhou, China. Photo: ShutterstockA Pavilion Bridge In West Lake, Hangzhou, China. Photo: Shutterstock

17. Sardinia, Italy

Sardinia's glittering beaches and thousands of prehistoric stone towers make it an Italian travel gem that doesn't always get the glory it deserves. Instead of rushing to Rome or Tuscany, consider the Mediterranean's second-biggest island (Sicily comes in first). Sardinia's ritzy beach resorts are the ultimate in luxury and also well publicized, but this list is all about little-known travel destinations. Wander off the beaten track to Sassari, a 45-minute drive inland, for a massive archaeology museum that spans prehistoric times up to the Middle Ages.

18. Petra, Jordan

To visit Petra is to experience a mash-up of marvelous ancient ruins and astounding natural beauty. It's no surprise that it's been deemed one of the "New Seven Wonders" of the world. Millennia-old footpaths, monuments and looming rockscapes make Petra the architectural and artistic jewel of southern Jordan. The Royal Tombs (aka the resting place of Nabataean kings) feature a dozen large burial chambers, and is perhaps the most alluring attraction here. Petra is where it's at for lost treasures and ancient ruins of years past.

19.  Michoacan, Mexico

This locale will leave nature lovers swooning. Michoacan happens to be the ending spot of the Monarch butterfly migration. Every October, millions upon millions of these creatures begin their migration to the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve all the way from Canada – a 3,000-mile journey. That means that from late fall to early spring, the mountains of Michoacan are loaded with fluttering orange butterflies all around. It's a natural phenomenon that makes for a once-in-a-lifetime tour. You can witness it a little over 60 miles northwest of Mexico City.

Read more: 25 things to do in Mexico

20. Parque Nacional Torres del Paine, Chile

This spectacular destination, also known as Torres del Paine National Park, doubles as a biosphere reserve. Its signature landmarks are the incredible towers of glacier-sculpted rock that point straight up toward the heavens. Ideal for hiking and camping, this Patagonian gem is perhaps the best spot for catching the most picture-perfect Chilean landscapes imaginable. The park is also known for its wide range of weather; from cloudless, crystal-blue skies to violent thunderstorms. If hiking one of the trails is too strenuous, travelers can opt to go it on horseback.

Let us take you there with our Wild Patagonia trip!

Torres del Paine in Chile. Photo: ShutterstockTorres del Paine in Chile. Photo: Shutterstock

21. Rotorua, New Zealand

Rotorua's serene countryside is made even more special by its abundance of steamy springs and active geysers. This small town on New Zealand's North Island is a volcanic wonderland known for its bubbling mud pools, stunning crater lakes, and natural spas. Visitors who find themselves in the Rotorua forest, can also visit a Maori village to soak up the culture of New Zealand's indigenous people by way of a traditional meal. (FYI It's said that a pressing of noses represents friendship.)

22. Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena is a picturesque old colonial town that's about as romantic as it gets. Horse-drawn carriages on winding, cobblestone streets are the norm, as are local eateries and cafes with an off-the-beaten-path feel. Its home-spun charm has made it a unique place to experience the Caribbean, and the bright pops of color on the buildings are mildly reminiscent of Havana; but Cartagena sets itself apart as a buzzing little port town that's oh so alluring.

23. Lake Mývatn, Iceland

There are natural wonders galore at Lake Mývatn. This Icelandic destination in the town of Húsavík touts everything from geothermal caves to natural mud pools – with some rare local birds thrown in for good measure. (Mount Hverfjall and the peaks of the Krafla volcano make for an unreal background.) The southern part of Lake Mývatn temps visitors with horseback riding and bike rides, while a collection of volcano-like pseudocraters captures everyone's attention. They're said to have been formed after molten lava ran over the marshland.

24. Staufen im Breisgau, Germany

For a fresh destination in western Europe, consider Staufen im Breisgau. Its proximity to the ever-enchanting Black Forest makes it an automatic winner. The mysterious woodland, which stretches over 100 miles, is all at once spooky and dazzling; its darkness home to rushing waterfalls, babbling streams, and serene pastures. Beyond the forest, Staufen im Breisgau is a quaint little town with some of the best local wine in Europe.

25. San Ignacio Town, Belize

Most people travel to Belize to unwind on the beach before exploring the incredible coral reef. While there's certainly nothing wrong with that, we think that a stopover in San Ignacio also deserves some prime real estate on your Belize travel itinerary. For starters, it's perfectly positioned for venturing out into the great Maya ruins that have been hiding for centuries in the forested northwest. Meanwhile, the heart of San Ignacio is chilled out and welcoming; a no-frills town with a fantastic selection of adventure sports and eco-adventures.


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