May 24, 2024 | Jamie Hayes

Spectacular "Hidden Gem" Vacation Destinations


Beat The Crowds

Paris. Cairo. New York City. Bali. If you visit any of these places, you'll probably have an unforgettable trip—and you'll spend the whole time elbowing for space among the other tourists. If you want the unforgettable trip without the crowds, visit one of these hidden gems. You won't regret it.

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Miyako-jima, Japan

Japan's own tropical paradise, the Okinawa island chain remains almost entirely unknown outside of the country. Natural beauty abounds across the whole chain, but Miyako is the most beautiful island of them all.

Miyako-jima, Japan663highland, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Chengdu, China

Tourists flock to Beijing and Shanghai, and overlook Chengdu, capital of the Sichuan region of Southwest China. Located in a region called "Country of Heaven," Chengdu sits at the foot of mountains, has some of the greatest food on earth, and stunning Chinese architecture you won't see anywhere else.

XiamenJay Huang, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

Mardin, Turkey

The ancient buildings in Mardin, Turkey are built up the slopes of a mountain, with an ancient citadel on top. One of those buildings will definitely have a rooftop cafe where you can enjoy a perfect Turkish coffee and meal while looking out on the plains of Mesopotamia, the birthplace of civilization.

Mardin, Turkeymuratart, Shutterstock

Boyaca, Colombia

The colorful towns and unique cuisine of Boyaca, Colombia are appealing enough, but most importantly, Boyaca locals are known as some of the most welcoming people on earth—but you have to meet them to see for yourself.

Boyaca, ColombiaOmar Jair Cabezas, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Transylvania, Romania

Don't let Dracula's Castle fool you: A trip Transylvania, Romania is like a storybook come to life—except the drinks are a lot stronger. Europeans know about it, but North Americans are still missing out.

Bran Castle, Transylvaniaecstk22, Shutterstock

White Sands Desert, New Mexico

White Sands Desert is well-named. The rolling, bone-white dunes are composed of the regions unique gypsum crystals, giving them their unique color.

White Sands Desert, New MexicoNational Park Service, Flickr

Ventotene, Italy

Usually overlooked compared to its better-known neighbor Ponza, the Italian island of Ventotene provides Mediterranean beauty and untouched Roman ruins in equal measure, and you can enjoy it without the crowds.

Ventotene, ItalyIslandVita, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Pantanal, Brazil 

Tourists flock to the Amazon to see Brazilian wildlife, but they should be flocking to the flooded grasslands of Pantanal, where you're all but guaranteed to see a jaguar—not to mention giant river otters, tapirs, Toco toucans, and so much more.

Pantanal, BrasilFilipefrazao, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Gunung Mulu National Park, Malaysia 

If you can brave the trip to the remote Gunung Mulu National Park in Malaysia, you can enjoy the stunning treetop hikes and enormous caves all by yourself.

Gunung Mulu National Park, MalaysiaPaul White, Flickr

Ohrid, North Macedonia

They don't call Ohrid "The Balkans' Pearl" for nothing! The views over Lake Ohrid at the picturesque Church of Saint John at Kaneo can't be beat.

Ohrid, N Macedoniastoimilov, Shutterstock

Plovdiv, Bulgaria

The oldest continuously inhabited city in Europe, Plovdiv has seen countless rulers, and you can see Roman, Bulgarian revival, and Islamic architecture all blending together. Plovdiv is unlike anywhere else in the world. 

Plovdiv, BulgariaMitzo, Shutterstock

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Bangkok sees countless tourists, while the northern city of Chiang Mai, Thailand, remains mostly unheard of. While you're exploring, the one thing you can't miss is the night market, one of the best in Asia.

Chiang Mai, ThailandTake Photo, Shutterstock

Iguazú Falls, Argentina/Brazil

Words can not do Iguazú Falls justice. It may be one of the seven new wonders of the world, but it's still largely unheard of in Europe and North America, despite being one of the most awe-inspiring natural spectacles in the world.

Iguazu Falls — Brazil And ArgentinaNido Huebl, Shutterstock

Slovenia

Bordering Italy, Austria, and Croatia, the small country of Slovenia has incorporated all the best parts of all these countries. Breathtaking landscapes, beautiful cities, and no crowds of tourists, Slovenia is maybe the best "hidden gem" European country in the world.

Sloveniafnfoto, Pexels

Bhutan

It's a hidden gem for a reason: The government of Bhutan heavily restricts tourism to protect the country. But, if you jump through their hoops and hire a licensed, $250-a-day guide, you will see an unspoiled nation unlike anywhere else in the world.

Paro, Bhutanxavier gallego morell, Shutterstock

San Jorge Eco-lodge Tandayapa, Ecuador

A hummingbird sanctuary in the cloud-covered mountains of Ecuador is just what the doctor ordered.

Time factsPixabay

Dubrovnik, Croatia

Though a hidden gem to North American tourists, Europeans have long known that Dubrovnik, Croatia is one of the most beautiful places in the entire Mediterranean sea.

Dubrovnik, CroatiaEric Hossinger, Flickr

Cartago, Costa Rica

Escape the crowds in tourist hotspots like La Fortuna, Arenal, or Monteverde and discover Cartago. Extremely accessible and full of natural splendor/Spanish colonial sites, yet still relatively unknown by tourists.

Cartago, Costa RicaGianfranco Vivi, Shutterstock

Madhya Pradesh, India

Picture an African safari, but with tigers, leopards, and sloth bears. Add incredible lodges, mouth-watering food, and no crowds? Madhya Pradesh in central India is a true hidden gem.

Madhya Pradesh, IndiaPaul Mannix, CC BY 2.0 , Wikimedia Commons

Sossusvlei, Namibia

The stark desert of Sossusvlei, Namibia looks like something from another world—and you can enjoy it from some of the finest luxury lodges in Africa.

Sossusvlei, NamibiaAxel Tschentscher, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Bushmans Kloof, South Africa

Down a small path through vineyards and meadows in Cederberg, north of Cape Town, South Africa, the world suddenly turns into a desert with massive rocks bursting up out of the ground, unique flora and fauna, and beautiful accomodations.

at bushmans kloofAbspires40, Flickr

Algonquin Park, Canada

Just a couple hours north of the metropolis of Toronto, Ontario the natural beauty of Algonquin Park is unparalleled. Paddle around lakes right off the road—or portage your canoe deeper into the park and find true solitude.

Algonquin Park, Canadamolgar, Flickr

Samarkand, Uzbekistan

Samarkand has been of the most beautiful cities in the world ever since the conquerer Timur/Tamerlane made it his capital in the 14th century. Must sees include Registan Square, Timur's Mausoleum Gur-e-Amir, and the stunning Bibi-Khanym Mosque.

Samarkand, UzbekistanAlaexis, CC BY-SA 2.5, Wikimedia Commons

Chutes And Ladders, Maui, Hawaii

You'll have to find a local to tell you where the entrance to Maui's Chutes and Ladders is. The approach down 40 feet of slippery cliff is extremely dangerous and has caused many injuries—but the pool at the end is undeniable.

Maui's Chutes and LaddersLuke Marlow, Shutterstock

Białowieża, Poland

The tiny village of Białowieża, Poland is like a portal to Europe's medieval, rural past. Explore the untouched forests and you might even catcha glimpse of the last remaining European Bison in the wild.

Białowieża, PolandUnknown Author, CC BY-SA 3.0, Wikimedia Commons

Ferry-Accessible Greek Islands

There are over 6,000 islands in Greece. Some, like Mykonos or Santorini, are extremely popular—but there are dozens of hidden gem islands like Kythnos, Kea, and Folegandros that offer spectacular views without the crowds.

Kanala, KythnosAthanasiadisDim, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

El Rocío, Span

A popular pilgrimage destination for Spaniards but largely unknown outside the country, El Rocío is like the Wild West of Southern Spain. In Spain's La Doñana national park, you can ride through El Rocío on horseback, get a drink at a bar while still atop your horse, and check out the flamingos and ibis in the lagoon in the midde of town.

El Rocio ChurchMarc Ryckaert, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Waterton Lakes National Park, Canada

Banff has some of the most amazing natural beauty the world has to offer—and the tourists to match. If you only want the first part, try Waterton Lakes National Park, just north of the American border in Alberta, Canada.

Waterton Lakes National Park May 2018Carolyn Miaral, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons

Tbilisi, Georgia

Still a relatively unknown region among Western tourists, Georgia has everything. Start in the capital city of Tbilisi for architecture, food, culture, and natural beauty, but the entire country is worth a visit.

Tbilisi, GeorgiaMostafameraji, CC BY-SA 4.0, Wikimedia Commons


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