Some are halfway around the world, while others may be just a short drive or flight away. But what all of these beautiful destinations have in common is that they’re criminally underrated, almost to the point of being secrets. Bypassed by tourists in favor of better known hot spots, you’ll find terrific cities and towns, incredible landscapes, affordable prices — and virtually no travelers.
Here are 9 of travel’s best-kept secret destinations.
Dreamy coastline, a quiet tourist scene, and an emerging wine and olive oil industry all support the Puglia “cucina povera” mentality, a focus on pared down, local, rustic, back to basics cooking where local ingredients shine. Chances are, if you have a romantic vision of what Italian life looks like, you’ll find it in Puglia. There are Vespas aplenty, old-fashioned “Nonnas” (grandmothers) wearing handkerchiefs over their hair, and very little English heard on the streets. If you’re into adventure, the caves of Castellana should be on your can’t-miss list.
Want to read more about Italy? Check out 14 Less Well-Known Italian Attractions.
With far less tourist traffic and visitors compared to neighboring countries in South America, Bolivia is home to the “world’s most dangerous road.” But that doesn’t deter hearty travelers excited to visit a country with 7 UNESCO World Heritage sites. Bolivia’s Madidi National Park, while remote, is an eco-traveler’s dream destination. If you’re lucky, you’ll see beautiful rainforest flowers, the local Indigenous people of the area, and maybe even a jaguar!
One of the most ecologically-minded countries in the world, in beautiful Slovenia the lakes are crystal clear, honey from local bees with special legal protection is cherished, and user-friendly public transportation is the name of the game. In the cosmopolitan capital, Ljubliana, the buildings look like something from a fairy tale — and the wine scene is equally dreamy. Within the space of an hour or two, you can be in hiking in the Alps or relaxing by the lake — accompanied by a tiny portion of the travelers you’d find in nearby Switzerland or Italy.
For years, Malawi wasn’t so much a destination as a stopover, a place to enjoy a few days of rest and relaxation by the shores of Cape Maclear midway through a “Cape to Cairo” overlander trip. Now the country is a star attraction in its own right. Revitalized wildlife reserves are safari-destination worthy without the crowds of Kenya or South Africa. And on pristine Lake Malawi, scuba divers are rewarded with the largest number of fish species in the world. Lilongwe, the leading city, is constantly expanding and increasing its services for visitors.
For travelers who aren’t afraid to push their limits, Ethiopia beckons. Home to more UNESCO World Heritage sites than any other country in Africa, it’s the perfect destination for visitors interested in religion, history, archeology, geography, and nature. If you time your trip just right, you might just see some of the most beautiful wildflowers in the world. If you prefer to walk on the wild side, there’s a serious quest to be found in Ethiopia: the Ethiopian wolf, a creature of myth and legend, is the focus of safaris here.
With spectacular whale-watching, kayaking, and hiking, especially in its famed Gros Mourne National Park, Canada’s remote, eastern province is as beautiful as it is friendly. The capital city of Newfoundland, St John’s, is home to delightful, colorful houses, a lively pub scene, and terrific museums. There are few tourists in St John’s and even fewer in the smaller cities and towns of the island. While traveling there is a bit of an ordeal — your only choices are a flight or a long ferry ride from Nova Scotia — it’s an affordable destination and it offers terrific value.
Located in Argentina’s northwest, Salta province is the perfect mix of urban and rural — both equally underrated and underappreciated by travelers at large. With cathedrals, a thriving local crafts scene, traditional folklore and music, and museums with long-mummified people, the city of Salta really is a destination that has a little bit of everything. When you’re there, don’t forget to set some time aside for cafe visits with yummy cafe con leche and take the opportunity to learn how to dance the Tango!
Sleeping in yurts? Check. An under-the-radar rock-climbing scene? Check. And hardly anyone else around? Check! Kyrgyzstan is one of Asia’s least-visited countries but an absolute fan favorite for anyone who loves off the grid, nomadic adventures. The country, part of the ancient Silk Road, is home to the second largest salt lake in the world, and hosts the World Nomad Games every two years.
Its claim to fame is as the self-declared hometown of Santa Claus, but whether you’ve been naughty or nice, the gorgeous natural landscapes of Finnish Lapland should be on everyone’s wish list. Equally jolly is the booming local food scene with a focus on sustainability and tons of winter sports to keep you coming back for more. You’re almost guaranteed to see reindeer — but elves are less certain!
We hope this article has inspired you to consider traveling somewhere off the beaten path. There’s nothing better than being the only person you know to have visited an obscure destination — and it makes telling those travel stories that much sweeter. Happy trails!