The world is big, and it is unlikely that even the most seasoned of travelers will have the good fortune to explore all that our diverse planet has to offer in their lifetime. With that in mind, rather than follow the crowds to the same most-traveled-to destinations time and time again, why not seek out a more unique experience in 2020?
The TravelAwaits team reached out to travel experts, travel agents, and avid travelers to uncover their favorite lesser-known destinations from around the world that you should consider for your next adventure.
Mexico And The Caribbean
1. Jalisco, Mexico
Billy and Akaisha Kaderli of Retire Early Lifestyle recommend the so-called Golden Triangle of Tequila-making in the southwestern state of Jalisco, Mexico, not only for the tequila distillery tours but also the “clean, beautiful, high desert climate locations where the townsfolk are family centered and friendly. Restaurants, bars, and cafes offer lots of options for dining at reasonable prices.” The Golden Triangle is made up of the Jalisco cities of Atotonilco, Jesus Maria, and Arandas and provides an interesting alternative to other Mexican destinations.
2. Puerto Escondido, Mexico
Kevin Martin, former corporate lawyer turned travel writer behind 30 And A Wake Up, shared his take on this southern Mexican gem: “It’s easy to get to from the U.S., it’s a world class surf spot, and you can get a place on the beach for a third of the price of a similar place in Cancun.” The area also has a thriving nightlife. If you are looking to move away from the tourist traps of Cancun and other popular resort destinations, look no further than Puerto Escondido!
3. Bimini, Bahamas
“Bimini is the closest Bahamian island to the United States. But despite its proximity and easy accessibility, the destination feels like a world away — your own private Caribbean island escape, with endless authentic experiences you will not find in any other Bahamian island,” shared Manuela Iragorri of Turner, a PR firm out of Miami. Come for the pristine beaches, but stay and explore the more unique sites including the shipwreck of the SS Sapona with its just-off-the-coast artificial reef.
Central And South America
4. Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
“Besides the amazing natural wonders that the Osa comprises, including Corcovado National Park, it is also home to amazing local and community-run tourism businesses that provide travelers with once-in-a-lifetime experiences,” explained Eytan Elterman, cofounder of Lokal Travel. The Osa area on the Pacific coast of southern Costa Rica is a great choice to experience diverse wildlife while engaging with local Costa Ricans.
5. Zona Cafetera (Coffee Region), Colombia
“Many people visit Colombia each year and tread heavily on Cartagena, Medellin, and Bogota, but our favorite place in Colombia to date has been this beautiful green region with lots of coffee farms to visit,” said travel photographers Becca and Dan of @halfhalftravel. “The highlight though, was the Valle de Cocora, home to the tallest palm trees in the world.” The location is harder to get to than other Colombian destinations, but well worth the effort, especially for coffee enthusiasts and nature lovers.
6. Kaieteur Falls, Guyana
Julien Mordret of Exploration Junkie recommends the falls for those looking for an off-the-beaten-path adventure in South America. “It is one of the most magnificent and spectacular waterfalls on the planet — it is five times the height of Niagara Falls, yet, it is so little known that 99 percent of the time, you have this natural wonder all to yourself!” Guyana, a former British colony in northern South America, is a great destination for English speakers.
Leo Zhu of Lewis Travel offered up this South American gem stating, “The pace of life across the entire country is slow, unlike anything in the U.S. It also has beautiful beaches and great historic architecture in its capital city of Montevideo.” If you’re planning a trip to South America, bypass Buenos Aires and Rio and journey to Uruguay instead. Sports fans may find Montevideo alluring as it was the host city for the inaugural FIFA World Cup back in 1930; Estadio Centenario — the stadium built for the occasion — is still in use today by the national team.
8. Passau, Germany
“Passau is small enough you can’t get lost but large enough to keep you busy for at least two days; it has all the charm of Bavaria with the bonus of Italian atmosphere,” explained Penny Sadler of Adventures of a Carry-On. “The old town reminded me of Italy with its cobblestone streets and many squares filled with cafes and bars,” she added. This Bavarian town is known for being at the confluence of the Danube, Ilz, and Inn rivers — and for its 13th century castle, which stands near the junction on the northside.
9. Czechia (Czech Republic)
“This is a vastly underrated country, with castles, medieval towns, amazing countryside, and lots of vineyards, but hardly anyone seems to venture outside the capital city,” explained Karen Warren of WorldWideWriter, encouraging travelers to move beyond Prague and explore the rest of Czechia. Czechia is home to 13 UNESCO World Heritage Sites outside of Prague’s historic center. Make sure to take in castles in both Litomysl and Kromeriz in the east, or the Historic Centre of Cesky Krumlov in South Bohemia, which is centered around a castle of its own.
10. Abruzzo Region, Italy
“When we stayed in Pescara, the hotel concierge said most Canadians visit only if they have veterans that fought in the war in that area or have family there. But Pescara was the perfect base to explore the Abruzzo region,” shared Linda and David Holland of Retired and Travelling. They added, “Go off the beaten path in Italy, and you will find spots with fewer tourists and more local flavor.” Pescara is a great jumping off point to explore not only the Abruzzo region, but the rest of the Adriatic coast.
Maggie Turansky of The World Was Here First shared, “Georgia has a lot to offer, including stunning mountain peaks, cosmopolitan cities, and outstanding wine country — all at a very affordable price tag for Western travelers.” Georgia, a former Soviet state, is located in the Caucasus region between the Black and Caspian Seas, a more remote region of Europe that borders the Middle East and Asia. Maggie added that “Georgia has some of the best wine in the world, but its unique qualities aren’t well-known.”
Africa And The Middle East
Brendan Lee, the full-time traveler behind Bren on the Road, talked up this lesser-known destination in southern Africa by saying, “If you’re a first-timer in Africa, Namibia would be my recommendation by country miles. Never been anywhere like it.” From coastal deserts in the south to opportunities to experience wildlife safaris in the north, Namibia is a natural wonder and less visited than other similar African destinations.
“Africa for purists — those who seek unspoiled nature, far from the more touristed routes. Venture into this remote corner of southern Africa for a front-row seat to awe-inspiring game … vying for survival in the vast, untamed landscape,” shared Katya d’Angelo of Boundless Journeys. She added, “Botswana also has some of the most luxurious tented camps on the continent. A safari in Botswana is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
14. Mara Naboisho, Kenya
Whereas many are aware of the Serengeti in neighboring Tanzania, Mara Naboisho in western Kenya provides “a high concentration of wildlife, and low tourism density where guests are more likely to discover the paw print of a lion than the footstep of another human being,” according to Becca Fritz of Alluring Africa, a tour company that specializes in luxury safaris. If a safari is on your bucket list, look into Mara Naboisho as a great alternative.
Ari Charlestein, avid traveler and founder of Award Magic, told us, “Very few tourists are there, so at any given site — and there are many, from rural goat markets to old fortifications, and from a multitude of palaces to all the beautiful wadi hikes — you’ll rarely see more than 6 to 10 other tourists.” If safety is a concern when traveling, know that Oman is ranked higher on the Global Peace Index than most other Middle Eastern nations, and even bests the United States by several positions.
16. Sri Lanka
“Sri Lanka is an incredible country, and her people are the most gracious and amazing. From the busyness of Colombo and Kandy to the majestic grandeur of Adam’s Peak, the thousands of tea plantations in Ella to the beautiful beaches around Galle, this country has everything you’d want in a tourist destination!” shared Alicja Krysiak of Just Adventures. Sri Lanka, located off India’s southeastern coast, is steeped in history and an excellent choice for exploration.
Leyla Giray Alyanak of Women On The Road stated “Now that it is ‘open to the world’ after decades behind the Iron Curtain, its contributions to the Silk Road are there for all to see, especially the architectural wonders that have been magnificently restored. Too often, travelers bypass Central Asia altogether, yet the region is inexpensive to visit and easy to reach by air.”
Ken Hardaker of Dodgy Knees recommended Mongolia, saying, “On a recent trip around the country, we were really impressed by the amazing landscapes — from taiga (pine forests), lakes, and reindeer herders in the north, endless steppe (grasslands) in the center, and the Gobi Desert, camels, and monstrous sand dunes in the south. The people are friendly, the country is safe, and the Buddhist culture and Mongol Empire history fascinating.”
19. Raja Ampat Islands, Indonesia
While most travelers have heard of Bali, this lesser-known Indonesian locale is “an under-the-radar aquatic destination that is rich in biodiversity,” according to Alicia Korompis with Remote Lands, a tour company specializing in luxe Asian travel. Make sure to experience the unrivaled marine life as well as a nearby active volcano while avoiding the crowds.
Amy Alton of Out Chasing Stars shared, “I have spent 21 months in the South Pacific, and while Tahiti, Bora Bora, and Fiji are extremely famous places, they aren’t even in my top 10.” What makes her top 10, you might ask? Among the top three are New Caledonia, Niue, and Tonga, the latter of which she claims is “the best place in the world to swim with humpback whales.” The area is part of the whales’ natural migration from the Antarctic and offers up unique whale-viewing opportunities. Located only 500 miles from Fiji, Tonga provides a worthy alternative to its more well-known neighbor.
“Vanuatu is a country that feels truly wild, and in a world where travel is getting easier, such places aren’t so easy to find,” remarked Joe and Cat, the full time travelers behind Walk My World. The Vanuatu archipelago, situated less than 800 miles west of Fiji, “offers the stereotypical South Pacific experiences: incredible white sand beaches, natural swimming holes, volcanoes, and a unique and welcoming island culture, but in a way that doesn’t feel as structured or touristy as many more famous destinations,” they added. Vanuatu is also home to Million Dollar Point, where U.S. troops dumped war supplies into the Pacific after World War II. Despite being a massive waste of resources and an ecological blight, the site has become a popular diving spot.
Located just under 1,000 miles from the Philippines, Palau is much closer to mainland Asia than many of the other more well-known Pacific islands further east. “Beyond the incredible marine life, coral ecosystem, and iconic tropical island landscape, sunken World War II relics and abandoned ancient villages fascinate visitors,” said Katya d’Angelo of Boundless Journeys. She continued, “Palau is best explored by kayak and snorkel. Three major ocean currents feed this pristine archipelago whose turquoise waters boast quadruple the reef diversity of the Caribbean.”
United States And Canada
23. Long Beach, Washington
Just a half an hour drive north of Astoria, Oregon, Long Beach has a lot to offer, “from blueberry picking to hiking in the refuge areas to the endless beach and bike paths, this is an area of the coast worth exploring” says Becky Breshears of Over 50 Traveling. The town is also steeped in history from the famed Lewis and Clark expedition that should keep any history lover occupied for some time.
24. Winslow, Arizona
“Winslow is a great destination, with its Standin’ on the Corner Park inspired by the Eagles hit ‘Take It Easy,’ the historic La Posada Hotel, and a booming arts scene. Winslow is also a great home base for day trips to the Petrified Forest National Park — including the Painted Desert — Meteor Crater, Homolovi State Park, and the Little Painted Desert County Park. Situated just 50 miles east, everything Flagstaff has to offer is also easily accessible,” explained Howard Blount, the writer behind Backroad Planet.
25. Northern Minnesota
Linda and David Aksomitis of guide2travel told us, “Northern Minnesota, like the Iron Range it’s home to, has lots of layers to uncover when it comes to exploring the area. Part history, part geology, part nature and scenery, it’s all adventure!” The area offers the outdoorsman numerous opportunities to explore the lakes, caves, and forests. So, if you are looking to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities, a camping trip to Northern Minnesota may be in order.
26. Coastal Mississippi
“The 62 miles of Mississippi Gulf Coast soft beach sand is a hidden gem. Only an hour from New Orleans, the charming small town of Bay St. Louis is where New Orleans residents go for vacation. On the other end of Coastal Mississippi, Ocean Springs is super romantic with thousands of live oak trees, charming boutique properties, award-winning chefs and creative eateries, and a fantastic art scene,” shared Charles McCool of McCool Travel. Avoid the more-frequented coastal towns of Florida and experience the less-frequented coast of Mississippi.
27. Manitoba, Canada
“Come January, it can feel like winter is everywhere. But picture-perfect winter wonderlands are not!” shared Marissa Raimonde of Zapwater Communications. Explore Manitoba, from the streets of Winnipeg in the south to the picturesque views of Churchill on Hudson Bay. From urban culture to the northern lights and arctic wildlife, Manitoba has something for everyone.
Whether you are looking for adventure, rest, and relaxation, or an opportunity to meet and engage with local culture, consider one of these less-common destinations for your next trip in 2020. Do you agree with our experts? Email us and let us know your favorite under-the-radar destination that you feel deserves a spot on this list.