With global tourism on the rise, the usual suspects are seeing a bump in their numbers, including London, Bangkok, Paris, Dubai, Istanbul, New York, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul and Hong Kong – which represent the top ten cities on MasterCard’s Global Destinations Cities Index. Many of the usual suspects appear on popular Places to Visit in 2016, but they will not appear on my list!
Following my recent three week stint in southeast Asia, I have been to eight of the world’s ten most visited cities. These cities top this list for obvious reasons, but what about all of the cool places that rarely make these sorts of lists?
Having visited 60 countries, I have been to some of the world’s most popular destinations and I have also been to places that the average person does not typically think of visiting. I have been to beaches where there are less than five tourists in sight and I have partied in some of the top clubs in the world.
Those who are new to traveling often want to visit places that their friends have visited or places that they see constantly on sale on travel sites. Travel is all about the adventure and the unknown so why not go slightly off the beaten path, as is the case of some of my suggested destinations or just jump in the deep end and visit some locations that I am willing to bet none of your friends have visited. Either way, below I offer a list of some of my favorite travel destinations that I do not believe receive their due time in the spotlight. Some of my best memories are in places where I encountered less tourists and had a chance to mingle with locals.
1. Luang Prabang, Laos
I visited Laos in September so I am currently still obsessed with it. Not only was it low season while I was traveling in southeast Asia, but Laos is a country that is not on the top of many travel lists, heck, it wasn’t on my radar at all until my Thai friend that I was staying with in Chiang Mai suggested that I hop over to Luang Prabang, a city that I had never heard of.
A short and ridiculously picturesque one hour-flight from Chiang Mai, Luang Prabang is what dreams are made of. The Buddhist culture permeates the quiet yet, electric feel in this UNESCO World Heritage site. From the lush green mountains that are carved through by the majestic Mekong River to the beautiful wares found in the night market to the culture of the daily Tak Bat – almsgiving for the local monks – to the mouth watering fresh fish dishes, Luang Prabang is any traveler’s dream.
2. Toubab Diallow, Senegal
As part of my whirlwind 30th birthday celebration in 2014, I traveled to Senegal to visit and old friend (read: ex boyfriend). I was really excited to visit the west African francophone nation as I had heard nothing but good things about its people, culture and food. Senegal did not disappoint.
About a two hour drive (sometimes less depending on whether or not your taxi from Dakar takes you all the way!) is the idyllic Toubab Diallow. This little known hideaway is often obscured by the more popular Saly Nord. I fell in love with Toubab Diallow because of the uncrowded beaches, the regular interaction with locals who were not working in the tourism industry and the delicious food.
Last year when searching for the country that would be the 50th on my journey to see all of the countries in the world, I picked Haiti. My selection was partly driven by the cost of the flight, but certainly solidified by Haiti’s unique history, culture and beaches.
My inaugural trip to Haiti did not disappoint, in fact it solidified Haiti on my travel list. From the bustling Iron Market in Port-au-Prince to the beautiful sunset views at Boutilier to the clear waters off of the coast of L’île de la Gonâve, Haiti has something to offer any traveler. For the adventurer amongst us you can visit Bassin Bleu near Jacmel for some high jumps into the water below and for those that enjoy art you can spend some time in Jacmel exploring the works of local artists. If looking to visit Haiti this year, think about joining the Jet Black trip in March.
Waterfalls, thermal baths and glaciers. Do you really need anything else? This country is still high on my list after spending a mere three days there when I first visited. I need another dose! Many times I have visited countries that I have heard a lot about and Iceland is one country whose reviews are accurate. The Blue Lagoon is magical and you will never forget the first time that you hiked a glacier.
5. Sesse Islands, Uganda
I have been traveling to Uganda since I was seven as it is my ancestral home. While I have visited several parts of the country, it was only in 2013 that I visited the Sesse Islands. These islands are located in Lake Victoria – the world’s largest tropical lake -, and are reachable by ferry from either Masaka or Entebbe. This is a place as with many others on the list that has minimal tourism so you often have the beach to yourself, you can take hikes with very few others around and you get to witness daily, immaculate sunsets over Lake Victoria, not to mention the fresh Nile Perch and Ugandan Waragi!
6. Cabo Polonio, Uruguay
Uruguay’s coast is riddled with quaint beach towns where the speed of life moves at a snail’s pace, the seafood is plentiful and local beer is always available. One of my favorite of these towns is Cabo Polonio, a small town, or perhaps village is more appropriate, that is not accessible by car.
The sleepy village that has a population of 95 does not receive many tourists nor do they have running water or electricity. It is situated on the Atlantic Ocean, offering expansive beaches and awe inspiring views. The highest point in the village, the lighthouse, is one of few sites to see and just next to it on the rocks in the ocean below, you can often times find sea lions working on their tans. If you’re looking for something off the beaten path, this is should be at the top of your list.
I have been to Utah twice now, once in the summer and once in the winter. I went during the summer as part of a western US road trip back in 2009. What stood out then and now about Utah was the amazing landscape. We spent several hours on the road and were able to take in a lot of what the state has to offer. My favorite was Monument National Park. The natural geologic formations clearly express the power and beauty of nature.
If you fly to Utah you will likely fly into Salt Lake City. The highlights for in the capital are its namesake Lake which in both summer and winter were absolutely breathtaking and a restaurant called the Copper Onion (not to be confused with the Copper Common on the same block). I found the restaurant by scouring Yelp for recommendations and after reading a few reviews we ended up there. If you make it to the Copper Onion be sure to have the green beans with crispy onions and the ricotta dumplings. And if you ever have a chance to go to Park City for the famed Sundance Film Festival, GO! Between the parties, films, and snowboarding in nearby mountains, it was truly a memorable experience. I will definitely return in the future.
8. Roatan, Honduras
I have been to A LOT of beaches in my lifetime. I’ve been on beaches on six of the world’s seven continents. I’ve sunbathed on the shores of oceans, seas and lakes. I am constantly chasing the next beach vacation so imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon Roatan, a small island off the coast of Honduras in the Carribbean Sea. Don’t get me wrong, I am not trying to Columbus the gorgeous beaches of Roatan, but I do think that they do not receive their due time in the limelight. For me, Roatan has the perfect landscape which consists of crystal clear blue waters against a backdrop of mountains and lush greenery, which landed it on my list of favorite beaches.
When many people think of Rwanda, thoughts harken back to the bloody genocide of 1994. Having had 21 years to heal Rwanda is now a great destination for tourists. The small east African nation has a lot to offer including three national parks, a lush mountainous landscape, a clean and safe capital city, Kigali, and the majority of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas. Because the country is relatively small, 10 days in the country would allow you to enjoy a taste of everything the country has to offer.
10. Northern Finland
In my seemingly unending quest to see the Northern Lights, I found myself in the Arctic Circle this past November. The closer you are to the North Pole the more likely you are to see the lights, which is why upon booking a ticket to Helsinki, I followed the purchase with another booking to head north to Lapland. While my only goal during my trip to the North of Finland, I was pleasantly surprised by the other activities which reduced the pangs of disappointment from not seeing the Northern Lights. Between snowshoeing, dogsledding, visiting Santa in his hometown, Rovaniemi, and relaxing in cozy cabins with your friends, Lapland offers the perfect escape for a great group of friends to explore one of the northern most parts of the world. I suggest going in the winter, make sure you bundle up!
What’s on your travel list for 2016?