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I’m excited to share this compilation of off the beaten path destinations as told by my fellow travelers. Each one offers such a unique perspective into these cities and countries that may not be on everyone’s radar, and I have definitely added several to my bucket list thanks to their contributions. There is a good mixture of international countries as well as places here in the United States. Be sure to check out their individual blogs for more details on these fascinating places!
Contribution by Patrick Bennett of Uncommon Caribbean
When it comes to off-the-beaten-path travel in the Caribbean, one destination always comes to mind: Dominica. Not to be confused with the Dominican Republic, this small island is quiet, unspoiled, and a nature adventurer’s dream. Visitors can hike thick rainforests, chase dozens of waterfalls, dive a huge protected underwater volcanic crater. And when the adventuring is done, bask in the glow of sunset in Champagne Reef. This is a beach where tiny bubbles rise from the sand to engulf your body thanks to subterranean volcanic activity. In fact, volcanoes play a pretty big role in why Dominica is so under-explored. On this small 290 square mile island, there are nine (yes, nine!) active volcanoes. To put that in perspective, over half of the Caribbean’s 16 active volcanoes are here. This geologic activity makes Dominica the youngest island in the West Indies. It also creates awe-inspiring peaks that tower into the Caribbean sky over 4,747 feet tall. These steep slopes capture rain to grace the island with 365 rivers. There are also fantastic results of the volcanoes like Red Rocks—a unique landscape in the north where volcanic slate has oxidized to form a desolate red landscape. Dominica isn’t just off-the-beaten-path, it almost defies belief!
Pidurangala Rock, Sri Lanka
Contribution by Jenn and Ed Coleman of Coleman Concierge
This is an astounding off-the-beaten-path destination in Sri Lanka that’s perfect for the budget-minded adventure traveler. Hiking Pidurangala Rock offers an iconic view of Sigiriya Rock (almost a drone shot!), without the cost and crowds of its notorious neighbor. Entrance to Pidurangala is only a couple of dollars, as opposed to $30+ to enter Sigiriya. On the way up, you can also visit a small cave temple complex that’s thousands of years old, which is included in the ticket price. Pidurangala Rock is walking distance from Sigiriya Rock and the town of Sigiriya located in the central highlands of Sri Lanka. Allow 2-hours to hike to the top and back, but you will want to stop to visit the reclining Buddha statue, cave temples, and take photographs from the summit. The best times to visit are in the cool mornings or late afternoon. No matter when you go, climbing Pidurangala Rock will give you a new perspective on Sigiriya, both literally and figuratively.
Contribution by Betsy Ball of Euro Travel Coach
Islay is an island off the west coast of Scotland and it is a traveler’s dream. Renting a car is easiest, but you could also travel the island by bike. You can rent one in Port Ellen for about £15 a day. This town is the largest on the island and is accessible by ferry from the mainland. Wild camping is a great option here, as it is legal in Scotland as long as you make sure to comply with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. Reasonably priced Airbnb’s are also recommended. This Scottish island is well known for its famous whiskey distilleries. From Port Ellen, you can walk or ride your bike to Ardbeg, Lagavulin, and Laphroaig. A great bank for your buck option is the Bruichladdich Distillery Tour which is a very reasonable £5, redeemable against a 50cl or 70 cl bottle. The tour is fascinating and the pours afterward are generous. Hiking here is insanely gorgeous and gives you the best opportunity to experience the island’s rugged beauty. Trails are all over the island with differing levels of length and difficulty. Do prepare for changes in the weather, after all, it does rain a lot in Scotland.
Koh Kood, Thailand
Contribution by James Finn of Travel Finn
My favorite island in all of Thailand has to be Koh Kood (also spelled Kut). This is the easternmost island in the Gulf of Thailand. It is not as developed although there are several high-end resorts and development is growing. I preferred to stay at Kozy House. A small bungalow on the central river. There are free kayaks for use here. A quick paddle up river takes you to the waterfall. At the foot of the waterfall is a huge swimming pond popular with locals and tourists. Paddle downriver and you’ll come out right on the beach. The water around Koh Kood is among the clearest waters in Thailand. This island offers all this and more. You can even find entire secluded beaches all to yourself on the east coast. Skipping Koh Kood is a huge mistake.
Contribution by Drew DuBoff of DrewDuBoff.com
Without a doubt, the best place I have ever traveled to was Dinkelsbühl, Germany. I was there back in 2014 as a part of a choir that was touring Switzerland, Belgium, Germany, Austria, and Italy. We stopped in Dinkelsbühl for a couple of days to do a concert. Our stay just so happened to coincide with a children’s festival, which was the most precious thing. All the kids in the town, which has an appearance straight out of a storybook, were dressed up in their finest lederhosen and dirndls. I also got to have the BEST Italian food, which is kind of funny considering it was Germany. The man who ran the restaurant was a Sicily native and he was normally closed the day we were scheduled to go, but he opened up the restaurant specifically for our choir tour. I had the gnocchi with pesto cream and it was just the lightest, most pillowy gnocchi you’ve ever tasted. If you want to visit a historic, walled-in city that dates back centuries, I highly recommend visiting Dinkelsbühl.
The Apostle Islands, Wisconsin
Contribution by Kristin Montgomery of Growing Global Citizens
Wisconsin is probably not the first place you think of for spectacular National Park scenery. However, Wisconsin‘s only National Park (technically a National Lakeshore), the Apostle Islands, is well worth a visit. Despite living in Wisconsin for nearly 30 years, I had never visited this Northernmost part of the state. I headed there to take part in my first inline skating marathon. Yep, that’s a thing. The race was on Madeline Island, the only one of the 22 islands that allow private development has a population of 200-some brave souls who inhabit the island year-round. In the winter when Lake Superior freezes over, the inhabitants drive to the mainland and back on the ice. The main winter attraction is the ice caves. On other islands, the rocky geography forms ice caves that can be walked into from the frozen lake. In the summer there are numerous boating options to cruise around the islands. Many islands allow camping. Keep an eye out for bears and eagles! The main tourist attraction here is obviously the natural beauty, but Madeline Island does have a well-done historical museum. It portrays the indigenous inhabitants and French fur traders that made the area a trading post in the 1600s. The Apostle Islands are a less-visited destination but a great place to enjoy the clear blue waters of Lake Superior.
Sepik River, Papua New Guinea
Contribution by Patricia Pagenel of Ze Wandering Frogs
Papua New Guinea is remote – not only as a destination but simply by its location. Sharing the island of New Guinea with Papua, PNG doesn’t see many travelers due to its reputation for violence and poverty. However, as we traveled there for two weeks, we met with the most welcoming people and had the chance to witness traditions millennia-old as we visited the region around the Sepik River, one of the longest rivers on the island. There stand tick forests and lush jungles, mighty rivers and small villages, and of course ancient culture. The crocodile beliefs are active in the area, as the crocodile dances, the crocodile scarifications young men wear, and the crocodile stories elders tell.Villages all feature men’s huts, which, as the name says, are strictly used by men. In these “Haus Tambaran’ in local pidgin, the ancestors’ spirits, the village history, the drums, the ceremonial gear, and masks find a home. Many of the villages have their own art and crafts, and their distinct dances. Here the mask dance where men wear heavy head-to-toe costumes and masks, there the cassowary dance where children participate together with another sizeable human-size cassowary attire.
Ithaca, New York
Contribution by Jenn Geckler of Match Atlas
Once you roll into town, Ithaca, NY feels about as far off the beaten path as you can get. For starters, there is no direct way of getting there that doesn’t require some time spent on open country roads. Halfway between Syracuse and Binghamton, Ithaca is a bustling college town with a walkable downtown center, great food scene, and some pretty amazing waterfalls. If you’re looking for outdoor adventure, spend a day at Robert Treman Park (voted one the best swimming holes in the state), Taughannock Falls Park (this waterfall stands three stories taller than Niagara Falls!) or Buttermilk Falls State Park (take the Gorge Trail for a really beautiful, shaded hike). The Cayuga Nature Center is home to the TreeTops, a six-story treehouse that you can explore. Tucked away on Cornell University grounds, Flat Rock is a shallow wading area popular with the locals for lounging and picnicking. If you’re in town for a weekend (April – December), make a stop at the Ithaca Farmer’s Market at Steamboat Landing. Ithaca Children’s Garden (free; open daily) is a unique family experience. This place has won awards for its inspiring design and mission to connect children (and adults!) with their environment.
Lake Orta, Piedmont, Italy
Contribution by Katy Clarke of Untold Italy
When most people think of the Italian Lakes, their thoughts turn to Como, Garda, and Maggiore. Vast and beautiful, they are all on the well-worn path and are on the bucket lists of most visitors to the region. I prefer tiny Lake Orta, a small lake to the west of Milan in Italy’s Piedmont region where you will find one of the prettiest villages you will ever see and a mysterious island that is home to a community of nuns. The town of Orta San Giulio on the lake’s southern shore has cobbled streets, draping wisteria and tiny laneways from where you catch glimpses of the lake. From the town’s main piazza you can see the Isola San Giulio with its ancient Basilica rising high above the surrounding rooftops. It is a short boat ride to the island where you can walk the “Way of Silence and Meditation” toward the Basilica, itself filled with beautiful frescoes and paintings. If you like outdoor adventure there are many gorgeous hikes around the lake and up the surrounding peaks. The most famous is the hike up the hill from Orta San Giulio to Sacro Monte di Orta, a UNESCO world heritage site dedicated to the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. From here there are stunning panoramic views of the lake. Orta is one of those places that stays with you long after you have departed and it is well worth taking a detour there if you are visiting northern Italy.
Contribution by Maggie McKneely of Pink Caddy Travelogue
Fredericksburg, Virginia is directly in between Washington, DC, and Virginia’s capital city, Richmond. You wouldn’t think a town located between such famous and popular neighbors would be considered “off-the-beaten-path,” but in reality, Fredericksburg is overlooked by east coast tourists. But that’s a shame because the town is filled with history and charm and well worth a visit. There’s no shortage of things to see for a history buff. Fredericksburg was the childhood home of George Washington. Visitors today can tour the farm where he grew up, as well as the house he gave his mother later in life, the plantation his sister and brother-in-law built, and numerous other places around town connected to the Washington family. The city was also the site of two major Civil War battles. For nature lovers, the city is located on the banks of the Rappahannock River and offers a plethora of outdoor activities such as canoeing, kayaking, and exploring the many trails along the river. Art lovers can spend time touring the many downtown galleries or take part in a creative workshop at Liberty Town. Fredericksburg is an underrated town that should definitely be on your radar.
Santo Antão, Cabo Verde
Contribution by Manouk Oord of With Love From Far Away
My favorite destination off the beaten path is the beautiful island Santo Antão, part of the country Cabo Verde. This African country used to be part of Portugal and contains several different islands, all different and unique. Santo Antão is special because the mountains hide a green valley in the middle. This valley is called Paúl and makes the island so special. It is very different from the dry and sandy islands Cabo Verde is most famous for. Santo Antão grows many fruits and vegetable and is often called ‘the garden of Cabo Verde’. The best way to explore the islands is by hiking. You get to the island by ferry from neighboring island São Vicente. After that, you can take a taxi or rental to other places on the islands. But most of the beauty can be seen if you hike around the islands. You can do small hikes or longer ones and all of them are possible without a guide. If you think you will get lost, you will always find a local who will show you the right direction. When you need to rest your legs, you can always go back to the beaches on São Vicente.
Inner Banks of the Pamlico River, North Carolina
Contribution by Alison Paul Klakowicz of Hodge Podge Podcast and Blog
The estuarine tide of the Pamlico River pours into the Inner Banks of Eastern North Carolina from the Pamlico Sound and spills into winding marsh creeks where osprey soar, providing safe passage for watercraft traveling up and down the Eastern Seaboard from Maine to Florida byway the Intracoastal Waterway. The estuary flows past quaint harbor towns and farming communities such as Belhaven, Aurora, Jarvis Landing, Core Point, Bayview, Blounts Creek, Bath, Chocowinity, and Washington. I’m proud of my native home; my roots deep as the first settlers who walked its breathtaking shores. Crashing of waves on pier piling, caw of seagulls, dolphins at play, and golden sunsets set your soul afire. If the waterway could talk it would tell tales of Native Americans who lived on the fertile land; fished plentiful seas, speared fish and game from white sand, pine and cypress laden shores centuries before the first European settlers arrived. Known for its most infamous inhabitant: Blackbeard who sought refuge in Bath in the 1700s. The hypnotic shores continue to attract visitors worldwide longing for salty spray in their sails, historical sites and museums, charming waterfronts, and laidback seafaring life. For more information on this travel destination, go here.
Emily again! I’m curious – which destination would you visit first from this list of hidden gems? Have you been to any of these beauties? Share in the comments below. Thanks for reading!
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