It’s time to saddle up and frolic around the South American countryside, gaucho style. From the pampas of Argentina to the jagged cliffs and foothills of the Andes, witness the wild terrain from a different perspective. At one of these authentic ranches, or as the locals call estancias, experience one of the world’s last frontiers in the centuries-old tradition of the early pioneers. The hard-working ranch hands still round up cattle in the vast grasslands of the pampas and enjoy a rustic, simple country life.
10. Estancia El Bordo de las Lanzas, Salta, Argentina
For an authentic estancia experience, Argentina style, head to Estancia El Bordo de las Lanzas in Salta, a 400-year old ranch and the oldest of its kind in the country. It’s also a great spot for exploring the foothills of the Andes and the nearby Lerma Valley by horseback. After a ride with a local gaucho who knows every inch of the terrain, head back to the luxurious estate for some asado, the traditional Argentinian barbeque. This estancia, which still serves as a working ranch, is perfect for experiencing an authentic day in the life of an Argentinian cowboy. Join the gauchos for a cattle round up and a trail ride through the beautiful and romantic countryside of Salta. Established in 1609, the estate’s historic tradition of warmth and hospitality also comes with all the rustic trappings of the early pioneer days.
9. Estancia Puerto Consuelo, Puerto Natales, Chile
At Estancia Puerto Consuelo in Puerto Natales, Chile, you’ll have the chance to explore the romantic shoreline filled with flamingos and swans on horses that are as laid-back as the Chilean countryside. Once the gaucho shows you the ropes, get ready for a glorious, unforgettable gallop through Patagonia, one of the last frontiers. In 1893, the explorer Captain Herman Eberhard first arrived on the shores of the magnificent terrain and shortly after the Estancia Puerto Consuelo was established, one of the first ranches of the Ultima Esperanza Province. With the peaks of the snow-capped Andes and foothills, there is no shortage of breath-taking views, especially by horseback. After a day of riding the trails and exploring the rustic, pristine landscape, rest your sore legs and sip on a glass of Malbec at the Bories Hotel, a charming country house situated on the shores of Last Hope Sound.
8. Posada de la Laguna, Argentina
Posada de la Laguna is a working ranch in the heart of the Ibera Wetlands and a popular spot among nature lovers and horseback riders for its wild, beautiful landscape and Argentinian horse riding traditions. If you’re feeling adventurous, head out onto the trail bareback with gauchos leading the way. The ranch also offers accommodation in their elegant lodge, which is situated on the shores of the Esteros del Ibera Lagoon, a haven for caimans, capybaras, and exotic wildlife. Venture out for an evening gallop along the shores of the lagoon while taking in sights of the boggy wetlands. For those looking for an eco-vacation filled with scenic tranquility and natural wonders, this pastoral estancia provides a comfortable hangout in between trail rides and boat tours. And like the cowboys will tell you, when you’re in doubt, let your horse do the thinking.
7. Estancia Dos Lunas, Cordoba, Argentina
Deep in the heart of the Ongamira Valley is the 3,000 hectare Estancia Dos Lunas, a remote, hidden gem in Cordoba, Argentina. With big skies,
6. Sayta-Cabalgatas, Salta, Argentina
Another great spot for a horseback riding vacation is Sayta-Cabalgatas in Salta, Argentina. Situated among the ancient tobacco fields of Chicoana, the estancia is housed in a grand, whitewashed colonial style estate. In a place that literally means “where time stands still,” get swept away on a horseback trail ride through mountainous panoramas, big canyons, and trickling streams. At night, cowboys and visitors rest their tired legs over a glass of red wine and excellent Argentinian steak or barbeque. That way, when you climb into the saddle the next day, you’ll be ready for the ride. Because of its proximity to the remote areas of Bolivia and the Andes, explorers will get to witness up close the indigenous tribes that still live the simple, ancient way of life carried on by centuries of generations. In this rural, isolated region, you’ll feel miles away from the harried, bustling urban centers like Buenos Aires.
5. Estancia Cerro Guido, Puerto Natales, Chile
On the border of the Torres del Paine national park in Chile is Estancia Cerro Guido, a typical style ranch that follows in the old pioneering traditions of the first gauchos. Ride to the top of the heaped stone cairn surrounded by snow-capped peaks and feel on top of the world. Experience the Patagonian tradition at one of the country’s grandest and most beautiful estancias. Besides horseback riding adventures, the estate also offers a menu in the old world tradition of barbeque lamb, fine steaks, and lots of South American red wine. Founded in the 19th century, the ranch was built as part of the “Sociedad Explotadora Tierra del Fuego,” and the establishment as Chile’s premier sheep-farming trade. It might be the 21st century, but in this remote part of the continent, you’ll feel as if you’ve traveled back in time to the pioneering days.
4. Pampa Estancia, Rurrenabaque, Bolivia
The setting of the Pampa Estancia in Rurrenabaque, Bolivia is impressive with the surrounding jagged foothills of the Andes and the dense, exotic Amazon rainforest. Saddle up and head out into the countryside and explore the vast, open grasslands of the Reyes pampas as the poncho-wearing gauchos make their cattle wrangling rounds as they have done for centuries. In a fantasy of a lifetime, visitors of all riding levels get the chance to be an authentic South American cowboy for an entire week on their popular eco-tours. So, get on your chaps and ride out into the sunset to discover hidden lagoons, a thriving wildlife habitat, and unchartered terrain. The ranch house also offers riders a peak into the life of a Bolivian cowboy as they go about their daily chores. Prepare yourself for adventurous days of horseback riding through the pampas, evenings with traditional Bolivian food, and beautiful crimson sunsets.
3. Estancias Los Potreros, Cordoba, Argentina
For a horseback riding adventure in the Sierras Chicas, head to Estancia Los Potreros, a working cattle ranch in the Cordoba region of Argentina. Stretching across the western border, the Central Sierras is one of the highest mountain ranges outside the Andean cordillera. Situated on top of a mountain, the estancia is an oasis of dramatic scenery, riding trails, and the traditional way of life of the Argentinian cowboy. For centuries, the gauchos have been perfecting their horse handling skills, including breeding methods. At Los Potreros, horse riders will get the chance to ride the Paso Peruano, a Peruvian horse that is considered to have the smoothest gate of any horse breed. After a day of adventure, take an evening gallop over to Potrero de Loza, the main guesthouse, and relax by the fireplace in a room decorated with charming relics from the old days.
2. Estancia Huechahue, Argentina
For exploring the Patagonian Steppe of Argentina, locals recommend crossing the rugged, wild terrain on horseback, a tradition carried on by Estancia Huechahue for over four generations. Follow the cattle hands on trails through the mountains and witness up close the natural beauty of Argentinian Patagonia. With a rich history of horse riding, the gauchos know every cliff, foothill, and grassy plain of the Andes, and their horses probably know it even better. In a world of vast, untamed terrain, it’s the perfect spot for a glorious gallop across the valley. After a day of trail riding, head back to the lodge, a cottage that encourages rest and relaxation with big trees and a tranquil pond. In a land of homegrown food and a thriving cattle business, visitors have the rare chance of experiencing one of the last remaining cultures that cultivate a simple, wholesome way of life.
1. El Galpon del Glacier Estancia, Argentia
In the heart of the dramatic landscape of Argentina is the El Galpon del Glacier Estancia, a traditional style ranch in the El Calafate region of Santa Cruz. With the word glacier in their name, you can expect spectacular horseback rides through the jagged glaciers known for their magical, iridescent hue of aqua blue. With such a varied landscape, riders have the chance to see impressive panoramic views of iceberg-filled lakes and vast pampas of the grasslands. On a peaceful ride at the edge of the world, you’ll be far away from the smog and noise of the urban centers like Buenos Aires. El Galpon del Glacier is a joyous departure from modern life and the typical vacation. Visitors will get the rare treat of seeing the challenges and bliss of estancia life. From the shores of the Argentinian Lake, hop on one of their sturdy horses and gallop along the waters.
Age is just a mind set but your body, on the other hand, can deal out something a little less easygoing than attitude when you start getting up in numbers. While there’s really no ideal age to get up and take a crack at some of the world’s most adventurous destinations, tackling some of the following trips can be a lot easier in your 20s than in later years, especially when you might have a family in tow. Being single, young, and without boatloads of responsibility makes these endeavors some of the best to take in your 20s.
7. Mountain Bike Lake Tahoe’s Rim Trail
Encircling North America’s biggest alpine lake, Tahoe Rim Trail spans more than 260 kilometers and offers some of the best vistas from any single track. With more than 128 kilometers open to mountain bikers, Tahoe Rim Trail presents an epic ride with the track between Spooner Summit and Tahoe Meadows one of the best riding trails in the country. Bring your A-game here, where fast descents and gritty, skyward climbs bring a heart to the brink while offering rewards of spectacular Nevada desert views. Beginning at Spooner Lake campground, ride nine miles until splitting off to adjacent Flume Trail, a 35 kilometer run which technically isn’t part of the trail but is the Rim’s signature ride. When the lake comes in to view, the scene is breathtaking–keep your eyes on the single track though and stop to let them wander across the great landscape.
6. Explore Namibia’s Skeleton Coast
On Namibia’s North Atlantic Ocean coastline is the Skeleton Coast, referred to by the Portuguese as The Gates of Hell and by Namibia’s bushmen as The Land God Made in Anger. The name stems from the book Skeleton Coast, written by John Henry March in 1944. It chronicled the Dunedin Star shipwreck of 1942, just one of many floundering off the Namib Desert Coast for the treacherous, rocky conditions. The landscape is barren, desolate, and stories abound of seafarers wandering endlessly in search of water and food. If you’re not a sailor, you’ve got nothing to worry about, only a surreal environment best known for the scattered bones of seals and whales, and possibly even a few ancient human remains. The Skeleton Coast is one of the most remote areas in southern Africa. Adventure tours take groups through, exploring the world’s biggest sand dunes, tracking endangered Black Rhinos and elephants on foot through the desert, and meeting Namibia’s indigenous tribes.
5. Climb Huayna Potosi, Bolivia
A mountain climbing trip in your 20s is somewhat a rite of passage so why not aim for Bolivia’s Huayna Potosi, a 20,000-foot high mountain surpassing all the U.S.A’s highest peaks by at least a mile. Huayna Potosi is in Cordilla Real and though to climb it you’ll need ice axes and crampons, you won’t need any other technical experience, just basic equipment. Choose one of dozens of guided trips to Potosi in Paz, where you can’t pass a door front without someone shouting a climbing deal at you. The most common route is a no-nonsense glacier ascent. The first day is usually spent setting up camp, hiking to the glacier base, and practicing a variety of techniques, from walking to rescue. Day two is go time, but it’s on day three, when the peak is reached that the rewards are reaped with astonishing views of La Paz, Lake Titicaca, jungle valleys, and the entire Cordillera Real expanse.
4. Yacht Week
Yacht Week requires no special skills–there are no glaciers to scale, mountain bikes to ride, or anything that takes more than just having a good time. Yacht Week is a seven-day adventure aboard a luxury yacht, hanging out in the trendiest spots, and exploring the best place to get a tan. It’s really quite perfect for anyone in their 20s. First, you choose a destination: Croatia, the British Virgin Islands, Italy, Greece, or Thailand. Next you choose a yacht type and then begin the journey with a boatload of friends and international personalities. On each of the seven days, a new destination is reached, with up to 20 yachts in tow, and every night, all the Yacht Week people party together at exclusive events. You don’t even need to know how to sail, though bonus points if you do because you won’t have to pay for a skipper.
3. Burning Man, Black Rock Desert, Nevada
Started in 1986 by two friends who burned an effigy on a beach during the Summer Solstice, Burning Man has grown through the years to become one of the biggest and most unique events in the United States, from a mere few hundred people throughout the 1980s to more than 60,000 people in 2015. The event is based on ten specific principles.“Burners” are inspired by the values echoed through these principles and endeavor to pursue a more connected and creative existence. How this is actually achieved is what’s so incredible about Burning Man. Tens of thousands of people gather to create “Black Rock City,” a makeshift society solely based on self-reliance, art, and self-expression. Each year there is an annual art theme, scores of special events, creative circles, and of course, the burning of the man on the final day within the temporary community. This is the place to completely let go of inhibitions.
2. Motorbike through Vietnam Highlands
Riding a motorcycle through Vietnam isn’t an act of madness, nor one of bravery. Vietnam’s cities do have some crazy, hard-to-manage roads but all you really have to know is how to cross a road in the country and the motorcycle part all slips into place. If there’s a gap in the road, traffic will swarm there. Once you learn that, and how to take it slow, everything is so much less daunting. One great route is to begin in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), explore the Mekong Delta via a boat ride, and continue on through the Vietnamese highlands by motorcycle. Make your way up and down the gorgeous countryside, stay in friendly, traditional villages, and meet like-minded people en route. Independent travelers can rent or buy a motorbike easily (if you buy one, it’s no different than haggling over a used car and you can easily offload it on another potential sightseer, often for what you paid).
1. Trek to Machu Picchu via the Sacred Valley
If pleasantly meandering, centuries-old trekking paths between traditional Peruvian villages sounds good, read on. If you’re yearning for a look at the alpine ruins of Machu Picchu, taking the alternative hiking route through the stunning Sacred Valley is the way to go. Yes, the Inca Trail is a classic and it’s definitely an incredible route but today, with no independent treks permitted, all you’ll see is mostly large groups of tourists ambling their way forward, with porters lugging their gear. But where the Inca Trail is a solid four to five day hike, the path through the Sacred Valley is ten, with about six hours of solid hiking each day at altitudes crossing mountain passes at well over 13,000 feet. Though it sounds a little rough, it’s a beautiful walk for anyone even moderately fit. The best part is the chance to explore and visit the village of Cachiccata and many other small, Peruvian alpine villages.
There are traditional hotels the world over, from inexpensive motels to five-star luxury resorts offering a spread of classic services. For some, a clean room, comfortable bed, and a few valuable services are ideal but for those with a wild side and a definitive sense of adventure, something more unexampled is in the cards. Thankfully innovative hoteliers have come out of the woodwork to share their unusual–and sometimes even bizarre–hotel concepts. From Brazilian treetop rooms to a hotel made entirely of salt, here are ten of the world’s most interesting and unusual accommodations.
10. Propeller Island City Lodge, Germany
Berlin’s Propeller Island City Lodge is a visual masterpiece and a hotel unlike any other. Lars Stroschen, a renowned German artist, has designed a hotel-meets-museum backdrop with 30 one-of-a-kind rooms spanning from tame to incredibly dramatic. From a room with beds crafted from lion’s cages to one with a padded cell and another with a sloping floor called Mineshaft, these rooms are anything but conventional. The living work of art is nothing short of incredibly creativity–an inspiring feat for any visitor. The hotel is situated in fairly incognito postwar area block mostly comprising flats and accessible to exploring Berlin’s most significant destinations. A truly standout hotel, Propeller Island City Lodge is imagination coming to life from the head of an extremely innovative mind. If possible, ask for a multi-room stay to get real a feel for the breadth of the rooms.
9. The Dog Bark Park Inn, Idaho
About as unconventional as it gets when it comes to hotels, The Dog Bark Park Inns in Idaho is an immediate attraction for dog-lovers, even those just driving by. Chainsaw artists own the Beagle-shaped hotel, which stands at 12 feet and sleeps four. The second-story deck is the entryway and portal to the interior body, reached via a large sliding door and near (surprise) a giant fire hydrant. The Dog Bark Park Inns is on the grounds of Dog Bark Park where visitors can browse folk-art chainsaw sculptures including dogs, moose, bear, and fish throughout the grounds and explore the husband and wife’s art studio. The artists in residence, Dennis and Frances Sullivan, are each self-taught in chainsaw art methods and have created more than 60 different breeds of dogs. The property of pet-friendly of course!
8. V8 Hotel, Germany
In Stuttgart, Germany, in the area’s Motorworld Region (an international hub for car traders), the four-star V8 hotel has been attracting auto lovers from all around the world. Classic modernism is the style used throughout the hotel, where racing paraphernalia, and even a drive-thru cinema, are key players. Ten car-theme suites are offered here, with beds designed in the shape of various cars, from modern to sporty and vintage to classic. Book early and choose from suite themes like a car wash or automotive garage. Sleep in a classic Mercedes, VW Bug, or Morris Minor. Each room is designed with dedicated car enthusiasts in mind and features a host of unique props like car-shaped soaps and faux gas pumps. The historic airport terminal was once a docking station for the 1920s Graf Zeppelin flights and home to the ME-109 squadron fighter during WWII.
7. Hotel Marqués De Riscal, Spain
In Elciego, Spain southwest of Pamplona is one of Canadian architect Frank Gehry’s most unusual endeavors, Hotel Marqués De Riscal. Situated in one of the country’s prominent Rioja wine regions, the avant-garde hotel is similar in style to Gehry’s other revered projects including the Bilbao Guggenheim: a mammoth structure with colossal metal ribbons implemented on the exterior creating dramatic contrast between nature and modern design. The ornate structure overlooks the surrounding vineyard, appearing as a whimsical creation from afar. Belonging to world-famous Starwood Hotels group, Hotel Marqués De Riscal is available for those with thicker wallets but worth the cost for the onsite Michelin-starred chef, luxurious Spa Caudalie Marqués de Riscal, and exquisite wine selection. Certainly one of the most unique looking hotels, it’s the exterior that shines while rooms really only stand out for their massive, slanted picture windows fringing sweeping terraces.
6. El Cosmico, Texas
Anyone with nomadic tendencies–or simply a love for unique experiences–will admire 21-acre El Cosmico in Marfa, Texas. Rather than one building, El Cosmico features a variety of shelters for guests including Aboriginal-style tepees, tent campsites, scout and vintage trailers, Mongolian yurts, and safari tents. Though it all sounds rather slapstick, design is an integral part of the shelters which are based in the high plains Texan desert. Communal spaces include an outdoor kitchen, outdoor stage, a hammock grove, and a community lounge. The owner, Liz Lambert, encourages guests to liberate themselves from modern world constructs and build on the unique theme: El Cosmico offers several ways to become truly involved in the concept of creativity with cooking and art classes, onsite building projects, song-writing classes, and more. Bikes for exploring the desert area and wood-fire hot tubs are also available at El Cosmico.
5. Quinta Real Zacatecas, Mexico
Get in the ring without the bull at Quinta Real Zacatecas, the 17th century San Pedro bullring painstakingly transformed into a luxury hotel. In 1975, the bullring hosted its final run and stood stagnant for years. Snapped up by Quinta Real hotel group, it was extensively renovated while maintaining the original colonial architecture. One of the details of the hotel design is the bullpens: the bullpen wall was integrated into the hotel’s restaurant as part of the main bar. But the most impressive parts are the grounds. The entire bullring floor, now called the plaza, is still intact, and the hotel faces an ancient viaduct–both are near the Mexican capital of Zacatecas, sitting on the edge of a rocky cliff side alongside the hills of the Cerro de la Bufa and lying almost 9,000 feet above sea level just five minutes outside of the city.
4. Inntel Amsterdam Zaandamn, Netherlands
Stacking houses to create one seamless building is an unconventional but creative way to build a hotel. The fairytale-esque Inntel Amsterdam Zaandamn is made from 70 individual houses put together like puzzle from both townhouses and cottages typical to the local Zaan area. The hotel, just 12 minutes by train to Amsterdam, is a sight to behold–each of the house are brightly painted in various colors which makes each individual house stand out accentuates the puzzle-like construction. The house colors, each a shade of vibrant green, are traditional colors of region. The inspiration for each of the rooms comes from local history and each is modern with clean lines and interesting features such as giant wall murals. Guests have access to onsite amenities including a Finnish sauna, Turkish steam bath and a pool with adjacent spa. This is modern-day comfort meeting tradition head on.
3. Capsulevalue Kanda, Japan
In Japan, capsule hotels are a popular concept and one that works quite well with the country’s high population and very limited space. Stacked on top of each other and side by side to maximize on space, the capsules are exactly as they sound, tiny spaces perfect for one person and a few items. The capsule hotel concept has become so popular in fact that sleeping pods will also be introduced in Helsinki airports. Basic and cheap, the Capsule value Kana in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi area is a popular stopover for both tourists and businessmen looking for inexpensive accommodations who don’t require a host of services traditionally offered by hotels. The entrance to each capsule opens to enter and can be closed up to create private quarters. Communal washroom and baggage storage is also available. Capsulevalue Kanda also offers TVs, alarms, and free WiFi along with a business lounge.
2. Ariau Amazon Towers, Brazil
Far west of Fortaleza along the Rio Negro riverbanks in Manaus, Brazil is Ariau Amazon Towers, an eco-retreat high in the treetops where guests wake to the sounds of songbirds and the calls of primates. Visitors can stay in a dense jungle paradise and enjoy animal sights and encounters of all kinds. Tucked into the lush canopy, several circular buildings are incorporated into the tree-top level high above the river. Within this high-reaching resort, there are bars, restaurants, a swimming pool, and almost ten kilometers of wooden walkways skimming along the tree canopies through thick forest canopies. Each and every room includes a balcony affording incredible jungle panoramas and the perfect place to hear the call of the wild. This treetop wonder is one-of-a-kind, built by Dr. Francisco Ritta Bernardino in 1987–his inspiration was Jacques Cousteau, the famous oceanographer, a staunch Amazon River preservationist.
1. Palacio de Sal, Bolivia
At more than 10,000 square kilometers, Bolivia’s Uyuni salt flats are the largest in the world so where better to build a hotel made entirely of salt? The entire hotel and most of its furnishings are constructed from salt. The magical, natural space is on the majestic banks of the Salar de Uyuni, less than 30 kilometers from its namesake town, and in complete harmony with the surrounding landscape. Some might think a hotel built of salt would be more of a rustic experience but that couldn’t be farther from the truth: Palacio de Sal’s single and double rooms include central heating, hot and cold running water, and private baths. Each exhibits an igloo-shaped ceiling and simple, modern furniture and several spectacular common areas with fantastic outdoor views. A broad lobby, bar, central heat, and a complete electrical system throughout 30 rooms are offered.
Early in 2015, the venerable New York Times published its list of ’52 Places To Go To This Year’. Its reasoning rested on the observation that “Untrammeled oases beckon, once-avoided destinations become must-sees and familiar cities offer new reasons to visit.” Its philosophy seems to be that it’s time to stop fighting our way into the overcrowded, stratospherically expensive established sites. Most of the list that follows features three qualities: great food, novelty and at least one United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) site defined as “places on Earth that are of outstanding universal value to humanity”. There are 1007 UNESCO sites in all as of this writing and the places below contain almost 200 of them. Provence and Tuscany? How about Georgia with terrific wine, breathtaking scenery and enough history for a bus full of PhDs. Tired of the prices and lineups in Greece? There’s this little fishing village on the Turkish Riviera. It’s a great idea. Let’s change it up a bit here people. Do something original. How about a feast of muskox on a sub-Arctic speck of rock in the North Atlantic? Beyond that there are some tourism plain Janes who have suddenly let down their hair and are proving to be quite fetching. And there’s a promising crop of the shunned or unavailable who are opening up their unseen treasures. The war in Sri Lanka, with its seven World Heritage Sites is over. The pariah state of Zimbabwe with its incredible wildlife, savannahs, is behaving. So, in the spirit of the Times, here are the best of the best. Twenty totally fresh ways to seriously renovate your travel itinerary:
20. Kas, Turkey
Less expensive than Greece, far less overrun than other places in the region, Kas is a happening place. This little fishing village on the Turkish Riviera, the Turquoise Coast is one of those ever-dwindling number of getaways where you can still get away. It has all the active seaside things you’d want: kayaking, trekking and serious diving (with wrecks and underwater sculpture). One Times reader called it “a must for nature lovers”. To firm up both the mind and the thighs, there are hikes along the Lycian Way to see tombs from the pre-Roman Empire. The elaborate ones carved into the mountainsides are extremely impressive and the best ones are a 45 minute drive away in Xanthos. Pronounced “Cash”, it won’t take a lot of yours to enjoy quality down time without the partying hordes.
19. Baku, Azerbaijan
Begin with the walled city dating from the 12th century. UNESCO calls the 15th century Shuirvinshaj’s palace “one of the pearls of Azerbaijan’s architecture which reflects evidence of Zoroastrian, Sasanian, Arabic, Persian, Shirvani, Ottoman, and Russian presence”. Looming over the ancient streets is the gaudy modernity of the Flames Towers, a pair of 600 foot buildings, flame shaped, with thousands of LED lights whose ‘flames’ can be seen for miles. It works as an elegant combination of very old and very new as oil money brings the Mercedes, caviar crowd onto the medieval streets.
18. Cáceres, Spain
A phenomenal place that has everything but a beach. History, art, architecture, excellent wine and renowned kitchens. In fact, it is designated as Spain’s Gastronomic Capital for 2015 so there’s a huge buzz about this city of 100,000 near the Portuguese border. The buzz began with the opening of Atrio a striking futuristic hotel-restaurant in the prestigious Relais and Chateau chain with a pair of coveted Michelin Stars. It’s located in the ancient walled city, on UNESCO’s list. The city was captured by the Moors in the 8th century and not retaken by Christians until 1229. Its towers reflect its Roman, Muslim, Visigoth and Christian rulers. Gothic and Renaissance building abound. Much of the city’s once prominent Jewish quarter survives. The UNESCO citation calls it “Outstanding universal value”. A fairy tale place occupied through history by military powers, though the occupying force today consists of brilliant, creative chefs.
17. Chengdu, China
Chengdu eminently qualifies for the off the beaten track status, being near Tibet, 1200 miles inland from the coastal colossus of Shanghai. But there are direct international flights sprouting and it’s the panda capital of the world. The Giant Panda Research Base houses about 200 of the much loved bears. It is also the capital of Sichuan cuisine, luring foodies with spicy palates just to eat the tongue tingling cuisine. There is a Chinese saying “the best cuisine is from China, while the richest flavor is from Chengdu”. There are over 60,000 restaurants and another 62,000 caterers. The city isn’t much to look at but it is one of only eight cities in the world with a UNESCO City of Gastronomy Designation.
16. Danang, Vietnam
Danang has long been known as a good place to stop over on the way to somewhere else, most notably, the UNESCO heritage sites nearby. The old Imperial city of Hue and the ancient town of Hoi An are short trips away. But a modern skyline is taking shape and the city between the Marble Mountains and the gorgeous beaches on the South China Sea is becoming worthy of a stay on its own. China Beach was a favorite place of GI’s for R&R during the Vietnam War. Beachside luxury resorts are going up, and keep in mind, the exchange rate for the Vietnamese Dong is well over 20,000 to the US$ and Euro making those hotels and signature banh mi Vietnamese sandwiches pretty affordable.
15. Alentejo, Portugal
It’s something that makes North Americans shake their heads. The beaches of Alantejo (the best in Europe says The Guardian) are relatively unknown because they are remote, a whole two hours from Lisbon. Two hours? That’s a daily commute in the New World. But all the better for non-Europeans who have no qualms about spending chunks of their lives in cars. Beaches aside there are Roman ruins to be found. Visigoth ruins in fact. Evora is another UNESCO site, an impeccably preserved medieval town. The winemakers produce delicious rich, fruity reds yet Alantejo remains one of the poorest regions of Europe. The crash of the ocean waves, the melodies of the Fado singer in the square, the sense of looking back through time at a disappearing way of life make it a most compelling destination. But hurry, because Michelin stars and oenophile hotels are sprouting already.
14. Shikoku, Japan
It’s called the Shikoku Pilgrimage. Eighty eight temples along a 750-mile trail begun in 815 A.D. to honor the much revered monk Kobo Daishi. It is considered a path to spiritual enlightenment. Modern pilgrims can forego the quest for perfection and choose from the many places on Japan’s smallest island that demand a visit. Pick and choose which of the many sites that demand a visit. Matsuyama is the largest city with an imposing castle, ancient hot springs and seven sacred temples. Up in the inland mountains is the Iya Valley; lush, isolated with heart-stopping gorges and vine bridges for the brave. The many hot springs will soothe your mortal coil after a day of incredible hiking or white water rafting.
13. Papua New Guinea
It’s a good news, bad news kind of story. One of the most remote, exotic places in the world is opening up to tourism. The not so good part is monster cruise ships are just beginning their intrusion on a pristine island country. The beaten track is barely visible from PNG. There won’t be much chilling by the hotel pool here. Because there aren’t a lot of hotel pools, as tourism is still a fledgling industry. There’s a whole new rich ecosystem here wit tribal cultures to experience and timeless beauty in jungles almost lost to time. The 60 mile long Kokoda Track takes hardy trekkers through native villages. Madang in the north is getting famous for diving and PNG as a whole is a birders paradise. Do keep in mind that the capital, Port Moresby has often been rated among the Least Livable Cities in the world. Nobody’s perfect.
There are still the breathtaking fjords to be cruised, whales to be watched and sunning at midnight to be done. Chalk one up for climate change, Greenland is getting greener (we joke). The amazing UNESCO Heritage Site the enormous Ilulissat Icefjord is at its noisiest and most active during summer sunshine when icebergs the size of mountains heave and crack. It’s a memorable day trip from Ilulissat, the third largest city and there are boat trips out into Disko Bay to get up close and icicle with the massive bergs. As with other northern countries, there’s a movement to modernize traditional cooking, focusing on local ingredients and freshness. Seafood to die for and game, especially muskox are favorites. The Greenland website reassures diners about the taste of muskox “The taste of muskox surpasses that of domestic livestock and, it melts in your mouth bursting with flavor”. Get more acquainted with native culture at the Qasigiannguit Museum with exhibits from the Stone Age to today.
The Georgian word for wine is ‘ghvino’, claimed to be the origin to the English ‘wine’, Italian ‘vino’. They have been making wine here for 7000 years and they are pulling the cork on what the Times calls the next great wine destination. The pleasant capital Tbilisi has a wine bar on just about every corner and there are wine tours of Kakheti, the main producing region. Surprisingly rich in natural beauty, situated between Russia and Turkey, many empires have left their mark on it. There are fabulous old churches, Black Sea resorts and alpine beauty. But it’s the vino attracting the attention now. The Georgian description of a good wine is one that could make a pheasant cry. So an American who came to visit, stayed, and started a vineyard whose wines bear the name “Pheasant’s Tears.”
10. Sri Lanka
A long deadly civil war made this an island that people only wanted desperately to get out of. Now, a tourism industry is being built where there were battlefields not long ago. The peace has allowed the small island nation to show off its considerable assets. Beaches that go on forever. Eight World Heritage sights. Cuisine to please the pickiest foodie. Sri Lanka is a world tea superpower. Plantations and tea museums are popular. There are safari camps here too, especially in the lush Sinharaja rain forest. Find a treetop yoga studio or luxury spa. At Dam bulla, temples have been carved out of sheer rock and filled with stunning centuries-old Buddhist artworks and artifacts. And last but certainly by no means least, the perfection of the Maldives, a thousand or so islands off the southern coast in the Indian Ocean. It is on the short list for best beach in the world. And if it’s not it, it sure is close.
Thoughts of rugged fjords bring forth images of icy Scandinavian inlets with bone chilling cold and sheer granite cliffs. Well, welcome to the Norway of Arabia where the heat can melt your bridgework. Here in the isolated Musandam Peninsula the fjords are called khors. The scene is so other-worldly the BBC compared it to “the shores of a Martian Sea.” Adding to the spice is its location on the Strait of Hormuz, one of the top three places where WW3 is likely to start. Nearby are little-known but spectacular coral reefs making for great diving. Oman is the last part of the Arab world that hasn’t been paved and skyscraperred with oil money. The capital Muscat is a lovely low-key feast of Muslim architecture, old Portuguese forts and bazaars. Its geography ranges from incredible mountainscapes to ancient desert to pristine beaches, but the cranes are becoming more common on the skyline and names like Radisson, Kempinski, Four Seasons and Fairmont are now setting up shop.
8. The North Coast of Peru
A number of places on the list are familiar destinations opening up new alternative tourist attractions. The medieval Incan capital of Cusco and the mysterious, celestial Macchu Picchu need no promotion and may even have too many visitors for their own good. The North Coast is remote, as in 22 hours from Cusco. Its Macchu Picchu rival is the fort at Kuélap, a stone city at 10,000 feet. Built by the Chachapoyas, or ‘People of the Clouds’ around the first Millennium, its sophisticated design required more stone to build than the Great Pyramid of Egypt. Eco-friendly hotels and sites abound. The Andean spectacled bear is nearly extinct, but can be found in numbers at the Chipparri Reserve. Surfers will like the waves and vibes in the village of Mancora. For whale watchers and serious fishing types, there is Cabo Blanco, once a favorite of Ernest Hemingway. It’s like a whole new world in Peru’s North Coast, still unspoiled relatively undeveloped and still inexpensive.
Home of the timeless, magical Serengeti with its breathtaking scenes and staggering annual migration of more than two million mammals, wildebeests, gazelles and zebras. The Times says “the real new treasure here is unprecedented access to sparsely trafficked regions.” The Selous Game Reserve in the south is home to large populations of elephants and leopards. The landscape in the relatively unknown Arangire National Park unique in the region and is home to climbing lions and giraffe. Trek as far up Africa’s highest mountain in Mt. Kilimanjaro National Park, and when you done following the herds and conquering mountain tops, Zanzibar awaits with its rich history, wonderful beaches and newly upgraded creature comforts.
Long run by one of the world’s most despicable despots, Zimbabwe is slowly emerging from pariah status with political stability unseen in years. With the currency next to worthless, a window of tremendous opportunity has opened on a country whose natural beauty cannot be overstated. Infrastructure and travel companies are making visiting easier than ever. There are five UNESCO Sites including the ruins of Great Zimbabwe, said to be the home of the Queen of Sheba. There is the legendary Mosi-oa-Tunya or Victoria Falls the largest curtain waterfall on earth. Stability looks good on the capital Harare, one of the nicest on the sub content, but it’s still the big game safaris that are the biggest draw on open savannahs or in numerous National Parks. It’s truly the stuff that dreams are made of.
5. Medellin, Colombia
Urban renewal with innovative architecture and design. Not long ago the name Medellin was synonymous with drug lords and corruption. It is now becoming known for one of the most ambitious urban transformations in the world. The renewal is epitomized by the futuristic Metrocables, cable cars that unlocked the impoverished people in the surrounding hills from poor, crime-ridden neighborhoods integrating them with the urban renewal below. Similarly, another slum was transformed by the stunning Avant Garde architecture of the Biblioteca Espana. Revel in the night life with the beautiful people at the Parque Llera and enjoy the gentle climate in the place known as City of Eternal Spring.
According to the Times, this is THE next Balkan destination. The first good sign: there are no McDonalds. All closed. God bless them. The capital Skopje was recently rated one of the 10 least expensive cities in the world. Once one of the great crossroads of history, Greeks, Romans, Ottomans and much later Communist empires held sway and left their cultural, architectural and culinary influences. Skopje is a vibrant melting pot of all of them. A surprising treasure trove of natural beauty, there is much to sight-see or for the more active to climb, hike or ride. It is landlocked but the beaches of Lake Ohrid are renowned as are the vineyards are a mere three hour drive across the Greek border.
3. The Faroe Islands
The Faroes are a scattering of rocky islands 150 miles due north of Scotland in the north Atlantic. It has a famously ornery climate and a brooding sub-Arctic other-worldly beauty that traditionally drew bird-watchers, naturalists and trekkers. It is one of the world capitals for those adorable puffins, which also show up on local menus. Its current celebrity is based on a unique new cuisine as set out in The New Nordic Kitchen Manifesto that is traditional Scandinavian food meets The Iron Chef. Not much grows in that climate so they forage for herbs, harvest seaweed and pair them with locally grown mutton and the superb deep-sea Faroe Bank cod and mussels and serve them with wild angelica on driftwood plates, all washed down with schnapps followed by local beer and cheese. An unforgettable feast after an unforgettable day trekking up the highest mountain at Slættaratindur. It is tucked away off the beaten track but as part of Denmark, it’s a short flight from Copenhagen.
A definite hint that things are happening here: the culinary genius behind the world’s # 1 rated restaurant for three consecutive years in Copenhagen has opened a place in La Paz. Another South American bad boy turning it around drawing investors and interest in its unsurpassed scenery and cities. It has become a destination for foodies, trekkers wine snobs and adventure seekers. Who knew Bolivia made wine, let alone having an acclaimed wine route? From the exuberance of La Paz to an array of sublime World Heritage sites to spectacular settings to hike, ski, mountain bike and exhaust yourself to your heart’s content. You can follow Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid south to Tupiza, but lay off the train robbing and your visit will end much happier than theirs.
1. Durban, South Africa
Long overshadowed by its two bigger, siblings, Johannesburg and Cape Town, South Africa’s third largest city is stepping into the limelight. ‘Durbs’ as it’s known is undergoing a serious reno and upgrade, thanks in part to facilities from the 2010 Worlds Cup. The beachside Rivertown neighborhood of warehouses and Art Deco buildings is being transformed into a happening ‘hood of galleries, restaurants and skateboard installations to jumpstart its rather tranquil night life. Durban is also home to a large ethnic Indian community and the influence is unmistakable. It was here that a young lawyer named Mohandas Gandhi settled in 1883 and began his legendary life as activist and leader.
Throughout South America, there are some beautiful cities, yet they don’t get the acclaim they deserve. If you are planning a trip to South America, you may want to stay out of the cities that are so tourist-focused and instead try one of the other cities that are underrated yet just as beautiful. Many of these cities have stayed hidden from the places to visit simply because they are not as popular as some of the other cities. Some of these cities can be a little hard to get to as there are no airports directly into them. If you want to rent a car or take a bus, however, they are worth seeing.
10. Iguazu Falls, Argentina
Many people have no idea that this city exists and is one of the most beautiful places on earth. It’s more impressive than Niagara Falls in Canada and has a total of 275 water falls making up the landscape. Depending on where you go to see the falls, you will be in Argentina, Brazil or Paraguay.
9. Huacachina, Peru
This small city is a beautiful oasis in the middle of the desert. It is a relatively new city, having been built around the 1930s. The locals decided to build around the lake that was there. It’s still slow to attract tourists, but there are plenty of things to see and do. Legend has it that a mermaid lives in the lake and many people go just to catch a glimpse. There are also tons of opportunities to go sand buggying.
8. Fortaleza, Brazil
While everyone spends their time in Rio, you can visit Fortaleza, which is the fifth largest city. There are beautiful beaches found here and has a vibrant nightlife. Forro music and dance has come out of this city as well as several different comedians. Parades can take place throughout the year as well, which can add to the party aspect of the city.
7. Asuncion, Paraguay
This is the capital of the country and offers a lot of different sights. There are only about 500,000 residents and most of the city can be explored by foot. You can come by car, plane, or boat into the city and then take advantage of the National Cathedral, the Municipal Museum and much more. There is also a trade fair every July with food, music and exhibition booths. Right outside the city is San Bernardino with the Lago Ypacarai, which is popular for those interested in water sports.
6. Montevideo, Uruguay
It may be the capital of the country, but it’s underrated because people would rather visit Buenos Aires or other places in South America. This city may have an industrial port, but there is also 14 miles of beaches as well as a historic city center with restored buildings that follow an Art Deco or Art Nouveau style. There is even a bronze replica of David by Michelangelo in the city.
5. Loja, Ecuador
Loja is a city in the southern part of the Andrean Highlands and you won’t want to miss the Podocarpus National Park. There are several different museums throughout the city as well as the botanical gardens with a living laboratory inside of it. There are more than 800 species of plants for viewing. It is one of the oldest cities and there are also stunning squares and churches to see throughout the area. You will have plenty of opportunities to explore by foot, including a hike through the national park.
4. Patagonia, Chile
There are many other cities that you will probably be told to visit before Patagonia, but there are just as many reasons to go here. It is a quiet area without a lot of tourists coming through. One of the main sights to see is that of Torres del Paine National Park. There are some incredible mountains that are often covered in at least some snow as well as ice-blue lakes that you will want to explore. You can hike through or take a tour, making it worth your time to visit.
3. Valparaiso, Chile
This is not the most popular city to go to in Chile, as many people prefer to go to Santiago, which is about two hours away. This is a beautiful port city with colorful homes lining the hillside. Many of the historic buildings have been renovated to become trendy restaurants and boutique hotels. There are several Bohemian neighborhoods and a few 19th century mansions. A museum also has items from Pablo Neruda, a Nobel laureate.
2. Potosi, Bolivia
Potosi has history that dates back to 1546 when silver deposits were discovered. It is still one of the wealthiest cities in South America because of the silver mines. Colonial mansions and churches can be found throughout the city and it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are tours of the mines available and a city panorama has a beautiful amount of lights that are welcoming at night. It’s close to other cities, so it’s worth a side trip.
1. Georgetown, Guyana
Georgetown is the capital and largest city of Guyana and offers a lot of beautiful sites. There is an array of markets as well as wooden colonial buildings. The Promenade Gardens and Independence Square are must-sees and there is also a zoo. Botanical Gardens is also a free site that has an array of flowers, including Victoria Lilies, the national flower. There is also a rum distillery as well as a party mansion that belongs to Pauly Shore.