Italy. Australia. Thailand. These popular destinations are on most everyone’s travel bucket list, and for good reason. They’re rich with history, vibrant culture and sensational food. And while the language, landscape and customs may be different in each country, they share one thing in common: tourist crowds.
Some people may not mind sharing their vacation with hordes of strangers, but for those who prefer to visit places that are off the typical tourist’s radar, here are 10 incredible locations you should consider traveling to now before the secret’s out and the crowds start rolling in.
Since a devastating 7.8-magnitude earthquake shook the country in 2015, Nepal’s tourism industry has suffered tremendously. In the two years since, the people have been doing all they can to repair infrastructure and treasured monuments to draw travelers back to the area.
Home to Mount Everest, Nepal is most commonly visited by those who dare to climb the Earth’s tallest mountain. But this South Asian country, which is landlocked between Tibet and India, has plenty to offer for adventurers of all kinds—including trekking, wildlife safaris, rafting, paragliding and bungee jumping, among others. If your preference is to visit urban areas, the country’s capital city, Kathmandu, is overflowing with bustling markets and historic temples to explore.
For many decades, it wasn’t possible to visit Myanmar (formerly Burma) due to the military dictatorship that ruled the country. And even though it’s now welcoming of tourists, Myanmar is often overlooked in favor of more popular neighboring countries like Thailand and Vietnam. But that will most certainly change in the near future.
Known as the “Golden Land,” Myanmar is home to the historic region of Bagan, a vast landscape dotted with over 2,000 temples and pagodas built between the 9th and 13th centuries. This magnificent landscape can be explored on foot or by bike, but a hot air balloon ride offers the view of a lifetime.
With over 250 sunny days per year, Mongolia is aptly known as the “Land of the Eternal Blue Sky.” It is also one of the least densely populated countries in the world, which makes visiting feel like a truly off-the-beaten-path experience. An adventure lover’s paradise, Mongolia offers pristine landscapes that extend as far as the eye can see, perfect for trekking mountains, horseback riding and searching for dinosaur fossils in the Gobi desert. You can also camp anywhere for free (yes, really).
In fact, half of the country’s population still lives nomadic lifestyles, endlessly traveling and setting up their gers (white felt tents) wherever they stop. But this number is shrinking, as many are abandoning the pastoral lifestyle for work within the cities. So if you wish to experience Mongolia at its most authentic, be sure to get there sooner than later.
The United States’ northern neighbor turns 150 this year, and to celebrate the country is offering free admission to all of its near 50 national parks. This incentive, along with a favorable US dollar, has drawn international travelers to many of Canada’s most popular areas, including the mountainous coast of British Columbia in the west and the laid-back vibe and wildlife of the Maritimes in the east, a region that consists of Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. This sudden spotlight on the country’s beauty has skyrocketed it to the top of many people’s bucket lists; so don’t delay your visit if you wish to experience the land as if it were your own private paradise.
This small country, which gained independence from Serbia in 2006, has attracted the famous and wealthy for many years. But the rest of the population is only just starting to catch on to the pristine beaches and the historic medieval villages it boasts. The adventurous can explore the dense forests and beautiful waterfalls of Durmitor National Park or raft along the river in the Tara River Canyon. And with over 250 days of sunshine each year, it’s a sailor’s heaven. Needless to say, this paradise likely won’t stay under the radar for much longer!
After breaking off from India 88 million years ago, Madagascar became a secluded island paradise home to countless plant and animal species that cannot be found anywhere else on Earth. Its landscape is diverse, ranging from dense jungle to desert to incredible coastline. Visit Parc National de Ranomafana for its relaxing natural hot springs or head to Camp Bandro at Lac Alaotra for a day of lemur spotting. But such untouched beauty won’t last forever, as some of the landscape is already transforming into the tourist resorts. Visit now to experience the country at its most natural.
Western Europe gets all the attention. Consisting of countries such as France, Spain, Switzerland and Portugal, it’s no wonder. But those who’ve already visited such places, or others who simply want to experience a different side of the continent, are now looking to Eastern Europe for their next adventure.
Serbia is just one of the emerging countries in this region. Its capital, Belgrade, boasts not one, but two riverfronts, as it’s located where the Danube and Sava rivers meet. The pedestrian-friendly streets make it easy to take in the elaborate nineteenth-century buildings of the old town, and its nightlife is among the best in Europe. This gem of a city certainly won’t stay hidden for long!
Mountains, abundant wildlife and a sprawling coastline are just a few of reasons drawing people to Patagonia, a region that is shared between Chile and Argentina. You can trek across glaciers in Los Glaciares National Park or travel to Península Valdes, a UNESCO heritage site that is home to Magellanic penguins and a stunning location to go whale watching. You can also drive inland and visit an authentic Estancia (ranch) in Argentina to learn about the country’s history and culture from the locals. Head there soon to enjoy Patagonia’s unspoiled land; this adventure lover’s paradise won’t be kept secret for long!
Long associated with drug cartels and corruption, Colombia has transformed from a nation in crisis to a budding new South American travel destination. Urban explorers should travel to Bogota, the country’s capital, which has seen a recent boom in unique hotel and restaurant offerings. Or visit Cartagena on the Caribbean coast, one of the best-preserved colonial cities on the continent.
Or, if you’re feeling especially adventurous, trek the six-day hike to the lost city of Ciudad Perdida, located atop the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range. Only just discovered in 1976, the city’s construction dates back some 650 before Peru’s famous Machu Picchu.
1. Sri Lanka
India is a popular travel destination at the moment, but it can be quite challenging to navigate. For a similar experience, tourists are now turning to Sri Lanka, which is just as rich with history, culture and customs, but without the complications. The country is home to vast amounts of wildlife; visit Yala National Park to spot elephants, leopards, sloth bears and buffalo roaming in the wild.
Or see the country’s spectacular landscape by train. Board the Yal Devi Express for an unforgettable journey from Colombo to Jaffna. You can also surf some waves in Arugam Bay, with a beach of golden sand located in the south east of the island. You can truly choose your own adventure in Sri Lanka, but get there soon before others catch on to its abundant beauty!
With travel for a variety of reasons—business, pleasure and everything in between—on a seemingly ever-upward trend, it’s little wonder that people (and especially experienced travelers) would begin to seek out new places to explore. While there are some places that will always top bucket lists as must-see locales, 2015 has witnessed some destination cities become increasingly popular with travelers of all stripes. Here are 10 of the fastest-growing destination cities around the globe according to a recent MasterCard Global Destination Cities Index report, each vying for the chance to be your next vacation destination.
10. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
The capital of Vietnam is experiencing a resurgence in tourism. In recent years, Ho Chi Minh City has become increasingly popular, witnessing an almost 13% growth in the number of tourists since 2009 after long languishing behind other Asian destinations, in part due to the legacy of war and communist dictatorship. Formerly known as Saigon, today’s Ho Chi Minh City is a vibrant, flourishing city that serves as the cultural capital of this oft-overlooked Southeast Asian nation. Without a doubt, some of the increase has been brought about by travelers with Vietnamese roots returning to Vietnamese soil, but it seems as though other travelers are also “discovering” Vietnam’s capital as a destination of international renown. Highlights include the Reunification Palace, the Municipal Theatre and Notre-Dame Cathedral, as well as many museums, a zoo and a botanical garden.
9. Lima, Peru
Although Lima is the capital—and largest—city of Peru, it has long been overshadowed by Cusco and the ancient Incan ruins of Machu Picchu. Lima, nonetheless, has a developed tourist industry, as it is a major point of entry to the country. Between 2009 and 2015, tourism grew by almost 14%—and for good reason. The city boasts well-preserved colonial buildings in a variety of styles, from Spanish Baroque to Art Nouveau, and a number of parks. The city is known for its greenspace, and is home to the largest fountain complex in the world, the Magical Circuit of Water. Lima is also home to several performing arts troupes, and hosts many festivals and concerts during the summer months. The city’s beaches are also popular attractions, as is the food—Lima has been called the “Gastronomical Capital of the Americas” for its unique blend of global cuisine.
8. Tokyo, Japan
Japan’s capital city has always had some allure as a tourist destination, but tourism has recently taken off, growing slightly over 14.5% between 2009 and 2015. Tourism is likely to continue to increase over the next few years as the city ramps up for the 2020 Summer Olympics. Tokyo has many other attractions; it is famous for its electronics district, its shopping districts and its nightlife, to name but a few of the reasons people feel compelled to visit this metropolis. Tokyo is also a central place in Japanese culture and history, and features many monuments and museums. Tokyo is home to the world’s largest fish market, as well as the Japanese emperor and his family. With Mount Fuji forming a spectacular backdrop to urban sprawl, Tokyo is also renowned for its stunning cityscapes, making it one of those destinations that “has it all.”
7. Taipei, Tiaiwan
The capital of the nation of Taiwan has long been overlooked in favor of other tourist meccas in Southeast Asia—Tokyo, Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong have traditionally been destinations for those traveling for business or pleasure. Taipei has emerged from the background, however, to become the 15th most visited city in 2013, and tourism continues to grow; the industry recorded a leap of almost 15% between 2009 and 2015. As the center of Taiwan, Taipei is involved in most major high-tech industries in the country, and is an important hub of economic, political and cultural activity. Taipei boasts many architectural and cultural landmarks, including museums, temples and the Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall. Its nearby hot springs are world-renowned. Taipei also hosts many major festivals, such as the Lantern Festival during New Year’s celebrations, a Dragon Boat Festival and the Moon Festival in mid-autumn.
6. Xi’An, China
Sometimes known as Xi’an, and formerly written as “Sian,” this city is one of China’s oldest and functions as the capital of Shaanxi province, in the northwest. In 2012, it was named as 1 of 13 emerging megapolises in China. While tourism is still dwarfed by other sectors of the city’s economy, the industry grew 16.2% over the 2009–2015 period, and that trend is likely to remain strong as the city continues to grow. While most people visit Xi’An between May and August, the autmn months are actually considered the best time of year to visit. As one of the oldest cities in China, Xi’An is home to many historical sites, including many temples and pagodas, as well as a Ming dynasty city wall. Perhaps Xi’An’s most famous attraction is the tomb of Qin Shi Huang and the world-renowned terra cotta army.
5. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
Riyadh has unassumingly become a top destination for travelers, with the number of annual visitors to the city jumping 18% between 2009 and 2015. Riyadh, which means “the Gardens” in Arabic, is Saudi Arabia’s capital and largest city, home to some 5.7 million people. Long an important center for the country, Riyadh and its surrounding districts contain many examples of vernacular architecture, as well as several historic village sites. The best-known monument is the Masmak Fortress, a clay-and-brick construction dating to 1865, located in the commercial center of the old city. The city is also a center of modern architecture, including the first skyscraper in Saudi Arabia, the Al Faisaliyah Center. The city also has several museums and sports venues. Soccer is the most popular sport in the city, as evidenced by the city’s 4 major clubs.
4. Osaka, Japan
Perhaps less well-known than Tokyo, the Japanese city of Osaka has become a popular destination for travelers. Osaka is Japan’s second-largest city, with nearly 19 million inhabitants, and, in addition to being a major economic hub, is also known as Japan’s “kitchen” owing to its role in rice growing and trade, as well as its regional cuisine. The city has long been important, even being declared the capital during the Japanese feudal period. The city underwent rapid industrialization in the 19th century. A consequence is that Osaka has many historic buildings and monuments, such as Osaka castle, with some dating back several centuries. The area also has a rich cultural history, particularly focused on performing arts; kabuki theater in particular is popular. It’s little wonder that travel to Osaka grew by nearly 20% between 2009 and 2015.
3. Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
The UAE’s capital registered 20.4% growth in the number of visitors from 2009 until the present. While business travel has undoubtedly played a part in growing numbers of travelers to the city—especially as the economy continues to diversify—tourism has also been a driving force behind this growth. The UAE has one of the highest per capita GDP’s in the world, and Abu Dhabi has earned a reputation for being something of a “rich person’s” playground. This is reflected in everything from luxury shopping centers to 5-star hotels and some of the world’s most innovative—and expensive—architecture. The Sheikh Zayed Mosque is but one example of the city’s architectural heritage. While the city has often been overshadowed by nearby Dubai, which has also emerged as a global city with economic clout, Abu Dhabi is likely to continue to attract more and more visitors.
2. Chengdu, China
Travel to Chengdu grew at more than 20.5% over the 2009–2015 period, something that’s reflected by Chengdu’s airport being 1 of the 40 most busy airports in the world and the city’s train station being 1 of the 6 largest in China. Situated on the fertile Chengdu plain, the city has long been an important one, and has many historical buildings, including shrines and temples. The city is a bastion of traditional Chinese culture, from mahjong to teahouses. Chengdu is also home to some ancient ruins and at least 3 well-preserved historic towns. Perhaps Chengdu’s biggest draw, however, is that it is home to almost 80% of the world’s remaining giant panda population. Also nearby is Mount Qingcheng, an important Taoist center. Nature, culture, history—Chengdu has it all, so it’s easy to see why more and more people are making a stop in this city.
1. Colombo, Sri Lanka
The former capital of Sri Lanka has been getting some serious attention from travelers in the last few years, with the number of visitors growing just over 21% from 2009 to 2015. Colombo is the largest city on the island nation, and has a distinctive mix of multiple ethnicities, which reflects the city’s long history and its importance. Gangaramaya Temple, one of the most important temples in the city, sums up Colombo’s multicultural feel perfectly with its mix of Sri Lankan, Thai, Chinese and Indian architecture. The city also has urban parks, such as Viharamahadevi Park, and a strip of greenspace called Galle Face Green. The city has a large harbor on the Indian Ocean and the 160-acre Beira Lake is located at the heart of the city. In other parts of the city, the legacy of Dutch and British domination remains in the form of colonial-era buildings.
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.
Rainforests have been called our planet’s lungs. Although the official definition of rainforest is still debated, most of us will agree that these fragile and endangered ecosystems are treasure troves of natural diversity and beauty. Rainforests are home to some of the world’s most breathtaking natural panoramas and some of its strangest creatures. You don’t need to be a biologist or a botanist to appreciate the rainforests though, and some of us might be surprised to learn that rainforest ecosystems are closer than we think—some of them might even be in our own backyards. From the tropical rainforests of the Southern hemisphere to the temperate rainforests along continental coasts in the Northern hemisphere, and everything in between, here are 12 beautiful rainforests that prove just how stunning planet Earth really is. Even if you don’t consider yourself an eco-tourist now, this might just convince you to add some of these destinations to your bucket list.
12. Yanoda (China)
The Yanoda Rainforest is located in Hainan island province, near the city of Sanya on the south coast of the island. Sanya is a well-known tourist destination as the southern-most city on the island. Part of the area’s popularity is thanks to the stunning sights of the Yanoda Rainforest, which is a popular tourist attraction itself. Of 123 square kilometers, 45 square kilometers have been set aside as the Yanoda Rainforest Cultural Tourism Zone, which has been rated by the Chinese government as an AAAAA scenic site, the highest possible rank. The government plans to invest almost 4 billion renminbi; to date, around 2 billion RMB has been invested in the development of the Rainforest Valley and the Dreamworld Valley, which allow visitors to travel 18 kilometers into the park on ring roads. Stairs, suspension bridges, and plank roads lead adventurers to giant boulders, a variety of flora and fauna, and waterfalls.
A shuttle runs between Yanoda and Sanya and visitors can purchase tickets for various activities within the park or choose from packages that include lunch and a variety of activities. Admission prices begin at 170 yuan.
11. Sinharaja (Sri Lanka)
Sinharaja is a large park in Sri Lanka. It was saved from most logging activities due to its inaccessibility and in 1978, UNESCO created it as a World Biodiversity Reserve and later designated it a World Heritage Site. Today, the hilly virgin rainforest is a treasure trove of native Sri Lankan flora and fauna, some of them endemic to the island.
Sinharaja is only 13 miles east-to-west, and less than 5 miles from north to south. Nonetheless, it represents some of the best-preserved lowland tropical rainforests on the island. Although wildlife isn’t as easy to see as at parks like Yala, there are some 15 Sri Lankan leopards living in the park, along with stripe-necked mongoose, golden palm civets, purple-faced langur monkeys, green pit vipers, and a multitude of birds and other creatures. Keep an eye out for the whistling lizard, which is best known for its alarm call. The forest itself is dense with flora typical of a humid, tropical forest. Trees are packed around 45 to 55 individuals per hectare and the average height tends to be around 40 meters, with some specimens reaching up to 50 meters!
10. Hawaii (United States)
Most of us think of tropical rainforests as some kind of other world, places that exist in lands “far, far away.” They’re certainly not American, at least. But contrary to popular belief, there’s at least one place in the U.S. that you can find a tropical rainforest: the state of Hawaii. Tropical rainforests extend over each of the Hawaiian islands, encompassing some 2,600 square miles. Since the islands have been isolated by the Pacific Ocean for millions of years, the plant and animal species that inhabit these forests are unique; you won’t find creatures like this anywhere else under the sun!
The Hawaiian rainforests contain coastal mesic forests, mixed mesic forests, and “wet” forests. All of these subtypes have a typical rainforest structure and include both native species like koa and naturalized Polynesian plant species, such as kukui and milo. From 4,100 feet, forests receive 118 inches of rain or more each year. Many native species of birds and animals live here, but the forests are threatened by non-native species such as feral pigs. Travelers should consider a visit to these forests—before they disappear forever.
9. Daintree Rainforest (Australia)
Along the northeast coast of Australia, on the banks of the Daintree River, lies a dense rainforest. The forest, known as the Daintree Rainforest, is one of the most complex ecosystems in Australia and indeed, anywhere on Earth. Despite covering less than 1 percent of the Australian landmass, the forest contains 3 percent of frog, reptile, and marsupial species, 7 percent of bird species, and 90 percent of bat and butterfly species in Australia. It is also home to many primitive and ancient species, estimated to date back some 110 million years. The Idiot Fruit (idiospermum australiense) is one of these primitive species, one of the most ancient and rare flowering plants on earth.
The landscape offers nature-lovers deep gorges, swift-flowing streams and waterfalls, dense forest, and soaring peaks in ancient mountain ranges. The forest’s position along the coast allows for the tropical rainforest to be captured in the same image with white sand beaches and coastal reefs, an extremely rare combination difficult to replicate anywhere else on the planet. Art lovers will appreciate the Daintree Forest as much as scientific minds!
8. Appalachian Rainforest (United States)
While there may not be many “tropical” rainforests that are close at hand for most North Americans, there are rainforests on the North American continent. In fact, most people probably don’t realize that much of the Appalachian mountain range in the eastern U.S. is designated as a temperate rainforest biome. The area has a cool and mild climate and receives over 60 inches of rainfall per year. The forest is home to more than 30 species of salamanders. Mammals include squirrels, black bears, and white-tailed deer. Fir, spruce, beech, and birch trees are common.
Humans have inhabited the forest for around 10,000 years. The Cherokee Nation was forced to relocate to Oklahoma between 1838 and 1839. The Appalachian Trail, which spans more than 2,000 miles, was completed in 1937. Hikers can follow the route from Georgia to Maine. There are also several parks, including the Nantahala National Forest, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the Cherokee National Forest, in the area. The Cherokee National Forest reports millions of visitors each year.
7. Harapan (Indonesia)
On the island of Sumatra, in the South Pacific, a 98,555-hectare swath of land makes up the Harapan rainforest in Jambi province. The forest is about 20 percent of the island’s remaining forestation, despite having been selectively logged since the 1970s. It is also extremely biodiverse, sheltering some 300 different species of birds, the endangered Sumatran tiger, and the Sumatran rhinoceros. Since the forest is vulnerable to logging, the British Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has been campaigning to plant 1 million new trees in the area. The forest is currently managed by the society, along with Burung Indonesia and Birdlife International, under a 95-year license. A proposed highway through the forest is a current threat.
The Harapan Rainforest has a program that allows eco-tourists to travel through the area on a number of different adventures. For those interested in hiking, there are 4 different treks that can be undertaken, each offering a different level of challenge. Other popular guided tours include the river safari and the night safari. For those adventurous enough, camping overnight is an option, and for anyone who wants to leave a (green) mark on the forest, tree-planting is encouraged.
6. North Western Ghats (India)
The Western Ghat Mountains in India are home to not 1, not 2, but 4 distinct tropical rainforest ecoregions. The North Western Ghats rainforest is in southwestern India, in the northern portion of the Ghats range. The forest extends from Gujarat in the southeast to Karnataka, where the Joga Falls, the second-highest of India’s waterfalls, is a major tourist attraction. The forest covers nearly 19,000 square miles and extends to 1,000 meters up into the mountains.
The World Wildlife Fund designated 13 protected areas within the forest. Together, these areas cover about 5 percent of the forest area. Of these, Anshi National Park, in Karnataka, is one of the best to visit. The park is open between 6 am and 6 pm and offers camping, boating, rafting, canoeing, and trekking. One of the most popular attractions is the spectacular Dudhsagar waterfall, which can be reached on a 20-kilometer trek. Black panthers, Asian elephants, and tigers are known to live in the park but are rarely seen. Many species of birds and reptiles also inhabit the park. Peak tourist season is between October and May, which are considered the best months to visit, although the climate is humid year-round.
5. Vancouver Island (Canada)
The word “rainforest” tends to evoke images of tropical regions and deep, dense jungles. In reality, there are many different types of rainforests scattered around the world, including the temperate rainforests of coastal British Columbia, Canada, which covers Vancouver Island. Part of the larger Pacific Coast temperate rainforest, the island’s rainforest flora tends to mirror that of the mainland, including the famous “big” trees of BC: western hemlock, yellow cedar, Douglas-fir, and western white pine. Some of the tallest Douglas fir specimens ever recorded were found on Vancouver Island. To the south and the east of the island, vegetation is more varied, including madrone, Oregon-grape, and red cedar. Maple and red alder trees can also be found.
The animals that inhabit this forest include black bears, cougars, Roosevelt elk, Vancouver Island marmot, and Vancouver Island wolf. The southern portion of the island is heavily populated and numerous opportunities for recreation are available. Hiking is one of the most popular pastimes on the island, as it is also home to a number of peaks, including the Golden Hinde. Lakes and rivers are plentiful, as are fjords along the western coast.
4. Primorsky Krai (Siberia, Russia)
Most of us think of Siberia as an empty tundra with fields of snow stretching across vast expanses. In truth, Siberia is such a huge swath of land, accounting for as much as 10 percent of Earth’s landmass, that it inevitably has many different types of biomes and ecosystems. From the tundra in the north to steppes and plains, the Siberian landscape is rich and varied.
Perhaps the most “shocking” biome is a rainforest in Primorsky Krai, a region in southeast Siberia that borders on the Pacific Ocean and China. Primorsky Krai is almost 80 percent forested and most of that forest is a temperate rainforest. The forest is unlike any other on Earth in that it remains mostly intact, although it is threatened by illegal logging and poaching. It is one of the last refuges for the Siberian tiger and the Amur leopard, among other endangered species. The area is temperate, with the average temperature hovering around 1 degree Celsius in the north and 5 degrees in the south. Precipitation is estimated between 600 and 850 millimeters each year.
3. Monteverde (Costa Rica)
A peculiar and specialized type of rainforest is known as a “cloud forest.” These forests typically appear at higher elevations, usually in mountainous regions. Like their tropical counterparts, they experience high rainfall amounts, which make them wet, but they’re often a little bit cooler. The forests develop in the saddle area of mountainous ranges, where clouds will gather, shrouding the forest in almost omnipresent fog. The fog condenses around tree leaves, which then drips down to the forest floor.
Cloud forests are important and delicate ecosystems that support a smorgasbord of life. Monteverde in Costa Rica is one such cloud forest. Perhaps the most famous of the few cloud forests around the globe, Monteverde was only “discovered” in the 1950s by some American Quakers who moved to the area. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve was founded in 1972. Around 70,000 tourists visit the reserve each year, traversing well-maintained trails and discovering the area’s wealth of flora and fauna, including over 500 species of orchids and 161 species of reptiles and amphibians. The area includes a mix of North and South American species.
2. Amazon Rainforest (South America)
Also known as the Amazon jungle and Amazonia, this tropical rainforest covers most of the Amazon River basin in South America. The forest stretches some 2.1 million square miles, through 9 of 14 South American states. Brazil contains up to 60 percent of the forest, the most of any nation. Representing over half of the world’s remaining rainforests, the Amazon is easily the best-known rainforest on Earth. It is also the largest, with an estimated 390 billion trees encompassed in its borders.
The Amazon has unparalleled biodiversity: of every 10 species known to us, at least 1 of them lives in the Amazon. Flora are also diverse; the forest has up to 16,000 different species of trees. An examination of 62 acres in Ecuador was found to have 1,100 different types of trees! This dense forest also has a considerable impact on Earth’s climate. Deforestation has become a major concern in light of this. Despite this, the Amazon has remained largely impenetrable and many Native tribes still live deep in the forest. It was discovered that much of the lush vegetation found in the forest is the result of careful human management to create richer soils over 11,000 years.
1. Tongass National Forest (United States)
The largest national forest in the U.S., Tongass consists of 17 million acres of temperate rainforest in the southeast of Alaska. While Alaska might be one of the last places we’d expect to find a rainforest, Tongass is part of the larger Pacific temperate rainforest, which the rainforests on the Canadian West coast mentioned earlier also belong to. Tongass is remote and relatively undisturbed, so it serves as an important refuge for many endangered animal species and rare plants. Much of the old-growth forest is now protected from logging and will never be harvested. The 75,000 people who inhabit the forest are Alaskan Native peoples who depend on the land for their livelihood.
Tongass is Earth’s largest remaining temperate rainforest, although much of the area includes wetlands, snow, ice, and rock. Close to 1 million people visit the forest every year. Approximately 150 cabins are available for rent and there are several areas that are designated bear-viewing areas. There are also 15 campgrounds scattered through the forest, many with backdrops against the magnificent Alaskan wilderness and glaciers. Kayaking and canoeing through fjords is a popular activity.
Traveling and vacationing has been taken to a new level with the explosion of focus on health and wellness. People are traveling to destinations specifically to improve their physical, mental and spiritual health. Today’s travelers now want places that offer more than just a white sand beach and endless cocktails; they want experiences that stick with them for life. From the birthplace of yoga to the palm-fringed beaches of St. Lucia to a small town in Egypt known for its therapeutic centers to the state that created the first fitness and spa resort in North America; we have rounded up the best travel destinations to explore to improve your health and wellbeing.
8. Sedona, Arizona
The red rocks of Sedona Arizona are said to be the center of vortexes that radiate earth’s powers and millions of visitors flock here for a spiritual awakening. Thought to be the center of the New Age movement Sedona is the perfect place to visit for those seeking spiritual healing, meditation and self-exploration. Surrounded by psychics, life coaches, Reiki masters, massage therapists and spiritual counselor’s one will feel embraced, inspired and rejuvenated.
Sedona’s year round scenic beauty combined with a town filled with art galleries, gourmet restaurants and spa’s designed to pamper guests is inviting to visitors all over the world. Along with jeep tours throughout the rocks, yoga after a long hike and meditation in rooms where you can burn your worries away; Sedona is full of luxury hotels. This city is truly meant to cleanse your soul and body and is a haven for any visitors looking to improve their spiritual and physical health.
7. San Benito, Philippines
Our next destination to improve your health takes you to the Philippines; specifically a place called “The Farm” located in San Benito. This internationally acclaimed health resort offers the choice of a wellness holiday, detox cleanses or healing retreat. The focus of The Farm is to create an atmosphere that allows your mind and body to cleanse itself of toxins and worries. The beautiful landscape, the peacocks that roam free, the luxurious villas, the majestic gardens and the exquisite pools make it easy to relax and heal your soul and body.
The Farm focuses on serving delicious natural vegan and raw food that is devoid of any added substances or toxins that may exist in your everyday diets. They advise guests on nutritional therapy and holistic health along with helping visitors to plan out a fitness schedule. Guests to The Farm will participate in yoga, meditation, food preparation, massages, aqua therapy, power walks, body wraps and scrubs and so much more. Meditation lounges, pavilions and pools are available to all guests at all times. The Farm is truly a place for the individual who is looking to improve their health and well being and is the perfect travel destination to do just that.
From yoga retreats to sleep wellness programs to holistic therapies to detox treatments, Thailand offers up amazing opportunities to improve your health. Not to mention the culture, history, amazing temples and spectacular beaches that await you here. Friendly and loving, the Thai have a way of welcoming visitors and making their spirits feel uplifted and invigorated once arriving and staying this way long after leaving.
Ancient therapies such as herbal steam caverns, traditional Thai massages and acupuncture await guests to this country. The abundance of fresh fruit and locally grown food makes this the perfect place to rid your body of toxins and fill it with incredible flavors and natural goodness. The stunning beachfront resorts offer rooms dedicated to treatments, meditation, yoga, saunas and every other healing experience you can think of. Thailand is also the perfect destination to work on your physical health with plenty of boot camps and weight training programs. However you seek to improve yourself, Thailand is the perfect spot to do so.
5. Dahab Egypt
Located directly on the Red Sea in Egypt lies a small friendly hippie-like town called Dahab. The golden sand beaches for which it is named for, the attractive hotels and fascinating diving spots are just a fraction of what makes this town so fabulous. In terms of improving your health this town offers no shortage of opportunities. From sacred meditation camps to its famous therapeutic centers; visitors come from all over the world to be “healed”.
Desert meditation, underwater yoga and traditional Turkish baths can be found here along with a way of life that is smoother and more laid back. Visitors will want to visit the Radiant Rainbow Reiki Room; a meeting place off the beaten path for all who want to look deeper within themselves through Reiki, tarot, meditation, massage and more. Head up to the summit of Mount Sinai and do yoga or trek into the desert on a full moon yoga retreat; there is certainly no lack of companies and hotels that offer up this ever popular activity. Rejuvenate your mind and body in a town that encourages visitors to take a break and get healthy; all while experiencing amazing diving opportunities, glorious beaches and healing centers.
The playground for all things health and wellness related including physical, mental and spiritual health is how many people view the state of California. We couldn’t leave this state off our list or even begin to narrow down which cities were the best pick because the whole state truly has something to offer in terms of improving ones health. Home to the first fitness and spa resort in North America, California is big on helping visitors achieve a healthier lifestyle. With boot camps, weight-loss programs, cooking classes, personal training sessions and spa treatments; guests can be sure to improve their physical health here.
Physical health is not the only type of health that can be worked on in this state however. Many resorts and retreats are focusing their efforts on working with visitors to improve their spiritual wellbeing as well. From silent retreats where guests are encouraged to remain silent, meditate and become one with nature, to hot springs with natural healing powers, red clay and massages on site; California is the perfect destination to improve your health; both physically, mentally and spiritually.
3. Sri Lanka
Amazing culture, beautiful temples, and the opportunity for meditation, yoga and a spiritual awakening awaits you in the beautiful island country. Experience the true natural Ayurveda; the traditional medicinal treatment that has been practiced for centuries and aims to rejuvenate the body. Sri Lanka also offers visitors the chance to experience the original yoga techniques that have been practiced by the Sri Lanka local people for centuries.
One of the most popular ways to discover oneself in Sri Lanka is to join a meditation, yoga or spiritual tour. Many of these tours involve Buddhist monks introducing you to the power of meditation in the tranquil settings of a monastery. Experienced yoga specialists will guide you through lessons and introduce you to new forms you may have never heard of. Become one with nature as you appreciate the beauty that surrounds you. Treatment centers offer massages, facials, steam baths and many more healthy revitalizing treatments. Relaxation, self-improvements and an emphasis on meditation and yoga awaits you in this country island full of surprises.
2. St. Lucia
Palm-fringed beaches, lush tropical rain forests, towering mountains, natural waterfalls and breath-taking views set the stage for an amazing destination to improve your health in St. Lucia. Whether visitors are looking to improve their physical or mental health; this island is the perfect place to drop your bags and stay awhile.
One of the most popular resorts on the island for improving health and fitness is TheBodyHoliday at LeSPORT. This all-inclusive resort strives to provide guests with relaxation, restorative beauty, exercise and good diet. Group exercise classes ranging from Zumba to tai chi to combat fitness take place on a daily basis and miles of hiking and cycling trails run throughout the resort. Daily yoga sessions, aloe vera body wraps and spa treatments round out your days. Dine on authentic local calorie-conscious cuisine at one of four restaurants on site. Other resorts in St. Lucia offer many physical activities to keep you working hard along with meditation and spiritual opportunities and this is one Island that should be on your list to travel to if you are looking to improve your health.
We can’t possibly forget about India; the birthplace of yoga over 26,000 years ago during the Golden Age, a time of everlasting peace and abundant blessings filled with seekers of the Eternal Truth. India is the true haven and destination for any traveler that seeks to improve their mental and spiritual health and has welcomed visitors from all over the world for centuries. So much of India is devoted to meditation retreats, spiritual centers, and yoga retreats that it can be difficult to pin down which city to visit. Our best suggestion is to research what type of meditation, yoga or spiritual awakening you are after and let your senses lead you.
You can expect serene yoga pavilions, Zen gardens and hilltop retreats to be waiting for you in India. One on one meditation sessions, communal vegetarian dinners and solitary sunbathing are some of the highlights of many of these places, along with exceptional spa treatments and Buddhist teachings. From the famous Ananda in the Himalayas; a 100-acre estate in the foothills of the Himalayas to the very remote Blue Mango high up in the Himalayas; you can find the perfect experience to suit your needs. Experience the birthplace of yoga and discover a destination where you will leave feeling refreshed and one with yourself.