The Road Less Traveled: Top 5 of the World's Greatest Hidden Gems


by Michael Catford January 28, 2017

Tourist hotspots are great. They’re hotspots for a reason, after all. They also come with excellent infrastructure, funded by the strong tourism dollar, and makes for a comfortable and relaxing stay.

But sometimes you aren’t looking for a comfortable and relaxing hammock under a palm tree. Sometimes you want to challenge yourself to push your boundaries, and wade into less tested waters. For those times, the following 5 destinations provide an incredible experience, and one that is untainted by the outside influence of the tourist hoards. For now, at least. 

1)      Albania

This Mediterranean gem is still adjusting to life after the lifting of the iron curtain. Formed into a democracy in 1991, Albania finds itself at an interesting tipping point between shaking off the rusty communist shackles and diving into new market capitalism. While western conveniences aren’t yet universal, the locals more than make up for that fact though their astonishingly friendly nature.

Over and above the cultural idiosyncrasies, Albania can lay claim to being perhaps the most beautiful of all Southern European nations. Bordering the Mediterranean, its generous coastline is dotted with sandy nooks, covered bays and spectacular sea caves. Albania’s beaches are some of the cleanest in all of the Mediterranean, and are surrounded by stunning mountainous terrain that covers around 70 percent of the country’s land mass. For a slice of Europe that’s not overrun by modernity or tourists, you can’t go past it.

2)      Bolivia

One of the poorer nations in South America, Bolivia doesn’t have the big drawcards like Machu Picchu or Iguazu Falls. But you could argue that what it does have is even better.

While the North-East of the country slides into the Amazon basin, the majority of Bolivia’s developed area sits miles above sea-level, offering the country a comfortable year-round climate despite the country’s vicinity to the equator. These high plains are host to Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat, an expanse of nothingness that has to be seen to be believed. The incredible city of La Paz is wedged into a valley, accessible by the world-renowned Death Road.

If you’re looking for a genuine South American experience, untarnished by outside influences, Bolivia is the obvious choice.

3)      Iran

It’s easy to bundle the Middle East into one big box and label it ‘DO NOT TRAVEL’, but you’d be doing yourself quite the disservice. Despite being wedged between the likes of Iraq and Afghanistan, Iran is endlessly safer and more welcoming than its neighbors. While the politics and drawbacks of the greater region are impossible to escape, you’ll be blown away if you actually decide to make the trip. 

Iran was the center of one of the world’s greatest ever superpowers, the Persian Empire. This means that there are an incredible array of historical sites to explore, which tell the story of a region that has never sat on its laurels for too long. Iranians are a warm-hearted and welcoming people, and for those who are open to the possibility there’ll be more than a few dinner invitations thrown your way by the friendly locals, offering you the chance to experience the culture first-hand.

4)      Seychelles

Hawaii, the Greek Islands, Fiji… Seychelles? When thinking of the great island destinations of the world, Seychelles may not spring to mind. That may be because it is a hard get – sitting around 1000 miles off the East African coast, it is surrounded by a lot of blue.

Seychelles is the smallest African nation by population, with 92,000 people spread across 115 islands. While its main source of income is tourism, this is by no means an overcrowded tourist hotspot. The china-white beaches and crystal clear waters are ready to explore, and you don’t have to work hard to find an alcove or bay that you can enjoy all by yourself. The sense of isolation and escapism is incredible in Seychelles, making it the only island destination for those that like to travel alternative.

5)      Bhutan

You can't get more 'road less traveled' than a country that didn't have roads until the 1960s. Or TV until 1999. In fact, the more you hear about Bhutan, the less likely you are to believe it exists. It is the only country in the world that is a carbon sink, eating up more CO2 than it creates. All citizens officially turn a year older on New Year’s Day, so no one needs to remember anyone else’s birthday. And its government measures its success using a Gross National Happiness scale, rather than GDP.

Located in the Eastern Himalayas, Bhutan is bordered by China in the north and India in the south. It has developed its national identity based around Buddhist principles, and has a focus on sustainability and peacefulness. It is a truly unique place, and one that only allowed visitors in for the first time in the 1970s. For a slice of the world that is totally removed from the western way of doing things, Bhutan is where you need to be.


Michael Catford
Michael Catford

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