Not only are these destinations just as beautiful, interesting and exotic as their well-known cousins, but you will have the advantage of sharing them with far fewer tourists, have a greater chance of being immersed in the local culture, and often save a substantial amount of money.
Glorious mountain peaks covered in lush jungle rise out of the turquoise Caribbean seas, and fringed on three sides by coral reefs – you have arrived in Providencia. Known by few travelers, this Caribbean island is part of Colombia (the smaller of the two islands which make up the independent territory of San Andrés and Providencia) but lies so far North it is actually closer to the Central American country of Nicaragua than its parent country. Miles away from anything else (it can be reached only by a not quite daily 4 hour ferry ride or small plane from its big brother island San Andrés), Providencia is a little world of its own and in many ways feels like the land time forgot.
Its culture, people and cuisine are a mix of cultures reflecting its eclectic history as a one-time English colony, base for pirates, and Colombian province. The locals seem to speak three languages: Spanish, English and a dialect of Creole specific to the island. Though the island is not large (just 7 km or 4.35 miles from tip to tail) it is packed with attractions – visitors can tour its beautiful beaches, historic sites such as Morgan’s Head Bay, famous as being the spot where pirate Henry Morgan hid his treasure, hike to incredible lookouts and enjoy some of the Caribbean’s best snorkeling and scuba diving.
Although still very much off the tourist trail, Providencia is starting to gain attention from local and regional tourists, meaning there is a decent range of budget and mid-range accommodation on the island, as well as one or two luxury resorts. Local food specializes in Caribbean creole style cuisine, with a great array of fresh seafood, which can be sampled at the resorts’ good quality restaurants or local run cafes on the beach.
Nicaragua is often described as “the next Costa Rica” and with good reason – located just North of Costa Rica, it shares many of its neighbor’s assets including stunning landscapes and natural environments, fabulous beaches including great surfing, and friendly and welcoming people. Even better, Nicaragua offers all this at a fraction of the cost of travelling in Costa Rica!
Known as ‘the land of lakes and volcanoes’ Nicaragua is blessed with dramatic active volcanoes, beautiful extinct volcanoes and a plethora of volcanic crater lakes, affording great hiking, swimming, diving and even ‘volcano boarding’ – surfing down the side of a volcano! The country is also famous for its surf beaches, with several famous surf spots on the Pacific coast, and great scuba diving on its Atlantic (Caribbean) coast.
Nicaragua’s tourist centres of Granada, San Juan del Sur, Leon and Ometepe have a large range of accommodation, as well as some beautiful luxury resorts in peaceful natural locations such as Rancho Santana near to the famous Popoyo beach. You can sample local Nicaraguan cuisine such as Nacatamales – made from ground masa and cooked wrapped in banana leaves – and legendary gallo pinto, rice and beans cooked separately and then fried together.
Rich in history, Sudan is the cross roads of civilizations: the point where the Blue Nile meets the White Nile, and where the Christian southern part of Africa gives way to the Arabic north. The center of the ancient Nubian Empire and a sometime part of the Kingdoms of ancient Egypt, these days Sudan has more pyramids than Egypt (over 250 in fact).
Few tourists visit the country, perhaps deterred by thoughts of past conflicts. However Sudan is very safe – one of the safest countries in Africa to visit – with an effective, honest police force, low crime rates and some of the most welcoming people in the world.
History lovers will delight in visiting Sudan’s Nubian pyramids and temples. These are spread over a number of sites, some better maintained than others, but all attracting very few tourists, meaning you will virtually have them to yourself! The National Museum in the nation’s capital, Khartoum, also has a fine collection of ancient Egyptian and Nubian artifacts. Those preferring natural wonders can head to the country’s Red Sea coast, which has some of the world’s most pristine coral reefs and best marine bio-diversity, an excellent place for snorkeling or scuba diving. In this area you can also observe the Beja culture, tribes of nomadic camel-herders who live in the desert.
High and hotels and resorts are not common in Sudan, but you can find good quality accommodation in Khartoum, the Red Sea Coast and adjacent to the famous pyramids of Meroe. In terms of food, you will be spoiled with delicious (and cheap) Middle Eastern fare, such as Shawarma, flat bread, dips and legumes. Be aware however that, as a strict Muslim country, alcohol is banned.
The newest member of the European Union, this tiny country sits just to the south of Croatia on the Adriatic coast. Though largely unknown to tourists, it offers beautiful coastline, soaring mountain landscapes, and historic Venetian towns sure to delight every traveler.
This small country is packed with historical gems, like the 2000 year old walled city of Kotor. This ancient town in nestled in dramatic landscape reminiscent of Norway’s fjords, with impressive fortifications including a well-preserved Roman fort guarding it from the hill above. A little further down the coast sits Budva, a medieval city which was once part of the Venetian Empire.
Today, it’s twisting cobblestone streets are offset with beautiful beaches which becomes a vibrant tourist destination in Summer. Close-by sits Sveti Stefan (St Stephen), a Medieval village on a tiny island sitting just off the coast in the Adriatic sea, connected to the mainland with a narrow bridge.
Montenegro’s coastline may be spectacular, but the country’s inland is equally beautiful – don’t miss, for example, Skadar Lake – the largest lake on the Balkan peninsula which is framed by soaring mountains and home to a large array of bird life.
Coastal tourist hot-spots like Budva and Sveti Stefan have a good range of accommodation, including luxury resorts with amazing coastal views. For such a small country, Montenegro punches above its weight when it comes to food – local specialties include stuffed peppers, meatballs and potato and minced meat moussaka.
Thailand may be one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, and for good reason: amazing beaches, fantastic food, friendly people, not to mention Thai massage! Head to the northern parts of the country, however, and you will find that the crowds which throng in the South’s tourist hot-spots quickly thin out and prices drop significantly. Northern Thailand may not have the white sandy beaches that other parts of the country are famous for, but it has a lot to offer – from ancient temples to spectacular mountain jungle.
In this part of Thailand you will find a great variety of Buddhist temples and historical ruins – including two former capitals of the Siam Empire, Sukhotthai and Ayutthaya, both with extensive ruins of these ancient cities. As you head even further North, towards the borders with Laos and Burma, the landscape changes into soaring mountains coated in lush rain forest. Here you can visit elephant sanctuaries, go hiking, or the more adventures can explore extensive underground caves.
All parts of Thailand have a good range of accommodation to suit all budgets. The Northern capital of Chiang Mai has a large range of hotels and restaurants, as well as being a center for expats and digital nomads. The food in Thailand will blow your mind away – spicy noodle dishes, even spicier curries, fresh salads, and tasty tropical fruits, which you can buy on every street corner or in fine dining restaurants.