21 Untapped Destinations That Are Beautiful, Unforgettable — And Affordable
Travel is about much more than deciding where to go, what to see. It’s about finding yourself in places that illuminate curiosity, lift your spirits, elevate understanding, engage your intellect, or redefine joy. Find just the right spot and you could experience all of this, all at the same. Read on to discover a trove of global treasures yet to be trodden by the masses or made common by the crowds. Theirs is a beauty that remains remarkably rare on a planet where ‘seeing the sights’ has come to mean ‘seen it all before.’ Here’s to the places that invite indulgent escapism because they slip ever so beautifully beneath the radar.
1. Middle Island/Lake Hillier, Australia
Talk about a colorful adventure: A lakeside trip reveals not the expected blues and greens of glassine waters but instead a can’t-believe-your-eyes bubblegum pink that suffuses this collection of lakes in Western Australia with fairy-tale enchantment. Lake Hillier, the most famous of the lakes, is located offshore on Middle Island, part of the Recherche Archipelago, and displays its sensational hue year-round.
2. Djibouti, Africa
Good things come in small packages: nowhere is this more evident than in Djibouti, a tiny speck of a country situated on the Horn of Africa. Its landscape is the stuff of legends and lore: extinct volcanoes, towering limestone chimneys yielding puffs of cloud-colored steam, basaltic plateaus, shimmering salt lakes, and wondrous canyons.
Land and water activities abound, and you’ll want to make it a point to go for some whale-shark spotting on the Gulf of Tadjoura.
3. Puglia, Italy
Kick your travel adventure into high gear with a visit to Puglia, the heel of Italy’s stylish boot. Italophile’s can indulge their cravings for true Italian traditions, values, and gourmet fare. Sun-bleached yet culturally colorful, Puglia is home to ancient towns, the footprints of conquerors stamped in glittering gold and marvelous marble, elaborate churches, and some of the country’s best olive oils and wines. The charming Pugliese towns offer a resplendent retreat from the torrent of tourists that are a hallmark of Tuscany and Campania.
4. Lofoten Archipelago, Norway
A stark, crystalline calm defines the polar wilderness of the Lofoten Archipelago in Norway. Take passage aboard a luxuriously converted Scandinavian fishing trawler and sail around the archipelago, an awesome stretch of island and Fjords curving above the Arctic Circle. Here the beauty of the Northern Lights is at its brilliant best, jagged peaks of wilderness slice the sky, and downhill skiing and trekking expeditions transcend the expected and meld into the exceptional. But if snorkeling is more your speed, you just might have company: pods of Orcas have been known to call the island home.
5. Lalibela, Ethiopia
Reverence. Recognition. And the realization that you’re in the midst of a great and graceful beauty that’s one part history, one part mystery. This is the effect that Lalibela has on the traveler. The construction of 11 medieval churches carved out of rock serves as the foundation of this World Heritage site wondrous to behold. Visit during any of the major religious festivals when hundreds of white-robed pilgrims converge on the church courtyards and expect to bear witness to the potency of Christianity.
6. Trang, Thailand
Days spent in Thailand are indeed golden, owing to its plethora of glittering temples and glistening beaches. An undeveloped province abutting the Andaman Sea, the Trang Archipelago is but a few hours away from Krabi and Phuket but feels as though it’s been carved from another place and time. Unspoiled beaches. Limestone mountains. Breathtaking botanical gardens. Intriguing islands. Trang’s is a landscape that is the essence of escapism.
7. Utqiagvik (Barrow), Alaska
Prepare to chill, literally and figuratively. This is not a land of sun-drenched beaches, swaying palms, and balmy breezes; rather, it’s a dramatically stark place situated some 330 miles above the Arctic Circle. Home to Inupiat Eskimos, Utgiagvik boasts one of the largest Eskimo settlements in the state and some of the warmest people in all of Alaska. Keep your eyes peeled for polar bears and snowy owls and remember to bring your shades if you visit in summertime when daylight shines 24 hours between May 10th and August 2nd.
8. Newberg, Oregon
It’s always a perfect year to visit Newberg, Oregon, home to the Willamette Valley where you’ll find some of the best vineyards in the U.S. It may not have the cachet of Napa or Sonoma but Newberg has earned a reputation for producing fantastic Pinot Noirs. The best place to sip back and relax: The LEED Gold-certified Allison Inn & Spa with its 35 acres of gardens and vineyards as well as a renowned spa.
9. Huacachina, Peru
From atop a giant wind-sculpted sand dune you can take in the view of a landscape that is one part dream, one part drama. Soft-lit yellows and gingery reds paint the grounds of Huacachina, where desert lagoons are fanned by exotic palm trees and furnished with hotels that while elegant are well-suited to the exceptional vistas that make this locale a place of mystical beauty.
10. Nosy Ankao, Madagascar
It may sound cliché: crystal clear water, white-sand beaches, breathtaking flora and fauna, but Nosy Ankao is the opposite of the typical tourist trap that boasts breathtaking beauty that’s not wholly unexpected. A village known as one of the world’s most untouched and hard-to-reach destinations, Nosy Ankao lays claim to
Time + Tide’s new eco-friendly lodge, Miavana, which offers not only pampering accommodations but also unconventional activities such as scuba diving in search of shipwrecks.
11. Silfra Fissure, Iceland
It isn’t about just going for a dip, taking a plunge, or wading into the water in search of relaxation and refreshment. No, visiting Silfra Fissure floods your senses with much more than that: It’s an opportunity to experience one of the only places in the world where visitors can swim between two continents. Home to some of the clearest waters on the planet, the fissure boasts spaces that in some instances are so narrow swimmers can reach out and touch the continental plates of both North America and Europe.
12. Siswan Forest Range, India
Find yourself amidst the 8,000 acres of protected forest in the Siswan Forest Range and suddenly, effortlessly, the madness of Mumbai and the regality of Rajasthan palaces seems forgotten and far away. Rolling hills, fabulous flora and fauna, and lovely lookout points all blend together beautifully in one of India’s most peaceful places on the outskirts of the Himalayas.
13. Dongchuan Red Land, China
The best traveling offers a colorful experience, of course — but the Dongchuan Red Land in China takes it to a new level. The land itself has colored a striking red hue (owing to oxidized iron and minerals) that lends an otherworldly beauty to the panorama. It’s not that you haven’t seen the color red before; you’ve just never seen it this deep, this rich, this boldly defiant of what land is expected to look like. Mars, the red planet, has met its match here on earth.
14. Rovinj, Croatia
Charm runs through the cobblestone streets of this fishing town that claims several stunning beaches among its exquisite gems. Although Croatia has a reputation as being an expensive destination, a trip to Rovinj can satisfy both curiosity and frugality. According to Forbes, renting a car and island hopping by ferry are both immensely enjoyable and wonderfully affordable.
15. Rangiroa, French Polynesia
French Polynesia: The name conjures up a dreamscape that is heaven on earth, a whispered beauty that quells hurrying and harrying with a sensual quietude. A ring-shaped atoll, Rangiroa is known for some of the world’s best scuba diving; wondrous displays of dolphins, green sea turtles, hammerhead sharks, and manta rays; and oysters that produce bedazzling black pearls.
16. Faroe Islands, Denmark
‘Let’s get away from it all’ has never seemed more realized than when one is in the Faroe Islands. To tread the land located in the frothing swells between Scotland and Iceland is to truly know respite and retreat. Rugged coastlines lay claim to the wilder side of the Danish Kingdom, layer-cake mountains pierce the panorama, tiny hamlets suggest a simpler world, and stark moorlands evoke a type of wonderment that arises from solitariness.
17. Nuku’alofa, Tonga
Slim stretches of white beaches. Postcard-perfect weather. Snorkeling that lets you immerse yourself in a type of hidden beauty that shuns the land and seeks solace in the deep. Visitors to Nuku’alofa will find all of this and something more: a lifestyle of simple, pared-down living that is the essence of tranquility and harmony.
18. Lapland, Finland
A brilliant, bright-white color suffuses the Arctic magic of Lapland. Here, bold starkness takes on a loveliness all its own that is at once bracing and all-encompassing. Roaming reindeer, the midnight sun, the aurora borealis (Northern Lights), and the Sámi people.
all call Lapland home. This is a place of purity that comes in the form of big skies, sparkling air, and open spaces where exploration and exhilaration live.
19. Marieta Islands, Mexico
Just about all Island life has its charms such as seaside vistas, pristine natural beauty, lush landscapes, native wildlife; for certain, the Marieta Islands are no exception. Yet there is a natural majesty here that distinguishes this destination from other locales of its ilk. Perhaps that’s why humpback whales claim the waters as a centuries-old breeding ground and respite following their annual migration. Or why dolphins are regularly seen riding along with the bow of boats in the bay. Once here, thoughts of leaving disappear like the peach-colored evening sun.
20. Wadi Rum, Jordan
Prepare to explore an unforgiving landscape that’s as fabulous as it is forlorn. An adventurer’s dream, Wadi Rim is a masterpiece of desert beauty — bold, barren, and breathtaking in its unadorned wonder. This is where the dramatic scenes in the film Lawrence of Arabia were staged, and where seven natural jagged columns inspired the T.E. Lawrence novel The Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Come dusk, the stars become an illumined canopy that hints at the vastness of the world and the timelessness of travel.
21. Las Lajas Sanctuary, Colombia
One can’t help but be awestruck when taking in the sight of the Las Lajas Sanctuary. Yes, there are cathedrals and churches and places of worship aplenty throughout the world. But how many are built on a stone bridge spanning a deep gorge, giving the impression that the structure is rising from the landscape like a mythological wonder? Pilgrims and souvenir sellers crowd the place on Sundays but during the week a beauteous solitude shrouds the building. The pilgrims place their faith in the Virgin Mary, whose image is believed to have emerged from a massive vertical rock above the river sometime in the mid-18th century.