Is it just us or does it seem like every travel article lists the same 20 destinations over and over again? You've been to Venice, and it's so overrun with tourists that The New York Times just called it "Disneyland on the sea." And then there's Iceland, the beautiful land of lagoons, where tourists now outnumber the locals seven to one. Tourism can be great for a country's economy, but terrible for the locals and their precious land, hence why it's so difficult for travel magazines and websites to expose the last few hidden gems on earth, although some are just too good to be ignored.
There are islands without roads out there where even the locals go everywhere on foot and villages in Europe that have been built into caves and cliffsides. There are oases in the desert to explore by dune buggy and islands in the Arctic Ocean where polar bears roam the streets. These remote villages, secret beaches, and historic hideaways have been protected fiercely by their inhabitants, and visiting them requires their help, so be nice to the locals and treat their land with respect. That being said, here are 20 under-the-radar destinations that locals want to keep all to themselves.
20 Blagaj, Bosnia And Herzegovina
This tiny village town on the border of Bosnia and Herzegovina is home to a 600-year-old monastery, or "tekija," that sits scenically beneath a soaring 200-meter-high cliff. This little hidden Bosnian village, dotted with charming white abodes, is centered around the azure waters of the Buna River spring, which is so fresh you can actually drink from it, Forbes says. This little slice of paradise is truly a dream destination, boasting both history in its ancient Ottoman architecture and natural splendor in nearby caves and waterfalls, but not many travelers even know it's there — and that's just how the locals like it.
19 Capurganá And Sapzurro, Colombia
These two neighboring beaches are so remote that in order to get there, you'll have to hitch a ride on a local's fishing boat (that is if they let you aboard). Capurganá and Sapzurro are a couple of rarely-visited, colorful villages in Colombia's Chocó region, near the border of Panama. If you succeed in flagging down a boat from Turbo or Necoclí, you'll find that these quaint and quiet beach towns make for a serene escape. While the rest of Colombia's coast has taken a beating from tourism, one Lastminute.com contributor told Business Insider that these two beaches are "some of Colombia's least overrun."
18 Isola Bella, Italy
You won't find much about this remote Italian island on the internet — hence why it's not overrun by tourists yet — but the blogger behind Sher She Goes calls it "so beautiful it will give you goosebumps." Isola Bella is one of three islands that have been owned by the Borromeo family since the 17th century, the blogger says. Here on Lago Maggiore lies the Borromeo palace, still decorated with antique furnishings and Italian masterpieces, and a multilevel garden with mystical grottos and charming fountains, the Bright Side says. According to its tourism website — surprisingly, it does have one — the island can be accessed by boat from Stresa, Verbania, Baveno, and Arona.
17 Huacachina, Peru
This city oasis — complete with luxe pools, an emerald green lagoon, and lush, towering palms — looks unreal amongst a sea of sand dunes. There are only about 200 people living in this secret sanctuary, and tourists don't usually go looking for it because the road to here from Peru's capital city of Lima cuts through the vast desert for five whole hours. But the "Oasis of America," as it's often called, is well worth the drive. Atlas Obscura calls Huacachina "one of the only true desert oases in the Americas," but with the water in the lagoon perpetually dissolving, it might not be an oasis for much longer.
16 Riga, Latvia
Cobblestone streets rolled out between stacked buildings vibrant with color and full of local goods is what you'll find in the capital city of Riga. One Huffington Post article calls Latvia "Europe's best-kept secret," and Riga is its cultural hub. While seemingly a quiet Northern European town, Riga is bustling with underground modern arts and inventive restaurant concepts, Lonely Planet says. It's certainly the art nouveau architecture that makes this city pretty, but it's the creative natives that make Riga ooze with cool. This is the crowd you want to be friends with while traveling in the underrated country of Latvia.
15 Underground Cenotes of Mexico
Cenotes are caused by a collapse of rock that exposes a delightful pit of freshwater below the earth's surface. The ancient Maya believed these glorified sinkholes to be portals to the Netherworld, and swimming in them is nothing short of a supernatural experience. Underground cenotes, specifically, are the hardest to reach and perhaps the most magical to swim in. While Mexico has thousands of these natural pools, the underground cenotes are so isolated that travelers might need to befriend a local to get to them. Frank Brehany of Travel Republic told Business Insider that sitting in village eateries with the locals and exploring the underground cenote scene with them was the highlight of his trip.
14 Shangli, China
China is booming with tourism, but not necessarily in the ancient town of Shangli. Located in the Yucheng District of Ya'an City, Shangli is an authentic village with a horde of history from where China's Red Army soldiers came to the area around 1935 and left literal stone tablets (carved rocks) along the river. These marks of history can still be found in Shangli, although much of its original charm has been recreated — to the best of their ability — after seeing damages from an earthquake in 2013. Nonetheless, the little village is still as pretty as a postcard, with stone bridges stretching over trickling waterways like something straight out of a fairytale.
13 North Sentinel Island, India
Perhaps no other group of people is more hostile toward tourists than the tribes who live on North Sentinel Island off the coast of Myanmar; but, despite their history of aggression, the UK's Sunday Express reported that they will soon be open to tourists anyway. This Indian island is situated in the middle of the Bay of Bengal, and while not many people know about its landscape and ecology (because they haven't been able to visit until now), it's clear that North Sentinel Island is as close to a truly uninhabited, off-the-grid tropical isle as any could be. It's no wonder why the native tribe protects it so sternly from outsiders with their bamboo darts and other handmade weapons.
12 Jaibalito, Guatemala
The tiny town of Jaibalito is accessible by boat only unless you're feeling up for a long and treacherous jungle hike. Its small population (about 700 people) has kept Jaibalito quiet: a tranquil getaway from the hustle-and-bustle of nearby San Pedro. It is allegedly the least-developed town on Lake Atitlan and because there are no cars, many visitors to the area have no idea it even exists. This quaint escape — an authentic Mayan village, actually — is home to just a few bungalows, charming cafés, and plenty of stunning lake views.
11 York, England
Sitting just east of Leeds, far from the traditional tourist loop of England, this historic walled city is often skipped. York is, however, right in the middle of the much-visited cities of Edinburgh and London, and it's certainly worth a stopover. Traces of the ancient wall still remain amongst medieval churches and Viking relics, and the city's charming cobbled streets make it easily accessible by foot, Visit Britain says. York has all the British heritage and old-time charm of other UK destinations, but isn't, unlike the rest, overrun. Get a taste of real Great Britain in this authentic, off-the-beaten-path medieval town.
10 Svalbard, Arctic Ocean
There are more polar bears than people on this Nordic island, but don't let that deter you from booking a trip (seriously, book one now). According to Visit Svalbard, the locals here haven't actually lived here their whole lives; rather, they tend to live in the world's northernmost town of Longyearbyen for short periods of time — perhaps because the winters bring permanent darkness, avalanches, and wicked snowstorms. The bears are so prominent that these so-called locals are required by law to carry a gun (and know how to use it), according to the Life In Norway website. Needless to say, life in this part of the north pole isn't easy, but it's tough to resist spending days in the shadow of snow-packed mountains and nights beneath the aurora borealis, nonetheless.
9 Koh Rong Samloem, Cambodia
From the freezing cold climates of Svalbard to the hot and humid island of Koh Rong Samloem. This island off the coast of Sihanoukville, Cambodia, has just recently become accessible to tourists. The island only started offering ferry rides a few years ago, according to the Huffington Post, but even now, the so-called "speed ferry" takes almost two hours and many people say it's a choppy (even dangerous) ride. The Southeast Asian island of Koh Rong Samloem is pretty underdeveloped: there isn't any internet, or even roads for that matter, so guests must get around on foot. In fact, the places that do have electricity run on a generator. It's safe to say this tropical island paradise is properly off the grid.
8 Busan, South Korea
Locals in South Korea's second largest city are wincing with disappointment that tourism in their beloved Busan is on the rise. Travelers have discovered the picturesque mountains and beaches, lip-licking local flavors, and colorful culture that exist outside of Seoul. The true local hangout is the Jagalchi Fish Market — the largest fish market in South Korea — where several floors of stalls and restaurants serve up squid and octopus, both alive and cooked. Another must-visit: the former slum of Gamcheon was invaded by a team of artists in 2009 who brightened up the mountainside village by painting its many roofs and facades with vivid hues.
7 Sofia, Bulgaria
The Bulgarian capital of Sofia presents the perfect balance between historic Roman ruins and youthful, modern culture. The city is home to immaculately designed Ottoman mosques and Soviet-era architecture that has been given a modern touch by local new-age artists, The Telegraph says. You can find the trendy citizens of Sofia sipping rakia — a fruity, local brew with 40 percent alcohol content — or catching an independent film at the old-timey Culture Center G8 cinema, The Culture Trip says. You'll really blend in with the locals at Byufetu, a cozy eatery with an eccentric decor and a killer Shopska salad (a Balkan specialty).
6 José Ignacio, Uruguay
The only people who are visiting this luxe beach town are A-listers like Shakira, and the 300 people who live here year-round like it that way. The New York Times called José Ignacio "chic but not famous," a place for Latin socialites who, during summer, drive their Porches along its narrow dirt roads. In the winter, though, when the locals are left alone, the coastal village reverts back to its sleepy fishing town roots (even enforcing a 2 a.m. curfew). If leisurely 3 p.m. lunches and cruising slowly through bohemian art boutiques by the seaside are your thing, you have no choice to book a trip to this Uruguay hideaway.
5 Puglia, Italy
Another wonder of the famous boot-shaped country, Puglia is where you'll get a taste of real rural Italy. Home to 50 million olive trees, this is a city for food lovers. Restaurants here are stocked with locally sourced ingredients — not just its world-class olives, but artichokes, salami, and other local specialties, too — and the landscape is dotted with colossal castles, Traveller says. The blogger behind Along Dusty Roads says that life in Puglia is slow— think daily siestas and late-night gelato. The quintessential Italy that everyone dreams about is here, he says, with men playing cards on the sidewalks, Vespas zooming about the village, and "nonnas chatting on the side of the street."
4 Flores Island, Portugal
It's sometimes said that the same spectacular nature that brings in gaggles of tourists to Switzerland and Ireland exists on this lesser-known Portuguese island. A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Flores Island is home to lagoons, hot springs, volcanoes, and caves. These rich green rolling hills were discovered during the 15th century and the locals still practice their ancient ways today, particularly in the kitchen. Flores Island's mix of saltwater and volcanic soil apparently give the produce grown here a distinct taste. The Islanders have gotten creative with their recipes over the years, making sure to use up every last bit of what they have with concoctions like algae patties: a hamburger-like dish made of algae and eggs.
3 Monhegan, Maine
Only one US destination makes this list, and that's the tiny island of Monhegan, 10 miles off the coast of Maine. Perhaps tourists don't frequent this adorable sliver of New England because it's so inaccessible. The only way to get to Monhegan is by ferry, and with a no-cars-allowed policy, visitors must travel on foot. According to the remote island's tourism website, the year-round population of Monhegan rarely exceeds 65. This picturesque waterfront town has been a National Landmark since 1966, Business Insider says, and is host to a number of walking trails that will take you along rocky outposts, ocean cliffs, and woodlands bustling with wildlife.
2 Setenil de las Bodegas, Spain
Similar to the draw of Bosnia's Blagaj, the homes in Setenil de las Bodegas in Spain are built into the cliffs. Among the "pueblos blancos" (white villages) of Andalucia lies this locals-only gem, a historic hub that seems to literally bloom from its breathtaking caves and cliffs. Buildings have been built into the rock and are lived in by about 3,000 not-so-claustrophobic village folk. The Setenil de las Bodegas locals quite literally live under a rock, and that rock makes for natural roofing for restaurants and provides shade over the town's enchanting alleyways.
1 Martinique, Caribbean
A Caribbean vacation is what almost every American wants, and you'll find cruise goers and the like romping around other islands, but not usually this one. Because Martinique is French territory, it beckons many travelers from Canada and Europe, Yahoo says, so you can get a taste of Euro-travel without going all the way across the pond. Dish out your euros on authentic Creole-French-fusion food and maybe a lesson in Français since the locals don't speak much English. Then, kick off your flip-flops and soak in that ocean breeze without interruption from annoying American vacationers (you know who you are).