Although there is definitely an appeal in going to popular vacation destinations because of the wide variety of attractions and activities that are geared specifically for visitors, sometimes being more adventurous and straying from the usual tried and true destination spots can be an even more memorable experience than the typical relaxing vacation that some people prefer.
A lot of people look to break the routine of their daily lives by buying a ticket to a place they have never been to before and really immersing themselves in the local culture. Many countries see a lot of tourists in a few particular spots while other lesser-known areas are just as beautiful, if not more.
The call to explore a different place and culture is strong in a lot of people who choose to forego the comforts of a luxury hotel vacation and instead seek to expand their horizons and perhaps even challenge themselves while they are away from their normal everyday routine.
From climbing tall mountain peaks, to kayaking down a fast-flowing river, or trekking through the rainforests of a different country, the following is a list of places that will appeal to the explorer in all of us.
25 Bolivia - Walk around lake Titicaca
Located in the heart of Central America, Bolivia shares a border with many other countries including Brazil, Peru, Paraguay, Argentina, and Chile. Much like the other countries, Bolivia contains a rich and diverse indigenous culture that has been maintained due to its remoteness compared to other countries in South America. Bolivia shares the world’s highest navigable lake with Peru (Lake Titicaca) and tourists can explore both the valleys and the high plateaus when they visit. Water lovers should keep in mind however that although the country has the Paraguay River that stretches to the Atlantic running through it and Lake Titicaca, it is one of only two countries in South America that are landlocked (infoplease).
24 Costa Rica - rafting for the brave
Approximately one quarter of the country of Costa Rica is made of protected rainforests which ensure that travelers will get a once-in-a-lifetime experience and enjoy life forms that are unique to the area (visitcostarica). With its abundance of volcanoes, waterfalls and rivers, adventurous souls have many options to entertain themselves and even get a bit of a workout too! Water sports such as rafting, snorkeling, surfing, and kayaking are very popular in the area and the country has made sure to establish these industries for anyone brave enough to step right into natural beauty that characterizes the country.
23 Patagonia - explore with no one else around
With only 1-2 people per square kilometers making their home in Patagonia, the sprawling country is one of the most sparsely populated regions in the world which makes it a particularly enticing location for people who want to get more in touch with nature. Because the region includes parts of the neighboring countries of Argentina and Chile, the area is known for the diversity of terrains. Visitors won’t only get to experience the beauty of a beach or mountains or glaciers, they can get all three on guided tours that are offered throughout the year but primarily during their summer months (southamericatourism).
22 Zambia - pick a kayak over a safari
With the comforting reputation of being one of the safest countries in the world to visit, tourists will find an array of options if they choose to land in Zambia. As one of the countries with the most natural water resources in the continent, the country is well-known for its spectacular waterfalls and tours are offered in numerous locations to see these natural wonders up close and personal. Safaris are also another way to get close to nature and the rich animal diversity in the country ensures that animal lovers will have an experience they won’t soon forget (zambiatourism).
21 New Zealand - get the heart pumping with zip-lining
Well known for its wide variety of adventure activities, New Zealand is definitely the place to go for anyone seeking an active, and possibly challenging, vacation. In addition to the water activities that are common in many countries that are surrounded by water, New Zealand also offers more thrilling airborne adventures such as sky-diving, bungee jumping, and zip-lining to give you a boost of adrenaline. Not feeling up to the heart pumping adventures offered by the island? No problem! Because of its location, New Zealand is known as home to some of the darkest skies in the world which make it perfect for a quiet night of stargazing (newzealand).
20 Alaska - Stand Up Paddle around icebergs
Alaska is a place of incredible and record-setting natural wonders. It boasts the largest national park, highest peak, longest coastline, biggest U.S. State, and longest day and night which make it perfect for anyone who wants to come back with something to brag about. There are multiple day cruises that depict the rugged, and oftentimes intimidating, landscapes that simply cannot be found anywhere else in the world. In addition to looking out at the beautiful landscapes that Alaska has to offer, one can also look upward towards the skies and marvel at the natural wonders of the Aurora Borealis and the Northern Lights (travelalaska).
19 Jordan - ride a donkey or a camel and explore the underground cities
Tourism in Jordan has not reached the levels of other more well-known destinations, but that might change soon considering how many different adventures are to be had in a country steeped in ancient history. Many historical figures have passed through Jordan’s deserts and the country has created an industry that is centered on leading people through the desert to visit historical sites in 4-wheel drive vehicles or caravans of donkeys and camels that include multiple stops and camping in a different location every night. If desert adventures don’t sound enticing perhaps a visit to the Red Sea, the lowest spot on earth, will satisfy the explorer in you (visitjordan).
18 Bhutan - climb up to meet the spirits
Nestled between the more well-known countries of China and India, the country of Bhutan has a lot to offer explorers who are looking to fully immerse themselves in a culture that ranked Gross National Happiness as more important than Gross National Product (forbes). Most countries with high peaks draw a lot of adventurous climbers who want to conquer a mountain during their stay, but Bhutan actually outlaws climbing very high peaks because of their belief that spirits dwell in those spaces. Because 70% of the country is covered in forests and beautiful monasteries are abundant however, there is no shortage of places to explore in this naturally rugged country.
17 Peru - explore with the llamas
Although Peru is a popular tourist destination for many because of its biodiversity, well-known landmarks, and rich culture, even the most off-the-beaten-path explorer will enjoy the care that the country has put into making sure that they offer tourists a wide variety of nature oriented activities. Considered one of the world’s top 10 mega diverse countries because of its incredible and colorful variety of animals and plants not found anywhere else in the world, Peru makes a perfect travel destination for anyone who wants to come face to face with forms of life they have only ever seen on television (peru.travel).
16 Italy - the coastal towns are much nicer
Whether you are traveling to Northern Italy or Southern Italy, the country has a lot to offer in terms of activities to enjoy. Rich foods, arts, shopping, and cultural attractions are plentiful in small villages and larger cities which make this an appealing option for a variety of different vacations. Whether you are looking for a quieter and more relaxing stay by the water or want to immerse yourself in the history of the country by visiting the several well-known landmarks, there are various options that allow people to explore on their own and decide what kind of Italy they want to get to know.
15 Switzerland - do it the extreme way
If warm beaches and tropical rainforests are not a priority for you, consider exploring the numerous ski resorts in Switzerland. The country is well-known for its winter sports and winter tourism which includes snowboarding, snowshoe and winter hiking, and cross-country skiing. A vacation to Switzerland is perfect for explorers who are looking to mix in two vacations in one. One day you can be sitting by a cozy fire watching the sun set over the snow-capped mountains, another day you could be hiking through those same mountains to a strategically located restaurant that offers sustenance for those brave enough to make the trek (myswitzerland).
14 Morocco - head to the Sahara and ride a camel, then explore the blue streets
Although a barren desert full of sand and sun is drastically different than a tropical rainforest teeming with animal and plant life everywhere you look, Morocco has much to offer for those willing to brave the hot sun. With various street markets offering local cuisine and crafts, there is much more to this country than the vast deserts that cover a lot of the area. Exploring the Sahara desert may seem intimidating to many people, but because of its well developed and intentional tourism efforts, there are a variety of different ways to get around from hiking, biking, to riding camels (visitmorocco)
13 Amsterdam - spend most the time on the water
Well known for its elaborate canal system and colorful architecture, Amsterdam has long been a tourist attraction to anyone interested in world class museums and unique local festivals. The country had humble beginnings as a fishing village but grew to be well known for commerce and now enjoys a healthy stream of tourists who are attracted to its rich history and laid back vibes. Art lovers especially will particularly appreciate the variety of museums the country has to offer and for people who enjoy being on the water the multiple canals provide a unique way to get around to different attractions (iamsterdam).
12 Iceland - Take in the darkness
Well known for the incredible phenomenon of the “Midnight Sun” Iceland is definitely a place to visit for those who want to experience the extremes of nature. Winters in Iceland can seem unappealing because of the harsh winds and short, dark days, but the locals have been creative in making it bearable by hosting “Days of Darkness” festivals which include concerts, organized walks, or lighting candles and fairy lights to create their own brightness. In the summertime, the complete opposite is true. Although far from tropical, the days are much longer and for a few months out of the year, the sun doesn’t set until a few minutes before midnight (inspiredbyiceland).
11 Nepal - bird watching in the mountains
If you are an explorer on a budget, Nepal is definitely a country that has a lot of adventures to offer for a lower price than most other tourist destinations. The country was named one of the Best Value Destinations in the year 2017, and while it is most known for its gorgeous mountains which attracts a lot of ambitious hikers, the country also has opportunities to skydive and zip fly through one of a kind natural views. For the less adrenaline-oriented explorers, the country is well-known for being a bird watcher’s paradise and is home to over 850 species of birds (welcomenepal).
10 Mongolia - untouched land
Mongolia has a number of national parks that have been largely untouched by people and are very important to the country’s emerging tourism industry. Almost one fifth of the country is protected land and because of such pristine and remote landscapes, it is a perfect place for those who want to admire the rugged natural beauty of mountains, lakes, and the animals that roam the area. Mongolia is truly a place for an adventurous traveler that isn’t looking for a crowded city to explore; in fact there are some areas of the country that are so remote you could drive a full day and not see a single person (lonelyplanet).
9 Hong Kong - see it from the skies
Hong Kong is truly a place that is a blend of ancient history and modern attractions. The country has numerous festivals throughout the year that pay homage to its rich culture and offers a variety of tours that include hiking mountains, visiting temples, and exploring a walled village. Since the tourism industry is so well established, there are various options for people who want to explore on their own and also those who would prefer guided tours around the cities, great outdoors, or historical landmarks. The diversity of the people ensure that every neighborhood has its own vibe and unique things to offer visitors (discoverhongkong).
8 Brazil - skip the beaches and eat all the food
Regardless of the kind of fun and activities you are looking for on a vacation, Brazil can deliver. If a quiet vacation on the beach is what you are seeking, there are numerous well maintained beachfronts that draw in large crowds, both local and international, year round. For those who really want to learn more about the rich culture and history, there are museums, theaters, and an abundance of restaurants and street markets in various parts of the country. Tourism is well established in Brazil and guided tours offer a lot of opportunities to enjoy the natural beauty of the area (visitbrasil).
7 Thailand - enjoy the mountain top views
Known for the natural phenomena called the “Sea of Mist”, Thailand offers an experience that may remind some people of being in a dream. There are various mountains that offer breathtaking views and the country has done a thorough job of making sure that hikers will be well taken care of by building balconies at certain locations where the views are particularly unique and setting up restaurants for hungry mountain climbers. In addition to the glorious mountaintop views, the architecture and rich culture of the area is perfect for those who would rather not climb to the highest peaks during their stay (tourismthailand).
6 Fiji - go where no one else goes
Composed of over 333 tropical islands, Fiji is known as having some of the happiest people on Earth. Situated in the heart of the Pacific Ocean, the islands are a perfect choice for those who are seeking to truly get away from it all and enjoy the tropical weather and wide variety of water activities. The hundreds of islands are known for their lushness and vibrant plant and animal species although they each have their own special touch to them. Some are relatively untouched for those who want to explore the lesser visited islands, while others are home to bustling centers full of people (fiji.travel).
5 Finland - a quest for Santa Claus
For explorers who are looking for a touch of childhood magic on their trip, wintertime in Finland offers a variety of amazing activities. Wintertime in this country often means that there are a variety of Christmas markets and the unique opportunity to ride a sleigh pulled by real reindeer through the snow covered mountains; and of course Santa Clause often makes an appearance at various celebrations. For those looking to explore the sea in a completely novel way, the mighty Arctic Icebreaker Sampo, made of more than 3,500 tons of steel, crushes its way through thick ice to offer viewers amazing views of the coast (visitfinland).
4 South Africa - Come find the penguins
Located at the tip of the African continent, South Africa has a lot to offer people who are looking for an adventure. In addition to its 3,000 kilometer coastline that offers breathtaking views, the country is well-known for its wide variety of animal and plant species which can be viewed by many different ways like boat tours, helicopter tours, and cruises. Beautiful white sand beaches are often full of people and animals like penguins, whales, fish, and over 250 species of birds. If a bustling and vibrant city vibe is the goal, the V&A Waterfront offers hundreds of shopping outlets, restaurants, shows, and museums (travelstart).
3 Greece - raw ingredients and world heritage sites
For explorers who are looking to go back in time and learn more about ancient civilizations, Greece is definitely a country that should be high on the list of places to visit. With no less than 18 monuments included on UNESCO’s “World Heritage Sites”, the country is steeped in history and proud of it. If food is more your thing, Greece is also a perfect choice because of their focus on high quality and raw ingredients coupled with age old recipes that have survived the test of time. With several islands within a short distance of each other, Greece is a great destination for people who want a mix of ancient and modern (visitgreece).
2 Kauai, Hawai'i - visit the gardens
Many people don’t know that Hawai’i is actually made up of 8 smaller islands that each have their own style. The fourth largest island of Kauai is not as well known as the popular (and heavily populated) island of Oahu where the capital of Honolulu sees a lot of tourism, but that is part of what makes this island so appealing to people who want a more organic experience of Hawai’i. Kauai is also called the “Garden Island” which fits perfectly given that the island is covered in different kinds of greenery and natural attractions like valleys and mountains, beautiful waterfalls, rapid moving rivers, and even caves to explore (gohawaii).
1 Galápagos Islands - the only place to find these marine creatures
Because of its location in the middle of the Pacific Ocean near the confluence of three ocean currents, the Galápagos Islands, a collection of 19 total islands, are a great place for anyone who is interested in seeing a large variety of marine creatures that can not be found anywhere else (unesco). Because of its propensity for seismic and volcanic activity and its distance from any other country (the island is situated approximately 1,000 kilometers from any other land mass), the creatures found on these islands will satisfy the curiosity of anyone who has watched nature documentaries and wanted to get up close and personal with them.