Need to get away from it all—including other tourists? I got the inside scoop on 10 hidden destinations from Joe Yogerst, one of the authors of National Geographic‘s Secret Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Best Hidden Travel Gems. His picks will give even the most seasoned traveler new ideas.
Best Hidden Destination Within the United States: North Dakota
“My newest ‘find’ is North Dakota, which I discovered last fall. Wide open spaces, very few people, and lots of things to do, too, [like] Wild West towns and old Norwegian pioneer settlements, [Theodore] Roosevelt National Park and the Northern Badlands, [and] The Lewis and Clark Trail of forts and museums along the Missouri River. [Plus, there’s a] surprisingly sophisticated food and bar scene in Bismarck.”
Best Hidden Destination for History Lovers: Leptis Magna
“One thing that didn’t come out during 2011’s blanket press coverage of the Libya revolution was the fact that the North African nation has the absolute best Roman ruins anywhere, outside of Rome itself. The place is called Leptis Magna, [and it’s] on the coast 75 miles east of Tripoli. [You’ll find] stunning architecture that hardly anyone has visited in modern times.”
Editor’s note: Leptis Magna remains difficult to visit due to threats of violence and destruction. Read more about efforts to protect these sites, and the risks they face, here.
Best Hidden Destination for Snorkeling: Tuamotu Islands
“The Tuamotu Islands of French Polynesia, about an hour’s flight north of Papeete, are unspoiled, uncrowded, and unpolluted. You can snorkel with tropical fish or big things (sharks and manta rays) in the coral atolls with lagoons in the middle or ‘drift snorkel’ through the lagoon passages on the turn of the tides.”
Best Hidden Destination for Family Travel: Galapagos Islands
“Not hidden per se, but it’s not the most obvious family vacation and it’s the one spot on the entire planet I would take my kids back [to] again and again. Children love it, especially if you tour the islands by boat. In addition to getting up close and personal with millions of animals who show no fear of humans, kids can also dive into lots of different watersports like snorkeling, sea kayaking, Zodiac [boats], etc.”
Best Hidden Destination for Mountain Lovers: The Pyrenees
“The Pyrenees in southern France and northern Spain [are] everything people crave about the Alps with a fraction of the people. [They have so much to offer, including] incredible high-country national parks in Gavarnie, Ordesa, and Aiguestortes; hearty regional cuisine; the running of the bulls in Pamplona—and even duty-free shopping in tiny Andorra.”
Best Hidden Destination for Romance: Sri Lanka
“Sri Lanka’s southern coast, [especially on] either side of the old city of Galle, has everything you need for a romantic getaway—including chic boutique hotels, uncrowded beaches, wildlife sanctuaries (wild elephants and leopards), ancient temples, and great food.”
Best Hidden Destination for Beaches: Mauritius
“It’s a long haul from North America or Europe, but Mauritius is well worth the 24-hour trip for the palm-fringed beaches alone. Great hotels, marvelous mixed-bag cuisine (Indian, Chinese, African, French) that reflects the island’s diverse cultural heritage, adventurous volcanic mountains, quirky history, and very nice people who enjoy having visitors come to their tiny speck of land in the middle of nowhere.”
Best Hidden Destination For Culinary Travel: Tokyo
“A lot of people wouldn’t touch ‘street food’ in Asia, but in super-clean Japan you have nothing to worry about. Especially good are the early-morning eateries of Tsukiji Fish Market, where you can breakfast on fresh-off-the-boat sashimi and premium sake, and the ‘Yakitori Alley’ beneath the old brick railroad arches near the Ginza district.”
Best Hidden Destination for Adventure Travel: Wrangell-Kluane Wilderness, Alaska and the Yukon
“This is the world’s largest, single protected area (50 million square miles), and [it] boasts the biggest concentration of super-high mountains and glaciers in North America. In addition to copious wildlife (bear, moose, caribou, mountain goats, whales, and timber wolves), the vast park offers all sorts of adventure possibilities—backcountry hiking, mountain climbing, whitewater rafting [on] huge inland rivers, or kayaking saltwater fjords. And best of all: adrenaline-pumping bush plane flights.”
Best Hidden Destination For Wildlife: Pantanal Wetlands
“Everyone thinks the Amazon is the place to go in South America for wildlife, but the vegetation is too thick and the habitat destruction [is] too widespread now. With vast grasslands, animals are much easier to see (and photograph) in the Pantanal wetlands of southern Brazil. It’s the best place on the planet to see jaguars in the wild.”
For more travel inspiration, we recommend National Geographic‘s Secret Journeys of a Lifetime: 500 of the World’s Best Hidden Travel Gems, co-written by Joe Yogerst.
More from Smartertravel:
- World’s Most Secret Islands
- 8 Secret American Islands You’ve Never Heard Of
- 10 Secret Places You Need to Go Before Everyone Else
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2012. It has been updated to reflect recent events.