Forget those popular tourist destinations and go somewhere your friends haven’t been. From the turbulent shores of Africa to tiny beach towns in South America, here are five places you’ve never considered visiting — but totally should.
Although it doesn’t garner the same recognition as Brazil, Peru or Argentina, Uruguay is a South American country you should plan on visiting. In fact, with its prime beach access along the Atlantic coast, it’s already a sought-after vacation destination for residents of the Southern Hemisphere.
The cobbled streets of Colonia del Sacramento are home to a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an easy day trip from Buenos Aires by ferry. Farther up the coast is Punta del Este, a popular beach and resort town for wealthy Argentines looking to get away from the grind. On the northern coast, Punta del Diablo offers a more laid-back vibe, with excellent surfing and charming hotels. If you prefer cowboy culture over the beach, simply head inland to learn more about the gauchos of Uruguay or spend time on a real life estancia, riding horses and herding cattle.
Even though it’s the ninth-largest country in the world, Kazakhstan wasn’t part of the Western vernacular until Borat brought it to life. But thirteen years after this popular fictional character graced our screens, his home country still hasn’t received the recognition it deserves. Thanks to its plentiful reserves of oil, Kazakhstan is an economically stable country with excellent accommodations and restaurants for visiting tourists. The country’s largest city is Almaty, where visitors can wander through lively bazaars or visit the 100-year-old Ascension Cathedral. Kazakhstan’s capital city, Astana, has been dubbed the “world’s weirdest" for its unusual skyline and wacky architecture. Outside of the concrete jungle, the verdant Tian Shan mountains and their accompanying valleys are ripe for exploration.
Estonia’s unique location and interesting history make it a one-of-a-kind destination. Nestled between Latvia and Russia, and across the Baltic Sea from Finland, there’s some debate as to how to classify Estonia: Nordic or Baltic? One answer is it’s decidedly both, a factor which contributes to its distinctiveness as a nation. Since its 50 years of Soviet Rule ended in the early '90s, Estonia has transformed into an ideal travel destination. The seaside capital of Tallinn is as charming as European cities get, a colorful town filled with red roofs, medieval streets and ancient churches. Farther inland, Tartu is a quiet university town that is home to one of the oldest botanical gardens in the world. But the bucolic countryside is perhaps the biggest draw for tourists, especially when compared to other crowded parts of Europe. The biodiverse landscape allows for a wide variety of national parks, from the seashores of Lahemaa to the wetlands in Soomaa.
From the eyes of a tourist, Namibia has a distinctively different feel from other popular destinations in Africa. This difference can likely be attributed to one notable aspect: fewer people. Take Mudumu National Park, an isolated tract of land bounded by the Kwando River. The park’s remote location and unique river access offer visitors the chance to witness elephants, crocodiles and hippos in their natural habitats. The Skeleton Coast, named for the remnants of washed up bones on the shores of the Atlantic, is another must-see. One of the only places in the world where the desert meets the ocean, the turbulent coastline is home to cape-fur seals, hyenas and, occasionally, lions. The Namib Desert also boasts the world’s highest dunes; the aptly named “Big Daddy” is a challenging hike and not for the faint of heart.
If you’re looking for somewhere new to visit in Asia, consider a trip to Laos. Only a short flight from Bangkok, Laos offers up the same excitement as Thailand, without the throngs of tourists and ongoing development. Notable stops include Luang Prabang, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which offers a short drive to the stunning Kuang Si Falls. Next, get a taste of the country’s delicious cuisine in the capital city of Vientiane and visit Xieng Khuan, an otherworldly park filled with statues of the Buddha. The small town of Vang Vieng is a great place to meet up with other backpackers to go for adventurous day trips, including hot air balloon rides and ziplining through the jungle.