Mongolia is vast, mountainous and welcoming. (©Susan Portnoy/Insatiable Traveler)
This year, abandon a bucket list of global cities to visit “one day” and travel deeply in surprising destinations.
While there are always hot and upcoming destinations around the globe that tourists will flock to, take a year to examine more out-of-the-way destinations a little more closely.
“The world is a huge place, and far safer and more inviting than one might assume sitting at home and watching the news,” said Rolf Potts, author of Vagabonding and other titles. “Go wherever captures your imagination. I think following your heart always pays more dividends than following trends when it comes to travel.”
In a world that’s ever changing and getting more connected faster than ever before, these are some top recommendations—by some of the best minds in the business—on where to go this year that tourists haven’t quite embraced yet.
This Southwestern African country neighbors South Africa—the veritable entrance to Africa for many Westerners—and has its own charm.
“Namibia is worth seeing for its amazing desert landscapes,” said Potts. “In particular, the red dunes of Namin-Naukluft National Park, and the end-of-the-earth bleakness of the Skeleton Coast. All in addition to wildlife viewing and fascinating tribal cultures in other parts of the country.”
Eerie shipwrecks scatter the Skeleton Coast in addition to animal bones, but for a more cheerful day of exploration travelers can pop into the Cheetah Conservation Fund and other preservation-minded areas throughout the country.
Altai Mountains, Mongolia
“I was deep in the Altai Mountains, photographing Kazakh nomads who treated me and my fellow travelers like family,” said Susan Portnoy, The Insatiable Traveler photographer. “The Kazakhs live much like their ancestors did centuries ago—moving up to six times a year, herding their horses, goats and sheep over rugged terrain, sometimes hundreds of miles.”
Portnoy also said that she and her traveling partner were invited to weddings, children’s parties and to events like wrestling matches, dinner with eagle hunters and more.
Indonesia (Almost Anywhere Except Bali)
“There are a lot of tourists visiting Bali already but rarely does anyone venture further than that,” said Jordan Simons, The Life of Jord videographer. “Just a few hours’ boat ride away is the island of Lombok, or an hour’s flight would take you to […] the Komodo islands. It’s cheap, the local people are incredibly friendly and the scenery is stunning.”
Flores was also a recommendation that Simons made, as it's an undiscovered hotspot for adventure travel including swimming with Manta rays.
American National Parks
“I am going to call out America’s public lands as the most deserving destinations in 2017,” said Jim O’Donnell, Around the World in Eighty Years photographer and blogger. “America’s public lands are not only the crown jewel of conservation in North American but they support literally tens of millions of jobs.”
Among O'Donnell's specific park recommendations are Bear's Ears National Monument (Utah), Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument (Utah), El Rio Grande del Norte National Monument (New Mexico) and Organ Mountains Desert Peaks National Monument (New Mexico). During 2017, annual passes for all national parks are $80 and free for fourth grade students as part of America's "Every Kid in a Park" program.
Nearly dead-center between Iceland, the U.K. and Norway's shores, the Faroe Islands are small group of craggy, volcanic islands that attract birdwatchers and avid small town enthusiasts from around the world. Touches of ancient history—taken by the Vikings, eventually ruled by Norway and Denmark—loom around this island that's escaped tourists' radar for decades.
"After visiting over 50 countries around the world, the Faroe Islands remains the most scenic spot on the planet," said Dalene Heck, of Hecktic Travels. "Similar to Iceland but with a small fraction of the tourists, it's possible to spend the day touring one of the 18 islands without seeing another soul. There is plenty to do with lots of adventurous hiking, cultural experiences, and puffin spotting if you're lucky."
Coron Island: Palawan, Philippines
“Imagine the best sunset you’ve ever seen. Coron’s will beat it,” said Simons. “As soon as I got there, I didn’t want to leave. Swimming with turtles, exploring submarine wrecks and finding hidden beaches is all in a day’s work.”
The island is less than a half-hour bangka ride from Coron Town on Busuanga Island. Once on Coron Island, Lake Kayangan and Lake Barracuda are two of the island's main inland attractions, offering swimming and diving experiences through crystal-clear water.
“Mozambique is much less developed in terms of tourist economy, (but) the southern part of the country has some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve seen anywhere,” said Potts. “It’s worth renting a 4WD—as opposed to a standard car—so you can get to the more rugged parts of the country.”
With miles of coastline along the Indian Ocean, Mozambique is known for it's dune-kissed beaches, fishing communities and beautiful natural enclaves like the Bazaruto Archipelago.
"No country in the world embraces winter quite like Finland does," said Heck. "From dog sledding above the Arctic Circle to floating down rapids in a survival suit when the temperature is below freezing, there are hundreds of different ways to enjoy the cold months like nowhere else does. Of course, there is always a Finnish sauna nearby and often aurora borealis to dazzle you."
While saunas are a popular way to pass the winter chill in Finland, skiing and icy swimming are also some ways to pass the time.
While Cuba is on nearly every travel list to hit in 2017—thanks to the Obama administration’s opening of diplomatic ties—it’s worth checking out in the first full year that Americans are being welcomed into the country.
“In Cuba, I spend most of my time wandering the streets of Old and Central Havana,” said Portnoy. “The Cubans have an intensity of pride and spirit that belie the daily challenges they face. Without question Cuba is amazing, but it’s her people that make it so special.”