For many, the New Year is about new beginnings. The frivolities of the holidays are finished and it’s back to the business of life. But who says some of these new schemes can’t be fun – like planning travel?
This year, why not color outside the lines a bit? The world is full of off-the-beaten-path destinations to spice up your travel year. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the tried-and-true, but some of our most memorable travel experiences happened in these 10 out-of-the-way places.
The flowery smell of incense clouds the air, a troop of chattering monkeys bicker in the trees, votive candles flicker under a sacred bodhi tree, and monks chant quietly in the darkness of the cave. If you travel to Sri Lanka there are sights to see, and there are experiences – Dambulla’s Cave Temples are an Experience. Buddhist temples are frequently an assault on the senses, but walking barefoot in a holy place, surrounded by devoted pilgrims, elegant architecture, and intricate artwork is a once-in-a-lifetime experience not to be missed.
It goes without saying that every serious traveler should visit the world-famous Inca ruins at Machu Picchu. But experiencing the ruins and culture of the Inca without fighting the tourist hordes takes some planning. To help with this, part of your strategy should be basing yourself in Ollantaytambo. Known as “Ollanta,” (pronounced Oh-yohn-tuh), this small, quiet town is unique because it’s one of the only places in Peru which has its original Inca walls and street grid. And modern residents still live within these walls, so you’ll see a side of the Inca culture that you won’t get at Machu Picchu.
The charming town of Luang Prabang is a patchwork of gold-plated Buddhist temples, romantic French-colonial homes, traditional Lao wooden houses, fragrant frangipani, meandering monks, and delightful restaurants overlooking the Mekong River. It’s one of the most alluring cities in Southeast Asia and shouldn’t be missed.
In the far north of Serbia, near the Hungarian border, the small city of Subotica (Soo-bo-teets-za) seems an unlikely location for an impressive collection of Art Nouveau architecture. But in the early 1900s it was a part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and its building styles show it. It feels very different than Serbian cities farther south, and if you want a glimpse of how the wealthy lived in fin de siècle Europe, a stop in Subotica will do it.
Guanajuato clings to the steep sides of a V-shaped canyon in the Central Highlands of Mexico, and what was left when the silver mines played out, and the robber barons left is one of the most colorful and delightful towns you’ll visit in Mexico. With its small-town vibe and tree-shaded central plaza, it could be the source of the Spanish version of “chillax.”
Monasteries can be somber affairs, but the monks at the famous Rila Monastery in southwestern Bulgaria didn’t get the memo. Nestled in a gorgeous mountain setting complete with panoramic views and a rushing stream, this fortress-like monastery is popular with both pilgrims and tourists alike. Its combination of elegant architecture and richly colored frescoes make it an essential part of any trip to Bulgaria.
Salamanca has everything that you expect with a historic Spanish city: centuries-old cathedrals, stunning Renaissance palaces, and romantic plazas teeming with local color. But what sets Salamanca apart is its 900 year-old university and student population that adds a distinctive youthful vitality. The exuberant mood in the bustling Plaza Mayor will set the tone for any trip here.
In 1928 author Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings left here New York life behind and bought an orange grove in rural Florida. She settled in a tiny community in central Florida called Cross Creek, where she endured the hardships of the land, embraced her neighbors, and wrote her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Yearling. Today, her home, assorted outbuildings, and orange grove have been preserved as a State Park. A trip to her homestead is a unique step back in time that is well worth the detour off the path to the beach.
Bacharach is a small village in west central Germany perched on a narrow crescent of land between a lazy bend in the Rhine River and steep valley walls to the west. Billed as one of the “prettiest Rhine villages,” it has it all: quaint Medieval buildings, vineyard-covered hillsides, romantic ruins, and pristine river views. There are charming villages all over Germany, but this one is truly exceptional.
Tiny Kotor escaped damage in the Balkans war, and consequently, is one of the best preserved Medieval towns in the Mediterranean. Believe us, it’s one of the reasons you’re touring the Adriatic. Forget the cruise ship tourists, forget the comparisons to Dubrovnik, and make your way to Kotor.
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Intrepid travelers are ready to start making memories. We maintain that the road less traveled is the place to begin.
Bon Voyage and Happy Trails,
James & Terri
Updated December 20, 2021
Photo Credits: 2. Thom Quine