Our travel sunglasses are rosier than ever, and we can’t wait to get out and explore again. So maybe we’re still dreaming, but let us dream big! Come along with us as we fantasize about intrepid destinations. Particularly, the unexpected places you’ve never heard of before.
Just remember, no matter how tingly those travels toes are getting, always be in the know before you go. It’s more important than ever to consider travel restrictions and recommendations issued by government authorities carefully.
For those prone to travel to lesser-known destinations, it may initially seem like Europe’s got nothing left to hide. But, she still has a few secrets up her sleeve and Moldova is one of them. This unexpected place is a pint-size country between Ukraine and Romania that serves up rural tourism at its finest. Imagine this: rolling countryside, historic monasteries, artisanal cheese, and boutique winery bliss.
Boutique winery hotels in Moldova
Although Moldova tends to have one of the least amounts of visitors in Europe, that doesn’t mean it’s ill-prepared for tourism. Quite the contrary. Moldova is a secret haven for boutique wine hotels. With plenty of old-world European charm, it’s hard to pick the best one in Moldova. However, a few nod-worthy mentions include the quaint Château Purcari, the resort-esque Castel MIMI, and the utterly urban Nobil Luxury Boutique Hotel.
Sometimes mistaken as another name for the Dominican Republic, Dominica is a much smaller Caribbean island and far bigger on eco-adventure than white sandy beaches. While it still harbors plenty of coastline prime for snorkeling and kayaking, the main draw of this unexpected place is the interior terrain full of natural wonders. Oodles upon oodles of hiking trails lead to waterfalls, sulfur springs, lazy rivers, gorges, tropical forests, a boiling lake, and even villages.
Where to stay in Dominica
Interestingly, the vast majority who do make it to Dominica never set foot on the island and only explore its Caribbean waters via cruise ship. Even so, there are still a handful of accommodations options. Sustainable travelers might prefer Picard Beach Cottages, the only beach bungalows owned by locals on the island. Otherwise, one can opt for boutique-style lodging at Secret Bay or go resort-style at Cabrits Resort & Spa.
Ecuador is usually pegged as flyover territory en route to famous South American destinations like Machu Picchu and Iguazu Falls. It’s typically known for its offshore Galapagos Islands, but the mainland is hiding a plethora of her own allures. Among the unexpected destination, the country has dazzling historic cities, an astounding 51 national parks, and traditional lifestyles offering exceptional cultural value. Plus, it’s among the most budget-friendly countries in South America.
5-star sustainable hotel in Guayaquil
If you do choose mainland Ecuador, don’t-miss highlights include UNESCO city Quito, Baños for adventure tourism, and the Otavalo indigenous market. But, what visitors don’t expect is one of the best hotels in Latin America. Hotel del Parque, touted as the first boutique hotel in Ecuador, belongs to the prestigious Relais & Chateau group. This affiliation is held by only the most unique, sustainable luxury hotels around the globe. Resting on nearly 20 acres of historic urban parklands, the sensational hotel holds explicit allure for nature lovers, gastronomy gurus, historians, and epicurean travelers alike.
Many of us who are familiar with Sierra Leone know it for its pellucid gemstones, and the civil war that broke out over the control of the diamond districts. After years of conflict, the country has been peaceful for nearly two decades, trading in its blood diamonds for self-proclaimed “green diamonds.” In other words, Sierra Leone offers a legit backdoor to the best-kept secret in ecotourism. How? This West African nation, known for its white beaches, also harbors a mind-boggling 40+ protected reserves and national parks, plus 20 more in planning.
Where to stay in Sierra Leone
Freetown is undoubtedly the most popular place to stay in Sierra Leone and the city is no stranger to luxury. There are dozens of hotels to choose from, but some of the best rated include Radisson Blu Mammy Yoko Hotel and Sierra Palms Resort. But, for those scouting out the eco destinations, head straight for Tacugama Sanctuary Lodge.
These twin islands are part of the United States but float far outside North America. Rather, Samoa is in the South Pacific midway between Hawaii and Fiji. Those coordinates alone make it swoon-worthy, but its epic remoteness continues to keep popularity at bay. Serene beaches and reefs, lava fields, tidal blowholes, the To-Sua Ocean Trench, tropical rainforests, and gushing waterfalls are just the tipping points. The Samoa Islands are also incredibly culturally rich, boasting colorful markets, ancient ruins, and fascinating traditional arts.
The best resorts and bungalows in Samoa
Despite being one of the most unexpected destinations on this list, Samoa seems eternally prepared for a rise in tourism. It may truly only be a matter of time before Samoa lands on the radar. But, for now, there is certainly no shortage of accommodation options making it oh-so-difficult to decide between secluded bungalows and ultra-posh resorts. For an authentic vibe at an eco-retreat, give Taufua Beach Fales a whirl. For luxe and lavish, opt for Saletoga Sands or Sinalei Reef Resort & Spa.
Literally pinched between Ethiopia and the Red Sea, Djibouti is a fascinating country on the Horn of Africa that most people will say they’ve never heard of. Yet, this unexpected destination just might be one of the most beautiful in Africa. From ethereal snorkeling beaches to the captivating Danakil Desert, to the undulating landscapes of lakes, canyons, and gorges; Djibouti is a secret haven for adventure and wildlife viewing.
Where to stay in Djibouti
Despite being among the least visited countries in the world, there is plenty of lodging to go around. Although there isn’t much in the way of alternative or sustainable options, budget to mid-range accommodations are king with a sprinkling of luxury hotels. The best hotels in the country are most certainly the Djibouti Palace Kempinski, a stylish 5-star beach resort and the Sheraton Djibouti.
Move on over, Bali! Timor Leste, also known as East Timor, seems to be hovering undisturbed in the shadows of the Indonesia buzz. So, if you’re the type who likes to skip the hype and head for the unknown, this unexpected destination is likely your unfound paradise. The carefree island lifestyle is evident at every corner, be it the sparkling beaches, raw forests, eclectics markets, or coffee plantations. Among the best things to do here are to take a boat to Jaco Island, climb Mount Ramelau, see the totem houses of Lospalos, spot crocodiles at Lake Ira Lalaro, and snorkel in Liquica.
Where to stay in Timor Leste
Dili is the main place to stay in Timor Leste, as it’s the main hotel hub. However, for those looking for something a little less city, there are a handful of idyllic hideaways elsewhere. Atauro Dive Resort is a great pick for beachside bungalows and PADI diving courses. Or, Barry’s Place offers an idyllic eco-lodge that genuinely gives back to the local with its ethical tourism principles.
Surely another of Europe’s best-kept secrets, North Macedonia is Greece’s proverbial hat sitting just north of its sister Balkan country. Flanked with staggering landscapes, indelible history, and remarkable culture, it’s an utter mystery as to why this unexpected destination continues to slip by unnoticed. Among the sites to see are mosques, fortresses, and monasteries; caves, lakes, hot springs, canyons, mountains, and forests; plus bazaars, festivals, and plazas.
The best hotels in North Macedonia
Right on trend with the rest of Europe, North Macedonia boasts a host of adorable boutique hotels and swanky spa stays. Among the most coveted for location and sustainability is the Aurora Resort & Spa, near Berevo in “little Switzerland” with sweeping mountain views. Or, opt for Villa Art MoMir on Openica Lake.
Bhutan is now a contender for “the happiest place on earth.” While it’s not exactly Disneyland, this unexpected destination just might be better. Sitting between the boundaries of Tibet and Nepal, Bhutan remains unscathed by mass tourism due to its strict access requirements. But, this land of enchantments is worth pursuing, particularly if you find cultural treks, Buddhist temples, wildlife sanctuaries, or adventure travel beguiling.
Where to stay in Bhutan
Bhutan offers an astonishing variety of accommodations, which could leave you searching for weeks for where to stay. But, just about anything goes here, from Himalayan camping to extreme splendor at the Bhutan Spirit Sanctuary and everything in between. If it’s sustainability you long for, prepare to drool over Yewong Eco Lodge nestled on six acres of forests and orchards.
Post coronavirus inspo & info
We know you’re anxious to get out and see the world again, and we hope this list serves as a reminder of what a beautiful, undiscovered world we live in. We can’t wait to see where you’ll go when the world is safe to travel again. Will it be Ecuador, Timor Leste, or Djibouti? Although some of these destinations may be reopening for tourism, always do your research and only travel when it’s safe to do so.
Often the least visited, yet affordable and safe countries for travel are considered the most underrated. In Europe, Moldova and North Macedonia are the most underrated. For Asia, Bhutan and Timor Leste are the most underrated. In Africa, Djibouti and Sierra Leone are the most underrated. Other countries include Ecuador, Samoa, and Dominica.
Consider traveling to some of the unexpected destinations on this list as alternatives to very popular places. For example, instead of Bali consider Timor Leste. Instead of Greece, consider North Macedonia. Or, skip Peru for Ecuador and replace Nepal for Bhutan. Other different holiday destinations could include places with few visitors like Dominica, Samoa, Sierra Leone, Djibouti, and Moldova.
Find out what countries are open for tourism with Skyscanner’s global map, populated by the International Air Transport Association (© IATA 2020). Currently, there are as many as 95 countries either partially or fully open for tourism. Included are countries in the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.
Discover where you can go
Making plans to get back out there? Find out whose borders are open with our interactive global map, and sign up to receive email updates when your top destinations reopen. Plus, be sure to check our latest tips on how to pack and airline facemask regulations.