Without A Path
Africa / Antarctica / Asia / Benin / Bolivia / international / Iran / middle east / Mongolia / Philippines / Scotland / Slovenia / travel

Top 8 Off the Tourist Trek Destinations for 2017

We’ve all heard about what a crummy year 2016 was from Zika to Brexit and Trump to celebrities gone too soon. It got so bad, people were looking back to 2006’s Children of Men as some kind of peek into the future. (Happy New Year! Humanity is sterile.)

Methinks we could all use something to look forward to. Something to get the imagination running and potentially even build a little excitement in our respective lives.

Nothing takes my mind off things more than travel, whether it’s the actual act of travel, planning a trip or simply reading of another’s travels. This works exponentially well if said destination is someplace a bit off the tourist trek. After all, Without A Path is primarily interested in getting to those lesser-traveled corners of the world to hear more stories and expand our worldview. As Alexander von Humboldt said, “The most dangerous worldview is the worldview of those who have not viewed the world.”

I think the idea behind that quote is more important now than perhaps ever before. With that in mind, we’re offering for the first time a look at the coming year’s top off the tourist trek destinations as decided by travel writers. For this first edition I solicited inquiries from “The Road Less Traveled” Facebook group, which is made up of travelers who participate in the weekly #TRLT twitter chat. These travelers have shown an exceptional interest in expanding their worldview by traveling to and writing about destinations not typically at the top of a tourist’s wish list.

Below are 8 destinations followed by the traveler’s case for following in their footsteps in 2017.

ESPIRAL DE LUZ, BOLIVIA

If you really want to get away from it all, Bolivia is a great place to start. You can find endless lakes, isolated mountain communities and wildlife so bizarre you’ll wonder if you might be dreaming. Although the whole country sticks in my mind, the fledgling eco-village, Espiral de Luz, is about as far away from civilization as you can get without serious hiking gear. It has none of the amenities we’ve come to expect from the modern world and you have to help out in exchange for your stay. But if you can cope with the basics, then that patch of forest will quickly seduce you.

Having a rhythm of life dependent on the weather, you will soon begin to check the sky before sleeping. Without a looming storm, stars blanket the sky and the brightness of the moon will sting your eyes. In the rain, life is dependent on keeping the fire going and protecting your things from the deluge, but that makes the clear days more special. When the sun shines, the forest is a fantasy world with tree roots winding around house-sized boulders and five-meter tall cacti. Lying down in a clearing next to the tumbling river, the sky above, dotted with butterflies and soaring birds of prey, seems unnaturally blue. If you are anything like me, you might soon be reluctant to return to life beyond the highway. — Katie Featherstone, Feathery Travels

MONGOLIA

The vast, ever-changing landscape never has one solid form. For days on end we drove through the Gobi desert, staying with nomads in their ger tent camp, milking goats and getting water from a stream in the mountains. We rode Mongolian horses, slept under the starry night sky and learned to appreciate the throat singing of the Mongols. We also learned about their culture of shamanism, their nomadic life style, and of course, Genghis Khan. Its capital Ulaanbaatar is expanding, but the locals try to keep true to their nomadic lifestyle as much as possible. There is no place so remote, so extreme and so beautiful as Mongolia. — Naomi, Probe Around The Globe

BELA KRAJINA, SLOVENIA

Places like Ljubljana, Lake Bled and even Bohinj have become quite popular tourist destinations (that’s the power of beautiful photos shared on social media), but Bela Krajina is still rather unknown. I spent a week there at the end of September 2016 and I met very few travelers. Yet, this is one of the most beautiful places to visit in Europe, where it is still possible to enjoy a local atmosphere.

What makes Bela Krajina a great place to visit are the gorgeous landscapes — green hills galore, forests, waterfalls and vineyards; the lovely, fairytale-like tiny villages; the archeological sites that only a local would be able to point to; the many hiking trails; the tasty local produce; the delicious dairies, the honey, the oils, and the freshly-baked pogaca. Everybody knows everybody here and eventually even the few visitors become part of the community. — Claudia Tavani, My Adventures Across The World

ORKNEY ISLANDS, SCOTLAND

Located to the North of Scotland, mainland Orkney is just a two-hour ferry ride away. The 70 isles of the archipelago offer dramatic cliffs, abundant wildlife and unique historical sites.

The Orkney Islands are a great off the beaten track destination to take a break from the busy world and travel back through time, especially within the UNESCO World Heritage site, Heart of Neolithic Orkney. One of my favorites is the village of Skara Brae, which was discovered under a sand dune after a windstorm in 1850. It had been well-preserved and allows you to see how life used to be 5,000 years ago. In terms of landscapes, you can expect peaceful countryside, impressive cliffs, such as Yesnaby and the Old Man of Hoy, and long white sand beaches, home to diverse bird life. — Claire Robinson, Zig Zag On Earth

SIQUIJOR, PHILIPPINES

Siquijor is a Philippine island famous all over the country for its reputation as a home of spirits and sorcerers. I’m a massive fan of fantasy, so that’s what got me wanting to visit the island in the first place. Naturally we didn’t see any spirits, but what we found instead was wonderful nature, great beaches and the best sunsets I’ve ever seen.

There are plenty of things to see in Siquijor. The best beaches are Solangon, where our resort was located, Paliton a couple of kilometers down the road, and stunning Salagdoong beach with a rocky outcrop popular with cliff jumpers. To get away from the beaches you can rent a scooter for the day or ask a tricycle driver to take you around and visit places like Cambugahay waterfall, where you can pretend to be Indiana Jones and swing into the water on a rope.

Another place worth visiting in Siquijor to get in touch with the eerie-side of the island is the Balete (or banyan) tree, an ancient tree covered in roots and lianas that looks like a portal into a parallel world. There’s also a pool of spring water right at the bottom of the tree full of fish who will be happy to give you a ‘fish spa’ treatment if you stick your feet in. You can also visit a healer if you want to know more about Siquijor culture, just ask a tricycle driver or your accommodation and they’ll surely point you the right way. — Margherita Ragg, The Crowded Planet

IRAN

Emerging from years of sanctions, Iran is an up and coming destination for travelers. You can walk in the footsteps of the Persian Empire at Persepolis, marvel at the Islamic architecture in Isfahan and travel along the ancient Silk Route that traverses the country. Whether you are relaxing in a traditional Persian garden in Shiraz or learning about the ancient Zoroastrian religion in Yazd, you’ll discover a nation with a rich cultural heritage. Iran is a feast for the senses with fragrant gardens, a divine cuisine and exquisite traditional buildings.

But the best kept secret in Iran is the hospitality of the local people who will make your holiday unforgettable. Expect invites to tea, conversations with soccer-mad teenagers, and strangers stopping you in the street to welcome you to Iran. I’ll never forget the animated conversations I had with medical students in Yazd or the 30 veiled schoolgirls in Shiraz who all wanted to share their packed lunch with me. Go now before the rest of the world figures it out. — Rachael Rowe, January Journeys

BENIN

Imagine a place with clean, pristine beaches, seaside hostels and barefoot bars on the sand surrounded by palm trees. It’s a veritable tropical paradise. What about somewhere with a powerful and unique history, stretching deep into the last thousand years, where semi-mythical kings fought and built their empire, and whose legacies and palaces remain today? Maybe you prefer somewhere vibrant, with a thriving music and arts scene, where world-renowned jazz musicians share towns with local contemporary artists, using materials to hand create sociopolitical statements. Or perhaps you’re looking for somewhere spiritual, where modern Middle-Eastern religions coexist with ancient beliefs, and people pray in stone churches or mud-baked mosques before scouring markets for the right combination of bones and herbs to make a potion to bring them success.

You’re imagining Benin. It’s a little-known country; a beacon of stability in a somewhat turbulent region. Visas are easy for most nationalities to get a hold of (they’re often available at borders), and getting around the country is pretty cheap and manageable, especially if you’re willing to travel as the locals do in over-capacity buses and share taxis. That, of course, is half the fun. — Ian, Barefoot Backpacker

ANTARCTICA

The White Continent consistently shows up on travel wish lists — and rightfully so. I dreamt about traveling to Antarctica for years. With a landscape full of glaciers and icebergs, Antarctica is beautiful, stunning, and magnificent beyond what any words can describe. Although remote and off the beaten path, there is no shortage of things to do in Antarctica. Visitors have numerous opportunities to view the scenery and the unique wildlife, including seabirds, seals, whales and various species of penguin. Active travelers can kayak icy water, hike, cross-country ski and even camp overnight.

Unless working in a research station, visits are possible only during Antarctic summer (November to March) when temperatures are typically right below freezing. On the plus side, with almost 24 hours of daylight in the summer, there is plenty of opportunity to take in the surroundings. — Matilda, The Travel Sisters

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  • Katie Featherstone

    Thanks for including me Joe. Antarctica is pretty difficult to beat for off the beaten path destinations. What a great adventure!

    • Joe

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!