Don't Be A Mainstream Traveller: 8 Off The Beaten Track Destinations for An Exotic Vacation

Don’t Be A Mainstream Traveller: 8 Off The Beaten Track Destinations for An Exotic Vacation

Craving for adventure? Then look into these locations around the world that you might not have considered before.

I have a confession to make: As much as I love travelling, I sometimes dream of a different vacation while I’m ON vacation. Why? Because, truth be told, while mainstream destinations like Hong Kong, Seoul, and Bali are all great fun, I can’t help but dream about trips that are more “out there”.

I’m talking about things like staying the night in a traditional yurt, or visiting mystical monasteries atop misty mountains, or sliding down a ginormous sand dune in the desert, that sort of thing.

I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way, right? So, after meditating for a good two hours upon the Shroud of Woken Wisdom (which is a fancy way of saying I daydreamed about it on my bed), I have decided to share this short list of eight awesome locations for an exotic vacation off the beaten track. Check them out!

1. Bolivia

Image credit: Marco Verch

Landlocked between more prominent South American destinations like Brazil, Argentina, and Peru, Bolivia is often overlooked as a travel destination and that’s a shame if you ask me. While you won’t find sandy beaches in Bolivia as you would in Brazil and Peru, what you will be able to enjoy is the genuine artistry of untouched natural landscapes throughout the country.

Salar de Uyuni, or the Uyuni Salt Flats as it’s known in English, is the largest salt flat in the world. On clear days, you’ll be able to capture beautifully surreal photos of the sky being reflected off the surface of the flats! Beyond that, you could also find a generous number of stunning volcanoes, fiery-red lakes, and historical silver mines to explore and admire.

Image credit: Kristin Miranda

La Paz, the picturesque capital city of Bolivia, welcomes visitors with a laid-back ambience and a rustic sense of cultural indigenuity. And for those who truly wish for an adventure, brave the Yungas Road (sometimes known as Death Road), a winding 50-odd kilometre stretch of road connecting La Paz to the town of Coroico through verdant mountain forests! Now that’s an exotic adventure!

2. The Balkans

Image credit: Jennifer Boyer

When I think of the Balkans, I envision cobblestone paths, medieval towns, lush greenery, flavoursome food to warm the belly and a rustic hospitality that is far removed from mainstream tourist hotspots. If I had to pick a favourite route to travel within the Balkans, it would most definitely be a loop of Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, and Slovenia.

Image credit: Dennis Jarvis

Of course, there’s more than just three countries in the Balkans but trust me, these three may well be the very best. Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia & Herzegovina, is a historical city with cobbled streets and an old town market (Bascarsija) which dates all the way back to the 15th century! On the border between Bosnia & Herzegovina and Croatia lies the dreamy town of Dubrovnik with its lovely landmarks, aged monasteries, and jaw-dropping coastal views of the Adriatic Sea.

Further north of Dubrovnik, there’s the Plitvice Lakes National Park, ranked as one of the most impressive National Parks in Europe, punctuated by the colossal Veliki Slap Waterfall! And Slovenia? Well, its capital city, Ljubljana, is another picturesque medieval town dotted with timeless cathedrals and lovely traditional markets.

exotic vacation destinations

Image credit: Jorge Franganillo

But perhaps the area which makes me most excited about in Slovenia is the serene Lake Bled which many lovingly refer to as ‘paradise on Earth’. The fresh air, crystal clear natural springs and easy-on-the-eye greenery is such a charming sight for those who love gazing at the wonders of Mother Nature. Nearby, the majestic Bled Castle stands tall upon the cliffs, basking in the sunshine while Bohinj Valley, which offers breathtaking views of the Julian Alps, is only a short drive away.

There’s so much more to say about the Balkans (don’t even get me started on Zagreb!) that I don’t think I could ever cover everything there is to see and do in one short article! I mean, to be honest, the Balkans is the sort of destination that is meant to be leisurely explored over an extended period. Which is why I absolutely adore this travel plan from CTC Travel – not only does it cover all the major sights in between Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia & Herzegovina, it also allows you to branch off and explore other locations on your own, ensuring that you get the most out of your Balkans adventure!

3. The Azores

exotic vacation destinations

Image credit: Ajay Suresh

If I had a dime for every time someone has told me “You must visit Lisbon, it’s a beautiful city!”, I’d actually be able to PAY for my flight there. But no, I’m not focusing on the capital city of Portugal, I’m more into the islands lying off its western coast: The Azores.

When I watched Avatar for the first time, I wondered what it would be like to live in a place like Pandora. Well, the Azores is probably as close as it gets! Made up of nine volcanic islands in the mid-Atlantic, the Azores is a haven of rich greenery and aquatic wildlife. In fact, it is allegedly the best place in the world for whale-watching!

Image credit: Feliciano Guimaraes

The mild climate also makes for a great place for hiking and trekking for those who adore the great outdoors. A popular activity is to hike to the summit of the volcanic Mount Pico (beware: five-hour hike ahead!) and become lost for words as you gaze out into the vast canvas of beauty before your eyes.

The Azores are also riddled with underground caves to explore, with some of them containing (almost) magical pools and waterfalls! And given its location in the middle of the Atlantic, it goes without saying that an archipelago like the Azores is where you’ll find the most scrumptious of seafood feasts to enjoy!

4. Bhutan

The hermit kingdom of Bhutan has a reputation for being one of the most beautiful places on Earth, offering ancient culture, alluring natural landscapes, and aesthetically unique architecture to all who visit. Despite this, Bhutan has somehow managed to escape mainstream attention, which, if you ask me, only adds to the air of mystery surrounding it.

Located high off the ground in the Himalayas between Tibet and India, Bhutan is home to many high-altitude towns (like Punakha), snow-capped mountains, and alpine views, such as the wondrous Dochula Pass or the whimsical Phobjikha Valley, both located over 3,000 metres above the sea level. However, the two places you’re most likely to see first when you arrive will undoubtedly be Paro, where Bhutan’s main airport is located, and Thimphu, the country’s capital city.

Image credit: Arian Zwegers

In Paro, you will be able to visit Rinpung Dzong, Bhutan’s most iconic Buddhist monastery and the representative masterpiece of its architecture. Famous for its lovely wall murals depicting the many aspects of Buddhism, the Rinpung Dzong is arguably one of the most highly-rated destinations in the whole country!

Not to be outdone, Thimphu has the distinction of being the only capital city in the world which functions without a traffic light! But perhaps the main draws in the city are its important religious sites such as the Memorial Chorten, the gigantic Kuensel Phodrang Buddha statue, and the Tashichho Dzong.  

Image credit: Stull17

With its blend of picturesque natural scenery and deep cultural experiences, Bhutan is easily one of the most spiritual places in the world. Be warned though that getting to Bhutan is no simple task. To safeguard the country’s incumbent culture and natural landscape, travelling to Bhutan involves meticulous procedures such as visa applications and mandatory local tourism arrangements. So, while I’m all for planning my own trips, even I have to admit that when it comes to Bhutan, it’s best to rely on experienced agencies to help plan your trip there to avoid any unnecessary disappointments.  

5. Inner Mongolia

Image credit: Herry Lawford

Ever since the days of my childhood, I’ve fantasized about living close to nature, sleeping in a Mongolian yurt and feasting on tender meat roasted over an open flame. Okay, maybe the many hours spent binge-watching Chinese ancient war dramas might have influenced that but yes, Mongolia, specifically Inner Mongolia, has always been on my bucket list of exotic travel locations.

I mean, what’s not to love about Inner Mongolia? After all, it’s got so much cultural history, vast greenery and a rustic, almost rural vibe which is easy to fall in love with. The towering Dazhao Lamasery in Hohhot, the capital city of Inner Mongolia and its socioeconomic centre, is located within the romantic confines of the Saishang Old Street and is the only Chinese imperial temple in the region.

Image credit: Herry Lawford

But what truly makes Inner Mongolia such an enchanting destination is its plethora of rich, beautiful natural scenery. The Grassland is a vast open field where you can witness cultural performances and admire Mongolian Wrestling, in addition to sampling local cuisine and trying on traditional costumes.

It is also here where you can try your hand at horse riding, tea making, and experience life as a local by living in traditional yurts and stargazing out in the open at night. What a life! In addition, the Kubuqi Desert, Hasuhai Lake, and the town of Ordos which houses the Mausoleum of Genghis Khan (you might have heard of him) also offer visitors stunning sights and unforgettable memories of Inner Mongolia.

There’s so much to see and do in Inner Mongolia, so a well-planned itinerary is essential to not miss out on any once-in-a-lifetime experiences! Thankfully, CTC Travel is an expert when it comes to arranging tours in Inner Mongolia, so you might want to look them up before your big trip!

6. Iran

Image credit: sunriseOdyssey

To be honest, I think Iran has been an unfortunate victim of misconception and misinformation for far too long. Despite housing 22 UNESCO World Heritage Sites (that’s only one less than the United States), this Middle Eastern gem continues to be overlooked and, indeed avoided, by mainstream tourists due mostly to misplaced fear of the geopolitical tensions in the countries surrounding it.

But in truth, Iran is a lovely country with lovely people. Its cultural heritage is beautifully expressed in the spectacular mosques, squares, and markets throughout the country. The iconic Azadi Tower which stands tall in the capital, Tehran, is a striking example of Iranian architecture and one of the most recognizable sights of the country.

Image credit: Julia Maudlin

The cities of Shiraz and Isfahan are also must-visit destinations outside of Tehran. Offering tranquil atmospheres and warm hospitality, these cities lull visitors into such a state of comfort that sometimes you just don’t wanna leave! Isfahan, in particular, is home to two of Iran’s World Heritage Sites, the Jameh Mosque, and Naqsh-e Jahan Square. Truly worth a visit at least once in one’s lifetime!

7. Qatar

Qatar is a common layover destination for those who travel between the East and West. However, it is more than just a transit point that is easily forgotten once you’ve boarded your next flight at Doha International Airport.

Image credit: Peter Dowley

Boasting a complex blend of modern skyscrapers and an endless stretch of desert sand, there is much to see and do in Qatar. Discover the unique Cultural Village Katara in Doha, where interactive expressions of art and culture bedazzle the senses. You could also visit the Museum of Islamic Art and the historic Zubara Fort to learn more about Qatar’s unique cultural identity.

Image credit: Rafeek Qatar

However, surely the most exciting thing about Qatar is its enchanting desert which seems to stretch forever. You can try sandboarding, go for a swim in the pristine gulf waters or even get your adrenaline pumping as you drive over the sandy dunes in a luxury 4WD!

Being located so close to the Persian Gulf, rest assured that there will be no shortage of stunning coastal views in Qatar either! So, instead of just passing by, make the most of your time in Qatar and explore this wonderful place. Better yet, spend a few days there and discover Qatar with this amazing itinerary which covers all the major sights and activities!

8. Turkey

exotic vacation destinations

Image credit: Dennis Jarvis

Turkey is the historical Western ‘end’ of the Silk Road connecting China to the West and I think that alone is enough to classify Turkey as an exotic place, albeit one that is severely underrated when it comes to tourism as far as European destinations go.

Being an integral part of an ancient trade route between Europe and Asia, it’s easy to see why Turkey is a cultural metropolis with a unique blend of both eastern and western influences in architecture, food, and way of life. In other words, it’s a treasure trove for travellers looking for an exotic adventure!

exotic vacation destinations

Image credit: Benh Lieu Song

Turkey’s most iconic (and mainstream) attraction is undoubtedly the historical Hagia Sophia in Istanbul with its majestic and timeless architecture. But beyond the glitz and glamour of the capital city, Turkey has a whole host of ancient ruins, natural scenery, and unique experiences to enjoy as well!

Enjoy a stroll on the marble streets of Ephesus and visit the Roman Baths and ancient Greek temples left behind from a time long gone by. Or visit the resort city of Antalya which houses the majestic Olympos Mountains (not to be confused with the Greek Mount Olympus) and its ancient Roman ruins.  

exotic vacation destinations

Image credit: Arian Zwegers

One of the places I’m most interested in visiting in Turkey is the Valley of Fairy Chimneys in Cappadocia. At this seemingly magical place, rocks and stones rise from the ground in clumps of spindly stems, making it seem as though they were purposefully shaped by a bemused stone mason. However, the rock formations here are all naturally formed, crafted millions of years ago (or so they say) by nature itself!

To see more sights like these and get the best out of your trip to Turkey, it wouldn’t hurt planning well ahead of time. Might I suggest this fantastic 12-day itinerary so that you have sufficient time to enjoy it all? Go on, you won’t regret it, I’m sure of it!

Don’t be put off

Of course, going on an exotic vacation in an off-the-beaten-track location may sound a little daunting, especially if you don’t speak the language or aren’t sure about what to expect in terms of travel arrangements. Thankfully, you can rely on CTC Travel for all your exotic travel needs so you can enjoy your vacation without having to sweat about the details!

With over 25 years of experience, CTC Travel is the winner of the Tripzilla Excellence Awards – Best For Exotic Tours category and your one-stop solution for that dream exotic vacation!

Book your trip with CTC Travel today and enjoy a spectacular time exploring the exotic wonders of the world!

 

About Author

Darren Yeoh

Darren enjoys the finer things in life and loves exploring unfamiliar places on foot, guided with nothing but instinct and a good-old fashioned map. He enjoys cultural experiences and exciting adventures and is not a stranger to travelling alone. When he's not putting his travel experiences into words, he's probably sitting behind his laptop, planning his upcoming adventure.

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