The allure of authentic experiences make seeking destinations off the beaten path worth it. Though not often visited, these areas of the world are equally rich in culture compared to the world’s most notorious cities. Push past the classic experiences of seeing a Broadway show in New York City or ascending the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and leave behind the masses on one of these journeys. These are the off-the-radar destinations to visit this year.
A spellbinding urban fabric of shimmering turquoise domes and soaring minarets, Uzbekistan’s Islamic architecture bleeds with history of the Silk Road. Most visitors begin their journey in sprawling Tashkent, sipping on ubiquitous pots of green tea in the chic restaurants of this ultramodern capital before journeying onward to the ancient cities of Central Asia’s cultural heart. Samarkand’s Registan Square is the star of the city — an impressive collection of three intricately mosaic tiled madrasas in hues of blue, revered as one of the Silk Road’s most iconic sights.
Visit timeworn Bukhara for remnants of a once bustling economic center along the trade rout. Now an architectural preserve, visitors traipse among over 140 protected ancient structures and haggle for handmade silk carpets and decorative embroidery in the boisterous bazaars.
Due to its geographical location, Khiva is often overlooked, but the city that carries a turbulent history as a prominent slave trading market is now well equipped for tourism. The city’s labyrinth of twisting alleyways and mud-walled structures lead visitors past leafy courtyards and stone palaces.
In the Balkan Peninsula of Southeastern Europe is Albania, defined by the rugged Ionian and Adriatic coastlines and majestic mountainscapes. Part of its charm is that it’s little developed, evident in the country’s rural way of life.
The Albanian capital of Tirana is bustling and one of juxtapositions, where its grand boulevards are lined with pulsing nightclubs that rub shoulders with communist era structures and relics of its Greek and Roman past. But escape the chaotic traffic to Theth National Park in the north, traveling across highways where shepherds herd their flocks, and be mesmerized by the lofty peaks of the Albanian Alps. Embark on a network of splendid hiking trails that take you past blue lagoons and silvery waterfalls, crossing the Shala River that meanders through this remote region. Sunbathe on the idyllic beaches of the Ionian Coast, and visit the traditional Balkan style homes of Berat in central Albania, an Ottoman era town of hillside climbing structures crowned by Berat Castle at its peak.
Taiwan’s Cycle Route No. 1 is a destination for the cycling obsessed, an ultimate 12-day road journey around the circumference of the island through the diverse landscapes and backroads of the nation. Its 602 miles navigate you across Taiwan’s surreal coastal landscape, beginning in the urban capital of Taipei, where its soaring skyscrapers stand among giant Buddhas and elaborate Taoist temples.
Eat fearlessly as you gorge on stinky tofu at one of the many stalls of Taipei’s night markets, the core of the city’s nightlife. And from Taipei, cycle on a diverse combination of peaceful country and busy main roads to Kenting National Park, situated on the southern tip of the nation, carpeted in white sand beaches and fringed by colorful coral reefs. For urban explorers, head to the narrow cobblestone lanes and elegant tea houses of Jiufen, which is believed to have inspired the setting for Miyazaki’s popular Japanese anime, Spirited Away. Nature lovers will appreciate the otherworldly landscape of mushroom rocks at Yehliu Geopark on the northern coast of the country, where the sea erosion carved the oddly shaped rock formations by way of erosion. Brimming with urban and natural luminaries, Taiwan begs to be explored.
Dreamlike and varied, Bolivia’s natural landscape is a conglomerate of dizzying urban centers, the blindingly white salt flats of Salar de Uyuni and vast Amazonian rainforests. One of South America’s least visited nations, the diverse scenery and ecosystems of Bolivia attract outdoor enthusiasts and thrill seekers.
Begin your journey in the frenetic capital of La Paz, a sprawling city of red bricked buildings punctuated by adobe edifices and modern skyscrapers. Explore the streets of roadside food stalls and trendy cafes. Stop at the Witches’ Market where mysterious potions are sold among dried frogs and owl feathers. Travel to Lake Titicaca, South America’s largest lake, a body of sparkling deep blue water backed by the soaring Andean peaks and speckled by some 40 floating islands. Worshipped as the birthplace of the Inca and the creation of the sun, Lake Titicaca’s Isla del Sol is studded with sacred temple ruins and rolling hills, its rugged natural beauty the backdrop to Aymara life, offering the region’s visitors glimpses into Bolivia’s indigenous culture. Adrenaline junkies venture to what was once nicknamed the World’s Most Dangerous Road by mountain bike and race down 43 miles of winding road with dramatic 2000 foot cliff drops at every turn.