- Jessica Dawdy
Most travelers dream of exploring that perfect, under-the-radar destination, where the prices are affordable, the crowds are minimal, and the sights remain relatively unknown to the masses. Whether it’s a remote area with a burgeoning tourism infrastructure or an underrated gem emerging as a foodie hot spot, here are 10 places to visit in 2016 before everyone else discovers them.
Cuba’s heady combination of beautiful beaches and rich culture makes it among the most intriguing islands in the Caribbean. Old Havana is home to striking 16th- and 17th-century Spanish Baroque buildings, and the island’s other UNESCO-listed cities, Trinidad, Cienfuegos, and Camagüey, offer even more well-preserved colonial architecture. Visitors can relax on idyllic white sand beaches, hike the country’s highest mountain in Sierra Maestra National Park, or journey to the tobacco fields of Viñales Valley. Infectious timba music flows out of restaurants and bars, providing the soundtrack. The ease on American travel restrictions to the country is likely to have a dramatic impact over the coming years, so the sooner you visit, the better.
Bulgaria’s capital and largest city is often bypassed by travelers en route to the country’s ski resorts or coastline. Its blocky Soviet-era buildings can make it seem less than appealing on first glance, but travelers who dig a bit deeper will discover a city that’s cosmopolitan, budget-friendly, and very walkable. Sofia is home to some of the country’s top restaurants, museums, and shopping centers, as well as a number of wonderful Ottoman mosques and ornate churches. Sip an espresso at a lively sidewalk café, or head to one of the city’s lovely public gardens.
Australia’s island state is home to untouched wild landscapes, remarkable food and wine, and friendly locals. More than a third of the island is protected national park land, and the scenery ranges from Ice-Age-era rainforests to pristine white sand beaches. Tasmania’s untamed wilderness trails make it a paradise for hikers and outdoor enthusiasts. The island is increasingly attracting the attention of culinary travelers. Its micro-climates make it possible to cultivate an incredible variety of produce, dairy, and meat, while its seas provide fresh seafood. The tourism infrastructure here is growing, with the recent arrival of new hotel chains and cruise lines.
The largest of the three Baltic capitals, Riga is a sophisticated city with buzzing bars, a great transportation system, and innovative restaurants that among those leading the New Nordic cuisine movement. It’s also remarkably affordable, offering diverse dining and accommodation options geared towards a range of budgets. The city’s Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage site, home to quaint cobbled streets and impressive art nouveau architecture. The New Town is equally interesting with its wide boulevards and buildings decorated with whimsical Jugendstil motifs. Named European Capital of Culture in 2014, this fascinating city isn’t likely to remain under the radar for long.
Roatán is the largest and most developed of the Bay Islands, best known for the incredible coral reefs found 35 miles off its coast. A popular cruise ship stop, and home to accommodations ranging from all-inclusive resorts to small guest houses, this tiny island is far from undiscovered but it’s still among the lesser-known Caribbean islands. In addition to snorkeling and diving, visitors can enjoy powdery white sand beaches, travel to its mountainous interior, or take day-trips to one of the tiny surrounding keys.
Tourism is exploding in Myanmar as the country continues to emerge from over 50 years of military dictatorship and a 15-year tourism boycott. Around 800,000 people visited the country in 2011, and that number grew to more than 3 million in 2014. The country shares borders with Bangladesh, China, India, Laos, and Thailand, creating a truly intriguing mix of cultural influences. Myanmar is home to thousands of miles of idyllic beaches, 12th-century pagodas, fertile rice fields, and stunning mountainous regions. The traditional ways of life persist here in many areas, and locals are eager to welcome visitors after so many years of isolation.
Anchorage is Alaska’s largest and most cosmopolitan city, home to the high-quality shops and restaurants you would expect from a major US city, all surrounded by gorgeous mountains. Anchorage is a starting point for exciting excursions into the Alaskan wilderness, ranging from dog-sledding to fjord exploration; but visitors who skip over the city itself are missing out. Dine on wood fire-grilled steaks and fresh seafood at the city’s restaurants, hike and bike along more than 120 miles of paved urban trails, and browse the eclectic items on sale at the weekend markets.
Granada is one of Central America’s most picturesque towns with beautiful Spanish colonial architecture set against the backdrop of Lake Nicaragua. Spend a day wandering along cobblestone roads, admiring elegant church facades and peering into the interior courtyards of historic homes. Coffee tourism is gaining popularity in the city, and Granada is home to an increasing number of community-driven cafes serving brews made with flavorful local beans. The city is also an ideal base for trips to the marketplace in Masaya, Las Islets in Lake Nicaragua, or the volcanoes of Masaya and Mombacho, among other places.
A low-key alternative to tourist-saturated regions like Umbria and Tuscany, Puglia (also known as Apulia) is home to the longest coastline in mainland Italy. The picturesque sandy beaches of its coastline give way to old forests of carob trees and pines, as well as bucolic orchards, olive groves, and vineyards. Various civilizations have left the region with a distinctive mix of architectural styles, ranging from Lecce’s Baroque splendor to collections of odd conical houses called trulli. The province’s simple yet outstanding Mediterranean cuisine is increasingly attracting the interest of foodie travelers.
With the Gobi Desert to the south, Khuvsgul Lake to the north, as well as the steppe of Mongolia and Altai Mountains to the east and west, respectively, Mongolia’s scenery is truly spectacular. The country is a haven for camping, horse trekking, and hiking, and of course, there’s also the opportunity to spend a night in a traditional yurt (called a ger). While many associate Mongolia with nomadic culture, life in cities like Ulaanbaatar is uncompromisingly urban with buzzing nightlife, thriving counter-culture, and chaotic traffic. The increasing availability of high-end accommodation and luxury tours means that the country is beginning to appeal to a wider range of tourists.