With a new year comes new travel goals. And although we just arrived home from a worldwide adventure, we’re likely not the only ones who started our 2016 travel wish list on January 1st. Our goal? Visit destinations that ARE touristy enough to offer comfortable accommodations, restaurants and things to do, but are NOT tourist traps, overpriced or crowded. We always shoot for an authentic experience, hoping to get a feel for daily life in another part of the world.
To help build your travel list, check out our favorite destinations from last year that, we hope, are still a little under the radar:
1. Dalat, Vietnam
Home to Dalat University, this small city of 200,000 residents is tucked into the hills of Vietnam’s Central Highlands. Surrounded by small villages and farmland, Dalat is Vietnam’s number one export of flowers. True to any good college town, it’s full of veggie friendly cheap eats, trendy coffee shops and small bars. Not typically on the Vietnam tourist circuit, this one is not to be missed. Tip: Venture an hour outside of town to the giant happy Buddha.
2. Nusa Lembongan, Indonesia
A short but adventurous boat ride southeast of Bali will take you to the little island of Nusa Lembongan. There are no cars - only motorbikes and your own two feet to navigate the island’s hilly web of old roads. A great place to get away, this sleepy island is quiet, relaxing, and home to a handful of beautiful beaches. Tip: Snorkeling the mangroves is highly recommended, as is lunch at the uber sustainable Bali Eco Deli.
3. Pai, Thailand
About four hours north of Chiang Mai, nearly to the Myanmar border, is the laid back community of Pai, Thailand. Growing in popularity, this little town has a few great hotels, a dozen delicious restaurants and is completely walkable. The drive from Chiang Mai has 762 curves through mountainous jungle, making getting there an adventure itself. Tip: Catch the market on Wednesdays.
4. Bologna, Italy
We stand firm that Bologna is Italy’s coolest city, we just can’t figure out why it’s not on the Rome - Florence - Venice circuit. Home to the oldest university in the world, Bologna has traditional architecture (including the famed porticos), but a young and lively spirit. Aperitivos, drinks served with an assortment of snacks, are fantastic here, and the food scene is constantly pushing the envelope. Add in the tallest tower in Italy and an outdoor summer film festival and there’s no question why Bologna should top your Italy list too. Tip: Pasta Fresca Naldi whips up the most mouthwatering takeaway pasta dishes in the universe.
5. Hamburg, Germany
Hamburg, northern Germany’s major port city, proves there’s more to Germany than just Berlin's rich history and Oktoberfest in Munich. Connected to the North Sea by the Elbe river, it’s home to hundreds of canals and waterways, as well as over 2300 bridges, more than both Amsterdam and Venice. In the center of the city, the Außenalster lake is surrounded by walking paths, parks and cafes. Tip: Go in summer and rent a canoe, kayak or stand up paddle board to explore the city’s canals.
6. Zadar, Croatia
Sorry Game of Throne fans; Dubrovnik is so 2015. Instead, head north to the unique and historical city of Zadar. Sitting on a small oval peninsula, the old town boasts incredibly maintained Roman and Venetian ruins, as well as the famous sea organ, a series of tubes and a resonating cavity that sits in the ocean and is "played" by the wind and sea. During the summer, the riva (seaside walkway) is packed with people sipping wine and watching performers. Tip: If weather permits, head to Kolovare beach to take the plunge from the high dive into the Adriatic Sea.
7. Valencia, Spain
Valencia really has it all. With temperatures between 50-80 degrees year round, this city is for people who love to be outside. Turia Park, an old river bed turned into an idyllic park with running trails and bike paths, spans 9 kilometers, weaving through the entire city. Wide golden sand and warm Mediterranean water is found at Malvarrosa Beach, and the Ciudad de los Artes y Ciencias is home to an aquarium, planetarium, science museum, and convention center. Did we mention it's the birthplace of Paella? Tip: Check out the central market for the best food you could ever dream of, including, cheese, wine craft beer and produce.
8. Guatape, Colombia
A small farming town two hours east of Medellin, Guatape, sits on a large man-made reservoir. With a population of around 5,000, this lakeside village attracts visitors with its quaint and colorful buildings, many restaurants and famous rock, La Piedra. The giant, vertical stone reaches 7,000 feet above sea level. Climb 650 stairs to the top to see the expansive lake and island landscape. Tip: Order a Michelada at the small cafe on the top of La Piedra.
9. Mancora, Peru
There’s really nothing better than a perfect little seaside surf town, and Mancora, Peru delivers. A stop along the Pan-American highway on the coast of northern Peru, Mancora is often overlooked by travelers in favor of Cusco and Machu Picchu. But this town offers big waves, a nice beach, great locally-owned hotels and tons of delicious restaurants. Grab a book, sit in the sun, eat ceviche and drink pisco sours all day long. Tip: Try cremolada from one of the small shops in town. It's like shave ice, but WAY better.
10. Puerto Natales, Chile
A small town located very near the end of the world, Puerto Natales is just 100 kilometers from Torres Del Paine National Park in Chilean Patagonia. What used to be a small fishing village has been transformed into a charmingly low-key destination with numerous restaurants, (a million) trekking outfitters, and even a microbrewery. It’s a perfect home base to explore the mind-blowing scenery of Torres Del Paine during the day. Tip: Skip the organized tours and use our 1 Day Independent and Sustainable Guide to Torres Del Paine National Park.
11. Granada, Nicaragua
On the northwest shore of giant Lake Nicaragua, Granada offers year-round warm weather and beautiful colonial architecture. This colorful little town is at the perfect crossroads, drawing enough visitors to offer top notch restaurants and hotels, but under the radar enough to keep prices and crowds down. Tip: Catch a local baseball game at Estadio Flor de Cana for about $1 - a truly local and awesome experience.
12. Flores, Guatemala
Location, location, location. The old town of Flores covers a small island that sits offshore of Lago Petén Itzá offering a small, walkable and historic experience. Shuttles leave twice a day to the nearby Tikal National Park, where you can wander (and climb) 1,500 year-old temples and spot monkeys, crocodiles, exotic birds, and (if you’re lucky) a jaguar. At night, the old town offers a large selection of affordable restaurants and bars, as well as shopping for Guatemalan art and textiles. Tip: Stay in old town for the true Flores experience.
13. Mahahual, Mexico
Mexico’s Costa Maya has skyrocketed in popularity over the past ten years, thanks to its modern infrastructure, tropical climate, white sand beaches, and turquoise water. Unfortunately the growth has increased prices, people and tourism in previously quaint towns like Tulum and Akumal. Our advice? Head south. The tiny village of Mahahual is on the cruise ship circuit, but has kept it's small town charm, quieting down each night and on non-cruise days. You won’t find any mega resorts here, just small boutique hotels and restaurants ranging from high-end eateries to local taquerias. Tip: Eat where the locals are eating. Tacos are about $1 and much better. The way Mexico should be.
Where are you planning to travel in 2016? Check out our Top 14 Travel Lessons to prepare for your adventure!