It’s that time of year again – 2019 is coming to an end and we are all starting to think about where we would like to travel next year. But while there are loads of countries which regularly top lists of places you should travel this year, it seems that the same ones come up year after year. What if you want to travel somewhere completely different, somewhere that when you tell people where you are going, they say ‘where?!’ It might feel like the world has got a lot smaller in recent years and that it is really hard to find places off-the-beaten-path, but if you are searching for somewhere unique for your vacation next year, you will be pleased to know that there are some corners of the world which still receive relatively few visitors, making them perfect for an original holiday. If you need some ideas, here’s the ultimate list of unusual destinations for 2020.
1. Costa Vicentina, Portugal
The Algarve has long attracted visitors from around the globe, with its wonderful all-year-round climate and stunning beaches, to the point where at certain times it feels like the area is completely overrun with tourists. However, if you continue to the very tip of south-west Portugal, you will discover the Costa Vicentina, a relatively untouched part of the country, ideal for those looking for somewhere more peaceful for their 2020 vacation.
Considered to be the wild west of Portugal, here you will find long stretches of pristine beaches, untamed vegetation, and dramatic cliffs. Due to its protected status as a national park, there has been very little development in the Costa Vicentina, with the area’s few towns staying traditional to Portuguese culture; you will not find any huge hotel resorts here. If you are into surfing, the Costa Vicentina offers some of the best in the country, plus it is a fabulous region to visit if you are interested in flora and fauna. The national park is home to an abundance of plant life, including 48 species which can only be found in Portugal, as well as over 200 bird species, foxes, otters, and wildcats.
2. Basque Country, Spain
Despite being located in mainland Spain, Basque Country is actually completely different from the rest of the country. It is a region with its own language, culture, food, and even the landscapes look different, meaning a visit here shows you an utterly new side to Spain. Basque Country will delight you with its vibrant cities and stunning nature, plus it is also a wonderful destination to experience amazing cuisine and some of the best wine in Spain.
Possibly the most famous destination in Basque Country is Bilbao, known for the Guggenheim Museum. The building of this quirky museum is reason enough to visit; it is known for being a fantastic example of modern architecture. Inside you will get the chance to see permanent and temporary exhibitions by some of the world’s greatest artists. But Bilbao isn’t just about the Guggenheim. It’s a lively city with a beautiful historic quarter, great shopping opportunities and a fantastic culinary scene. Elsewhere in Basque Country, you have the coastal city of San Sebastian which is particularly popular with surfers, the state capital Vitoria-Gasteiz with its cobblestone streets and 13th-century cathedral, and the medieval city of Laguardia, surrounded by stunning wineries.
3. Occitanie, France
While most travelers dream of visiting Paris at some point in their lives, with other French cities such as Lille, Strasbourg and Marseille also getting their fair share of attention, if you really want to discover a delightful part of France, head down to the south-western region of Occitanie. An incredibly new region of the country, formed in 2016 by the merging of Languedoc-Roussillon and Midi-Pyrenees, Occitanie was named after the much older cultural and historical territory of Occitania and is currently the second-largest region in France. As it covers such a big area, Occitanie has everything you could wish for from a French vacation, from architectural and natural splendor to delicious traditional cuisine.
The largest city in Occitanie is Toulouse, the so-called Pink City due to its red-brick facades which can be seen all around the town. As well as beautiful architecture, Toulouse is also famous for being the European space capital; a visit to La Cite de l’Espace – where you can see various interactive exhibits on cosmology and the conquest of space – is an absolute must. For those who love history, Carcassonne is a favorite among travelers, with its medieval citadel and pedestrian-only cobblestone streets, and Nimes is filled with Roman sites. In addition to the cities, there are many natural areas with plentiful opportunities to enjoy hiking, skiing, kitesurfing, and windsurfing, making Occitanie a perfect all-round destination.
4. Zermatt, Switzerland
Home to the mighty Matterhorn which dominates the landscape, the mountain resort of Zermatt has long been one of Switzerland’s biggest treasures. Surrounded by the Swiss Alps, Zermatt is the perfect place to go for those seeking an active vacation. Skiing, snowboarding, hiking, cycling, and clay pigeon shooting are all possible here, but if you are not the active kind you can still enjoy the mountains by taking a cable car up to the top of the Matterhorn instead; there is even a VIP gondola with champagne on offer if you fancy splashing out. Zermatt is also known as a foodie destination, with an excellent mix of restaurants serving both local and international cuisine.
While many people head to Zermatt purely for the outdoor activities, the village itself is worthy of some of your time. Completely pedestrianized, the only forms of transport you will see here are horse-drawn carriages and electric cars; this is to help preserve the breathtaking environment. Despite being overtaken by the hotel industry in recent years, Zermatt retains much of its charm, and many buildings in the village date back 500 years, particularly the barns and grain stores, giving you a glimpse into how people would have lived in the area during these times. You can also see the English Church, Kirchbrucke Bridge, the Mountaineers’ Cemetery and the Matterhorn Museum.
5. Sardinia, Italy
Primarily known as a seaside destination, Sardinia certainly has plenty to offer travelers who are seeking a little bit of sun, sea, and sand. The Italian island has over 1,800 kilometers of coastline with pristine beaches, sparkling azure waters, and beautiful surrounding scenery. The great thing about the Sardinian beaches is that there is something for everyone. Here you have beaches ideal for families, for those who love water sports, and even those who just love lying on the sand and reading a book.
But Sardinia is not just about beaches. The island has an incredibly long history which is apparent in the many historical and archaeological sites which can be seen here. Some of these sites date back to the Nuragic Age between 1,900 and 730 BC, but you can also see remnants of other civilizations who have made their home on the island over the centuries, such as the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Romans. The best places to visit if you are interested in Sardinia’s history are the capital Cagliari, Alghero and Pula. Couple this with the amazing cuisine, an abundance of wildlife and flora, and a perfect year-round climate, you can see why Sardinia makes a fantastic destination for 2020.
6. Phong Nha National Park, Vietnam
Touted as Vietnam’s last paradise, a visit to Phong Nha National Park will have your jaw-dropping at the absolutely magnificent natural landscapes. The park is famed for its cave and grotto systems, believed to stretch for around 126 kilometers, although much of it has not been fully explored. The largest of the caves here, the Son Doong Cave, is thought to be the largest in the world and has some of the tallest stalagmites in the world – up to 70 meters tall – and cave pearls the size of baseballs. Exploring the caves is obviously one of the biggest draws of a visit to Phong Nha National Park and you certainly will not be disappointed with the experience; there are over 300 caves here with stunning rock formations, cave rivers, and rock pools to discover.
Aside from caving, there are a number of fun and thrilling activities to participate in when visiting Phong Nha National Park, including kayaking, hiking, motorbiking, cycling, and zip-lining. Another fantastic reason for visiting this part of Vietnam is the mouthwatering cuisine. Vietnam is noted for its food anyway, but due to the rural location of Phong Nha, you will find lots of lovely small, family-run restaurants serving all kinds of local fare.
7. Yamagata Prefecture, Japan
Located just under 300 kilometers away from Tokyo, the Yamagata prefecture of Japan is a million miles away in terms of the difference between the country’s capital, despite both lying on the same island, Honshu. While Tokyo is renowned for its fast-paced modern lifestyle, the Yamagata region is famed for its stunning landscapes and the chance to be at one with nature, often being described as the ‘hidden’ Japan. It is a region known for its hot springs, mountains, and temples, and you could easily spend weeks here exploring everything Yamagata has to offer.
There are many highlights on a trip to Yamagata prefecture, but one of the biggest is Mount Zao. Winter is the perfect time to come here as you will get to see the famous ‘snow monsters’ – giant trees that, when covered in snow, form unusual shapes. You should also visit the Okama Crater Lake, which attracts many visitors who want to see the different colors the water changes to depending on the weather, and the Ginzen Onsen, a hot spring in surroundings that will make you feel like you have stepped back in time.
8. Mentawai Islands, Sumatra, Indonesia
Situated around 150 kilometers off the coast of Sumatra, the beautiful Mentawai Islands have been a favorite of surfers who come here for the waves for many years now. Here you will find pure white sandy beaches, sparkling blue sea and swaying palm trees, the perfect tropical paradise. Surfing is the main reason why so many travelers head here, with companies offering transportation to and from remote surf spots around the island group, although it is worth noting that due to most of the waves breaking over sharp and shallow coral reefs, you should be confident in your abilities before taking to them.
If you are not a fan of surfing, there are plenty of other reasons why making a trip to the Mentawai Islands is worthwhile. Other activities you can participate in include hiking, kayaking, diving, snorkeling, beach volleyball, and fishing. If you are interested in aboriginal culture, there are tribes here whose lives have remained unchanged for hundreds of years who you can visit and learn about their culture.
9. Western Australia and the Ningaloo Reef
While the eastern coast of Australia is hugely popular with travelers, the lesser-explored western part of the country is also an amazing place to visit. The state capital is Perth and usually the starting point of any traveler heading to this region. Very similar to Sydney, Perth has everything you could want from a major city, from fun attractions to a vibrant nightlife. It is also the perfect jumping-off point for lots of cool places, such as the Pinnacles Desert in Nambung National Park, the Wave Rock, and Rottnest Island.
One of the biggest highlights of visiting Western Australia is Ningaloo Reef, which offers visitors some of the most unique experiences a traveler could wish for. This 260-kilometer long coral reef is home to a vast number of marine species, including rays, fish, and turtles, but the thing that most people come to see are the humpback whales and whale sharks. The most incredible activity here is swimming with the whale sharks; these gentle giants are simply stunning and swimming next to them is the experience of a lifetime. It is also possible to swim next to the humpback whales as they migrate up and down the coastline.
10. Barahona, Dominican Republic
Definitely off-the-beaten-path, the Barahona region in the Dominican Republic is one of the world’s best eco-friendly destinations. This part of the island has been relatively untouched by tourism, so if you want to experience the real Dominican Republic, Barahona is the place to come. There are three national parks here, the largest of which is Jaraqua, home to over 60 species of bird, including the island’s biggest number of flamingos. The Sierra de Bahoruco National Park forms part of the country’s UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and is known for its numerous ecosystems and a vast array of flora and fauna; here you will find over 180 species of orchid, 32 of which are endemic to the Dominican Republic, and over 100 species of bird.
The largest city in the region is also called Barahona and it is the perfect base for exploring the surrounding natural scenery. While it may not have too many attractions, there is an excellent beach, an outstandingly beautiful cathedral, and a buzzing nightlife, plus the market is a great place to pick up pretty much anything at extremely reasonable prices.
Travelling does not have to mean heading to the same places year after year. As this list shows, in 2020 you can book your next trip somewhere completely different and have the experience of a lifetime. Let me help you with that.