Travelers don’t necessarily have to go down the well-trodden path for some of the best places for food, historical architecture, and hiking trails. Oftentimes, under-the-radar destinations are right under our noses, possibly even sharing borders with countries that tend to receive a higher number of visitors. Take Bosnia and Herzegovina, which shares a border with summer hot spot Croatia. Or look to Moloka‘i, a rugged island hidden in well-loved Hawai‘i.
In these nine underrated locations, travel away from the crowded streets, jam-packed monuments, and restaurants where you can never get a table.
1. Bosnia and Herzegovina
Even though Bosnia and Herzegovina is surrounded by well-known Balkan countries like Croatia, this inland gem has remained relatively off the tourist trail. The country experienced tremendous loss and hardship during the Balkan Wars of the 1990s, but what has emerged is a fascinating independent country.
Travelers can experience this history in the old city of Mostar, famous for the Stari Most (the 16th-century curved bridge that crosses the River Neretva). Walk through the cobblestone streets in this city of 105,000 and admire the cafés and guesthouses by the Neretva. Bosnia’s capital, Sarajevo, is another city that feels straight out of a storybook—traverse through the Old Bazaar and be taken back to Ottoman times. Cradled on three sides by mountains, this city is home to strong coffee, abundant street food, and one of the greenest urban hubs in Europe.
Where to stay
- Book now: Hotel-Restaurant Kriva Ćuprija
Visitors to the country should consider staying at Hotel-Restaurant Kriva Ćuprija in Mostar. Steps away from the Stari Most, its stone facade and gabled roof contrast with a contemporary interior featuring comfy mattresses and air-conditioning.
Laos feels like “Thailand 20 years ago”—that is to say, its landscapes are full of striking, mountainous jungles with every shade of green imaginable, minus the nearly 40 million tourists per year. (In fact, Laos received only 4 million tourists in 2019, pre-COVID.)
Landlocked Laos can be overlooked as tourists flock to the sugary shores of neighboring Thailand and Vietnam. But Laos is simply breathtaking, both in misty mountain scenery and its plentiful Buddhist temples and French architecture. Hit the streets of UNESCO-recognized Luang Prabang before ascending into the mountains to discover mountain resorts with views of jade-colored peaks and the flow of the mighty Mekong River. Hop the high-speed Lao-China Railway to continue to Vientiane for more architecture, restaurants, galleries, and temples.
Where to stay
- Book now: Riverside Boutique Resort
Travelers to Laos should make a point to stay at Riverside Boutique Resort located in Vang Vieng. Overlooking the Song River, this boutique resort has spectacular views of the jungle-covered mountains alongside amenities like a gorgeous swimming pool and an on-site restaurant.
A quick ferry ride from Buenos Aires, but another world away, Uruguay is one of the smallest countries in South America. The Washington State–size country is often glossed over in favor of tourism giants like Brazil and Argentina. But after a visit to Uruguay’s food scene and natural scenery, you wil wonder why this country has remained under the tourist radar for so long.
Uruguay’s beachfront capital, Montevideo, is a progressive and safe city with lots of culture to experience, as well as places to dig into asado and capeletis a la caruso. Watch gauchos riding off into the mountainous sunsets in Panagea and learn about the nation’s rural side.
Where to stay
- Book now: Fasano Punta del Este
This 1,200-acre property is only a few miles inland from the popular beaches of Punta del Este. The luxurious stay offers a golf course and tennis courts in addition to a spa.
Calling all divers: Is Mozambique on your travel bucket list? If it’s not, it should be. Mozambique sits on the west coast of Africa, sharing borders with South Africa, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Malawi, and Tanzania. Its 1,550 miles of coastline spoil travelers with white-sand beaches and the mesmerizing blues of the Indian Ocean, which can be appreciated from off-shore islands Bazaruto Island, Quirimbas Island, and Benguerra Island. One of the country’s best diving spots is Bazaruto National Park, where kaleidoscopes of coral teem with leopard sharks, manta rays, manatees, and sea turtles.
On the mainland, Rhode Island–size Gorongosa National Park is known for its savannas and forests, rich with most of the Big Five. It’s a country primed for a memorable beach and bush vacation, at a fraction of the cost compared to other countries in southern Africa.
Where to stay
- Book now: Machangulo Beach Lodge
Visitors to Mozambique can book a stay at Machangulo Beach Lodge, which offers views over the straits that separate Maputo Bay from the Indian Ocean.
Mayan ruins, colorful cities, volcanoes, lakes, and black-sand beaches—there is much to love in Guatemala. With a low cost of living and a transportation infrastructure that is well set up to shuttle travelers around—whether in buses, colectivos, or taxis—it’s surprising that this Central American country has stayed under the radar.
Most travelers associate Mayan culture with Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, but Guatemala is one of the best places to dig into that ancient past. It’s home to more than 1,500 Mayan ruins, the most famous of them being Tikal National Park in northern Guatemala.
Nature also has an integral appeal in this country: There’s Flores, a town literally plopped in the middle of Lake Peten Itza, and Antigua, a sky-high Spanish-influenced city in the mountains. Lake Atitlan, the deepest lake in Central America, is one of the most peaceful places on the planet. Plus, Guatemala is also home to Pacaya, Fuego, and Santiaguito, three still-active volcanoes.
Where to stay
- Book now: Hotel La Casa del Mundo
For wellness amenities like hot tub and sauna, plus spectacular views over Lake Atitlan, consider a stay at Hotel La Casa del Mundo. Dinners are served family-style and a scenic hiking trail passes right behind the hotel.
6. Moloka‘i, Hawai‘i
With roughly 10 million visitors per year, the islands of Hawai‘i are some of the most well-known places in the United States. But go beyond Waikiki and Kona and visit the rugged island of Moloka‘i for an underrated alternative to the usual Hawai‘i vacation. The least-visited island of the five major islands in the archipelago, 260-square-mile Moloka‘i is renowned for its serenity, jaw-dropping pristine natural beauty, and miles upon miles of crowd-free space.
Tucked between two of the most popular islands (O‘ahu and Maui), Moloka‘i has been left intentionally underdeveloped. No Target here, friends. No commercial luaus. No zip lining or swim-up bars. Tourism is a thing there, of course, but it’s much more off-the-beaten-path, eco-conscious, and locally driven. Travelers to Moloka‘i can enjoy the hiking, waterfall hunting, surfing, horseback riding, and explosive sunsets they love on the other islands. The key difference? You’re likely to have many of these activities all to yourself.
Where to stay
- Book now: Hotel Moloka‘i
Moloka‘i is mostly known for its vacation rentals, but travelers can check into Hotel Moloka‘i. The bungalow-style hotel has fewer than 60 rooms with a design inspired by Polynesian villages.
Tasmania (or Tassie, as locals call it) is an island off the coast of Melbourne blending remote, rugged scenery mixed with forward-thinking cuisine. Explore the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania, to see this melange in action. The museum has an on-site winery, brewery, and restaurants Source and Faro serving seasonal dishes—all surrounded by art installations and wildlife.
For nature lovers, roughly 50 percent of Tasmania is protected under national parks and reserves. The beaches that ring the entire island feature towering cliffs and emerald-colored water. It’s a paradise for rafting, biking, diving, rock climbing, and even caving. But don’t miss out on Tasmania’s wildlife: The Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary in Brighton is teeming with wombats, koalas, and kangaroos. People can even visit a Tasmanian devil sanctuary and see the island’s most famous native son.
Where to stay
- Book now: The Tasman
Splurge with a stay at the Tasman, a Luxury Collection Hotel housed in a 19th- century building a short walk from Salamanca Markets and the waterfront of Sullivan’s Cove.
Even if you’ve seen the lofty peaks of the Swiss Alps or the jungle-covered slopes of the Andes, nothing prepares you for the mountains of Nepal. As home to the tallest mountains in the world, Nepal means trekking in the Himalayas is one of the best things to do. Muscle up the popular Annapurna Sanctuary, Everest Base Camp, and the Langtang Valley routes and admire the spiny ridges of gargantuan rock formations.
But there’s more to Nepal beyond the heaven-high peaks of Everest. The country rewards in the spectacular temples and architecture of Kathmandu, delicious street food (don’t leave without trying a momo dumpling), and sacred sites like the Royal City of Patan.
Where to stay
- Book now: The Pavilions
Book a stay at the Pavilions, one of the most charming boutique hotels in Nepal. Tucked in a green-blanketed valley with epic views of the Himalayas, this ecofriendly resort has 14 villas powered by renewable energy.
Senegal has landscapes that range from the densely forested Guinean woods to the Sahara Desert. Add to it the cosmopolitan energy-meets-surf scene of Dakar and wildlife that includes everything from aardvarks to elephants, and Senegal is a shining example of Africa’s diverse landscapes.
Dakar sprawls out over the beaches of the Cap-Vert Peninsula, the westernmost point of the African continent. Like many port cities, it is a blend of crossing histories and cultures. Browse the works by contemporary and diaspora African artists at the Museum of African Arts, sample Lebanese cuisine, and keep your ears open to hear everything—including the native language Wolof, French, and Vietnamese. Other sights in the country include the city of Touba in central Senegal, which wows visitors with its massive Great Mosque. Thousands visit this town during the Grand Magal in August or September to participate in the great annual pilgrimage.
For nature, visit the Niokolo-Koba National Park. This park, the size of Puerto Rico, is sliced by the Gambia River and is known for its high concentration of Big Five animals. It is best to visit between November and May.
Where to stay
- Book now: Hotel Djoloff
Check into the sleek Hotel Djoloff, a boutique hotel with a stunning design, central location, and attractive terrace restaurant.