17 of the World’s Most Remote and Beautiful Places

It’s not easy to get to these remote destinations—but the payoff is well worth it.

Jomsom 33100, Nepal
Reporting live from Upper Mustang: We’ve successfully hiked in and out of this remote, inaccessible region in north-central Nepal over terrain that was variously bleak and spectacular. We traversed rocky, sandy trails (I use that word loosely) through shale and limestone cliffs with only the occasional, teasing glimpse of a snow-covered peak. On the 7th day of walking 6-7 hours per day, the weather turned against us and we battled howling winds and freezing rain for the better part of an afternoon. Over the past week your faithful reporter has endured blisters, sunburn, intestinal parasites, an upper respiratory infection and a mild concussion (damn monastery door frames built for short people). Despite the aforementioned maladies there were some really bright moments along the way and the Tibetan/Nepali families we stayed with welcomed us into their humble kitchens and homes. I return to modern city life with a renewed appreciation for the simple comforts of indoor plumbing and reliable electricity. [Pictured: a herd of goats grazes at 4010 meters over Nyi La Pass - the highest point in the Kingdom of Mustang.]
Sarande SHA22, Sarandë 9701, Albania
This place is in the middle of nowhere in Southern Albania. There is no bus stop. You just have to motion to the driver to pull over at the side of the road when you see a promising looking dirt trail. You take that trail off the main road, all the time assuming that you couldn’t possibly be in the right place. And then, almost inexplicably, there is a sign for the Blue Eye and a guard, sitting in a booth along the road. He’ll collect a few coins from you, and then you keep walking. If you’re lucky, a truck driver or local tourist will pick you up along the stretch of windy, dusty road that weaves along the side of a body of water that gets ever clearer as you move along. At the end of the trek, you’ll find the clearest, bluest water you’ve ever seen, and if you’re lucky you’ll be able to eat on the little floating deck they’ve installed in the river that flows out of the Eye. The restaurant serves heaping plates of lamb ribs, grilled over charcoal and big bottles of cold Albanian beer, all for a few dollars. A short walk up a dirt path from the restaurant lies the main destination: a coldwater spring of unknown depth and unbelievable color that bubbles up into a green little grotto. It’s often too cold and fast for a swim, but it’s refreshing to put your feet into and beautiful to hang around. There is also a small hotel for people who want to spend the night or can’t manage to catch a bus onward before nightfall.
Southern Asia
The Veerabhadra temple in Lepakshi, India (also simply known as the Lepakshi Temple), isn’t the easiest place to get to. It’s a 120 km journey north of Bangalore through rural villages. Your best bet for getting there is to hire a driver for the day, as our group of four did. It’s worth the travel effort to see the intricate sculptures created by the artisans of Vijayanagara empire. There are still well preserved ceiling paintings, dating from the 16th century as well as a giant Shiva Lingam and Nandi (or bull) statue nearby. During the week you’ll have the temple mostly to yourself, as we did. It’s well worth chatting with one of the temple priests who will tell you about the fascinating history of the temple and offer a blessing for your loved ones.
East Asia
There aren’t that many rivers in Mongolia but for some odd reason, every one of the handful of bridges we came across were crooked and in all the wrong directions. For some other odd reason, although every bridge was wide enough for us to drive over, we had to cross on foot to get the other side. We couldn’t help but laugh under the circumstances! All in a week’s journey across the Mongolia steppes!
Turistično društvo Gorje, Podhom 80, 4247 Zgornje Gorje, Slovenia
There is nothing like the power of water. What it’s done along the one mile trail through the Radovna River gorge is an engineering masterpiece. Built on wood scaffolding, the trail winds its way down river, crisscrossing the current in the descent. The canyon walls stretch 300 feet skyward in some spots, enhancing the remoteness of the experience. The trail only drops about 1000 feet in the mile walk, making it easy for most hikers. The railings and decking are all impeccably maintained and blend beautifully into the geologic landscape. The trail ends at incredible cascade called Sum Falls, where the river bottom drops out leaving a 50 foot water feature that is truly the cherry on top of the cake. The Vintgar Gorge trail is also easy to get to if you’re staying in Bled. Only a few miles from town near the hamlet of Zgornje Gorje, you could spend the day walking the 8 mile roundtrip if so inclined. Or, rent a bike in Bled and ride out to the trail. We hiked in May and did not see another soul on the trail. The tranquility was deafening; the water, a pulsing liquid crystal. Slovenia is one of the more pristine places on the planet and the Vintgar Gorge punctuates the beauty. Don’t just stand there, get out for a walk...
Tuamotus Islands, French Polynesia
The Tuamotu archipelago – 78 coral reef atolls spread north and east of Tahiti – are just remote enough they’ve not been spoiled by excessive tourism. There are a few high-end hotels, but just a few. Instead of tourism, the local economy is still focused on businesses that go back centuries: Fishing. Coconuts. And black pearls. Lots of black pearls.
Machu Picchu, 08680, Peru
This month marks the hundred-year-anniversary of the “re-discovery” of this Inca citadel by Hiram Bingham. Machu Picchu deserves its clichés--'place of a lifetime,’ ‘bucket-list destination’...'mystical’...'amazing’... Sometimes, it’s okay to simply stick with others’ adjectives; the thesaurus isn’t always a good thing. You’re not necessarily an ‘unoriginal tourist’ just because you agree with scores of published accounts that describe a site the same way. The distinctive trapezoidal windows of Inca construction almost always frame compelling views--the magic of stone. You’re in the heart of the Andes; for a moment, stop seeking words. Drink in the view.
Ak-Su, Kyrgyzstan
Explore Kyrgyzstan’s remote Tien Shan Mountains with 40 Tribes, an outfitter that partners with local guides. Tours start with a village homestay and continue to a network of yurts. From $1,800 for four days. (303) 552-6034.
Milford Track, Fiordland National Park 9679, New Zealand
One of the greatest walks in New Zealand, the Milford track is just over 50 kilometers and leads into the famous Milford Sound. Considered one of the most beautiful places in New Zealand, the Milford Track is categorized as one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks,” prompting many people from near and far to come hike the 5 day circuit. Giant waterfalls crash down from vertical cliffs, and mist usually hangs about the tops of the peaks creating a mysterious, almost legendary feel to the place. Whether you are hiking the track or cruising in a boat around the fiords, or even kayaking the Milford Sound, definitely don’t skip this remote part of New Zealand on a visit.
Dynjandi, Iceland
Although Gullfoss gets most of the tourists, Dynjandi waterfall is arguably one of the most breathtaking (and one of the biggest) in Iceland. Situated in the remote Westfjords (it’s sometimes described as the region’s jewel), it tumbles some 328 feet and creates a thunderous sound (dynjandi means “thunderous” or “resounding”). Impressively, the multiple cascades start at around 98 feet wide and spread to 646 feet at the bottom, creating a shape that’s often said to resemble a bridal veil. There are a few more additional waterfalls below Dynjandi that help make the short (15-minute) hike up to the main falls even more picturesque. You can stand right behind if you don’t mind a splash of water.
Easter Island, Valparaíso, Chile
Easter Island is a strange, remote, and magical place. After a full day of wandering around this tiny island, we were fortunate enough to witness an absolutely breathtaking sunset over the Pacific. The “beach” here is made up of pitch black volcanic stone. I found it to be utterly fascinating.
Cuiabá - State of Mato Grosso, Brazil
The Pantanal is one of the best wildlife-spotting destinations on the planet. Cox & Kings offers a five-day trip to the remote Jaguar Research Center, where guests may also encounter hyacinth macaws, anacondas, and giant river otters. Brazil’s cowboys, known as pantaneiros, live throughout the Pantanal. Visitors can get a taste of farm life with a stay at one of the area’s many ranches, or fazendas, such as the family-run Pousada Aguape. This appeared in the June/July 2013 issue.
Isle of Skye, Duntulm, Portree IV51 9UF, UK
At the very northern tip of the Isle of Skye, which is an island off of the upper north western shore of Scotland, are the ruins of Duntulm Castle. To get there, you have to drive for several hours on narrow dirt roads, but the sense of remoteness and peacefulness is worth it. There is a tiny bed & breakfast nearby, which also feels a little lost in time, in a good way.
Hāmoa Beach, Hawaii 96713, USA
Mark Twain and James A. Michener both sang the praises of Hamoa Beach and its isolated beauty. Sandy, sheltered, and lined with palm trees, this remote stretch of shoreline on Maui’s eastern tip is arguably the island’s best beach. Nevertheless, Hamoa is often more empty than full thanks to tourists mistakenly rushing through the 64-mile Road to Hana. A better plan is to book a night in Hana so you can take your time on the highway, snacking on banana bread, bathing beneath waterfalls, and not having to bypass places like Hamoa, where you can lounge in the shade of sea cliffs and bodysurf on gentle waves.
6000 Glacier Spur Rd, Juneau, AK 99801, USA
Stepping out of a helicopter onto the middle of an Alaskan glacier is pretty breathtaking. There are amazing blue ice caves to be explored, deep crevices full of crystal clear water you can drink, and an incredible expanse of white stretching to remote mountain peaks. A company in Juneau, Temsco Helicopters, will take you up there, and they are quite flexible in terms of where you want to explore.
411 W 1st Ave, Anchorage, AK 99501, USA
It’s tempting to explore Alaska by car – indeed, there are advantages to doing so and in some areas no other choice – but the Alaska Railroad is a comfortable way to pass through tucked-away towns and see wilderness where no roads appear to wind but the train track. The trip from Anchorage to Seward takes just under 4.5 hours. En route we spied many-a-moose and even a few bears. Seward is the gateway to Kenai Fjords National Park, so once there we traded the train for a boat and cruised out to see ice-blue glaciers up close.
E6 80, 9146 Olderdalen, Norway
Situated on the Lyngen Fjord, this timber lodge is well suited for boat skiing. From March through May, a skipper ferries guests to nearby islands, where they hike up peaks and ski back to the beach.
More From AFAR
Sign Up for Daily Wander
Join over a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.