When we endeavoured to assemble the exotic list, we first had to decide what it was to be exotic. Would it be limited to white sand beaches? Or were white polar zones okay too? Did a place have to be tropical to be mystical? Or were Europe's far-flung islands places of exotic fascination too?
The more we dug into it, the less we felt bound to a definition of idyllic castaway islands and jungle waterfalls. Sure, there are a few of those on the list, but more than anything, the definition of 'exotic' became a tangle of ideas; words and phrases like unexpected, off the beaten path, spicy, remote, untouched, supernatural, whimsical and unfamiliar. One thing we're certain of, is that in a world of endless roads, trails, waterways and skies, we've only just started to scratch the surface with these fifty.
Exotic Destinations In Africa
Culture and wildlife thrive in the Seychelles making this archipelago much more than just a group of tropical islands. The giant tortoises and thousands of seabirds make Bird Island ideal for birders and photographers alike.
Claudio Panichi via Flickr.com/mostrito75 (CC by 2.0)
This small and picturesque fishing village is your island version of an African safari. It doesn’t get more authentic than an early morning at the beach to watch the village’s daily fish auction. For an ideal Indian Ocean experience, visit the playful dolphins of nearby Menai Bay.
Dorothy Voorhees via Flickr.com/dvoorhees (CC by 2.0)
The isolated villages of the Dogon people are often regarded as the jewel of West Africa and a visit is essential to any Mali trip. Learn the cultural importance of Dogon Country and its sacred buildings on a rewarding guided expedition.
Mishimoto via Flickr.com/mishimoto (CC by 2.0)
The Gambia packs quite a punch for being one of Africa’s smallest countries. With such welcoming people, vibrant cultural diversity and spectacular scenery, its no wonder the Gambia is making a stand on the world stage. Your experience can range from luxury accommodations with guided tours to one of the many volunteer options available for visitors.
Jeffery Wong via Flickr.com/jaydubproductions (CC by 2.0)
Though smaller than those in Egypt, the Nubian Pyramids are impressive in their own right and among the most well preserved in Sudan. Because of the few facilities on this bank of the Nile, you’ve got the chance to explore over 200 mysterious pyramids without the crowds.
SarahTz via Flickr.com/120420083@N05 (CC by 2.0)
The ancient churches of Lalibela are incredibly unique because of how they were intricately carved out of rock. The 11 churches are over 900 years old, connected by trenches and frequently visited by pilgrims.
High on the African bucket list but low on tourist crowds, Skeleton Coast Park is dotted with shipwrecks and whale bones that give it a noticeably eerie feel. With a storied past and the strong surf of the Atlantic, it’s no wonder this region is a highlight of Namibia.
Once merely a stopping point for those crossing the Sahara, Tozeur is evolving into an oasis of Tunisian culture and architectural beauty. Let yourself get lost in the old quarter and use this as a home base before taking a camel to the Sahara.
Drew Collins, Unsplash.com
Best experienced as part of a multi-day trek, the Atlas Mountains offer a much appreciated break from the crowded bustle of nearby Marrakech. Berber populations inhabit this region of Morocco so there is much to learn about the culture while travelling through the massive snow-capped peaks.
Exotic Destinations In South America
Lençóis Maranhenses National Park
Fred Schinke via Flickr.com/fredfoto (CC by 2.0)
Normally rainwater is nothing to write home about, but the rainfall that collects in the sand dunes of Lencois Maranhenses is a definite exception. When it rains, clear lagoons build up and enhance the already spectacular landscapes of the park. You can take a scenic flight or roam the park on foot and cool down in your private freshwater pool.
The largest palms in the world scatter the hills of the Cocora Valley. Towering at up to 60 metres high, they’re both the main attraction in the area and the national tree of Colombia. Horses or jeeps can be rented to explore the grassland but a hike through the rolling valley is just as breathtaking. Oh, and did we mention the resident hummingbirds and world-class coffee?
http://www.galuzzi.it/ via Wikicommons
The Atacama Desert spans from Chile to Peru and is so dry that its been used as a location to film scenes set on Mars. Some spots of the vast terrain haven’t seen rainfall for hundreds of years but, every few years, a rainy season can transform the desert into a field of vibrant pink flowers.
Ciudad Perdida Trek
Rory MacLeod via Flickr.com/macrj (CC by 2.0)
If you’re looking to test your sense of adventure, the five-day trek to Ciudad Perdida (The Lost City) will exhaust hikers before rewarding them. What’s great about this route through the mountainous Colombian forest is that it's still relatively unknown and you won’t find yourself stuck in a tour group with hundreds of other travellers.
Salar de Uyuni
Mauricio Navarrete Contreras via Flickr.com/127592731@N07 (CC by 2.0)
The world’s largest salt flat is found in Bolivia and is a favourite destination among photographers. The unique landscape is completely flat in the dry season but offers an especially photogenic layer of water in the wet season. With over 10,000 km² of white, flat land, just think of all the fun shots you could take.
Exotic Destinations In Oceania
One of the most impressive places in the South Pacific is a lake on the island of Eil Malk where travellers can actually snorkel with millions of jellyfish. This is the only lake in the area that can be visited by tourists and the stingers of the jellyfish are so small that they’re harmless to humans.
This active volcano on Tanna Island has been known to erupt up to several times an hour. It’s one of the most easily accessible volcanoes and you can almost get right to the crater rim on your own. It’s a great destination to consider if you’re looking for a break from the island beach life.
Bloggers who have lived the experience:
Peter and Kia from AtlasAndBoots.com
Anna, Thomas, Hanna and Mila from FamilyWithoutBorders.com
Bay of Fires
Andrii Slonchak via Flickr.com/elephass (CC by 2.0)
The Bay of Fires on the coast of Tasmania is one of the most beautiful but less talked about sites in Australia. The orange rocks contrast with white beaches and turquoise waters making for striking photos of a truly unique landscape. You can enjoy plenty of activities here including camping, surfing and bird watching.
Nitmiluk National Park
Northern Territory, Australia
Four hours south of Darwin, this spectacular national park is often overlooked. The park is most famously known for the Katherine Gorge where you can canoe along the deep river and even swim in natural swimming holes. A really unique feature about the park is that it is cared for and operated by the Aboriginal Jawoyn people.
Let’s not forget about New Zealand’s third main island. Known as the ‘Island of Tranquility’, Stewart Island offers all the bold beauty and adventure of New Zealand at a much slower and enjoyable pace. The population of the island might be sparse but the beauty here is everywhere.
Exotic Polar Destinations
A trip to Antarctica is an adventure for those willing to experience the extremes. Travel is not easy and the continent is cold, dry, windy and surrounded by choppy waters. But the adorable emperor penguins, majestic icebergs and jaw-dropping landscapes make this expedition more than worthwhile.
Northwest Passage cruise
These iconic Arctic cruises through the Northwest Passage really embody that ‘once in a lifetime’ travel experience that many of us crave. Follow the footsteps of famous early explorers and take an arctic safari through the icebergs where you may spot polar bears, whales, caribou and more.
The northern lights are likely already on your bucket list but a visit to Nuuk should be added too. It might be the smallest capital city in the world, but it is full of experiences to satisfy nature lovers and city dwellers alike. The colourful painted houses throughout the city are even more picturesque against winter's white backdrop if you can brave the cold!
Exotic Destinations In North America
Haida Gwaii, Canada
Flavien Mabit courtesy of Go Haida Gwaii
For a truly authentic aboriginal experience, visit the totem poles on the remote island of Sgang Gwaay in British Columbia. They were carved over 100 years ago and give insight to the way of life of the Haida people.
Newfoundland & Labrador, Canada
While the Rockies are always in the spotlight, Canada’s East coast has it’s own impressive mountains. The Torngat Mountains lie in artic climate and just might be the nation’s best-kept secret. You may even find polar bears roaming the area so it is best to explore with an experienced bear guard.
Steven Zwerink via Flickr.com/stevenzwerink (CC by 2.0)
Don’t rule out Mexico as an exotic destination just yet. Isla Holbox offers a true laid-back beach vibe without the crowds of nearby Cancun. The sand banks off the coast of the island let you walk out for meters while the clear blue water barely reaches your waist. Coveted flamingoes, rare bird species and whale shark swims also make it a favourite among nature lovers.
Exotic Destinations In Asia
Chinh Le Duc, Unsplash
Those looking for an alternative to the crowds at Angkor Wat may want to consider the archaeological zone of Bagan. Over 2,000 temples adorn the plains of Bagan and you’re often found exploring with no other tourists in sight. After exploring the photogenic landscapes, consider supporting the local economy by bringing home some of the area’s elaborate lacquerware as a souvenir.
Göran Höglund (Kartläsarn) via Flickr.com/kartlasarn/6581774939 (CC by 2.0)
The Taktsang monastery clings to a towering cliff in the Himalayas and, at over 3,000 metres above sea level, the ascent is steep to reach the most spiritual place in Bhutan. The trek rewards you with stunning views of the mountain range, thousands of prayer flags along the way and maybe even a spiritual experience once you reach the monastery.
Mac Qin via Flickr.com/qin1109/14493925924 (CC by 2.0)
This tropical paradise boasts over 1,100 islands with #nofilter turquoise waters, lagoons and beautiful beaches. For a more cultural experience, opt to stay at a guesthouse instead of a resort. Don’t miss the fish market at Male, scenic views from a seaplane taxi and a chance to swim with whale sharks.
Traveller who has lived the experience:
Jenny from TheGypsyBugBlog.com
Basum Tso Lake
The ‘roof of the world’ may have impressive mountain peaks but the vibrant green waters of Basum Tso Lake are worth a visit. A monastery lies on an island in the middle of the lake surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Foreign visitors to Tibet will need to get a travel permit by booking a tour package with an authorized agency.
This is not your average desert. Yes there are camels and spectacular sunsets followed by cold nights, but it’s the people of Mongolia that make this desert so remarkable. Stay at a ger camp with local nomads in their traditional yurt-style homes. The drives may be long but a tour through the Gobi desert is one of those rare experiences where you can really and truly go off grid and live an adventure in isolation.
Houseboating in Burma
There’s no shortage of adventure in Asia, especially for those travellers looking for something unique like a houseboat safari along the coast of Burma. Sail through the lush mountain landscapes on your very own houseboat in Khao Laem National Park. Some even come equipped with hammocks, sundecks and a bar.
Oliver Townend via Flickr.com/blondzilla/12387794473 (CC by 2.0)
The paradise of Koh Rong is relatively new as far as popularized islands go and, while you may not be able to find every amenity here, you’ll be sure to appreciate the peace and quiet. It’s so remote that even the Survivor series have been filmed on Koh Rong. The best part? You’re often getting island luxury on a backpacker budget.
While Galle is most famous for its Dutch fort, it’s a unique gem in Sri Lanka with plenty to offer. Galle is very much a city of contrasts with vintage cars and colonial-style buildings on the one hand and tuk-tuks and golden beaches on the other.
China to Pakistan
The Karakorum Highway connects western China to Pakistan and is one of the highest paved roads in the world. Far from a leisurely road trip, those who have driven (or biked) through the rugged mountains can attest to its distractingly beautiful terrain and bold beauty.
Blondinrikard Fröberg via Flickr.com/blondinrikard (CC by 2.0)
The ancient city of Persepolis ranks as one of the greatest archaeological sites in the world. Once the capital of a Persian Empire, Persepolis is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a highlight of your visit to Iran. With hardly any tourists in site, a walk about these ruins trumps any history lesson.
Zhangjiajie National Forest
Carlos Adampol Galindo via Flickr.com/cadampol (CC by 2.0)
This unique forest was brought to the spotlight after the critically acclaimed Avatar movie and adds to China’s already impressive list of landscapes. With the fame came plenty of local tourists but they can be avoided by opting for the hiking trails instead of the elevators and cable cars. Feeling brave? You can now walk along the glass skywalk in the Tianmen Mountain – suspended at only 1400 metres in the air.
kuhnmi via Flickr.com/photos/31176607@N05/15827512311 (CC by 2.0)
The volcanoes of Kamchatka form one of the most impressive volcanic regions in the world. Dozens are active in this region so you’ll have plenty of opportunity to see lava streams, acid lakes and some of Russia’s most dramatic landscapes.
The small village of Hampi is set in a rocky terrain and is home to magnificent ruins, monuments and temples. Spend a few days at a guesthouse and discover the vibrant culture of the region while exploring the scenery. Cross the river and visit the laid-back hippie island where you’ll be tempted to join in the dancing and singing of this close-knit community.
César González Palomo via Flickr.com/photos/cesar/20097616551 (CC by 2.0)
Quieter than Bali, Lombok offers diverse natural beauty that can be enjoyed with fewer crowds. The tropical forests and turquoise beaches of the island still feel unspoiled in this region of Indonesia. Highlights on Lombok include Mount Rinjani’s Crater Lake and picture-perfect paradise at the nearby Gili Islands.
Andrea Santoni via Flickr.com/andreaspreferite (CC by 2.0)
This holy city in northern India is a combination of ancient wonder and glorious chaos. Here you can witness many local traditions like the sacred bathing rituals that take place on the River Ganga. Walking tours are also a great way to explore the local markets and a waterfront like no other.
Simon Matzinger via Flickr.com/simonmatzinger (CC by 2.0)
Trekking in Nepal is both a scenic and culturally rich experience. The Annapurna Region is home to some of the world’s highest peaks and offers a range of treks for experienced and beginner travellers. Often hailed as the holy grail for trekkers, this Himalayan journey will have you enjoying the hospitality just as much as the view.
llee_wu via Flickr.com/photos/13523064@N03/6350162664 (CC by 2.0)
A visit to Laos is bound to make you contemplate moving permanently but Luang Prabang is especially captivating. Time seems to stand still in this beautiful jungle outpost where the people are welcoming and the scenery is begging to be explored.
Early morning, don’t miss the chance to witness a Buddhist Alms Giving Ceremony. During the day, dive into the pool below Tad Sae waterfall or take a boat up the Mekong and explore Pak Ou Caves. Eat your way through the evening street market and catch sunset at the ultra chill Utopia bar. If you're still wanting to socialize after the strictly enforced 11:30 p.m. curfew then head to the bowling alley. (You heard us right!)
Exotic Central American & Caribbean Destinations
Brian Johnson & Dane Kantner via Flickr.com/danebrian/5683443904 (CC by 2.0)
The two Corn Islands of Nicaragua are cleverly named Big Corn and Little Corn and are some of the lesser-known Caribbean hotspots. This mix of language and culture is a favourite among backpackers for its range of budget-friendly options. On either island, relaxation trumps adventure making them both an ideal getaway to unwind.
San Blas Islands
At this group of islands off Panama’s northern coast, the happiness of the indigenous people who welcome you is contagious. Among these remote islands you’ll find a true sense of peace as you relish in the natural beauty that surrounds you. There is plenty of wildlife and coastal scenery to enjoy but it’s the people of San Blas that truly shine.
The Cayes of Belize
The cayes of Belize are small sandy islands that lie above coral reefs and there are plenty to discover all along the coast. You can snorkel, dive or just lounge around but for some serious jaw-dropping views, splurge on a helicopter tour and definitely bring your camera.
Ross Garner via Flickr.com/photos/42032978@N08/8746949298
Home to an impressive barrier reef, it’s no wonder Utila is an ideal destination for those looking to enjoy an unforgettable diving experience. This is also one of the rare places where you can swim among whale sharks year-round. The worst part about Utila? Having to leave.
Exotic Destinations In Europe
Doggettx via Flickr.com/doggettx/6015429515 (CC by 2.0)
Winding its way through one of the most beautiful canyons in all of Europe, the turquoise water of the Verdon River takes kayaking to another level. Be sure to visit some of the many vantage points along the cliff edges to truly appreciate the sheer magnitude of this gorge.
The archipelago of Orkney lies in the far north of Scotland and its remoteness means half the fun really is getting there. Here you’ll find a perfect mix of wildlife, ancient history and stunning coastlines where highlights include Skara Brae, Marwick Head and the Yesnaby Cliffs.
Travellers who have lived the experience:
Keith from Traveling-Savage.com
A hidden haven in the Mediterranean, the island of Gozo offers more than just beaches and coastlines. Easy to navigate by car, Gozo’s many natural and cultural highlights will make for a memorable road trip. Opt to stay in a traditional farmhouse and indulge in the local culinary comforts.
For those looking to experience exotic islands with more than palms and beaches, the beauty of the Faroe Islands will leave you breathless, especially in remote Gásadalur. With less than two dozen inhabitants, this picturesque village sits at the very edge of a cliff by a stunning waterfall that dips into the sea below. Zen personified.
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