15 Under-the-Radar Places to Visit in 2019
Paris, Barcelona, Rome, Machu Picchu are all lovely cities, but they are so yesterday. In 2019, vow to go beyond the obvious, seek the road less traveled.
Daufuskie Island, South Carolina
Ready to get away from it all? Like really get away from it all? This 1,100-acre island is only accessible via ferry from Hilton Head, South Carolina or water taxi—there isn’t even a bridge. That also means you can leave your car on the mainland; visitors to the island tool around on electric golf carts. The island is home to an undeveloped nature conservancy oasis where you can spot loggerhead turtles, deer, storks, egrets, and whales. Daufuskie Island Trail Rides offers horseback rides on the beach and tours of the island’s historic sites, including the First African Baptist School. And with more than 3½ miles of beachfront, you’ll be able to find your own personal spot of sand. Daufuskie Island is just one of the great islands you can visit without a passport.
Istanbul is a city of contrasts: Ancient and modern, palatial but also rag-a-muffin, steeped in history, tradition, yet innovative. It all works together somehow, creating an eclectic place unlike anywhere else. History buffs will think they’ve died and gone to heaven; among the many ancient sites open to the public are the Basilica Cistern, dating back to 532 A.D. The underground site, which originally held water for the Great Palace, is surreal with its 336 columns, including two featuring the head of Medusa on their bases. More must-sees are the Egyptian Obelisk, Serpentine Column, Constantine Column, remains from the original Hippodrome, one of the largest chariot race grounds of the Byzantine Empire, dating back to 330 A.D. The 600-year-old Grand Bazaar and Spice Market should also be on your list, along with the Sultan Ahmed (Blue Mosque), built in 1616, with its striking blue Iznik Tiles covering the walls.
Take a cruise down the Bosphorus, also known as the Strait of Istanbul, the narrow body of water separating the Asian and European continents. You’ll feast your eyes on palaces, restored Ottoman villas, and waterside homes of Istanbul’s power brokers. The best way to get to Turkey is Turkish Airlines; take advantage of its Stopover program to spend a day in Istanbul, at no extra charge to your airline ticket and hotel included, before heading to your final destination.
Scrub Island, British Virgin Islands
How does a villa on a rugged cliff overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea sound? Scrub Island Resort, Spa & Marina on the east end of Tortola in the British Virgin Islands offers all that and more. At the serene 230-acre private-island resort you have access to two private beaches, three on-site restaurants, the Ixora Spa, and a 55-slip marina. Its Donovan’s Beach is where you’ll find the water action—stand-up paddleboards, snorkeling, and a water trampoline. Or for more privacy, take a short walk or catch a ride to the secluded North Beach, a 1,000-foot stretch of spun sugar sand. Here, you can relax on a chaise lounge perched on your own personal platform among lush foliage with unobstructed views of the Caribbean. Find out more Caribbean island destinations to help you beat your winter blues.
Uvita, Costa Rica
Many travelers to this Central American country don’t make it as far south as Uvita, Costa Rica—and that’s the exact reason you’ll be glad you did. The local roads have recently been modernized, which means you now have easier access to this unspoiled area of waterfalls, beaches and coffee farms. Another reason to go? Uvita has the longest whale-watching season in the world. Consider staying at Vista Celestial, a luxury villa boutique hotel smack dab in the canopy of the rainforest with views of the Pacific Ocean. You can keep busy with beachside yoga, ATV tours, zip lining, and more. Learn more about the most popular travel destinations in Central America.
Madeira Islands, Portugal
No doubt Lisbon and Porto get all the buzz, but there’s plenty more to Portugal. The Madeira Islands, an archipelago 750 miles southwest of Lisbon in the Atlantic Ocean, has ancient volcanic cliffs that rise dramatically from the sea and dominate the landscape. There are six unique climate zones, each with its own beautiful flora and fauna; it’s not surprising that Madeira is often compared to Hawaii. Madeira has bragging rights when it comes to cuisine, hiking, fishing, and its old-world charm. You can experience fine wines, mountain hiking, or city culture—or easily all three in one day.
Albanian Riviera, Albania
One underrated place that’s worth discovering is Albania. This Balkan state was one of the last countries to witness the fall of communism, so it’s been off-limits to visitors for quite some time. But with its majestic mountains, beautiful beaches and a climate similar to Italy’s Amalfi Coast, it really does have something for everyone. Plus, it’s ridiculously cheap (a beer costs between $1 and $2), so you can stretch your vacay dollars. Albania has some hidden gems, including picturesque Ksamil or Drymades, Albania’s secret beach paradises (aka the Albanian Riviera). Then there’s the wild Accursed Mountain, despite its foreboding name, it’s a popular place to hike.
Often overlooked in favor of more high-profile Italian regions like Tuscany and Emilia-Romagna, Calabria (in the “toe” of the boot) is just as beautiful and historically vibrant—but with far fewer tourists. You’ll find dramatic cliffs and surreal rock formations on the coast and dense forests, stunning national parks, and bubbling streams inland. Foodies will have fun here, eating at one great restaurant after the other. Calabria is not only the birthplace of several iconic Italian specialties: peperoncini chili peppers, sweet red onions, and ‘nduja (that spicy, spreadable sausage that keeps popping up on menus everywhere); the small sparsely populated region produces a third of all Italian olive oil. Find out the surprising birthplaces of 20 classic foods.
There’s a good chance you haven’t heard of Durango. Iconic scenic byways and trail systems mean there are endless opportunities to enjoy hot springs, mountain trails, and more. Take a ride on the historic 1880’s Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad for views of the San Juan National Forest and a throw-back era. If you’re a hiker or mountain biker you’ll be right you want to be. Rafting and rock climbing are less than a five-minute drive from historic downtown Durango. There are more than 100 independent restaurants, breweries, and distilleries. For a walk down memory lane check into the Strater Hotel built in 1887—it made our list of the most historic hotel in every state.
Sayulita, Riviera Nayarit, Mexico
Sayulita may well be one of the best-kept secrets in Mexico’s Riviera Nayarit on the Pacific coast. This bohemian town of 5,000 is colorful and it’s not just the pastel buildings, banners, or the murals that make it so, but the characters, from the surfer dudes, the locals making and selling their arts and crafts, and everyone in between. Take a surf lesson, kayak, paddleboard, swim, snorkel, or scuba dive. Then, once you’ve stirred your appetite, you can’t go wrong with your choice of street food, hole-in-the-wall eateries or white napkin restaurants. Sayulita has another plus: it’s less than 15 minutes away from the jungle. You can mix up your vacation, by staying at a big resort like the Hard Rock Hotel Vallarta, which is nearby or in Sayulita rent a condo, villa or stay in a hostel.
Woodinville Wine Country, Washington
Just 30 minutes outside of downtown Seattle you’ll find Woodinville Wine Country with more than 120 wineries and tasting rooms representing every appellation in the state. (That’s 14 wine regions in one zip code!) Woodinville is also home to Washington’s oldest winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle. Wine isn’t the only attraction, though. Nearby there’s the nearby Sammamish River Trail and the Burke Gilman Trail, which connects back to Seattle, where you can hike, bike, enjoy Mother Nature. Of course, the Pacific Northwest is known for its cuisine—don’t miss the dry-roasted Kobe beef dip sandwich at Purple Café & Wine bar to huckleberry pancakes at the Barking Frog.
River Region of Uvalde County, Texas
Instead of heading with everyone else to Austin and San Antonio, choose the River Region in Texas Hill Country. It’s home to three, crystal-clear rivers where you can float, kayak, canoe, or fish. Take in the views on horseback at Elm Creek Stables near Garner State Park, with nothing but open skies, riverfront views, and scenic chalk cliffs for miles around. Come evening, see one of the largest bat populations in the world at the Frio Bat Cave during a sunset flight tour, where 10 million bats fly right over your head and into the sunset. As for where to stay check out one of four luxurious treehouses that create Treehouse Utopia. Each treehouse, Chapelle, Chateau, Biblioteque, and Carousel has its own, French-inspired design and personality. Dine at hot spots like Hangar 6 Air Café, Neal’s Dining Room, or House Pasture Cattle Company.
Bristol, Rhode Island
Bristol’s Colt State Park is more than 460 acres of fun. It’s home to beach volleyball courts, bike paths, trails, and a skate park, along with beautiful beaches along the Mt. Hope Bay. Given its waterfront location, Bristol is also big on boating. When you’ve worked up an appetite, head to one of the areas eclectic eateries including The Beehive, Lobster Pot, The DeWolf Tavern, or Le Central. Want to stay awhile? Check in to one of the area’s historic B&Bs and inns like the Bradford-Dimon-Norris House or Mount Hope Farm, a national historic site on 127 acres. Guests can retreat back in time by staying in one of the 12 rooms in one of three buildings, the oldest of which is the Governor Bradford House, where George Washington stayed while his troops camped in the yard. Don’t miss the most charming B&B in every state.
Durban, South Africa
Johannesburg and Cape Town are popular spots in South Africa, but Durban is worthy of a detour. The coastal city boasts the Golden Mile, a beautiful beach and boardwalk; the uShaka Marine World, a seafront aquarium waterpark with a snorkeling lagoon and shark cave dives; and the Durban Botanic Gardens, which are the oldest in Africa. If you’re seeking a thrill, check out The Swing, officially named the world’s tallest swing by The Guinness Book of World Records. It drops you in a free fall for 262 feet before swinging you into a massive arc for 722 feet right into the heart of Moses Mabhida Stadium. The restaurant and entertainment scene is vibrant. The Chairman is perhaps one of the coolest spots on the planet for jazz. Don’t leave town without some Bunny Chow. This Durban favorite is usually curried beef, chicken or mutton served in a hollowed-out bread loaf.
When many folks think about Wyoming, they think of Jackson Hole, Grand Tetons National Park or Yellowstone National Park, but there’s lots to love about Laramie in the southern part of the state. Downtown Laramie is home to several unique boutiques and shops, like the Bent & Rusty, a great place to find special treasures and antiques and the largest craftsman co-op in America. Home to the University of Wyoming, Laramie offers a variety of delicious dining options including the vegetarian Sweet Melissa Café. Surrounding Laramie are several guest ranches where you can get a true western experience such as the family-owned and operated Vee Bar Guest Ranch where you can take a wagon ride, go horseback riding, or just sit by the fire and read a book. Find out the most charming small town in every state.
The world’s longest sea-crossing bridge recently opened between Hong Kong and the under-the-radar destination (for Americans) of Macau on China’s mainland, making it easier than ever to experience the epicenter of gambling and glitz. You can stay in style at the Banyan Tree Macau, a luxury all-suite hotel off the bustling Cotai strip. It’s located in the famed Galaxy Macau, where you can shop, dine, and play to your heart’s content. Read on for 12 under-the-radar hotels that should be on your bucket list.
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