To discover the many corners of the globe can allow a lifetime of excitement and fulfill the wanderlust of countless travelers. Exotic exploits from far-off locations fuel the stories we pass on to our friends, families and generations of voyagers close behind. In this age of accessibility, opportunities for great travel are more abundant than ever before with the entire world only a few clicks away. As borders blur and popular destinations fill with crowds, some of us still yearn for those hidden gems far away from the beaten path. Here are a few unknown destinations that are sure to inspire and are well worth the journey.
Bazaruto Archipelago, Mozambique
Boasting some of the most stunning beaches in all of Africa, Mozambique is an often forgotten country on the southeastern coast of this diverse continent. The Bazaruto Archipelago is a chain of 6 small islands only a few miles off the central coast. Encompassed by white sands and the warm, inviting waters of the Indian Ocean, these islands are a glimpse of paradise and an unspoiled retreat for those willing to venture here. The entire archipelago is a designated marine park and protected from commercial development, both onshore and in the surrounding coral rich waters. With 1500 locals populating the islands and only 4 resorts to find accommodation, the bliss of feeling lost is easily found.
Access from the mainland is available via helicopter or boat service though a ride on a traditional dhow sailboat is the recommended method to capture the essence of this spectacular site. Upscale dining and lodging options are available to those looking for respite and relaxation while a seaside horseback ride lures the romantics out at sunset. World class diving, snorkeling and fishing are at your fingertips and the clear, azure waters make for an unforgettable experience. Home to migrating humpback whales and a healthy population of dugongs (the large sea mammal that gave rise to the myth of the mermaid), these islands are living lore, timelessly waiting for the intrepid traveler to stand on their shores.
The legend goes that a young princess came to a small watering hole in the desert to bathe. Disrobing, she glances in her mirror to see a young hunter approaching in the distance and quickly flees, leaving her only possession in the hot sand. This royal mirror became the emerald waters comprising the picturesque refuge of Huacachina. Encircled by flowing palm trees in the heart of a fortress of epic sand dunes, this desert lake is an oasis in every sense. The waters are said to have healing and restorative properties with locals and tourists arriving in the hot summer to swim and lay in the ample shade.
4 hours south of Lima in the Ica region of Peru, this tiny natural wonder seems straight out of a movie scene and approaching at dusk one wonders if it is, in fact, a mirage. Upon arrival by car or bus a weary desert wanderer can enjoy a Pisco Sour while strolling the boardwalk amongst the vibrant and bustling scene. Numerous restaurants and hotels dot the shore and staying a night in this tranquil yet lively town is well worth the barren highways that lead you here. Be sure to catch a ride on one of the many dune-buggies available for hire as it’s a memorable and exciting way to see a bird’s eye view of the oasis and watch the sun slip behind the dunes.
An enchanting blend of 19th century European charm mixed with the undeniable spirit of Latin Caribbean culture gives Cienfuegos a feel all unto its own. Nestled in a bay on the southern side of the island, this small city is one of the most unique in Cuba with a quixotic appeal that seems frozen in time. Wide streets divide quaint yet sophisticated architecture earning the location a UNESCO World Heritage designation for the many impressive Neoclassical buildings lining every boulevard and corner. Settled by French immigrants in the early 1800’s and later becoming a vital port for sugar traders and revolutionaries, the town has witnessed many influences and gleaned a bit of character from each passing era.
Travel and trade restrictions have eased in recent years making Cuba a new and enticing destination for many tourists. Most of the crowds flock to Havana and rarely venture to the southern side of the country keeping Cienfuegos out of mainstream routes and true to its ‘Pearl of the South’ nickname. Hotel and restaurant options are found in plenty with museums and historic buildings inviting visitors to take a trip back in time. Walking the storied streets at night with Caribbean stars overhead, it’s impossible not to dance a salsa step or two and let the magical feel of this town wash over you like a cool island breeze.
Quinta da Regaleira – Sintra, Portugal
Arising from a wooded palatial estate in the center of Sintra, Portugal sits Quinta da Regaleira. A stone castle-like palace rests at the heart of the property emanating mystery and old world intrigue to those who find themselves on these thickly planted grounds. The land has changed hands many times over the years but is now a park open to public use. Much of the mystique is due to the influence and renovation of Carvalho Monteiro who purchased the land and existing buildings in 1892. With aspirations to create a beguiling place that reflected his diverse interests, Monteiro constructed buildings and infrastructure with hidden and apparent symbols showcasing elements of masonry, alchemy and other esoteric ideologies. The result was an impressive complex of stone built temples, tunnels, grottoes and staircases that give the property a feel equal parts fairy-tale and chapel. Blending several architectural styles, the estate is unique and captivating with a network of underground tunnels connecting the many buildings emerging from the forested and intentionally unkempt gardens. Quinta da Regaleira is a strange and fascinating destination, a man-made enigma worth exploring.
Hinatuan River – Surigao del Sur, Philippines
Hidden in the lush jungle of the Philippines creeps a short stretch of flowing water so clear and deep it has sparked tales of supernatural beings and uncatchable fish. The Engkanto, or enchanted spirits, that dwell here are said to bring great fortune to those they favor and ill will to others who are deemed untrue. The Hinatuan River in the western Philippines is indeed the fuel of legends and a spot only recently discovered by outsiders. Still largely unknown, the river itself is a quarter-mile length of crystal salt water reaching depths of 30 meters and appearing suddenly out of a cave first explored in 1999. The source of these waters is still a mystery and a handful of diving expeditions into the complex have yet to reveal its secrets. Banks of tropical foliage line the turquoise depths and have lured many for a swim in the dreamlike current slowly inching towards the vast Pacific nearby. An increase in tourist traffic has led the local authorities to limit swimming to a designated area but conservation efforts do not diminish the splendor of this haven and ensure the allure for future wayfarers.