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10 Tourist-Free Adventure Destinations

By Yahoo Travel
July 14, 2015
Azores
Courtesy hcoffee/myBudgetTravel

This article was written by Mary Mazzoni and originally appeared on Yahoo Travel.

Sick of overcrowded streets, congested bus rides and suffocating travel groups? You’re not alone. One of the top trends in travel this decade is the quest for the untouched—those pristine, less-traveled destinations you can explore without bumping into selfie-takers at every turn.

Luckily for us, the folks at the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) know a thing or two about traveling off the beaten path. To bring you the tourist-free experience you crave, we asked experts at the recent AdventureElevate conference in Colorado to share some of their favorite secret spots. Read on to get the skinny on these exotic locales before the crowds show up.

For untouched culture: Tolar, Argentina

This small town of less than 300 people is a favorite of Veronica Lampon of Say Hueque. Although her firm is the No. 1 tour operator in Argentina, it only sells around one trip a year to this unexplored location—so you’re sure to get a pristine adventure experience.

Located in the deserts of Northern Argentina, Tolar boasts beautiful mountains, rendered in technicolor thanks to mineral deposits, and a unique cultural experience that can’t be beat. The remote location was heavily influenced by the Incas, and it remains untainted by waves of tourists. “You can still get a lot of that culture from 200 years ago,” Lampon told us. “It’s an amazing experience.”

For watersport: Rio Cangrejal, Honduras

Situated in Northern Honduras, the Rio Cangrejal is “one of the great whitewater rafting and kayaking rivers in Central America,” said Mark Willuhn of the Mesoamerican Ecotourism Alliance.

Using a coastal town like La Ceiba as your base, you can easily explore the Rio Cangrejal region and all it has to offer. After you give kayaking and rafting a try, head to the nearby Pico Bonito National Park to check out untouched rain forests without bumping elbows with other travelers. Or, peep exotic sea life on a snorkeling adventure on the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef along the Honduran Bay Islands.

Related: Secret American Beaches You’ve Never Heard of

In your backyard: Point Reyes National Seahore, California

Although it’s only an hour from San Francisco, Point Reyes National Seashore remains “very much a hidden secret,” said Christina Tunnah of travel insurance operator World Nomads. “It’s a jewel in that part of California that is still thankfully very pristine and still very rugged at the same time.”

At Point Reyes, around 240 miles of trail beckons hikers, bikers and horseback riders to explore the protected countryside. On your travels, be sure to check out the historic lighthouse and the many wildlife viewing areas, such as the tule elk range or the Elephant Seal Overlook. Visit from January through April, and you may also catch a glimpse of the annual gray whale migration from one of the park beaches or headlands.

Adventure made easy: Town-hopping in Alaska

Visiting Alaska is a surefire way to get off the beaten path, but it can seem daunting to pick a locale amidst its 660,000 square miles of terrain. We caught up with Jack Bonney of Visit Anchorage for a local’s perspective.

His tips: Start and finish your trip in Anchorage for seamless airport access, then use the railroad system to explore Alaska’s backcountry. Kick off your adventure in Seward, a small fishing town that’s about a three-hour train ride from Anchorage. Explore the untouched seaside village, and take a quick boat trip to Kenai Fjords National Park which is home to 38 stunning glaciers and some of the most breathtaking views in Alaska.

For an even more off-grid experience, hop back on the Alaska Railroad to Spencer Glacier. “When the train pulls away, the people who got off the train with you are the only ones who are going to be out there,” Bonney said with a smile. Enjoy float tours, hiking and camping at one of the most spectacular glaciers in Alaska before the easy train trip back to Anchorage. Adventure and convenience? Sign us up!

Soft adventure paradise: Amalfi Coast, Italy

Looking for an offbeat trip but aren’t quite ready for sub-zero camping or remote hiking tours? Don’t worry. You can have the best of both worlds on the Amalfi Coast of Italy, said Tom De Napoli of Diamante Eco Adventure Park in Costa Rica.

A less-traveled destination that’s far from rugged, the Amalfi Coast is home to pristine beaches and stunning hillside towns. Take a relaxing bike or scooter ride, or simply enjoy the scenery in this quirky destination that’s perfect for families and low-impact travelers.

For unmatched diversity: Azores

Although it’s a perennial editor’s favorite for top 10 lists, this autonomous region of Portugal remains a relatively unknown destination for North American travelers.

A mere four-hour flight from Boston, the nine islands of the Azores each offer their own distinct landscape—ensuring something for everyone and banishing boredom for good. Explore the red deserts of Santa Maria, the lush mountain peaks of Sao Jorge, or the semi-submersed caves and stunning seaside vistas of Pico and Faial. Seriously, there’s so much more than we could ever list here. Check out their website to learn more.

For ancient history: Sierra de San Francisco, Baja California

This UNESCO World Heritage site is home to “the most significant collection of prehistoric rock art in North America,” said Peter Grubb, founder of Row Adventures.

It’s truly a trip of a lifetime, but expect a bit of a trek to get there: Visitors hike in on foot, using mules to carry their belongings, and are unlikely to run into anyone outside of their small tour group. Visited by only around 300 travelers a year, the site features remarkably well-preserved rock paintings from as far back as 100 B.C.  

Spot some wildlife: Pantanal, Brazil

“Honestly, the Pantanal is the most underrated destination,” said George Duffy of Adventure Engine. Or, as Lonely Planet puts it, “The Amazon gets the press coverage, but the Pantanal is a better place to see wildlife.”

Tour the lush rain forests of the region, and you’re sure to see exotic native creatures maxin’ and relaxin’ without fear of tourist crowds. For sea life, head to Bonito for stunning freshwater snorkeling in warm, crystal-blue waters.

Related: Secret Islands in France That No One Knows About

Boozy adventure: Isle of Harris, Scotland

The mostly untouched Isle of Harris is home to some of the best beaches in Scotland—not to mention the most remote whiskey distillery in the world, set to open later this year. Tour the distillery and even reserve one of its first barrels, which you can pick up in 10 years after it’s finished aging.

On your visit, take in the island’s lush landscapes and stunning beaches on a cycling and hiking tour courtesy of Wilderness Scotland.

The offbeat Eurotrip: Macedonia

This landlocked Balkan nation, bordered by Albania and Greece, is the perfect place to “see authentic Europe that really hasn’t been disrupted by tourism,” advised Kathy Kramer of Firefly Journeys.

In Macedonia, check out rolling countrysides, stunning mountain vistas and picturesque villages—without a tour bus in sight. Link up with Macedonia Experience for hiking and biking tours with expert guides to make sure you don’t miss a beat.

WATCH: Go Now: The New Seventh Wonder of the World—That’s Empty

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Inspiration

What Is Your Best-Ever Travel Memory?

We recently asked several of our staff members to share their best-ever travel memory—here's what they said: "The summer my wife, Michele, and I traveled to Stratford-upon-Avon, U.K., for the unveiling of her sculpture of Ophelia, which is permanently installed in Anne Hathaway's Tree Garden." —Robert Firpo-Cappiello, Executive Editor "My first glimpse of the Eiffel Tower up close—in the evening. I rounded a corner and, suddenly, there it was, solid and looming, its delicate filigree lit in gold, more majestic than I ever imagined" —Jamie Beckman, Senior Editor "Unleashing epic yodeling skills I never knew I had on stage at a Swiss cultural show in Lucerne." —Kaeli Conforti, Digital Editor "Watching the sunrise over the dunes of the Sahara in Morocco was unreal!" —Jennifer O'Brien, Marketing Manager "Nothing beats feeding pigeons with my Nonna in Northern Italy." —Rosalie Tinelli, Marketing Associate "Drinking beer with my husband (then boyfriend) in the bar car of a train in northern Spain. We happened to walk by the train station in Barcelona that morning and made a last-minute decision to get on one and see where it took us." —Amy Lundeen, Photo Director "Being offered a place to stay by a kind stranger when I was traveling solo, lost and en route to Urbino, Italy." —Whitney Tressel, Photo Editor "My girlfriend and I took a ferry to Isla Mujeres off the coast of Cancún and ended up free roam (no guide) snorkeling around the Garrafon Reef." —Chad Harter, Lead Developer "Touring stunning and amazing Sydney Harbour by boat on a spectacularly sunny spring day." —Maureen Kelley Stewart, Advertising Account Manager "Laying on a beach in Puerto Rico on high school spring break, listening to Sarah McLachlan, watching the blue-green waves roll in and out—the most relaxed I've ever been in my entire life." —Michelle Craig, Digital Ad Sales Planning Manager "First day of my first trip to Europe: Spending a picture-perfect day in the Piazza del Michelangelo, enjoying the beauty of Florence." —Elaine Alimonti, President, Publisher "Standing atop the Arc d'Triomph in Paris at dusk with my gorgeous Dutch boyfriend, overlooking the Champs Élysées, the sights of the city, and watching the lights begin to come up." —Jeannea Spence, Southeast Advertising Manager "A long walk on a beautiful deserted beach on Dingle Peninsula in Ireland." —Jo Neese, Neese & Lee Media Now it's your turn: We want to know, what is your best-ever travel memory? Share it below!

Inspiration

Want a Free Home in Sicily?

In the market for a new vacation home? How about an Italian vacation home? Well, the town of Gangi, Sicily, is offering a price that's right: Free. Does free work for you? There are, of course, a few quid pro quos and provisos. Namely, you've got to have the funds and/or the home-improvement skills to turn an empty, likely rundown Sicilian house into a thriving home, vacation rental, or hotel. You have four years to do so. Why all the empty houses? The New York Times quotes Gangi's mayor, Giuseppe Ferrarello, as noting that the town, located between Palermo and Catania, has traditionally been regarded as "too far from the sea" to be a magnet for tourists. Generations ago, thousands left Gangi for the promise of a better life in the United States or Aregentina, and these days young people pack up and leave for opportunities on the mainland more often than they stay. To date, more than 100 homes have been given away or sold at a steep discount. The town government coordinates the sale and has made significant strides in cutting through Italy's dizzying gauntlet of red tape where buying, selling, and improving real estate properties is concerned. (Still, we'd like to echo the Times's suggestion that prospective owners seek English-speaking legal counsel before signing on the dotted line.) Some Gangi houses have been successfully converted into vacation homes, rentals, and hotel units. The town is looking for future owners who have the money and know-how to elevate the dilapidated properties into vibrant entities that will contribute to the local economy. Successful "buyers" have included Sicilians, mainland Italians, other Europeans, and businesspeople from the United Arab Emirates. There are about 200 towns left, the waiting list is growing, and competition will tighten as supply dwindles. If you take the plunge, we'd love to hear about your experience acquiring and upgrading your very own home in Sicily. Talk to us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, or email at info@BudgetTravel.com.

Inspiration

Three-Day Weekend: Curacao

"Are you ready? 1.. 2.. 3.. NOW!" our diving instructor shouted as the eight of us took a deep breath and swam beneath the waves that roared and crashed above our heads onto the walls of the entrance to the underwater cave. I remember thinking as I swam: How much farther until we can come up for air? What happens if I come up too soon? What if there's a shark swimming around in there? Ten seconds later, those fleeting thoughts disappeared as I spotted my fellow swimmers shooting to the surface, laughing, and saying this was one of the craziest things they'd ever done. I couldn't agree more. The sight before us was almost psychedelic. We had entered an underwater cave named the Blue Room, appropriately dubbed for the different hues that surrounded us as the light reverberated around the chamber, bounced off the walls, and illuminated the water below. We took turns snapping silly underwater photos of each other on someone's GoPro camera as we explored the cave and swam around the coral reef that lay 20 feet below. One thing I'll say about Curaçao: You're in for a real treat if you're willing to push the boundaries of your comfort zone. Slightly off the beaten path and throroughly gorgeous, this Dutch Caribbean island paradise is located in the southern Caribbean safely beneath the hurricane belt, ensuring a warm, tropical climate all year long. The best part: It's super-affordable. Wander through colorful, dreamlike Willemstad The multi-hued Dutch buildings that line St. Anna Bay in Willemstad are so quaint and picturesque, they're like a 3-D postcard. Take your perfect, trip-defining photo with the giant CURAÇAO and DUSHI signs in Queen Wilhelmina Park, the Dutch Caribbean counterpart to the famous "I Amsterdam" signs in Europe. Visit the Queen Emma Bridge, a pontoon bridge that locals call the Swinging Old Lady because it swivels open and runs parallel to the land to allow boats to pass by. Watch for the flags and clear the bridge when the alarm sounds to avoid being trapped on the bridge until it closes again, or catch a free ferry nearby to get to the other side if you're suddenly stuck across the water. Eat island cuisine right alongside the locals You're bound to work up an appetite walking around downtown Willemstad. Stop by the Old Market, or Marsche Bieuw, for a taste of island cuisine with generous portions and affordable prices. Sit among the locals in this first-come-first-served cafeteria-like setting and sample local favorites like fried plantains, stobá (stew), funchi (polenta), and pumpkin pancakes, and wash it all down with a deliciously fruity batido smoothie ($7 for a plate with stobá, funchi, fried plantains, beans, and rice; three pumpkin pancakes for $1; batidos are $3 each). If you're into steak and seafood, check out The Grill King in downtown Willemstad, known for its grilled surf and turf dishes and overwater dining (entrées from $20), or for a bit of fine dining, try the St. Tropez Oceanclub in the trendy Pietermaai district, where you can feast on dishes like salmon sashimi tapas in a swanky club-like atmosphere while a lounge singer roams the crowd belting out everything from Whitney Houston to Katy Perry (tapas from $7, entrées from $29). Hang with new feathered friends When you think of the Caribbean, what comes to mind? Palm trees, sure, but how about the majestic ostrich? Curaçao is home to the largest ostrich farm outside Africa. The island's year-round warm, dry climate makes the ideal atmosphere for these birds to flourish. Spend some time touring the Curaçao Ostrich Farm on one of their hourly Safari Tours ($16 per person). You'll see other animals like emu, potbellied pigs, and Nile crocodiles, but the big birds are the main event: Hold a real ostrich egg, watch the young chicks running around in the wild, and try your hand at feeding the adults—a photo op so terrifically bizarre you'll want to make it your Facebook profile pic immediately. Swim in coral reefs and hidden underwater caves Most of the island's attractions are located in and around Willemstad, but it's worth taking a 40-minute car ride to explore the scenery along the north and west coasts. Check out awe-inspiring views from Shete Boka National Park, where you can hike to a large underground cavern and watch as the waves roll in from the top of the hill at Boka Tabla (admission is $5.50). Book a snorkeling trip with Go West Diving for a chance to visit the Black Sand Reef and Curaçao's famous Blue Room, a secret underwater cave you can only reach by holding your breath and swimming under the crashing waves at the entrance to the cavern. Don't worry; it's perfectly safe thanks to the help and direction of your trusty tour guide. Just make sure you dive down deep enough so you don't bump your head on the roof of the cave ($40 per person for a 2.5-hour tour). Go green with a visit to an herb garden and an aloe plantation Meeting Dinah Veeris, the island's legendary herbalist and healer, and touring her precious Den Paradera Herb Garden, was worth the trip in itself. Veeris, the friendly, soft-spoken owner, eagerly shows visitors around her garden, teaching the importance of preservation, explaining how to cure common ailments using plants, and occasionally bursting into songs and chants used during the healing process. She started this adorable one-acre botanical garden plant by plant in the 1990s after interviewing the island's elders about natural ways to cure ailments, and it continues to be a resource for local botanists with its 300-plus species of plants. You can purchase natural herbal teas and soaps made from the garden's ingredients in the gift shop: Try the "love tea," rumored to be the best love potion on the island ($4 for a bag of tea leaves). Beauty junkies will want to stop by the Aloe Vera Plantation in the St. Joris area to learn about the aloe plant's health and immune system benefits. For a local souvenir, the plantation's Curaloe natural beauty products—including body gel, aloe shampoo, and pure aloe vera juice—are top-sellers (from $16). Bask without guilt: Curaçao luxury is affordable luxury Stay near all the nightlife and historic sites in downtown Willemstad, like Fort Amsterdam and the Mikve Israel-Emanuel synagogue, the oldest continually used synagogue in the western hemisphere, at the Renaissance Curaçao Resort & Casino (from $145 per night). If it's seclusion you're seeking, opt for the Santa Barbara Beach and Golf Resort, a lush property located on 27 acres of natural preserve on the eastern side of the island (from $229 per night, check website for more affordable packages). For the best of both worlds, the Floris Suite Hotel and Spa gives guests a taste of luxury closer to the action—the 72 sleek modern-meets-Caribbean-style suites at this adults-only, LGBT-friendly hotel come with private balconies, kitchenettes, and lots of room to spread out and relax, perfect for a girlfriend getaway or romantic escape with your S.O. (suites from $129 per night). If you're traveling from the New York City area, JetBlue's Curaçao vacation packages start at only $669 per person for a flight from JFK and three nights' accommodations at the Curaçao Marriott Beach Resort and Emerald Casino.  Always, always use mosquito repellent At Budget Travel, we believe it's always better to be prepared. Throughout the Caribbean and other places around the world known for their warm, tropical climates, you might encounter chikungunya, a flu-like mosquito-borne illness characterized by joint pain, fever, and a rash. The virus isn't fatal, but it is painful and can be avoided if you take the proper precautions. Pack your favorite mosquito repellent products, apply them liberally before going out at night, and slather them on again after swimming.

Inspiration

Greece 2015: What Every Traveler Must Know

In the wake of Greece's rejection of Europe's latest bailout offer, many travelers are asking if the beautiful Mediterranean nation belongs on the "to go" or the "not to go" list. The answer is a bit nuanced. First of all, crisis can mean opportunity, and in this case the opportunity comes from (a) the historically low euro-to-dollar exchange rate and (b) the fact that many Greek resorts and hotels have far fewer customers this year than usual. The crisis, of course, is that the banks have been closed for a week, lines at ATMS are long, credit cards may not be accepted, and public demonstrations (generally limited to Athens) always have the potential to turn dangerous. THE OPPORTUNITY: Lock in a great exchange rate. The euro is currently worth $1.10, which means that locking in your expenses by paying in advance will yield a great exchange rate and reduce the amount of cash you need to carry. (If Greece were to pull out of the Eurozone altogether, exchange rates are expected to fall even more, though most analysts don't expect Greece to go back to the drachma currency.) Have an awesome vacation. At the moment, hundreds of thousands of travelers are having the time of their lives visiting the Greek islands, the Acropolis in Athens, and enjoying great meals and a warm welcome from locals. Tourism is an important component of the Greek economy and your hosts will be especially interested in making your stay an uneventful one (in a good way!). Rest assured that Greece is ready for you. Anecdotal reports say that unless you're in Athens or watching TV, you'd never know there was a crisis. Tour operators report that their services are uninterrupted, and that tourism staples like food and ferry service to the islands will remain a priority. Bottom line: You won't go hungry and you won't be stranded. THE CRISIS: Avoid demonstrations. Public demonstrations always hold the potential to turn violent. Budget Travel follows the U.S. State Department's advice, which is to steer clear of demonstrations (we have a natural tendency to want to see what's going on, but demonstrations are not, after all, a spectator sport). You can follow the U.S. Embassy in Athens on Facebook for up-to-the-minute reports on public safety. To date, demonstrations have remained overwhelmingly peaceful. Bring cash. Lots of cash. Long lines at ATMs and the possibility that small hotels and restaurants may stop accepting credit cards (or, worst case, that banks will stop processing them) means you need to bring enough cash to cover all your expenses (and, as we suggest above, pay for as much of your trip in advance as possible). Know your insurance situation. If you book a trip through a tour operator, find out what kind of insurance they offer in the event of cancellations; if you're booking your trip on your own, find out what insurance your bank card offers. If you do decide to drop everything and take off to Greece this summer, we want to hear about it. Post a comment here, or share your Greece 2015 trip with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

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