If the idea of sunbathing on a crowded beach or standing in line at the Eiffel Tower doesn’t excite you, then it’s time to look off the beaten path. The world is teeming with exhilarating and exotic experiences that stretch beyond the top tourist attractions. From unspoiled mountainscapes to secluded tropical islands, venturing off the grid lets you discover an inspiration all your own.
Oftentimes, the best hidden gems are found by word of mouth or by exploring on your own. Still, here some untapped overseas adventure travel destinations to give you a few ideas:
- Dog Sled Across the Frozen Svalbard Archipelago.
Let your own team of huskies pull you across one of the northernmost inhabited areas of the world. Svalbard, which translates to “cold coasts,” is a high-Arctic island group between Norway and the North Pole. You can mush across its frozen fjords, remote glaciers, and snow-covered desert year-round — but plan your trip between October and February to witness the Aurora Borealis during the Northern Lights Winter. If you’re lucky, you can also spot Svalbard reindeer, Arctic foxes, and even the area’s polar bears!
- Explore the Temples Near Kampong Thom, Cambodia.
This authentic market town is often overshadowed by its neighbors Phohm Penh and Siem Reap. However, it leads to two of Cambodia’s most gorgeous temple sites, all without the large crowds of Angkor Wat. Explore the ancient remains of Preah Khan of Kompong Svay, Sambor Prei Kuk (an UNESCO World Heritage Site), and the area’s 100 other temples carved from warm-colored sandstone. If you’re looking to break a sweat, head over to Phnom Suntuk Mountain and climb the 807 steps to the white-walled pagoda and Buddha statues at its summit.
- Scuba Dive Along Vibrant Reefs and Underwater Lava at El Hierro.
The Canary Islands are known for their luxury seaside resorts and black and white-sand beaches. However, its farthest and smallest isle is an often-overlooked thrill seeker’s paradise. El Hierro boasts more miles of hiking trails than roads, leading through subtropical forests, undulating sand dunes, and barren lava fields. Divers of all skill levels head to La Restinga, where more than 40 dive sites give way to the marine reserve of Mar de las Calmas. Swim through its crystal-clear water to see tropical marine life, volcanic caves, and the famous underwater mountain El Bajon.
- Swim with Humpback Whales in Tonga.
If you plan to visit these tiny islands in the South Pacific, make sure to do so between July and October. That’s when hundreds of southern humpback whales return from Antarctica to give birth in its reef-protected waters. Tonga, a Polynesian kingdom of 170 islands, is one of the few places in the world that allow you to swim alongside these magnificent creatures. Several tour companies offer whale swim trips, which run for a week of 7-hour days out on the water. Most boats can take only a max of seven guests at a time, and permits are limited to only 21 boats per year. Be sure to book your trip well in advance to secure a spot.
- Sleep in a Shoreside Yurt by Kyrgyzstan’s Song Köl.
Once a popular stop along the Silk Road, this peaceful Central Asian country is home to rugged natural beauty, hospitable people, and proud traditions. Many of the ethnic Kyrgyz still follow a semi-nomadic, traditional lifestyle similar to their ancestors, and tourists (many visa-free) are warmly invited to partake. Travel by horseback from Kochkor to Song Köl, an alpine lake nestled in the Tien Shan Mountains. Families of shepherds set up yurt camps throughout the jailoos (summer pastures) and welcome guests from early June to late September. Far away from light pollution and technology, you won’t see a more breathtaking, star-filled night sky.
- Trek the Himalayas via Rupin Pass in India.
After overnight camping was banned in Uttarakhand last year, India’s most popular Roopkund Trek has become an impossibility. Luckily, alternative routes still bring trekkers out to the Indian Himalayas, and none are as exhilarating as Rupin Pass. This 8-day, high-altitude journey moves along waterfalls, meadow streams, lush forests, snow bridges, hidden temples, and striking views of Kinner Kailash. Be warned this route is best suited for advanced trekkers. At 15,250 feet, its sudden changes in scenery over a 32-mile trail aren’t for the faint of heart (or lungs). Make sure you get the right visa for your travel needs before you depart, too.
- Ride An Ostrich in Oudtshoorn, South Africa.
Just a five-hour drive east of Cape Town, the ostrich capital of the world sits in the semi-desert of Klein Karoo. Take your pick from the area’s many ethical ostrich farms to see the flightless bird up close and learn about the industry’s history. Compare flocks at different stages of development, pet the birds, and even try riding one. While you’re in town, be sure to also visit the 20 million year-old Cango Caves system and see the cheetahs at Cango Wildlife Ranch.
- Go Deep into the Rainforest from Rurrenabaque, Bolivia.
Not many experiences will push you out of your comfort zone like walking into the Amazon jungle. While many flock to Brazil’s popular destinations and tours, this northern Bolivian town hosts some of the best (and more affordable) expeditions. You’ll have to endure either a bumpy 20-hour bus ride or a 40-minute flight across the snowy mountains from La Paz, but it’ll be worth it for the surreal escape. Take a multi-day pampas tour in the wetland savannah for the best chance at spotting exotic wildlife. Or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, book a traditional jungle tour in the nearby Madidi National Park. You can even go for the hardcore, “survival” option, in which you’ll depart with little more than a machete, a mosquito net, and an indigenous Tacana guide.
No matter where you end up for overseas adventure travel, the key is to keep an open mind and prepare as best as you can for what lies ahead. Planning an adventurous vacation? Swift Passport Services can help you secure the passport and visa you need to get there.
Rob Lee is co-founder of Swift Passport and Visa Services. Originally from Michigan, Rob is an avid fisherman and SCUBA diver who enjoys adventure travel.