COVID19 changed the way we travel. Once the situation improves and we are able to travel freely, here is a delectable mix of destinations that would be ideal for you to explore. These destinations are either overlooked by most travellers or are familiar hotspots offering new reasons to return in 2021 and beyond. I have taken care to include places that are ideal for all – from cheap family holiday destinations to offbeat adventure playgrounds for solo or budget travellers, from the East of the world to the west and north to the South.
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Top offbeat travel destinations to visit in 2021 and beyond
1) Hokkaido, Japan
The northernmost region of the four major islands of Japan is also the least explored by tourists. While foreigners have missed Hokkaido, the Japanese have long been visiting the island for its mild summers, action-packed winters, spectacular unspoiled nature, beguiling culture, coastline villages and the freshest seafood in the country. Hokkaido is a year-round destination – in winters, Hokkaido creates the best ski conditions in Asia, while summers attract hikers, cyclists, and campers. Besides, Hokkaido is quite famous for its lavender fields, tulip parks, wildlife, autumn foliage, the last Sakura (cherry blossom) viewing, new year sunrise, and soul-warming Hokkaido-style ramen.
For further reading, check: www.visit-hokkaido.jp/ Offbeat Japan, Sakura Bloom in Japan, The best time to visit Japan, Things to do in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan, Facts about Japan: The land of the rising Sun, Step by step guide for multi-visit Japan visa, Best New Year Celebrations around the world and their strange traditions
2) Waitomo, New Zealand
Whether you have seen The Lord of the Rings trilogy or The Hobbit series or not, you’ll know New Zealand, is one of the most scenic places in the world. The country is made of two islands – the South Island is lined with spectacular mountain ranges, glaciers, and lush forests and the North Island is bejewelled with astounding coasts, geothermal pools, and extraordinary glowworm caves.
Andrew Nelson, a local Kiwi, highly recommends going on a glow worm cave tour in Waitomo. Inside the caves lined with stunning stalagmite & stalactite formations, you see a spectacular show put on by the glow worms.
3) Luang Prabang, Laos
Nestled in the mountains at the sacred confluence of the Mekong River and the Nam Khan River in central Laos, Luang Prabang is a town cast in time. This compact UNESCO World Heritage city presents a fantastic melange of architecture, natural beauty, culture and cuisine. Spend a day marvelling the beauty of the exquisite 14th-century Indochinese architecture of the town before you head out to take a refreshing dip in the aquamarine Kuang Si waterfall. Go on a boat ride or make an overland trip to the breath-taking landscape of Pak Ou Cave before witnessing the alms giving ceremony of the saffron-clad monks. Enjoy the night-life and mouth-watering local delicacies at the night market.
For more info, check: www.madmonkeyhostels.com
4) Hluhluwe-imfolozi, South Africa
A South African Safari can come in as many forms as the number of wild animals you encounter. From a remote bush camp to a luxurious private stay, you can choose the experience as per your taste and pocket. Jamie Thom, an award-winning wildlife photographer who runs the Conservation Safari Company, says,
“South Africa is known as ‘the world in one country because of its diversity. Here it is relatively easier to spot the ‘Big Five’ (lions, leopards, elephants, Cape buffaloes and rhinos) in the wild than in other countries. Unfortunately, their population is dwindling at a faster rate so it might not be possible to see them all in the future.”
Since there are more than 600 parks and reserves, it could get overwhelming to choose one. For your first safari, pick either Kruger National Park or Hluhluwe-imfolozi.
For more info, check: www.jamiethom.com
5) Western Serbia
If you crave an authentic and characterful European holiday devoid of the crowd, Serbia is the country for you. Steeped in history, this former Yugoslavian nation is truly unexplored and demands slow exploration. From outdoor escapades, spas and wineries, and ancient monasteries to monolithic memorials; Serbia is littered with attractions. On your first trip explore western Serbia, the most tourist-friendly and offbeat region. Sky-piercing mountain ranges, rivers and lakes, hundreds of magnificent viewpoints, infinite vivid landscapes, ancient ethnic parks of Sirogojno and Drvengrad, the medieval monasteries, several national parks and excellent traditional cuisine; that is what you see when you visit Western Serbia!
6) High Tatras, Slovakia
Slovakia will both surprise and delight you with its dramatic mountainscapes, majestic medieval ruins and tiny villages. Often ignored by tourists, this modest-sized central European nation boasts the High Tatras, a mountain region that rivals the Alps with its jagged mountain peaks, plunging waterfalls, turquoise blue glacial lakes and diverse wildlife. Above all, it’s an ideal place for sighting the rare brown bears, which are wiped out from most parts of Europe but thrive here. Most importantly, wildlife tours in Slovakia are ethical and support sustainable tourism. All you need to do, is wear your hiking boots or ride a mountain bike in the Tatra National Park.
For further reading, check: Hiking in High Tatras, Slovakia, Why you should spend your winter in Slovakia, A lost medieval town of Slovakia that changed history, Unheard of Easter Traditions of Romania and Slovakia, 15 best European Christmas destinations filled with surprise
7) Soca Valley, Slovenia
From the towering peaks of the Julian Alps and the subterranean magic of mountain caves to the sparkling emerald-green waterways and the short but sweet coastline along the Adriatic Sea, pint-sized Slovenia does pack a punch when it comes to big attractions. Most people come here to visit the capital, Ljubljana, and Lake Bled, the most popular post-card image of Slovenia that draws everyone from honeymooners to backpackers.
However, if you go a bit to the East of the country, you reach Soča Valley, an adrenaline mecca for outdoor lovers set in the picturesque world of the Julian Alps, Triglav National Park, and the emerald green River Soča. If you are an outdoor lover, you’ll never run out of options here – from rafting, kayaking, fly-fishing, hiking, biking, paragliding, sledging, ice-climbing to ski-diving. Other big drawcards for the region are its historical sights and locations, particularly relating to WWI, and the food – Kobarid is the heart of Slovenia’s growing culinary repertoire.
For more info, check Pangea Adventures
8) Lille, France
Go beyond Paris and visit Lille, the 2020 World Design Capital. This is the first time a French city has been bestowed with such an honour. Throughout 2020, this Flemish city showcased its innovative design prowess by hosting around 50 cultural events. Just 90 minutes away by train from London, 60 minutes from Paris and 35 minutes from Brussels, Lille possesses a unique identity thanks to its Flemish, Burgundian, and Spanish heritages sprinkled around the city in the form of red-brick buildings, medieval structures, and cobblestone streets. The best time to visit Lille would be in the fall when it will host the first-ever Lille Metropole Design Week and the largest open-air flea market in Europe.
For more info, check www.lilletourism.com/, 10 hidden gems of Northern France you have not heard about, Beyond Paris: Sights and bites of Northern France, 15 best European Christmas destinations filled with surprise
9) Dalarna, Sweden
In the heart of Scandinavia, in the borderlands between Sweden and Norway, lies a vast nature area. More than 3000 square kilometres of protected countryside. Despite its accessibility, Dalarna has large areas of untouched nature and wilderness and an abundance of rare animals. Lars Svanerud, the Sports chief at STF Grövelsjön Fjällstation, says,
“Hiking in this part of Sweden is like nowhere else – where you can spend weeks without seeing another human being. A roadless country, far from the roar of civilisation, where only the sounds of wind and water interrupt the infinite silence.”
Besides the unspoiled landscape, Dalarna is also the heart and soul of the Swedish folk tradition. Many of the typical Swedish symbols are deeply rooted in Dalarna such as the Midsummer celebrations, red-painted cottages, exquisite folk costumes, foot-tapping folk music and – of course – the Dala horse.
On top of that, this part of Scandinavia is also the home of Samis, Europe’s only indigenous people that have lived for over 10,000 years in the Sápmi region, spanning four countries – Arctic Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia.
For more info, check www.visitdalarna.se
10) New Mexico, USA
A state where ancient cultures still live in the present and where astounding landscapes inspire artists and outdoor enthusiasts alike. New Mexico is home to some of the oldest, continuously inhabited communities in North America like the Pueblos of Taos, Acoma, and Zuni. And, it’s not just the landscapes that are worth exploring. New Mexico’s cities are unmatched bastions of history, culture, and art. Santa Fe, the capital of New Mexico, is a delicious hotpot of tri-cultures (Spanish, Mexican & American). Right from outdoor recreation, vibrant art scene, marvellous culinary delights, refreshing spas, and unique local shopping, Santa Fe proudly lives up to its tag of being “The City Different.”
Not too far from Santa Fe is the ballooning capital of the world, Albuquerque, where the International Balloon Fiesta is held every year in the first week of October.
11) Bahia, Brazil
Like India, Brazil’s biodiversity is legendary, and you’ll need to visit the country several times to get a taste of its powdery white-sand beaches, lush green rainforests and larger-than-life rhythm-filled carnivals. Adria Lacorte, the Founder of Brazil Green Travel, says,
“If your heart beats for adventure and nature, then you must visit Bahia, the most Afro-Brazilian state of Brazil. Studded with ten conservation areas, the Cocoa Coast of Bahia has the highest flora diversity in the world and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you can hike and ride to the remote fishing villages where you get a crash course about the African slave culture and the cocoa history.”
Another unique adventure you must experience is going on a boat trip to the Anavilhanas National Park, one of the largest river archipiélagos in the world. And, no trip to Brazil is complete without partaking in its carnivals. Don’t just watch a parade, play a part in the Rio Carnival by mastering the song and dance at Rio Carnival First Division Samba School.
For more info, check www.brazilgreentravel.com.
12) Patagonia, Chile
Chile is often referred to as the Switzerland of South America for its ethereal mountain beauty. The country boasts sundry landscapes from volcanoes, deserts, beaches, lakes, glaciers, and vineyards to forests. One of the most stunning regions in Chile is Patagonia, famous for its Torres del Paine National Park, which is home to majestic mountains with snow-capped peaks, enormous glaciers, cascading waterfalls, and pristine lakes and rivers. Positioned on the southern tip of Patagonia is the largest ice field in the world, Glacier Grey, which creates crystal-blue icebergs. A place straight out of dreams.
So, these were my 12 top offbeat travel destinations to explore in 2020 and beyond. Before COVID struck us so badly, I started my new year by visiting my all-time favourite Singapore to witness the Marina Bay Singapore Countdown followed by a visit to Luang Prabang in Laos, Switzerland, Netherlands and Maldives. I would love to know about your travel plans. Please do share in the comment box below.
The edited version of this story was published in Mail Today, India Today Group