The world is a very big place and keeping all of it in mind is no easy task. Having traveled to over 40 countries now, I’m often asked what my favorites, bests, and worsts are – which usually leaves me with no solid answers to give. There is one question, typically unasked, where destinations I’ve visited pop into my head with ease. Countries around the world that probably don’t jump to the tip of your mind but can save you money, while giving you experiences plenty of other tourists aren’t having right now.
I’m taking something of an intellectual leap to say these countries will become major travel hits – though geographically and economically conditions are in their (and your!) favor. Slightly offbeat and waiting for their booms, these are places you can visit right now and have a bit all to yourself.
1. The Philippines
Although this country composed of 7,000 islands isn’t a secret – there aren’t any real travel secrets – it’s routinely overlooked by travelers headed to Thailand or South Korea on the southeast Asia trail. I’m not discouraging you from visiting those fine countries but there’s a less well traveled path right across the China Seas. The diversity within the islands themselves don’t do its official borders any justice as the Philippines is one of the most ecologically diverse places on the planet.
Despite it’s highly advantageous exchange rate and general low cost of travel, the Philippine tourism industry has been quite stagnant. Averaging only a 2.5% increase in foreign tourists over the last 15 years (compared with Thailand’s 15%) this year will be different. In the first 3 months of 2011 alone, the Philippines has seen more than half of its 2010 visitor numbers. Don’t worry though, most of those travelers were from only 4 countries, so you’ve got time to see San Augustin Church, ride around in a Jeepney, lay on one of my favorite beaches, and not be disappointed.
Flights are inexpensive from key regional cities like Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Sydney, but there are also good deals to be found from New York, Dubai, and New Delhi.
Oman was practically an afterthought on my part prior to seeing it in person while I was visiting various Gulf states last winter. After having seen one of the most surprising landscapes I’ve come across in my travels, I now appreciate that near oversight while remaining slightly embarrassed I didn’t know any better. You could drop Oman in any part of the world and it would still look like a set from a science-fiction show – but what really makes it jump out at you is how different it is from its glitzy, shiny, metal neighbors.
It’s not that Oman isn’t loaded with oil money like Bahrain or Qatar; (it has a strong GDP per capita actually), but it has chosen to retain its authentic exterior. A wise move by a royal family who’ve largely avoided Arab Spring with smart and swift reforms. You can visit the Wadi Shab waterfalls, Al Alam Palace, and enjoy the most beautiful corniche in the region – all less than an hour flight from popular Dubai.
Muscat, the tiny capital city jutting out into the Indian Ocean has been conquered by the Persian, British, Ottomans…but not tourists yet. Of course there are visitors, mostly from other other Arab nations, though it’s still yours to be had for much less than Manama or Doha.
As writer and Chile-expat Eileen Smith tells me, Chileans often refer to their country as at Earth’s butt-end. The capital Santiago isn’t the easiest city to find flights for outside of some major cities in South America. Yet for enticement it’s got over 6,400 kilometers of coastline waiting upon arrival. The Andes Mountains also happen to run along the opposite eastern border and it’s one of the easier countries on the continent to travel. Low crime rates and good internal transportation though not a nation without a troubled recent past, Chile is subtle – well, except when it comes to sandwiches.
Santiago is also famous for its “coffee with legs”, probably appropriate for a country known to be on the backside of the globe.
4. North Cyprus
It’s not common to find practically the same landscape, food, and culture split into two parts of an island. One that’s very cheap and the other that’s overcrowded and expensive; yet that’s the travel situation in Cyprus right now. The Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) is one of these 3 unrecognized states that’s seeing a tourism boom between the embargo cracks. There are a number of ways to get to the TRNC, mostly from Turkey, but you can also cross over from the southern part of Cyprus, visit on a Mediterranean cruise, or hop a flight from London.
In practically every political and economic manner the TRNC is stalled – except when it comes to tourism. Despite its aspirations to reunify in 2003, that failure has actually helped tourism to the north. Not on the Euro and motivated to draw in tourism revenue, the TRNC is much less expensive than the rest of Cyprus – often considered the most expensive place in the European Union, if not the entire world. Lots of people are catching on – would you rather have breakfast for 7 Turkish lira or the same at 15 Euros – there’s still time to see this country in a bottle; despite it’s uncertain future.
The Few Of The Many
Searching for hidden travel gems requires someone else uncovering enough of the sparkle for your to see from afar. Though much like in the process of finding the best places to travel on a weak dollar, the best deals are often right across a border from the worst. Borders don’t contain cultures; but do a better job of holding economic systems together – a nice perk for your wallet.
Whether or not these 4 places end up becoming hits or not; they’re some of the most surprising my preconceptions have come across and might catch your fancy too.
[top photo of woman by hkvam]
The only one of these I had ever really considered visiting before was Chile. I had some old family connections there and wanted to see the country. I still do but had never thought about the rest. Love learning about countries that aren’t so popular! I love to travel without the crowds so these would be great destinations.
And honestly, these are places I would be interested in visiting.
Hopefully you can make it there, it’s a good time right now. I was there during their winter and quite chilly! (Although admittedly I was and am never dressed properly for the cold 😉
I will concur with the Chile choice and look forward to visiting the others. Chile is a jewel of S.America in my opinion. From climbing glaciers to surfing sand dunes — from wildlife (walking with the Penguins on Isla Magdelena) to wine tours can be found in this lengthy slice of west coast. The people are kind and gracious even with my feigned knowledge of Latin American Spanish.
Looking forward to a visit to Oman. That picture and write up really intrigues me!
A beautiful description of Chile Dave. I highly recommend Oman – the nice thing is that the winter months are even cheaper which is great since the weather is cool at best.
Have not been to all 4! Great picks and these surprisingly are on my list of places to visit. Perhaps with Cyprus being on the top of my list right now 🙂
Very cool, would love to hear what you think about it when you get there 🙂
Love the layout and photos on your homepage btw.
Living in Chile I would have to say that this place is already a big tourist destination just not with Americans. I found many European and Canadian tourists in this place but can agree that there could be a lot more visitors when you compare the tourism to nearby Argentina.
Lan Chile is now once of the largest airlines in the world and the largest in South America so that should help. Wait until you get to Suriname you are going to add that country to this list easily!
In the last 8 years it looks like Chile’s been undergoing something of a tourism boom but it seems like a quiet one for many people.
I can’t wait for Suriname, I have very high hopes and would love to do a follow up and include it here. Definitely not many people at all visiting Suriname.
Chile is wonderful and is on our list of possible move-to countries. The Philippines are on my must-visit list.
You’ll have good company if you move to Chile 🙂
Chile has been on my bucket list for a while now – I have had friends go who really loved it. Now I’m thinking Oman looks really interesting as well.
Hope you get to see both!
Santiago is so popular right now – from the NYT to Lonely Planet it seems like everyone’s recommending it these days! It’s a fun place to live though, and it’s become so much more cosmopolitan just in the 6 years since I first got here that it deserves a little recognition.
The tourism figures in the last 3 years especially have seen big jumps – even when compared to the big South America draws nearby of Brazil and Argentina. So much more potential to go, I think it’s in the honeymoon stage of tourism – but you’re seeing that firsthand 🙂
And you know you’re more than welcome, anytime, but you’re on your own with the giant meat sandwiches.
I think I’m still digesting that lomito…
you are definitely right about Cyprus, i’ve been there and most tourists choose Limassol, Agia Napa or Paphos to enjoy Cyprus but the Turkish side has some nice beaches and great landscapes.
One border on a small island doesn’t change much of the landscape but makes a huge difference in price 😉
The Philippines have been on my list for a while now. Nice article Anil. Interesting places.
Thanks Liv, good diving there too I’ve heard 🙂
Great list. We haven’t been to any of these places yet, but they’re all on our list. So many places, so little time.
What I love about the world and everything in it is that it’s impossible to see it all. Puts us in perspective and gives many travel options 🙂
Yes, Anil. Here in South Asia, gone are the days where people used to look in for traditional places to travel for vacation.
But the scenario is totally different. People search for unexplored locations more for fun and for the sake of thrill.
Your post is great in those lines and an eye opener for people to grab it.
It’s the big thing in travel isn’t it, ‘undiscovered’ places. People want to be more explorer than tourist – fortunately there are plenty of places to be both these days 🙂
The Philippines and Chile are definitely at the top of my list! But after reading your comments on Oman, I think I have to add that to my list as well. Got a chuckle about your comment saying it looks like a sci-fi set – you would like that
🙂 It gives Oman a special place in my heart!
you mentioned south korea briefly in your article…I think SK is one of the most over looked countries in the world. It’s stunning, relatively cheap, easy to travel around, and yet visitors seem to be mainly limited to people who end up teaching there. Big pity, if you ask me.
I would have to agree, it doesn’t ring of tourism although it really could. Perhaps it’s a perception problem and lack of marketing which goes hand in hand.
I would also add Colombia although I’m not so sure it’s a well kept secret anymore.
They done such an excellent job with tourism over the last few years. Completely swapped places with Venezuela.
Hi Anil, I never been in the places you mentioned, but as a good backpacker (actually I feel like upgrade my virtual profile to flashpacker) my list of destination is getting longer day by day LOL
Never-ending isn’t it – hope you get to visit some of these places as well soon 🙂
Hey Anil, great post. So true about the Philippines. My mom and brother were just there for a family reunion. Unfortunately I couldn’t go due to work. I remember riding jeepneys all over the place, and eating pandisol (little bread rolls) every morning for breakfast. Too bad I couldn’t have gone for the reunion.
Sorry to hear you couldn’t catch the fun this time! Are you Filipino?
Haha, yes, I am half Filipino and half Puerto Rican. My mom gets back a few days before Thanksgiving; she usually makes Filipino fare, like lumpia, pansit (thin noodles), rice, and standard American stuff. I can’t wait!
Sounds amazing, enjoy that meal!
After living in the Philippines for 20 years (and counting), I’m really sad to say that I haven’t been to a lot of destinations around the country.
I really think that the Philippines is a beautiful country especially the provinces like Cebu and Palawan. There are tons of old churches all over since the country was under Spanish rule for 300 years.
It’s great that you think that the Philippines is a travel destination that won’t disappoint. 🙂 Thanks for that!
It’s a common theme we all share I think, we tend not to explore the places closest to us. Such a beautiful country and wonderful people, I hope more people start putting the Philippines on their travel lists 🙂
I hope so too. 🙂 To help our country live up to its beauty.
I really don’t know why the Philippines isn’t a bigger travel hit yet! Would love to visit the islands sooner than later!
I wonder if it’s an image problem stemming from a disorganized marketing campaign at the national level. Though I think it will be a hit eventually so get to those islands before the masses do 😉
If you go to the Philippines – definitely go North and check out the wonderful hiking there. Everyone heads to the beaches – but don’t miss the UNESCO terraced rice fields of the north and hike into the villages to really explore!
Great list Anil…3 of them are new to me!
Thanks Sherry for the recommendation on the Philippines, it’s one of those places for me I know (and will make sure) to be back to at some point.
As for the 3 you’re missing, knowing you, they won’t be new to you for long!
I think what’s interesting is discovering a place that has not yet been discovered. To explore the unexplore is definetely something many of us would love. I have a friend living in the Philippeans and have heard wonders! It is definetely on my to go list!
Traveling and the unknown are often tied together 😉 Hope you get to the Philippines soon!
the philippines is indeed often skipped by travellers who are doing the southeast asia circuit and i hope this article of yours help introduce the philippines as an alternative destination… beaches are really beautiful and the marine resources are very rich, perfect for those who love to snorkel or to dive 🙂 the rice terraces up north are also one of my fave destinations 🙂
I too hope as people who’ve done the SE Asia circuit once start looking for alternatives in the area, they’ll discover the Philippines.
Great idea for the post. I often struggle with the idea that declaring you should go there will ruin the no one goes there vibe. I see you went geographically diverse. Chile is a great pic and the ones I have met are surprisingly shy. Any thoughts on that? A great one from South America is Uruguay. Everyone wants to go to Argentina and Brazil(and Peru/Bolivia). Do you know where the Argentinians and Brazilians go for the summer? Uruguay. Incredible beaches and very calm(tranquil). I think another good bet for undiscovered, at least by the Northern Hemisphere.
Thoughts of shy Chileans? Want to make sure I answer the right question before I ramble off 😉
Uruguay is a good pick, one that’s especially easy to get to as well, especially on a trip to B.A. where many more people are likely to visit. Good pick – since I see you’re there, what 3 things would you mention to entice a visit for those who might not know much about the country?
Yea for some reason the ones I’ve met are unusually shy, maybe they are different in
Chile. Uruguay is Pristine Beaches, Calm/Relaxed/Tranquil, Super Nice Locals. During the Summer going to Rocha(the best beaches are there) is a must, go to Colonia for a day to see the history, and Montevideo to really soak in Uruguay. Uruguay is a destination that doesn’t hit you over head and say “hey come here” like Bs.As., but if you look closer it is worth way more than a day trip from Argentina and in my opinion at least 2 weeks are needed to scratch the surface. I’ve been in Montevideo for 2.5 months and still have so much to explore.
Some good reasons to visit, thanks for adding 🙂
Very nice post! I would like to explore the Philippines one day, it is in my “must do” list. As you mentioned over 7000 islands to explore… thanks for sharing and make me dream (one day we will go there for sure 🙂
Cheers to that!
I’m a child of Cyprus (’73-’79) and I grew up in what is how the Green Line. There’s a lot of Northern Cyprus I visited with my parents (British RAF, so they had access to the North) and much up there I want to explore. But also, totally agree with you about the disparity with the south. I first crossed the border as an adult in 2006, and while the buildings immediately became shabbier and everything looked less affluent…the food was better and the smiles were bigger. I’ve been trying to straighten this memory out ever since, because I’m wary of romanticising the place….but really, Northern Cyprus was a different, and in some ways much better, experience than the Republic in the South.
(Still need to go back to make sure I’m not putting Northern Cyprus on a pedestal). 🙂
What continues to surprise me on visits is the tension between the North Cypriots and Turkey that seems to be slowly increasing. Likely brought on by the stalemate the north finds itself, although strangely enough, tourism might help it become even more autonomous in the coming years.
Then you REALLY don’t know the place. This tension is likely brought on by asset and wealth transfers to Turkish interests because of unresolved property disputes with Greek Cypriots, 40,000 Turkish soldiers still there, the numbers of Turkish settlers, too many of whom are poor, not well educated, and fundamentalist, lack of autonomy, lack of opportunity for good jobs, and serious corruption. North Cyprus is beautiful and the people are lovely, but it’s not a place to romanticize.
But the tensions go both ways and it’s a complicated matter; more so than I can express in a few lines in a comment. That said, the fact that the north is in the situation it is in is where the tensions stem from. I didn’t go into specifics but obviously the political situation is the source of everything you mention. In a sense we are making the same argument.
I don’t think what I’ve written in this post or the others romanticizes the north either. That said, maybe you didn’t REALLY read what I’ve written.
What about including Sri Lanka in the list ?…its another less popular destination…heard a lot about Afghanistan as well….very well written….liked this post..
I haven’t been there yet so I can’t comment firsthand but definitely something I’ll consider 😉 Thanks for the recommendation.
I would add in Laos as well. Its at the point where there is enough “travel infrastructure” to get around easily, even for solo travelers, but its still at the point where most travel guides are locals and there is not yet too much commercialism – I think in 10 years its going to be buzzing with tourists and corporate travel companies are going to exploit Laos’ natural beauty and brilliance – This is the time to go!
You’re definitely on to something, tourism in Laos was up 25% in 2010; mostly from Chinese, Thai, and Vietnamese travelers according to their national tourism administration (http://www.tourismlaos.org/web/index.php).
So many travelers are going to SouthEast Asia and yet we rarely hear from travelers that visit the Philippines.I making it a point to get there soon.
I hope you do, easily one of my favorite countries I’ve been to.
I think that the Philippines are too diverse to become a hit. I mean, there are too many islands there and even if some larger islands become popular, it won’t happen with all larger islands (it’s the same with Indonesia, even though Bali is very popular it doesn’t mean that the whole country is a “hit”).
Oman and Chile sound really interesting. I’ve heard some good things about Oman (and warm climate definitely helps!).
I think it has less to do with geography than politics, promotion, and perception in the cases of the Philippines and Indonesia.
Oman is a beautiful country and the weather is quite pleasant in the early spring months. They’ve begun a pretty focused travel promotion effort and it will be interesting to see the results in 5-10 years.
I really like this list! I read a lot of travel blogs and I feel like I hear about the same places over and over again. But besides the Philippines, I had not heard really anything about the other three places. All of these locations sound like really interesting places to go. For some reason I’m now really drawn to Oman, even though I’ve never really wanted to go anywhere in the Middle East/Gulf Region. You just made it sound so interesting and exotic. I also think Chile would be so amazing because if you go from top to bottom you can go from more tropical to basically Antarctic, all in the same country! So cool.
Oman is definitely one of the most visually unique places I’ve visited and I would highly recommend it – before it gets loaded with tourists! The country is making a big push to draw in more travelers so that might be quite soon.