BEAT THE CROWDS
Instead of visiting the usual overcrowded tourist destinations, make it a point to go a bit more off the beaten path next year. After all, "getting away from it all" is the best part of vacation. Avoid the crowds in 2019 with these largely tourist-free vacations. You might just fall in love with an overlooked spot — not to mention a culture and cuisine you've never experienced. Book now, before everybody else does.
YOHO NATIONAL PARK | BRITISH COLUMBIA, CANADA
Banff National Park draws travelers to its picture-perfect Canadian Rocky Mountain peaks and glacier lakes — nearly 3 million between April and September alone — but you'll find plenty of undisrupted natural beauty right next door at the less populated Yoho National Park. There'll be fewer photo-bombers near the cascading waterfalls, trails circling the turquoise-colored Emerald Lake, and while exploring the Burgess Shale Fossil Beds.
With miles of unspoiled countryside, dense forests, and pristine beaches that have been left largely untouched by tourists, Latvia might be one of the world's most underrated places to visit. The Baltic state offers Nordic-esque experiences that rival those hugely popular Icelandic trips you've seen take over your Instagram feed lately. The coastal capital, Riga, is a mix of modern and classic with cobbled streets, medieval churches, and notable wooden and art nouveau architecture. Be sure to check out the city's Central Market — Europe's largest market and bazaar — and Freedom Monument, a nod to Latvia's battle for independence.
FINGER LAKES | NEW YORK, USA
There's no denying California's Napa and Sonoma valleys are thelifeblood of winemaking in the U.S., but all that prestige can attract big crowds. Escape to the beautiful, crowd-free Finger Lakes region of New York for a weekend of wine tasting instead. The region's vast collection of wineries — some of which overlook the infamous long, thin lakes and picturesque stretches of vineyards — are worth visiting for just about everything from delicate rieslings to fruit-forward pinot noirs.
SETOUCHI REGION, JAPAN
The bustling metropolis of Tokyo might be bursting at the seams with people, architecture, culture, and dining and shopping destinations, but a quieter escape in Japan does exist. Consider the Setouchi region, primarily known for the city of Hiroshima and gorgeous, immaculate landscapes. Japan might be gearing up for the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo, but a visit to the Setouchi region is a breath of fresh air and filled with hidden gems — from jaw-dropping landscapes and tranquil temples to world-class art and cycling trails over beautiful suspension bridges to all-you-can-eat oysters and the rarest steak in the world, olive-fed Wagyu.
Travelers flock to Los Cabos, Cancún and the Mayan Riviera, Puerto Vallarta, and Mexico City often, but Mérida, "Yucatán's White City," has remained mostly under the radar. One of Mexico's finest old colonial cities is filled with European-influenced city plazas and thrives on creative energy from a growing number of artists, designers, and antiques dealers. The city is also the perfect homebase for exploring the area's many ancient Mayan sites, including Chichén Itzá, Tulum, and the less-overrun ruins of Uxmal.
Head off the beaten path to Central America's safest and least visited country, Belize, to explore mystical caves, wondrous aquatic habitats, and lush national parks. It's a budget-friendly paradise for backpackers and scuba divers with an underwater world just off its coastline. The Belize Barrier Reef, teeming with marine life and home to hundreds of low-lying islands, is one of the region’s most beautiful natural attractions.
PELOPONNESE PENINSULA REGION, GREECE
For a Greek destination that's not swarming with tourists, book at trip to the Peloponnese Peninsula region in Southern Greece. Travelers can still experience classic Greek culture without having to battle the crowds found on popular islands nearby like Mykonos. The area jutting into the Mediterranean offers stunning and secluded beaches, walking trails, and cultural marvels like Mycenae — the site of the oldest civilization in mainland Europe.
It's hard to believe Colombia's second-largest city, Medellín, was once mostly known for its drug trade and high murder rate. Today, the city has earned a stellar reputation as one of the most livable cities in South America and has been called the world's most innovative city thanks to accessible public transportation and other cutting-edge infrastructures, civic spaces, libraries, art galleries, and incredibly welcoming people throughout the city. Be sure to spend a few days outside of the city in rural towns like Santa Fe de Antioquia, Guatape, Jardin, and Tamesis, too.
Landlocked by Austria and Switzerland, the tiny, German-speaking principality of Liechtenstein offers the same mountain scenery and winter sports as its oft-visited bigger neighbors. In Europe’s second-least-visited country, you'll also find medieval castles and plenty of noteworthy art galleries and museums like the surprisingly interesting little Postmuseum, which showcases all of the national stamps issued since 1912. Visitors can also traverse the alpine landscapes and villages by foot via a network of trails.
WHITSUNDAY ISLANDS, AUSTRALIA
Some of Australia's most exquisite, secluded beaches can be found on Queensland's Whitsunday Islands. The 74-island archipelago — 70 of which are uninhabited — serves as a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef. Despite coral-bleaching damage caused by climate change, experts in Australia have recently reported that the reef is showing signs of recovery. We'd still suggest seeing this vulnerable natural wonder while you can, and what better way than from a white sand beach?
BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
Instead of visiting Croatia and its popular seaside city of Dubrovnik, which has been forced to drastically cut its number of daily visitors to protect its UNESCO status, venture to its intriguing neighbor to the north — Bosnia and Herzegovina. As one of the last undiscovered regions of the southern Alps, the culturally diverse and historically rich Balkan country is home to vast tracts of untouched nature, including impressive waterfalls and mountains, as well as raftable rivers and bargain-value skiing; numerous medieval castle ruins; and preserved landmarks like the bridge where World War I ignited; various cultural influences (from Austro-Hungarian to Islamic); and incredibly hospitable people.
An island in South Asia, the diverse country of Sri Lanka has gone largely unnoticed. But it's an appealing option and one of Lonely Planet's top 10 countries to visit in 2019 for many reasons: a sensational culinary scene, history and culture, and natural beauty — from waterfalls to wildlife game drives to tea plantations to coastal towns with stunning beaches. It's also easier than ever to get there, and there's an range of family-friendly resorts and boutique hotels to stay now. Still, for those who've relied on Thailand and Bali for a tropical beach break, it's like stumbling upon a secret destination.
Compared to the boat-crowded ports of the Galápagos Islands, Madagascar, the huge island off the southeast coast of Africa, is a giant playground for thousands of animal species, some of which can't be found anywhere else in the world. With its rainforests, deserts, beaches, and reefs, this paradise in the Indian Ocean — the fourth-largest island in the world and boasting 42 national parks and reserves — is a dream destination for outdoor enthusiasts. You're sure to spot lemurs, geckos, moths, birds, and baobabs (massive centuries-old trees).
JORDAN TRAIL, JORDAN
For some serious soul searching, hit the Jordan Trail, a newly mapped, 400-mile trek stretching across the length of Jordan. The cross-country trail through the heart of the Middle East passes through 52 communities and a range of terrains: quiet wilderness, red desert, sandstone canyons, and rocky landscape splashed with surreal colors. Unlike more well-known trails such as the Pacific Crest Trail, which recently issued more permits than actual trail miles, this alluring Middle Eastern trail is a once-in-a-lifetime journey for adventurers seeking a more solitary hike with breathtaking landscapes and cultural immersion along the way. In the end, this unforgettable path has an even bigger reward: the glistening shores of the Red Sea.
ORCAS ISLAND | WASHINGTON, USA
Horseshoe-shaped Orcas Island, the largest of the San Juan Islands in the northwestern pocket of Washington state, is only reachable by car ferry. Deemed "the gem of the San Juans" by locals, this remote island is a combo of stunning shoreline, rural and hilly terrain (as well as the islands' highest peak), and dense forest. Roads and trails wind past charming hamlets, artists' studios, and old barns. Moran State Park features gin-blue lakes for swimming or kayaking and trails for hiking, biking, or horseback riding.
The Welsh seaside region of Pembrokeshire — known for its legendary coastal scenery and protected by Britain’s only coastal National Park — is just a 4½-hour train ride away from London. Surrounded by water on three sides (and no part more than 14 miles from the coast), it can feel like the most peaceful place in the world. Take in the coastal scenery along the Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail, which hugs the rugged coastline for 186 miles, and stop in the slow-paced fishing villages as you go.
Nestled high in the Himalayas, the remote Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan only allows a limited number of foreigners into the country each year. Visitors — except those with Indian, Maldivian, or Bangladeshi passports — must get a visa, book trips through a licensed Bhutanese tour operator, and pay a "minimum daily package" ($200 or $250 a day, depending on the month) in advance. Once you've met all the requirements, you'll be sweetly rewarded with a destination mostly untouched by tourism. It's like a whole other world — one that's particularly committed to happiness and the environment.
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND
While a trip to Dublin should definitely be on your bucket list, its less-crowded neighbor to the north, Belfast, shouldn't be discounted. The Northern Ireland capital, part of the United Kingdom, boasts historic spots like the Titanic Museum and the scenic Antrim Coast and Glens. Venture out to Giant's Causeway, a striking landscape of 40,000 massive black basalt columns sticking out of the sea — formed by an ancient volcanic fissure (or giants, according to folklore).
URUGUAY WINE COUNTRY, URUGUAY
Tucked between behemoth winemaking neighbors Argentina and Brazil, idyllic Uruguay has quietly grown into a wine and food destination. Small, under-the-radar vineyards — many of which opened their doors for public tours and tastings in the past few years — have piqued the interest of wine lovers with their Tannat-based reds and vibrant whites. Travelers can taste their way through the different winegrowing regions — whether its a Tannat from the Canelones region or an albariño from Bodega Garzón paired with the country's world-class seafood, olive oils, and pasture-raised meats.