There are undoubtedly a plethora of interesting and beautiful places to visit in our world. Many of these places, such as major landmarks in cities like New York, Paris, and Rome, are already on a the travel wish lists of many. Though these locations are absolutely deserving of the wonder they inspire, heavy tourism to these locations is a real problem for some nonetheless. Outside of these areas being overtaken by chain stores and flooded with scammers as a result of their fame, tourist destinations tend not to embody the culture of their regions. If you want to experience a region’s beauty and culture without the controlled and crowded atmosphere that often defines tourist hotspots, you might be interested in some of the destinations listed below.
1.) Hetch Hetchy Valley (Yosemite National Park, California, USA)
If you have heard of Hetch Hetchy Valley, you are likely an environmentalist nerd like me. If not, then I do not mean to invalidate you environmental-nerdery, please allow me to tell you about this amazing location. Hetch Hetchy is a reservoir in the northwestern region of the infinitely more famous Yosemite National Park. In its heyday, it was often just as highly acclaimed for its beauty as Yosemite. The reason I speak in the past-tense is because the valley has undergone a drastic change. In 1923, the O’Shaughnessy Dam was built on the nearby Tuolumne River, subsequently causing Hetch Hetchy Valley to flood. The incident incited major controversy amongst preservationists for decades, but the dam was built, and remains to this day. Though the valley’s floor cannot be reached, the area still retains a striking beauty, offering a number of breathtaking vistas for hikers. Given that there has been a resurgence in support for returning the valley to its original state, you may want to visit this location before it undergoes yet another transformation, and re-enters the public eye.
2.) Saksaywaman (Cusco, Peru)
Similar to Hetch Hetchy, this location lives in the shadow of a more famous relative. Saksaywaman is a citadel, a fortified area of a city, located in the capital of the Inca Empire. Regarding Incan ruins, most flock to Machu Picchu, which was recently deemed one of the new seven wonders of the world. If you want to take a trip off the beaten-path, Saksaywaman is well-renowned for its beauty, and its looks dramatically differ from the appearance of Machu Picchu. The citadel is placed on a flatter, less green landscape, with countless stones looking almost as sturdy and unscathed as the day they were placed there. Given as the location is on the UNESCO World Heritage List, the site is of clear historical significance, and allows one to have a decidedly less tourist-y introduction to the ruins of a once mighty empire.
3.) Hashima Island (Nagasaki, Japan)
Out of all of the entries on this list, Hashima Island may be among one of the most difficult to get to. More commonly known as Gunkanjima Island, translating roughly to “Battleship,” this abandoned, urban island has been decaying on its own right outside of Nagasaki since 1974. The island used to be home to over 5,000 people, operating undersea coal mines during Japan’s industrialization until the reserves neared depletion. It was not until April 22nd, 2009 that the island was re-opened to tourists, and with a number of restrictions. To enter the island, you must pay for and take an hour long boat trip, after which you pay another fee to get a quick tour of the island itself. The tour is said not to be very extensive, and is extremely restrictive due to the dangers inherent to the location. Nonetheless, the challenge of getting to the area, the unique concept of it, and the fact that the site is a UNESCO World Heritage site offer more than enough reason to embark on the journey.
4.) Huacachina, Peru
Huacachina is a small village in southwestern Peru with a population of one hundred. What makes this area a sought-after travel destination is its location: the village completely envelops a small but plush oasis, surrounded by sand dunes. The image is almost something out of a story book, but this village is no mirage. The area is largely resort-based due to its unique aesthetic, and historically has attracted visitors from the nearby city of Ica. However, recently, the village has been receiving more international attention, with tourists being drawn to the area for the purpose of sand-boarding, the rumored healing properties of the area’s water and mud, and riding dune buggies.
5.) Shanghai, China
China is an astoundingly large nation, with cities containing the population of Philadelphia not even making it onto most maps. For most westerners, general knowledge concerning China, let alone trips to the country, tend to be localized to two cities: Hong Kong and Beijing. However, if people know a third, it is likely to be Shanghai. Being that it is the most populous city in China, its lack of mention in the western world is surprising to say the least. The city is one of few placed under direct administrative control of the government, meaning that it undergoes frequent, extensive urban planning; rendering the city’s futuristic skyline and ability to contain over 24 million people. Western visitors to Shanghai will find little company there, as the city is mainly a popular destination for other Chinese citizens. This fact is only part of what makes Shanghai a unique and rich cultural experience unlike what one might experience in one of the more standard destinations. However, be warned, for an American citizen a Chinese visa costs $140. On the bright side, due to the fact that the price is the same for American citizens across the board, there is nothing stopping you from getting a visa that is good for ten years.
In your future travels to any of the above locations, or similar unknown destinations, try to keep in mind that just as there are issues prevalent to tourist areas, lesser-known locations can face a visitor with unique and unexpected challenges. From language barriers to decreased help and amenities for a foreign tourist, these locations will require preparation to visit and a positive, quick-thinking attitude. Though these areas should be tackled with care by the potential visitor, do not let this deter you from the lesser traveled path. After all, though the challenges can be difficult and unusual, such experiences will inevitably help your growth, developing problem-solving skills that cross cultures. With that, I wish for you to stay safe, and stay adventurous. You’ll have a hell of a lot of stories to tell.