Off the beaten path travel is the dream of the intrepid traveller and after over 20 years of exploring the world, I have had many.
When you make the effort to get away from the tourist crowds you can find some very rewarding travel opportunities.
Some adventures are the ones that you would be very lucky to see, while others will still remain far away from the beaten path.
This is a selection of some of my favourite off the beaten path travel destinations.
1. The Baliem Valley in the Central Papuan Highlands
Papua is great for off the beaten path adventure. I personally had one of the best travel experiences ever on the Indonesian side high up in the central highlands.
First, you will need to get into Indonesia and then take a flight to the city of Jayapura. From there you take another flight to the Baliem Valley, located in the central highlands.
In the valley you will already feel away from it all, but you are still not quite off the beaten path. It still gets its share of visitors, mostly in the high season of July and August, but most of those just stay in the valley itself and see the tribal villages located around there.
The real trick is to find yourself a local guide in Wamena, and head up away from the main valley and into the hills and mountains in the surrounding countryside.
There you can hike between villages and stay with the local tribes in their huts.
The tribes are very friendly and will treat you as an honoured guest.
Up in the highlands, hiking away, you may not come across another foreigner for weeks. You will truly be very remote, and having a great adventure in some beautiful countryside.
An article about my adventure in the Baliem Valley.
2. The Wahkan Valley in Tajikistan (or Afghanistan)
The Wakhan Valley is located between Tajikistan and Afghanistan. I have travelled on the Tajikistan side and the Afghanistan side. It is largely a peaceful area with very friendly people and absolutely beautiful scenery.
On the Tajikistan side you have the Pamir Mountains and on the Afghanistan side the Hindu Kush, stretching far into the distance. In-between is the Wakhan Valley.
You will come across old fortresses positioned up in the mountains, and hot springs to relax in. Getting around is largely by walking or waiting around for an old car to fill up that regularly break down.
This is a very remote area and not visited by many people. There is a weekly border market between the two countries where Afghan traders cross into the middle of the border zone and conduct business with the Tajiks.
This is a great chance to meet the local people from Afghanistan, or you could even cross into the Afghan side with the proper visa.
Just getting to the valley is a great adventure in itself, either by coming through the Pamir Mountains or a long 15-20 hour drive from Dushanbe.
My favourite guide to Tajikistan:
3. Sikkim in India
Sikkim could easily be described as one of the best places to visit in the Himalayas. It is a small state in India sandwiched between Nepal and Bhutan.
What makes it such a great place to escape the crowds?
First of all, you need to get a permit to visit the place, but this can be done in Darjeeling which is nearby.
The second is its remoteness. You really have to go on a mission to get all the way up there. But once you have made it you will be in awe.
In the foothills of the mountains, you have Buddhist monasteries with peaceful monks wandering around. You could get lucky and experience a ritual cham dance by the monks dressed in masks and colourful robes.
A good way to get around is to rent a car and head up higher into the mountains for stunning views. You will see some other travellers there, but not many due to the remoteness of the region. If you like mountains and Buddhist culture, then this is the place to be.
Article about Sikkim here.
The ultimate traveller’s bible to India:
4. The tribes of the Omo Valley in Ethiopia
Visiting the tribal regions of the Omo Valley isn’t necessarily getting off the beaten path, as tours come through the area regularly. Although it is certainly not heavily visited as without being on an expensive tour it can be very hard to get there.
So you need to hitchhike into the area, which can be very difficult. I waited around a whole day for a car but none came. You will eventually get a ride in and the occasional ride to get around, but the real trick is to get away from the roads and where the tours go, and just start walking into the bush.
It is very dry and harsh terrain, and very hot. The tribal villages you come across will sometimes not be used to tourists. I had some women run off scared at the site off me. Was it my looks? No, apparently they were afraid of my camera.
It is when you stay in these villages and sleep with the tribes that you get to have a really good feel for the place. It is a fascinating region to be in, with many different cultural experiences.
It is important to try and take a local guide in with you so they can translate and talk with the people.
There is a river you can cross, and at that point, you have escaped any chance of tour groups coming through. You will truly be away from it all, walking through steaming hot African forest and up over the plains, visiting tribal villages as you go.
The perfect escape from the modern world.
Article about Ethiopian tribes here.
Also if you want to know more about why I highly recommend travelling to Ethiopia then read my article about why you should go there.
By far the best guide I have used to any country:
5. The Kelabit Highlands in Borneo
There’s remote and then there’s remote. Yes, the Kelabit Highlands really are in the middle of nowhere. They are in the centre of Borneo on the Malaysian side, and the only real way to reach there at the moment is by a small 15 seater propellor plane from the coastal city of Miri.
Because it is so hard to get to, and with a limited amount of people able to reach there per day because of limited space on the flights, you could be up there with maybe only several other travellers.
The main reason to go is, as with so many places mentioned, the uniqueness of its people. They are very friendly, untouched by mass tourism, and will welcome you into their homes.
The best thing to do there is to go hiking up into the mountains and jungle. There you will find peaceful remote villages where time stands still.
You can get yourself a guide (preferably a local hunter), to take you into the jungle hiking and sleeping there in the wild. The hunter will carry a rifle and will try to kill some meat for dinner along the way. Being in the jungle with all the nasty creepy crawlies is great fun.
Article about the Kelabit Highlands here.
Check out my gear list for what to pack for travel to South-East-Asia.
Not the most detailed guide to the area but the best there is:
Iran is a country heavily over-missed by the backpacking community, and it is a shame. Here you have everything you could want on a trip: friendly locals, ancient cultures, mountains, deserts and more.
Let’s get to the first point, the friendly people. Yes believe it or not despite the bad international image of Iran, the majority of the people there are welcoming to foreigners. Naturally, you will get some who will be against visitors, but they are thankfully the minority.
All the rest just makes it even more interesting with such a variety of things to do.
The fact that not many travellers make it to Iran is how you can have some great adventures away from it all.
You can easily find yourself alone from other tourists for days at a time, depending on where you are. Escape into the mountains or chill out in a desert oasis. Shop around in the most impressive bazaars I have ever seen, and admire the beautiful old buildings
Don’t let the international media fool you. Iran is safe and friendly to visit.
Article about Iran here.
I would actually recommend checking for other articles on travel blogs about Iran as they tend to have the most up to date information, but if you want a guide this is currently the best:
Kyrgyzstan as a country certainly isn’t way off the beaten path as travellers do make their way through there. You will however see nowhere near the number of tourists as in other places, and with such great mountain scenery, you can easily escape away from anyone.
This landlocked country is small and great for exploring with an interesting mix of people. You can find yourself in ex-Soviet cities like Bishkek wining and dining, and the next moment staying with nomads up in the mountains.
It is the mountains that are the big drawcard. During the summer months, you can ride on horses up through mountain passes or go hiking. The horses here run wild but are managed by nomadic herders.
There are some good lakes to relax by, and you can get yourself some mud spa treatments in old Soviet resort towns, where you will meet some interesting characters.
Being out of the way means making an effort to get there unless you fly off course. Otherwise, it is a very interesting journey overland from China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, or Tajikistan. This is part of the reason fewer travellers visit.
This is personally one of my favourite countries. It is just waiting for people to come and discover its natural beauty.
Article about Kyrgyzstan here.
Bradt Travel Guides Kyrgyzstan is the best for the country:
Do you want to seriously get away from everything? Go where almost no-one goes? Then Somaliland is your port of call.
Somaliland instils fear in many people because they associate it with Somalia. However it is its own proclaimed country, with its own security forces, and largely safe to visit.
I spent two weeks in Somaliland and only met two other travellers in that whole time.
So why go there apart from getting off the beaten path? Well as usual the majority of the people are friendly, the countryside is beautiful, and there is a certain amount of excitement about being somewhere that technically by law you need to have your own private soldier when visiting outside of the capital.
I only took a soldier for one day and the rest of the time got away without one.
Just hanging around is the name of the game. Meet locals on dusty side street cafes and spend the afternoon drinking coffee and chatting and you will easily meet some very interesting people.
Somaliland will definitely not appeal to everyone. It’s very hot in the summer and moving around can be a pain. Women may feel a little less comfortable than men here, being a more conservative Muslim country.
That said, most of the people I met were genuinely curious and happy to meet a foreigner as many don’t visit their country. That is the appeal.
Article about Somaliland here.
Current best guide to Somaliland:
9. Western Tanzania
Tanzania is a very touristed country. With the paradise islands like Zanzibar on its coastline and the famous national parks for safaris such as the Serengeti, it’s hard to imagine getting away from the main tourist trails. But it can be done.
One place I discovered for that is in the western part of Tanzania by the lake that borders with the Congo, and the small places inland that you pass through.
Now, this is extremely tough travelling, but it’s worth it for those memories of waking up in a small hotel in a town in the middle of nowhere that hardly sees any visitors, except those few similar minded travellers getting away from it all.
There are some national parks around there as well. Gombe Stream is a good one for viewing chimpanzees in the wild. This park is not really off the beaten path as the town has an airport where people do fly in for a few days to visit and then leave. But it is nowhere near as busy as the big national parks, receiving only a few small groups a day.
Just hanging out by the lake eating fresh fish and driving around on motorbikes is an easy way to spend a day.
Travelling down to the western part to the Zambian and Malawi border you have no option but to go on the local buses that are extremely uncomfortable, old, over-filled, and regularly breaking down on rocky roads where almost no-one is around, and you may not see another vehicle for the whole day.
But hey, you wanted to get away from everything, right?
Article about Western Tanzania here.
Welcome to the Arctic!
There are a few places that come to mind when thinking about escaping everything, but where better than high up in the Arctic.
Svalbard is a territory governed by Norway and is way up in the Arctic with 24-hour daylight in summer, followed by 24 hours darkness in winter.
Surprisingly it’s not that hard to get to, with flights from Oslo regularly making the trip. Once up there you can do a variety of activities, many seasonal.
In summer go hiking, polar bear spotting, dog sledging on wheels. In winter head out on a snowmobile or hike up a glacier to an ice cave, or do some real dog sledging on the snow.
Joining in the drinking nightlife with the fun going locals is great fun as well, as there are certainly many interesting characters living there.
Tour groups do go to Svalbard, but it’s such a remote place it’s easy to find your own space.
Whatever you may do, the Arctic is one of the best places in the world to get off the beaten path, and Svalbard is an easy entry point.
Article about Svalbard here.
The only decent guide to Svalbard:
Enjoy Getting Off The Beaten Path
So this is just a small selection of some great places to visit and escape from it all.
Personally, I can tell you that some of the best travel experiences you will ever have will be off the beaten path. I can guarantee you that.
Read my post about what I recommend you should pack for your adventure travels.
If you’re interested in more countries to visit then check out my post about 10 of the cheapest countries you can travel to.
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