I have this thing against hyped words that everyone uses in the travel industry nowadays. We all have our so-called ‘bucketlist’, everyone wants to go ‘off the beaten path’ (seriously, what’s that anyway?) and many bloggers seem to describe that one secret place they accidentally bumped into as ‘the hidden gem’.
Although I’m probably not the most original blogger out here, at least I can say that I often write about places that not a lot of people visit. I don’t write about the most popular bars in London, how to spend a weekend in New York City or how to do destination X on a budget. Quite often, readers leave a comment saying that they have never heard of the place I wrote about before and that makes me happy because apparently, the paths in this world are not nearly as beaten as many would like us to believe.
I have to say that some of my most popular blogs are indeed about often visited places, such as Yellowstone National Park, the Great Walks of New Zealand or the Blue Lagoon in Iceland. However, there are also tons of places I’d like to write about that are off the map, places that I’ve been to but I’m sure you’ve never heard off, unless you have been there of course. I’ll share some with you. Let me know if you’ve ever heard of them before you went!
Alberto De Agostini National Park, Chile
One of my favorite places in the world is Patagonia and if you are visiting, you will most likely end up in national parks such as Torres del Paine or Los Glaciares. They are stunning and absolutely worth a visit, yet if you want to get away from the crowds, make sure to visit Alberto De Agostini National Park as well. As far as I know, you can only get there by boat and you will have to pay up a bit, but it’s well worth it.
In the park you can find plenty of tidewater glaciers (there’s even a Holland Glacier!), the Darwin Mountain Range as well as fjords, plenty wildlife and most of all, silence. A lot of silence. Unfortunately, you can’t really venture out by yourself so there will always be other people with you. Generally that didn’t really bother me much since most of the time I got away from them anyway, or stayed behind if they were going to take a walk.
The highlight of my visit to this national park definitely was a visit to Pia Glacier because I obviously have this thing for glaciers. Just sitting in front of the icewall, staring at it an waiting for ice to break off, in one of the most stunning places of the world. Believe me, Perito Moreno Glacier and its crowded boardwalks are a joke compared to this!
How to get to Alberto de Agostini National Park
As I already mentioned, you can only get here by boat. Australis Cruises has scheduled departures from either Punta Arenas in Chile or Ushuaia in Argentina on a weekly base. The cruise is generally 4-5 days and all inclusive. On our trip, we made 2 excursions each day, mostly inside this national park but also to Cape Horn for example.
Copper River Delta, Alaska
Alaska is one big land of vast wilderness. Many places can only be reached by foot, bushplane or by boat and if you are looking for off the beaten path places, Alaska is your heaven. One of my favorite places in Alaska that does not draw a lot of attention for tourism, unless your are fishing, is a small town called Cordova., located in the eastern part of Prince William Sound.
I took the Alaska Marine Highway ferry to get here and the highlight of my stay was the visit to the Copper River Delta. This is the largest wetland area along the Pacific Coast of North America. There’s an unpaved road passing through it, called the Copper River Road. All the way at the end of the road after nearly 50 miles, you will reach the Child’s Glacier.
For me, it’s one of the most impressive glaciers I’ve ever seen in my life. Not just because you can get incredibly close, but also because it was calving a lot while I was there. The only thing that separates you from the glacier is the Copper River so you can actually get pretty close to the ice. Another sight here is the historical Million Dollar Bridge which was used back in the day to transport all the copper from the mountains to the sea for further distribution. I was in the Copper River Delta in in June and there was nobody there but out little group of three. We spent all afternoon taking short hikes, taking pictures, observing wildlife (mainly birds) and basically enjoying the ultimate feeling of loneliness this massive wilderness area.
How to get to the Copper River Delta
The Copper River Road was destroyed by major floods a couple of years ago and has yet to be rebuilt. Knowing Alaskans, this may take a while. Currently you can only visit the area where the glaciers and the bridge are by boat. If you are considering a visit, try to make arrangements with the folks at Orca Adventure Lodge, I stayed there when visiting and they are the ones who took me out on this awesome trip.
Before researching our trek to Everest Base Camp, I never heard of the small settlement called Gokyo before. However when trying to find an alternative to the incredibly regular Everest Base Camp Trek, I found a possibility to hike to EBC via Gokyo. This gathering of small buildings is located at 4.750 meters above sealevel all the way at the end of the Gokyo Valley.
Most visitors will arrive through this valley and just before the village there are three alpine lakes, also referred to as the Gokyo Lakes. They are incredibly photogenic and I had a hard time putting away my camera. The town is based on the shores of the third lake and on the other side of town, you can climb a ridge for a great view over the Ngozumpa Glacier, which streams down from Cho Oyu, one of the four peaks in this area of 8.000 meters and up. From Gokyo it’s a popular trek up to Gokyo Ri where you get awesome views over all of the region.
In town you will also find a small store which claims to be the highest bookstore in the world. I actually bought my copy of ‘The Climb’ there, the story by Anatoli Boukreev, also known as the other side of the story opposed to Jon Krakauer’s ‘Into Thin Air’. Looking back at our trek, this was probably the most scenic place of them all!
How to get to Gokyo
You will have to walk! If you want to do it properly, which is slowly to avoid altitude sickness, make sure to take at least 7 days from Lukla, where to closest airport is located. You can walk in/out through the Gokyo Valley and another way to get there is over the grueling Cho La Pass, which is for experienced hikers only!
Iceland receives a lot of visitors each year but the majority of them are sticking to the ring road during their visit. Although there is plenty to see and do if you follow this route, I would also definitely recommend you visiting Iceland’s interior as well. The most beautiful part of the interior of Iceland I’ve been to so far, is a mountain ridge called Þórsmörk (Thorsmork), located at the end of the popular Laugavegur Trek. Unless you are hiking this trek, you will probably never make it to Þórsmörk which is a shame, especially if you love stunning places.
The Þórsmörk valley is rather green compared to the rest of Iceland and surrounded by glaciers and volcanoes, the Eyjafjallajökull being the most famous of them. In Þórsmörk you can go trekking, there are numerous day hikes that will take you across some of the most breathtaking scenery you will ever see. They also have a beautiful mountain here called Mount Rjúpnafell which you can climb with quite a bit of stamina. If you decide to stay here for a couple of days, go camping or stay in the mountain huts. It’s very simple but I’m sure you will absolutely love it!
How to get to Þórsmörk
Unless you have a sturdy 4WD (a Toyota RAV4 will not do) and ample experience in serious river crossings with your car, you will have to take the bus to get there. We always use Reykjavík Excursions who run a bus there on a daily base and the drive is stunning, especially the part where the bus crosses the wild Krossá River.
I’m sure you’ve seen those stunning pics of a lone hiker up on a viewing point above a fjord in Norway, overlooking the place. We have not been to those places, simply because those hikes were not open when we went to Norway in June, which is rather early in the season. However, we don’t really mind because famous hikes such as Trolltunga or Preikestolen attract a lot of visitors. Just Google the latter one and most pics you will see, are filled with people on a tiny piece of rock, trying to capture the same point of view.
We were lucky to find an amazing view over the Nærøyfjord which is one of the narrowest fjords in Norway. It’s a sturdy hike up to Rimstigen, a viewpoint over the fjord, but well worth all the effort. We barely saw anyone else so had most of the trail to ourselves, which made it even more impressive. Don’t attempt this hike if you have a fear of heights though, it’s very steep and rather narrow at some places, even I found it quite a challenge at times, while locals say it’s just an easy hike. Those crazy Norwegians!
How to get to Rimstigen
We flew to Bergen, rented a car and drove to down to a town called Gudvangen. Here, follow the one lane road to Bakka and soon you will reach the end of the road, where you will find the trailhead. It’s about a 2 hour hike up from the trailhead and it took us another 90 minutes to get down again
Nelson Lakes National Park, New Zealand
Those of you who have been to New Zealand may have heard of this national park, yet it still receives way less visitors than most of the other national parks here. Every time I speak to people who have been to New Zealand, they tell me they skipped Nelson Lakes National Park, which is SUCH a shame. Really, if you want to visit a beautiful place, go here! I actually was here three times, first time in 2002 and second time in 20111 when we hiked up to Bushline Hut for the night. And then again in 2018.
Nelson Lakes National Park has two major lakes, Lake Rotoiti and Lake Rotoroa. As in many national parks in New Zealand, hiking is the main activity here and you will find plenty of (mostly empty) trails. A local advised us to hike up to Bushline Hut and spend the night here, before heading down again. We were the only ones in this hut (as opposed to huts on the Great Walks of New Zealand where we were crammed together with other hikers) and it was one of the best hikes of the trip. If you don’t fancy hiking all the way up above the treeline, there are also various shoreline walks at Lake Rotoiti. If you decide to visit Nelson Lakes National Park, I can guarantee that you won’t be disappointed!
How to get to Nelson Lakes National Park
The park is located in the northern part of New Zealand’s Southern Island. The town of Saint Arnaud is based at the shores of Lake Rotoiti, the most visited lake. Lake Rotoroa is a bit more challenging to visit and is visited even less.
Another great hike is the Angelust Hut hike, not for the fain hearted but well worth you hard work. Read all you need to know about it here.
Conclusion and disclaimer
It took me almost a full day to write this blog and while doing so, I realized that I’m one hell of a lucky person to be able to have been to these amazing natural places. I hope I’ve shown you that there is still a lot of unspoiled nature on this planet, you just have to leave the beaten path and sometimes get out of your comfort zone to actually get there.
So tell me, did you ever hear of any of those places before? Which one?