Cool alternatives to mainstream destinations

Travel inspiration

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Get the feel without the crowds. Here’s our list of places to see if you’re done with the obvious

Different people like different things, and when it comes to how you spend your free time, doing what you want to do is more important than ever. That’s why it can be frustrating to, let’s say, plan a long weekend in a fantastic city only to realize that about a million other people have had the same idea. To help you get around this, we’ve taken a few of the most popular tourist spots from around the world and found a lesser-known alternative.

Like Barcelona? Consider Almería

Heading east of Almería brings you to the Cabo de GataHeading east of Almería brings you to the Cabo de Gata — Shutterstock

Almost exactly halfway between the tourist hotspots of Málaga and Alicante is Almería, its beaches long and inviting, with the landscape surrounding the city stretching back into deserts and mountains.

The city became a city as far back as the year 955 when it was under the rule of the Caliph of Cordoba, and the Alcazaba dates initially from this time. A huge fortress built on a hilltop overlooking the city, its layers of walls and towers hold houses, squares, and a mosque. A second hilltop is home to the Castillo de San Cristóbal, a mixture of styles and denominations constructed by both Muslim architects and by Christian Templars after the 1147 conquest of the city. It’s the perfect place for a fabulous overview of the city’s rich and multicultural story.

 

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Heading into the city itself, Las Ramblas is the place you’ll likely find yourself, a labyrinth of side streets, alleys and courtyards that connect the main thoroughfares. It means you’re forever diving off down tiny streets simply to see what you might find: a neighborhood tapas bar; a chapel; a small, unexpected amphitheater; cafes, boutiques, squares with gently trickling fountains.

For relaxation, the beaches to the west of the city are popular with locals, while heading east brings you to the Cabo de Gata and beyond that the wild nature reserve of the same name. Otherwise, the Aire de Almería used to be a souk, but has been transformed into traditional Arabic baths for absolute relaxation in beautiful, ancient surroundings.

Like Machu Picchu? Consider Tiwanaku

Tiwanaku is one of the largest archaeological sites in South AmericaTiwanaku is one of the largest archaeological sites in South America — Shutterstock

For somewhere famously off the beaten track (literally until the early 20th century), Machu Picchu still receives around one and a half million tourists every year. It’s little wonder really; one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, people fly to Peru from all corners of the earth to visit it. This does mean that visitor numbers are being capped with tougher entry requirements including three separate phases of tourist entry to reduce the damage done by thousands of pairs of boot-covered feet and the humans they’re attached to.

However, over the border in Bolivia and an easy day trip from La Paz is one of the largest archaeological sites in South America, that of Tiwanaku (also spelled variously Tiahuanaco, Tihuanaco, or Tiahuanacu). Four square kilometers of monoliths, archways, pyramids, statues, and burial sites as well as two good museums, it can’t rival Machu Picchu for sheer drama, but it’s a tantalizing draw.

Delve into the mysteries of a city that would have peaked at a population of around 20,000 people, a civilization that rose and fell around five centuries before the Inca yet left few clues behind, and a belief system that seemingly conducted ceremonies to do with the stars and the earth, this is the place for you.

Like Boracay Island and Maya Bay? Consider Siquijor and Mactan

There are a million bays and beaches across south-east Asia, and Boracay Island in the Philippines and Maya Bay in Thailand are two of the most famous, starring in more Instagram posts than the internet has room for. Of course, almost nowhere in this part of the world is “undiscovered” any more, but there are some less-visited spots that offer more than just lying on the beach.

Siquijor is a relatively small island, but it’s got everything you could want from a tropical paradise, being ringed with pristine sandy beaches, and with an interior densely packed with lush forests, and crystal clear pools fed by crashing waterfalls. There’s even something for the history buffs amongst you, with ancient churches in some of the local villages; in fact, the island has been the source of superstition surrounding sorcery and witchcraft for centuries.

At Koh Rong Samloem, you can simply stop and enjoy the endless days with the sun and the wavesAt Koh Rong Samloem, you can simply stop and enjoy the endless days with the sun and the waves — Shutterstock

Mactan is similarly historic, but for far more solid reasons. It was the site of the Battle of Mactan where the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan met his end at the hands of Lapu-Lapu, the first national hero of the Philippines. Explore the site then head to the water for snorkeling, swimming, sunbathing, sailing, and enjoying the local seafood.

If you finally need to escape completely, what about Koh Rong Samloem in Cambodia? Peaceful and undeveloped, it’s a far cry from even the places mentioned above. To be honest, there’s actually very little to do aside from simply stop and enjoy the endless days with the sun and the waves. Rent accommodation in the nearby fishing village of M’pay Bay, and spend your days doing absolutely nothing.

Like Giza and Luxor? Consider Saqqara and Abydos

 

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The Pyramids of Giza are one of the most famous sights on the planet. Constructed at the time of the Third Dynasty of Ancient Egypt, a time when mammoths still roamed the earth (around 2580–2560 BCE), they attract almost 15 million visitors per year. However, 30 km south of Cairo you’ll find Saqqara, and structures built during the Second Dynasty, hundreds of years before that.

Covering an area of around 7 km by 1.5 km, Saqqara is home to a number of pyramids and was originally the necropolis for Memphis, the capital of ancient Egypt. The Pyramid of Djoser is located here, a monument to the advancement of architecture from the earlier tombs and complexes that surround it.

Those complexes, however, give an insight into life as a non-royal, as the tombs of others buried here — administrators, scribes, officials — contain friezes and carvings depicting daily life, which in many ways is more interesting for its scarcity elsewhere.

Abydos is home to a vast necropolis, including the temple of Seti IAbydos is home to a vast necropolis, including the temple of Seti I — Shutterstock

Older still is the city of Abydos (built around 3200–3000 BCE). It was once the main site of worship for the god Osiris, and became Egypt’s most important burial center. It’s now overshadowed by Luxor, around a three-hour drive to the south, but it’s home to a vast necropolis (considered one of the most important sites in the country) including the temple of Seti I, built between 1292–1189 BCE for Seti himself, and finished by his son, Rameses II.

The interiors of many of the temples, tombs, and chapels are still vibrantly colored even millennia later, and the artistry is like nothing else that remains on any other site in the country. What makes it even more special is the Hall of Cartouches, also known as the Abydos King List, a list of 72 pharaohs of Egypt carved chronologically into the walls.

Like Sydney? Consider Adelaide

Adelaide’s modern feel is set against a backdrop of modest yet handsome Victorian buildings and squaresAdelaide’s modern feel is set against a backdrop of modest yet handsome Victorian buildings and squares — Shutterstock

Even by Australian standards, Adelaide is a pretty long way from anywhere. Okay, so Perth is all the way over on the west coast, but being the only major city out there it has the exclusivity of “look at me, I’m Perth!”

Adelaide doesn’t really have that. 650 km from Melbourne and over 1,100 km from Sydney, its location, coupled with the rise of those two cities over the past 150 years, has meant that Adelaide has been given a bit of freedom to expand, growing to include aspects both physical and social that you might not expect from a provincial city.

I say provincial: it’s the capital of South Australia and home to over 1.3 million people, so it’s a substantial size. What’s more provincial is the feel of the place. It’s friendly, laid-back and casual, but with the ability to turn it on when needed. Understated but self-assured is probably the best way to describe it. Indeed, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was known for its religious freedom and progressive political stances. These in turn have led to its having one of the highest qualities of life in the world today; a liberal, multicultural city filled with festivals, sports, nightlife, and art, all set against a backdrop of modest yet handsome Victorian buildings and squares.

It’s got all the things you’d expect of an Aussie city: beaches, great food, green spaces, and friendly people. Its status as the city-under-the-radar seems to suit its inhabitants down to the ground, and while places like Sydney attract the lion’s share of the tourists, the citizens of Adelaide can lie back and relax, secure in their open, welcoming city. What a lovely life to lead.

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