We've noticed that when travelling, people want to experience new countries immediately like a local. Obliterating the barriers of travel, getting insider tips, eating in hidden gem restaurants and viewing national treasures in complete seclusion has become the epitome of a great holiday. The two-sided coin of technology, it is now easier than ever to explore the far corners of the earth but that makes it harder and harder to find that categorical ‘road less travelled’. Below, we look at some well-established 'must-see' destinations and suggest quieter, yet equally spectacular, treats that are still off the tourist trail…
Borobudur vs Angkor
Home to a sprawling playground of fascinating ancient ruins, towering statues and hidden temples, Angkor boasts some of the most breath-taking Buddhist monuments in Southeast Asia. However, having become a firm international sightseeing must, there’s no escaping the crowds other than at sunrise and sunset.
Escape the waves of sightseers by travelling to Java’s Buddhist temple, Borobudur, instead. Go at sunrise as, though the early hour may seem daunting, the views from the six-tiered terrace are utterly spectacular- especially when shrouded in wisps of pink and purple. Sit yourself down on the highest platform and wait for your chance to catch the world at its golden hour for an unforgettable start to the day, as the sun brushes over the symmetrical stupas and guarding Buddhas.
Tikal vs Chichen Itza
Perfectly accessible from Cancun, Chichen Itza was crowned one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007 for its incredible Mayan temples. An icon of Mexico, the popularity of Chichen Itza has meant that visitors can no longer climb up the pyramids. Instead, be among the first of the day to walk through the impressive UNESCO World Heritage Site of Tikal in Guatemala to see the jungle-draped pyramids and climb the Mayan ruins in the morning mists.
Swallowed by dense Guatemalan forests, Tikal is considered one of the best preserved Mayan temples in Central America. Whether craning your neck upwards, giddily peering downwards or gazing across the temple tops that poke through the rainforest copy, enjoy the hair-raising and vertigo-inducing sights as you keep a sharp eye out for colourful tucans, shy jaguars and squawking red-lored parrots that can be found rustling in the undergrowth.
Bryce Canyon vs Grand Canyon
The mighty Colorado River cut and wore into Arizona’s sunset-coloured rock for 6 million years to finally create the overwhelming, 277-mile long Grand Canyon. With beautiful geological layers and erosional forms, the well-named colossal canyon is a wonderful sight to behold. Being one of the world’s premier natural attractions, the Grand Canyon National Park receives about five million visitors a year, meaning that unobstructed views are hard to come by.
Alternatively, wonder at the forest of stone that is Bryce Canyon. Despite its name, Bryce is not a canyon but rather a series of natural amphitheatres chiselled out by eternities of ice, rain and wind. Pocketed by hoodoos, odd-shaped pillars of rock, Bryce’s magical scenery is best viewed on foot and with a level walkway along the edge of the largest amphitheatre, it is easy for people to discover the 13 viewpoints, and unlike the Grand Canyon, an hour hike here can lead you into the very heart of the monolithic labyrinth.
Iceland vs Yellowstone
A vast volcanic collection of bubbling geysers, hot springs and fantastic mountain wilderness, Yellowstone National Park flaunts the world’s greatest concentration of thermal features. With the National Park Service turning 100 this year, everyone has their eye on the United States, and commemorating the ‘best idea’ it ever had, Yellowstone National Park will be the pinnacle of the celebration, as it was the first park created. Expecting a spike in visitors to the already busy area, swap Yellowstone’s mega-volcanoes and numerous waterfalls for the equally impressive Arctic countryside of Iceland.
Located on the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, Iceland is literally being ripped in two by tectonic movement. Resulting in a rift that slashes through the centre of the island, volcanic material has forced its way to the surface creating lava fields, hot springs, spouting geysers, and plenty of other erupting surprises. A rising star, we suggest using Reykjavik as your tether and swinging through the western areas of Iceland, including Snaefellsnes Peninsula and the Golden Circle. An easy day trip around the 300km loop of the Golden Circle will have you watching powerful blue waters explode from the earth, warming up in the steaming geothermal lagoon, and walking across black lava fields in Thingvellir National Park.
Christmas Island vs Great Barrier Reef
With 2,900 reefs blanketing the ocean from the Tropic of Capricorn to the fringes of Papua New Guinea, the Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral system. Home to billions of tiny organisms, brightly-coloured fish and marine giants, such as humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins, the Great Barrier Reef often tops the list of ‘places to see before you die’. With that in mind, many expect to find an underwater world of pristine coral and uncrowded waters. If you are looking for a rarely visited reef, why not consider Christmas Island instead.
Christmas Island is probably most famous for its red crab migration, where in November, 40-50 million crustaceans scuttle across the island in a wave towards the coast. During this time the surrounding shallow waters turn pink with eggs, but beyond that the sea remains as it always is, which is heart-stoppingly beautiful with lush coral reefs, vibrant marine creatures and hardly anyone around. A scuba heaven, the island boasts more indigenous species than anywhere else in the world, except for the Galapagos, so on your way down into the depths keep a look out for the exotic-looking dragon moray eel and the sun-blocking manta ray.