Blame social media or revenge-travel mania, but it seems like everyone wants to go to the same places these days. It’s time to expand your horizons. Here are six alternate destinations to visit now—before they get too popular.
Love Skiing in Switzerland?
The see-and-be-seen aspect of the Alps is as much of a draw as the skiing these days, which translates to long lift lines and even longer waits for fondue. There’s another place, though, where you can find perfect powder and great food in abundance: Hokkaido, Japan. To give you an idea, last winter a single storm dumped 12 feet on the island—more than St. Moritz averages in an entire season.
Niseko United is Hokkaido’s most famous and visited ski destination, but it never feels crowded, because skiers have the opportunity to spread out across four interconnected resorts (using a single All Mountain Pass) with 30 lifts and gondolas and two main villages (plus several smaller ones). The numerous restaurants, as one would expect, serve up super-fresh seafood and incredible ramen—the perfect meal to warm up après-ski. Several notable hotels opened on the mountain in 2020, including the Park Hyatt Niseko Hanazono and the Higashiyama Niseko Village, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve.
If that’s not enough, nearby Rusutsu has even more terrain—making it Japan’s largest ski area—and several base village hotels, albeit less ski-town flair. A third local resort, Kiroro, is a mid-size mountain favored by experts and backcountry skiers, who must bring along transceivers and avalanche safety gear to leave the regular trails. A literal hot tip: Kiroro has its own onsen.
First time traveling to the Land of the Rising Snowpack? The Hokkaido resorts have plenty of bilingual staffers and menus in English, but it’s always a good idea to book with a ski travel specialist that’s knowledgeable about Japan, such as the long-established Alpine Adventures.
Love Living La Dolce Vita on the Amalfi Coast?
When it comes to Italian holidays, it’s difficult to imagine anything more magical than cruising along the cliffs of the Amalfi Coast, above the glittering Tyrrhenian Sea—but what if you could do that without the crowds and sky-high prices? Say ciao to Ponza. This under-the-radar island paradise boasts beautiful beaches, fantastic food, and laid-back vibes, with plenty of elbow room and Aperol spritzes that don’t cost an arm and a leg.
A part of the Pontine archipelago, off the Lazio coast, Ponza is a favorite summer destination for Romans, and most of its visitors are domestic, so you’ll hear more Italian than English. Combine the lack of foreign tourists with the pastel buildings, vertiginous cliffs, dramatic sea views, and rocky coves perfect for sunbathing and swimming, and you get a destination that feels a bit like the Amalfi Coast in the 1950s. Granted, the island may lack five-star hotels, but its authentic Italian style and natural beauty more than make up for that shortcoming.
To get there, take a regional train from Rome to Formia, then hop on a hydrofoil. Stay near the port—perhaps at the charmingly retro Hotel Chiaia di Luna—and rent a scooter to explore. Most of the beaches are rocky, but if you want sand, hightail it to Cala Feola, reached via a bougainvillea-covered path. In the evening, join the people watching the sunset over Chiaia di Luna beach while sipping spritzes served at a pineapple-shaped kiosk, then head to the port for fresh seafood and pasta at L’Aragosta.
No yacht? No problem. For around $150, you can take a boat ride to Ponza’s grottoes and the nearby islands of Palmarola and Ventotene, with plenty of opportunities to dive in.
Love Deep-Sea Fishing in Mexico?
Every angler who has ever set out on the water has the same fantasy: a giant, wild fish on the end of the line that won’t give up the fight, an hours-long battle that ends with a boatside photo of the triumphal catch. This dream leads many fishers to plan bucket-list trips to Cabo San Lucas, where the marine life is so rich it inspired a John Steinbeck non-fiction book. Of course, the very nature of famous fishing holes is that they get fished-out, but fortunately there’s a deep-sea destination that remains mostly undiscovered: Guatemala.
Off the Central American country’s Pacific Coast, the combination of a high oxygen content at shallow depths, an underwater canyon that runs from the continental shelf toward land, and a strict governmental catch-and-release policy results in a thriving habitat for sailfish. Perhaps the fastest creature in the ocean (they’re thought to be able to swim nearly 70 miles per hour), this species of billfish can grow up to 11 feet and more than 200 pounds. This blend of size and speed makes them vicious fighters and thus a highly prized target for sportfishing.
The peak season for sailfish in Guatemala runs from November through April. Take best advantage of that window by booking at Casa Vieja Lodge, a luxury fishing lodge with a fleet of nine boats in the town of Puerto San José. When the conditions are right, it’s possible to reel in 20 sailfish in a single morning, with each of them straining not just your rod but your very capacity for belief, as the fish run and fight and leap out of the water in Olympian displays of athleticism. The crew will probably let you bring your first big catch on board for a “hero shot” photo, but expect the fish to be promptly released, with subsequent catches cut loose while they’re still in the water to minimize the damage to their health. You may not bring home a trophy, but trust us: Your memories of those graceful, powerful animals will last a lifetime.
Love Hiking the Inca Trail?
Try the Jordan Trail.
Machu Picchu’s magnetism is undeniable. The scenic ancient city, set in the Andes nearly 8,000 feet above sea level, attracts so many visitors that the Peruvian government imposed a 500-people-per-day limit on the Inca Trail. Permits sell out quickly, requiring travelers to plan months in advance.
Didn’t get that elusive permit? On the opposite side of the globe, far from the crowds of Machu Picchu, you’ll find another tough hike through dramatic landscapes that culminates in a visit to one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. On the Dana to Petra section of the Jordan Trail, you’ll traverse the Middle Eastern country’s most biodiverse nature reserve, enjoy views of Wadi Araba, take in lunar-like rock formations near Little Petra, and camp under the stars, all before the grand finale: catching sight of the cliff-carved Monastery as you arrive via the “backdoor” to Petra. Although the archaeological site receives many visitors, for the majority of the roughly 50-mile Dana to Petra hike the only travelers you’re likely to encounter are shepherds and their livestock.
The Jordan Trail officially opened in 2017, but much of the 420-mile route—stretching from the olive groves and Greco-Roman ruins of the north to Wadi Rum’s rust-colored dunes and the Red Sea reefs in the south—was built along ancient footpaths. The trail passes through more than 70 villages and dozens of archaeological sites, so whether you tackle the full itinerary or just a section of it, you’ll have the opportunity to experience Jordan’s history, culture, and hospitality.
Hiking from Dana to Petra takes three to five days, and veteran backpackers who are comfortable navigating desert conditions can do it on their own, although they should notify the Jordan Trail Association prior to setting out. For a guided excursion, on the other hand, ask the Trail Association to recommend a reputable local operator. One such company, Experience Jordan Advent ures, employs seasoned female guides for those who would be more comfortable hiking with a woman. (Ask for Lama or Ahlam.)
Love Exploring Monument Valley in Utah?
Try the Valley of the Gods.
The pandemic created a desire to get outdoors and explore, and last year it seemed as if everyone visited Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park and Arches National Park in Utah. At the former, entry fees and additional permit fees for hiking did little to discourage the endless stream of cars; at the latter, timed entry slots filled up weeks in advance, despite prepayment being required for reservations. Fourtunately, the Beehive State is full of compelling alternate sites where spontaneity rules, crowding is unlikely, and entry is free.
For starters, Valley of the Gods gives Monument Valley a run for its money. Drive the unpaved, sometimes bumpy 17-mile scenic loop in late afternoon, and you just might find yourself all alone in geologic heaven, with the sun illuminating towering red sandstone buttes and mesas. Take the East entrance, where the rock formations are most majestic, and make a game out of creating names for them: Howling Dog? Old Shoe? It’s up to you.
Still set on seeing arches? On Utah Scenic Byway 279 (also called Potash Road) near Moab, you’ll find the Corona Arch Trail, a three-mile loop that will take you past both the namesake formation and the stunning Bowtie Arch—no reservation required. Along the byway, you can also see petroglyphs and dinosaur tracks, and your dog is even welcome.
Those aren’t the only wondrous ways to beat the crowds in Utah, either. If the well-read Newspaper Rock is crowded with petroglyph lovers, for example, head for the town of Bluff. Just west of town, you can see the 100-yard-long roadside Sand Island Petroglyph Panel, a sacred Native American ancestral site where hundreds of images were carved into the rock as far back as 2,500 years ago.
Love Island-Hopping in Hawaii?
Try the Azores.
Volcanic craters carpeted in wild ginger. Swimming coves ringed in lava rock. Point breaks that attract surfers as well as spectators. The Azores, often called “the Hawaii of Europe,” are the Atlantic’s answer to the Aloha State—with a fraction of the traffic.
This Portuguese archipelago is made up of nine major islands in the Atlantic, about three-quarters of the way from the U.S. to Europe, at the collision point of the North American, Eurasian, and African tectonic plates—known as the “triple junction”—producing volcanic peaks and fertile soil that seems to nurture every passing seed, sowing wild hydrangeas across the landscape. If your image of Hawaii is groomed resorts and sprawling golf courses, the Azores might feel rustic in comparison, with their verdant pastures, white-washed villages, and wilderness preserves. “It’s more like Hawaii 30 years ago,” says Carlos Neves, an Airbnb Experiences guide on São Miguel.
The Oahu of the Azores, São Miguel is the archipelago’s international gateway and most populous link. As in Hawaii, however, quick flights and ferry rides encourage island- hopping, beginning with Santa Maria, the southernmost isle and the only one with white beaches. Lively Terceira hosts the region’s most transporting town, 15th-century Angra do Heroísmo. Lava rock–walled vineyards fringe Pico, named for its centerpiece 7,700-foot stratovolcano. A 30-minute ferry trip from Pico brings visitors to Faial, a famed port that dates back to the whaling era. (At the wharf-front bar Peter Cafe Sport, mariners flags banner the walls, and captains still tack up “crew wanted” signs.)