No single traveler can uncover ALL the off-the-beaten-path destinations in the world. (But that isn’t going to stop us from trying.)
So I enlisted the help of my fellow travelers and asked them their favorite OTBP places. Coincidentally, TWO of their recommendations were in Colombia.Only one of which I had the pleasure of visiting for myself. (For those that do not know, I just finished up 3-ish weeks in Colombia)
So in part one of what will likely be an ongoing series of blog posts…Here are 4 recommendations from some amazing (Female! Happy International Women’s Day?) travelers.
It was only in recent years that Colombia became more popular amongst travelers. Nonetheless, as a solo female traveler, my desire to backpack Colombia was quickly dismissed by my family. After all, the country’s reputation in the West largely pertains to a few negative stereotypes.
But last year, I finally decided to give it a go. As of now, Colombia still remains as one of my favorite countries.
During my month-long trip, I asked my couchsurfing hosts to help add places of interest to my rather blank itinerary. One such destination that surfaced was Salento, a tiny town tucked away in Colombia’s premier coffee region.
When I got off the bus, I was immediately taken aback by the tranquil beauty of this quiet town. It was 6 in the morning. The sun just began to rise. Its bright rays shone upon rows and rows of colorful houses. Combined with the occasional chirping of birds, sporadic breezes, and the bittersweet smell of fresh coffee, Salento was no less than heavenly!
The Cocora Valley, where thousands of sky-tall wax palm trees stood, is the ideal place for an adventurous undertaking. My newly met friends from Austria and I hiked the undulating valleys, only to find out hours later that we completely diverged from the more common route. Instead of small pathways, we embarked on a journey consisting of muddy hills, dense forestry, and aimless wandering. Hiking to the beat of the forest and no one else, we came across some of the most beautiful, untouched sites.
Why is Bethlehem on this list if everyone has heard of it? Famous as the birthplace of Jesus, this Palestinian town is a popular destination among tourists and pilgrims.
Organized tours are commonplace. During the day, they rush through the stone-paved streets of Bethlehem, checking in at the Church of the Nativity and other holy places. And in the afternoon, they travel back to Israel, where they sleep at hotels, rest, eat, and… spend money. I remember walking one block away from Manger Square, Bethlehem’s main square, and feeling like I was the only tourist in town. School girls walked passed me, carrying books, and shop owners sat in front of their stores with no customers to serve.
It’s a curious phenomenon, how one destination can be well-known and off-the-beaten-path at the same time. Because not many people go to Bethlehem and stay in Bethlehem. Get lost in the stone-paved streets. Talk with the locals. Look around. Buy something and support the local economy — it has seen better times. Walk up to the West Bank Barrier, let the 9-meter-tall slabs of concrete tower over you and see how that makes you feel. Hear the stories of the graffiti covering it. Feel the electricity in the air.
Colombia is a country of national parks. From the ancient sea-bed desert of the far north, to the endless depths of the Amazon in the south, the diversity of natural wonders is staggering. But there is one, deep in the heart of the Andes, that seems to slip under the radar; Parque Nacional Natural El Cocuy.
Located almost 400km NE of Bogota, Sierra Nevada del Cocuy is a landscape carved and defined by its glaciers. Two parallel mountain ranges boast 25 snow-capped peaks over 19 miles. Acres of untamed páramo & valleys of alien-like frailejones dominate the lower altitudes – the jewels in the crown of an impressive eco-region. Endemic flora & fauna disperse as the landscape ascends into a barren vastness of ice & rock. You would be hard-pressed to find more wild and rugged scenery in South America. Outside of Patagonia that is.
The land & glaciers are sacred to the local indigenous communities. Specifically, the U’wa tribe whose way of life relies heavily on the preservation of the natural environment. In an all-encompassing protection effort the park was closed in 2015 due to heavy trail erosion & the rapidly retreating ice. Good for the environment, bad for the local economy.
Tourism to this part of Colombia effectively collapsed. And then a compromise was struck in 2017. Several spectacular high-altitude hiking routes have now re-opened!
Tourism to El Cocuy is slowly recovering, but it remains one of the quietest, most authentic places we visited throughout Colombia. The cobbled streets of the local town painted solely in white & pale-green, the cowboys, and the vast, snow gilded peaks – we felt like we’d stumbled upon a wonderful & dramatic secret.
As off-the-beaten-path destinations go, Vietnam is always a strong contender. An endless expanse of coastline and numerous misty mountain towns offer hidden gems and sleepy communities in abundance.
Quy Nhon is a lesser-known beach town and one of my favorite hidden gems. (Located halfway between popular Hoi An and Nha Trang.) Set around a charming peninsular, the busy yet local town Quy Nhon sits side by side with the beaches of Nhon Hai.
These paradise stretches of sand are frequented by more locals than tourists. But you will find a colorful hostel by the ocean, Nhon Hai Beach Hostel. From here there’s not a whole load to do, but that could be exactly what you’re looking for. The friendly community of locals makes it the perfect location for people-watching and even joining in a game of football. Swim, sunbathe and forget the rest of the world in a Vietnamese paradise unknown to other tourists!