In today’s blog post we’re introducing you to Pete Rojwongsuriya – the founder of BucketListly.Blog, a place where he writes about his travel adventure and life stories he learned for the last 6 years on the road. He is also a travel filmmaker, photographer, and a digital nomad, traveling from one country to another, making inspiring travel videos, taking stunning photos and tell a travel story of the world. His work in travel films has been featured on National Geographic, BBC, and Vimeo. He’s going to discuss 8 underrated countries that you should add to your bucket list when traveling the world.
Nowadays, South East Asia and Western Europe are among the most popular destinations for travelers. These are the go-to destinations for travelers who are looking for a place to relax, meet people, party and maybe a bit of an adventure in between but if you are looking for off-the-beaten-path countries to avoid the crowdedness that comes with over-tourism, these are not the place you are looking for.
As a blogger, travel filmmaker and a photographer at BucketListly Blog, I am attracted to places that have unique stories and more often than not, it involves me going to countries that are either isolated, not as well-traveled, and sometimes, a little more difficult to get to. If you are like me who are willing to go the extra mile and don’t mind taking a little bit of risk to have an authentic experience, you are in the right place. I have rounded up my 8 favorite off-the-beaten-path countries with a perfect blend of authentic experience, gorgeous sceneries, and interesting culture without the crowds.
Kyrgyzstan, a small country tucked away in the mountains of Central Asia along the ancient Silk Road, one of the least traveled regions of the world has become one of my favorite countries in recent time.
The country’s untouched nature of Ala Archa national park, the massive pristine alpine lake of Issyk Kul and the stunning view of the snow-capped Tian Shan mountain range offer travelers plenty of opportunity for an off-the-beaten-path adventure of a lifetime.
The country which stood at the crossroad between Asia and Russia also offers a great point of view into the unique culture of the ancient silk road. A mixed of ancient stone architecture, Russian Orthodox churches of the Soviet era, and a more recent Islamic culture, Kyrgyzstan is among the most fascinating cultural destination in the area.
Central Asia is not an easy area to travel to due to the member countries strict visa policies but unlike its neighbors, Kyrgyzstan offers free visa entry or visa-on-arrival for most countries in the world, making it the perfect base for those who are looking to get a visa for the neighboring countries like Uzbekistan or Turkmenistan.
If you are looking for an itinerary, here is a great backpacking guide to Kyrgyzstan by Goats on the Road I personally used to plan my trip.
Everyone knows about Genghis Khan and his world-conquering quest of the 12th Century but don’t you want to see where he came from, what it is like to ride along the route he took to Europe, and to live a nomad life like he did? Mongolia offers all of that experience and more, with its varieties of landscapes from stunning steppes and valleys to the desolate desert of Gobi.
There is no better place in the world to ride horses, sleep in yurts and go on a road trip in the desert than in Mongolia.
The country offers not just activities for outdoor lovers but also allow you to get a glimpse of the nomadic life they have mastered over centuries. You will be able to experience the home-welcoming tradition of the nomads, see how they hunt for food, and how they keep themselves warm and cozy at night in a yurt.
If you are there during the Naadaam festival (July), you will also get to see one of the biggest events in the country where they compete with each other to find the best of Mongolian wrestling, horse racing, and archery all around the country.
Traveling to Mongolia can be quite tricky as the visa policy are not as open and there are not many airlines traveling in and out of Ulaanbaatar international airport. You can either fly in from China, Hong Kong or Kazakhstan which is not the most convenient but once you arrive and get to see the vast space of the Mongolian landscape, you will not regret it.
Want to know what it is like to travel in Mongolia? Sunrise Odyssey has written a great piece showing the amazing adventure you can have in the Gobi desert, Mongolia.
Ecuador is by far the most surprising country I have experienced in South America. Looking at the country from the outside, Ecuador seems like a small country with not much to do compared to its neighbors like Peru and Colombia. I thought that I would be done with the country in 2 weeks but the more I explored, the more I realized how incredibly diverse the country is.
From the cloud forest of Mindo, the untouched wildlife of Galapagos, and all the volcanoes in this country, I ended up spending almost a month and a half in Ecuador.
The best part about Ecuador is the wildlife that you can experience in this one country alone. If you like watching birds, Mindo has over 550 species living in its cloud forest. If you like marine life, the Galapagos islands offer you an up-close wildlife experience like you have never experienced before.
Due to the lack of predators, the animals there will just sit in the open and look at you when you walk by. The Ecuadorian Amazon forest offers you a glimpse of the untamed world of the largest rainforest in the world. It’s wild, it’s competitive and it’s fascinating all at the same time.
The good thing about Ecuador is its open visa policy with most of the countries in the world not required to get a visa prior to the trip. If you like wildlife, Ecuador is the best place to be.
Iran is as off-the-beaten-path of a country as it gets. It is by far one of the most misunderstood country out there and with its politics going against the like of United States, the country has been getting a bad rap for no related reason to travel.
From my experience traveling in Iran, the people do not reflect the government ideology and so it is best that you experience Iran for what it is, not what the media wanted you to believe.
Iran has one of the oldest and richest histories in the world. Some of their architecture dated all the way back over 2000 years during the rise of the Persian Empire. Its mastery of craftsmanship is reflected in their attention to detail that you can see through their architecture. From the colorful glass windows of the Nasir al-Mulk mosque to the ancient remnant of the Achaemenid city, the Persepolis, there are no short of sight that will take your breath away.
Its history is not even the best part of Iran. The best part of Iran is the people and their hospitalities. I thought I knew what good hospitality is like before I came to Iran but Iranians took it to the next level. They invited me, a stranger from another country, to their homes, feed me with their delicious food, ask me questions about my country even though we do not speak the same language. Mark my word, Iran is the country that offers THE most authentic travel experience you can ever get in life and it is a shame that the media are often focused on the politics and not its charm.
Iran visa policy nowadays is much easier than before with visa-on-arrival offered to the majority of countries, except the few countries that are against their government, namely the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada.
Here is a great guide on how to spend 2 weeks in Iran written by Lost with Purpose.
If you are looking for an off-the-beaten-path country to do a road trip with your friends, there is no better place than the Pamir Highway, the second highest international highway in the world connecting Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan through the remote mountain region of Central Asia.
It is an 8-days road trip with a jeep that will take you through one of the most remote areas in the world. You will be immersed in the remote landscape of the Pamirs, get a glimpse of the Afghan snowy mountains along the Wakhan Valley and see how the people of the Pamirs live their lives. There are plenty of snowy mountains for you to glazed upon, an old ancient fortress in the middle of nowhere, and a remnant of the once prosperous Silk Road past throughout your entire trip. You will also meet a few but inspiring travelers who are either doing the same trip as you or are cycling the entire route, which either way, they are sure to have many stories to keep you engaged around a dinner table at night.
The visa policy of Tajikistan is becoming more travel-friendly nowadays with its e-visa service in operation where you can get it online 3 days prior to your arrival. Keep in mind, that if you are traversing the Pamir highway, you are crossing from Kyrgyzstan to Tajikistan so you will need to plan your visa accordingly. The Tajikistan part of the Pamir highway is also situated in a special controlled area and will require you to carry a valid GBAO permit which you can easily get together with your Tajikistan e-visa on their website.
Learn more about a road trip on the Pamir Highway here.
#6 Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka is one of the most underrated countries in the world because people tend to generalize the country as the same as India. From the outside, the country may seem similar but if you travel there, you will see that nothing could be further from the truth. For one, Sri Lanka is a Buddhist country and with its tropical climate, amazing wildlife and very friendly people, Sri Lanka is worthy of its own reputation.
Its Buddhist history dated all the way back to the third century when it was introduced on the island, and you can still see many massive structures built during the rise of Buddhism in the country. There are also many sacred sites such as the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy where you can see the sacred relic of the tooth or the museum of Buddhism that shows how the religion spread throughout the world from Afghanistan all the way to Japan.
Culture is not the only thing you can experience in Sri Lanka. The incredible nature of Sri Lanka is unmatched by any other country. From taking a train through a tea plantation to seeing a blue whale (the largest mammal on Earth) flipping their massive fin off the coast of South India, there is nothing quite like it.
Here are a great piece about traveling in Sri Lanka by Laurence over at Finding the Universe blog.
This is by far one of the weirdest countries I have ever been to and I considered it to be the most off-the-beaten-path country I have ever been to. Turkmenistan is one of the least traveled and most isolated countries in the world and one of the hardest to get in.
That said, the experience you will get from Turkmenistan, you will not get it anywhere in the world. You may have seen a photo of a crater in the ground with burning flames spewing out of it with a caption, Gateway to Hell. That is the Darvaza crater in Turkmenistan, which is a natural gas field that collapsed into an underground cavern, spewing out so much methane that they decided to burn it to prevent the spread of the toxic gas. They thought it would have burned out in 3 days in 1971. Now almost 50 years later, and the crater is still burning.
If you think that this unnatural natural gas crater is weird, wait until you see Ashgabat, the capital city of Turkmenistan. The city was built in the middle of a desert in the image of Ex-President Niyazov’s definition of the perfect city. The entire city was built with white marbles, from the palace to the office buildings. The city is considered by the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s highest concentration of white marble buildings. Other than that, the city is filled with gigantic monuments that almost appear to be designed by someone, not from this world. Your mind will be blown away by both its weirdness and its perfection.
Their visa policy is very strict and seems to be random with zero transparency. It is the only country that rejected my visa application.. and then approved it immediately after I re-apply again. It really takes a special kind of patience to deal with Turkmenistan visa policy but what you will be rewarded with is a travel experience like no others. After all, it is one of the weirdest countries in the world.
Caravanistan has written a great guide on how and where to travel in Turkmenistan if you are interested to visit the country.
Uzbekistan is the type of country that, if it has a more open visa policy it would surely attract tons and tons of tourists every year. The country is home to many old cities that were once the most prosperous on the ancient Silk Road. Cities like Samarkand, Bukhara, and Khiva were known to benefit from the Silk Road immensely during that time, and you can see that through its abundance of historical buildings and monuments, which are kept in surprisingly great condition. If you are a history buff, there is no better place to learn about the Silk Road than Uzbekistan.
Uzbekistan visa policy is quite strict with a 3-days visa process on top of a 3 – 10 days request process for a letter of invitation if you are from a country that falls under that requirement. When you are inside the country, you will also have to register to your hotel every day for the entire time you stay in the country, which is not the most convenient. That said, the country has tons of unique experience to offer for those who are seeking an off-the-beaten-path adventure, unlike anything they have experienced before.
If you want to learn more about how to travel to Uzbekistan, Joan from Against the Compass has got you covered with all the things you need to know to get here in one simple guide.
Have you been to any of these countries on the list? If so, let us know your adventure stories in the comments below.