Sete Cidades, Azores, Portugal

Unique Destinations to Visit

2 November 2018

Tired of Thailand? Bored of Bali? While our region undoubtedly has plenty to offer the enthusiastic traveller, sometimes it’s good to strike out on a new adventure. We take a look at ten of the exciting destinations to visit that promise all the adventure and none of the crowds. 

 

Batanes, Philippines

Batanes, Philippines

The beautiful Batanes islands are the Philippines’ northernmost province, and as such, remain remote and untouched by the rampant tourism that has blighted many of the country’s more popular resort areas. An area of sweeping cliffs, volcanic mountains and white sand beaches, the Batanes is defined by its truly luscious greenery, and is the perfect destination for hikers.

Arriving at Batan, the largest of the Batanes islands, get your bearings by wandering the rolling green Naidi Hills, stopping off at the famous Basco Lighthouse to enjoy a bracing breeze. Save a little energy for a leisurely hike to the peak of the imposing Mount Iraya – the Philippines’ northernmost active volcano – then hop aboard a traditional faluwa boat for the hour-long ride to Sabatang Island. Here, you’ll discover quaint stone-built villages, rugged coves and Nakabuang Beach – a slice of sandy-toed paradise. A distinctive volcanic rock arch straddles Nakabuang’s pristine sand; a stroll along the shore leads you to a serene cave just beyond, the ideal spot to live out your desert island dreams.

 

Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea

Pack your bug spray and head to Papua New Guinea, a country of extraordinary ecological diversity that’s just a hop and a skip away from Australia across the Torres Strait. If you’re feeling burnt out and overwhelmed by city life, then a total retreat into PNG’s incomparable wilderness is just the tonic.

Dedicated divers shouldn’t miss a trip to Rabaul, in the undeveloped New Britain region. Occupied by the Japanese during WWII, Rabaul is one of the foremost locations for wreck diving, with at least 60 scuppered ships teeming with marine life ready for exploration just offshore. From the sea to the sky; head to the Tari Basin in the Southern Highlands to experience PNG’s rich bird population up close, then venture onwards to the 3,600 square kilometre Managalas Conservation Area. Previously under threat from extreme logging practices, this rainforest is now protected by law, and is home to the world’s largest butterfly species, the Queen Alexandra’s birdwing – a spectacular inhabitant of this most remote of destinations.

 

Torres del Paine, Patagonia, Chile

Chile

OK, so it’s a long haul from Hong Kong, but we think that the diverse and culture-rich Chile is more than worth the effort. Offering incredible scenery, delicious food and plenty of fascinating ancient heritage, it’s hard to even scratch the surface of this captivating country.

In the north of the country, close to the Peruvian border, you’ll find Atacama, the world’s driest desert. Far from the barren wasteland you might expect, Atacama is home to a wide range of native flora and fauna, while its arid climate ensures a lack of cloud cover, making it one of the world’s best locations for uninterrupted stargazing. Alternatively, head south to remote Patagonia, a rugged hiker’s paradise of breathtaking natural beauty. Climb the jagged granite cliffs of the Torres del Paine, kayak the wild waters of the Baker River and ice-hike the pristine Grey Glacier, then kick back and recover with a boat trip out to the spectacular Marble Caves, whose vivid turquoise, blue and green swirls are truly enchanting.

 

Pennsylvania, USA

Pennsylvania, USA

Less overtly glitzy than neighbouring New York, the eastern US state of Pennsylvania nevertheless has plenty to entice experienced travellers in search of a different side to America.

Arriving in Philadelphia, head to Independence Hall – the imposing site of the signing of the US constitution and Declaration of Independence – and the Liberty Bell, an iconic symbol of American freedom. Aside from these historical behemoths, another authentic cultural experience is the famous Philly Cheesesteak. True devotees head to one of two rival outlets ­– Pat’s and Geno’s – situated directly opposite one another on a corner of South Philadelphia, both of whom claim the best cheesesteak crown. For more unique culture, head inland to the city of Lancaster, the centre of Pennsylvania’s Amish community. Over the past few years, Lancaster has reinvented itself as a hipster hub, with art galleries, independent boutiques, micro-breweries and artisanal cafes jostling for attention alongside traditional Amish craft shops. Make a quick pitstop at Hersheypark – a chocolate theme park – to load up on sweet treats to fuel your exploration of Allegheny National Forest, in PA’s northwest. Ideal for committed hikers and day-trippers alike, visit in the fall to experience the forest’s blazing riot of colour.

 

Snowdon

Snowdonia, North Wales, UK

Easily accessible in just over an hour from Manchester Airport, a visit to North Wales offers a fresh perspective on the UK. Rugged mountains, a picture-perfect coastline and a burgeoning dining scene make Snowdonia the perfect place to unwind immersed in nature.

Spanning over 2,000 square kilometres, Snowdonia National Park is a breathtakingly beautiful landscape of glassy lakes, lush greenery and, of course, Mount Snowdon itself. Britain’s highest peak outside of the Scottish Highlands, Snowdon can be summited on foot, or via the picturesque steam Snowdon Mountain Railway. After burning off all those calories, refuel at the Michelin-starred Tyddyn Llan, one of Wales’ finest restaurants which dishes up fresh, seasonal, locally-sourced produce. Built in the 13th century by Edward I, the imposing Conwy Castle is surrounded by a warren of quaint narrow streets packed with local craft stores. Walk the ancient walls then head to the town’s quirkiest attraction – Quay House, the smallest house in Britain. End your day at the quayside with freshly-caught fish and chips washed down with one of Snowdonia’s many craft brews.

 

Faroe Islands

The Faroe Islands

Featuring out-of-this-world landscapes that look like they’ve come straight out of Middle Earth, the Faroe Islands are a haven of unspoilt natural beauty – so much so that its sheep outnumber its humans! Accessible from Hong Kong via connecting flights in Copenhagen or Helsinki, this remote archipelago comprises 18 extraordinary islands filled with rolling pastures, craggy cliffs and cascading waterfalls.

Even the houses – charming multicoloured affairs, many with grass-thatched roofs – are picturesque here. Hop on a helicopter to soak up awe-inspiring aerial views (locals actually commute with them too, meaning fares are surprisingly reasonable) or get your walking boots on for a hike to remember; practically every route will snag you jaw-dropping panoramas, but the truly breathtaking Múlafossur waterfall in Gásadalur village and the wonderful puffin colonies at Mykines are must-sees. Remember to make an advance reservation for Michelin-starred restaurant Koks, where an epic tasting menu starring delicious locally-foraged ingredients awaits.

 

Malta

Malta

One of the Mediterranean’s most underrated destinations which features a captivating blend of fascinating history and balmy beaches, Malta is just a few hours’ flight away from many of Europe’s main transport hubs. This sunny city is best explored on foot, so get ready for some leisurely wandering amidst its stunning architecture and enchanting cobblestoned alleys.

Foremost amongst Malta’s wealth of incredible historical sites is the dazzling St John’s Co-Cathedral; its unassuming exterior hides brilliantly ornate baroque glories inside, including two mesmerising paintings by Caravaggio. Travel back even further in time at the prehistoric temples of Mnajdra and Hagar Qim, marvel at the extraordinary Hal Saflieni Hypogeum (a burial complex cut into solid rock) and get lost in the twisting labyrinths of St Paul’s Catacombs. The medieval streets of Mdina, Malta’s first capital city, are well worth a meander; meanwhile, its current capital of Valletta is home to both cosmopolitan bars and eateries, in addition to its majestic City Gate structure. Meanwhile, head to the island of Gozo for chilled-out beach vibes, along with excellent diving and snorkelling opportunities.

 

Mozambique

Mozambique

Beautiful beaches, amazing wildlife and vibrant city life… Mozambique has got it all. This southern African nation might feel somewhat off the beaten track, but is only a short flight from Johannesburg – and its endless sweeping coastlines, pristine shores and crystal-clear oceans more than make up for the long-haul journey time.

You could make an entire itinerary just of Mozambique’s gorgeous beaches; Tofo is one of the most popular, with some stellar diving sites, whilst the 32 islands of the Quirimbas Archipelago are home to golden sands, swaying palm trees and magnificent coral reefs. Further south, the Bazaruto Archipelago boasts yet more equally idyllic beaches, along with the chance to spot the rare dugong in its protected waters. Heading onto dry land, you can expect to spy hippos, elephants, antelopes and rare birds galore at Gorongosa or Marromeu National Park. Experience a different side to Mozambique in its lively capital Maputo, where laidback cafés and bustling markets sit alongside some pretty awesome architectural landmarks – including the simply exquisite Central Railway Station.

 

Azores, Portugal

The Azores, Portugal

Move over Lisbon… the Azores are the newest Portuguese destination du jour. This series of nine volcanic islands scattered around the Atlantic Ocean deliver natural splendour in spades, with distinctive dramatic landscapes that give it a totally different feel to the mainland.

The Azores’ largest and most accessible island of Sao Miguel makes a great base for your stay, and is home to one of the world’s most iconic sights – the sparkling twin lakes of Sete Cidades, one blue one green, which legend believes were formed from the tears of two heartbroken lovers. Visit the village of Furnas for a revitalising dip in their famous geothermal pools, before sampling a pot of cozido stew, a local speciality slow-cooked in the hot springs themselves. Hikers should be sure to make the trip to Pico; its eponymous volcano is the highest mountain in Portugal and offers magnificent views across the other islands. Meanwhile, the oceans of the Azores offer plenty of excitement of their own, with amazing surfing, scuba diving and whale watching adventures to be had too.

 

Door to Hell, Turkmenistan

The Five ‘Stans

Follow in the footsteps of intrepid travellers of yore with an adventure around the Five ‘Stans – Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. This group of former Soviet Union nations were part of the backdrop for the famous Silk Road network of ancient trade routes, and nowadays all boast their own unique blend of rich history and natural marvels.

Most jaw-dropping has to be Turkmenistan’s Darvaza gas crater; commonly known as the Door to Hell, this extraordinary fiery pit – the size of a football pitch – has to be seen to be believed. For more serene natural wonders, head to the tranquil turquoise waters of Lake Kaindy in Kazakhstan, before taking in the sheer majesty of the russet-coloured rock formations at Charyn Canyon. Further scenic delights await in Tajikistan, where you can take a road trip through the breathtakingly remote Pamir Highway and bask in the stillness of Iskanderkul, a glacial mountain lake said to have been visited by Alexander the Great. Meanwhile, Kyrgyzstan’s Burana Tower, an 11th century minaret set against snow-capped mountains, and Uzbekistan’s Registan Square – home to a series of utterly gorgeous buildings that could have come straight out of Aladdin – prove that man-made architecture can be just as spellbinding.

Contact your trusty Flight Centre consultant to plan your exotic getaway now.

Rachel Read & Kate Farr

Kate Farr and Rachel Read are freelance writers, editors and bloggers based in Hong Kong. In addition to writing for the likes of Flight Centre, Hong Kong Tatler, Jetstar Asia, Home Journal and Expat Living, the pair also founded their own lifestyle blogs; Kate writes about parenting and travel at Accidental Tai Tai, whilst Rachel blogs about beauty and food at Through The Looking Glass. Follow their adventures on Instagram (@accidental_tt and @rachttlg).