Remote, Under-the-Radar Destinations to Visit in 2020
Avoid the masses by visiting emerging places that are more accessible than ever, from a small island off the coast of Africa to the country of Guyana.
Photo By: Aqua Expeditions
Photo By: St. Helena Island
Photo By: Visit Scotland
Photo By: Alexander Ishchenko
Photo By: Club Med
Photo By: Oku Japan
Photo By: Aqua Expeditions
Photo By: Shutterstock/Joseph Thomas Photography
Photo By: Zach Sanders @stuckonarockphotos
Photo By: The Anam
Travel Deeper in 2020
It's usually with great reluctance that we reveal destinations that haven't yet been "discovered" by the masses, since an absence of crowds is a large part of the appeal. With that said, those who wish to explore further afield before everyone else catches on can do so at the following places (although the hope is that tourism remains limited to those in-the-know). Factors influencing 2020 inclusions include new flights, hotels and cruises; new attractions and major events.
St. Helena Island, British Overseas Territory
If you’ve never heard of St. Helena Island, you’re not alone. This blip of a volcanic island is all of 47 square miles and 1,200 miles from South Africa — the nearest land mass. As a British Overseas Territory it’s home to about 4,500 people, and the sliver of buildings pictured represent the capital of Jamestown. St. Helena’s claim to fame is that the island once housed an exiled Napolean Bonaparte following the 1815 Battle of Waterloo, and yes, you can visit his former home. This is also the place to swim with whale sharks, hike among rolling green hills and golf at one of the world’s most remote courses. An airport opened on St. Helena in 2017; before that, visitors had to rely on the island’s now-defunct Royal Mail ocean liner from Cape Town. Other factors making St. Helena more accessible? United Airlines just launched direct flights from New York to Cape Town on December 15, and South African Airways has added seasonal flights to St. Helena through Feb 25, 2020.
Neighboring Venezuela and Brazil have long overshadowed the South American country of Guyana, which is now emerging as an eco-friendly destination. What the country lacks in wealth it makes up for in natural bounty, like Kaieteur Falls (pictured), considered the widest single drop waterfall in the world. Forest covers about 87 percent of this English-speaking country with ties to Caribbean, British and Dutch cultures. Base yourself at a community-run eco-lodge, such as Rewa Eco-Lodge, as the lodges benefit local Amerindian communities. There are new eco-lodges in the works in Karasabai and Moraikobai, while Mapari Wilderness Camp and Wichabai Ranch and Guest Houses have also joined the eco-friendly lodging ranks. New flights make it easier than ever to experience a country opening up to tourism. American Airlines added a daily non-stop from New York’s JFK as of December 2019, while JetBlue will start offering non-stop flights on April 2, 2020 from JFK.
Outer Hebrides, Scotland
Most visitors who venture beyond Edinburgh and Glasgow tend to stick to Scotland’s mainland. But just off the northwest coast is a string of 119 mostly uninhabited islands known as the Outer Hebrides. This is where you’ll find long stretches of empty white sand beaches, turquoise waters, fresh seafood, the Scottish version of Stonehenge — minus the hordes — and puffins and seals. Not that more incentive is needed, but as of 2019 there’s a new Hebridean Whale Trail from the Hebridean Whale & Dolphin Trust. The site details 18 different whales, dolphins and porpoises that ply the waters, along with tips and 33 places for spotting them from land. (There’s a handy app too.) Getting here involves either an hour-long flight from one of Scotland’s airports (Glasgow offers the most options), or an hour-long ferry ride; note that there are multiple route choices.
Georgia, Armenia’s northern neighbor, has been topping go-to lists in recent years, but travelers are starting to take more interest in Armenia’s culture. Part of the Caucasus (and formerly part of the Soviet Union), the country is known for its ancient churches, monasteries, brandy, wine and beautiful mountains. In fact, Christianity became the official religion in 301 AD, making Armenia one of the oldest Christian civilizations, and possibly the first Christian country. Winemaking also has deep roots in Armenia, dating back more than 6,000 years. Now that European budget carrier Ryanair started flying from Rome and Milan to the capital of Yerevan in January 2020 it will become easier to experience Armenia first hand. Alternatively, more tour companies — from Trafalgar to Wild Frontiers — are adding Armenia to their itineraries.
Miches, Dominican Republic
The Dominican Republic is best known for its all-inclusive resorts in Punta Cana and Puerto Plata (and negative press in 2019 following a slate of back-to-back tourist deaths), but there’s more to the country than touristy hot spots. Take Miches, an underdeveloped mountainous region that, until recently, has remained relatively unknown to those outside the country. It’s a good 3-hour drive from the capital of Santo Domingo, where you’re likely to find more animals than visitors. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do. You’ll find a white sand beach, a seemingly random swing (pictured) at the top of Montaña Redonda and Salto La Jalda, the title-holder of tallest waterfall in the Caribbean. But get there sooner rather than later to beat the crowd. Club Med Miches Playa Esmeralda opened in fall 2019, while the Four Seasons is eyeing a 2021 debut for its new Tropicalia resort.
Shikoku is the smallest and least visited of Japan’s four main islands, but not because there’s nothing to see. The Shikoku Pilgrimage is the country's most famous pilgrim route, with 88 Buddhist temples spread along 750 miles. It takes up to 2 months to walk the entire circuit, but nothing is stopping you from walking a smaller part of the route (or just visiting temples via tour bus). Oku Japan offers a self-guided 4-day tour as well. If you’ve come all this way, it’s also worth visiting Kochi Castle, first built in the 17th century, and Ritsurin Garden, considered one of the country’s most beautiful Japanese gardens — minus the crowds. The region is an ideal add-on if you’ll be in Tokyo for the 2020 Summer Olympics, and you can catch a 1 1/2-hour flight from Tokyo for the easiest access. (Shikoku is also served by various bus and train routes.)
Raja Ampat Islands, Indonesia
We’re not exaggerating by calling the remote Raja Ampat Islands a diving and snorkeling paradise. The area is part of the Coral Triangle, one of the planet’s most biodiverse marine regions, home to about 600 coral species and more than 2,000 types of reef fish. Tourism has remained low due to limited lodging among its more than 1,500 islands, although that’s slowly changing. There’s Misool Eco Resort, a 4-hour boat ride from the nearest airport in Sorong, Indonesia, complete with its own house reef. Papua Paradise is another option, located on an uninhabited island with access to PADI dive instructors. Cruising is another way to experience Raja Ampat, and in November 2019 Aqua Expeditions launched the new Aqua Blu to the islands.
Tiny Dominica has long been the wallflower of Caribbean islands, its rainforests and hot springs often bypassed for St. Lucia to the south and Antigua to the north. Dominica suffered a major setback after getting wholloped by Hurricane Maria in 2017, and even the New York Times questioned whether or not it could recover as a tourist destination. The answer is a resounding yes, as not only has the island rebounded just two years later, but it’s also adding new destination hotels as well. As one of the most touted 2019 Caribbean openings, the five-star Cabrits Resort and Spa Kempinski just opened in October. Honeymoon favorite Secret Bay has since reopened, as has the eco-friendly Jungle Bay. Anichi Resort & Spa from Marriott’s Autograph Collection is the next hotel on the horizon with a planned 2020 reveal. Dominica isn’t the easiest Caribbean island to reach as there are no direct flights from the US, but options include taking a 2-hour ferry (or a short flight) from neighboring Martinique or Guadeloupe.
Lord Howe Island, Australia
The tagline for Lord Howe Island is “just paradise,” and it’s hard to dispute that. It turns out that paradise is less than a 2-hour flight from Sydney or Brisbane on QantasLink. The compact island (just 6.8-miles long and 1.7-miles wide) is UNESCO listed for its endemic bird species and untouched natural beauty, among other things. Only 400 visitors are allowed at a time to preserve this environment, adding to the island’s roughly 350 full-time residents. Those lucky enough to gain access can surf at Blinky Beach, snorkel in the coral reef marine park, scuba dive at one of 50 sites or choose from dozens of hiking trails. The ultimate trail summits Mount Gower and takes about 8 hours round-trip. Now that Lord Howe Island has gained some attention, book a guesthouse before the wait becomes even longer.
Cam Ranh, Vietnam
If Cam Ranh sounds familiar, that’s because this deep-water bay on Vietnam’s southern coast once served as a major American military base during the Vietnam War. The area is now far more peaceful and starting to emerge as a more attractive alternative to popular resort areas like Halong Bay in the North. But those who stick around will find miles of pristine beaches and new luxury hotels. The Anam (pictured) opened in 2018, making it Cam Ranh's first 5-star resort. Radisson Blu Resort Cam Ranh followed in 2019, and more hotels are in the works. The area is an hour flight from Ho Chi Minh City, but Cam Ranh also has its own airport, complete with a new international terminal. Another incentive to visit is the newish 18-hole KN Royal Links Cam Ranh golf course, designed by none other than golf great Greg Norman.