Seriously underrated travel destinations: Adventure and long haul

By Natasha Culzac
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Do something different this year and travel to a destination off the beaten track - you might even save some money!

There are so many underrated and under-visited places that need exploring, not least because some of them will be a hell of a lot cheaper than the usual haunts. If you’re thinking about going on an adventure or long haul break next year, consider one of these:

For Thrill-Seekers

Scottish Highlands

For true escapism from the hectic rat race, could there be any place better than Scotland’s maze of lochs, mountains and rugged coastline? Why head to further flung destinations when you can go white-water rafting, gorge walking, skiing, kayaking, mountain biking, zip-lining, bungee jumping and skydiving in your own country?

 

What to do

Rising from the waters at Loch Linnhe, Britain’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis, looms a huge 4,406ft (1,344m) over the town of Fort William, which works as an ideal base for climbers. There’s a mountain gondola in the summer and opportunities to paraglide and mountain bike.

However, there is much more to the Highlands than Ben Nevis. Cairngorms National Park is twice the size of the Lake District and there are bike trails, orienteering courses and even husky racing. Drop into the Glenlivet Distillery for a dram of whisky before windsurfing at Loch Morlich.

Take to the skies with Scotland’s oldest skydiving centre, Skydiving Strathallan, while Highland Fling Bungee offers two locations to throw yourself off a ledge as well as a host of other activities such as a 40-meter high bridge swing, quad biking and clay pigeon shooting. There’s also a 2km-long zip line running through Scottish pine trees.

There are five ski centres to choose from, all offering something slightly different. For two of these spots, Glenshee and The Lecht (where daily lift passes are roughly £30), the nearby Braemar Youth Hostel will help keep costs down.

How to get there

Easyjet has cheap flights to Inverness, while booking in advance on the trains should also get you a good deal.

Madeira

Being closer to Africa than its country of ownership, Portugal means that Madeira has an enviable island location in the North Atlantic, laughing as it basks in a subtropical climate and a general chilled-out vibe. However, a beach destination it ain't - you're more likely to find hiking, surfing, tobogganing, canyoning and paragliding on this mountainous, volcanic island.

 

What to do

The range of activities and walking routes on offer means that you can really work up an appetite for some of its signature dishes such as espetada (seasoned meat skewers cooked with bay leaves), and of course its eponymous wine.

Thanks to pioneering engineers in the 16th century, Madeira is endowed with a fantastic network of levadas (irrigation systems) that provide extensive walking trails. There’s also scuba diving, jeep safaris and dolphin watching. Madeira Adventure Kingdom is an operator with these on offer.

Year-round warm temperatures make Madeira a perfect spring or autumn trip when you just need to flee the madness at home.

 

How to get there
Monarch and Easyjet fly directly to Madeira from London, while multiple airlines fly from other UK airports including Manchester.

Long Haul Holiday

Colombia

The days of living in Pablo Escobar’s shadow are well and truly over for this South American country. An influx of tourism has been a boon for the nation, which seeks to pull itself out of the darkness of decades of violence and political instability.

It still has its problems - the crime rate remains quite high and protests are frequent - but Colombia has many jewels in its midst that attract intrepid travellers from across the globe, perhaps partly because of its issues. Some of its cities, such as Medellin, were until quite recently totally cut off to tourists due to the staggering levels of brutality and corruption as a result of gang-led violence. These areas have become a lot safer than they once were, and thanks to extensive regeneration have now opened up to visitors.

 

What to do

The sprawling slums of Medellin are an intriguing sight as you fly over them in a cable car, installed to help connect hilltop residents with the bustling city below.

Other must-sees include the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Cartagena - a 16th century port and fortress on the Caribbean Sea in the north, and the stunning Tayrona National Park, which is part-rainforest-part-beach. If you go in the beginning of the year, also check out the explosion of colour and dance at the Barranquilla Carnival - second only in size to Rio.

 

How to get there

Avianca does direct flights to Bogota, the capital, from London, while flights may be cheaper if you’re willing to stop off.

Mozambique

By all accounts, this southeastern African country is not for the faint hearted. It’s been largely missed from the itineraries of bloggers and journalists for a range of reasons, but is lauded by adventurers as an incredibly lush, desolate and interesting destination where great swathes of tropical beaches on the Indian Ocean will see just two or three tourists at a time.

 

What to do

The south of Mozambique holds the capital, Maputo, and just a 45-minute flight away is the sandbanks and clear waters of the Bazaruto Archipelago, which boasts dolphins, pink flamingos and turtles. The beach resort of Vilankulo is nearby and both can be explored on horseback. There’s amazing diving and fauna spotting to be had, as well island hopping and deep sea fishing. The town of Tofo offers a more traditional backpacker vibe with bars and immaculate beach, while in the centre of the country the Gorongosa National Park provides a safari holiday off the beaten track.

 

The cost of living is fairly cheap - dorms are available at roughly $9 a night or a basic guesthouse room is $32. It’s worth reading this post by travel blogger Never Ending Footsteps for a realistic and informed account of what travelling around Mozambique is really like.

Top Takeaway

Why not one-up your mates by visiting some amazingly unique places, rather than the staid attractions seen by everyone and their dog - just imagine the Instagram posts! Getting off the beaten track can have its challenges, but it might also be rewarding and in some cases a lot cheaper than travelling to the usual suspects. Just make sure you do enough research beforehand to ensure your itinerary is packed with fun and fascinating things that capture your imagination.

 

Author bio: Thanks to a journalistic career history and a childhood at Sylvia Young Theatre School, Natasha has her fingers in a few professional pies, doing her best impression of a model and actor as well as personal finance writer. Outside of work she compulsively watches BBC period dramas and constantly lies to herself that this year will be the year she learns French, once and for all.

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