Times readers’ underrated destinations of the world
Mountain province, Philippines
Many travelers have heard of Banaue in Ifugao province, the Philippines, home of the rice terraces often dubbed the “eighth wonder of the world.” Few have heard of Mountain province, Ifugao’s northern neighbor. The people of Bontoc were the friendliest and most hospitable in the Philippines, a country noted for hospitality. Sagada was home to the noted photographer Eduardo Masferre. Be sure to visit Sagada Weaving and the caves. One cave has a pool that’s completely dark, yet safe for swimming. Another cave has a unique entrance -- hundreds of caskets line the walls.
-- Scott Ingram, Camarillo (Philippines Department of Tourism)
Green Lake, Wis.
Green Lake is a beautiful community in south-central Wisconsin. The town is a throwback to an earlier, simpler, friendlier time. There is no congestion or pollution. The people are generous and open. The town is picturesque, with quaint shops overlooking beautiful Green Lake. All my stress evaporated there. I could relax and refocus my thoughts on how to simplify my life to improve my family’s quality of life.
Istanbul is long known as a city endowed with layer upon layer of cultural riches dating from ancient times. But beyond the obvious sites in the Old City, there is a jewel that’s rarely seen: the Kariye Museum. It’s not easy to do but it is well worth the effort. The interior walls are covered with exquisite Byzantine religious art that has no equal anywhere in the world. Despite earthquake damage in 1894, many spectacular mosaics remain, awesome in their fine detail, displaying subtle shadings and rich colors that are lacking in earlier Byzantine mosaics.
Nice is about two hours northwest of Sacramento on Clear Lake. It is scenic and relaxing, and close enough for Southern Californians to enjoy without spending a fortune getting there. There are pleasant local restaurants, antique shops, wineries and the Lake County Museum in Lakeport, about 15 minutes from Nice. Nice also has beautiful orchards and dozens of bike paths.
-- Hannah Kuhn, Simi Valley (Lake County Marketing Department)
Valley of Fire State Park, Nev.
Valley of Fire has spectacular sandstone formations, pastel rock formations, a hiking trail to an old outlaw hide-out and Native American petroglyphs. It’s a wonderful loop day trip from Las Vegas. You reach the park by way of Henderson, up the west side of Lake Mead. Take the winding road through the park back to Interstate 15. Don’t go in the summer heat; the park is appropriately named.
Though most people visit the mission in San Luis Obispo and a certain pink inn while on their way to Morro Bay, Hearst Castle and Big Sur, only a few have discovered the beauty of Santa Rosa Creek Road. Mostly just one lane wide, the road meanders through hills and meadows of blue lupine, sunset orange California poppies, waist-high wild mustard flowers and green pasture land. And, of course, there is the creek and blue sky. (You might want to skip the drive when the hills are wearing their coats of summer brown.)
Santa Rosa Creek Road intersects with Main Street in Cambria, or California Highway 46, south of Cambria. Watch carefully. Turn left from 46 onto Santa Rosa Creek Road.
The Santander region may not be well known to Americans, but it is full of hidden gems, particularly its many wonderful national parks and towns. Bucaramanga, the capital of Santander, is a great place to shop for jewelry and shoes. The Dann Carlton Hotel is a great place to stay downtown. The crown jewel is Parque Nacional del Chicamocha (with its new gondola). Visitors have a panoramic view of Chicamocha Canyon. At this park, kids can go for pony rides and ride on a Chivas bus. Adventurous folks can go parasailing, take a zip line down the canyon, hike down a waterfall or take a buggy through the mud. There are many rafting trips in the area. The region is known for its wonderful tropical fruit and its delicious ants (that’s right . . . ants). The pineapple is supposed to be the sweetest in the world; the coffee is fantastic too.
The Recoleta Cemetery, one of the oldest in Buenos Aires, is filled with opulent, ornate private mausoleums, with each wealthy family trying to outdo the others. It is the final resting place of Eva Perón and many other famous Argentines.
-- Richard Proctor, San Clemente (Leo La Valle / EPA)
Borneo is not much visited and not expensive. We saw orangutans up close and free. We traveled to Sipadan and swam with turtles right next to us. We also sat and watched a herd of elephants eating at the water’s edge completely unafraid, although we were sitting a few feet from them. This island is still unspoiled by heavy tourism.
-- Sharon Pearson, San Juan Capistrano (John Henderson)
You have to see a map to appreciate how Harpswell, population about 6,000, is situated on one of the Maine coast’s “finger” peninsulas jutting into the Atlantic. The feel of the place is a mixture of coastal Great Britain and old Americana. I was struck by the haunting fog and cool, salty air. It’s surreal. Most homes have yellow lights on their porches because of the frequent summer fog. The Harpswell Inn ( www.harpswellinn.com) is lovely. There is also the Harpswell Historical Society for history buffs. Notable Mainers who resided there include Edna St. Vincent Millay, Robert Peary and Harriet Beecher Stowe.
Perhaps “underrated” doesn’t apply to Bruges, but it’s one of the most pleasant places we’ve visited. It exceeded our expectations. We found a small hotel in Bruges that was delightful -- nice room; excellent plumbing; good elevator though small; wonderful breakfasts with meats, cheeses and sweet rolls; and free computer use. We walked the town from top to bottom, peeked into stores and restaurants, watched women weave lace, observed boats on the canals loaded with tourists, visited ancient churches, ate frites and Belgian waffles. When we were there, there was a parade, which included men dressed in armor on horseback and a princess served by a serf.
Situated on a small, beachfront harbor, Chacala is a less hectic and unassuming alternative to Puerto Vallarta, one hour away. Besides the beach, there is a nearby yoga-wellness center. Its American founders are credited with awakening this sleepy, untouched fishing village. It’s a perfect destination to recharge one’s batteries.
-- Michael Ambrose, San Diego(Brian Vander Brug / Los Angeles Times)
Boracay Island, Philippines
The main beach on Boracay Island is pretty with crystal clear water, relaxing palm shades and white sand. The beauty comes alive underwater with breathtaking coral reefs and sea life. The snorkeling is superb.
The island of Santo Antão is one of nine islands that make up the archipelago nation of Cape Verde, a Portuguese-speaking country off the coast of West Africa. The Valley of Paul is particularly breathtaking, combining an extinct volcano crater, a deep valley terraced with small-scale farm plots and high, rugged rocky landscapes that tumble into the sea. Food and lodging are inexpensive, and the people are friendly.
Bodh Gaya was the location of Siddhartha Gautama’s enlightenment, attained sitting under a Bodhi tree. The ancestor of that tree is housed at the majestic Mahabodhi Temple in the city. Much is made of other great religious destinations, but Bodh Gaya is often forgotten.
-- Gennaro Salamone, New York(Callum Bulmer / Maya Vision Inte)
Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia
Lake Toba was formed in the crater of a volcano that blew long ago. There are places to stay on the lake (humble and affordable), and one place we ate had wonderful fresh guacamole. When you leave, travel on through Sumatra, where there are former prisoner-of-war camps that were run by the Japanese as well as the world’s biggest flower, which blooms once a year.
It’s easy for the former Yugoslav states to be lumped together, so Croatia is overlooked and underrated. The country has a lot to offer with its food, weather, hospitality and sightseeing. As a tourist destination, it’s especially desirable, because it’s inexpensive when compared with neighboring countries. The variety of the landscapes, from inland to the coast, is great. I cannot emphasize enough how beautiful the Croatian women are.
The towering trees of Redwood National Park bring life into perspective. Walking among these ancient giants on the pleasant Lady Bird Johnson Grove trail can be romantic, inspirational and refreshing. The air is moist and clean. Moss, huge ferns and brown pine needles decorate the path. My husband and I visited the park a few years ago and stayed at Turtle Rocks Oceanfront Inn in Trinidad. At night, we heard sea lions barking. During the day, we explored the wild, beautiful redwoods. It was a trip I’ll never forget.
However dangerous the rest of the country, Cartagena is a safe enclave because of the huge Colombian military presence. It is essentially a modern walled fortress surrounding an ancient walled fortress. Residents of Cartagena are desperate to show the rare visitors that their city is safe, friendly and full of history and vibrant culture. You won’t meet many Americans here.
South Korea is often overlooked as a travel destination. I visited for the first time last year and fell in love with the country. Like other big cities in Asia, Seoul is exciting and beautiful, with things to do, see and eat around every corner. Trying all the different foods (like spicy kimchi and octopus) is an adventure in itself. There are plenty of great places to explore throughout the country, especially for college-age people like me. With the exchange rate almost double what it was a year ago, I can’t wait to go back.
-- Jennifer Goger, Los Angeles (Kathy M.Y. Pyon / Los Angeles Times)
This small architectural jewel was the private church of the French royal family. The huge stained-glass windows surround you, creating rainbow-colored, three-dimensional shapes in the air. It’s like standing inside a kaleidoscope, but much better. Most tourists skip this one, but it’s a must-see.
-- Liz deForest, Los Angeles (Beverly Beyette / Los Angeles Times)
Although I’d heard of Montenegro, I really didn’t quite know where it was until I started planning a trip to the Baltic region of Eastern Europe. Kotor, a wonderfully preserved walled city at the end of the southernmost fiord in Europe, is just a two-hour ride from Dubrovnik, Croatia. The food and drink are very good, they use the euro, and there is a 1,350-step hike to the top of the fortress that gives one a commanding view of the fiord from above and is a must for any visitor. I teach travel photography and I’ve been to more than 35 countries on five continents, but Kotor is now my favorite place. I almost don’t want to let the secret out.
Perast, on the edge of the Bay of Kotor, Montenegro.(Susan Spano / Los Angeles Times)
Although St. Louis is a medium-sized Midwestern city, it contains the cultural attractions of a large European city, most free of charge. St. Louis Art Museum, Forest Park, Saint Louis Zoo, Missouri Botanical Garden and the Cathedral Basilica are all major and impressive venues. Not to mention Anheuser-Busch Brewery and the Arch. Lodging and food in the city are fair-priced, and nearly all parking is free, even at major venues. St. Louis has the best value of any urban destination anywhere.
Meteora consists of about 60 huge columns of rock, up to 984 feet high, many large enough for a monastery to be built on top. Starting about the year 1000 and extending into the 1500s, 24 monasteries were built, but now only four are inhabited. The Varlaam monastery was founded in 1518 by a rich family on the site of a 1300s cenobitic hermitage. Megalo Meteora was founded in 1356. Parts of its church date from the 1300s. The Meteora monasteries contain churches, libraries filled with ancient books, treasuries filled with icons and liturgical ornaments, and artwork and frescoes beyond your wildest imagination. Each stone, each piece of lumber, the workers, the monks and the art treasures were all transported up or down using rope.
-- Jim Humberd, Burbank (Greece National Tourism Organization)
“The Last Supper,” Wieliczka salt mine, Poland
According to UNESCO, “The historic salt mine in Wieliczka lies on nine levels, its major shafts, and 3,000 chambers stretch for the total of 186 miles, reaching the depth of over 1,000 feet.” We visited the old salt mine and the Chapel of Blessed Kinga, more than 300 feet below ground. The chapel’s chandeliers consist of dangling salt crystals, the floor is carved as if it were tile. The many bas-reliefs (maybe 20 feet by 30 feet), include one of Leonardo da Vinci‘s “The Last Supper,” carved in salt, full-size, 300 feet underground. In a way, this reproduction is almost more of an artistic achievement than the original in Milan, Italy.
Magnificent Freycinet National Park on Tasmania’s east coast is a highlight. Our day hike revealed many unobstructed panoramas of Tasman Bay and its emerald and azure waters. A visit to Port Arthur, a penal settlement, and the Isle of the Dead, a burial ground for convicts in the 1800s, is entertaining. Finally, a visit to Hobart, the capital and once a shipbuilding and whaling port, adds to Tasmania’s diversity.
-- Linda Mattick, Manhattan Beach (Clive Rose / Getty Images)
Charlevoix, Quebec, Canada
The Charlevoix region of Quebec province, east of Quebec City, is beautiful, rural French countryside along the St. Lawrence River. There is great scenery, excellent hiking, fabulous food, agri-tourism (such as emu and duck farms) an art colony, music conservatory and Parc national des Hautes-Gorges. In La Malbaie, the Musée de Charlevoix is nice. There’s also a large, historic Fairmont Hotel. The area is not crowded with tourists. Although not much English is spoken in the area, we didn’t find that to be a hindrance.
This area has the greatest diversity of landscape, flora and fauna I have ever seen: huge mountains and open plains, gushing streams and stunning lakes, ancient bristlecone pines and young trees, verdant valleys and scrub desert; volcanic hot springs and icy snowfields. And the towns of Lone Pine, Lee Vining and Bishop are small, quaint and full of character.
-- Badri Ananth, Santa Barbara (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)
What recent newspaper headlines overlook is Armenia’s rugged beauty and its mix of ancient history and modern convenience. Armenia is small (about the size of L.A.) and is easily visited in a one-week vacation. It offers opportunities for all sorts of activities: jet skiing on Lake Sevan, hiking in Zankezour or Lori, wine tasting in Areni, visiting ancient monasteries, and shopping and clubbing in Yerevan. Armenians are friendly and hospitable, and the exchange rate is favorable. The political situation is generally stable and, because it’s predominantly Christian, the culture is very Western.
-- M.J. Love, Rocklin, Calif. (Anacleto Rapping / Los Angeles Times)
Adirondack Park, N.Y.
To wake up in a tent just below tree line on Mt. Algonquin and make your way across an alpine meadow to the summit just after sunrise is to know you’re alive. From land, lake and air, there’s a lot to do in every season. Fall colors will take your breath away; nighttime cross-country skiing on Mt. Van Hoevenburg will leave you speechless; fishing in the early morning hours on a fog-coated lake provides a bracing way to start a day; ice fishing in the winter will test your mettle; and red wine and escargot on a deck overlooking Lake Champlain can’t be beat at the end of a day of hiking.
Covewood Lodge on Big Moose Lake in The Adirondacks in New York State.(Jim Riley)
Mazatlan, with its vibrant local culture, long, sandy beaches and the third-largest carnival in the world, after Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans, is probably one of the least expensive beach destinations left.
-- John Palmerin, Pico Rivera(Michael Robinson Chavez, Los Angeles Times)
Uruguay is known for its great scenery, especially near Punta del Este, good food and friendly people. It’s a short flight or ferry ride from Buenos Aires. The best time to go is in summer (December through March), but I went in November and had a wonderful time.