A few years ago someone came up with the term slow travel and many people thought that this might be a short-term trend just like many others. Indeed, slow travel is not for everyone, especially not for the kind of people who try to tick the box „70 places you have to see before you turn blablabla“. Slow travel is a different mindset. Its main focus is to explore and experience a country, get in touch with local people, learn about their culture and get an in-depth impression of the country and its residents. It also means to take your time and stay a couple of days rather than rushing through the main sights within a few hours. I asked some travel bloggers to share some unknown places around the world for slow travel. Grab a coffee and read about these 11 spots you probably have not heard of before.
1. Rwenzori Mountains - Kongo/Uganda, Africa
The Rwenzori Mountains are Africa’s best-kept secret. They straddle the border between two countries and the equator, have more than six massifs, five vegetation zones, and at least three (disappearing) tropic-zone glaciers. They are home to incredible plant life that grows nowhere else in the world – and almost no one knows of them. It takes at least a week to do a circuit trek of the Rwenzoris up to the peaks and back down, so this is not for someone in a hurry. Huge trees topped with cabbage-like plants and three-meter high lobelias, shrouded in mist and backed by enormous peaks, create a magical, alien landscape. These plants like boggy conditions, however, so there is a lot of mud, and the environment is delicate. For this reason, there is a cap of 10,000 visitors a year, and this limit is not usually met.
It is mandatory to hire porters to carry your gear and a guide to lead the way, and there are huts to stay in at regular intervals along the route. This helps employ local people, so that they have a vested interest in preserving this special environment, makes for an easier hike (it’s hard enough with all the mud to navigate), and helps minimize stress on the environment. The Ugandan side of the mountains is safer and easier to access than the Kongo side. The glaciers are (not so) slowly disappearing, but for now anyway, this is still a truly incredible place to visit. A place to stay before and after the trek is Rwenzori Turaco Camp. It’s basic but has three rooms, a bar and a restaurant that serves traditional Ugandan food and is run by the Mihunga village community.
2. São Tomé and Príncipe - Africa
The tiny country of São Tomé & Principe, often just called São Tomé, is the second smallest country in Africa only after Seychelles. A country that most people would have a problem pinpointing on a map and that´s maybe the reason only 29.000 tourists visited São Tomé last year. But don’t the let the small amount of tourists scare you away, the country is amazing. It’s probably the cleanest country in all of Africa and if you are there between October and March you can see four different types of turtle species lay their eggs on the Southern part of the island, including the rare leatherback. São Tomé also offers numerous hikes around the island, from short day hikes, and multi-day hikes that require camping.
The best way to get around the country is by rental car, and there’s no reason to be afraid of traffic jams, during a full day of driving did I encounter less than 50 other cars. If you head to the southern part of São Tomé you can stay at Praia Inhame Eco Lodge, one of the best places to see turtles during the season. From there take a short boat trip to the neighboring Rolas Island, cross the equator or relax at one of the best beaches in the whole country.
3. Canmore - Canada
Canmore is a stunning town located in the beautiful Canadian Rockies. It is a sister town to the famous Banff National Park in Canada just 20 minutes outside of Banff. It is an ideal destination for slow traveling. Why?
It is not as commercialized as Banff. You can find local cafes and stores in the main townsite and the ideal way to explore Canmore is by walking. The main street is pedestrian friendly and as you explore the town, you will see historical (North West Police Barracks) and quirky art sculptures (Big head Sculptures) along the way. There are lots of easy hike options in Canmore and my favorite one is Policemen’s Creek located in the heart of the city.
An ideal slow travel destination, the main activities in Canmore include short hikes, yoga and relaxation activity centers, enjoying art and local delicacies.
The unique thing about Canmore is that you have access to amazing views of the Canadian Rockies from any part of the city – be it a hotel room, a fast food joint, main street or stores. Entry to Canmore is completely free (unlike Banff National Park, where you pay $20/car entry for a 24-hour pass). Hotel rates in Canmore are also cheaper as compared to Banff, making it a great alternative to staying in Canmore. There are quite a few eco-friendly hotels to choose from in Canmore, namely, Falcon Crest Lodge (my favorite), newly built Coast Hotels and Best Western Pocaterra Inn Canmore
4. Rupununi region - South America
The Rupununi region is located in Guyana, one of the least explored countries in South America. It is fairly isolated: it can be reached via a charter plane ride from Georgetown, the capital. However, the flight only goes as far as an airstrip (picture a strip of green grass in the middle of the jungle) from where it is necessary to hop on a boat to get to one of the few tiny villages that are scattered around the region.
Visiting Rupununi means getting completely off the beaten path: there are no tourists in sight, and chances are that the few visitors who venture all the way there will be the only ones enjoying the incredible sights of the rainforest, fishing for piranhas, joining the strenuous hike to Mount Awarmie or Mount Surama, and listening to the sound of howler monkeys calling in the middle of the night. It’s not the most comfortable of places to visit: the heat and humidity are fierce and hardly give a break at night, there are insects galore and spiders, lizards, frogs and bats are common roommates in the very basic eco-lodges. This is not the kind of place one should go to if looking for a luxury getaway, but one to rejoice with nature and appreciate how wild and predominant it can be, and how important it is to preserve it.
The Amerindian communities living in the Rupununi region, in fact, have made it a mission to protect the environment, wildlife and with that their culture in Guyana. They are the ones managing the few lodges open to travelers – among them Rewa Ecolodge in Rewa, and Surama Lodge in Surama.
5. Theth Valley - Albania
Theth is a small village in the Albanian Alps in Northern Albania. Surrounded by the Accursed Mountains, Theth Valley is an absolute stunner. If you’re looking for an alternative travel destination, where you can fully disconnect as well as hike, Theth belongs on your bucket list. The village itself is little more than a collection of modest guesthouses and farms. And, therein lies its charm. You won’t find any crude hotel developments, trendy cafés or tourist-catering services (at least not yet). Theth’s authenticity is fully intact.
Its remote location and poor roads make it inaccessible for the average driver. The best way to reach Theth is by taking a shuttle from the city Shkodra (10 EUR per person). Theth is slowly growing in popularity, due to its position along the multi-day Peaks of the Balkans trail. It also marks the beginning, or end (depending on which direction you’re hiking), of the Valbona Pass trail to Valbona Valley. A great way to experience Northern Albania is by hiking from Theth to Valbona Valley and arranging transport back to Shkodra via Komani Lake.
Most travelers will only spend one night in Theth, before embarking on the hike to Valbona. However, we highly recommend slowing down and spending 2 or 3 nights. Apart from hiking, one of the best ways to enjoy Theth is unwinding at a guesthouse. We chose Gjin Thana, a rustic guesthouse perched above the valley, and it was the best part of our trip. Each day the family prepares a homemade feast for breakfast and dinner. They source their ingredients from their farm. Even their wine is homemade.
6. Flemish Ardennes - Flanders
The ‘Vlaamse Ardennen’ or Flemish Ardennes is a hilly region in Flanders, the upper half of Belgium. As the rest of Flanders is almost entirely flat, it received its name thanks to the resemblance with the Ardennes, a region in southern Belgium and Northern France. The main cities in the region are Oudenaarde, Ronse and Zottegem, but the charm lies in the picturesque villages scattered around lush green valleys.
It’s the perfect place to slow down your travels and discover another side of Belgium. The area is very popular with hikers and cyclists alike but caters to the bon-vivant (those who like to live well) as well. Many villages produce typical products like beer, mattentaarten (a delicious kind of pastry), goat cheese and Lekkies (a type of pilgrimage candy), so go ahead and try them out!
The best time of year to come and visit is between the 15th of April and the 15th of May, as this is the bluebell season (though mind that they only bloom for about two weeks!). Forget about the crowded Hallerbos and discover the blue-purple carpet in one of the six forests of the Flemish Ardennes.
A good way to spend the night is in one of the many sustainable accommodation options. Hoeve De Schapenkop is the perfect place for your family holiday and holds the Green Key label (a quality mark for environmentally friendly tourism companies). Het Natuurlijk Genot is an ecological B&B (with eco-garden!).
7. Zabljak - Montenegro
One of the best destinations for a sustainable slow holiday is the lovely ski and hiking town of Zabljak in Montenegro. While the crowds have discovered the Bay of Kotor and other cities on Montenegro’s coastline, luckily, inland Montenegro remains a hidden gem. Here, you’ll find the Tara River Canyon, which is the second longest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon. It’s a whopping 78 kilometers in length and 1,300 meters deep at its deepest point. It’s a popular destination for river rafting, so if you’re the adventurous type, you can get your adrenaline pumping with a river rafting trip.
Besides the Tara River, there’s gorgeous Durmitor National Park right outside of town. You can walk to the beautiful Crno Jezero (Black Lake) from Zabljak, which is the starting point of many trails. There are tons of different trails in Durmitor National Park from multi-day treks to day hikes, so there is plenty to do to keep you in town for a while. You could hike to each of the 18 glacial lakes in Durmitor, trek to the top of its highest peak Bobotov Kuk, discover an ice cave, or just relax in the quaint center of town. Zabljak is well set up for tourism yet it never feels “touristy” as you won’t find souvenir kitsch and tour agencies everywhere – rather, you’ll find a handful of restaurants, guesthouses, and hotels catering to independent-minded hikers and travelers. Be sure to try some the local food.
8. Lookout Mountain - Georgia, USA
One of my favorite places in the world is a tiny, lesser-known mountain town located along the edge of the Tennessee and Georgia border in the United States. Lookout Mountain, Georgia is named after a mountain bearing the same name, and a short drive to its summit reveals a magical place that feels almost like a secret city hidden away from the rest of the world. The top of the mountain is known as Rock City because of the immense size of its boulders as well as the natural paths cutting through them like twisted streets and highways.
Visitors find their way through tiny crevices in these moss-covered rocks before reaching a 180-foot suspension bridge that leads to a gorgeous 90-foot waterfall. High Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls I’ve ever beheld, and from the observation platform located directly above it, you can see seven states on a sunny day. There’s also a cave full of fairies – Fairyland Caverns – located at the top of the mountain, and it’s one of the most unique and charming places I’ve ever visited. Many visitors to the tiny town rent nearby mountain cabins to have a quiet vacation getaway for a week or more. Chattanooga, Tennessee lies just six miles away as well, and there’s an old historic train whose cars have been converted into a hotel. It’s called the Chattanooga Choo Choo Hotel. If you wish to use Chattanooga as a hub to exploring Lookout Mountain, you’ll be pleased to know that the city is known for its sustainability efforts, can easily be explored on foot, and even features a thirteen-mile riverfront path in addition to many green spaces.
9. The Island of Ameland - Netherlands
Ameland, The Netherlands, is one of the Wadden Islands. The Wadden Islands are islands that are located North of The Netherlands in the World Heritage Site of the Wadden Sea. The island is calm, quaint and peaceful. It only has four villages and besides that, you will only find nature on Ameland. You can only reach the island by taking a ferry from Holwerd. Taking a car on the ferry to the island is very expensive, therefore you won’t see many cars on the islands. Most tourists rent bikes as soon as they arrive on the island in the village of Nes, others park their car in Holwerd and bring their bikes on the ferry.
When you’re cycling through Ameland you will notice the long and beautiful beaches, nature reserves, the endless dunes and the cool ocean breeze. Visiting the Wadden Island of Ameland will be a breath of fresh air for your soul. Taking it easily fits the island of Ameland perfectly. And cycling all across the island gives you the chance to really explore the island, instead of rushing through the island and seeing the highlights by car. Besides that, cycling is also better for the environment and better for yourself. After a long, but fulfilling day exploring Ameland you will go to bed in your hotel with a smile on your face. That’s what Ameland does to you.
10. West Sarangani Province - Philippinen
Western Sarangani Province is being comprised of Municipality of Maitum, Kiamba and Maasim. Sarangani Province is located in the Southern part of the Philippines which remains to be a less frequent travel destination. With the General Santos City Airport nearby, Western Sarangani can easily be reached and explored.
Why Western Sarangani is a travel destination? Go and experience the White Water Tubing in New La Union, Maitum and relax and witness an amazing underwater ecosystem at Tuka Marine Park, Kiamba or soar high and feel the adventure with Sarangani Paraglide in Safi Ranch, Maasim.
Amongst these famous tourist spots, there are waterfalls that only locals know, of hiking trails which paths are still less traveled and coastline that’s perfect for lazy afternoon walks.
Staying in Western Sarangani is simple and sustainable.
The locals are accommodating people to let them participate in livelihood projects and daily activities. The common sources of income are processing coconut products, maintaining plantations and rice fields, livestock farming, commercial fishponds and fishing. You might even be welcomed in a local’s home. Yes, this kind of Filipino hospitality can still be experienced in Sarangani.
11. Pranburi - Thailand
Thailand is the epitome of an over traveled destination in most people’s books, and from taking a single glance at the hordes of luminous backpackers who flock to the islands for the full moon bash or the congested streets of Bangkok, you’d be forgiven for thinking that “unknown” isn’t much of an option here – but you’d be wrong.
Pranburi is a quiet, countryside district on the western side of the Gulf of Thailand. The landscape is filled with rolling green hills, pineapple fields, and dusty dirt tracks that wind between them. The little town of Pak Nam Pran, where we’ve stayed for the past year, is snuggled up against a protected mangrove reserve and the winding banks of the Pranburi River. It’s quiet, authentic, cheap, and offers a rare glimpse of what life in rural Thailand is all about.
Pranburi’s real charm lies in the great outdoors, and there’s no better way of experiencing that than by getting up close and personal by way of paddle boarding down the mangrove-lined river or hiking up the jungle-clad peaks. Surprisingly, Pranburi is something of an adventure destination in its own right, it being a primo place for kiteboarding, cable wakeboarding, and even paragliding.
Base yourself in one of the boutique beachfront hotels – Villa Maroc if you’re feeling fancy, T-Raya Resort for something more mid-range – both of which offer walkable access to the beach, the Khao Kalok mountain hike, and a smattering of local restaurants and bars.
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