When it comes to travel, the Americas offer a vast and diverse range of destinations, from iconic tourist hotspots to hidden gems that are waiting to be discovered. While many travellers are quick to book plane flights to the most popular destinations, such as Machu Picchu, the Galapagos Islands and New York, there are many other amazing places to visit in the Americas that are still off the beaten path.
Slow travel and visiting underrated destinations are two great ways to practise sustainable tourism. When you slow down and get off the beaten track, you can immerse yourself in the local culture and have a more authentic travel experience. You can also help to support local businesses and economies.
In this article, we will explore some of the best America travel destinations off the beaten path. These destinations offer something for everyone, from stunning natural beauty to rich cultural heritage. So if you’re looking for a truly enriching travel experience, consider visiting one of these hidden gems in the Americas.
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Underrated travel destinations in North America
Contribution by Karen Warren of Outdoor Adventure Sampler
The Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador is an isolated destination to enjoy natural beauty and outdoor adventures. There are more nesting sea birds in Newfoundland than people. The warmth and humour of native Newfoundlanders, as they welcome you to their gorgeous province, is a real charm.
I started my visit to Newfoundland in the historic port city of St. John’s. A hike up to the top of Signal Hill in the city was marvellously scenic. On the top, you can glimpse spouting whales or wandering icebergs.
Next, I headed out to Witless Bay for a whale-watching boat trip. The Witless Bay Ecological Reserve has some of the best humpback whale watching in North America. In addition, colonies of over a half-million nesting puffins can be observed. I find these clown birds of the sea a rare treat to observe.
My favourite sea kayaking experience for iceberg viewing was near Twillingate, the iceberg alley of Newfoundland. We were paddling along in the fog when it suddenly lifted enough for us to see a huge iceberg right behind us. We were flabbergasted by how a house size iceberg just emerged from the fog. Up to 90% of the iceberg can be underwater. Therefore, staying a safe distance is critical as the icy giant can roll over or calve unexpectedly and capsize a kayak. Having the proper sea kayaking gear will ensure a comfortable and safe experience in the frigid Newfoundland waters.
With all the secluded natural beauty and sustainable outdoor activities, Newfoundland is a perfect off the beaten track destination in North America.
McCarthy, Alaska, USA
Contribution by Heather of This Nostalgic Life
Tucked away at the end of a 60-mile dirt road, McCarthy offers an untouched sanctuary for adventurers. My relationship with this town extends beyond the usual; I’ve visited often because we own a cabin there.
McCarthy epitomizes slow travel, offering genuine immersion in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park. Life here moves at a relaxed pace, and nature reigns. If you’re curious about how to get to McCarthy, Alaska, the journey itself is an unforgettable experience!
One of my fondest memories was on a late September night during my first visit to McCarthy, shortly after moving to Alaska. Out by the bonfire with friends, we noticed the sky began to glow with the Northern Lights—magenta and green—just dancing around. It was super active, like a light show on steroids!
Honestly, my jaw hit the forest floor. It’s a great place to view the aurora borealis because there is no light pollution—the town is not on the grid.
But the allure of McCarthy extends beyond its night skies. Don’t miss Root Glacier or the old mining town of Kennicott, both accessible by a scenic trek. Whether you’re an avid hiker, a photographer, or a history buff, McCarthy offers plenty for everyone as a unique community on the edge of the wilderness.
Responsible travel is essential. Camp in designated spots, adhere to ‘leave no trace’ principles, and respect the community’s reliance on specific water sources. Your actions have ripple effects in this fragile ecosystem.
McCarthy, Alaska awaits you if you’re seeking an authentic, soul-enriching experience away from the humdrum of everyday life.
Contribution by Meg of Fox in the Forest
If you’re looking for off the beaten path destinations in the USA then head to Colorado. This state is perfect for outdoor enthusiasts who love rock climbing, rafting, and hiking.
In fact, that’s why I moved here from Lake Tahoe 13 years ago. I live here with my family and love hitting the trails.
Before you leave Denver, enjoy some of the most unique things to do in Colorado. Catch a show at the Red Rocks Amphitheater, a theatre made of natural rocks. Also, stop by the International Church of Cannabis and check out the vibrant murals that adorn the interior.
Sure, everyone in the town of Estes Park goes to Rocky Mountain National Park but be different and do the Via Ferrata. It’s a fun activity for anyone who likes climbing.
You could also visit the Stanley Hotel and do a ghost tour through the hotel featured in The Shining before checking out the hedge maze. Afterwards, head to the Black Canyon of the Gunnison.
We love it since there are no crowds and you can quietly enjoy this amazing canyon. It’s also nice that you don’t have to get up at 3:00 am to hike like in RMNP. However, we found so much peace one time that we forgot to lock up our food and got visited by a black bear in the middle of the night.
Before you visit, be a sustainable traveller and always leave no trace. This means using already established campsites, packing out any toilet paper/hygienic waste you produce, not feeding wildlife, and leaving the area better than when you found it.
Hidden Gems in the Caribbean
By Mansoureh From Travel with Mansoureh
Nestled between the Caribbean Sea and the rainforests of Central America, Belize is a great destination for adventure seekers, nature lovers and those who are looking for authentic experiences. This small yet captivating country is often overshadowed by its more famous neighbours, Mexico and Guatemala.
There is no shortage of natural wonders in Belize, from dense jungle, and sandy beaches to exotic wildlife and crystal-clear water. However, what truly sets Belize apart is the Great Blue Hole, an iconic marine sinkhole that captivates divers and explorers from around the world. Additionally, the country is proudly home to the world’s second-largest Barrier Reef, making Belize one of the ideal destinations for scuba diving and snorkelling.
We didn’t know much about Belize until we set foot in the country. Little did we know that this journey would unfold as an incredible adventure underwater. In one of our dives after swimming with sharks, and turtles we were ready to surface when a pair of dolphins, a nurturing mother and her playful calf, swam around us, not once but twice. How amazing is that?
While tourism is a major contributor to the country’s economy, tourism has been carefully managed to limit its impact on the environment. Belize sets a remarkable example of sustainability in tourism. Basically, here, you can the country’s jungles, reefs, and rainforests while actively contributing to vital conservation efforts.
One distinctive aspect of Belize is the absence of prominent international brands and chains. This means that tourists stay in local small hotels, eat in authentic restaurants and learn about the Belizian culture, making of this country one of the best South America travel destinations off the beaten path.
Viñales Valley, Cuba
Contribution by Hege of The World by Hege
If you are a traveller thriving outside the beaten track who really wants to visit Cuba, your perfect destination might be Vinales Valley.
This stunning valley a few hours west of Havana is the home of Cuban cigars, Cuban rum, and a natural phenomenon called mogotes. Mogotes are sugartop like little mountains that “grow” right off the valley floor!
Because of its mogotes, Vinales has made it to the UNESCO list of places in the world that deserve special protection.
If this sounds amazing, I recommend you fly to Havana, find a taxi colectivo (a Cuban taxi that you share with other travellers), and enjoy the lush scenery on your journey west.
In Vinales, stay in a casa particular, a homestay with a Cuban family in charming traditional houses. There are a variety of casas for rent; book them online before you get there or find one when you arrive!
You will have time to explore a variety of things to do in Vinales instead of just rushing through. Go horseback riding; hike into the hills to see the sunrise (with Cuban coffee), and the must-do; learn how to make Cuban cigars.
You can also go rock climbing outside or inside the mogotes, swim in a cave, and explore the countryside by bike.
One hour to the north, you find virgin beaches outside Puerto Esperanza, where very few tourists travel, and you can go snorkelling and scuba diving off Cayo Jutia in the part of Cuba Hemingway loved!
Contribution by Melinda of Mel on the Go
While there are more celebrated and visited islands in the Caribbean, none surpass the natural beauty of Dominica. Most travellers have never heard of Dominica, missing out on the gorgeous vistas and unparalleled adventures.
Dominica is a fabulous destination for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. Want to spend your vacation floating in hot springs, swimming in waterfalls, and snorkelling among volcanic bubbles? You can do all of that, and more, on the “Nature Island.”
The first time we sailed to Dominica, we loved the boat ride up the Indian River into the jungle. As you’re paddled away from civilization, you’ll see both wild animals and film locations from Pirates of the Caribbean 2, with a stop at a hidden jungle bar serving bush rum. Bring your camera and binoculars if you want to spot Dominica’s national bird, the colourful Sisserou parrot.
In between jumping into gorges and hiking to viewpoints, we also loved the tasty treats at Pointe Baptiste Chocolate farm. Sample chocolates featuring the country’s many tropical fruits and buy some to bring home.
Another must do in Dominica is swimming in Champagne Reef. A short bus or taxi ride from Roseau brings you to this beautiful beach to swim amongst bubbles in the ocean! This geographic oddity is caused by volcanic thermal springs on the ocean floor, and is a top attraction for snorkelers and divers, another great adventure in the beautiful underrated island of Dominica.
Southwest of the Dominican Republic
Contribution by Chris from Punta Cana Travel Blog
The Southwest of the Dominican Republic is the most off-the-beaten-track destination you can find in the Dominican Republic and an extreme contrast to the all-inclusive resorts and the billion-dollar industry in Punta Cana and Puerto Plata. It is the most gorgeous area of the country with many natural hidden gems, but it doesn’t have any resorts, international airports or consistent touristic infrastructure (but sufficient family-run accommodation and local restaurants for your trip). It is the perfect destination for nature lovers and adventurers if you’d like to get to know the Dominican Republic off the beaten track.
Highlights in this area of the Dominican Republic are several unique natural attractions such as Laguna Oviedo, Bahía de las Águilas, the panorama road from Barahona to Oviedo, Los Patos, Balneario La Plaza, Cueva de la Virgen and the so-called Balnearios.
This list of highlights doesn’t include my most unique memory of the Southwest yet, Trudillé. Trudillé is a remote fishing village (even though it is more a bunch of shanties than a village) which is only accessible through a 7-mile hike (one-way). You need to take all your water, food and camping equipment as there are no supplies along the way or at Trudillé. But there is a compensation for this, the most pristine and most beautiful beaches you can find in the entire Caribbean: Playa Trudillé and the neighbouring Playa Blanca. This is what one can call off-the-beaten-track.
Traveling to this region is a very sustainable way as you’re exclusively supporting local businesses and local families. There are no international hotel chains or global excursion companies in this area yet. You also get to know one of the most rural and authentic areas in the Dominican Republic.
How to get to the Southwest within your Dominican Republic Itinerary: the easiest way is to do a road trip. It is a 3.5-hour drive from Santo Domingo to Barahona and 6 hours to Bahía de las Águilas. Barahona, Los Patos or La Cienaga are good bases to explore the region. Alternatively, the glamping camps at Cabo Rojo offer a super stunning location.
San Blas Islands, Panama
Contribution by Eleanor of Elevate Your Escapes
Get off the beaten path on the San Blas Islands in Panama! The San Blas Islands, also known as Guna Yala. are the perfect escape for beach lovers. Nestled off northern Panama in the Caribbean Sea, these islands boast a mesmerizing beauty characterized by emerald-green palm trees, crystal-clear waters, and soft sandy beaches. They are the most impressive islands I’ve ever seen.
There are no hotels, shops, or restaurants here – just huts for shelter. Don’t expect electricity!
The locals sustain themselves by catching fresh fish daily, grilling them, and serving visitors. There isn’t much food to choose from, so I was glad that I brought many snacks with me.
Getting to the San Blas Islands is best done through a guided tour. I took a long day trip from Panama City. Alternatively, you can choose to stay overnight on the islands.
At around 5:30 a.m., I was picked up in a large jeep and then driven through the remote landscapes of Panama for about four hours. The jeep navigates winding roads and uneven terrain. Upon reaching the port, I boarded a long speedboat to reach the islands. The ride was about 40 minutes on choppy water. The best memory of my trip was laughing hysterically with my friend Susan as we bounced aggressively along the rough waves.
We spent the entire day visiting three distinct islands, including a sandbar in the middle of the sea and then headed back to Panama City.
Panama itself is not on the radar of many travellers. In my opinion, it’s a much underrated country! Panama is easy for North American or South American travellers to access, as Panama City is the economic hub of Central America and has an active airport. Outside of visiting the San Blas Islands, visitors can also appreciate Panama City, Boquete, and Bocas del Toro regions.
South America travel destinations off the beaten path
Contribution by Carryn of Torn Tackies Travel
Bolivia is one of the most underrated travel destinations in the world! Not only is it a hiking mecca, but it’s also home to the world’s largest salt flats as well as the southern part of the Amazon jungle.
I spent 4 weeks in Bolivia, and summiting Huayna Potosi was the highlight of my trip. Sitting at 6 088m, Huayna Potosi is a challenging high-altitude climb that’s accessible from La Paz.
While it’s known to be one of the easier 6,000m peaks, its difficulty should not be taken lightly. It’s a 3-day hike that’s extremely tough but the views from the top are well worth it! I still have flashbacks of the summit climb, which involved 7 hours of intense snow trekking.
The hot and humid Bolivian Amazon Rainforest offers a completely different experience to the high-altitude mountains of La Paz. Located north of the country, the Bolivian Amazon can be explored from either Madidi National Park or The Pampas.
Here you’ll immerse yourself in nature and see pink dolphins, sloths, Cayman, monkeys, and more. But do your research before booking a tour, as some of the cheaper operators make use of unethical practices to attract animals.
Bolivia is an adventure playground that’s ideal for nature lovers. The unique culture and friendly locals make it that much better! The country exceeded all my expectations and was the highlight of my backpacking trip through South America.
Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Contribution by Ryan of WaylessTravelers
Lake Atitlan is one of the most beautiful and unique lakes we’ve ever visited. Located in the Southern part of Guatemala, this lake actually lies within a volcanic crater, created by a volcanic eruption 85,000 years ago. On top of that, it is surrounded by 3 more volcanoes! This creates one of the most beautiful combinations of lush vegetation, a large freshwater lake, and a backdrop of majestic volcanoes. Once in Lake Atitlan, you have the option of staying in multiple towns located around the lake. Each has its unique feature. Panajachel is the busy hub and the port at which you will arrive. San Pedro is a backpacker’s city with trendy restaurants, bars, and affordable accommodations. San Juan is an artistic town, focused on art galleries. San Marco is known as the hippie community, attracting those who want to do yoga and meditation. In the end, there are more than 12 towns to choose from!
The best memory of our trip was actually our entire stay experience at Hotel Casa Del Mundo. This is a very unique hotel located on the edge of a cliff by the lake, and can only be accessed through a local boat. Once there, you have one of the most beautiful botanical gardens, interspersed with small lodging rooms, each with its own private balcony. There, you can fully unwind, away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
There are several balconies on the property that you can visit and relax at. The best memory of our stay there was soaking in their natural wood-heated outdoor hot tub on the cliff, providing unobstructed views of the lake. We stayed there for several hours, connecting with other local travellers, and simply enjoying the tranquillity. This was the perfect way to recover our bodies after visiting Flores and the surrounding ruins of Tikal.
Lake Atitlan is suitable for everyone! As previously explained, there is a town to fit all needs. Whether you are there to do yoga, relax, party, hike, or discover nature, there is a town that is right for you!
The area is highly focused on responsible travel, protecting the environment, and supporting the development of their community. Many of the local towns are quite impoverished, so community initiatives were created to help bring tourism jobs to them. For example, the hotel Casa Del Mundo recruits locals and provides them with accommodation. We participated in a local weaving workshop which connected us with a local in their own home.
Contribution by Catherine of Nomadicated
As one of the least visited countries in the world, international tourism is just beginning to establish itself in Guyana. You won’t find any big resorts, but what you will find in this South American country is a unique blend of Caribbean, English, Chinese, and Indian cultures and a dense pristine rainforest.
With almost 90% rainforest cover, Guyana is known as one of the most heavily forested countries in the world with diverse wildlife habitats. As such, the allure of Guyana is discovering its interior.
A highlight for most is boarding an 8-seater plane to Kaieteur Falls, the largest free-standing waterfall in the world, standing five times higher than Niagara Falls. Other activities include walking on bridges over the canopies of Iwokrama Rainforest Reserve or heading into the deep bush to visit indigenous tribes.
During our trip, I took boat rides down crocodile-infested rivers to get to a sloth island, swam in blood-red waterfalls, and took jeeps to blue pools in old quarries. While wandering into one such quaint village, we had the pleasure of meeting the mayor, who graciously invited us into their home for lunch!
In Guyana, slow travel is the only option. With limited roadways and vast undeveloped areas, reaching your destination can take a day. Adventurous nature lovers will love spending time in the bush. Culture enthusiasts will appreciate a walking tour of Georgetown, the capital, to admire its colonial architecture and diverse heritage.
The country is dedicated to preserving its ecosystems and promoting community-based tourism. Most accommodations in the rainforest are all eco-lodges run by local villagers.
Contribution by Sharon from iTravel Peru
Peru is a country that is worldwide famous for Machu Picchu, the stunning Inca ruins in the Cusco region. But there’s so much more to see in Peru than Cusco and Machu Picchu. I’m Peruvian and have travelled a lot around Peru, and one of my favourite off-the-beaten-path destinations is Huaraz.
Huaraz is a small city located in the mountains surrounded by the Huascaran National Park, which is home to lots of turquoise lakes, snow-capped mountains and stunning landscapes. It’s the perfect destination if you are an adventurous traveller who loves hiking or trekking. There are several options for day hikes or multi-day trekking in Huaraz for all different levels of difficulty. My favourite ones are Lake Paron and Lake Churup, which you shouldn’t miss if you visit Huaraz. I have been to Huaraz several times, but my fondest memory is looking at a vibrant turquoise lake for the first time ever. If you have never seen one, it’s more beautiful than you can imagine. If you decide to go on a multi-day trek, there are several tour agencies that can arrange the trip for you. However, it’s also possible to do this on your own if you are experienced in trekking and have the right equipment. Just make sure to take all your trash with you as you keep walking, to maintain the clean and pure beauty of this region.
Bonus points: Antarctica
Contribution by Pamela from The Directionally Challenged Traveler
Antarctica is one of the best places to visit for adventurous travellers. The untouched pristine beauty of the ice continent makes it one of the hardest (and most expensive) trips. Most travellers visit Antarctica by expedition cruise leaving from Ushuaia or Buenos Aires, Argentina. The journey crosses the infamous Drake Passage before arriving at the Antarctic peninsula.
In order to travel to Antarctica sustainably, you should do your research for your ship. Ships should be certified by the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators (IAATO). The IAATO has established extensive policies and procedures to protect the continent and its wildlife. This is everything, from how many passengers are on the ship to disinfecting your boots before and after a land visit.
While you’re visiting Antarctica, it’s important that you always stay aware of your impact. When you’re kayaking, snowshoeing, or swimming, be mindful of the nature that surrounds you. Always try to keep a safe distance between you and wild animals. If you’re hiking, follow the marked path by the guides. This should keep you a safe distance from animals (unless they move), but also protect the greenery that may be growing on the ground. My favourite memory of Antarctica is doing TWO polar plunges with my dad. It was miserably cold but such a unique experience to be swimming on the beach with penguins nearby.
If you pay attention to Antarctica, it will connect to your soul in a way no other place can. Nature’s beauty and strength come together here. If you listen to it, you’ll hear how humans have impacted Mother Earth. Antarctica will change your life if you let it.
So, there you have it: a list of some of the best underrated travel destinations in the Americas. These destinations offer something for everyone, from stunning natural beauty to rich cultural heritage. So if you’re looking for a truly enriching travel experience, consider visiting one of these hidden gems in the Americas.
And remember, slow travel and visiting underrated destinations are two great ways to practice sustainable tourism. When you slow down and get off the beaten track, you can immerse yourself in the local culture and have a more authentic travel experience. You can also help to support local businesses and economies.
So next time you’re planning a trip to the Americas, consider heading off the beaten path and visiting one of these underrated destinations. You won’t be disappointed!
For more underrated travel destinations around the world, check out these articles:
14 Underrated Destinations in Europe you Need to Explore
16 Unique Asian Destinations Off The Beaten Path
Unique Travel destinations in Africa
Off the beaten path in Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Islands