Top 3 secret travel destinations (2016)

Destination Selection

I thought I’d get started with a crowd-pleaser:  my current top 3 world travel secret destinations list.

By secret I mean places and locations that are phenomenal destinations, but that are generally unknown.  I love diving in the Maldives, but it’s hardly a secret that Maldives diving is excellent: you don’t need my blog to tell you this!  However you are much less likely to know about hiking in the the Cocora valley.

Now it’s pretty hard to reduce the entire globe into the Top 3 must go destinations.  So I came up with some basic criteria:

  • It must be exotic or off-the-beaten path
  • It must be generally unknown to the average European tourist
  • It must be deeply memorable
  • It must be relatively easy to get to, despite being unknown (I’ll do a separate adventurers list later)

The Top 3

1. Colombia

CocoraValley

For a long time the security situation put this stunning destination out of reach.  Now security is good in almost all areas of the country and concerns are an unjustified hangover.  You need 2 to 3 weeks to do it justice, and stops are necessary in:

  • Bogota (stay in the Zona Rosa and make sure you eat at Andres Carne de Res)
  • the Coffee Zone, where a multi-day hike through to Cocora valley is a must
  • Cartagena to sample some of the colonial heritage
  • the Caribbean cost, including stays in Parque Tayrona and treking to Ciudad Perdida

If diving is your thing, a trip north to the Colombian island of Providencia is highly recommended.  You will find great shark dives and reefs here.  Colombia is a hugely varied country with wide climate ranges, ranging from beautiful and cool hill cities to hot Caribbean shores.

2. The Philippines

whaleshark

I’ve never understood why the Philippines is not more actively marketed to European tourists.  It has some of the most stunning tropical beach scenery in the world and is an excellent place to relax.  If you like diving (which I do!) it is a true paradise.  I recommend the following itinerary:

  • Donsol – Whale Shark snorkeling.  Fly to Legazpi from Manila.  There is an interesting volcano to explore, or take the 2.5 hour car / bus trip to Donsol.  In season, Donsol is one of the best places in the world to see Whale Sharks.  You take a boat trip with local guides who will spot the shark and then guide you snorkelling with them.  Donsol is a natural experience and they don’t feed the sharks.  Avoid Oslob at the southern end of Cebu where they attract the sharks by feeding them, messing up their natural migration cycles following the plankton blooms.  The best sightings are in the morning, so it’s worth staying overnight.
  • Ticao Island – Take a boat ride from Donsol to Ticao Island on a traditional Philippines outrigger (about 4 hours).  The scenery is stunning.  Stay at the Ticao Island Resort: a small owner managed hotel on an isolated beach with 8 cabanas.   They can take you diving to “Manta Bowl”, a cleaning station where you will see large Manta Rays.  This place is isolated relaxation: don’t expect any night life!
  • Malapascua – Take a day long boat ride from Ticao to Malapascua, stopping for multiple dives en-route.  Malapascua is famous for Thresher Sharks and is one of the few places in the world where these beautiful creatures can be seen.  Also take the trip to Kalanggaman.  Enjoy your time diving and hanging out.
  • Moalboal– Take a right south to Cebu and carry on down to Moalboal where you can find some of the best wall and macro diving in the Philippines.

3. Vietnam

Halong Bay

Vietnam is beautiful, diverse and wonderfully chaotic.  Start in Hanoi where you can explore a city where they seem to have concentrated a large proportion of the planet’s stock of motorbikes and removed all traffic laws.  The traffic is crazy, the electrical and telecoms wiring is a definite safety hazard, but the city is truly buzzing.  Hire a guide to take you on a food tour and you’ll be amazed at how wonderful Vietnamese food is!  After Hanoi, must see destinations include:

  • An multi-day cruise around Halong Bay
  • Trekking in Pu Luong, Mai Chau or Sepa
  • Cooking, culture and beach in Hoi An

It’s also easy to combine Vietnam with a trip to Singapore for a Chili Crab binge!