Wondering where to go next? You’re not the only one. After a frenetic return to travel, many are asking how to enjoy the rush of discovery without the crush of crowds. Our annual list of 25 inspiring and less visited destinations for the year ahead encompasses places filled with wonder, rewarding to travelers of all ages, and supportive of local communities and ecosystems. Reported by our global editors and framed by five categories (Adventure, Nature, Family, Culture, and Community), these destinations are under the radar, ahead of the curve, and ready for you to start exploring.
Below are five places that offer adrenaline-soaked adventures in 2023 and beyond. (Find the full Best of the World list here.)
Help to sustain an adventurer’s ultimate playground
With five national parks and eight national monuments, Utah is an adventurer’s dream destination. But outdoor lovers tend to visit only a small and iconic group of destinations, such as Zion National Park. Now the Utah Office of Outdoor Recreation has created an innovative grant program to help fund new initiatives throughout the state, including the Zion National Park Forever Project.
In Zion, known for its dramatic narrow canyons and towering sandstone cliffs, work began in 2022 on a new visitor center on the park’s east side. The hope is to draw some of Zion’s five million annual visitors away from the crowded main south entrance and popular trails like Angels Landing. In addition to the visitor center, plans include 30-plus miles of new mountain biking trails and 40 miles of hiking trails outside the east entrance.
(Here’s how to find adventure without the crowds in Utah.)
Other recent projects awarded grants include a bike path in the heart of the Provo River gorge; an observation tower at the Tracy Aviary’s Jordan River Nature Center, a birding site on the west side of Salt Lake City; and riparian restoration along Utah’s Helper River.
“Outdoor recreation is a cash cow for Utah. It contributes more than $6.4 billion to the economy, employs more than 83,000 people, and generates $737 million in state and local tax revenues,” says Stephanie Pearson, author of National Geographic’s 100 Great American Parks. These efforts will keep Utah’s outdoor industry booming, while protecting fragile ecosystems.
Go with Nat Geo: Take in the scenic splendor of the American Southwest.
Trek to the less visited sister city of Machu Picchu
One of the most remote Inca sites in the Peruvian Andes, the ruins of Choquequirao are reserved for the hardy. Those who make the trek can do so only on foot, zigzagging up and down vertiginous paths for 18 miles before accessing the sprawling complex suspended at 10,000 feet between the high Andes and the jungles below.
“Many myths exist around Choquequirao,” says Gori-Tumi Echevarría, an archaeologist who first worked at the ruins in 2005. Its many temples, terraces, and plazas have yet to be fully excavated. Among the ancient city’s most intriguing features: the Llama Terraces, named for the two dozen nearly life-size llama images that cascade down the face of a series of steep terraces. The llamas are formed from quartzlike white rocks that vividly stand out against the dark schist background—unique stone artwork found at no other Inca site.
(Explore Inca life beyond Machu Picchu on this South American trail.)
“There is nothing else like this in the Andes. It was graphic innovation that occurred prior to the 16th century and was not repeated,” says Echevarría, who specializes in prehistoric rock art. But change is coming to rock the “cradle of gold,” the meaning of Choquequirao in the Indigenous Quechua language. New infrastructure plans are expected to boost visitation to Machu Picchu’s sister city.
Pre-pandemic, Machu Picchu had more than 1.5 million visitors annually, according to Peruvian tourism officials. Choquequirao counted less than 9,500. To increase accessibility, the Peruvian government has committed to spending $260 million to build a cable car spanning three miles between the town of Kiuñalla and the archaeological site.
Development may create more economic opportunities for locals at the expense of Choquequirao’s serenity. For now, however, the site feels like a sanctuary sheltered from the 21st century and one that still calls out to any adventure traveler’s imagination.
Connect with the Alps’ most charming villages
To save a mountain range, it sometimes takes a village. Since 2008 an association of high-altitude hamlets located in Central Europe’s Eastern Alps has banded together to promote their small communities to the world’s adventure travelers interested in mountain hiking, biking, and climbing, as well as winter sports like cross-country skiing and ice climbing.
Called the Bergsteigerdörfer, or the “Mountaineering Villages,” the network is concentrated primarily in Austria’s western states, including Tyrol and Carinthia, with additional member towns in Switzerland, Germany, Italy, and Slovenia. The Bergsteigerdörfer works to protect the culture and traditions of its 36 villages while preserving mountain landscapes from overdevelopment. Rejecting large-scale tourist projects like sprawling ski lodges and peak-scaling cable cars, the Bergsteigerdörfer puts greater emphasis on green or sustainable mountain tourism.
(Here’s where to find epic adventure in Europe’s best small villages.)
“We’re not big and bigger or tall and taller. We appeal to people wanting a more authentic alpine experience,” says Barbara Reitler of the Austrian Alpine Association. The Bergsteigerdorfer website highlights a changing assortment of towns where, for example, hikers can stay in a farmer’s house or try traditional foods like sterz, a hearty porridge that’s immensely satisfying after a long day in the mountains.
Reitler’s favorite village is Johnsbach in Gesäuse National Park, with its dramatic views. “When you come through the Enns Valley along the river and suddenly see the peaks of the Gesäuse Mountains, you have emerged into a different world.”
Revillagigedo National Park, Mexico
Dive into the Galápagos of Mexico
Some 300 miles off the southern tip of the Baja California Peninsula lies a national park steeped in superlatives. Revillagigedo National Park, a 57,000-square-mile Mexican marine reserve, is North America’s largest fully protected underwater park. It offers sanctuary to the continent’s greatest concentration of tropical marine megafauna, from hammerhead sharks to humpback whales, earning it the nickname “the Galápagos of Mexico.” And the waters surrounding its four main islands are fast becoming a mecca for scuba divers.
“The park is one of the few places, if not the only place on the planet, that you can have intimate interaction with giant oceanic mantas,” says marine biologist and underwater filmmaker Erick Higuera. He says the mantas, which can weigh up to 3,600 pounds and attain a wingspan of 27 feet, seem to like the feel of the divers’ air bubbles on their bellies.
The bottlenose dolphins that inhabit the park’s waters also show curiosity, often swimming up to investigate divers. “The proximity you have with wild bottlenose dolphins is insane,” Higuera says. “As species, we’re both curious about each other.”
To minimize disruptions to the animals, the park limits the number of boats and divers allowed daily. It is not uncommon to reserve space on a Revillagigedo diving boat up to two years in advance. And remember: always keep a respectful distance from sea life.
Bounce back in this capital of adventure
The country that brought you bungee jumping is bouncing back from the pandemic. On New Zealand’s South Island, a reenergized Queenstown is again welcoming adventure travelers from all over the world. They come to this lakeside town of some 15,000 for skiing, as well as year-round hiking in the appropriately named Remarkables range.
But bicycles should be generating the most excitement. By 2025, the Queenstown Trails Trust aims to complete a network of recreational and commuting bike lanes and paths that will link up workplaces, schools, and other urban spaces. The network’s shining star: an 80.7-mile biking route called the Queenstown Trail, one of New Zealand’s Great Rides. Starting on the shore of Lake Wakatipu, the Ride pedals east from Queenstown to Gibbston.
(Here’s why hut-hiking is the best way to see New Zealand.)
For the more adventurous, the 31-mile Coronet Loop Trail takes cyclists deep into the surrounding backcountry. The singletrack circumnavigates 5,410-foot-tall Coronet Peak and snakes past waterfalls, river gorges, beech forests, and the historic remnants of a 19th-century Chinese gold mining settlement along the Arrow River.
(Discover 20 other amazing Best of the World destinations for 2023.)
Written by Andrew Nelson from contributions by the global editors of National Geographic Travel with additional reporting and research by Karen Carmichael.