5 of the world’s most outrageously underrated destinations

September is upon us, and 2017 has seemingly whizzed by in a flash… But looking back at our travels of this year, we’ve managed to fit it all in; from Nepal to the Cotswolds, Thailand to Bhutan and India to Indonesia, we’ve travelled throughout Asia and the British Isles in search of the finest experiences out there to make sure our clients get the very best holiday imaginable.

From the latest newcomers in the luxury world to old favourites, there are so many extraordinary destinations, but sometimes the most exceptional trips aren’t necessarily the most expensive or the ones using the most popular hotels. Lesser known destinations hover under the radar, but when visited by our clients, they escape the crowds, are individually looked after by fascinating characters and experience rituals and landscapes that have remained unchanged for centuries. We love an underdog and so, for those who prefer hidden gems to hyped-up hotspots, here is our list of five of the most outrageously underrated destinations…

1. Ladakh, North India

There are no two ways about it, Ladakh is spectacular, both physically and culturally. An isolated and remote Himalayan desert fringed with soaring snow-capped mountains, where sweeping valleys and the milky blue Indus River carve their way through the ancient and raw landscape. The ubiquitous Tibetan Buddhist culture weaves itself throughout the region, and dramatic monasteries sit high on rocky peaks, whilst the dreamlike monastery horns blow out across the silent valleys, transporting you to another time and world.

Ladakh

Ladakh, meaning “land of high passes”, is often bypassed in favour of India’s more popular tourist routes such as Rajasthan or the Golden Triangle, but it’s pristine natural beauty means there are so many low-key activities for travellers looking to enjoy the serene environment. A peaceful cycle or walk through local villages gives a fascinating insight into rural Ladakhi life, and the Indus River offers gentle rafting through provincial settlements and majestic whitewashed monasteries.

Stay: Shakti’s Village House or The Ultimate Travelling Camp

When to go: Mid-May to mid-September

2. Chengdu, China

With a population exceeding 14 million and a skyline bristling with new developments, Chengdu is evolving at a great speed. On the surface, the capital of the Sichuan province seemingly has little to offer, but dig a little deeper and you will come across its authentic Sichuanese roots, a fascinating history and a rich culture which still prevails. People are drawn to the city’s vibrant nightlife and the relaxing teahouse culture, with some institutions serving the same brews for generations, but it’s the hot and spicy Sichuanese cooking technique that reigns supreme.

panda

Named a UNESCO City of Gastronomy in 2010 there are said to be more than 40,000 eateries in the city, from restaurants to street vendors serving up mouth-watering dishes and snacks on every street. This is a place where food is taken seriously and made to perfection. And of course, there is China’s very own indigenous bear, the iconic panda. Chengdu’s Panda Breeding and Research Centre is the best place to enjoy close-up encounters with these docile beauties, and sometimes one can delight in a heart-warming cuddle with a sooty-eyed panda cub, a luxury in the luckiest sense.

Stay: Diaoyutai Boutique Hotel or The Temple House

When to go: March to June and September to November

3. Ireland, The British Isles

Whilst I love exotic destinations there are some undeniably incredible experiences to be enjoyed closer to home. Underrated and overlooked, Ireland is a magical land full of captivating castles, traditional country homes, sensational hotels and ravishing scenery, and it’s virtually on our doorstep, being just an hour’s flight from London. The island’s lush vegetation, a product of its mild climate and frequent rainfall, earns it the sobriquet the ‘Emerald Isle’. It’s impossible not to be struck by the intense and shifting beauty of the Ring of Kerry, the Beara Peninsula and County Donegal – places of wild coastal cliffs, white sand beaches, lush green valleys and gin-clear lakes.

ireland

The classic warm Irish hospitality is quite rightly legendary, and Ballyfin, Ireland’s most luxurious hotel, showcases the best of it all. A Regency manor house and steeped in Irish history, Ballyfin is a place of history, romance and great natural beauty. It is authentic and the very best of the best, with the incredible ability to make guests feel at home, allowing you to enjoy the simple things in life, away from the stresses of daily life.

Stay: Ballyfin, County Laois

When to go: April to October

4. Kumana National Park, Sri Lanka

The wildlife in Sri Lanka is the best in Asia, and the little-known Kumana National Park is an idyll for wildlife enthusiasts and keen bird watchers. Quietly tucked away on the northern fringes of its busy neighbour Yala, Kumana is a much less visited corner of the island, but no less abundant of beautiful scenery and wildlife. The vast open plains, the meandering Kumbuk River and the lapping ocean, create a perfect environment for leopards, elephants, bears and birdlife (Sri Lanka has 444 recorded species of resident and migratory birds), not to mention the thousands of flora and fauna species which convert this park into an intricate ecosystem.

baby elephant

The park is also home to protected caves and archaeological sites, each with its own captivating story; from ancient cannibalism to prehistoric men whose paintings depict stories from a primaeval era. Kumana Mobile Tented Camp is a simple yet brilliant camp, and for close wildlife encounters, with no crowds whatsoever, nothing beats it. It is run by the best wildlife experts in the field, who know the park inside out; one of them is the former park warden who has worked and lived in the park for over forty years!

Stay: Kumana Mobile Tented Camp

When to go: January to September

5. Sumba Island, Indonesia

Wild, rugged scenery, fertile jungle and emerald paddy fields, whispering volcanoes, pristine unspoilt beaches and warm turquoise seas… there is so much more to explore in Indonesia than just Bali. Venture 250 miles east of Bali, and you will find the unexplored and far-flung spice island of Sumba. The ‘Forgotten Island’ is something very special, and it is not hard to see where the nickname came from, as it feels like an island yet to be discovered by the rest of the world.

sumba island

Sumba is home to the seductive and fully eco-conscious Nihi Sumba Island, a village of twelve thatched-roof luxury villas overlooking a sun-bleached beach and the turquoise ocean beyond. Colourful coral and marine life make for sensational scuba diving and snorkelling, or you can go on forest treks and village excursions – traditional animist communities and Stone Age sites have remained unchanged here for centuries. To wind down, the hotel has a breezy living and dining room, a cliff-top bar, a spa and a yoga studio, or you can hop on a deluxe speedboat to chill in your own private slice of paradise.

Stay: Nihi Sumba Island

When to go: May to September

James Jayasundera is Founder and Managing Director of Ampersand Travel.

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Comments (15)

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  1. Abigail Sinsona says:

    You are right, I haven’t heard much of these destinations. Indonesia, in particular, is best known for Bali. But it is an archipelago, so I’m sure there are plenty of other equally beautiful islands to explore.

  2. lau says:

    Wonderful destinations, I think I would chose the British Isles! Although the others are very tempting to visit too…

    xx
    lau

  3. Elvis Cosmos says:

    I always tell people that only those that have traveled have seen the world. You are obviously no exception. Your post exposes the world to those who don’t travel that much.
    Thank you for the great post.

  4. Lisa says:

    I’ve never been to India, but this area of the country looks and sounds very pretty. I would love to see the pandas in Chengu. Ireland is stunning and I’ve been!

  5. Nidhi Thawal says:

    I have been to ladakh and know each and every word written here does Justice to the charm of this place! Very well written! Thanks for sharing! :-)

  6. Lois Alter Mark says:

    Ireland is one of my favorite countries! It’s so beautiful and the people are so friendly. Let’s keep it under the radar so it doesn’t get overly crowded with tourists!

  7. Bee says:

    I’ve heard about the Sumba islands and it looks like a stop i must make if i return to Indonesia. Sri Lanka continues to draw me as a traveller. great spots and loved learning about them

  8. We’ll visit Kumana National Park this year when we head to Sri Lanka. It looks incredible! You’re so right about Ireland too- such a beautiful place to vist!

  9. Claire Summers says:

    I want to go to all of these places. I especially would love to take a road trip to Ireland. I have seen so many stunning pictures and read so much good stuff! Reading your post just confirms it!

  10. Kate Storm says:

    Looks like you have some very cool destinations on this list! I hadn’t ever heard of Ladakh before, but it looks beautiful! I’d love, love, love a chance to see pandas in Chengdu, as well!

  11. James says:

    You are right, these locations should be visited by more people. I visited Kumana National Park a few years ago and it is one of the best experiences of my life. I would love to check out Sumba Island, I have had nothing but good experiences in Indonesia.

  12. Good list. Although, I do have a different point of view on this. I don’t think some of these places especially Ladakh is underrated. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. Too much tourism is doing irreversible damage to the coldest desert in the world.

  13. Izy Berry says:

    So happy that Chengdu made it to this list! I also think it’s an underrated destination. The beautiful architecture of their old town streets and temples, the food, and of course the pandas all make the place worth visiting.

  14. Jack says:

    I have never been to India,but I have travelled Indonesia. I should say It is ok. Maybe next summer holiday I could go to Ireland.Thanks for sharing!

  15. Thena says:

    Loved reading this, so cool to see and learn about some new places that don’t get featured as much! Thank you!

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