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The 5 coolest places you’ve probably never heard of

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected and international travel all the more common, it can be hard to find new destinations that aren’t totally packed with tourists. If you’re a seasoned traveler, visiting mainstream destinations can be dull and unsatisfying. Big crowds, jaded locals, and overpriced hotels are what you often find in a country’s most popular destinations. Fortunately, there are still many awesome places in the world that are relatively unknown. From Guatemala to Peru, we’ve tracked down some of the coolest places that you’ve probably never heard of. They include coastal hamlets, misty mountain villages, and idyllic islands. You’re guaranteed to have an enjoyable and authentic experience in any of these places. San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica San Gerardo de Dota is an absolute gem. In a country that’s becoming increasingly popular with international tourists, this small town has managed to stay under the radar for most travelers. The town is a nature lover’s dream — set at the base of the Talamanca Mountain Range, San Gerardo provides travelers with easy access to dense rainforests, swift rivers, and lovely waterfalls. San Gerardo de Dota There are a handful of mountain lodges in the area that offer up comfortable rooms, organic meals, and beautiful views. This area is especially popular with birders, many of whom come here for a chance to spot the ever-elusive resplendent quetzal. In San Gerardo de Dota you can also enjoy trout fishing and hiking, or even tour a local coffee plantation and sample some of the world’s finest (and freshest) coffee. Isla Contadora, Panama Part of Panama’s Pearl Islands, Isla Contadora is a short flight from Panama City, but it feels like a world apart. This small island is one of Panama’s best, but sees few visitors and retains a wholly tranquilo vibe. Eleven beaches dot the island, offering travelers powder-white sand and turquoise waters. The swimming is stellar, and it’s fun to spend an entire day sunbathing, sipping cold drinks, and splashing around in the water. You can take boat trips to other islands in the archipelago and enjoy snorkeling, scuba diving, and sport fishing along the way. Between June and October, you also have the opportunity to see humpback whales. The island is small (less than a square mile), and golf carts are a popular form of transportation. The hotels on Isla Contadora offer travelers instant access to the ocean, as well as some seriously fresh seafood. Contadora Río Dulce, Guatemala Guatemala’s Río Dulce runs a short, 18-mile course from Lake Izabal to the Caribbean Sea. Along the way, it passes through thick tropical jungle and dramatic rock canyons. A number of upscale eco-lodges are scattered along the river’s banks, providing travelers with a unique setting for their Guatemalan vacation. The lodges are isolated from one another and give off a secluded, tropical feel. This part of Guatemala stands in stark contrast to places like Antigua and Quetzaltenango, which boast cobblestone streets and far more visitors. Rio Dulce Activities in Río Dulce are abundant and often revolve around water. You can swim beneath warm-water falls, ride boats within the La Cueva de la Vaca canyon, or search for manatees in the Chocón Machacas Biotope. The Caribbean town of Lívingston is also within range—with a Garífuna population that exists nowhere else in Guatemala, Lívingston is utterly unique. Travelers can experience Afro-Caribbean culture and zesty culinary dishes on a day trip here. Máncora, Peru Peru is internationally known for the Inca site of Machu Picchu, but the country’s northern Pacific coastline also deserves mention. This area is sunny and spectacular and home to Máncora, a town with awesome surfing, pleasant weather, and ample dining and lodging options. Surfer on Mancora, Peru Once a backwater fishing village, Máncora is now the coolest coastal town in all of Peru. Its laid-back, bohemian vibe gives it a friendly atmosphere that fits perfectly the lovely local landscape. The surfing is good year round, and with warm water, it’s always time for a swim. There are several smaller beaches nearby that are nice places to sunbathe and watch the waves roll in. While in Máncora, you can also book fishing, snorkeling, and diving tours. Travelers will enjoy staying in cute bed and breakfasts or secluded beachside bungalows. The food in town is stellar, with a range of ceviche and pizza options, and there are more than a handful of bars where you can grab a cold beer. Uvita, Costa Rica Uvita is just 11 miles south of the popular town of Dominical, yet it’s much less developed and infinitely cooler than its neighbor. If you want a beautiful beachside vacation but don’t want to jockey for position on the sand, this might be your best bet. The broad beach at Uvita backs up to palm trees and forested hills, providing visitors with a scenic setting and relaxing atmosphere. Uvita The ocean is ideal for swimming, snorkeling, and diving, and even hosts migrating humpback whales between December and April. Head to the nearby Marino Ballena National Park to watch olive ridley and hawksbill sea turtles lay eggs between May and October. Kayaks can be paddled through mangroves and estuaries, or you can ride horses to some super-scenic waterfalls. Book a room at the Kura Design Villas, an exclusive boutique hotel that boasts lavish accommodations and an infinity pool overlooking the coast. There is an assortment of other hotels here as well, all of which are sure to put you in a pura vida state of mind. Zach Smith is CEO of Anywhere. If you would like to be a guest blogger on A Luxury Travel Blog in order to raise your profile, please contact us.

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  1. Hidden gems don’t stay hidden for long. These are all beautiful places that I have never heard of. It won’t take long before the surfers discover Máncora, Peru and travellers find the others.

  2. So I saw this headline and thought, I must know at least one of the places or have been there. Well, close, nah…

    Closest I’ve gotten to Máncora is Piura which you pass on the way to Máncora. It’s quite a journey to get to Piura which is why Máncora is still a “secret.”

    This neck of Peru is worth visiting, so I can see the draw for Máncora.

    I’ll tell you that Piura has a wonderful beach and is very cheap to live. They have a local market with fresh fruits and vegetables everyday and you can rent a place on the beach for almost nothing. Perfect for running in the mornings. Also, they do have a surf, but you are right, Máncora is the place.

    The other places are all new.

    These are great finds.

    How did you happen upon these places Zach?

  3. Let’s hope these places stay hidden for just a bit longer! I love finding somewhere ‘new’ where you can’t hear any accents that you recognise!

  4. Yes these are amazing places, I went to Mancora and Rio Dulce 8 years ago – a refreshing change from the celebrated highly touted places we have all heard of. Watch out for those surfing waves in Mancora, I was scared but finally tackled it with an instructor guiding me. Good thing as the advanced surfers allowed him in the line-up to help me, thrilling!

  5. This words is very great…
    The ocean is ideal for swimming, snorkeling, and diving, and even hosts migrating humpback whales between December and April. Head to the nearby Marino Ballena National Park to watch olive ridley and hawksbill sea turtles lay eggs between May and October. Kayaks can be paddled through mangroves and estuaries, or you can ride horses to some super-scenic waterfalls.

  6. I definitely wouldn’t say Mancora is a cool place people haven’t heard of in Peru. The surfing there is not that great either! It’s just a party town full of small waves and warm water. It’s good for beaches and swimming, but the waves are lacking. If you want surfing go to Organos or Lobitos or Huanchaco. Skip Mancora and it’s parties.

  7. Nice list. I love the hidden gems… haven’t been a full fledged international traveller yet..but these posts are inspiring me to be one soon :)

  8. I’ve never heard of any of these, so it’s good to learn something new! It’s very impressive for the smaller island of Isla Contadora to have 11 beaches. It sounds heavenly, partly thanks to staying pristine and quite quiet without being overrun with tourists.

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