There are only so many times you can hike the Great Wall of China, take in the lights of Times Square, or steady the Leaning Tower of Pisa before these typical tourist rituals lose their thrill.
Inspired byÂ this Quora listÂ asking about the best travel destinations most people never knew existed, we put together our own list of the 35 hidden gems around the world that are worth the trek.
The Stairway to Heaven, also known as the Haiku Stairs, provides the most stunning views of Oahu, Hawaii. The US military built the 3,922-step hike during World War II so soldiers could access a radio antennae 2,000 feet up.
Norway’s Lofoten Islands are best explored as a local. Rent a fisherman’s cozy cottage, try your luck at catching cod, and take in the beauty of the midnight sun and northern lights from the islands’ pebble beaches.
A small fishing village, 300 kilometers removed from Brazil’s capital, Jericoacoara is the kind of place where the streets are paved with sand, beaches stretch for miles in every direction, and electricity arrived just 20 years ago. The sleepy beach town attracts kite-surfers and windsurfers from around the world.
Not an attraction for the faint-hearted, Capuchin Crypt holds the bones of some 4,000 dead Capuchin monks. The skeletons are arranged in decorative designs beneath the Church of Santa Maria della Concezione in Rome, Italy.
The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore calls to the explorer in all of us. An archipelago of 21 wilderness islands dot the waters of Lake Superior, Wisconsin, and many contain sea caves, frozen waterfalls, and chandeliers of ice.
Behold the marble Jain temple of Ranakpur, India, said to be one of the most spectacular temples of its kind. It contains more than 1,440 marble pillars, and no two are the same.
New Zealand’s most colorful natural volcanic park, Wai-O-Tapu, seems like an alien world. The geothermal wonderland contains steaming ground, boiling mud, and the Champagne Pool, where rich deposits of minerals and silicate dye the water lime green, bright orange, and gold.
Few monuments show the elegance and reach of Imperial Rome quite like the Amphitheater of El Jem in Tunisia. Built in the third century, these stunning ruins bear a striking resemblance to their counterpart in Rome, Italy, and once held 35,000 spectators at once.
A visit to the Svalbard Islands, an archipelago halfway between Norway and the North Pole, is as close to the movie “Frozen” as it gets. A vast expanse of untouched wilderness, the islands offer dog-sledding and spontaneous encounters with polar bears in a dazzling Arctic setting.
Nearly every picture of Pangong Tso â€” which is Tibetan for “long, narrow, enchanted lake” â€” makes the basin look like a piece of glass, reflecting the barren mountains behind it. It disects the Tibet-India border, and its clear waters allow visitors to see straight to the bottom.
Climbers who dare hike Mount Huashan, considered one of the most dangerous trails in the world, must face near-perpendicular cliffs, rickety staircases, and a plank pathway that clings to the rock face. The 7,000-foot ascent is worth it, however, with the above-the-clouds views of China’s Shaanxi province.
MadÃ¢in SÃ¢lih marks the first UNESCO World Heritage site bestowed on Saudi Arabia. The well-preserved property contains 111 monumental tombs, inscribed and decorated by the ancient Nabataean civilization, built more than 20 centuries ago.
The largest city in Tasmania, Hobart combines the lively arts and nightlife scenes that nearby Australia has to offer, with the relaxed charm of an old port city. Historic houses, hotels, and cafÃ©s line the docks of the harbour, making for picturesque boardwalk scenes.
For two weeks every summer, a special species of fireflies congregate in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Tennessee, to find mates. Thousands gather to observe a naturally occurring phenomenon in which the fireflies blink in unison.
Victoria Falls, known as “The Smoke that Thunders,” purges more than 500 cubic meters of water per minute into the gorge below. The waterfall forms the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, and columns of spray can be seen from miles in either direction. Bungee jumping, zip-lining, white water rafting, and helicopter flights are available on site.
The Hinatuan River gets its nickname, the Enchanted River, from its undefined origins. The Philippine salt water river flows straight into the Pacific Ocean, but has no apparent source. People travel from miles around to bathe in its crystal clear waters.
Â Nestled in the geographical heel of Italy, the picturesque village of Alberobello is home to mouthwatering peasant cuisine, the “kindest people in all of Italy,” and white-washed limestone dwellings famous around the world for their cone-shaped roofs.
Roman roads, stony footpaths, and mule trails make up the 540-kilometer Lycian Way that winds through Turkey’s southern coastal region. A must-see pit-stop along the 29-day trail is the Chimaera, a mass of rock that burns an eternal flame, with no apparent fuel to sustain it.
In the mysterious “crooked forest” of Western Poland, roughly 400 pine trees all grow with a 90-degree bend at the base. The reason behind the curved trees remains unknown to this day.
The Jiuzhaigou Valley, a remote region of northern Sichuan, China, stretches over 180,000 acres. It’s best known for its Tibetan villages and multi-level waterfalls with colorful lakes that let you see perfectly to the bottom.
Gorgeous flowers bloom year-round in Hitachi Seaside Park, a 470-acre reserve in Ibaraki, Japan, known for its burning bush plants and daffodils.
The Kalash, an indigenous people who live in Pakistan’s Rumbur Valley, live without electricity, phones, and newspapers. They’re known for throwing incredible harvest celebrations, filled with dances, bonfires, and copious amounts of mulberry wine, that draw foreign and domestic tourists alike.
Every spring, Namaqualand, an arid region of Namibia and South Africa that stretches over some 600 miles, suddenly fills with orange and white daisies. The result is one of the most surreal landscapes in the world.
The world’s most dangerous pathway just reopened to the public after 15 years thanks to a $5.8 million restoration. Caminito del Rey is a roughly five-mile walkway that clings to the walls of the El Chorro gorge in southern Spain. It closed in 2000 after a number of people fell to their deaths.
Tianzi Mountain Nature Reserve in Wulingyuan, China, contains “stone towers,” surrounded by thick clouds, that appear straight out of “Avatar.” It is one of the country’s most scenic spots, and is almost never overrun with tourists.
The remote lagoon of Balos, Greece, boasts white sand beaches, electric blue waters, and rare species of flora and fauna. Accessible by a ferry or a three-hour hike over dry terrain, it’s no surprise Prince Charles and Princess Diana visited via private yacht years ago.
The resort town of Huacachina is a literal oasis in the Peruvian desert. Built around a small, natural lake in the Southwestern Ica Region, Huacachina is popular for tourists who want to try “sandboarding” on the massive dunes surrounding the lake.
Nestled in Colombia’s hilly countryside, Las Lajas Sanctuary was built between 1916 and 1944 to commemorate the Virgin Mary, whose image was reportedly sighted on an enormous rock face above the river. Visitors place plaques on the cliffs that surround the neo-Gothic cathedral, as thanks for the miracles that have occurred there.
Daring travelers can peer into “the door to hell,” a burning crater in Derweze, Turkmenistan, that Soviet geologists accidentally created when drilling for natural gas in 1971. They expected the fire to last for only a few days, but it burns on four decades later.
From the sky, Rangiroa appears like a string of pearls laid upon the South Pacific Ocean. Two-hundred and forty little islets, each no more than three feet in elevation, make up the world’s second largest atoll, or a ring-shaped coral reef. This patch of French Polynesia offers exceptional scuba diving.
Off the coast of Cape Perpetua in Oregon, Thor’s Well is a huge saltwater fountain powered by the Pacific Ocean. When the surf is up, water shoots upward from the bowl, then drains back into the opening.
Saint Pierre et Miquelon, an island off the coast of Canada, is the last vestige of French control in North America. The colorful islands’ inhabitants all speak French, and its towns are a wonderful mash-up of French and Canadian culture.
Dating back to the 17th century, the Salina Turda salt mine in Transylvania, Romania, has been a popular tourist attraction since the ’90s. It now has a carousel ride and an amphitheater deep in the cavern.
In the Canadian province of New Brunswick, locals say if you stop your car and put it in neutral at the bottom of Magnetic Hill, your vehicle will move uphill by itself. It’s really just an optical illusion, but it’s still a fun place to take a video and show your gullible friends.
Forget the Serengeti: Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve offers fewer crowds and more intimate encounters with the elephant, buffalo, hippo, crocodile, and lion populations that inhabit it. Nearly twice the size of Denmark, Selous is also largely unexplored, with only 2% of the park open to tourists.
By Melia Robinson