World’s Most Exotic Locations You Can’t-Miss Out On Your Next Vacation ( Part -1)
When we endeavoured to assemble the exotic list, we first had to decide what it was to be exotic. Would it be limited to white-sand beaches? Or were white polar zones okay too? Did a place have to be tropical to be mystical? Or were Europe’s far-flung islands places of exotic fascination too?
The more we dug into it, the less we felt bound to a definition of idyllic castaway islands and jungle waterfalls. Sure, there are a few of those on the list, but more than anything, the definition of ‘exotic’ became a tangle of ideas; words and phrases like When attempting to compile the exotic list, we first had to decide what constituted exotic. Would it be limited to beaches with white sand? Or were white polar zones acceptable as well? Was it necessary for a location to be tropical to be mystical? Or were Europe’s remote islands also a source of exotic fascination?
The more we looked into it, the less we felt constrained by an idyllic castaway island and jungle waterfalls definition. While some of those are included on the list, the definition of ‘exotic’ has become a jumble of concepts; words and phrases such as unexpected, off the beaten path, spicy, remote, untouched, supernatural, whimsical, and unfamiliar. We are certain of one thing: in a world of seemingly endless roads, trails, waterways, and skies, we have only scratched the surface with these few that appear to be the most promising.
The world is Pandora’s box of stunning locations, some of which are gifts of nature, while others are the result of human ingenuity. If you enjoy travelling, there are a few exotic locations that you must visit at least once in your life. With so many incredible places on the planet, it can be difficult to choose the best destination for your next vacation.
When you think exotic, what comes to mind? Perhaps the grey expanse of the beaches, palm trees, turtles and whale sharks, or a tropical jungle that has remained largely uninhabited by humans?
We’ve discovered a great deal more. From magical sinkholes in the ocean to soaring bamboo forests and moonscapes formed by volcanic eruptions, there is something for everyone.
#1. Puerto Rico: A tropical paradise with a storied cultural heritage’
Puerto Rico is brimming with natural beauty to discover, from the stunning diversity of El Yunque National Forest to one of the world’s brightest bioluminescent bays. Wrap yourself in a towel and unwind on one of the island’s numerous tropical beaches. Put on your hiking boots and take a stroll through some of Puerto Rico’s 36 nature reserves, 19 state forests, and five wildlife refuges for an ever-changing visual feast. Are you looking for a greater adrenaline rush? Ziplining, rock climbing, rappelling, snorkelling, and scuba diving are all available. For more information on the worlds best beaches, you may read our blog at www.eastsidewriters.com
El Yunque is the United States’ only tropical rainforest, spanning over 28,000 acres and receiving more than 200 inches of rain annually. The rainforest is renowned for its biodiversity, providing ideal exotic locations for discovering incredible spotted tree frogs and exotic flora and fauna.
This incredible Incan citadel is perched high above the Urubamba River valley in Peru’s Andes Mountains. They were constructed in the fifteenth century and then abandoned, but have since developed into an exotic travel destination.
Renowned for their sophisticated and intricate dry-stone walls created by fusing massive blocks together without the use of mortar. These enthralling structures feature astronomical alignments and breathtaking panoramic views in a mystical and otherworldly manner. You can visit this incredible sight as part of a Peruvian tour.
El Yunque National Forest, formerly called the Caribbean National Forest, is located 40 kilometres southeast of San Juan in the rugged Sierra de Luquillo (latitude 18’19″N, longitude 65’45″W). The forest is located in Canovanas, Las Piedras, Luquillo, Fajardo, Ceiba, Naguabo, and Rio Grande municipalities.
The forest received its name from an Indian spirit known as Yuquiyu (or “Yokahu”), which translates as “Forest of Clouds.” This spirit bestowed the mountain that dominates the 28,000 acres of tropical forest with its name. It is the United States’ only tropical forest and one of the smallest rainforests, but it has a diverse and densely populated habitat. Originally established in 1876 by the Spanish Crown, the Forest is one of the Western Hemisphere’s oldest reserves.
With over 240 species of trees and plants (26 of which are found nowhere else), the government of Puerto Rico has reason to spend a lot of money preserving floral species and animals on the verge of extinction. The total land area is 11,270 hectares (75 percent of Puerto Rico virgin forest is here).
This down-to-earth destination abounds with authentic, off-the-beaten-path experiences, from local markets to art museums to performances by indigenous musicians. Make a point of seeing everything – from the colonial city of Old San Juan to the mountains and the pristine islands of Vieques and Culebra.
There is plenty to discover here, from a coastline of nearly 300 sandy beaches to maze-like caves and bioluminescent pools. Three of the world’s five bioluminescent bays are located in Puerto Rico (Laguna Grande in Fajardo, Mosquito Bay on Vieques and La Parguera in Lajas). At night, these bays are awe-inspiring, teeming with millions of single-celled organisms that illuminate the water like glowing stars.
Additionally, the island is home to several caves, including Cueva Ventana (“Window Cave”) in Arecibo and the world-famous Caón de Tanamá in Utuado, where visitors can explore a network of caverns, canyons, and tunnels surrounded by limestone cliffs.
From land to sea, Puerto Rico has plenty to keep visitors occupied. Visit El Yunque, the only tropical rainforest in the United States National Forest System, to see a diverse array of plant and animal species, some of which are found nowhere else. The forest, located in northeastern Puerto Rico, features several hiking trails and ancient petroglyphs. Architecture enthusiasts will enjoy exploring some of the region’s centuries-old structures, which include historically significant forts and museums. Swim, surf, raft, tubing, or kayak in both ocean and river waters to cool off.
El Yunque National Forest is home to rare wildlife, including the Puerto Rican Parrot, one of the world’s ten most endangered bird species. Amazona vitatta is its scientific name. The Puerto Rican parrot is a small amazon parrot that measures approximately a foot in length. It is bright green with a red forehead, blue primary wing feathers, and a flesh-coloured bill and feet. Its primary habitat is in the Luquillo Mountains’ upper reaches. The Forest is also home to approximately 50 additional bird species. The Forest is a designated wildlife refuge; hunting is prohibited.
Puerto Rico, with its tropical climate, secluded palm-fringed beaches, and topography as varied as a patchwork quilt, is arguably the Caribbean’s most exotic island. Spot tree frogs in El Yunque’s dense jungle, swim at night in bioluminescent Mosquito Bay and marvel at the country’s abundance of golden sands.
#2. Colombia’s Tayrona National Park
Colombia – a country that has largely escaped the tourist trail until recently – is home to azure water, swaying hammocks, and hidden beaches. Hike through Tayrona National Park, an ecotourist’s paradise and one of the world’s most exotic travel destinations. It’s the ideal location for a beach hut stay, exotic fruit feasts, and lagoon explorations.
The park, which is characterised by dense jungle and undeveloped palm-fringed beaches, is part of the larger Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta region. This mountain range reaches altitudes of up to 6,000 metres and is home to unique pre-Columbian archaeological sites such as La Ciudad Perdida or the ‘Lost City, which dates all the way back to the 11th century; this area is also home to indigenous Kogui Indian communities. The park’s topography is diverse, encompassing rainforests, mangroves, and spiny forests.
The area protects approximately 65 mammalian species, 200 bird species, and 50 reptile species, with the emblematic Andean condor, howler monkeys, eagles, and the elusive and mythical jaguar among the most notable sightings. Lobsters, turtles, sponges, sea urchins, and a diverse array of fish can also be seen in the marine park via snorkelling or diving excursions departing from the beach resorts of Taganga or Santa Marta.
Tayrona National Park is located in northern Colombia’s Caribbean region. The national park is comprised of both land and sea areas. The land area is 58 square miles (150 square kilometres), while the protected sea area is 12 square miles (30 sq km).
From sea level to 2,952.76 feet, the elevation varies (900 m). Tayrona National Park protects the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountain range’s ecological diversity. It is Colombia’s second most visited national park. For more information on the worlds best Hill stations, you may read our blog at www.eastsidewriters.com
The park is home to over 105 mammalian species, 15 amphibian species, 31 reptile species, and at least 300 bird species. There are over 70 species of bats, with the Mantled howler, deer, and oncilla being the most frequently encountered. The solitary eagle of the montane region and the military macaw round out the bird species.
The national park’s marine section safeguards the country’s Caribbean coral reef. Two additional coral reefs are protected, but Tayrona is the only national park. The coral reef is home to 110 coral species, 202 sponge species, 700 mollusc species, and over 400 sea and river fish species. Colombia is home to over 340 endemic species, 44 of which are found in Tayrona.
#3. Japan’s Arashiyama Bamboo Forest
If this is a place for which the adage “pictures do not do it justice,” then you can only imagine how it would feel to stand in this towering bamboo forest. The site is located on the outskirts of Kyoto, Japan. This exotic destination is surrounded by bamboo stalks, monkeys, and shrines and is a place of pure enchantment. You may find yourself gazing upward with an otherworldly perspective that you can only feel in your gut!
The Arashiyama Bamboo Grove is actually two distinct bamboo groves, sandwiched between the grounds of Tenryu-ji Temple and the JR Sagano-Saiin line train tracks. The total length of the grove is approximately 500 metres, and the grove is approximately 140 metres wide. Nonomiya-Jinja Shrine, a popular Shinto shrine, is located in the eastern section near the main street, while Tenryu-ji Temple, one of Kyoto’s most beautiful Buddhist temples, is located on the western section’s southern edge.
Since the days of classical Japan, Arashiyama has been a favourite location for imperial and noble villas and temples (the Heian Period). Bamboo was a popular feature in these villas’ gardens. Bamboo was cultivated in the area during the Edo Period for use in a variety of Japanese crafts, as well as for consumption (bamboo shoots are a popular ingredient in Japanese food).
Only about 30 minutes from Kyoto’s city centre, the towering bamboo forest stands in stark contrast to the urban sprawl that surrounds it. Wooden paths wind their way through a dense thicket of towering bamboo stalks that reach dozens of feet into the sky, forming a canopy. When the wind blows through the densely packed plants, the wood bends and creaks, the leaves rustle, and the trunks collide, creating a sound unlike any other. That is, when the throngs of tourists are not obliterating it.
The meditative natural noise is so lovely that Japan’s Ministry of the Environment designated the location’s aural delights as one of the country’s “100 Soundscapes of Japan,” an initiative designed to encourage residents to get out and appreciate the country’s acoustic wonders. If visitors can visit the bamboo forest during a relatively quiet period, the combination of visual beauty and auditory calm may be unique. However, there is no mention of how the location smells.
#4. Madagascar’s Forest of Knives
In Malagasy, these razor-sharp vertical limestone cliffs in Madagascar (an island off the coast of South Africa) are also called Tsingy. This literally translates as “the place where one cannot walk,” and there is no doubt about why. The Tsingys are karstic plateaus formed as a result of groundwater undercutting the elevated uplands and gouging caverns and fissures into the limestone. The erosion is patterned vertically as well as horizontally as a result of the local conditions. The superposition of vertical and horizontal erosion patterns has created dramatic “forests” of limestone needles in several regions of western Madagascar, centred on the park and adjacent Nature Reserve.
Due to the unique geomorphology of the Tsingy de Bemaraha World Heritage Site, which encompasses both the National Park and the adjacent Strict Nature Reserve, the Site is home to an unusually large number of endemic plant and animal species that exist only in extremely small niches within the tsingys. For example, the summit, slope, and base of a tsingy’s limestone needle all form distinct ecosystems with a variety of species clinging to their extremely steep slopes.
The African island nation is home to a plethora of endemic species and equally spectacular natural landscapes. With all of this in mind, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the country is home to the world’s largest stone forest. It also has a smaller, bright red one.
“Tsingy” means “where one cannot walk barefoot” in Malagasy. That is not a joke. The term is used to describe tall, thin, needle-like rock formations found throughout the country. Not to scare you, but a single misstep through a tsingy forest could result in someone being impaled.
The Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the world’s largest tsingy forest. How large is it? The reserve encompasses 375,600 acres and is home to a veritable cathedral of limestone. However, the height is the most frightening aspect; some of the rock pinnacles reach a height of 2,600 feet. Not only is this Tsingy in central west Madagascar a stunning and/or terrifying sight to behold, it is also a hotspot for endemism, as it is home to a variety of unique endangered flora and fauna (including — you guessed it — lemurs).
These enchanted formations, which predate humans on this planet, are pure mother-earth magnificence, and wildlife thrives here! Due to 200 million years of intense tropical rain erosion, these limestone formations are as exotic as they come and truly impressive!
#5. French Polynesia, Taha’a
Better known as the Island of Vanilla, on Taha’a island, time seems to stand still. This charming and tranquil island immerses you in the easygoing lifestyle of the typical Polynesians. Tiny motus with glistening white sand beaches surround the flower-shaped island, which is crowned by a gentle mountain that rises from the calm waters of a lagoon.
Vanilla-scented air wafts down the island’s many vanilla farms on breezes, and those gentle aromas ride the ocean breezes, proclaiming the island’s soul long before it is visible on the horizon.
Taha’a is a mesmerising island. Above pristine white sand beaches, crystal clear waters, and overwater bungalows, slanted palm trees rise. Le Taha’a Island Resort & Spa and Vahine Island Island Resorts & Spa are two of Tahiti’s finest resorts.
Taha’a is a botanical work of art. Her fertile valleys and sloping hillsides are densely forested with banana, watermelon, and coconut plantations. The island, which is shaped like a flower, also serves as a vast natural greenhouse for the highly prized Tahitian vanilla orchid. As a result of this bounty, the intoxicating scent of vanilla pervades the air on Taha’a, ensuring that this island is every bit as sweet as it sounds.
Taha’a produces nearly 80% of all vanilla in French Polynesia. As a result, this sumptuous spice is used in a variety of applications, ranging from traditional cuisine to relaxing aromatherapy. We recommend paying a visit to one of the numerous plantations and purchasing vanilla beans or extract to bring a piece of Taha’a with you.
Apart from the fragrant fruits, Taha’a’s ivory beaches, intricate coral gardens, and secluded tranquilly will captivate you. The fact that Taha’a is only accessible by boat from sister island Raiatea adds to its allure. Both islands are encircled by a single continuous coral reef and share a translucent lagoon. Taha’a is only a few minutes away by boat once you arrive at the small airport on the coast of Raiatea, a 45-minute flight from Tahiti.
Taha’a, the island of sweetness and seduction, will engage and heighten each of your senses. One of our top picks for a romantic honeymoon getaway, this island is ideal for pairing with Bora Bora—or even visiting in place of Bora Bora. If you stay on the northwest coast, you can admire Bora Bora from afar, watching the sunset behind her iconic silhouette on the nearby horizon while inhaling the irresistible vanilla scent.
Her fertile valleys provide an ideal habitat for Tahitian vanilla orchids, which grow in profusion on Taha’a. On this exotic island, there is so much to see and do! The natural scenery is breathtaking, and visitors can hike through incredible valleys and ascending slopes, discovering the island’s magical and diverse flora and fauna.
#6. Bagan, Myanmar
The Burmese Pagan Kingdom that ruled over Myanmar’s ancient temple plain of Bagan was exceedingly devout. Between the 9th and 13th centuries CE, the Bagan kings and their subjects built thousands of stupas as devout followers of Theravada Buddhism.
Modern tourists regard Bagan’s remaining temples as being on a par with Cambodia’s Angkor Archaeological Park; in 2019, Bagan surpassed its Cambodian rival with its belated UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.
Whether or not it receives UNESCO recognition, Bagan belongs on any Myanmar itinerary worth mentioning, and indeed, many travellers make a point of visiting Bagan while travelling throughout Southeast Asia. Make the most of your visit to Bagan by participating in one of the adventures listed below.
In Southeast Asia, there are two preeminent ancient religious cities: Bagan in Burma and Angkor in Cambodia. Both locations are notable for the breadth of their sacred geography as well as the quantity and size of their individual temples. Bagan, for many visitors, is the more extraordinary destination due to its breathtaking views. Numerous exotic Buddhist temples can be found scattered across a vast dusty plain.
Although the kingdoms of Bagan date all the way back to the early second century BC, the region did not reach its golden age until the reign of King Anawrahta in 1057. From that time until it was conquered by Kublai Khan’s forces in 1287, over thirteen thousand temples, pagodas, and other religious structures were constructed. Around twenty-two hundred remain standing today, seven centuries later.
Nearly one-third of the original city area has been washed away by the Irrawaddy, and thieves in search of treasure have destroyed numerous temples, while earthquakes and the ravages of time have reduced hundreds of other temples to piles of crumbling stones.
This temple town is one of Myanmar’s most popular tourist destinations. Bagan () or, more precisely, the ‘Bagan Archaeological Zone’ covers an impressive 26 square miles and was once the capital of a powerful ancient kingdom. The Ayeyarwady (Irrawaddy) River meanders through its northern and western boundaries.
Nyaung U, in the northeastern corner, is the area’s most active town and primary transportation hub. Old Bagan is located approximately 2.5 miles west of the village, which was relocated two miles south to New Bagan in 1990. Between the two is Myinkaba, a village with a long history of lacquerware.
Bagan has been struck by earthquakes throughout history. The most recent, in August 2016, caused damage to 400 temples; repairs are ongoing. Bear in mind that Bagan is not a tourist destination comparable to Siem Reap (Cambodia) or even Luang Prabang in terms of nightlife (Laos)
These magnificent otherworldly temples were constructed between 1057 and 1287 by the Bagan Kings and are one of our truly gloriously unspoiled exotic destinations. Over 2,000 Buddhist monuments soar incredible heights above the green plains below, creating an archaeological spectacle unlike any other.
#7. El Nido, Philippines
El Nido is located on the northern tip of Palawan Island and covers an area of approximately 400 square kilometres. Additionally, this first-class municipality consists of 45 islands and islets that form part of the Bacuit Archipelago. El Nido – literally “the nest” – gets its name from the fact that it is a significant turtle breeding area.
El Nido is arguably one of the most popular resort destinations in the Philippines due to its white-sand beaches, turquoise waters, coral reefs, and magnificent limestone rock formations resembling those of Ha Long Bay in Vietnam or Phang Nga Bay in Thailand. The Philippines’ final frontier is characterised by marble cliffs and aquamarine lagoons teeming with exotic and vibrant fish.
That’s not all; just beyond this magnificent beach are lush mangrove forests, cascading waterfalls, and ancient caves, making El Nido the ideal location for your next exotic vacation.
The magnificent natural surroundings are the primary draw in El Nido, which is part of the Bacuit Archipelago. The islands are home to a diverse range of geological formations and offer day trips from El Nido Town. Simizu, Cadlao, Dilumacad, and Matinloc are a few of the islands worth visiting. Sea kayaking is an environmentally friendly way to discover each island.
Snorkeling and scuba diving are the activities that first drew many travellers to El Nido, owing to the abundance of marine life and coral reefs that surround the majority of the islands. On land, exploring the rainforest in search of waterfalls and exotic flora and fauna species is a rewarding way to travel.
Despite its remote location, El Nido has a decent selection of pleasant night spots where you can party or unwind after dark. Whether you stay in town or on one of the nearby beaches, you’re sure to find a suitable spot for a drink and some socialising at night. Pukka Bar in town and Republica Sunset Bar in Buena Suerte are two of El Nido’s most popular nightlife destinations.
El Nido is known for its vibrant and diverse dining scene. There are several restaurants that specialise in Filipino cuisine, including Cadlao Resort & Restaurant, Tambok’s El Nido, and Artcafé. Additionally, there are restaurants serving international cuisines such as Italian, French, Middle Eastern, Japanese, and Mediterranean. Additionally, Republica Sunset Bar, Happiness Beach Bar, and Osaka Castle are popular dining and nightlife establishments in El Nido.
The quickest and most convenient way to get to El Nido is to fly directly from Manila to Lio Airport, which is located 4 kilometres from El Nido Town. The flight takes about an hour, and if your transfer was not pre-arranged, you can hire a tricycle to get to your hotel from the airport.
If you want to see more of Palawan Island on your way to El Nido, you can fly from Manila or Cebu to Puerto Princesa Airport and then take a minivan, bus, or rented car for the remaining 220 kilometres. El Nido is approximately 5 hours from Puerto Princesa.
That’s not all; just beyond this magnificent beach are lush mangrove forests, cascading waterfalls, and ancient caves, making El Nido the ideal location for your next exotic vacation.
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