Since my first big backpacking trip back in 2016, I had the privilege to travel across the world repeatedly, leading me to numerous countries on four continents and dozens of different destinations in the process.
While some places failed to live up to the hype, others completely captivated and left me speechless.
From the otherworldly Salar de Uyuni to the spectacular gorges of the Slovak Paradise, here are seven stunning travel destinations that completely exceeded my expectations in the last five years of backpacking.
My expectations for Choquequirao were immense. In fact, I had added an extra two weeks to my Colombia trip solely to visit this remote Inca ruin, after failing to do so a year prior.
An arduous 4-day hike is needed to reach this sacred site, hidden deep inside the Andean cordillera.
To this day, it remains the most rewarding destination I have ever visited.
Called the “Sister of Machu Picchu”, Choquequirao might be significantly smaller (at least the excavated parts) than her world-famous sibling, however, what she lacks in visible remains, she more than compensates with her remoteness and quite simply epic vistas. Oh yeah, and llama terraces!
There are plans to build a cable car, however, for the moment travellers still have to earn the privilege to lay their eyes on Choquequirao: the “Cradle of Gold”.
ISLE OF SKYE (Scotland)
In a country blessed with some of nature’s most dramatic creations, the Isle of Skye sticks out.
I was fortunate enough to spend a week hiking across this rugged island, and even though my stay was cut short due to a late appearance of Father Frost, I was absolutely mesmerised by the beauty presented to me.
Shaped by primordial forces of the last Ice Age, the island’s pulchritude is raw and untamed, a testament to the wild elements that surround it.
In the solitude of Skye’s sombre moors, encompassed by snow-capped peaks and gloomy skies, I felt a sense of peace only a few places have evoked in me.
There is a reason many consider Skye to be among the most stunning islands in the world.
KOLSAY LAKES (Kazakhstan)
Cradling the foothills of the Tian Shan mountains, three utterly pristine mountain lakes wait for the intrepid traveller to be discovered.
Completely off the grid, it took us four rides (three hitchhikes and a bus) to reach the shores of the first of overall three alpine lakes. Venturing upstream, we penetrated deep into this enchanted world of verdant meadows, conifer-covered slopes, and virgin forests before reaching one of the best campsites I have ever had.
While the lower lake is quite popular with the locals, only a few people find themselves gazing at the crystal-clear waters of the second one, perfectly framed by dim woods and green pastures (unfortunately, the third one is off limits due to its proximity with the Kyrgyz border).
It might be a hassle to get there but damn is it worth it!
SALAR DE UYUNI (Bolivia)
A white plain stretching infinitely before losing itself under an azure blue sky. Nothing but salt, as far as the eye can see. Few places on earth appear as alien as the salt flats of Uyuni.
During rainy season, this otherworldly place becomes even more mesmerising. When the rain clouds have passed, the Salar transforms into a gigantic mirror, reflecting the heavens above thus creating an even more surreal landscape. Visit after dark and you will lose yourself among the stars.
The Salar de Uyuni is grand. She is sublime. And she is truly unique.
To this day, it remains one of my absolute favourite places I have ever witnessed.
Tugged away into Greece’s overlooked north, lies one of the country’s best kept secrets: the mountainous wonderland of Zagorochoria.
Home to the world’s deepest canyon proportional to its width, a dragon lake, Greece’s second highest peak Smolikas, and the most romantic mountain villages you may ever lay your eyes on, Zagorochoria might be one of Europe’s most underrated hiking destinations.
I was entirely oblivious to the beauty of Zagori, yet it turned out to be one of the greatest discoveries of all my travels!
VALLEY OF THE KINGS (Egypt)
While I was utterly impressed by the towering remnants gracing the verdant banks of the river Nile, I got completely blown away by the historical wealth waiting underground.
Sealed off and hidden away for millennia, the subterranean resting places, constructed for kings and queens of the New Kingdom (c. 1550-1070 BCE), are remarkably well preserved and allow travellers a staggering glimpse into the past. Of all the places I visited in Egypt nowhere were the colourful decorations, covering walls and ceilings, so perfectly preserved than in these royal tombs.
If you want to experience the incredible glory of Ancient Egypt as vividly as possible, the Valley of the Kings is the place to be!
DISCLAIMER | The picture below was taken in the temple of Medinet Habu, since taking photos inside the tombs requires a special photography ticket. For the Valley of the Kings imagine these decorations but even more spectacular!
SLOVAK PARADISE (Slovakia)
Slovakia’s wild outdoors is almost exclusively associated with the imposing peaks of the High Tatras. However, just south of the country’s flagship for adventurous souls potentially lies her best kept secret: the Slovak Paradise National Park.
Hidden away underneath a dense forest canopy, rushing streams plunge down precipitous scarps and cut deep into the bedrock, thereby creating a stunning landscape of wild canyons just waiting to be explored.
Countless trails permeate these sombre woods and invite intrepid travellers to experience this incredible hiker’s paradise.