Nearly every destination that you could wish to visit has that one main attraction. The one on the front of all the brochures. The one that gets shared endlessly on social media. And the one that all your friends and family are jealous of you for visiting. In Egypt, this attraction is the Pyramids of Giza. In India, it’s the Taj Mahal and in Peru, it’s Machu Picchu. You get the idea. But each of these countries has plenty else to offer travellers, beyond just these iconic attractions. What we’re calling the “forgotten highlights” are places such as Abu Simbel in Egypt and Lake Titicaca in Peru. These are some of the best places to visit in the world for an adventurous traveller. But they are often neglected by visitors short on time, who flock straight to the main attraction.
In this article, we’ll focus on the “forgotten highlight” in some of our main destinations. This means you can ensure you don’t make the same mistake. You can ensure you tick off all the highlights, not just THE main highlight during your trip.
Abu Simbel – Egypt
Obviously, you can’t go to Egypt without visiting the Pyramids of Giza. They are legendary, one of the best places to visit in the world. There is no doubt that the Pyramids will form a highlight of your trip. But further south, a few hours drive from Aswan, lies the sometimes forgotten temple of Abu Simbel.
This incredible site was built by King Ramses II as a dedication to himself and his wife. Four great statues of the ruler guard the entrance, having long withstood the test of time. Abu Simbel is best visited on either the 22 February or 22 October, when the fabulous Sun Festival takes place. Ramses II ensured that the temple was built so that on these two dates (the king’s birthday and ascension date) the rising sun would illuminate the temple’s inner sanctum, in a truly breathtaking display. Locals and travellers alike gather before dawn to enjoy the celebration, with an almost carnival atmosphere descending on the temple.
Recommended tour: King Ramses Sun Festival – 13 days
Amritsar – India
The Taj Mahal often (deservedly) gets the plaudits in India. But hidden away to the north of the country is an equally impressive attraction. And this is one which many travellers won’t even have heard of. The Golden Temple of Amritsar is one of the most important sites in Sikhism and was completed in the 1570s. Its picturesque location, surrounded by a man-made pool and illuminated by bright lights after dark, makes it one of the most captivating sites to see in India. Yet most travellers to the country neglect to make the trip! Whilst in Amritsar, you’ll also want to head to the Jallianwala Bagh memorial and to the border town of Wagah. Here, a changing of the guard ceremony takes places with Indian and Pakistani forces at sunset every day, signalling the closing of the border for the day.
Recommended tour: Amritsar & the Golden Triangle – 13 days
Lake Titicaca – Peru
The Peruvian lost city of Machu Picchu is undoubtedly one of the best places to visit in the world. But if you’ve made the trip to Peru and ticked off this famous site, what next? Our advice is to head south-east, towards the Bolivian border. When you reach the city of Puno, you’ll know you’ve arrived at the shore of Lake Titicaca.
The world’s highest navigable freshwater lake, Titicaca is one of the most naturally stunning places you’ll find in the whole of Peru. The lake boasts gorgeous mountain scenery and shimmering vistas. And you’ll find the islands of Uros. These islands are made from the locally grown totora reeds, and they float at their own pace across the lake, supporting entire villages. The inhabitants make everything out of the reeds, including their houses and their boats. A trip out to meet the islanders on a crisp day can easily compare to the majesty of Machu Picchu.
Recommended tour: Amazon, Incas & Titicaca – 13 days
Udawalawe National Park – Sri Lanka
Sri Lanka’s Cultural Triangle often forms the basis of a trip to the country. The ancient capital of Polonnaruwa and the Dambulla cave temple normally steal the headlines. And it’s true that the cultural sights in the country represent some of the best places to visit in the world.
In recent years, Sri Lanka has also emerged as one of the world’s finest wildlife destinations. This is thanks in no small part to Udawalawe National Park. The reserve is home to a massive population of elephants, as well as leopards and sloth bears, to name a few. Udawalawe can rival even the great national parks of Africa and the tiger parks of India with its wildlife offering. A small detour south of the Cultural Triangle is well worth it if you’d like a wildlife experience like no other. Yala National Park also deserves a mention, home to the highest density of leopards found anywhere in the world.
Recommended tour: Wild About Sri Lanka – 10 days
Ephesus – Turkey
Turkey has two main highlights, which travellers shuttle between to make the most of. The fairy tale landscape of Cappadocia is best explored by hot air balloon and the chaotic, sensual city of Istanbul straddles the continents of Europe and Asia. But to the south of the country, near the resort city of Kusadasi, one can find the Roman ruins of Ephesus. This ancient site is often neglected by travellers even to this region, who flock straight to the beach. Ephesus is one of the best preserved classical cities in the world. Great monuments such as the amphitheatre and the Library of Celsus stand proud to this day. It would be a travesty to take a tour of Turkey without making a stop at these ancient ruins.
Recommended tour: Turkey Unplugged – 10 days
Hoi An – Vietnam
Hoi An is pretty well known, we’ll admit that. The pretty riverside city is mostly pedestrianized, making it a charming place for a stroll. There are plenty of highlights in the UNESCO-listed Old Town, including the beautiful 400-year old Japanese Bridge. Yet, Hoi An is still forgotten sometimes by travellers who fly into the northern part of the country. Enthralled by rickshaw riding around Hanoi and cruising on the emerald waters of Halong Bay, the rest of the country can be forgotten. Whilst both of these are fabulous destinations, as is the majority of Vietnam, Hoi An retains a special charm. We frequently hear from our own travellers that it turned out to be their favourite part of the whole country, despite not being particularly high up on their list to begin with.
Recommended tour: Hanoi to Hoi An – 8 days
Ngorongoro Crater – Tanzania
Tanzania consistently ranks as one of the best safari destinations in Africa. This is largely thanks to the enormous, biodiverse ecosystem of the Serengeti, and the national park which protects it. Throw in the climbing challenge posed by Mt Kilimanjaro and the pristine beaches of Zanzibar, and you have a perfect, all encompassing holiday of safari, adventure and beach. So, why visit the Ngorongoro Crater? The answer to this question is multifold.
The conservation area is located within an actual volcanic caldera, which even the Serengeti cannot boast. The reserve is also home to Olduvai Gorge. Here, some of history’s most important human archaeological discoveries have been made. And for wildlife, the crater boasts some of the highest densities of game species in the country. The steep crater forms a “natural enclosure”, which discourages animals from roaming. So, in terms of a wildlife safari, the crater represents one of the best places to visit in the world.
Recommended tour: Best of Kenya & Tanzania – 11 days
The Golden Ring – Russia
If you’ve never heard of Kostroma, Yaroslavl and Suzdal, then we forgive you. These small Russian cities are nothing compared to the popularity of Moscow and St Petersburg. But, if you’re travelling to Russia then we recommend you allow a few days to delve into the countryside. Because these more traditional, rural Russian settlements are worth it. Ancient churches, monasteries and local government buildings sit alongside winding rivers and expansive grasslands. And they’re a world away from the busy metropolises of Moscow and St Petersburg. Think of them more as open air museums. So you can return home and tell friends and family that you saw the real Russia.
Recommended tour: Golden Ring of Russia – 7 days
Some of the best places to visit in the world are often not on the front of brochures. Yes, the Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu and the Pyramids are all truly incredible. But it would be a shame to travel to their respective countries and not make the most of the array of other destinations on offer. Our “forgotten highlights” are all worth visiting, for their natural charm, rich history and more.