HIDDEN GEMS: TOP NATURAL SPOTS ON THE PLANET
Discover some of the most breathtakingly beautiful natural spots on the planet with our list of hidden gems for nature lovers. Top travel bloggers from the UK, USA and Canada have sent us their most inspiring recommendations so that you can add them to your bucket list.
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THE ORANGE SULPHUR SPRINGS, NORTH OF GRENADA
I discovered the warm sulphur springs in the lush and wild north of Grenada with my guide Simon of Hidden Treasures. Our path took us on a slippery forest trail, crossing a shallow river and hopping across the large boulders, until we reached an area of shallow pools that were tinted orange with sulphur. The pools were filled from a small waterfall, staining the rock bright orange as it cascaded down.
The water was like a warm bath and the sulphur-stained mud is considered very beneficial to rub into the skin, to treat skin conditions as well as for general health and wellbeing. At this particular spot, we found a group of locals who had hiked to the waterfall and were setting up a pot to make a picnic lunch over an open fire. It was fun to relax for a while in the warm sulphur pools, before we headed back along the river trail.
ZRMANJA RIVER CANYON, ZADAR REGION, CROATIA
Croatia is a country famous for its islands, historic towns, the UNESCO Plitvice Lakes, the Krka Waterfalls and, of course, the famous Game of Thrones locations. You may have seen pictures of Croatian cities with the mountains as a backdrop? If you visit the mountain range above Zadar City you'll find the stunning Zrmanja River Canyon and watch the emerald river winding through the mountains. What's more, as this is a hidden gem, it's likely you'll have this huge canyon all to yourself!
THETH NATIONAL PARK, ALBANIA
Ancient myths and terrible curses float through the jagged peaks of Albania’s Accursed Mountains. Theth, the storybook town nestled at their feet, is so remote that only one dirt road leads in and out.
Travelers who venture this far off the beaten path stay in guest houses owned by local families and eat home-cooked meals of traditional Albanian cuisine: freshly baked bread, hearty meats, and valley-grown vegetables served straight from the kitchen.
Waterfalls, rushing rivers, and densely forested trails lead to secluded spots like the Blue Eye of Theth, a sparkling blue-green swimming hole buried deep in the mountains, and Valbona Peak, where the long uphill climb rewards you with sweeping 360-degree views of the untouched mountain range. Sunsets, stargazing, and good books fill the quiet evening hours.
In Theth and its national park, it’s just you, the mountains, and the secrets that they keep. If you slow down enough, you just might be able to hear them.
BOW LAKE, CANADIAN ROCKIES, ALBERTA, CANADA
If you’ve heard of the Canadian Rockies there’s a pretty good chance you’ve heard of Lake Louise and/or Moraine Lake, and for good reason. But there’s another beautiful less crowded lake that was our favourite hidden gem in the Rockies – Bow Lake.
The Icefields Parkway passes directly beside Bow Lake as it connects the alpine towns of Banff and Jasper. It’s easy to miss Bow Lake if you don’t know to stop for it. We were lucky that we got a tip to stay at the lake lodge (Num-Ti-Jah Lodge) or we would have missed this hidden gem.
Pack a picnic lunch and enjoy eating it here, then take a hike around the area. You’ll be mesmerized by the beautiful scenery; it’s truly spectacular. A stop at Bow Lake is definitely worth your time.
TAJ NATURE WALK, AGRA, INDIA
India has some of the most hectic, busy and loud cities in the world and Agra, home to the Taj Mahal, is no exception. If you want to get away from the noise and traffic for an hour or two, a hidden gem in Agra is the Taj Nature Walk. Not only can you enter a quiet park that you can stroll around, you also get an impressive and unique view of the Taj Mahal from the top of the hill. I heard about this gem from my hotel owner and I recommend you pay it a visit too.
PORTH CEIRIAD, LLYN PENINSULA, WALES
We found and visited Porth Ceiriad when the girls were little after a couple visiting the farm we were staying at recommended the beach to us as a real find. Although described as peaceful with stunning scenery, they did say it was a little difficult to find… and after driving up quite a lot of the wrong country lanes (they were very thin and we prayed we didn’t meet anyone coming the other way), I must agree.
You drive through Abersoch and then take a left just before a gate and a road sign that has a sticker on it. We belatedly discovered you don’t have to drive up all the aforementioned country lanes – but the sticker is a little difficult to see so we passed it the first time! After you turn down the ‘secret’ road you need to have £3 to get to a spot where you can park your car (you can also access the Welsh Coastal Path at this point).
We drove through and parked the car in a field at the top of a very steep hill (I was wondering if it was going to topple into the sea!). However, the beach was practically empty despite the time of year – it was a true delight.
THE PARAMO DEL SOL, COLOMBIA
With a fairy tale-esque moss jungle, a hummingbird beehive, orchids, views of seemingly all of Colombia, and high-on-mushrooms-like scenery, trekking through the Paramo del Sol feels like exploring a different planet. It’s part of the fastest-evolving ecosystem on earth, unique to the Northern Andes – and it’s only five hours from Medellin.
SUGAR PALM TREES IN THE RURAL LANDSCAPE AROUND ANGKOR WAT, CAMBODIA
My hidden gem is not a place, it’s a state of mind. Hidden within us is the ability to be curious and not just follow the crowd. The Angkor Wat complex is spread over 402 acres, yet most of it hasn’t been properly explored. Around the edge of this hugely historic site lays some incredible landscapes where rural communities work in traditional ways.
Often visitors bus in to the main entrances of well-known sites, take a photograph within a few minutes and move on. We have forgotten how to explore. It doesn’t need to be a high-pressure adventure. It may be as simple as going for a short walk around a famous destination before entering, or take the smaller, longer routes to a destination.
We must learn not to have a preconceived image in our minds when we travel. Research the historical facts and why these places are important, then see more than just the known photo spots... Try to discover a new scene, just for you.
The sugar palm trees in this image are one of Cambodia's national icons.
REDWOODS NATIONAL PARK, CALIFORNIA
While Redwoods National Park is a national park, I would still consider it a hidden gem as it is tucked in the northwest part of California that many visitors never see. The park has some of the largest trees in the world with dozens of awe-inspiring groves all around the area. It also has the amazing Fern Canyon area where scenes from Jurassic Park 2 were filmed, making it an amazing area to spend a few days exploring.