In early 2008, the writers and editors here at BootsnAll put our heads together to come up with our top 10 list of destinations for independent travelers. In case you are new to our site, we have the world’s best group of regulars and visitors using our travel forums, and there are always discussions between people wanting recommendations and informed travelers helping them out.
Be sure to check out our Top 10 Destinations from 2008.
So in 2009 we wanted to include our stellar community in this process, and we asked everyone for nominations for this list. We got quite a few suggestions, including many great destinations that those of us on the staff have yet to visit, so this list belongs to our entire community of travel fanatics.
Without further ado, here are 10 places you might consider visiting in 2009, and a few reasons why:
10 – Tasmania, Australia
Well-known for its incredible landscapes, Tasmania is nearly 40% protected area (national parks, nature reserves, and World Heritage sites) and is understandably popular with outdoors enthusiasts. Biking, hiking, fishing, and sailing are all great options to fill your days on the island, and the capital city of Hobart is pretty and charming. Getting to Tasmania by plane usually requires a stop elsewhere in Australia, and once you’re there you’ll have the most freedom with a rental car. Just remember that the Aussies drive on the left side of the road, and be on the lookout for wildlife – you don’t want your first look at a Tasmanian devil to be when it runs out in front of your car in the middle of the night.
Check out free things to do in Tasmania
9 – Siem Reap, Cambodia
Most visitors to Siem Reap use it as a staging area for their time at the nearby and amazing Angkor Wat temple complex, and while that’s a good enough reason alone, that’s only one of the benefits. This Cambodian town has responded to the crowds by building out all the needed resources, while keeping much of the authentic beauty of the place in tact. Before or after your trip to Angkor Wat you can check out the various street markets, visit a landmine museum, take a trip to a nearby “floating village,” or just get a cheap and refreshing massage.
You can fly into Siem Reap from all the major cities and capitals in the area, or you can take a bus from Thailand if you are already nearby. Hotels starting around US$5 are fairly easy to find, but there are also plenty of tourist-class hotels for those who prefer to spend a bit more for air conditioning and satellite TV.
8 – Bariloche, Argentina
Bariloche is located in the foothills of the Andes, very near the border with Chile, in the region of Patagonia. In addition to stunning scenery in every direction, you’ve got excellent skiing and snowboarding spots in the winter, and nearly unlimited amounts of summer activities including trekking, rafting, cycling, horseback riding, and many water sports. The city is also notable for its Swiss-style mountain resort look, including an abundance of chocolate shops ready to hand out samples. The food and wine are also excellent, and there are plenty of very affordable hotels mixed in among the pricy resorts.
Being as remote as it is, it’s not all that cheap or easy to reach from North America. You’ll have to connect through one of the major South American capitals, so it’s most popular among those touring the whole region. Consider adding it to a trip that includes Buenos Aires, the Mendoza wine region, or Santiago, Chile.
7 – Panama
From the colonial architecture of Casco Veijo in the modern and cosmopolitan city of Panama City, to the lush jungled highlands (and a volcano which you can spot both the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea from the top), to excellent surf and beaches on the Pacific side, and picturesque white sand, palm fringed islands surrounded by coral reefs and turquoise clear water on the Caribbean, Panama has a little bit of everything to offer intrepid travelers. Add into the mix friendly people with diverse and rich cultural backgrounds, and cheap food and accommodations, and you have yourself an equation for a perfect travel destination.
While Panama doesn’t have the tourism infrastructure of Costa Rica, it is equally beautiful, easier to get off the beaten path, and a lot less expensive than its neighbor to the north. However, with tourism on the brink of expanding in a major way in Panama, the inexpensive prices and lack of tourist crowds won’t last long. For anyone who envisions a vacation with everything from mountains and rain forests to beaches and nightclubs, Panama has got you covered.
6 – Bangladesh
The capital city of Dhaka is the obvious place to start, and definitely worth a few days on its own, but it’s a chaotic and crowded city so the smaller towns and rural areas will be even more welcome when you reach them. The people are notoriously friendly as well as accepting of others, and even though Westerners are a constant source of curiosity for locals, there is unlikely to be any trouble. The port city of Chittagong and the resort area called Cox’s Bazar (which claims to be the world’s longest beach even though it’s not), are two more highlights out of a long list.
And even though there are plenty of great sights and things to do, visiting Bangladesh is more about the people and how they live than about checklist attractions. If you decide to go you will have to be patient and understanding because the tourist infrastructure barely exists, but once you settle in you’ll probably fall for the place just like so many others before you have.
5 – Sardinia, Italy
The island is full of great hiking trails, and being surrounded by water makes it an ideal spot for things like kayaking and snorkeling. Public transportation is notoriously challenging on Sardinia, and there could be a bit of a language barrier for those who stray away from the bigger cities (not only do people not necessarily speak English, most of them are speaking Sardinian and not even Italian!), but if you’re willing to go off the beaten path in a country that’s been pretty well-trodden, you’ll be rewarded handsomely. Do note that getting a direct flight to Sardinia is pretty difficult (unless you’re starting in Italy), so you’ll likely be going through Rome or Milan – making Sardinia an easy addition to your existing Italy vacation plans.
4 – Senegal
In addition to the fascinating and easily accessible culture in the capital, Senegal is known for its outstanding beaches. They have noted beach resorts, which offer sailing, scuba diving, and fishing, as well as a surfing scene that is starting to make waves internationally. From the resort areas you are also close to wildlife and nature reserves, so it’s possible to mix many things on your trip.
You can actually fly into Senegal non-stop from Atlanta, as well as from many different cities on the European continent, so it’s one of the easiest African countries to reach, in addition to being among the most friendly, welcoming, and safe.
The area that was once East Berlin is fairly compact, and filled with interesting WWII and Cold War sights, as well as some amazing new attractions that have come together just recently. And since real estate prices were so cheap after the fall of the Berlin Wall, there are vast areas filled with experimental art shops, colorful coffee houses, and unique bars and clubs. This new and edgy style probably won’t last forever, so it’s great to be able to see it now before the chain stores move in and spoil it all.
Most trendy locals have moved on to the Prenzlauer Berg district for their nightlife, but the touristy area along Oranienburger Strasse is still very worthwhile, as it’s lined with unique bars and restaurants that still live up to the hype. And those who don’t speak any German will be happy to learn that Berlin is now a place where English works just fine by itself, as nearly all locals welcome the chance to practice as they are giving you tips for your stay there.
Check out the Berlin Indie Travel Guide
2 – Damascus, Syria
Budget travelers especially should put Damascus on their list, because in addition to being full of history it’s also incredibly affordable – even spending less than US$50 per day will still allow you to take taxis all over town, do some shopping, and dine in fancy restaurants. It’s easy to get to Damascus as well, because there’s a big international airport a short distance outside Damascus with regular flights to and from major cities all over the world.
1 – Colombia
The coastal Caribbean city of Cartagena has long had a great tourist infrastructure mixed in with its colonial architecture and history, but now that things are under control many visitors are also visiting Bogotá and Medellin to get a bit deeper into the culture. However, most independent travelers will tell you that this country is filled with hidden delights in the smaller towns, where tourism is only starting to take hold. Salento is one of those towns that happens to be in the heart of the fertile coffee-growing region in the Andean Highlands. Taganga is a small fishing village on the Caribbean coast that sucks in nearly everyone who visits with its friendly locals, ideal setting, and subtle charm.
All the major cities in Colombia have fairly large international airports, and flights from North America are often easier and cheaper than you might expect. There are plenty of tourist-standard hotels in the major cities, as well as small guesthouses and hostels that can make the country extremely affordable for the budget travel crowd.
Check out the Bogota Indie Travel Guide and read Why You Should Ignore Everything You’ve Heard & Go To Colombia
- Top 10 Destinations for Independent Travelers in 2008
- Top 10 Destinations for Independent Travelers in 2010
- Top 10 Destinations for Independent Travelers in 2011
- Top 10 Destinations for Independent Travelers in 2012
- Top 10 Destinations for Independent Travelers in 2013
- Top 10 Destinations for Independent Travelers in 2014