When it comes to picking a holiday destination, nothing quite beats a far-flung retreat.
While holidaying at home can be just as satisfying as leaving for foreign climes, visiting a country you’ve never been to before – or even a city or location within a country you have visited – feels fresh and exciting.
When we talk about “exotic places to travel”, this is what we really mean; we’re talking anywhere that feels distant and romantic, where you can truly lose yourself among cultures and people you’ve never encountered before.
Of course, your perspective on where that might be will differ depending on where you are in the world; after all, a traveller from India might think the UK is exotic, and vice versa.
With that in mind, then, here are the top 20 exotic places to travel in the world right now!
Often called the Land of the Rising Sun, Japan is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful countries in the world, so if you’ve never visited, you should definitely add it to your list.
It’s a place where rustic rural landscapes rub shoulders with massive, ultra-high-tech cities, so you can drive for just a couple of hours and be within walking distance of a traditional temple even if you’re staying in Tokyo.
It’s not uncommon for visitors to Japan to experience culture shock due to just how different and overwhelming things can feel, so if you want to immerse yourself in one of the world’s finest exotic places to travel, make sure you consider Japan.
When many people think of the word “exotic”, they’re probably picturing something like Barbados, with its sun-kissed beaches and gloriously clear waters.
Relaxing and lounging on the beach while reading a good book or just soaking up the sun is the order of the day in Barbados, but there are also lots of tourist attractions, including tours of rum distilleries and more.
Naturally, Barbados also boasts some of the best restaurants around, and there’s a particular focus on shellfish and seafood due to Barbados being an island nation. If that sort of food appeals to you, then you’ll hardly find anywhere better than Barbados.
Hawaii is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world, and you only need to spend a few hours there before you realise why that is. It’s got gloriously clement weather, friendly locals, and lots of attractions.
Whether you’re wandering one of Hawaii’s many beautiful beaches, checking out the local cuisine, or putting yourself through your paces by hiking through a rainforest, Hawaii is a tropical paradise that you won’t want to leave.
If you’re a fan of extreme sports, you’ll also find a vibrant and thriving surf scene in Hawaii, which is perfect for showing off your skills or even learning the sport if you’ve never dabbled in it before.
You may not think of Croatia as one of the premier exotic places to travel, given that it’s situated in Eastern Europe, but you should think again, because it’s a breathtaking country.
Dubrovnik, in particular, is a wonderful place to visit; it’s absolutely teeming with history, and you can’t go anywhere in the city without running into something that’s worth talking about or commenting on.
If you prefer a holiday destination that’s just a little more cerebral and focuses on the intellectual side of travel rather than the purely experiential, then you should definitely make time to visit Croatia at least once in your life.
It’s unfortunate that, among many people, Colombia has developed a reputation as a place that shouldn’t be visited, because it’s got some of the most beautiful landscapes you’re likely to find in the world.
While it might not top many travellers’ lists of exotic places to travel, Colombia is an excellent holiday destination thanks to its largely unspoiled beaches, especially in the gorgeous national park of Tayrona.
Elsewhere in Colombia, you’ll find historical ruins that will be of interest to any amateur archeologists in your party, as well as excellent restaurants and plenty of welcoming, high-quality accommodation to give you a base while you’re exploring.
Again, to many, there’s a good chance that Mexico doesn’t feel particularly exotic. After all, it’s just south of the USA, and many travellers may already have visited this gorgeous country more than once.
If you’ve never been, though, Mexico presents a hugely diverse and varied ecosystem in which to immerse yourself. Want to walk among the built-up streets of the city? You can do that. Feel like exploring a beach instead? That’s here too.
Mexico is also a land absolutely teeming with culture and historical richness, so if you want to learn about the local history, you’ll find lots of tour guides just waiting to take you on a trip that you won’t soon forget.
Despite being a European nation, and therefore probably fairly familiar to Europeans, Greece is a wonderfully exotic destination that provides endless hours of entertainment for tourists.
By itself, Athens is worth multiple trips; you could go three or four times and still be nowhere near seeing everything this historically significant city has to offer you.
Even if you prefer to stay outside the cities, though, you’ll find plenty of semi-rural places with glorious views of the Greek countryside, and some of the towns situated along the Greek coast are absolutely stunning.
Don’t write Greece off, even if you’re thinking it couldn’t possibly make for a good exotic holiday destination!
Again, Namibia is a nation that doesn’t frequently get mentioned when it comes to exotic holiday destinations, but given the beauty of its deserts, it absolutely should be.
The capital city, Windhoek, has a huge amount of tourist attractions to visit, including museums that tell the history of the country, as well as lots of restaurants and bars to check out when you’re done learning for the day.
You can also travel to the western coast, where the Namib desert meets the sea in an usual geographical confluence that must be seen to be believed. Don’t miss out on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see some truly special natural beauty.
Like Japan, Thailand is a place where you can see astounding natural beauty one minute, then some of the most glorious built-up urban areas the next. It truly has a little of everything to offer.
For food buffs, Thailand is heaven, with bustling street stalls serving up everything from curry to noodles and packing it full of seafood, chicken, and other delicious things. You won’t go hungry while you’re in Thailand.
The nightlife in cities like Bangkok is legendary, but there’s also a historical dimension to the country, with plenty of ancient ruins that date as far back as the 13th century and tell the history of this beautiful nation.
The size and position of Mauritius – it’s a very small island that’s located out in the Indian Ocean – mean that it’s often overlooked when it comes to great exotic places to travel, but we think that’s a mistake.
To put it simply, Mauritius is beautiful, and the fact that it’s relatively small also makes it worth visiting for those who like to pack out their holiday itineraries so there’s never a dull or silent moment.
Swimming, snorkelling, touring built-up areas, and relaxing on the beach are just some of the things you can do if you visit Mauritius, so try to make time for all of them and you’ll have a very rewarding time in this island paradise.
We know we made the point earlier about India not being exotic to Indians, but if you don’t live in the country and you’re looking for a beautiful place to make your next holiday destination, India certainly qualifies.
It’s an absolutely massive nation, so it’s best to pick somewhere – a city, say, or a particular region – and make that the focal point of your stay. Trying to see all of it in one go is just going to leave you exhausted.
Sample the local cuisine, tour the historical temples, and talk to the locals; they’re often very friendly, and many of them will be able to offer advice regarding where you should go and what you should see next!
12. Puerto Rico
Known as an “unincorporated” US territory, Puerto Rico has deep cultural ties with the US, but it’s very much its own place as well, complete with its own local history and culture that you should definitely sample if you visit.
The bars in Puerto Rico are legendary, as are the local restaurants, so if you’re a traveller with a particular penchant for nightlife, you’re going to absolutely adore Puerto Rico.
However, if you prefer to be amongst nature, Puerto Rico will still provide, thanks to its beautiful beaches and incredible hiking trails that offer some of the most staggering views of nature you’ll find anywhere in the world.
Culturally, many don’t think of Australia as an exotic place to visit, but its climate and local culture would beg to differ. This is very much a tropical island nation, albeit one that spans a pretty sizeable amount of land.
The locals in Australia are famously incredibly friendly, so it’s often worth not putting together a list of restaurants or bars to visit and simply chatting to locals about where they would recommend.
Of course, Sydney is a beautiful city, with its incredible Opera House and iconic Harbour Bridge, but venturing outside the cities will give you just as much to talk about with the folks back home.
In particular, the Australian outback plays host to some incredible biodiversity, so if you’re all about seeing as many animals and exotic plants as possible, Australia is definitely the holiday destination for you.
14. Canary Islands
The Canary Islands are something of a focal point for four different continents: they’re often considered the bridging point between Europe, Africa, North America, and South America.
Two of the Islands – Tenerife and Lanzarote – have strong reputations as tourist destinations, but don’t write off the others, because they can still offer incredible tourist experiences.
Fuerteventura, in particular, is a wonderful place to go if you’re looking for a slightly more tourist-light destination. It’s still got all the glorious beaches and unspoiled natural landscapes of the other Canaries, but it’s got a relaxed vibe that makes it much more appealing for the less people-oriented tourist.
If you’ve already explored Fuerteventura, then Gran Canaria has plenty of great hiking trails, and even Tenerife has its fair share of historical locations to explore outside of the nightclubs.
Thanks to its historical significance, there’s an absolute ton to see and do in Turkey, including the wonderful city of Istanbul, which could occupy you for an entire year’s worth of travel thanks to its embarrassment of riches.
The beautiful beaches and natural forests are also well worth a look if you’re travelling to Turkey, and you’ll also find lots of quaint local cafes and restaurants to appeal to your palate if the purpose of your trip is culinary.
In short, Turkey is one of those countries that simply has something for everyone, so no matter what you like to do, you’ll almost certainly find an opportunity to do it in this beautiful and underrated exotic holiday destination.
If you’re looking for a tourist destination that feels a touch more untamed and wild than your average exotic holiday location, then look no further than the beautiful African nation of Madagascar.
Famous for its indigenous lemur population, Madagascar is a wildlife lover’s paradise; don’t pass up the opportunity to go swimming with beautiful whale sharks either. They’re friendly, despite their somewhat threatening name.
If you’re more of an urban explorer, then Madagascar’s cities still offer lots to see and do, including open-air stalls, art galleries, and museums that teach you all about Madagascar’s history and its culture.
It’s well worth making time to see Madagascar’s sights, especially if you’ve never visited before.
Thanks to its glorious biodiversity – you’ll find frozen glaciers in the same country as soaring surf – Chile is one of the world’s premier exotic holiday destinations, making it perfect for any list of the best exotic places to travel.
Mainland Chile has plenty to do, including seeing the glorious sights of Valparaiso, skiing in the rocky heights of the Andes, or sampling local cuisine and delicacies in one of the country’s beautiful cities.
If you tire of life in mainland Chile (which you almost certainly won’t), you can also take a trip out to the famous Easter Island, which remains just as mysterious as its reputation suggests. Those Easter Island heads really are worth seeing up close!
If you’re a food buff, then Indonesia absolutely needs to be on your list of places to visit. Rendang, a dish often voted as one of the tastiest in the world, originates here, and it’s a real experience for your tastebuds.
Even if you’re not a foodie, though, there’s still lots to see and do in Indonesia. It’s a glorious tropical paradise; when people picture exotic locations, then Indonesia is probably one of the most prominent images in their minds.
Its incredible marine diversity means that snorkelling and diving are immensely rewarding activities in Indonesia, and you’ll also find lots of rare birds here, so if you’re an amateur birdwatcher, Indonesia is the place to be.
Many travellers agree that Guatemala is one of the most satisfying places to holiday in all of South America, and considering how stiff the competition is, that’s an impressive feat to have achieved.
If you visit the country, you’ll quickly realise how it got its reputation, however. It’s got a hugely diverse landscape that could see you visiting a volcano one day and a massive built-up city the next.
Like Japan, it’s another country that places local culture and history right next to built-up urban areas, so you won’t have to travel far to find a wonderful experience that you’ll treasure for the rest of your life.
When most travellers think of Peru, they probably immediately think of Machu Picchu, and there’s a good reason for that. The so-called “Lost City of the Incas” is a true monument to the fearsome prowess of humanity in its prime.
However, you shouldn’t make the mistake of thinking that Machu Picchu is all there is to Peru. This beautiful South American nation has lots of other things to offer, especially if you’re a nature buff.
Peru plays host to part of the Amazon rainforest, and travelling there will show you just how glorious the wildlife can be. If you prefer cities, Lima is one of the world’s most glorious cities, especially when it comes to the breathtaking architecture.
It’s fair to say that Peru is another nation that simply has something for everyone to enjoy.