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Undertourism & Sustainable Travel: Exploring six hidden gems

23 Feb 202414 min
By Arjen Hartman
The Mesi bridge across the Kir river in Albania

At a time when the clamour of over-tourism echoes through the world's most famous destinations, undertourism is emerging as a breath of fresh air, advocating the exploration of lesser-known places while promoting sustainable travel practices.

This fascinating concept is not just about visiting off-the-beaten-path locations, but is deeply rooted in the philosophy of responsible travel and preserving the essence of remote places.

Undertourism encourages adventurers and culture buffs alike to turn their eyes away from overcrowded tourist hubs, thereby easing the strain on these areas and spreading the economic benefits of tourism more evenly.

It invites thoughtful exploration of the world, focusing on making meaningful connections with local communities, understanding their heritage and appreciating the unspoiled beauty of these hidden gems.

In essence, undertourism is a call to conscious travellers who want to have a positive impact on the environment and the societies they visit, ensuring that their footprints are light and their experiences deep.

By embracing undertourism, we open the door to a world where travel is not just about ticking off destinations, but about enriching our lives and the places we visit in a harmonious and sustainable way.

Exploring the world's undertourism: 6 hidden gems unveiled

Undertourism thrives in destinations that are often overshadowed by their more popular counterparts, yet offer unparalleled beauty, rich history and unique cultural experiences. Here are some examples of hidden gems where undertourism is a reality:

Albania: A hidden gem unveiled

Undertourism, a term that resonates with the unspoilt and tranquil beauty of destinations spared the heavy footfall of mass tourism, finds a perfect example in Albania. With its captivating mix of crystal clear beaches, rugged mountains, timeless cultural sites and charming villages, this Balkan nation remains an enigmatic treasure on the European tourist map. Albania offers a Mediterranean experience without the mass tourism of other European coastal destinations.

Unlike its more visited neighbours, Albania's undertourism is not a consequence of a lack of attractions, but rather an undiscovered story waiting to be told. The concept of undertourism in Albania highlights an opportunity for travellers seeking solace, authenticity and an unspoilt natural environment.

The country's unspoilt landscapes, from the secluded beaches of the Albanian Riviera to the ancient ruins that whisper tales of bygone civilisations, offer a unique travel experience that stands out in an age of overtourism.

This under-the-radar status not only preserves Albania's environmental and cultural integrity, but also promises a more sustainable and enriching travel experience. By embracing undertourism, Albania invites the intrepid and curious to explore its hidden gems, ensuring a journey of discovery and respect for the natural and cultural heritage that defines this enchanting country.

Ksamil, Albania RivieraKsamil, Albania Riviera. Photograph by Stockstudiox, Getty Images.

Essential tourist tips for visiting Albania

Albania, a hidden gem in the Balkans, offers a unique blend of history, culture and natural beauty. For those planning a visit, key must-sees include the ancient city of Butrint, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that offers a glimpse into the country's rich history.

The Albanian Riviera, with stunning beaches such as Ksamil and Dhermi, is perfect for sun worshippers and nature lovers. Gjirokastër and Berat, known as the 'City of a Thousand Windows', are examples of Ottoman architecture and culture.

For outdoor adventurers, the Valbona Valley and Theth National Park offer breathtaking scenery and hiking opportunities. Don't miss out on exploring the vibrant capital, Tirana, where history meets modernity.

Each location offers a unique experience, from archaeological sites to picturesque villages, ensuring that visitors gain a comprehensive understanding of Albania's heritage and natural wonders.

Theatre in Butrint, a UNESCO World Heritage site in AlbaniaRoman theatre in Butrint, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Albania. Photograph by Abenteur Albanien, Unsplash.

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Discover the unspoilt beauty of the Azores: A haven for undertourism

Located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the Azores archipelago in Portugal is renowned for its stunning landscapes, from volcanic craters and lush greenery to thermal springs and clear blue lakes. It's a haven for nature lovers and those seeking adventure in a less crowded environment.

The Azores archipelago is a prime example of undertourism, offering a haven for travellers seeking solace away from crowded destinations. Characterised by lush landscapes, volcanic calderas and thermal springs, the Azores invite a slower pace of travel. Here, undertourism is not just a concept, but a tangible experience as visitors immerse themselves in the tranquil beauty of islands such as São Miguel, Terceira and Pico.

The Azores' commitment to sustainable tourism practices ensures the preservation of its unique ecosystems and rich cultural heritage. From whale watching in the deep blue waters to hiking in the green hills, the Azores offer a range of activities that encourage a deep connection with nature. This under-visited paradise exemplifies the essence of under-tourism, where every journey contributes to the protection and appreciation of pristine environments and vibrant communities.

Couple watching a beautiful waterfall on São Miguel Island at the Azores, PortugalA couple watching a beautiful waterfall on São Miguel Island at the Azores, Portugal. Photograph by Alano Oliveira, Unsplash.

Essential tourist tips for visiting the Azores

The Azores, an enchanting archipelago in Portugal, is a treasure trove of natural wonders and hidden gems waiting to be discovered. For those looking for an unforgettable journey, the islands offer a mosaic of experiences, from the breathtaking landscapes of São Miguel to the serene beauty of Pico Island.

Known as the 'Green Island', São Miguel is home to the mystical Lake of Sete Cidades, a must-see with its enchanting twin lakes nestled in a massive volcanic crater. Not far away is Terra Nostra Park, famous for its geothermal pools and exotic flora.

For the adventurous at heart, Pico Island offers the challenge of climbing Portugal's highest peak, with panoramic views that are nothing short of awe-inspiring. Meanwhile, the island of Faial, nicknamed the 'Blue Island', enchants visitors with its vibrant hydrangeas and the legendary Capelinhos volcano, offering a glimpse of the raw power of nature.

Each island in the Azores has its own unique story to tell, making it the perfect destination for those looking to immerse themselves in the nature, culture and unparalleled beauty of the Portuguese archipelago.

View over the Lagoa Das Cetes Cidades at the Azores, PortugalView across the Lagoa Das Cetes Cidades at the Azores in Portugal. Photograph by Martin Munk, Unsplash.

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Discovering Undertourism in Svaneti, Georgia

Svaneti, a hidden gem in the heart of Georgia's majestic Caucasus Mountains, offers a sustainable alternative to overcrowded tourist hotspots and embodies the essence of undertourism.

Hidden in the heart of the majestic Caucasus Mountains, Svaneti is a remote region known for its medieval towers, breathtaking mountain scenery and rich cultural heritage. It's an ideal place for hiking, experiencing traditional Georgian life and enjoying the tranquillity of the mountains.

This region, with its unspoilt landscapes and ancient traditions, remains largely undiscovered by the masses. Unlike popular tourist destinations, which often suffer from overcrowding, Svaneti's quiet villages, fortified towers and panoramic mountain views offer a tranquil retreat for those seeking an authentic cultural experience.

The preservation of Svaneti's unique heritage and natural beauty is a testament to the benefits of undertourism, encouraging a deeper connection with the place while minimising the environmental and social impact of travel.

As travellers increasingly seek destinations off the beaten track, Svaneti stands out as a perfect example of how undertourism can enhance the travel experience, offering a blend of adventure, culture and tranquillity away from the crowded tourist circuits.

View of the Trinity Gergeti church in Kazbegi, Georgia.View of the Trinity Gergeti Church in Kazbegi, Georgia. Photograph by Iman Gozal, Unsplash.

Essential tourist tips for visiting Svaneti, Georgia

A trip to Svaneti, Georgia, will immerse you in a world where natural beauty and rich history blend seamlessly. This secluded haven, nestled among the towering peaks of the Caucasus Mountains, is a treasure trove of tourist delights.

First on your itinerary should be Mestia, the heart of Svaneti, where ancient stone towers dot the landscape, silent witnesses to the region's storied past. Further afield, the village of Ushguli offers breathtaking views of Mount Shkhara, Europe's highest peak and a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its cultural significance.

For the more adventurous, the trek to the Chalaadi Glacier is a must, offering an unparalleled opportunity to experience Svaneti's pristine natural beauty up close. No visit is complete without exploring the Svaneti Museum of History and Ethnography in Mestia, which houses priceless artefacts that tell the story of the region's rich cultural heritage.

Each of these destinations in Svaneti offers a unique insight into Georgia's unspoilt beauty and enduring traditions, making them essential stops for any traveller seeking to uncover the secrets of this enchanting region.

View of stone towers in Mestia, GeorgiaView of stone towers in Mestia, Georgia. Photograph by Marek Piwnicki, Unsplash.

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Exploring Under-Tourism in Luang Prabang, Laos

With its mix of traditional Lao wooden houses and European colonial architecture, Luang Prabang is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Situated at the confluence of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers, it offers a tranquil escape with Buddhist temples, waterfalls and breathtaking sunsets over the Mekong.

Undertourism refers to the situation where a destination does not receive as many tourists as it can accommodate, resulting in limited economic benefits despite having immense potential.

This concept perfectly captures the status of Luang Prabang: an oasis with picturesque landscapes, rich cultural heritage and historical significance that remains largely unexplored by mainstream tourism.

Factors contributing to this undertourism include limited accessibility, insufficient large-scale promotion, and misconceptions about safety and infrastructure.

Despite being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Luang Prabang has managed to retain its authenticity, offering travellers an unspoilt experience surrounded by lush jungle, majestic temples and the peaceful flow of the Mekong River.

However, the absence of large-scale tourism has its drawbacks, as local communities may struggle with economic opportunities and infrastructure development.

Nevertheless, undertourism offers a unique opportunity for conscientious travellers seeking authentic cultural encounters and sustainable tourism experiences.

By supporting local businesses, participating in community-based initiatives and spreading awareness of this hidden gem, visitors can contribute to Luang Prabang's sustainable development while enjoying its unspoilt beauty.

View on the Kuang Si waterfalls in Luang Prabang, LaosThe Kuang Si waterfalls in Luang Prabang, Laos. Photograph by Hongbin, Unsplash.

Exploring the best tourist attractions around Luang Prabang, Laos

Luang Prabang, Laos, offers a wealth of enchanting destinations that captivate travellers with their natural beauty and cultural significance. 

A must-see attraction is the iconic Kuang Si Falls, a series of cascading turquoise pools surrounded by lush greenery, perfect for swimming and picnicking. 

Another highlight is the revered Pak Ou Caves, situated along the Mekong River and adorned with thousands of Buddha statues, offering a glimpse into Laos' spiritual heritage. 

For a dose of history and architecture, a visit to the Royal Palace Museum is a must, showcasing intricate traditional artefacts and the former royal residence. 

Don't miss the morning alms-giving ceremony, where monks collect food offerings from devout locals along the streets of Luang Prabang, offering a serene insight into Buddhist traditions.

Exploring the nearby countryside reveals hidden treasures such as the picturesque village of Nong Khiaw, which sits between towering limestone cliffs and verdant rice fields, offering breathtaking views and authentic cultural encounters. 

Whether you're looking for natural wonders, cultural immersion or historical insight, Luang Prabang and its surroundings offer an unforgettable journey into the heart of Laos' beauty and charm.

A buddhist temple in Luang Prabang, LaosA buddhist temple in Luang Prabang, Laos. Photograph by Bo Pan, Unsplash.

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Understanding Undertourism in Salento, Colombia

Located in Colombia's coffee region, Salento boasts lush landscapes, colourful colonial architecture and the famous Cocora Valley, home to towering wax palms. It's perfect for those who want to explore coffee plantations, enjoy nature and experience local culture.

Undertourism characterises a destination that receives fewer tourists than its potential capacity, often resulting in untapped opportunities for economic growth and sustainable development. In the case of Salento, Colombia, this phenomenon is particularly evident despite the region's stunning natural landscapes, vibrant culture and warm hospitality. 

Salento boasts picturesque European colonial buildings, sprawling coffee plantations and breathtaking views of the Andes. However, compared to more popular tourist destinations in Colombia, such as Cartagena or Medellin, Salento remains relatively undiscovered by international travellers. 

Factors contributing to this undertourism include limited accessibility, lack of widespread promotion and misconceptions about safety. However, this presents a unique opportunity for adventurous travellers seeking authentic experiences off the beaten track.

By exploring Salento's charming cobbled streets, tasting locally grown coffee and trekking through lush cloud forests, visitors can contribute to the region's sustainable development while immersing themselves in its rich culture and natural beauty.

view of natural hill sides around Quimbaya, Quindio, ColombiaView of natural hill sides around Quimbaya, Quindio, Colombia. Photograph by Michael Baron, Unsplash.

Discover the best tourist attractions around Salento, Colombia

Salento, Colombia, offers a treasure trove of must-see attractions that enchant visitors with their natural beauty and cultural richness. One highlight is the Cocora Valley, famous for its towering wax palms, Colombia's national tree and the tallest palm in the world.

Hiking through the lush valley offers breathtaking views of these iconic trees against a backdrop of misty mountains. Another must-see is the charming town of Filandia, a short drive from Salento, known for its colourful colonial architecture and panoramic views of the Quindio countryside.

For coffee lovers, a tour of a local coffee plantation is a must, to learn about the intricate process of growing coffee and to indulge in freshly brewed Colombian coffee.

For the more adventurous, go on an exhilarating horseback ride to explore the rugged landscapes and hidden waterfalls of Salento.

Whether you're admiring breathtaking natural scenery, immersing yourself in Colombia's coffee culture or exploring quaint colonial towns, Salento and its surroundings offer an unforgettable journey into the heart of Colombian hospitality and charm.

Charming streets in Salento, Quindio, ColombiaCharming streets in Salento, Quindio, Colombia. Photograph by Jonny James, Unsplash.

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Uncovering the underrated beauty of Tasmania, Australia

Named after the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, Tasmania is often overlooked in favour of more popular mainland destinations. But it is a hidden gem of unspoilt wilderness, vast national parks, breathtaking coastlines and abundant wildlife.

This makes it an ideal destination for outdoor enthusiasts who want to experience Australia's natural beauty without the crowds. Despite its remarkable attractions and rich cultural heritage, Tasmania remains relatively undiscovered by international travellers due to limited direct flights and misconceptions about accessibility. There is also a lack of promotion compared to other Australian states.

However, this undertourism presents a unique opportunity for adventurous travellers seeking authentic experiences off the beaten track. Tasmania boasts unspoilt wilderness areas such as Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair and the Tasmanian Wilderness, which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

As well as exploring these natural wonders, visitors can also immerse themselves in charming historic cities such as Hobart and Launceston, which combine colonial architecture with vibrant arts and food scenes.

By venturing off the beaten tourist track and discovering Tasmania's hidden treasures, travellers not only contribute to sustainable development, but also have the chance to truly embrace its natural wonders and unique culture.

View of Mount Oakleigh in the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, Tasmania, AustraliaView of Mount Oakleigh in the Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, Tasmania, Australia. Photograph by Stephen Mabbs, Unsplash.

Discover the best touristic gems around Tasmania, Australia

Tasmania is a land of rugged beauty and diverse attractions that attract travellers from around the world. A must-see is the breathtaking Freycinet National Park, known for its stunning pink granite peaks and pristine beaches, including the iconic Wineglass Bay.

Another highlight is the historic Port Arthur Historic Site, a UNESCO World Heritage-listed former convict settlement that offers a fascinating glimpse into Australia's colonial past.

Nature lovers can explore the enchanting wilderness of Cradle Mountain-Lake St Clair National Park, home to ancient rainforests, glacial lakes and iconic walks such as the Overland Track.

For wildlife, a visit to Bruny Island is a must, where you can see seals, dolphins and rare birds amid stunning coastal scenery.

Don't miss the opportunity to indulge in Tasmania's burgeoning food and wine scene, with acclaimed vineyards, farm-to-table restaurants and fresh seafood markets scattered across the island.

Whether you're looking for outdoor adventure, cultural experiences or culinary delights, Tasmania promises an unforgettable journey of discovery and wonder.

Beach view in the Freycinet Peninsula, Tasmania, AustraliaBeach view in the Freycinet Peninsula, Tasmania, Australia. Photograph by Nikolaos Anastasopoulos, Unsplash.

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These destinations represent just a fraction of the world's under-tourised areas, each offering its own unique appeal and the chance to explore without the crowds.

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