Peru, Nepal and Switzerland all have killer hiking trails. It’s just a shame that everyone knows about them.
Take the Classic Inca Trail, for example. More than 500 sweaty tourists and porters grunt their way along this epic route just about every day. Sure, it’s awesome. But if you’re looking for a more secluded trekking experience, the Inca Trail just ain’t gonna cut it. Instead, try traveling to a country with untapped hiking potential.
Here’s a list of four rarely explored nations worthy of putting on a trekking bucket list. And since they don’t get buckets of tourists every year, their backcountry routes are often much less busy and much more thrilling to explore.
Tourist arrivals in 2012: 54,000*
Home to a mere 35,000 people, this tiny country (sorry, I mean principality) is the only nation in the world completely surrounded by the Alps. And of course, that means primo alpine trekking.
Why it’s untapped: Liechtenstein markets itself for tourism, but because it’s a landlocked nation with no airport (there’s only a helipad) few travelers venture out this way. But those who do travel here will find more than 400 kilometres of gloriously challenging trails.
The Trails: The Liechtenstein Panorama Trail is a wicked 48-kilometre trek that offers amazing views and some very technical terrain. There’s also the Panoramaweg, which starts off with a chair-lift ride to a summit restaurant followed by four days of ridgeline trekking.
There’s not a ton of information out there about hiking in Liechtenstein, so if you need more details you could check out Harry’s Mountain Walks in Liechtenstein written by Lloyd P. Clark.
Tourist arrivals in 2012: 44,000*
Like most countries that creep into the Himalayans, Bhutan tempts die-hard hikers with a delicious mix of dizzying trails. Bordered by China and India, this country is steeped in legend and defined by its rich culture — it is the last remaining Buddhist kingdom in the world.
Why it’s untapped: The government no longer enforces restrictions on the number of tourists that can travel here, however, it’s maintaining a long-standing policy of limiting visitor numbers by accepting only those who pay $250 a day in advance. Pricey.
The Trails: Well, you just have to glance at a few photos to tell they’re amazing. But trekkers have a limited amount of time for high-altitude hiking here, with just 3 or 4-week windows available only in April and October.
The Department of Tourism of Bhutan has developed a series of trekking routes, which can take anywhere from 3 to 23 days to complete. The infamous Snowman Trek was described by Lonely Planet as one of the most difficult hikes in the world. For more information, you can check out Bhutan: A Trekker’s Guide by Bart Jordans.
Tourist arrivals in 2012: 89,000*
Flanked by Russia and Romania, this landlocked country is known for its booming wine industry. And the residents apparently love to sample their own product: Moldova has the highest average per-capita consumption of booze in the world.
The terrain isn’t super-challenging, but miles of rolling hills, thick woodlands and quaint village scenery has wooed many trekkers who have wandered this way.
Why it’s untapped: This place just doesn’t have any real attention-grabbing tourist attractions. Sure, there are the vineyards and the unique Transnistria breakaway territory, but these aspects of the country haven’t been fully developed for tourism yet. Moldova just ain’t no Greece.
The Trails: You won’t find any epic long-distance trails here. Instead, somewhat gentle wilderness routes will lead you through thick forests and past amazing waterfalls. The biggest natural attraction is The Hundred Knolls of Moldova, which are actually the remnants of ancient coral reef.
Tourist arrivals in 2012: 593,000* (up 51.7% from 2011)
Just a few years ago, it would be almost impossible to explore Myanmar (formerly Burma). But now, travelers are finally able to get a glimpse at the unspoiled culture and ancient ruins within this country.
After the election of a reformist government in 2011, following decades of brutal military rule, travel restrictions in this Southeast Asia country were gradually eased. And now, places that were once almost impossible to get to can be accessed.
Why it’s untapped: It won’t be for long — just look at the above stats. However, there are still plenty of logistical challenges to navigate when trekking in Myanmar. Depending on where you want to go, you may still have to apply for permits that can be tough to obtain. Also, travelers are technically not allowed to camp in Myanmar (although it’s unavoidable on some treks).
The Trails: An extension of the Himalayan Mountains cut into northern Myanmar. Here, you’ll find Hkakabo Razi — the highest peak in Southeast Asia at almost 6,000 meters. But there are also more moderate treks in this area, including a 10-day trip to Phone Yinn, which offers sweeping valley views, and another to Phon Gan Razi, located near the Arunachel Predesh of India.
You can also try trekking at the Golden Triangle, where most of the world’s heroin used to be produced a few decades ago. However, overnight trips are almost impossible. There’s also gentler, more cultural-focused trekking at the Shan Plateau, where many routes wind from village to village.
(*Tourist arrival statistics based on data from the World Tourism Organization Tourism Highlights, 2013 edition)
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