Explore away from the crowds — recommendations from Audley Travel’s country specialists
As borders reopened gradually, travellers have experienced the unprecedented luxury of being able to explore some destinations away from the crowds. These opportunities are quickly passing in many popular spots, but can still be found in other, off-the-beaten track destinations. Experts from tailor-made specialist Audley Travel recommend the best locations to visit with fewer visitors, as alternatives to more well-known favourites.
Hiking in Japan
Popular choice — walking the Nakasendo Highway in Honshu.
Away from the crowds, Audley’s specialists recommend … tackling the Pilgrimage route Kumano Kodo, also in Honshu. Despite its UNESCO World Heritage status, the route is very rural and takes clients away from crowds. The route follows in the footsteps of people from all levels of Japanese society who, for more than 1,000 years, have walked to the three Grand Shrines on the Kii Peninsula.
The Nakahechi route from Takijiri-oji to Kumano Hongu Taisha, one of the Grand Shrines, was typically used by the Imperial Family and is lined with Oji shrines where pilgrims can make offerings and perform purification rituals. The trail covers 24 miles over two days and is clearly marked so clients don’t need a guide. The route takes hikers through thick forest, with occasional hamlets of houses where the owners welcome hikers for tea.
A 15-day tailor-made trip to Japan includes time in Honshu and Tokyo and costs from £5,995 per person (based on two travelling). The price includes flights, transfers, accommodation, excursions and travel by bullet train. 01993 838210/www.audleytravel.com/japan.
When to go — The temperatures will be in the high teens and low 20s in October, November, April and May with rainfall lowest in the spring months.
Wildlife in India
Popular choice — searching for the elusive tiger in Rajasthan.
Away from the crowds, Audley’s specialists recommend … a trip to the Gir Forest in Gujarat, tracking the rare Asiatic lion which is only found here. The population is well protected and flourishing so there's a good chance of spotting one. Audley’s specialists also recommend looking for blackbuck and wolves in the Velavadar National Park, flamingos and pelicans in Nal Sarovar Bird Sanctuary and taking a safari to see Asiatic wild asses in Dasada. Clients also enjoy visits to empty forts and palaces and beautifully quiet villages.
A 12-day tailor-made trip Lions, Asses and Blackbuck: wildlife in Gujurat costs from £4,850 per person (based on two travelling) and includes flights, transfers, accommodation and excursions. 01993 838 330/www.audleytravel.com/india.
When to go — February is an excellent time to visit the northern part of the country, as the fog and mist clears giving great views and warm temperatures.
Safari in Tanzania
Popular choice — The Serengeti during the great migration.
Away from the crowds, Audley’s specialists recommend … reconsidering the ‘when’ of a trip, rather than the ‘where’. Always a popular choice during the months of the great migration, Audley suggests clients visit Tanzania’s northern Serengeti in the green season (January and February). Clients will be rewarded with the sight of animals in peak health with herds of grazing impala, wildebeest and zebra and their young catching the attention of predators and their newborns.
A nine-day tailor-made Tanzania safari (with time in central and northern Serengeti), costs from £5,460 per person (based on two travelling) and includes flights, transfers, accommodation and excursions. 01993 838 545/www.audleytravel.com/tanzania.
When to go — During green season (January and February), there is the chance of rain and temperatures and humidity rise. Clients also benefit from lower rates in safari properties.
Exploring the cloud forest in Costa Rica
Popular choice — Monteverde’s cloud forest.
Away from the crowds, Audley’s specialists recommend … a more serene alternative, visiting the cloud forest of San Gerardo de Dota to look for the quetzal. This is a very peaceful, fairly isolated place and the focus of a visit is on the beautiful environment and birdlife. The lodges are simple but comfortable and offer expert birdwatching guides with quetzals often spotted feasting on the local fruit trees. Clients can also take longer hikes in search of over 200 species of highland birds, hike to the Savegre waterfall, explore on horseback or try trout fishing.
A 14-day tailor-made Birdwatching in Costa Rica itinerary costs from £5,555 per person (based on two travelling) and includes flights, transfers, accommodation and excursions. 01993 838 665/www.audleytravel.com/costa-rica.
When to go — May to June is the start of the green season, with some rainfall interspersed with plenty of warm sunshine. Visitor numbers are generally less throughout the country and airfares are lower.
Favourite destinations reopening
Finally, Audley’s specialists recommend trips to Bhutan and Sri Lanka, destinations only recently available again to travellers and therefore receiving lower visitor numbers.
The Kingdom of Bhutan
One of the final destinations to reopen its borders following the pandemic, the Kingdom of Bhutan is pursuing a low impact tourism model, with a focus on its remote hiking trails.
Dzongs (fortresses) like the giant Punakha Dzong and chortens (shrines) dot the hillsides and clients can gain an insight into Buddhist life by visiting tiny villages and staying in lodges tucked into the valleys. Clients will climb up to Tiger’s Nest Monastery, perched over a cliff near Paro and explore the Kingdom’s other remote hiking trails with a local expert guide.
A 15-day tailor-made Central Bhutan tour costs from £7,515 per person (based on two travelling) and includes flights, transfers, accommodation and excursions. 01993 838 320/www.audleytravel.com/Bhutan.
When to go — Fresh, clear air and sunny skies make October to December as well as March and April the ideal times to visit. Visitors in November will see the Phobjikha Valley filled with black-necked cranes which migrate from Tibet to perform elaborate mating dances. Considered a sacred bird, their arrival is marked by festivals in the monasteries that dot the valley.
Following a challenging couple of years, Sri Lanka is now open again for tourists with some great savings on accommodation, room upgrades and a complimentary excursion when booking some of the characterful properties Audley offers on the island (valid for stays between 15 March and 20 December 2023, when booked by 1 February).
Clients can choose to visit the cultural triangle, explore tea estates and relax on the beaches. They can admire the cave frescoes of Dambulla and climb to the top of Sigiriya Rock’s fortress, or explore the ruins of the ancient city of Polonnaruwa. Wildlife lovers can look for elephants, birdlife and, if they are lucky, a leopard, in Yala National Park.
A 16-night tailor-made trip costs from £4,350 per person (based on two travelling). The price includes flights, transfers, accommodation on a B&B basis and excursions. 01993 838335/www.audleytravel.com/sri-lanka.
When to go — The southwest coast is best between December and April, before the monsoon season starts, while the east coast and the north is less humid between May and September, when the monsoon season is over there. The central hills remain cooler all year round and we’d only recommend avoiding them in October and November, when the rainfall is less predictable. Visitors wanting to miss the crowds should avoid mid-April (14 April is Sinhalese and Tamil New Year) and the Christmas/New Year period.