Some of the world’s most beautiful, ancient and iconic destinations are well known for good reason, but this popularity usually means that crowds of tourists and sightseers vying for space are a common sight.
With this in mind, we’ve created a round-up of our favorite popular places to visit, and the best ways to see them without encountering the crowds.
The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China has to be one of the most famous man-made structures in the world and as such it receives millions of visitors each year.
A great way to escape the crowds is by driving from Beijing to Jinshanling (driving time approximately two and a half hours). The section of wall here is rarely busy with tourists, and if you’re lucky and time your trip right you may even have it to yourself.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Perhaps the best way to avoid the crowds that throng Machu Picchu is to stay at the Orient-Express-run Sanctuary Lodge Hotel, which enjoys a location right next to the ruins. Guests here can experience almost perfect peace and solitude at the beginning of the day before the day-trippers arrive, and also a few hours at the end of the day when visitor numbers are equally low.
An alternative way to avoid the crowds is to climb Huayna Picchu, the mini-mountain that stands behind Machu Picchu. Daily visitor numbers are limited so there won’t be a huge amount of other people to share the walk with, and the summit of this forested peak offers incredible views down on to Machu Picchu.
Table Mountain, Cape Town
The iconic Table Mountain towers over Cape Town, and a trip to the summit is at the top of most visitors' wish lists. A wonderful way to reach the top while avoiding the crowds that usually queue to board the cable car is to walk from Kirstenbosch Gardens.
The gardens themselves are beautiful and the views from the path up to the summit simply breathtaking. The walk takes around four hours and does require a good level of fitness, as much of the trail is uphill and involves some rough terrain. We would recommend doing this walk with an experienced guide and will be happy to organize this for you.
Sossusvlei Sand Dunes, Namibia
The ‘vleis’, or valleys, of Sossusvlei are remarkably stunning sand dunes and empty river pans carved out by the Tsauchab River. The area is usually busy with tourists at dawn, as they gather to catch the changing colors of the dunes in the sun’s early rays. However the vleis are equally stunning at sunset, and it is quite possible that you may have the view to yourself.
The only lodge that organizes sunset trips to the dunes is Sossus Dune Lodge, which is exclusively situated within the Namib Naukluft Park. The lodge features 25 thatched chalets with wooden decks and incredible views.
Angkor Temples, Cambodia
While most visitors head to the famous Angkor Wat temple to witness its dramatic, shifting silhouette as the sun rises, this is often the best time to see some of the smaller temples within the complex, and often find yourself alone to enjoy the peace and solitude.
Ta Prohm, abandoned and engulfed by the jungle hundreds of years ago, is by far the most atmospheric of all the ruins. Visiting this temple at dawn allows you to avoid the crowds and see the temple emerge slowly from the dark until it reveals itself in all its ruined finery.
Orangutan of Malaysian Borneo
The famous Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary, just outside the city of Sandakan in Sabah, attracts crowds of up to 200 people at each feeding session. A great way to beat the crowds and still see amazing wildlife is to travel to the Kinabatangan River Basin, an hour upriver from Sandakan, where you can stay overnight in a riverside lodge only accessible by boat.
The Kinabatangan River Basin is one of the best places in Southeast Asia for spotting wildlife in its natural habitat. Orangutan, pygmy elephant and proboscis monkey are spotted on most guided walks, and one of Southeast Asia's rarest predators, the clouded leopard, has been photographed on the jungle trails right beside the lodge.
Sugar Loaf Mountain, Rio de Janeiro
Overlooking the lively streets and stunning beaches of Rio de Janeiro, Sugar Loaf Mountain is one of Brazil’s most iconic natural landmarks, and attracts thousands of visitors each year.
Instead of squeezing into a cable car with the crowds of queuing tourists, why not hike the trail that runs up the back of the rock and conquer the mountain on your own two feet? You won’t need any specific climbing or technical skills, but the hike does require a moderate level of fitness and a head for heights.
The Pyramids, Egypt
The Great Pyramid at Giza is one of the last remaining wonders of the ancient world, but its fame and popularity means that it is often plagued with large crowds of tourists throughout the day.
The nearby complex of Dahshur is remarkably quiet given the ancient treasures that stand there — the three pyramids are just as well preserved as those at Giza.
The rose-red, mysterious city of Petra has attracted adventurers and curious visitors for thousands of years. Today, excursions and day trips from nearby tourist hotspots have caused this historic site to become packed with sightseers during most days of the week.
The majority of visitors will approach the impressive Treasury Tomb via the main Siq (or tunnel), but an alternate route exists, which can provide a much quieter way to access the city. Siq al-Barid, or Little Petra, lies just to the north of Petra and acts as a back door entrance through which to access the main city, and its obscurity almost guarantees far fewer tourists than the main tunnel route.
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