12 Underrated Destinations That Make Amazing Summer Vacation Spots

Serdar YAGCI

Don’t sleep on these must-visit locations with so much to offer.

Kimberly Wilson May, 26, 2017

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One word to describe Dominica? “Lush.” Known as the “Nature Island” for its abundance of natural splendors, the small Caribbean island (not to be confused with the Dominican Republic) is filled with 75% rain forest landscape, 365 rivers, the second largest boiling lake in the world, volcanoes, mountains (known as Mornes), waterfalls, hot springs, and black and white sand beaches. Basically, it’s what nature lover’s dreams are made of. Much of the island is protected under national parks, one of which has been given UNESCO World Heritage status. Dominica is also one of the last tourist destinations in the world with the largest percentage of natural flora and fauna. The island is ahead of the curve with respect to its practice of sustainable tourism, and Secret Bay (which is an island hotel gem), in particular, exists upon a system of values to sustain the natural purity of the community. So if you’re looking for an island vibe, with great food, great people, and an even better environment, Dominica needs to be added to your list.

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For a life changing escape this summer, make your way to Lake Atitlan, Guatemala - famous for its natural beauty, ringed by three mesmerizing volcanoes and 12 colorful Mayan villages, each with its own personality, and only a short boat ride away from one another. Lake Atitlan is the perfect escape for solo travelers looking to experience a combination of true culture and scenic beauty in a tranquil atmosphere. So if you want to do a bit of soul-searching this summer, here’s your chance. Or if a little adventure and history is on your radar, head to Flores — a colonial style town surrounded by beautiful lakes, local shops, historic churches, and charming restaurants. The city is best known for both discovered and undiscovered Mayan ruins. A short drive away from the magnificent Tikal, Uaxactún and Yaxhá ruins, Las Lagunas Boutique Hotel offers more than 300+acres of lush, private reserve that focuses in the conservation of Guatemala’s native species. A gem among its lush highlands, Lake Atitlan offers a serene getaway that is rich in culture and scenery. Stay at Casa Palopo a private home turned boutique hotel that overlooks the lake and the three volcanoes across the shore. 

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Located on 300 acres along the Potomac River, just 30 minutes outside of Washington D.C., the National Harbor holds dozens of shops, eateries and hotels, the area’s only Ferris wheel, public art, plus a plethora of water-focused entertainment to cater to just about every type of traveler. And with the all new MGM National Harbor, you no longer have to head to Atlantic City or Vegas for a great casino experience. The beautiful billion dollar casino resort features just about everything you need for the staycation of your dreams: entertainment, a spa and salon, high-end retail, meeting space and more than a dozen restaurants. With all of this set right in Washington D.C.’s backyard, it makes for a great place to explore for the day or long weekend.

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Located in the southernmost region of the Caribbean, Grenada is best known as the “Spice Island of the Caribbean.” A true hidden gem, the island’s warm charm and friendly hospitality allows visitors to experience a pura vida, “Pure Grenada” experience, whether staying at luxury beachfront resorts or barefoot-chic boutique hotels and villas.  You get the best of all worlds here: whether romance, family or even traveling with friends, since there are a plethora of diverse experiences on the island, that can cater to just about everyone. With 50 world-class white sand beaches, 15 breathtaking waterfalls, countless hiking trails, 30 unforgettable dive sites including the largest shipwreck in the Caribbean, ‘Bianca C’, and the world’s first Underwater Sculpture Park, travelers are drawn to destination’s shores for a beyond- the-ordinary Caribbean vacation.

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If the BVI is good enough for the Obamas, it’s certainly spectacular enough for all of us too! Whether you’re planning a solo adventure, exploring the territory with your family or escaping on a romantic getaway, the BVI is the perfect summer destination that has something to offer all travelers. If Obamas BVI pictures didn’t give you travel envy, there are plenty of other reasons why you should make the trek to the Caribbean oasis. A true off-the-beaten path destination, you can island hop to the must-see spot in Virgin Gorda know as ‘The Baths,’ which includes lovely white sand amidst big boulders/cave-like structures that you can crawl, walk and swim through. Other easy to get to spots (from Tortola) include Cooper Island’s Rum Bar and microbrewery located at its namesake eco-friendly resort, Jost Van Dyke where you can enjoy their full moon parties and painkillers at Foxy’s and Soggy Dollar Bar as well as Norman Island. If you’re interested in culture, mixed with culinary delights, you can take a trip to the main island of Tortola and explore the 40+ street food vendors scattered around. From Caribbean and local foods to fresh seafood, jerk-seasoned dishes and more, there’s no shortage of authentic BVI cuisine.

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Located in the Bay Area of Northern California, Oakland is the more eclectic and diverse, sister-city to its popular neighbor, San Francisco. Oakland is experiencing an exhilarating cultural renaissance, blossoming into a destination unto itself. What many are unaware of is Oakland is a thriving city on the sunny side of the Bay Area with a thriving food scene with access to sports, culture and even great for families. With more than 300 restaurants, proximity to wine region - such as Napa and Sonoma - and with a diverse culture of tastemakers from former Top Chef contestants and Bay Area locals, it’s no wonder Oakland is quickly gaining recognition as a vibrant culinary hot spot. To top it off, Oakland also has better weather than that foggy “other” city on the bay, so you can experience better weather in the summer months when visiting this burgeoning tourist destination.

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In recent years, Palm Springs has sadly become synonymous with just one thing: Coachella. But it’s much much more than this mega-music festival. In this boutique resort town, you’ll experience luxurious properties such as Miramonte Indian Wells Resort & Spa, while indulging in the desert, culinary, spa and golf activities. It should come as no surprise that the Desert Empire is a haven for nature lovers, with dozens of spots that appeal to outdoorsy types, like the gateway to Joshua Tree National Park. The Indian Canyons also feature more than 100 miles of hiking and horse trails, ancient palm groves, panoramic vistas and a huge, 60-foot seasonal waterfall. So if you’re looking for an adventurous getaway, with plenty of fun in the sun, Palm Springs might just need to be added to your summer calendar.

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Instead of visiting Miami, Orlando, or even Tampa this summer, try something a little different and venture off a little more south to Key West! Key West is one of Florida’s best-known keys, and is the state’s southernmost point, just 90 miles north of Cuba. A unique beach destination to some of its Florida peers, Key West is renowned for its pastel-colored, conch-style houses and laid-back vibe. A warm, sunny climate is typical year-round, with average temperatures in the low 70’s during the winter months and high 90’s during the summer, it’s pretty much the closest you’ll get to feeling like you're in the Caribbean in the U.S.  For an even more off-the-beaten unique experience, travelers should stay at NYAH (pronounced NIE-yah), an acronym for “Not Your Average Hotel,” a unique hotel transforming the traditional travel experience, or venture off to Stock Island to experience the brand new Perry Hotel.

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Toronto is one of the most diverse cities in North America with more than 50 percent of the population born outside of Canada. Which makes it one of the best cities to visit for more reasons than one. Boasting a huge Caribbean population, Toronto has become most notably known for its annual Caribana Caribbean Festival, which takes place each year in early August, so if you’re planning a summer visit, this should be on the itinerary. Diversity goes a long way in this major metropolitan city, as there are neighborhoods that cater to almost every ethnicity, including 5 Chinatowns, Green Town, 2 Little Italys, Little Portugal, Little India, etc. So, if you’re a food lover, you’ll get a taste of just about everything you can ever desire. Although many New Yorkers consider NYC to be at the epicenter of everything food-related, you’re actually almost better served in Toronto because it has all the same options, yet it’s priced way more affordably than traveling a bit south.

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You’ll be living the good life when you experience fine dining, luxury hotels and yachting adventures in this southern Mediterranean city this summer. A tiny royal principality on the French Riviera, Monaco is perhaps the most glamorous little stretch of land on Earth (and also the second smallest country in the world - second to the Vatican). It's also famous for its annual Formula 1 Grand Prix, held every year in May since 1929. There is an enticing quality to the Monaco’s scenery, with its deep blue sea, high rise hotels perched on hills, palm trees, and vibrant flowers, that brings tourists back year after year. And if you want to experience this, along with some of the other popular cities along the French Riviera, it's just a quick 30-minute train ride away from Nice, but it has the feel of another world.

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A visit to Port Antonio, Jamaica is filled with beautiful waterfalls, hidden coves, blue lagoons, friendly people and great jerk. Yes, “the” jerk chicken. Not to mention, Jamaica’s resort town of Port Antonio is described as picture perfect – a panorama of nature’s finest work. On any visit, travelers to this secluded gem can skip Montego Bay and Ocho Rios to explore the majestic Blue Mountains, swim in the Blue Lagoon, raft the Rio Grande, relax at Somerset Falls or discover Nonsuch Caves. A visit to Port Antonio would be incomplete without a sampling of its world famous jerk chicken or pork in its original home. Or if you love music, stay at the world-famous GeeJam Hotel, where co-founders, hoteliers, and music industry veterans Jon Baker and Steve Beaver are continuing their singular vision for hospitality and lifestyle in the stunning natural haven.

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In the market for a weekend summer getaway? Montreal might be just what you're looking for. With such close proximity to most Eastern cities (NYC, Philadelphia, Boston and Washington DC), and its diversity of restaurants, attractions and festivals, is what makes this the perfect destination. Whether your goal is romance, sightseeing or family fun, one thing's for certain and it’s that you'll never be bored, no matter what time of year you visit. A polar opposite to its sister city, Toronto, this French-speaking province will have you thinking that you’re actually in France. What many don’t know is that Montreal has many of the same attributes due to the city’s French history, just with its own Québécois twist. Not to mention, a visit to the eastern Canadian city of Montreal, will leave experiencing comparisons to France with its fascinating art, culture, food and architecture.

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# Travel