After over a decade of traveling around the world and going trekking on six continents, what are some of our favorite treks and hikes? This Offbeat Trekking Guide includes 13 of our recommended unknown or lesser-known treks — some multi-day, others daylong — that you might not be considering, but should. These treks and hikes are worth a look if you are interested in unusual and immersive experiences, both in nature and local culture.
I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in. — John Muir
When we first set out on our journey years ago, trekking — especially of the long, multi-day trek variety — weren't a priority on our activity list. Sure, we enjoyed day hikes and walks, but trekking wasn't something we actively sought out. Over the years, however, we’ve found ourselves increasingly drawn to long hikes in the mountains that allow us to disconnect from the busy world while connecting more with nature and ultimately ourselves. These days, we make an effort to take at least one long trek annually as a way to recharge and refresh.
We don’t always wish to disconnect entirely from humanity when we go trekking. Instead, we are often attracted to treks or hikes that feature a cultural component, one where we encounter and engage with local people, often through homestays. This type of trekking not only challenge us physically by pushing us to do more than the usual, but they often stir us emotionally by forcing us to widen the cultural lens through which we view the region and our world.
Finally, this approach provides us the opportunity to contribute to the local economy and community by staying with local families.
Having finished quite a few multi-day treks over the last decade of our travels around the world, we've been fielding questions about treks or hikes that we’d recommend, especially as we tend to choose ones that are lesser known, sometimes in unusual destinations.
Without further delay, here is our Offbeat Trekking Guide with 13 of our favorite offbeat treks from around the world!
Note: This post was originally published on July 27, 2015 and updated on December 27, 2018 with a few new treks.
Peaks of the Balkans: Albania, Kosovo and Montenegro
Distance: 200 km / 124 miles
Why: To experience challenging climbs and stunning views from peaks in a relatively unknown part of Europe, while staying with local families in their farmhouses and shepherd huts along the way.
This trek through the Accursed Mountains (sometimes referred to as the Albanian Alps) reminds us that sometimes the areas with the most beautiful landscapes are also the ones most difficult ones to live in. The Peaks of the Balkans, a relatively new concept trail, allows you to venture into areas and across borders that had previously been no-go zones for decades. The abandoned bunkers and border guard towers you’ll find along your way stand testament to this.
Update: We have just published the Peaks of the Balkans Beginner's Guide with all you need to know regarding itineraries, recommended routes, packing, accommodation, and other practical details for this trek.
How we did this trek:
We booked our Peaks of the Balkans trek and guide with Zbulo! Discover Albania.
Gheralta Mountains: Tigray Province, Ethiopia
Distance: 10-15 km / 6-9 miles, but the challenge is more in the free climbing
Why: To see 1,000-year old Ethiopian Orthodox churches carved high into the cliffs in a landscape reminiscent of the red rock deserts of Arizona and Utah. In order to reach those churches you must do some free-form rock climbing. The experience includes a few sheer drops that might send those with vertigo into a temporary, protective fetal position (We speak from experience, by the way).
However, there are rewards. In addition to the stunning views throughout the climb, you’ll have the opportunity to go inside remote cliff-side churches whose interiors are covered with 600-800 year old frescos – all with a monk or priest in as your guide. Although there are several treks in this area, the two we opted for were those up to the Daniel Korkor and Maryam Korkor churches. We suggest climbing them in that order, since tackling the former will help prepare you for the latter.
How we did this trek:
We did this trek as part of our G Adventures tour in Ethiopia. Unfortunately, the tour itinerary has changed and no longer includes these treks. However, you could work with the local tour company to add trekking in the Gheralta Mountains onto the other tour. It's so worth it.
- In Ethiopia, an Adrenaline-Filled Act of Faith
- Travel to Ethiopia: First Impressions
- Photo Essay: Trekking in Ethiopia’s Gheralta Mountains
Lost City Trek: Sierra Nevada Mountains, Colombia
Days: 4 (5-6 day treks are also available)
Distance: 46 km / 28 miles
Why: To trek through the jungles of Colombia’s Sierra Nevada Mountains to reach Teyuna, the capital of the ancient Tayrona civilization. When travelers consider trekking in South America, their thoughts most often go to Machu Picchu and Torres del Paine in Chilean Patagonia. While we can recommend both of these treks, we suggest the Lost City trek if you seek an experience of the sort that is a little less developed, a little less known. Our Wiwa indigenous guide also shared stories with us that were passed on to him by the shaman (holy men) about the ancient Tayrona civilization and the city of Teyuna. This combined cultural and historical context added to the entire experience.
How we did this trek:
- The Lost City Trek: All You Need to Know
- Trekking the Lost City with an Indigenous Guide
- Colombia Travel: First Impressions
- Photo Essay: Lost City Trek
Heights of Alay Trek: Kyrgyzstan
Days: 3 nights/4 days
Distance: 48 km/30 miles
Why: To feel as if you've landed on a different planet. The landscapes on the Heights of Alay trek in southern Kyrgyzstan, especially on day one while crossing Sary Mogul Pass (4,303 meters/14,120 feet), are truly otherworldly. And you have incredible views over Peak Lenin (7,134 meters / 23,406 feet) and the Pamir Mountain range along the way. You also have the local cultural experience of engaging with local shepherds along the way and have the option of eating at shepherd's home for breakfast or dinner.
There is also a longer variation of the Heights of Alay Trek that is 5 nights/6 days (87km) that takes you over Jiptick Pass (4,185 meters) and ends in Sary Mogul village. And, if you have limited time consider the Koshkol Lakes day hike near Sary Mogul.
How we did this trek:
We did this trek with Visit Alay and recommend choosing them for quality guides, gear and experience. In addition, this is part of the Community Based Tourism network in Kyrgyzstan where a portion of the profits goes back into community development. Talant Toksonbaev in Osh can help you with anything you might need to organize a trek in the Alay Mountains. You can check out all the details in this Trekking in the Alay Mountains: The Ultimate Guide.
Other recommended treks in Kyrgyzstan include the Boz-Uchuk Lakes Trek in Jyrgalan Valley organized by Destination Jyrgalan outside of Karakol. If you're interested in a horse trek take a look at the 2 night/3 day horseback riding out to Song Kul Lake, but we hear that has become more popular and crowded over the last few years.
- Kyrgyzstan Experiential Travel Guide: 27 Experiences to Get You Started
- Trekking in the Alay Mountains, Kyrgyzstan: The Ultimate Guide
- An Experiential Travel Guide to Osh, Kyrgyzstan: 20 Ideas to Get You Started
- A Goat and Five Fingers: Our Ramadan Experience at Song Kul Lake
Markha Valley Trek: Ladakh, India
Distance: 75 km / 47 miles
Why: To challenge yourself in the high deserts of the Indian Himalayas by crossing 5,000 meter (16,400 foot) mountain passes, all while learning about traditional Ladakhi Buddhist culture through your local guide and host families. Ladakh features some of the most stunning scenery we have ever encountered. We include this trek here as most travelers think “Nepal” when they consider trekking in the Himalayas, and rightly so, as the Annapurna Circuit trek we did there remains one of our top experiences of all times. However, Ladakh offers a more remote, less explored trekking alternative. It’s also important to note that several trails and treks outside of the than Markha Valley are available if you are seek something even more far-flung and unusual.
How we did this trek:
We booked our Markha Valley trek and guide with Ecological Footprint Ladakh in Leh.
- Ladakh Trekking: A Beginner’s Guide
- Simple Ways to Travel Responsibly in Ladakh
- Ladakh: India's Hidden Himalayas
- Ladakh: 9 Memories
- Finding the Good Way: How to Meditate at 15,000 Feet
- Photo Essay: Markha Valley Trek in Ladakh
Cordillera Huayhuash Trek, Peru
Distance: 113 km / 70 miles
Why: To immerse yourself in one of the most stunning and dramatic mountain ranges in the world, the Cordillera Huayhuash in central Peru. Each day of this trek takes you over 4,800 meter (15,750 feet) to 5,100 meter (16,400 feet) mountain passes with snow-covered peaks up to 6,200 meter (20,340 feet) all around you. You pass by several turquoise alpine lakes each day while condors soar above. It's truly a beautiful part of this world.
Although the altitudes on this trek are high, don't be discouraged as the ascents are not technical — you just need togo slow and steady, one foot in front of the other.
How we did this trek:
We did this 10-day Huayhuash Trek with Quechuandes in Huaraz, Peru. The support on this trek was phenomenal and included an experienced trekking guide, cook and all food, donkeys to carry our gear, tents, support staff, and more. And, the price is very reasonable given the quality of the service.
- The Salkantay Trek: From Glaciers to Machu Picchu
- Keep Peru on Your Bucket List: Here’s Why
- Peruvian Food: More than Just Ceviche
Svaneti: High Caucasus Mountains, Republic of Georgia — Mestia (Zhibeshi) to Ushguli
Distance: 45 km / 28 miles
Why: To trek through the High Caucasus Mountains to Ushguli, purportedly the highest inhabited village in Europe at 2,100m / 6,900ft, and stay with local Svan families along the way. Our trek in Svaneti was our first multi-day, home stay trek that enlightened us as to how trekking could not only be an immersive experience in nature, but also in local culture. We were hooked.
To say that local Svan people, who view themselves as the protectors of these mountains, are intense is perhaps an understatement. You’ll find the people of Svaneti welcoming — just as fierce in their present-day hospitality as they are in their historical resistance to outsiders. Just beware of your liver, as the endless toasts each night with local wine and firewater can add up.
- Svaneti: Why and How to Go
- Blue Eyes, Gold Teeth: The Fabled Land of the Svans
- Europe's Fierce Fabled Villages
- Photo Essay: Trekking in Svaneti, Georgia
Xela to Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Days: 3 days
Distance: 37 km / 23 miles
Why: To trek through mountains and hill villages between two of Guatemala’s most popular tourist destinations — Xela and Lake Atitlan — and to finish with a beautiful sunrise view of the lake from above. We were told that this trail was developed by a veteran of the Guatemalan civil war (ended in 1996) as a means of stealthily moving about the region.
Along the way up and down the volcanic mountains and into the valleys, you stay in simple guest houses (sometimes schools or community buildings) or with families, including one that allows you to try their traditional Mayan sauna. On the final morning, you’ll enjoy breakfast at sunrise from above Lake Atitlan. This trek might afford you a new appreciation for both the town and the lake after making the effort to trek the highlands between the two.
How we did this trek:
Xela to Lago Atitlan Trek with Quetzal Trekkers.
Lake Khecheopalri to Yuksom: Sikkim, India
Distance: 20-25 km / 12 – 15 miles
Why: To get a taste of Nepali and Bhutanese culture while still in India, and to appreciate a view of majestic Mount Khangchendzonga, the third highest mountain in the world (8,586 m /28,169 ft). When we first decided to visit Sikkim, a semi-autonomous region in northwestern India that borders Nepal, Bhutan and Tibet (China), our plan did not include trekking. Only after seeing the mountains and hearing that the trails were easy to follow, did we set off with a daypack to explore the area around Lake Khecheopalri and Yuksom. We stayed in family guesthouses and enjoyed all the interactions and tea stops in villages along the way.
Note: If you are interested in a more strenuous journey in this region, consider the route to Goecha La (4,940 meters) from which the best views of Mount Khangchendzonga are reportedly had.
Trek to Big Almaty Lake: Tian Shan Mountains, Kazakhstan
Distance: 20 km / 12 miles (one way)
Why: To get a quick look into the Tian Shan Mountains, reach the turquoise waters of Big Almaty Lake and spend the night at a funky, former Soviet astronomical observatory. While the lake is beautiful and the hike up is pleasant enough, the highlight of this trek was the surreal experience of spending the night at the Tian Shan Astronomical Observatory. During our visit, we felt as though we’d landed on a movie set, a time-frozen remnant, wild west outpost of the Soviet Union. Scientists still live and work up there, however, and they keep the high-powered telescopes going. If you pay $5-10, one of them will open the telescope and show you the stars.
Please do not do what we did on our second day and use a Lonely Planet guidebook map to guide your return to Almaty over the mountain pass and down through one of the river beds. The route to Kosmostancia, another bizarre scientific outpost up the mountain from the observatory, is easy. After that, however, we lost the trail and almost didn’t make it out of the mountains at all (here’s that full story). So, words to the wise: learn from our mistake. Return down the mountain to Almaty the same way you came. Otherwise, carry a usable trekking map, use a map app with trekking route overlays able, or hire a guide so you can enjoy yourself and return without unnecessary drama.
- Big Almaty Lake and Kosmostancia: The Trek
- Taking the Wrong Path in the Tian Shan Mountains
- Photo Essay: Trekking in the Tian Shan Mountains outside Almaty
Pic la Selle and Parc National la Visite: Haiti
Distance: 25-35 km / 15-29 miles
Why: To experience Haiti’s endless layers of mountains (the country’s name means “land of mountains” in the local indigenous Taino language) and its unexpected natural beauty while having the chance to meet and engage with people all along the way. You’ll meet school children on their way home, women carrying goods on their heads to market, and farmers plowing the fields. Haiti’s cities can be busy and frenetic, so spending a few days in the hills of Parc National La Visite with a walk down local paths towards Port-au-Prince provides a chance to slow it all down and absorb this fascinating yet complicated destination in a different way. Not to mention, spending the cool evenings in the hills drinking Haitian hot chocolate and listening to konpa music is something we'll never forget.
How we did this trek:
- Haiti Trekking: A Beginner's Guide
- Travel in Haiti: First Impressions
- Photo Essay: Trekking in Haiti
Kalaw to Inle Lake: Myanmar (Burma)
Distance: 61 km / 38 miles
Why: To trek through the hills of Myanmar’s Shan State between the town of Kalaw and the popular tourist destination of Inle Lake, and get a feel for rural life in Myanmar by staying with families and in a local monastery. What made this trek stand out for us was the interaction and engagement with people along the way, from the grandmother harvesting ginger roots to the ethnic Pao girls who wanted our water bottles so they had something to drink from while working the fields. Walking to Inle Lake makes you appreciate the work of hill village locals who carry their their goods several times a week to the lakeside weekly markets.
- Burma's Golden Kite: Top 4 Sights
- The Kalaw to Inle Lake Trek (on Travelfish)
- Photo Essay: Trekking from Kalaw to Inle Lake, Myanmar (Burma)
Sawtooth Mountains: Idaho, United States
Distance: 10 – 24 miles
Days: day hikes
Why: To be surprised by the beauty and diversity of landscapes and alpine lakes of the Sawtooth Mountains. Who knew Idaho was this beautiful?! Each day trek we did, including the Pettit and Toxaway Lakes Loop (20+ miles), Sawtooth Lakes Hike and Bench Lakes (be sure to continue to the 4th lake), just blew us away for the vistas and contours. We also timed our visit for the shoulder season at the end of September and early October so as to avoid the crowds. As a result, we had the trails to ourselves and were able to enjoy the small town Stanley and its hot springs without a lot of other travelers around.
What have we missed? Is there an offbeat trek you’d add to this list? Please let us know in the comments! We – and our readers always appreciate more trekking inspiration.