Hanne Hellvik, is a Norwegian girl that has traveled to over 50 countries. Usually sustainable, staying longer time at each place. She loves to study people and cultures, and thereafter write about it in her blog Places People Stories . You can connect with her at Facebook and Twitter.
1) What hidden gems of the country (s) you visited could you share with someone who has never been there?
I would like to share two hidden gems, which I find very impressive. Two places few people know about, despite that they are the most wonderful places I have been.
The first one is San Blas in Panama. This is an area that exists of over 300 small islands. They are all so beautifully surrounded by crystal clear water, perfect white sand beaches and colourful coral reeves. In these islands the interesting Kuna Indians live. When you visit you will live with them, and in local straw cabins. There are no hotels in the whole area. It is a very authentic experience, and you are put hundreds of years back in time.
The second one is Ganvie in Benin. This is the biggest community living on water in the world and the city is built on stilts. It is amazing to see that the locals do everything from their wooden canoes. Shopping, transporting, and working. It is a really eye-opening experience to see this city, and it is a testimony that we humans can adapt to everything. Even living on water. I had no idea about this place when I arrived to Benin, and I was overwhelmed when I saw it.
2) Any places you would recommend that visitors may not find in a guidebook?
I have been living in Cochabamba in Bolivia for a while now. One of my favourite places, which is not mentioned in guide books is Toro Toro. This is a small town, where you can do some beautiful hikes and trekking in beautiful nature. You can also visit the caves, which is an interesting but a bit scary experience. Visiting the small city is an amazing experience it itself. In the night you can see several shooting stars. There is also an old man that have gathered many meteorites and have a museum where you can see them in his house (illegally though).
3) What is your favourite place you have visited and why is it your favourite that’s not considered off the beaten path. For example, Paris would not be considered off the beaten path but you stumbled upon something hidden there that you weren’t expecting to find, whether it was a walking trail or place where the locals hang out?
Venice, I really love that city. It is such a unique city that has so much history and culture. In addition, it is easy to get lost, and that is when you will experience the “off the beaten path”. Which is my favourite part of every place I visit.
4) Can you share some local haunts you have found in your travels that the locals themselves have shared with you?
I usually live with locals when I travel, and they always show me around, making the most incredible memories. In Uganda, for example they took me to the slum, and that was a different experience than most tourists have. As my field is within development, to visit the slum was very interesting for me. Later, we actually started a development project there. As the unemployment is so high, we started an entrepreneurship and micro-finance project that is still running.
5) Now that you have seen some of these ‘off the beaten path’s and hidden gems, would you consider trying to find more of these places when traveling or would you stick to the usual tourist places to visit? For example, many people visit Paris to see the Eiffel Tower and Rome for the Coliseum but there is more to these places than what we have seen.
I would definitely go for the hidden gems and off the beaten pats. I usually try to steer away from the usual tourist places. I love to go where no one goes. That is when you get your unique experience, and not the one that everyone else have. For example I never read Lonely Planet, and I am not a big fan of the travels that just follow what they read there. Then they get the exact same trip and experience as the author and thousands of other travelers following the same route.