Travelling with preconceptions is all too easy – swayed by the thoughts of a fellow traveller who recently returned from their adventure, influenced by the descriptions you read in travel guidebooks, and inspired by the pictures you see on social media.

But there’s nothing like experiencing a place first-hand to broaden your mind and take the opportunity to venture off the beaten path. Getting behind the scenes of a destination, delving deeper beneath the surface to understand its culture better, and finding places that not so many people are talking about are all part of the joy of travelling.

It’s why Exodus use local guides to host our trips. They can share their inside knowledge and expertise to take you to places only the locals know, whether that’s an under-the-radar town with an intriguing history or just an incredible restaurant that tourists haven’t found yet.

Read on for five of our favourite hidden gems, including a mountain viewing hotspot in Nepal, a penguin-populated beach in South Africa, a beautifully preserved Roman city in Morocco, an elegant baroque beauty in Sicily, and a forbidden city in Vietnam.

5 Hidden Gems to Explore on a Cultural Adventure in 2023

1. Visit the adventure capital of Nepal

If you think of Nepal, Kathmandu may spring to mind first. And while this intoxicating city undoubtedly deserves a place on your Nepalese explorations, in-the-know adventurers don’t miss the chance to head six hours west to Pokhara, swapping the incense-filled, bustling streets of Kathmandu with this picturesque resort town overlooked by the Annapurna range.

On day 13 of our Annapurna Trails & Chitwan trip, you’ll spend a night in Pokhara. Walk the foothills and valleys or venture to the fort at Sarankot, where you get a flawless view of the Annapurna range and Machhapuchhare, the Fishtail Peak, perhaps the most famous mountain in these parts. And because it’s one of our Premium Adventures, you’ll stay in premium lodges, the very best in the area, that boast incredible mountain views.

5 Hidden Gems to Explore on a Cultural Adventure in 2023

2. Discover a Roman masterpiece in deepest Morocco

The ruined Roman city of Volubilis is considered the best-preserved archaeological site in Morocco. While only around half of the site has been excavated, there’s still plenty to see, including intricate and beautiful mosaics preserved in situ. The Capitol, built on a hill, is thought to date back to AD 218, a similar time to the marble Triumphal Arch. Although a favourite of many visitors is the House of Orpheus, said to be the biggest and best home that featured a Hamman with a caldarium, a tepidarium, and a frigidarium.

Spend almost two weeks in Morocco on our Highlights of Morocco trip, and you’ll have enough time to check off the most famous sites, including Marrakech, Fez, and time in the Atlas Mountains, but veer off to lesser-discovered spots like Volubilis, too.

5 Hidden Gems to Explore on a Cultural Adventure in 2023

3. Explore Sicily’s baroque heritage

Known and loved for its Mediterranean scenery and sensational food, Sicily has a lot going for it. But its profound cultural heritage adds a further dimension to this Italian island that’s almost unparalleled. Influenced by many ancient cultures, from the Romans and Greeks, the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and others, this place is touched by so many civilisations that it’s hard to keep track. Its long history can also be seen in its architecture, from Arab domes to Byzantine mosaics. The golden domes and palaces of its baroque masterpieces add to Sicily’s treasure trove of cultural riches.

On a Treasures of Sicily trip, you can dive deeply into stories of its past, including a visit to Ragusa Ibla, a hilltop town of winding streets dominated by impressively beautiful baroque palazzi. It’s a stop that perfectly complements other places you’ll visit, including the Greek town of Viagrande, the baroque city of Noto, and Syracuse, the most powerful city-state in the ancient Greek world.

5 Hidden Gems to Explore on a Cultural Adventure in 2023

4. Meet South Africa’s penguins

South Africa is exceptionally beautiful, and the famous Garden Route is rightly considered one of the most scenic in the world. On a 12-day trip to South Africa, you’ll travel on the Garden Route between Storms River in Tsitsikamma National Park and Mossel Bay, then continue the adventure with a stop at Simon’s Town next to Boulders Beach. A colony of around 3,000 African penguins live here, where granite boulders offer shelter from the elements. Visitors can follow a boardwalk to get within a close but respectful distance.

It’s a sensational trip that is well-designed to take you along the Garden Route and beyond, exploring cities and beaches, mountains and nature reserves, and providing the opportunity to try game drives, whale watching, world-class wine tasting, and, of course, the chance to watch those extraordinary wild penguins.

5 Hidden Gems to Explore on a Cultural Adventure in 2023

5. Explore the remains of the Forbidden Purple City

In Vietnam, the city of Hue sits prettily on the banks of the Perfume River. And while the American War ravaged it, there’s still plenty to see and learn about its long history. The centrepiece is The Imperial Citadel, with walls six miles in length, containing the palaces and halls of the Mandarins and the remains of the Forbidden Purple City, where only the Nguyen emperor, his eunuchs and concubines were allowed.

Our two-week Vietnam Adventure is the perfect trip for first-time visitors to Vietnam because it’s designed to blend a cultural deep-dive into Vietnam with time exploring scenic highlights and modern-day life. The itinerary checks off must-see places: Hanoi, Ha Long Bay, and Ho Chi Minh City. But you’ll also maximise your time in this beautiful country, using an overnight train to travel from Hanoi to Hue, where you’ll spend a day exploring the city and a further day at the Tu Duc mausoleum, the resting place of the great Nguyen emperors. You’ll also stay overnight in a guesthouse homestay to experience the hospitality of the Mekong Delta and a night aboard a boat on the exquisitely beautiful Ha Long Bay.

If you’re keen to discover more hidden gems on an incredible adventure with Exodus this year, click here.