Venturing off the beaten path is adventure enough for some, but beating down the path itself is for a special breed. For these alpha tourists, the joy of travel is in getting there before the people who wear Mickey Mouse sweatshirts do.
These destinations are poised to become vacation hot spots in the next few years but for now are still ripe for path-beaters to explore. You might have trouble getting around -- or even to -- your destination without a bit of the language or a local friend to help you out, but good stories are what alpha tourists bring home -- not T-shirts.
Ever wish you could have visited Tibet before the Chinese invaded it? Consider Bhutan. It's also a small Himalayan country on the Chinese-Indian border, and like Tibet, the majority of its citizens are Buddhist.
What's more, it's been described at the happiest place on earth: Since 1974, it has actually measured the country's success with the GNH -- Gross National Happiness -- a holistic measuring system invented by the king that incorporates not only economic growth but also culture preservation, sustainable use of the environment and good governance.
Plastic bags and tobacco are banned, but you won't find a single beggar or homeless person on the streets. Education and medical care are free for all citizens.
Known in its native language as Druk Yul, or Land of the (Peaceful) Dragon, Bhutan's absolute monarchy is adopting a constitution in 2008, making it a particularly exciting time for Westerners to explore it and its happy people.
Just make sure to book a trek (hiking, biking, bird-watching and culture itineraries all available) in advance, as the terrain, while beautiful, requires guidance from an expert.
Taktshang Monastery: In English, it translates to "Tiger's Nest." This Buddhist temple sits on a 1,200-meter cliff just outside of Paro.
Thimphu Tsetsu: This multi-day festival is the largest cultural event in the country and happens every September. The four days of dance have sacred meaning, and many Buddhists believe participation to be a purification of mind.
Archery: It's the national sport of Bhutan and not hard to find in any village on weekends.
Those looking for a Central American resort with yoga, golf and minimal Spanish required, head to Costa Rica.
Nicaragua, however, is still cheap with vast areas of land not owned by expats. It's the second-poorest nation in Central America (after Haiti), so there are places to avoid (Managua, the capital) and lots of petty theft, but you'll also find a few gems unlike anywhere on earth.
Ometepe: This island, about an hour off the coast of Lake Nicaragua (freshwater sharks!), was created by an isthmus of two volcanoes. One is dormant, one active, and you can hire a guide to climb either. Rent a bike for about $4 a day to explore pristine swimming holes, beaches, organic farms tilled with volcanic ash, bright blossom trees and species of bird that don't exist on the mainland.
Granada: This colorful colonial town already boasts a few luxury hotels, but also Spanish-style cathedrals, cobblestone roads and kayaking along Lake Nicaragua.