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And you thought Paris was the best

November 11, 2006 13:13 IST

We will always have Paris. And Rome is, after all, the eternal city. But if your heart is set on strolling the Jardin des Tuileries, or nursing a campari on the Spanish Steps, rest assured you will have plenty of company. We consulted a group of travel agents and industry experts to suggest sensible alternatives to some of the more visited locales of the world--Pula instead of Rome, say, or Ljubljana instead of Paris. They're less crowded, generally less expensive and just as beautiful.

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As for emerging European destinations, all signs point east, for several reasons: plenty of cobblestone charm and romantic grandeur, markedly lower prices and a friendly populace, many of whom speak excellent English. Pamela Lassers of Abercrombie & Kent recommends cities like Bucharest, Sofia, Warsaw and Krakow. Tellingly, she refers to these places as "Europe, the way it used to be."

African and Asian destinations benefit--and suffer--from the same vicissitudes of popularity that afflict cities in Europe. Currently, Ngorongoro Crater in the northern circuit of Tanzania is so over-visited that vehicles are only allowed in for a half day at a time--hence, traffic congestion on the Serengeti. Julian Harrison, South Africa native and president/founder of Premier Tours, recommends Namibia (of Brangelina fame) instead. National parks in Namibia generally allow open-topped vehicles as well as night tours, which are severely restricted in Tanzania.

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Thailand is the land of smiles, as well as European package tours. The country was awash in over 13 million international visitors last year. Another way to contribute to post-Tsunami recovery (while enjoying blindingly white beaches and crystal clear waters) is to visit the Maldives, an almost ludicrously beautiful archipelago southwest of Sri Lanka in the Indian Ocean. Visit while you still can--its highest point is roughly eight feet above sea level, so it may be underwater in a generation.

South of our own border (US'), there are some obvious targets to avoid: Cancun, Los Cabos, Acapulco. For travelers seeking something a bit off the beaten path, Ixta Gerard of Mexico's PR Firm Burson-Marsteller recommends Huatulco, roughly 430 miles southeast of Acapulco. While the city has its own airport, less than half of its nine pristine bays along the Oaxacan coastline have been developed.

And finally, Pepe Strub, director of tour company EnjoyCentralAmerica, notes that in Costa Rica "tourism is increasing constantly. Two years ago so many people were going that the hotels would not sell rooms to tour operators, knowing that they could fill vacancies directly." Although Panama's tourism infrastructure is not yet on a par with Costa Rica's, he describes the proximity to rain forest as unparalleled (a mere five minutes from Panama City) with exceptional bird watching and nature access.

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Margot Weiss, Forbes