Our world is big, beautiful, and exciting – largely because it’s made up of a fascinating tapestry of cultures. Culture is intrinsic to human existence and describes the shared beliefs, values, and traditions each community lives by.
Travelling to places with cultures vastly different from our own can be hugely beneficial. Not only can it increase gratitude and offer us new perspectives on the world, but it can also help us create rich, meaningful connections with a broader range of people.
With that said, if you’re a curious traveller who’s looking to unlock more of our incredible world, you might be wondering where to head next. To get you inspired, we’ve partnered with Exoticca – an affordable online tour operator with a passion for helping travellers worldwide achieve their dreams.
Exoticca’s in-house experts carefully craft extraordinary tour packages at never-before-seen prices, and thanks to their innovative technology and simple booking process, you can visit the farthest corners of the earth at the click of a button.
So, whether you want to enjoy mariachi music in Mexico, explore the dramatic peaks of Albania, or take a poignant excursion to Cambodia’s Killing Fields, here are 11 amazing countries for cultural discovery.
Known for its unbreakable spirit and infectious optimism, Cambodia’s tragic history is outshone by the warmth of its people. A trip to this beautiful country isn’t complete without a visit to the Killing Fields in Phnom Penh – where Marxist dictator Pol Pot executed over 1.5 million people under The Khmer Rouge regime. Though sobering, the fields are a testament to Cambodia’s strength and resilience.
The northern province of Siem Reap is also home to Angkor Wat, which, spread over 400 acres, is the largest religious monument on the planet. It symbolises the country’s shift from Hinduism to Buddhism in the 14th century, and its intricate carvings and sculptures narrate myths, epics, and daily life, offering insights into ancient Khmer culture.
Be drawn in by the spirit of Cambodia
The South American country of Peru has been home to several ancient civilizations, including the Incas, who are still deeply rooted in its culture today. Set high in the Andes Mountains, the mysterious and imposing Incan citadel, Machu Picchu, is visited by millions of people every year, looking to get a glimpse into Peru’s exciting past. But there’s so much more to uncover too.
For example, several indigenous communities can be found here, such as the Uros people – who live on floating grass islands on the western side of Lake Titicaca. Plus, over 70% of the world’s alpacas live in Peru and you can interact with them on the strikingly beautiful Rainbow Mountain – and learn about the lives and daily routines of the mountain’s native people.
Tick Peru off your bucket list
While Albania’s seen an influx of tourism in recent years, its rural culture remains strong, with many locals still living off agriculture and livestock – you might even see shepherds walking around with herds of sheep. Albania is also a land of amazing beaches, idyllic villages, jaw-dropping views of the Alps, and incredible historical sites, such as remains of the Ottoman Empire.
This Southern European country has plenty of hidden gems too. For example, the mysterious ‘Blue Eye’ is a dazzling blue water spring with an unknown depth in the south – while, in the UNESCO-listed town of Gjirokaster, stone houses resemble small fortresses and cobblestone streets all lead to the bazaar.
Discover Albania’s best-kept secrets
With a history of over 3,000 years, China – which has reopened to tourists after two years of harsh COVID-19 restrictions – is one of the world’s four oldest civilisations, offering a huge range of fascinating sights and experiences. It’s the home of Kung Fu and Tai Chi, legendary food, giant pandas, traditional teahouses, and fine silk. And that’s without mentioning the country’s iconic architectural wonders.
In the capital, Beijing, you can visit the Great Wall of China, which is so unimaginably long that it can be seen from space. Meanwhile, the northwestern city of Xi’an is known for its Terracotta Warriors Museum where Qin Shi Huang, the first Emperor of China, was buried alongside 8,000 sculpted figures, and you can see this haunting, once-in-a-lifetime sight for yourself.
Visit one of the world’s oldest civilisations
As the oldest country in Europe, Portugal is packed with history and culture, and can be reached in as little as two hours and 40 minutes. From the lively neighbourhoods of Lisbon to the fairytale castles of Sintra, and the holy city of Fatmina, Portugal is brimming with artistic beauty and heartfelt traditions, many of which are tied to religious festivals and events.
Art, culture, and history lovers will be in their element, as there’s no shortage of outstanding Catholic churches, art galleries, museums, palaces, and monuments to explore here. This includes Belem Tower, Jerónimos Monastery, and Quinta da Regaleira Gardens and Palace. And, after, you can enjoy spicy piri piri chicken, gooey Portuguese tarts, and rich port wine!
Soak in the sights in Portugal
Guatemala, nestled in Central America, is a land of Mayan ruins, vibrant festivals, majestic volcanoes, and the glistening waters of Lake Atitlán. So, it’s the ideal destination for those looking to combine dramatic landscapes with vibrant culture and rich history.
Strong Mayan, Spanish, and Caribbean influences are seen in the languages and lifestyles of its people. Enjoy reggae music and tasty coconut bread in the ramshackle town of Livingstone in the east; and explore quaint Mayan villages, colourful colonial streets, and quirky street markets in the city of Antigua in the south. Here, you can also pop into a language school to practise your Spanish!
View life through a new lens in Guatemala
Striking, magical, and awe-inspiring, Japan is a place where roots and tradition meet modern innovation. From its captivating Geisha performances, beautiful cherry blossoms, and intricate calligraphy to its quirky anime, futuristic robots, and video game culture; this is a land of fascinating contrasts.
Tokyo, the capital, is famous for its fast-paced lifestyle, and cutting-edge fashion and technology; and Kyoto’s serene temples and tea ceremonies embody Japan’s traditional essence. Meanwhile, Osaka is known as the ‘Nation’s Kitchen’ because of its great food – and for something really special, you can even spend a night dining with monks in a Buddhist temple!
Capture the essence of Japan
With over 140 ethnic groups, each with its own unique language, belief, art, and festival, Nepal – which lies between China and India – is one of the most culturally diverse countries in the world. It’s also thought to be where Lord Buddha was born in 623 BC, so Nepal has many spectacular Buddhist monasteries, which house hundreds of peaceful monks.
In Kathmandu – the medieval capital – you can explore jammed bazaars and visit ancient Buddhist and Hindu temples, like Swayambhunath and Pashupatinath. You can also mix with the Newar people who occupy more than 50% of Kathmandu Valley’s population, and are the creators of this captivating region’s historic heritage and civilization.
Take an unforgettable journey through Nepal
Because Turkey sits between East and West, it has a unique blend of cultures and traditions. In Istanbul – the former capital – you can enjoy exotic aromas at the Spice Bazaar, admire old Sultan palaces, and visit the iconic Blue Mosque. And, in historic Cappadocia, you can marvel at honeycombed hills and ‘fairy chimneys’ as you drift in a hot air balloon!
Antalya, perched prettily on the south coast, may be home to powdery white sands and glittering turquoise seas – but it boasts a fascinating culture influenced by its history as a Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman city too. Here, you can stroll through Hadrian’s Gate, a monumental ancient wonder; tuck into popular piyaz (bean salad with tahini); and witness the enchanting beauty of traditional music and dance performances.
Find magic in Turkey
Ethiopia is nicknamed the ‘land of 13 months of sunshine’ due to its 13-month calendar and abundance of sunlight. It’s also Africa’s oldest independent country and one of the oldest countries in the world. From its unique alphabet, delicious injera flatbreads, and iconic rock-hewn churches, to its ekista shoulder dance and colourful festivals – culture lingers around every corner.
In the small town of Konso, you can meet the indigenous people, known for their complex agricultural systems and carved wooden totems (waga), built to honour the dead. And in Mago National Park, you can see the remarkable Mursi tribe; famous for their distinctive lip plates, piercings, and face paintings.
Experience Ethiopia’s captivating culture
Mexico is a colourful, passionate country, influenced by Spanish customs and ancient civilisations, such as the Aztecs and Maya. It’s celebrated for its mariachi bands, intricate folk art, strong community ties, and tantalising cuisine. A must-try is the street food, elote, which is grilled corn on the cob smothered in creamy mayo, topped with chilli, cheese, and lime!
Mexico is also home to the world-famous town of Tequila where one of the world’s most popular spirits was born. A trip to the distillery will show you how the blue agave plant is used to produce it. And, if you’re into history, check out the legendary Frida Kahlo Museum in Mexico City or admire the stunning colonial-era architecture in Guadalajara.
Discover Mexico’s vibrant culture
The diverse cultures of our world are what makes it so interesting – and learning about them through travel can help us to celebrate our differences, understand others better, and see life in a completely different light.
We hope that you’ve been inspired by at least some of the places in this article. You might also want to check out our list of 12 of the most colourful travel destinations in the world.
Are you thinking about heading to any of the destinations on this list? Or have you been to one or more of these places before? We’d love to hear about your travel experiences in the comments below.