In our last post, Jen listed five off-the-beaten-path countries she most wants to visit. From Albania to Laos to Greenland (not actually its own country), her destinations provide opportunities to see a side of travel that’s unconventional and exciting. Now, it’s my turn to choose five dream destinations.
I didn’t choose Chile for the beaches of Viña del Mar (not that there’s anything wrong with them) or the nightlife of Santiago (though there’s no reason not to enjoy it). As with many of the places we most want to go, I chose Chile for the adventure, specifically the adventure of visiting Patagonia.
With jagged mountains rising above 20,000 feet, the hiking and cycling opportunities this region offers are intense. The Torres del Paine Circuit is one of the premier hikes in the world. Treks in Torres del Paine National Park can range from a day hike to see the eponymous mountain peaks to a full circuit that takes 7-10 days to complete.
Another advantage of Patagonia–it’s far in the southern hemisphere. When you tire of sleet and snow in January, Patagonia will be awaiting you with bright, sunny days and (relatively) warm temperatures.
Top pick: Cycling through Patagonia
Where to stay in the capital (Santiago): This loft apartment with views of the city ($44)
“Does he mean the Dominican Republic?” you might be wondering. No, it’s not far away, but Dominica is an independent country that has relatively little in common with the much better known Dominican Republic.
So, why Dominica? It’s a nature lover’s paradise. Other Caribbean islands have beaches, forests, and crystal clear blue waters, sure, but Dominica exemplifies the unspoiled nature that I’m always searching for. So much of the Caribbean has been shaped by what tourists want; I’d like to see a place that hasn’t been completely revamped.
Dominica didn’t get its nickname “the nature island” for nothing. This little 18-by-29-mile island is covered in volcanic peaks, tumbling waterfalls, and dense forests to explore. The hiking opportunities literally cross the whole island, and when you’re done, it’s only a short drive until you’re relaxing in a beach chair.
Though Dominica’s much closer to the U.S. than my other top destinations, it’s not necessarily cheaper or easier to get to ($700-$900 round-trip). Most flights are routed through Puerto Rico, where you have to transfer to a smaller prop plane that can land on the airport’s short runway. One workaround I’ve discovered is to fly to Martinique first and then take the two-hour ferry ($60 round-trip) to Dominica. Flights from Boston to Martinique can be as low as $50 one-way (yes, really!). This looks like an excellent way to get to Dominica without exhausting your budget–and you get to see Martinique as a bonus.
Top pick: Hiking the Waitukubuli Trail, which crisscrosses the entire country
Where to stay near-ish the capital (Roseau): This treehouse in the jungle, which requires a 15-minute hike to reach ($50)
Along with Greenland and Mongolia from Jen’s list, Namibia is one of the least densely populated places on Earth, with just two million people living in an area slightly larger than Texas. Most of the country is covered in sandy and rocky desert landscapes, so few areas are suitable for permanent human habitation.
While Namibia’s deserts may not be great places to live, their sand dunes, wide open spaces, and untouched landscapes sure make them good travel destinations. The country’s probably best known for Sossusvlei, its iconic clay pan in the Namib Desert, full of dead acacia trees and surrounded by red sand dunes–which is much more amazing that it sounds.
Equally other-worldly is the “Skeleton Coast,” the fitting nickname for northern coastal Namibia. When the cold Atlantic waters hit the warm desert coast, a dense fog is created. This fog has caused thousands of shipwrecks, the remains of which can still be seen littering the coast.
Top pick: Sandboarding in the Kalahari Desert
Where to stay in the capital (Windhoek): This modern apartment with a rimflow pool
With the winter wonderland and the midnight sun (oh, and apparently autumn is nice, too), Norway seems like its own kind of paradise.
While I think of Norway as an adventurer’s playground, kayaking was definitely not the first activity that came to mind. But it turns out the country has loads of great paddling routes, ranging from fjords to coastal landscapes to a UNESCO-recognized archipelago. There are even more places to hike than there are to kayak, and the Besseggen Ridge, which offers sweeping views of the Jotunheimen National Park, is one of the most popular.
Of course, skiing is the activity of choice for most Norwegians–there’s even a saying that “Norwegians are born with skis on their feet.” Most of the ski resorts are concentrated in the southern Norway, but cross-country skiing is possible (and popular!) all over the country. Oh, and in the summer? Don’t worry, you can ski on the glaciers.
For a break from all those activities? A seat on the Nordland train offers 10 hours of stunning scenery, and it even crosses the Arctic Circle. And to warm up in the wintry cold, Norway’s also home to the world’s largest sauna.
Top pick: Skiing under the Northern Lights at Narvik
Where to stay in the capital (Oslo): This studio apartment right by the river ($50)
Ryan, do you dream of going anywhere normal? Not really…and that’s exactly why Tajikistan excites me. The world is getting more connected (great!) and global travel is getting cheaper (yay!)–and so many places are being homogenized to provide the same travel experience. But that’s not the case in this part of the world.
Twenty-five years after the fall of the Soviet Union, and Tajikistan still remains a relatively isolated country. It sees few visitors, and most of the tourists who do visit are Russian. I’ve never been to a post-Soviet state, and am very curious to experience the culture and start to hear people’s perspectives there.
Flying into the capital of Dushanbe, you’ll see that blocky Soviet architecture and dozens of monuments dedicated to national heroes from antiquity like Ismail Samani and Abu Ali Ibn Sino. But the capital isn’t the reason I’m interested in Tajikistan–it’s everything else. Crossing the country is the Pamir highway, a notoriously rugged road that rises to over 15,000 feet and connects Tajikistan with Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan. Officially called M41, the highway takes you through extremely remote areas that see very few visitors, and offers stunning views of the Pamir Mountains. And if it wasn’t interesting enough today, M41 also comprised one link of the ancient Silk Road.
Yes, getting from the U.S. to Tajikistan is a long and pricey affair. But from Boston, it can actually be done with just one stopover in Dubai. Not bad, hey?
Top pick: Taking a motorcycle tour through the Pamir Mountains
Where to stay in the capital (Dushanbe): This modern and seemingly circle-themed apartment in the heart of the city ($29)
As Jen said in her post, we’re not sure when we’ll get to take these dream trips, but thinking about where we’d like to go helps us learn more about the many, many fascinating places out there. And, it gives us more motivation to make our dreams happen.