WORDS BY DEBBIE PAPPYN & PHOTOGRAPHY BY DAVID DE VLEESCHAUWER
Where in the world should the experiential traveller go next to get away from it all? Which places are on the cusp of becoming the next big tourism hit? Full-time travel duo Debbie Pappyn and photographer David De Vleeschauwer sum up their favourite and lesser-known corners of the globe recently discovered during their almost non-stop travels.
While Nepal is recovering from the 2015 earthquake and still struggling with its image as a low-budget, overly touristy backpacking destination, there is one region in the country that has been overlooked by many. Upper Mustang, the former Kingdom of Lo, was off-limits for tourists until 2008, had no real roads until 2011 and levies a $500 fee to visitors. The result is an unspoiled corner of the Himalayas and an untouched Tibetan culture, with little influence from the modern world (no electricity, no internet, almost no cell phone signal…) and a centuries-old Buddhist culture. Early visitors hiked or used horses, but nowadays you can combine walking and time in the saddle with covering some stretches of road by 4×4 or helicopter. Think of Bhutan but with even fewer tourists!
Republic of Congo
While you almost have to queue in Rwanda and Uganda to see the gorillas or fight to get an permit, in Congo-Brazzaville you have the forest and all its inhabitants to yourself. No permit is needed, no time slot, and no other tourists with big cameras around you… The Congo Basin is home to lowland gorillas, chimps and forest elephants. In camps like Odzalla you can explore the forest with primatologists who work and live here and who are happy to share their insights into this still unknown part of Africa. Brazzaville, the capital and port of entry into the Republic, is a pleasant and trouble-free city located next to the Congo River from where Kinshasa, the capital of the less stable Democratic Republic of Congo, is visible in the distance.
Antarctica? Been there, done that! So what’s next? If the notorious polar virus has bitten the adventurous traveller, there are still stunning and remote places waiting for them in the Arctic. Hop on an ice-breaking expedition vessel while circumnavigating Greenland; cross the Northwest Passage from Alaska to Russia; and possibly one of the most unique and still unknown places: explore wild and remote Chukotka, Kamchatka and the Kouriles Islands in Russia. In the past, these kinds of off-the-map places were very hard to reach via land; but thanks to adventurous expedition companies travellers can now discover them while staying on board luxurious expedition ships. Or how about camping on the frozen floe edge in Arctic Canada to watch narwhals and polar bears; travelling to Greenland to hop on dog sledges; camping on the second largest ice cap in the world; or sleeping in a comfortable lodge next to a massive, calving glacier? Spitsbergen, aka Svalbard, also feels very remote but is in fact easily accessible via Norway and the rest of Europe. Perfect for those wanting something different and more intense than Lapland or Iceland. If you ask us, the Arctic has it all, from extreme off-the-beaten-track to accessible remote places.
A couple of years ago, only the most intrepid travellers found their way to Iran. Luckily, since last year this marvellous country is back on the bucket list. Sanctions have been lifted and Iran is preparing itself for a major surge in international tourism. If the traveller still wants to have iconic and historical places like Persepolis to him/herself, the time is now. From skiing in winter to relaxing on the tropical Kish Island in the Persian Gulf, Iran is a pleasant destination to visit even during the dry and warmer summer months. For us, the biggest incentive to visit must be the people: the Persians will cheerfully greet you in the streets, in parks and around the numerous stunning architectural sites (the country has 19 UNESCO listings). “Welcome to Iran, welcome to my country!” is something you will hear over and over again. You will be graciously welcomed, asked why you chose Iran as a travel destination, thanked profoundly and, if you’re lucky, invited into their homes to drink tea, have dinner, or attend a party and even a wedding. The people of Iran are surprisingly liberal, anti-radical and open-minded, despite the fact that women have to wear a headscarf and alcohol is strictly forbidden, even for visitors.