Hidden Destinations - 2014


  • Northern Territory, Australia

    The Northern side of Australia is not the usual Melbourne-Sydney journey which tourists take and relate Australia to. Its more for the “traveler” who wishes to experience the Aussie outback. The view is picturesque and is refreshing to see another side of Australia.

    To get here, you could fly into Alice Springs or Darwin, or you could just self-drive by renting a car. The Northern Territory encompasses 548,265 square miles (more than Texas, California, and Colorado combined), and 95 percent of the roads are paved! In my view, the best time to visit NT is during May – July (dry season) and somewhere during August – September. The rainy season is mostly during March – May which invites the avid bird-watchers to come and see a variety of aquatic birds.

    Where to Stay: Exclusive Bamurru Plains offers safari-style accommodations (nine elevated, screened-in suites with private baths) in a remote bush setting (you can hear the buffalo splashing in the floodplains). The camp is located on a coastal buffalo station (a 25-minute flight from Darwin) and named for the local magpie geese, tens of thousands of which serenade guests each morning. Rates cover all meals.

    In terms of food, the NT is known for its fresh seafood—mud crabs, saltwater barramundi, and banana prawns. You would be sitting on the covered deck washing down some wild-caught, coconut-crusted crocodile tail with a glass of NT Draught, the pale liquid gold that fills the Northern Territory’s iconic “Darwin Stubby” 2.25-liter bottles.

    Cultural Tip: When charting a self-drive tour, check to see if your travels will bring you through an Indigenous Protected Area (IPA). Many IPA communities or lands require tourist permits to enter. When visiting, follow the Australian government’s IPA visitor guidelines, designed to protect and respect the privacy, environment, and cultural traditions of indigenous people.

  • Puglia, Italy

    Puglia is located in Bari, Italy. Its easily accessible from Rome, Naples or similar. It’s a beach kind of destination much different from the traditional choices made when travelling to Italy. The best time to visit is in October or November, when summer tourists are long gone and the olive harvest is in full swing. Once in Puglia, travel the region aboard the national and semiprivate trains that run along the coast and into the interior.

    Where to Stay: With its ancient tower and fortified whitewashed walls, upscale Masseria Torre Coccaro appears to be more fortress than farmhouse. Set among olive groves and almond trees, the seaside boutique hotel has 39 luxurious rooms and suites appointed with antiques. Breakfast is included, and there’s an onsite cooking school and a shuttle to the nearby beach club (and the hotel’s private yacht). Tower suites have the best Adriatic Sea views, and the Orange Grove Suite (a whitewashed hideaway built inside an ancient cave) with outdoor private terrace and pool is the most secluded.

    When in Puglia, its best to try the thin-crust pies baked in a traditional wood-fired oven. Eat in (if tables aren’t available, there’s a stand-up counter at the back of the restaurant) or take out a whole classic pizza topped with buffalo mozzarella, tomato, and basil. Or choose from a lengthy list of topping options, including Nutella, bacon, and housemade stracciatella, Puglia’s own rich and tangy cheese made from strands of mozzarella soaked in heavy cream. There are many restaurant offering these delicacies and trust me, they’re Worth IT!

    Cultural Tip: When in doubt, smile and say prego. The multitasking word has multiple meanings, including “You’re welcome,” in response to grazie; “You're welcome to” or “Please do,” as an invitation to do something; “Can I help you?” or “What would you like to order?”; and “Go ahead” or “Help yourself.”

    Fun Fact: Alberobello in southern Puglia is the city of fanciful trulli, which are clustered in a settlement dating back to the mid-14th century. The fairytale landscape, a UNESCO World Heritage site, includes several trulli restored as vacation rentals.

    Insider Tip: For the best of authentic Puglia, stay at a masseria, a working farmhouse that’s traditionally been fortified against attacks by pirates or Turks (a serious local issue until the 19th century!). Bonus: Masserie that are B&Bs often also serve up home-cooked meals from their own produce.

  • Cordoba, Argentina

    Once the largest Spanish city in Argentina, Córdoba still rings with the tolling from more than 80 bell towers and churches. UNESCO named the city’s historic core a World Heritage site based on its sheer density of mostly 17th-century Jesuit structures, including Argentina’s oldest university. On the other hand, many of those grand church buildings were built by African and indigenous slaves, a point of history long obscured by Argentina’s historians. A UNESCO-sponsored African heritage route is in the works, with stops in Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay.

    The best time to visit is in the fall (March-May) and spring (September-November). In fall, days are generally clear with average high temperatures in the 60s and 70s(F). In spring, humidity, rainfall, and temperatures increase, with average highs in the 80s(F). The international airport is located about nine miles north of Córdoba. If staying in the city, take a taxi to your hotel, then walk or use public buses (purchase tokens in advance at kiosks) to visit old city historic sites centered on Plaza San Martín. Rent a car for travel outside Córdoba.

    You could chose to stay at the 420-acre Relais & Chateaux ranch that has nine individually styled guest rooms (hand-painted wall designs, wood-burning fireplaces), and offers polo lessons and gaucho-led horseback rides through the countryside.

    Cultural Tip: Pay in cash (Argentine pesos and, in many tourist areas, U.S. dollars) to avoid credit card surcharges. ATMs are readily available in Córdoba.

  • Cabo Verde, West Africa

    Cabo Verde still feels like an uncharted hideaway, where tourism is nascent and blissfully small scale. That elusive feeling of discovery awaits on the more far-out islands, reachable only by boat, like the tiny flyspeck of Brava and the vertical Santo Antão with its lush valleys, pine ridges, and stark canyons.

    It is a year-round destination, but rain is more likely August to October. September to June is prime surfing season along the southern tip of Sal, one of the archipelago’s sandy, eastern islands. International airports are located on the islands of Sal, Santiago, Boa Vista, and São Vicente (also serving Santo Antão). Taxis and public minibuses are available on most islands. Travel between islands generally is either by ferry or propeller planes.

    Where to Stay: On Boa Vista, the 12-room Spinguera ecolodge is as good as it gets if getting away from it all is your objective. Meals are included, as is use of the beach hammocks, where you can relax and watch sea turtles swim by.

  • Ranthambore National Park, India

    “It takes some luck to see a tiger.”

    Since 1973, this wildlife-rich terrain has been a protected area and tiger reserve. Abundant with monkeys, leopards, wild boars, foxes, macaques, crocodiles, and birds, Ranthambore’s exotic landscape—punctuated by a crumbling, ancient fort—evokes scenes from a Rudyard Kipling tale. Here roam 24 glorious adult tigers, and the population continues to grow. With conservation in mind, the park limits the number of visitors.

    Ranthambore National Park is open to visitors October 1-June 30. Daily opening and closing times vary seasonally. Morning visits are best since animals typically are more active and visible. Many hotels in Jaipur (where the closest airport to the park is located) can also arrange day trips to the park for guests. The number of daily park visitors is limited, so make safari reservations when booking accommodations. A preferred option for your stay can be the Oberoi Vanyavilas which oozes a sense of place: luxury guest “tents” with polished wood floors, embroidered canopies, and private walled gardens; two resident elephants; an onsite naturalist; and an elegant dining room decorated with frescoes of flowers and animals. Equally posh are the Deluxe Allure Suites (each with private, stone-walled courtyard and outdoor fireplace) at Sawai Madhopur Lodge in Ranthambore. The Vivanta by Taj brand hotel includes 12 acres of gardens and the property’s original art deco-style lodge building.

    Cultural Tip: Touring can be stressful if you’re not used to haggling, persistent vendors, and being dogged by enterprising “guides” who offer (for a fee) to negotiate the best deals and lead you through tourist sites. When shopping, predetermine how much you're willing to spend on any item, and be willing to walk away.

    Fun Fact: The national park is named for and includes Ranthambore Fort, founded in 944 and open to the public. Inside the fortress are three 12th- and 13th-century Hindu temples built with pale-red stone from Karauli in eastern Rajasthan.

  • Erbil, Iraq

    One of the world’s oldest continuously inhabited cities, Arbil will make you forget everything you’ve heard about Iraq. The political capital of Kurdistan in northern Iraq is largely a world apart from the strife to its south. Visitors bypass Baghdad, arriving into Arbil’s new airport via flights from Vienna, Amman, and Istanbul. Booming with oil money, Arbil—known as Hawler to Kurds—has even earned the designation Capital for Arab Tourism for 2014.

    The city is thronging with construction continuing on high-rises, including a Marriott hotel, that overlook traffic-clogged boulevards. In the Ankawa neighborhood, one of the Middle East’s largest Christian enclaves, an imposing ziggurat-style church pays homage to the region’s Babylonian past. Restaurants serve wine and regional fare like kefta (a kind of kebab) and biryani. Outside the city, the landscape unfolds with mountains rich with waterfalls, lake resorts, and snowy winter ski trails.

    Spring and fall are the best times to visit with clear skies and mild temperatures (typically between 65 and 70 degrees F). Temperatures can be significantly cooler in the mountains, however, so pack accordingly if your itinerary includes hiking or touring outside the city. Lufthansa operates direct flights to Arbil from Frankfurt and Vienna. Independent travel within Iraqi Kurdistan is safe, but first-time visitors may appreciate the convenience and local expertise of small-group tour operators offering fully escorted tours and include airport transfers, local transportation via private vehicles, and English-speaking drivers and guides.

    The city’s newer hotels are predominantly international big-box brands catering to business travelers. For more character (the entrance is guarded by white lion statues with tongues that light up red at night) and convenience—only a 10-15 minute walk to the bazaar and citadel—choose the independently owned Chwar Chra Hotel. The room décor is a bit dated, but there’s free Wi-Fi and satellite TV and an outdoor garden bar where you can relax at day’s end with a glass of arak, a clear, aniseed-flavored alcohol mixed with water and ice.

    Fun Fact: According to UNESCO, Arbil’s Citadel Town is believed to be the world’s oldest continuously inhabited settlement, dating back 7,000 years or more. Though its buildings have been rebuilt over the centuries, the inner network of pedestrian alleyways remains virtually unchanged.

  • Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

    Sarajevo, which has endured three devastating wars and rebuilt under six national flags in the century since, still retains much of its character. Thick coffee cooked in copper pots perfumes the air in Bašcˇaršija, the Ottoman-era bazaar. Silversmiths and rug merchants haggle and banter on the cobbled streets. Secessionist buildings, erected during the archduke’s empire, sit alongside minarets punctuating the skyline. And obelisk Muslim headstones lean this way and that on patches of grass scattered between the oldest mahalas (neighborhoods).

    Called “the world’s most dangerous city” during the war of the 1990s, Sarajevo is now among Europe’s safest capitals. The renowned Sarajevo Film Festival is held every summer. Tourists and locals alike, led by in-the-know guides, are rediscovering pristine hiking trails in the surrounding Dinaric Alps. Sarajevo’s reemergence is perhaps best symbolized by the National Library’s long-awaited reconstruction. Destroyed, along with some two million books, in 1992, the pseudo-Moorish landmark is scheduled to reopen as Sarajevo’s Town Hall (its original purpose in 1896) in time for the commemoration of Franz Ferdinand’s assassination.

    Spring, summer, and fall (April-October) are generally clear and comfortable. In July, the hottest month, average temperatures are only about 70°F. Downhill skiing is available in winter at Mount Jahorina Ski Resort, which hosted 1984 Winter Olympic events. Public transportation (tram, trolleybus, and bus), taxis, and walking are the most convenient ways to navigate the city. Bus and train routes connect Sarajevo to other destinations in Bosnia and Herzegovina. During ski season, buses connect Sarajevo to Mount Jahorina.

    The 186-room Hotel Bristol Sarajevo is a 12-story, luxury hotel located about five minutes from the Old City via taxi or the hotel’s free shuttle. There’s an indoor swimming pool, free underground parking, and a mini-fridge stocked daily with free soda, juices, and water. Boutique Hotel Michele offers less luxury, yet more charm. The six apartments and two spacious guest rooms are appointed with antique furnishings. Room 43 has skylights, a wood-beam ceiling, and city views.

    Cultural Tip: Drinking kafa (coffee) in Sarajevo isn’t done on the fly. Seek out a kafić (café) that serves traditional Bosnian coffee cooked in a copper pot called a džezva (pronounced jez-vah) and served with Turkish delight. Then relax and enjoy, but make sure to ask your waiter how to properly spoon the froth and when to dip the sugar cube.

    Fun Fact: From Sarajevo, it’s only about a 20-minute public bus ride to the village of Nahorevo, starting point for hikes to Bosnia and Herzegovina’s biggest waterfall, 322-foot-high Skakavac. Green Visions’ local, English-speaking guides lead day hikes along a mountain road to the top of the waterfall and down to the base.

  • Cathar Country, France

    Visitors beguiled by Cathar lore should visit the fortress of Montségur or Château de Peyrepertuse, but base themselves in pink-stoned Albi on the River Tarn. In this UNESCO World Heritage site and former Cathar stronghold, street signs point the way in both French and the old Occitan language.

    With clear skies and temperatures in the 70s and 80s F, May-June and September-October typically are the best months for outdoor touring. July and August are sunny but hot (80s and 90s F). The city’s July 14 Bastille Day celebration features a fireworks show over the river. Also, renting a car at the airport in Rodez is the most convenient way to explore the region.

    You could choose to stay at the secluded La Réserve, a seasonal (open May-October) Relais & Châteaux property located in the countryside just outside of Albi. The 22 individually styled rooms (French country, art nouveau, ultramodern) are split between two guest lodges on the River Tarn. All rooms have either a balcony or terrace with river or garden views. Rooms in the newer building (away from the outdoor pool) are the most private.

    Cultural Tip: Linger over lunch, since restaurants typically are the only businesses open between noon and 2 p.m.

  • Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

    Rising up along the Continental Divide, Rocky Mountain National Park is a natural overachiever, with 77 mountains above 12,000 feet—including 14,259-foot Longs Peak—and a span of alpine tundra. Snow-packed granite peaks tower over a calm of ponderosa pines, which ease toward meadow and meandering stream—four ecosystems within one park.

    Tourist traffic is heaviest mid-June to mid-August, so plan to visit the park early or late in the day to avoid the biggest crowds. Subalpine wildflowers bloom in May. Changing weather conditions, construction, flooding, and other factors can cause road closures in and around the park, so always check the park website before visiting. On a one-day visit, drive Trail Ridge Road from the East Entrance as far as Farview Curve for an overview of the park's mountains, valleys, and tundra. With more time, drive all the way to Grand Lake on the west side, walk the nature trails, or take a day hike.

    A good stay can be taken after a 15-minute drive from the park’s East Entrance at the Stanley Hotel, the granddaddy of Estes Park wilderness retreats opened in 1909.

  • Sochi, Russia

    With its balmy Black Sea location amid palm trees and flower gardens, Sochi seems an incongruous place to hold the 2014 games (not to mention controversial, due to the country’s new antigay law). But once the new high-speed rail line whisks visitors 30 minutes from town up into the Caucasus Mountains, a compelling view of this region unfurls. Standing at the icy, windswept peak of the new Rosa Khutor resort, home of the downhill and slalom competitions, skiers gape at 360-degree views of the jagged black mountains of Sochi National Park, a haven for bears, wolves, deer, and the recently reintroduced Persian leopard.

    The winter sports season at Krasnaya Polyana, Sochi’s mountain resort, runs from mid-December to March, but the mild climate makes early and late season snowfall less reliable. Late January and February are better bets for skiing and snowboarding. Seaside resorts typically are crowded July and August, so plan a May to June or September to October visit. Sochi is one of the world’s longest towns (90 miles!) so it’s best to use their new public light rail system to get around, or you’ll be spending a fortune in cab fare.

    New luxury chain hotels (such as Marriott and Swissotel) built for the Olympic Games are clustered in Krasnaya Polyana, site of Nordic ski jumping, bobsled, and other events. For a seaside getaway, opt for the opulent Rodina Grand Hotel and Spa, built in neoclassical Stalinesque style and located in a parklike setting. Many of the 40 rooms and suites have Black Sea views and outdoor terraces.

    Fun Fact: According to UNESCO, Arbil’s Citadel Town is believed to be the world’s oldest continuously inhabited settlement, dating back 7,000 years or more. Though its buildings have been rebuilt over the centuries, the inner network of pedestrian alleyways remains virtually unchanged.

  • John Muir Way, Scotland

    The John Muir Way, the 105-mile path sets out from Dunbar, Muir’s birthplace, and follows the coast west, passing natural wonders such as North Berwick Law, a volcanic remnant jutting abruptly out of the earth, and Loch Lomond, the largest freshwater lake (by surface area) in Britain. The Highlands views—enveloping visitors in vast lonesome moors, scraggly hills, and turbulent, dramatic skies—are the Scotland you see in movies.

    The trail passes through Edinburgh, with its battlemented fortress on a hill. It also takes in ridiculously picturesque villages and historic marvels, including the 15th-century Blackness Castle, which resembles a giant stone ship poised on the edge of a fjord, and the remains of the Antonine Wall, once the northwestern barrier of the Roman Empire.

    The trail ends at the waterfront town of Helensburgh. The sauntering, Muir believed, is the work of a lifetime. Multiple Muir-related events, including the official opening of the John Muir Way, an extension of the existing John Muir Way in East Lothian, are scheduled to take place during the John Muir Festival, April 17-26, 2014. Summer (July-August) is high tourist season in Scotland, so May, June, or September would be better options for pleasant weather with lighter crowds.

    From Edinburgh, you can travel by rail or bus to several points along the trail, including Musselburgh, Prestonpans, Longniddry, North Berwick, East Linton, and Dunbar. Use the trail map to plan an itinerary.

    From the Dunbar to Dunglass section of the John Muir Way, it’s less than 330 yards (about three football fields) to Thortonloch House, a farmhouse-style bed-and-breakfast overlooking Thortonloch Bay. All four guest rooms are spacious, with private baths, but the best sea views are from the bay window in the second-floor double.

    Fun Fact: Walking the section of trail between North Berwick and Dunbar, you can see the Bass Rock, the world’s largest single island gannet colony. Located a mile off the mainland, the island is home to an estimated 150,000 gannets.

  • Nahanni National Park, Canada

    No one returns from the Nahanni unchanged. It’s too big, too old, too wild.

    In a nation built on legends of daring voyageurs paddling its myriad waterways, the Nahanni is deep Canada—le Canada profound. When you farther along the Nahanni River, and Virginia Falls—or what in the Dene tongue translates to “big water falling”—thunders as it drops 302 feet, nearly twice the height of Niagara. Rare orchids thrive in its billowing mist.

    Canada’s most revered river expedition brims with lore of Klondike gold prospectors, trappers, adventurers, and their gory misfortunes in places named Headless Creek and Deadmen Valley. Ahead: the Gate’s plunging sandstone chasm, neck-high mud baths at Kraus Hotsprings, maybe a tin plate of arctic char riverside. Paddling season runs from mid-June to September. Early season brings nearly 24 hours of daylight, while the late season offers the possibility of seeing the northern lights.

    The safest and most convenient way to explore Nahanni is via a paddle trip led by a registered, licensed outfitter such as Nahanni River Adventures or Black Feather. Trips vary in length and skill level and can include hiking and rafting. Floatplane daytrips to Nahanni via Simpson Air are a less taxing yet more expensive way to see Virginia Falls and surrounding areas.

    You could reserve two nights (the maximum allowed) at the Virginia Falls Campground, accessible by two- to three-day paddling trip from Rabbitkettle Lake. Or travel by floatplane to remote Nahanni Mountain Lodge on the eastern shore of pristine Little Doctor Lake. The fishing lodge has four basic log cabins, and a fire pit and grill on the beach to cook the perch or trout you catch for supper.

  • Riga, Latvia

    Riga’s cobblestoned streets seem lifted from a fairy tale—and perfectly suit the little-known charm of this Baltic capital. The often uneven paths, so easily negotiated by stiletto-heeled locals, twist between medieval timber-frame houses through the city’s old town, ending at the grand but asphalt boulevards, which feel transplanted from Paris or St. Petersburg. Along these streets, the architecture chronicles the city’s complicated history, from ornate merchant guild buildings dating to Riga’s days as a key port of the Hanseatic League, to a brick tower built by the 17th-century ruling Swedes, to glorious art nouveau facades and wretchedly drab iterations of Soviet ideology.

    Now, with more than 20 years of freedom under its belt, Riga is racing to make up for lost time. Many of the city’s 800-plus art nouveau buildings gleam again, including the theater where Mikhail Baryshnikov got his start. Wine bars and designer lattes are not only trending, they’re practically commonplace. Garāža serves imported tipples to a youthful crowd lounging on leather seats ripped from discarded buses. MiiT hums with contented coffee drinkers, as students in plaid fix bicycles out back. The central market, housed in former zeppelin hangars, keeps up a roaring trade in forest mushrooms and blackberry jam. Restaurants, such as Vincents, elegantly update Latvian home cooking (fresh fish and cloudberries).

    With the European Union’s designation of Riga as a 2014 Capital of Culture, the city is set to reclaim its title as a crossroads—proudly cobblestoned—of the continent.

    Riga is a four-season destination. Tourist traffic and hotel prices are highest June-August, so May-June and September-October are better options. Average winter temperatures are in the 20s F. Riga International Airport is about a 20-minute taxi ride away from the city center. Take a taxi or bus from the airport to your hotel. If you’re staying in or near the Old Town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s easy to walk or bike to major tourist attractions. Riga Bike Rent offers walking and cycling tours in addition to bike rentals. Taxis are another inexpensive option, and most hotels can arrange transportation or tours for day trips outside the city.

    You could walk from the art nouveau-style Grand Palace to all of Old Town Riga’s historic sites, as well as shops and restaurants. The elegant hotel has 56 rooms and suites decorated in soft blues and beiges. Evening functions in the glass-domed courtyard restaurant can be loud, so request a room overlooking the street instead.

    Cultural Tip: To avoid being grossly overcharged, only take registered taxis displaying official yellow license plates. You can call a Baltic Taxi via Skype, smartphone app, or phone (English-speaking operators).

  • Liechtenstein

    When in Liech, you might run into the prince and his wife at the grocery store,” says Sandra Thurnheer, an Internet entrepreneur and native-born Liechtensteiner who loves her “dwarf country” with its many castles and quirks. “We have this minority complex, and we’re proud of it,” she adds, boasting that Liechtenstein prints some rather rare stamps.

    This patch of Alpine meadows, craggy peaks, and vineyards finds itself wedged between Austria and Switzerland. What it lacks in size, Liechtenstein makes up for with a mighty landscape that swoops up from the marshy green banks of the Rhine into the cloud-kissed Alps. Beyond the banks and billionaires, Liechtenstein grants a glimpse into Europe’s oldest traditions, like Lenten bonfires and autumn’s Wimmlete (the grape selection for winemaking). Sip a glass with a heaping plate of käseknöpfle (cheese spaetzle), and this place feels anything but small.

    Visit the Malbun Alpine resort mid-December through mid-April for skiing and snowboarding, and May to October for hiking and mountain biking. A warm down-slope wind known as the föhn produces mild winters (highs can reach the 50s) at Liechtenstein’s lower elevations. The principality’s national holiday, August 15, is celebrated with a public ceremony on the lawn in front of the private royal residence, medieval Vaduz Castle.

    Everywhere is within walking distance in Vaduz, Liechtenstein’s 6.7-square-mile capital. Start at the Liechtenstein Center for a walking map, day trip ideas, and bus schedules. Use the yellow Swiss PostBus for travel outside Vaduz.

    The Park Hotel Sonnenhof in Vaduz is a regal, 29-room Relais & Châteaux villa set amid manicured gardens. The deluxe rooms with balconies offer Rhine Valley, castle, and Alpine views. In Triesenberg, you can start hiking from the front door of the family-run Hotel Oberland, a traditional Alpine inn completely renovated in 2011. Village church bells ring throughout the day beginning at 6 a.m., so you’re guaranteed to be up and out early, after stopping to fill up on the complimentary continental breakfast (hard-boiled eggs, bread, jam, yogurt, and fruit).

    Cultural Tip: Dress is predominantly business casual since it’s the financial industry, not tourism, that typically draws visitors.

    Fun Fact: Liechtenstein was named by and for the family that bought it. In 1719, the princely House of Liechtenstein consolidated two parcels of land they had purchased—the County of Vaduz (1712) and the lands of Schellenberg (1699)—to create the 62-square-mile Principality of Liechtenstein.

  • Guyana

    Guyana, a land the size of Kansas, may be the best kept secret in South America. “About 80 percent of Guyana is still wild forest,” says Annette Arjoon-Martins, chair of the Guyana Mangrove Restoration Project and one of many Guyanese passionate about safeguarding their land’s extravagant natural resources—including what likely is Earth’s largest single-drop waterfall.

    Chances are you’ll have the place to yourself; Guyana has yet to make it onto bucket lists, in part because it remains, as Surama guide Gary Sway puts it, “blessedly undeveloped. Even many Guyanese have little idea how vast our rain forest is. The Iwokrama reserve, down the road, covers a million acres.”

    From January to early April (dry season) is ideal for viewing wildlife since low water levels draw animals to ponds and rivers. The main airport is the Cheddi Jagan International Airport (www.cjairport-gy.com) in Georgetown. The Surama Village Eco-Lodge guests can take a two-week jungle-survival course, from where you can go on a guided canoe day trip on the Burro-Burro River, and hike Surama Mountain. The Iwokrama Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development offers several tours ranging from one to three nights.

    At the community-run Surama Village Eco-Lodge in North Rupununi guests stay in rustic Amerindian huts (with private bath) built from wood, palm leaves, reeds, and other materials gathered in the forest. Rates include one meal per day plus snacks. The secluded Iwokrama River Lodge, hub of the Iwokrama Centre for Rainforest Conservation and Development, accommodates visitors in eight roomy riverfront cabins, each with private bathroom, 24-hour solar-powered electricity—and a wraparound veranda strung with handwoven hammocks. At the al fresco restaurant and bar you may find yourself dining next to visiting biologists and climatologists—as fruit bats cruise under the eaves and black spider monkeys call from nearby trees. An altogether different setting, the vast Rupununi Savannah, surrounds Rock View Lodge, a lovingly landscaped outpost of civilization with eight guest suites, a restaurant, a rock swimming pool, and a gift shop selling local crafts.

    Cultural Tip: Guyana is the only English-speaking country in South America, making it easy to ask questions, listen, and learn from local indigenous peoples.

    Fun Fact: The Iwokrama rain forest is home to some of the world’s largest creatures, such as the green anaconda, which can tip the scales at 550 pounds, and the black caiman, a four-legged, alligator-cousin carnivore that can grow up to 20 feet long.

  • Alentejo, Portugal

    Lying right below the country’s heart, Alentejo has served as Portugal’s breadbasket and seduces with its slow pace, a sense of modern times in half step. Look no further than the recently opened museum in the village of Belver, devoted to the tradition of artisanal soapmaking. Or the newly launched Marble Route, which takes visitors into quarries and underground galleries, celebrating the prized local material.

    And then look up, at the night skies. Above Lake Alqueva, the heavens remain unmarred by light pollution, prompting the UNESCO-supported Starlight Foundation to designate Alqueva the world’s first Starlight Tourism Destination.

    May-October is the best time to visit; however, temperatures can reach over 100 degrees F in inland areas during July and August. Summer temperatures along the coast are significantly lower (by up to 15 to 20 degrees).

    To visit northern Alentejo, including the Evora World Heritage site, fly into Lisbon International Airport. For southern Alentejo itineraries, Faro International Airport is more convenient. At either airport, renting a car will make it easier to explore the region following Alentejo Tourism’s self-drive routes.

    Opened in May 2013, the sleek, modern Ecorkhotel is a low-slung, all-suite hillside retreat outside Évora. As the name implies, local cork (cork, olive, and holm trees grow on the property) figured prominently in the construction. The cork coating on the main building acts as a natural insulator buffering cold, heat, and noise. Geothermal and solar energy heats the two pools and 56 suites, each with private terrace.

  • Bolaven Plateau, Laos

    Slowly making its way onto coffee connoisseurs’ itineraries, the Bolaven Plateau is blessed with a cool climate, regular rainfall, and abundant nutrients, and produces the major share of the burgeoning Laotian coffee crop. Hot, dark, and bittersweet, Lao coffee—served with a layer of condensed milk—delivers a caffeine kick aimed squarely at reluctant risers. Despite its heady brew of culture and scenery, the Bolaven Plateau is frequently bypassed by travelers.

    The Bolaven Plateau's waterfalls are more spectacular between July and October (rainy season), whereas those visiting between October and February can observe the local coffee harvest. From Pakse International Airport, take a taxi or tuk tuk for the 2.5-mile ride to Pakse, capital of Champasak Province. If you’re an experienced motorbike driver (and can share the roads with dogs, cows, and water buffalo), it’s easy (and inexpensive) to rent a bike in town for solo travel along the Bolaven Loop.

    The Sinouk Coffee Resort near Paksong is a convenient base for Bolaven Plateau day trips. Located on a secluded coffee estate, the compound includes a restored plantation house and a newer wood chalet, both with traditional Lao interiors: wood and rattan walls, bamboo furniture, and reed floor mats. Breakfast (options include steamed pork meatballs, fried eggs, or rice porridge) is included and dinner is available, which is helpful since there aren’t any restaurants nearby.

    Cultural Tip: To visit one of the hill tribe villages, which typically are difficult to find and accessible only by dirt roads, hire an expert, English-speaking guide. Remote Lands can arrange guided village trips, including private transportation via four-wheel-drive vehicles.

  • Derawan Islands, Indonesia

    Every traveler dreams about getting lost and finding the perfect spot somewhere off the beaten track. Even though the Derawan Islands are pretty well known, they are hard to get to and being there still feels like a discovery. A small community lives in a tiny, immaculately clean village and welcomes travelers with open arms. After you get up and watch sunrise from your stilt-house balcony, you jump into tranquil and crystal-clean turquoise water to hang out with as many turtles as you can imagine and then snorkel around breathtaking reefs.

    Then you can stretch out on the empty beach, listen to the sound of palm trees moved by wind, and wait for an extraordinary sunset over the ocean while the sounds of evening prayers from the mosque soothe your thoughts and worries. If the reef and turtles start to bore you, visit the nearby manta ray spot or swim with stingless jelly fish in the atoll at Kakaban Island. Recently an airport opened at Maratua Island, which will make access to Derawan much easier. Get there before Derawan village is covered with hotels. —Beata Ulman, Redhill, Surrey, UK

    May to October is dry season, which typically is the best time to viwaksit, particularly if you want to volunteer to help with World Wildlife Federation sea turtle conservation efforts. Getting to the remote Derawan Islands (Derawan, Maratua, Kakaban, and Sangalaki) begins with three flights: first to Singapore, Jakarta, or Kuala Lampur; second to Balikpapan, Indonesia; and third to Kalimantan Province’s new Berau international terminal (opened in 2012). From Berau, hire a driver (resorts typically arrange airport transfers for guests) or shared taxi for the 2- to 2.5-hour ride to coastal Tanjung Batu. Book a speedboat (chartered, shared, or resort transport) in advance for the ride (about 30 minutes) to Derawan Island.

    The ten rooms at Derawan Dive Lodge are in elevated, Balinese-style wooden villas clustered along the resort’s private white-sand beach (where it’s easy to spot giant green sea turtles). Mosquito netting cloaks the bamboo beds. Ask for Room 10 if you enjoy being lulled to sleep by the waves that break under the room at high tide. Don’t worry about sleeping in. Chickens hang out under the cottages and are known to provide natural wake-up calls.

    Cultural Tip: The local population is predominantly Muslim, so resorts typically do not serve alcohol or pork products.



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