With summer approaching, holiday planning is beginning to take root for many. Instead of travelling to the tourist-packed beaches of Spain or the theme parks of Florida, why not try something more unique. Here’s my list of my top 5 “off the beaten track” destinations to travel to this summer:
1) Northern Pakistan
While the visa is a little expensive and tricky to obtain (you have to be a national/ permanent resident of the country you’re applying in), the effort is most certainly worth it. The northern valleys of Kalash, Hunza, Neelam, Skardu, among others, offer some of the world’s most spectacular mountain scenery. Summer weather is also perfect for outdoor activity, at between 15 and 25 degrees Celsius depending on the area and altitude.
The region is also culturally and religiously diverse! Large parts of Northern Pakistan are populated by Nizari Muslims, a subsect of Shia Islam, whereby the leader and imam of the Nizaris is billionaire British businessman Aga Khan IV! Many people in the Kalash valley do not follow Islam, and their ethnicity is similar to that of Europeans. It is said that they are descendants of Alexander the Great.
You can visit Northern Pakistan by travelling the Karakorum Highway from Islamabad, and its tributary roads. Or, one could opt to fly to Gilgit, Skardu, or Chitral from the Pakistani capital.
2) The Faroe Islands (Denmark)
These gorgeous islands are beginning to find their way upon the travel radar, so visit them while they’re still relatively unknown! While they are part of Denmark, their language of choice is Faroese, and the scenery is in stark contrast to the mainland! The Faroe Islands are perfect for outdoor adventure seekers and nature lovers.
You can fly to the Faroe Islands from Edinburgh (twice weekly), Copenhagen and Reykjavik, and a few other locations. There is also a ferry service from Denmark and Iceland.
3) Kamchatka, Russia
While it is quite a well known destination for Russians, Kamchatka remains largely off the tourist map for internationals. This is one of the most beautiful, stunning destinations I have visited. It is a PARADISE for anyone looking to explore volcanic scenery, tundra, wildlife, fishing, heli-skiing, dog sledding, hiking or basically any other outdoor adventure activity you can think of. However, there is one catch – many of these activities will take a toll on your wallet. For those looking to travel somewhere even less explored than Kamchatka, nearby Chukotka is also spectacular.
Kamchatka is only accessible through internal flights within Russia (except a few charter flights abroad). You can fly to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (Kamchatka’s capital) from Moscow, Vladivostok and some other Russian cities. Despite being a peninsula, there are no roads linking it to the rest of mainland Russia due to its isolation.
4) Western Sichuan, China
Tibet, but without the bureaucracy, less tourists, and arguably more Tibetan than many parts of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). This part of Sichuan is usually open to foreigners (check before you travel) and is home to stunning scenery, wonderful people, and some of the most authentic Tibetan culture you’ll find.
Visiting Western Sichuan is possible by taking travelling west from Chengdu, or north from Yunnan. The gateway to the region is a town called Kangding, which has daily flights from Chengdu, or can be reached by an 8 hour bus. Unfortunately, one of the region’s highlights, Larung Gar, the world’s largest Tibetan monastery, is undergoing demolition, and is currently closed to foreign visitors. Still, the region is amazingly stunning and a place to have wondrous cultural and natural experiences. Be careful of the high altitudes in some parts.
5) The Wakhan Corridor, Afghanistan
The fascinating country of Afghanistan is a history buff’s paradise, with previous empires, such as the Mughals, making vast contributions the the country’s wondrous architecture. Unfortunately, recent history has seen the country steeped in conflict, with few areas remaining safe for tourists. Luckily for us, The Wakhan Corridor is one of those few: a high altitude strip of Afghan territory home to Kyrgyz nomads isolated from the world.
I am yet to visit this territory, but hope to do so in the future. You can visit the Wakhan Corridor safely by entering the country from Tajikistan, getting an Afghan visa within a day at the consulate in Khorog, near the Afghan border. While this area is currently safe, and has never had a Taliban presence, the situation in Afghanistan is unpredictable, and thus up-to-date research is necessary before travelling. Be sure to bring a First Aid kit, as the region is VERY remote, and health care is lacking. Also, altitudes are high, so make sure you slowly acclimatise.