World Travelers Explore Frontier Tourism And Newly-Discovered Places (#GotBitcoin?)
These places have all the visual splendor and historic appeal of the world’s most famous monuments. World Travelers Explore Frontier Tourism And Newly-Discovered Places. World Travelers Explore Frontier Tourism And Newly-Discovered Places (#GotBitcoin?)
Forget Machu Picchu: Eight Newly Accessible Wonders of the World:
1. The African Country of Gabon
2. The Remains of a Royal Empire in India
3. The Onetime Mayan Capital in Guatemala
4. Sprawling Roman Mansions in Portugal
5. Pyramids on Steroids in Sudan
6. An Ancient Capital in Morocco
7. The Lost City of Colombia
8. A Lion-Shaped Fortress in Sri Lanka
But few tourists have been able to see them—until now.
If visiting the world’s most ancient temples and monuments—Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu, Chichen Itza, Petra—inspires your inner Indiana Jones, just imagine what it would be like to explore world wonders few people have ever even heard of yet.
Some of the world’s most staggering historical sites—places that have long existed as local secrets—have recently been made accessible thanks to a slew of intrepid tour operators, hoteliers, or infrastructure developments. In the coming years, these places will find their way onto hordes of global travelers’ bucket lists, but for now they are still relatively under the radar.
There are the dramatic, thousand-year-old temple complexes in India that are immaculately preserved but were hard to visit in style—until the area’s first luxury hotel opened.
There is a jungle-shrouded archaeological site in Colombia that predates Machu Picchu by 650 years, and a spectacular sacred city in Sri Lanka that’s until now been off limits because of underdeveloped infrastructure and political turmoil. And that’s only a drop in the bucket.
“A willingness to move a little off the beaten path often provides great rewards,” said Lisa Ackerman, executive vice president of World Monuments Fund, who says that the joy of discovery and lack of crowds makes these under-explored sites especially exciting for visitors.
But the benefits of visiting these places go far beyond that.
Spreading visitation among more sites, she says, is an important key to tourism management everywhere—as proven by the fact that over-visitation to Machu Picchu continually threatens to shut the site down for tourists for good. (It’s not just Peru, either; the overtourism phenomenon is playing out across the globe.) And by creating a viable tourism economy around newly discovered sites, travelers motivate locals to take pride in their heritage and invest in its preservation.
With that in mind, we’ve assembled a list of the newly accessible wonders of the world, along with the practical information you need to get there first.
A Gabonese gambit is at the leading edge of a trend attracting a growing list of African economies: frontier-tourism products in places that visitors often more-closely associate with conflict or instability.
Gabon—For the past decade, an energetic conservationist has been building the foundations for a tourism industry in Gabon, where rare forest elephants stroll down the beach, hippopotamuses surf in the ocean waves and blue-faced mandrills march by the thousands through the jungle.
The challenges for Gabon’s national parks authority and its head, Lee White, include transporting clients to remote camps in a country with little infrastructure, recruiting pygmy trackers from deep within the jungle and training anti-poaching units who have to battle armed hunters and illegal gold miners in one of the world’s most pristine stretches of wilderness.
Over the past decade, with the support of government and overseas philanthropists, Mr. White has transformed Gabon’s parks authority from a group with just 100 staff with a budget of $500,000 to a $30 million operation with 800 employees, 175 cars, 35 boats and a number of aircraft, including a helicopter. Tourists have begun to arrive, with visitors up by a third this year through July compared with the average over the same period in 2017 at the country’s most-popular national park for international tourists.
Mr. White’s Gabonese gambit is at the leading edge of a trend attracting a growing list of African economies: frontier-tourism products in places that visitors often more-closely associate with conflict or instability.
In recent years, a small but swelling segment of the tourism market has been drawn to places like Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park, which was recently closed after two British tourists were kidnapped and their ranger killed, and war-torn Central African Republic. Tour operator Thomas Cook Group PLC recently sent a delegation to Sierra Leone, which has struggled with civil war and more recently an Ebola epidemic, to discuss offering package tours.
“There is a trend recently of interest in ‘unexplored’ places,” said André Rodrigues Aquino, a senior natural-resources management specialist at the World Bank, who advises African governments on their tourism sector. “It’s very linked to nature, places that have pristine unspoiled nature.”
The numbers are small compared with sub-Saharan Africa’s broader tourism market of $43.7 billion in 2017, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. But countries with the strongest growth in international arrivals in 2016 compared with a year earlier were Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Eritrea and Togo, according to the African Development Bank.
“A lot of people who have traveled previously, particularly in Africa, are looking for different experiences in different places,” said Peter Fearnhead, chief executive of African Parks, a nongovernmental organization that manages 15 national parks in partnership with governments across Africa. “The fact that [these places are] so edgy, we’re finding that there’s an increasing interest.”
The niche but expanding market for frontier tourism in fractious security environments has governments and companies seeking to balance revenue potential against the investments and know-how needed to ensure safety.
Oil-rich Gabon, a sparsely-populated country the size of Colorado on Africa’s Atlantic seaboard, has one of the highest per-capita incomes in sub-Saharan Africa and is one of the more stable countries in the continent’s central region. But when Mr. White took the reins of the country’s newly created national-parks agency in 2009, the vast nature reserves that cover about 20% of the country existed essentially only on paper.
“The first priority when I was appointed was to manage the parks and when necessary, defend them,” Mr. White said. He created anti-poaching units and armed rapid-response teams to push, with much success, ivory poachers out of the parks.
There are exceptions. Parks officers have had two gun battles with illegal gold miners in a park called Birougou in the past six months, Mr. White said.
At Zakouma, a national park in the desert nation of Chad, poachers had massacred about 90% of the park’s elephants by the time African Parks took over its management in 2010. Since then, the group has transformed the region into a haven for one of Africa’s largest single herds, now about 560 elephants strong. By establishing flights to link the park with Chad’s capital city—and joining with a group of private guides as part of the marketing strategy—the park’s revenue is expected to be just under a $1 million this year, up from about $50,000 in 2015.
The mobile-tented safari experience that African Parks offers is booked about 18 months in advance, but it takes a maximum of just eight guests at a time and is limited to the dry season.
“It’s not a sustainable solution for the park,” said Stuart Slabbert, head of conservation-led economic development for African Parks.
Experts say national parks across the continent will struggle to expand their tourism revenue without a cooperative and supportive government.
In Gabon, Mr. White’s plans have been aided by his close relationship with current President Ali Bongo Ondimba, established while his father, Omar Bongo Ondimba, was still in power. Though Gabon is theoretically a democracy, the elder Mr. Bongo ruled for 42 years and the current president, who took over when he died in 2009, won close, tense elections in 2016 marred by accusations of fraud that ignited countrywide rioting.
This year, Mr. White began actively marketing safari-type trips to the parks for the first time. Possible sightings include sea turtles hatching on the country’s beaches, humpback whales breaching in the surf and Western lowland gorillas lazing while their babies climb and swing around trees: a literal jungle gym.
“It’s not savanna tourism. You have to work to see this stuff,“ said Michael Nichols, a photographer who took a picture of Gabon’s surfing hippos that Time magazine calls one of the 100 most influential images of all time. “That doesn’t preclude that it’s frigging unbelievable. It could be like the Amazon.”
The Remains of a Royal Empire in India
It wasn’t long ago that visiting the 14th-century ruins of the Vijayanagar Empire in Hampi, India, meant taking an overnight train from Bangalore and sleeping in a three-star inn. (The lost city is situated in central Karnataka, placing it almost midway between that southern Indian tech hub and the beach town of Goa.) But in the past two years, a handful of independently owned, small-scale resorts have opened, crowned by the recent arrival of Kamlapura Palace.
The five-star hotel is the area’s first, with 46 rooms that offer a modern-day reimagining of the area’s historic remains; local expert Victoria Dyer, of India Beat, calls it a game-changer for her high-end travelers. Getting there is easier, too, with plenty of infrastructure investment going for road improvements throughout the state.
As for the monuments themselves, expect 265 square kilometers of terrain to explore, speckled with mysterious-looking boulders. The Hindu temple of Virupaksha, dedicated to Shiva, is said to be one of the oldest structures in the empire (and possible in the country), dating to the 7th century, while exquisitely preserved sites such as the Sule Bazaar, the Queen’s Bath, and the elephant stables offer a remarkable glimpse into old Indian life.
The Onetime Mayan Capital in Guatemala
Ashish Sanghrajka, president of Big Five Tours & Expeditions, says that El Mirador is five times the size of Tikal, the ruins that bring hundreds of thousands of visitors to Guatemala each year. But given that they’re still being unearthed by a team of archaeologists, it’s hard to know exactly how large and how important they really are.
For now, the answer to both is “very”—the head scientist on site has said that unearthing it has been like “finding Pompeii.” After all, this is believed to be a onetime capital of the Mayas, and it is one of the backdrops for Morgan Freeman’s TV series, The Story of God.
So why has nobody else caught on? For one thing, getting there has typically required a dangerous, five-day trek—but Sanghrajka is sidestepping that by taking his first travelers to the region by helicopter.
The chopper lands in a tiny village nearby, where guests can engage with locals who have rarely encountered foreigners; then they saddle up atop donkeys for a three-hour trip through a still-active dig site. (Sanghrajka says the archaeologists are even open to some hands-on help, since visitation is so rare.) “It’ll probably be another 10 years before they have the place fully cleaned up,” he said. “But seeing a place like this totally untouched is something incredible.”
Sprawling Roman Mansions In Portugal
They were created in the 2nd century BCE, renovated under the reign of Emperor Augustus, and then buried under hundreds of years of debris—but now, 100 years after their rediscovery, the Roman ruins of Conímbriga are ready for the 21st century spotlight. With tourism to Portugal hitting an all-time high, overlooked sites such as Conímbriga are gaining awareness—along with nicer places to stay nearby. Virginia Irurita, founder and co-owner of Made for Spain & Portugal, books her guests into Hotel Quinta das Lágrimas, a recently renovated member of Small Luxury Hotels of the World in the neighboring town of Coimbra. “Not only is it a beautiful city,” she said, “it’s also the homeland of fado singing [a melancholic, local style of music], which is a must-see in Portugal.” She’ll also arrange personal guides to bring the lavish Roman mansions back to life again—showing off everything from thermal baths to colorful mosaic décor and gardens with hundreds of historic, hydraulic-powered water jets. (Yes, really.)
Pyramids On Steroids In Sudan
Sudan has twice as many pyramids as Egypt—and yet many people couldn’t point to the vast nation on a world map. (It’s just a short ride down the Nile from Luxor and Aswan.) Tourism infrastructure here is still in its infancy because of a prolonged civil conflict that led South Sudan to split off in 2011, but it’s become an object of fascination practically overnight for luxury outfits such as the Explorations Company. Owner and director Nicola Shepherd is now coordinating privately guided, six-day trips that include visits to the pyramids of Meroe along with the temple ruins at Soleb, an Egyptian monument to the god Amon that’s decked out in hieroglyphics.
Overnights are at high-end tented camps and polished local guesthouses. A bonus, Shepherd says, is an easy airlift to Nairobi for combo trips that tack on a beautiful Kenyan safari. But the real draw is having world-class desert ruins all to yourself, with barely even a security guard in sight.
An Ancient Capital In Morocco
Volubilis, the capital of the Mauritanian empire, couldn’t have been built in a prettier place—in the Moroccan mountains near Meknes. Yet it’s on hardly any itineraries. Now that’s starting to change, as such operators as Intrepid Travel are adding it to more tried-and-true stops such as Marrakesh and Chefchaouen. Even in a country that’s steadfastly held onto tradition, Volubilis feels like a true time machine. Its impressively ornamented ruins, which date to the 3rd century BCE, bore 10 centuries of occupation, with Romans, Christians, Muslims, and Berbers all leaving their mark.
This 1,000-year-old ruin in the Colombian Sierra Nevada is 650 years older than Machu Picchu and has perhaps even more mysterious appeal. Built by the Tayrona people atop a mountain pass that’s dotted with palm trees, it was believed to have claimed as many as 10,000 residents in its heyday—but the surrounding jungle swallowed it up until the early 1970s, after a group of bird hunters turned tomb-raiders dug into the earth and found heaps of golden artifacts. At least that’s how the locals tell the story. Adventurous hikers can traverse a five-day equivalent to the Inca Trail to arrive as the dramatic terraces of La Ciudad Perdida (literally, the Lost City). But now, luxury Colombia tour outfit Galavanta choppers guests in and out from their namesake lodge in the nearby mountains. They’ll also arrange cultural exchange experiences with the indigenous Kogui communities, which are said to have descended from the monuments’ creators.
A Lion-Shaped Fortress In Sri Lanka
When King Kassapa ruled over Ceylon in the late 400s, he decided to place his capital atop a 600-foot-high granite boulder smack in the center of modern-day Sri Lanka—a country that’s slowly been reborn to tourists after a prolonged civil war ended in 2009. The whole thing doubled as a massive piece of sculpture: Not only did workers carve stone staircases leading all the way to the top; they also added brick and plaster work to create the illusion of a gigantic lion emerging from the forest. The first two flights of stairs are straddled by enormous, clawed paws; another flight emerges from the lion’s mouth. At the summit, visitors can explore what’s left of Kassapa’s palace, gardens, fountains, and ponds—but the climb is half the fun. Then you can retreat to your own sumptuous digs, at the soon-to-open Pekoe House, in nearby Kandy.
Interesting Books To Read:
David Childress: Author “Technology of the Gods“
Graham Hancock: Author: Fingerprints of the Gods
Jorge Luis Delgado, Author
Jason Martell: Author “Knowledge Apocalypse“
David Wilcox: Film Maker
Giorgio A. Tsoukalos: Publisher: Legendary Times Magazine
Philip Coppens: Author Investigative Journalist
Robert Bauval: The Egypt Code
Dr. Uwe Apel: Aerospace Engineer
Bill Burns, PHD. Author/UFO Investigator
Robert H. Frisbee PH.D (Propulsion Systems Engineer) Nasa-JPL, Ret.
Dr. Algund Eenboom, C0-Author “Aircraft of the Pharoahs“
Local Architectural Phenomenon
Coral Castle is a stone structure created by the Latvian American eccentric Edward Leedskalnin north of the city of Homestead, Florida in Miami-Dade County at the intersection of South Dixie Highway and SW 157th Avenue.
Address: 28655 S Dixie Hwy, Miami, FL 33033
Hours: Sunday 8:00 am – 6:00 pm
Phone: (305) 248-6345
Urban Safaris: An Online Guide to Africa’s Coolest City Attractions
Vacationers to Africa usually skip the cities. This new website proposes reasons to stick around Casablanca, Nairobi and 24 other places tourists miss out on.
A SIMPLE Google search turns up a plethora of online resources for travelers seeking African safari camps. But you usually had to rely on word-of-mouth recommendations when heading, pre- or post-safari, to the continent’s larger cities—from the Namibian capital of Windhoek to Tanzania’s Dar es Salaam. Until now, that is: On African City Guide, a new online platform, you can find a range of curated options for chic hotels, standout restaurants and unique boutiques.
How Sly Travelers Cut Their Airfares In Half
Tracking new routes and flights is one of the last old-school tricks to lower ticket prices that still works; plenty of deals to Hawaii in 2020.
Want to save some money on airfares? Find an airline looking to elbow in on a rival’s turf.
And watch for an unprecedented bonanza of new, cheaper options in 2020.
Airlines announce new service six to nine months before actually starting flights. As with any business, it can take time to build customer traffic. When a new flight comes online, carriers must fill thousands of empty seats. Competitors often already have direct flights on that route.
Southwest Airlines announced nonstop flights between San Diego and Maui starting April 14. Hawaiian and Alaska airlines already fly that route nonstop. But two weeks before Southwest’s flight launches, the lowest round-trip fare available for a four-day trip was $818 in a recent spot-check. Two weeks after the new flights start, the lowest round-trip fare for a four-day trip was only $303, a 63% decline.
“The easiest way to stimulate demand is with price,” says Rick Seaney, chief executive of travel-data firm 3Victors.
Airlines have gotten so good at forecasting demand that carriers often avoid the flashy sales of the past to stimulate bookings. But new routes are an area that can still see major, unexpected price changes.
Booking app Hopper scoured its database of 50 trillion itineraries. It found that the average price reduction after a low-fare carrier came into a market was 17% between late 2017 and early 2019. On average, year-over-year demand increased by 30%—low fares get people flying.
Savvy travelers have long known to look for announcements of new service to find cheap places to go, and to pounce on cheaper tickets if they know they’ll fly a certain route and hear of new service. It typically requires a lot of planning—you may be booking six months before departure.
A check of airline schedules by 3Victors found that American, Alaska, Delta, Frontier, United and Southwest combined had more than 60 routes they flew regularly in the first half of this year that they didn’t fly in the first half of 2018.
But the strategy is likely to pay extra dividends next year, when the Boeing 737 MAX gets cleared to fly again, and the new flights won’t be a six- or nine-month wait. Boeing has built and parked hundreds of jets that will get delivered to airlines once the grounding is lifted. New service announcements will drop rapid-fire once the MAX is cleared.
That likely won’t come before March, as regulators work to certify the plane is safe with Boeing’s proposed fixes. And it will take months to get the hundreds of mothballed planes airworthy and worked into airline schedules.
But it will be a new-route jackpot that travelers have never really seen before. Southwest, for example, will be adding more than 75 airplanes to its schedule. That’s like adding another small airline to U.S. competition. And you won’t have to fly a MAX to get cheap tickets, in case you’re apprehensive about trusting a plane that has had two fatal crashes and been grounded for nearly nine months. As those planes come into service, tickets on existing flights on those routes likely will drop.
“It’s going to be really concentrated in certain airlines and certain markets, and that’s where you’ll end with the biggest impact,” says Patrick Surry, chief data scientist at Hopper.
How to find all those bargains? Check the news section of airline websites for announcements, or set up price alerts for particular markets that you are interested in through booking sites like Hopper or Kayak.
I looked at 20 different routes where airlines have recently announced service changes—two where flights were being discontinued and 18 where new service was announced. Once new flights are announced, airlines being selling tickets for them.
Discounter Norwegian announced nonstop service three days a week beginning May 6 between Paris and Austin, Texas. Two weeks before those flights begin, American’s cheapest price for a round trip from Austin to Paris with a connection was $831 when I did the price-checking Nov. 9. For a trip starting two weeks after the new flights begin, you could buy the Norwegian nonstop for $569 round trip.
Spirit announced daily service from Philadelphia to Cancún beginning March 1. The fare two weeks before: $542. And two weeks after: $442.
It doesn’t always work. Of those 20 routes, 15 saw lower fares with more flights and higher fares when flights were pulled. In some markets, incumbents seem to ignore entrants like lesser-known carrier Sun Country and stick with similar pricing.
Sun Country announced flights on Mondays and Fridays between Dallas-Fort Worth and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, starting June 5. Two weeks before, American’s flight for a four-day round trip was $785. Two weeks after, departing June 19 for that four-day trip, Sun Country’s price was $511 round trip, and American’s was $785.
Hopper’s Mr. Surry says prices typically do come down, but big airlines won’t match the price dollar-for-dollar. “Prices might drop 40% to 50%, but the major airlines only drop 15%,” he says.
My small survey found additional flights made only a small change if a discounter wasn’t involved. American Airlines is adding a second daily flight between Dallas-Fort Worth and Rome beginning July 2, for example. The two-week before-and-after test found fares only 9% lower after the second flight starts.
Mr. Surry says the deals depend not so much on the new entrant as on the incumbents. If there’s already heavy competition on a route, the price impact is smaller. One example: Spirit started flying between Nashville and Fort Lauderdale, but Southwest and JetBlue already fly that route. Prices didn’t change.
But when Spirit began flying between Austin, Texas, and Detroit, a route where Delta has a monopoly, fares dropped 30% with new competition.
Southwest’s push into Hawaii is affecting prices on many routes. Southwest flights between San Diego and Honolulu start April 20. Two weeks before, a round-trip ticket on Hawaiian Airlines was priced recently at $733. Take that same trip two weeks after Southwest starts flying that route nonstop and the fare was $307, a 58% decline.
On the downside for travelers, after Alaska announced it would end nonstop flights In March between San Francisco and Kona, Hawaii, fares on United more than doubled. They jumped from $328 round trip to $748.
Based on recommendations from locals and frequent visitors, the site is still evolving, but it offers enough tidbits about 27 cities to help you escape the drab airport hotels and venture confidently around town, touring sculptures at an artist’s home in Dakar, Senegal, or shopping for fabrics at a market in Kigali, Rwanda.
Adventure Vacations For Overachievers
For the most intrepid tourists, creative companies are devising strenuous mind-body challenges—with a little make-believe mixed in.
IT’S BEEN 22 YEARS since Jon Krakauer’s account of conquering Mt. Everest, “Into Thin Air,” first introduced many travelers to the exhilarating highs and life-threatening lows of extreme travel. That thirst for the ultimate trek has not abated—last year, deadly human traffic jams on Everest prompted Nepali officials to institute new safety rules. But lately intrepid thrill-seekers and travel experts are seeking out daunting trips that satisfy that desire both safely and more originally.
Think: lone-wolf expeditions in remote turf (Guyana, Alaska, the Arctic Circle), or a “Survivor”-like sojourn in Cambodia with a group of friends. Such gambits include a few days of training that help extreme travelers hone basic survival skills and prepare for the mind-body challenges they’ll face on the ground. Some of these “vacations” involve alternate-reality scenarios resembling “Call of Duty” sequences and involving weapons (e.g. laser tag or paintball guns); pumped-up participants might land in a make-believe Russian prison that feels scarily real.
‘The itinerary reads like a James Bond movie script.’
“People who do these trips have active lifestyles and are outdoorsy, and they want to do more,” said Geordie Mackay-Lewis, co-founder of Pelorus, a travel company based in London. “They’ve been in extreme environments and experienced cultures around the world. They want whatever is ‘more,’ and we scale the experience up or soften it down, depending on what’s desired.”
In one instance, the company commandeered a two-night, three-day survival exercise in Cambodia for a group of eight close-knit male friends, ages 42 to 47, some more physically fit than others. “We broke them into teams,” said Mr. Mackay-Lewis, “dropped them into the jungle, where they had to rely on each other’s strengths and recognize each other’s weaknesses to get to the next stage and the next meal, or navigate across slippery mud paths to the extraction point in time for the pickup.” Teams thought they were alone in the wilderness, but the company employed local trackers to follow the groups and ensure their safety when facing each surprising challenge the teams were given along the way.
The short but grueling trek strengthened bonds between the unsuspecting friends, even when they experienced nasty tasks—like learning how to kill and skin a chicken for dinner, or lighting a fire in a soul-crushing downpour. “It’s a real mental game to get a simple thing right, like starting a fire,” said Mr. Mackay-Lewis. The final, satisfying reward? Knowing they nailed it as they were ushered into a luxury hotel in Siem Reap on the last day.
Figuring out exactly what a client wants involves interviews with each player, a process that helps the company make up a “brief” used to plot a scenario that is challenging but safe for all, said Mr. Mackay-Lewis. The process ensures a certain customization of the experience, according to Oliver Wilson, 34, who commissioned Pelorus to do an extreme group expedition.
“They asked all my friends who were going a lot of probing questions,” said Mr. Wilson, who works in finance in London. The five-day itinerary reads like a James Bond movie script, minus the tuxedos (but not the Martinis). After a cultural tour of Jerusalem, the group was helicoptered to the Negev Desert, where they were split into three teams. Each team was given a compass and map to navigate on their own through rocky terrain and ideally arrive (inevitably dirty, dusty and exhausted) at a fancy encampment for dinner and drinking. The next day obliged them to cross an international border into Jordan, then rock-climb or camel-trek their way into the otherworldly landscape of Wadi Rum. The experience wound down with a tour of the lost city of Petra before all three teams headed back to Tel Aviv.
Not every trekker wants the fancy luxury component. Some curated expeditions are about unrelievedly roughing it, part mental detox, part “I swear I can do this” test. “Something in the human psyche wants to go beyond very tame and very lame and prompts people to go into the proper wild to test themselves,” said Ian Craddock, founder of the UK-based Bushmasters, a company that rewards the men and women who make it through their programs with a beer and fried chicken at the end. Bushmasters’s two-week-long vacations in Guyana train travelers in basic survival skills (fire building, shelter construction, fishing) and equip them with a jungle kit (machete, first-aid tools, hammock, water bottle, emergency radio) for existing in total isolation for days. Not included: grub (not even actual grubs); participants must summon up their hunter-gatherer skills to forage or fish for their daily fare. This Outward Bound-like trial has a fail-safe: Terrified travelers, or anyone with a medical emergency, can radio in for help. Of those wanting to return, most were men, said Mr. Craddock. “Women [tend to] prepare themselves that it’s not going to be easy—that’s part of the fun and the challenge—whereas men go in thinking they can just tough it out.”
For both genders and all ages, extreme travel holds attractions beyond its value as a litmus test of one’s survival instincts. It can also satisfy a sincere desire to transcend the travel-guide version of a culture or country and experience it in a uniquely personal way. Jonny Bealby, founder of London-based Wild Frontiers, which specializes in remote adventures everywhere from Antarctica to Africa, sees the demographics as all-inclusive: “It’s a real mix; we have grandmothers and millennials, both eager to see a country behind the headlines.”
“Everyone’s Everest is different,” said Rob Murray-John, head of operations for the Epic Tomato expedition division of tour operator Black Tomato, referring to a trip in western Mongolia involving a family with three college-age kids setting up camp and building fires for warmth in the nomadic wilderness. “Learning to survive on your own is an earned experience.”
Though the “risks” seem real, these extreme expeditions unfold in a controlled environment, insists Timofey Yuriev, founder of the New York-based Covert Venture Joint Task Force (CVJTF). Mr. Yuriev’s company collaborates with former intelligence experts on simulated militarylike expeditions that give participants elite-style training as well as tactical driving and survival skills.
One of CVJTF’s “Black Op Immersions” involves five days of training as a make-believe undercover agent recruiting spies, collecting intel, seizing evidence, and evacuating officials to safety, all in “real world conditions,” said Mr. Yuriev. “We always introduce elements of surprise,” he added, where the planned scenario goes awry and participants have to figure out how to escape from the mock prison cell or evacuate a doctor being held by terrorists (all parts played by actors). “But everybody knows it’s a game,” he said. Still, the results feel real as travelers come away with the lasting memory of how they reacted in dire conditions. That sobering souvenir is theirs to take home.
Bragging Rights Guaranteed
From relatively cushy to edge-of-your-seat scary, these seven adventure vacations hold the promise of a memorable time.
For Ambivalent Adventurers
For those who see cocktails on an ice field as enough of a challenge, tour operator Nordic Star serves up bubbly on Iceland’s Langjökull Glacier. The company also organizes snowmobile excursions and hikes through ice caves (nordicstar.dk). If bone-chilling weather isn’t your thing, why not swim with humpback whales in Tonga, suggests Lindsey Wallace, CEO of Linara Travel, based in North Carolina. Or build a visit to Dubai around the chance to glide down the world’s longest zip line (actually, seven separate zip lines): That lightning-speed tour through the Jebel Jais mountains will rock your world for two hours flat. linaratravel.com
For Robinson Crusoe Types
When a California mom contacted travel company Pelorus about creating a “Blue Planet” experience for her 10-year-old son, staffers organized a 10-day trip to the remote Solomon Islands, in Oceania, east of Papua New Guinea. Once there, the mother and son worked with a local conservation group to tag manatees and manta rays while learning to fish and forage from the locals, and getting to know them and their culture more than most visitors do. After honing those basic survival chops, the two were purposefully marooned together on a nearby deserted island, a chance to use their new expertise. “It was never meant to be an extreme adventure and became more of a bonding experience,” said Pelorus’s Mr. Mackay-Lewis. From $42,000, pelorusx.com
For Outward Bound Novices
Those signing up for the nitty-gritty Bushmasters’ Jungle Survival course often come on their own, said Mr. Craddock, the better to tough it out solo in the Macushi Amerindian village in Guyana. “We concentrate on things that work, not that look fancy,” he added, so inductees should steel themselves to cope with eating whatever they can forage and find, wielding a bow and arrow while stalking wild game, making mosquito repellent, building a shelter from forest flotsam, and enduring the stone-cold silence of being totally alone in the wild (though camouflaged staffers, including a former British Special Forces instructor, keep tabs on participants). From $2,600, bushmasters.co.uk/jungle-survival
For Remote Trekkers
An extreme vacation can also mean one that takes you far, far away, riding, flying, boating or walking to multiple destinations that plunge you deeper into the cultures and lands you’re visiting. Wild Frontiers’ 21-day Karakoram Adventure, for example, transports travelers from Kashgar to Kashmir, starting in China, maneuvering through Pakistan and ending in India. Along the way, travelers follow a “Trains, Planes and Automobiles”-like plan, switching from minibus to jeeps, then on Day 10, walking a few hours through the Himalayas’ Fairy Meadow to stay in log cabins for three nights. The London-based travel operator rates each of its treks by categories: adventure, comfort, fitness and culture, allowing you to gauge what works for you. From $6,332, wildfrontierstravel.com
For Call-Of-Duty Nerds
The “White Biohazard” scenario in Alaska, devised by Covert Venture Joint Task Force (CVJTF), lays out your spine-tingling itinerary: “Deep in Denali National Park, a military transport plane crashed carrying a stash of secret biological weapons; your mission is to retrieve the weapons and neutralize any exposure.” Guided by experts in arctic terrain, the one- to two-week trek involves problem-solving, sniper training, learning skills from the indigenous Inupiaq, landing on a glacial fjord, reconnaissance with dog sleds and a dip in hot springs. Like a videogame, it’s “interactive,” said Timofey Yuriev, so you determine the level of difficulty with the group. CVJTF plans to introduce a similar gamelike itinerary in the Canadian Arctic in 2021. From $25,000, covertventure.com. Meanwhile, tour operator Arctic Kingdom offers nature-focused trips in the region that are not at all covert. arctickingdom.com
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