These are the world’s most unusual holiday destinations!
Normality can be slightly underwhelming at times. When it comes to holiday destinations, it’s much more exciting to take the risk of plunging into the abnormal, leaving the standard, usual places behind you in a storm of dust, bad roads and unplanned adventures as you forge a new path on the road less travelled.
Holidays shouldn’t have to confine you to all inclusive beach resorts, or the over visited and touristic land marks of a nation’s capital. The world has many more intriguing, and exciting places to explore.
From the volcanic exclusion zone on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, to the dark killing fields of Cambodia, top travel bloggers from around the world bring you the strange, the bewildering, the dark and the adventurous destinations that they love to visit!
Leave the beach towel at home, you won’t need it where we’re going!
These are the world’s most unusual holiday destinations!
Into the Exclusion Zone of Montserrat, Caribbean
Buried by a blast of volcanic ash, time stands still in this modern-day Pompeii.
As my feet brushed aside a mound of ash, rock and dust, I peered through the broken window of a building that was once a luxury hotel. Abandoned, most of its guest rooms submerged under volcanic debris, just the upper stories of the once-proud building were still visible. This is the Exclusion Zone, an area of destruction deemed unsafe for people, located on the Caribbean island of Montserrat.
The Soufriere Hills volcano, a complex stratosphere volcano, erupted on July 18, 1995 with a pyroclastic blast of gas, ash and lava rock that buried the southern two-thirds of the island of Montserrat, including Plymouth, the former capital city. Now, thanks to a period of relative stability and close monitoring by the Montserrat Volcano Observatory (MVO), visitors are being allowed to tour the Exclusion Zone subject to strict guidelines that include police permission, radio contact and certified guides.
With the smell of sulphur fumes in the air, eerie windows gaping open and boulders the size of small VW’s littering the landscape, the former capital city of Plymouth appears like a scene from a post-apocalyptic movie. Lookout points such as Jack Point Hill offer prime vantage points for witnessing the eruption’s brute impact, a cataclysmic transformation from lush landscape to barren 20-foot thick layers of stone.
The sight of personal belongings, garden furniture, toys and the other reminders of people’s hopes, dreams and everyday lives left behind is a somber experience. Yet, a visit to Montserrat is also an uplifting experience. The capital has been relocated, a new airport built, businesses are being opened and former residents are returning – all testament to the resilience of the local people.
Michele Peterson is the founder of A Taste for Travel, a culinary travel blog showcasing the world’s most amazing food, drink and sun destinations. Learn more about Montserrat and other Caribbean islands in the post Montserrat: A Photo Tribute to Sir George Martin, producer of The Beatles.
Turkmenistan and the Gates of Hell
Off-the-beaten track doesn’t even cover Turkmenistan, it’s simply a forgotten country that has secretly flourished due to it’s oil and natural gas reserves. Dubbed the Dubai of Central Asia, Ashgabat is a capital city that is lined with pristine clean streets, huge hotels but very few guests.
For your typical tourist who’s never heard of this place, all they’ll probably imagine that’s here is desert and camels. However for the thrifty traveller you’ll discover the incredible ancient Silk Road and wonderful natural beauty of the Karakum desert.
The most famous site you’ll see of Turkmenistan is most likely to be of the Darvaza (sometimes called Deweze) gas crater a.k.a the Door to Hell. It’s a natural gas field, although originally in the 1970’s Soviet engineers believed there was oil underneath this part of the desert and began drilling.
When their rig collapsed and a crater appeared, the poisonous/odourless gases started pouring out killing local livestock and farmers so they had no choice but to set fire to it. Thinking it would only be for a number of months it’s shocking to think that after 40 years it’s still burning and showing no signs of dying out. The best part about visiting Darvaza for me was getting to sleep in a tent next to the gas crater under the stars with not another tourist in sight (well except my fellow tour buddies)!
Matt is obsessed with travelling, exploring new cultures and simply living life to the fullest! Having been to some incredibly dangerous countries including Syria, Iraq, Egypt (during the uprising) and Ukraine (during 2014 riots), Matt can safely claim to be an adventure junkie! He often finds the media can sometimes throw things out of all proportion, and at www.travelgeekuk.com he aims to show people there are some amazing and undiscovered destinations still out there.
The Dark Past of Cambodia
Ok, most people don’t go on “vacation” to visit morbid sights and hear about a country’s troubled past. However, to really experience Cambodia and understand where it’s at today, you have to understand its past.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (the former S-21 prison) and Choeung Ek Genocidal Center (The Killing Fields) are the most commercialized sights documenting the horrors which killed more people than currently reside in Manhattan. Both are located around the capital of Phnom Penh and can be visited in a half day, but talking to people that experienced the horrors of the Khmer Rouge can be just as profound as seeing the skulls at Choeung Ek or pictures of pre-teen victims at Tuol Sleng.
Battambang Province has the Killing Caves of Phnom Sampeau, which are a less commercialized version of the Killing Fields. Few tourists venture there and you have to take a motorbike up the mountain to get there. Corpses were thrown down a hole and if you go there today, there’s a memorial filled with human skulls and bones.
While the horrors of the Khmer Rouge are not as well documented in Battambang as in Phnom Penh, you will see more interesting cuisine on offer in Battambang. Roadside snacks include grilled frog, live duck embryo, grilled rat, grilled snake and various insects. The one thing that is kept hidden from most tourists is “VIP meat,” which is dog. Most locals are open about eating it themselves, or at least knowing someone who does. Many people tend to go to “VIP meat” establishments after a night of drinking.
Although it’s been 36 years since the Vietnamese overthrew the Khmer Rouge, everyone you meet in Cambodia will have been affected by what happened from 1975-1979. Before you judge the people for eating dog and snake, it’s important to remember that most tourists visiting Cambodia have never faced starvation or witnessed the execution of even one family member, let alone both parents and all siblings.
In the Wilds of Kyrgyzstan
When I found out I was going to live in Kyrgyzstan, my first response was “Where?” A quick Google search and five flights later, I found myself in Kyrgyzstan, a small landlocked post-Soviet nation, nestled in Central Asia, a region I had never even considered.
Boasting the world’s largest walnut forest, the world’s second largest saline lake, and countless high elevation summer pastures, Kyrgyzstan is a wonderland for the outdoor wanderer. Whether by bicycle, horseback, yak-back or your own two feet, ascending to the mountains and lakes of this little visited nation will have your memory card and your heart full.
You can sleep in nomadic yurts, after tasting a sample of the Kyrgyz national drink kumuz, fermented mare’s milk prepared in the body of a smoked goat. Peak Lenin is considered to be one of the world’s easiest summits over 7,000m, and is located in the famous Pamir mountain range. If you’re lucky, catch a horse games tournament, featuring kok buru, a nomadic game wherein hundreds of men on horseback play an ancient version of polo, but with a dead goat as the ball and the prize.
Kyrgyz hospitality is uneasily matched, and a traveller need not work hard to be invited to ‘guest’ at a neighbour’s home. Guestings will see you at a long table full of sheep meat, potatoes, and candy. Go early and catch the sheep being slaughtered in the backyard, and always have a ‘toast’ of your own prepared (my standby was singing the Titanic theme song). Be prepared to drink vodka and to leave with a very full belly!
The entire country of Kyrgyzstan is off the beaten path, perfect for travellers with an adventurous spirit, an open mind, and a strong stomach.
Emily Kydd from See Her Travel blog spent 18 months volunteering in Kyrgyzstan. Emily hails from British Columbia, Canada and loves to explore every part of this beautiful world.
For more info and blogs from Kyrgyzstan, then check out Emily’s Kyrgyzstan page at SeeHerTravel.com
The Dark Spider Cave of Spain: Cueva de Las Escalericas
Hidden in the barren mountainside of La Cruz de la Muela, located near Orihuela in a place called Montepinar, is a dark cave that runs further than 50 metres underground. The entrance requires a short scramble, effectively cutting you off from the outside world except for a single ray of sunshine – a light that is quickly diminished as you enter further into the narrowing tunnel.
Flashlights are a must when exploring this cave, not only to watch where you step amongst the fallen debris, but so you can also keep an eye out for any more human remains. Evidence of past lives have already been found here through a number of bones and teeth, but don’t fret for it’s not the recent home of a serial killer – well, not the known home of one anyway.
Rather, this cave was used as a burial chamber back in the Neolithic era and as a homebase further back in history. All of the bones, teeth, arrowheads, and other artefacts can now be found at the Museum of Orihuela. The souls of the dead, on the otherhand…that’s left up to debate.
Just don’t shine your light at the dark crevices of the walls and ceiling. What’s in them isn’t for the faint hearted. You have been warned.
After having her place trashed by a gang due to her drug-dealing roommate’s client sleeping on the couch, Mri Grout got fed up with the ‘real world’ and left to live with the homeless men of Australia. You can read all about her crazy adventures and hard-learned advice at lifelongvagabonds.com Or just follow her on www.facebook.com/lifelongvagabond/ or www.instagram.com/lifelongvagabond/
The Stairway to Heaven
The Stairway to Heaven also known as the Haiku Stairs on Oahu, Hawaii, is possibly the greatest attraction on the entire island. 3,922 stairs lead up the imposing mountain ridge, often at a vertical incline, with only a hand-rail to catch you from falling into the valley below.
Walking along the narrow staircase, often surrounded by fog so thick you cannot see further than your hands is surreal. The atmosphere is magical and I really felt as if I was on another planet during the entire hike. The journey takes less than three hours up and down but the getting past the guard, photo breaks and time spent enjoying the sunrise at the summit makes a half-day experience.
Originally the stairs were built in 1942 by the U.S. Navy as a top secret facility for transmitting radio signals to ships that were sailing in the Pacific Ocean. The stairs were then opened to the public until 1987 when they were deemed unsafe because of disrepair.
The city of Honolulu spent almost a million dollars repairing the stairs and was considering re-opening the stairs in 2002 but resident complaints and safety concerns halted the re-opening and the stairs have been closed ever since. That hasn’t stopped hikers and tourists sneaking past a guard who is posted at the bottom of the stairs to experience the thrilling 4000ft long hike along an 18-inch wide staircase reaching heights of above 2000ft.
Jessie and Jackson
Jessie and Jackson are an adventurous couple who are travelling on a budget. They’re hoping to meet some amazing people and to spend their days exploring and experiencing new cultures. They plan to travel and live with a minimalist lifestyle by carrying only a backpack. You can find their blog at journeyera.com
The Breakaway Republic of Abkhazia
The war ravaged, self declared Republic of Abkhazia is a nation that appears on few maps, let alone holiday brochures. Yet this small, conflicted region on the black sea has a beautiful sub tropical climate and for the unusual traveller, a staggering array of undiscovered beaches, lakes, mountains and caves. This was where Stalin came on holiday, and the capital of Sukhumi was once the riviera of the Soviet Union. Tourists flocked in droves from the colder climes of Russia, to the scorching coast of Abkhazia.
But war changed all of that. Situated next to Georgia, the region declared their independence when the Soviet Union collapsed, but the Georgians had decided that Abkhazia was rightfully theirs. Bitter, bloody and destructive war followed, but the nation managed to break away, achieving de facto independence, yet to this day, only Russia and a few tiny Pacific islands recognise their sovereignty. The rest of the world will tell you it is Georgian land. For the intrepid traveller, you can explore the decaying grandeur of the former Soviet Union on the beach front promenades that are only ever now visited by a few tourists from neighbouring Russia. It’s difficult to travel around if you don’t speak Russian or Abkhaz, but that’s all part of the great adventure.
Cover Photo By Emily Kydd