Surreal Landscapes Everyone Needs To See

There are surreal landscapes all around the world, many which seem to be from another planet entirely and go well beyond the point of extraordinary. Many of these landscapes are just plain bizarre and seem to be a collection of detailed movie sets but they are indeed as rel as you and I. From the honeycomb homes of ancient cave dwellers in Turkey’s Cappadocia to the fiery, blazing crater in Turkmenistan’s desert burning for more than four decades, the following landscapes are some of the most surreal visions on the planet.

8. The Wave | Arizona

In the Arizona Strip within the area of Coyote Buttes North is The Wave, not a giant hand or anything flapping in the wind but an iconic and surreal stretch of multi-coloured sandstone rock layers that twist and turn across the landscape in an almost unimaginable and dreamlike way. The windblown formations, originally formed by Jurassic winds blowing sand dunes across the southwestern desert cemented striations creating the streaked landscape. Photographers and film makers love the location, which features the main Wave, The Second Wave, and several minor fixtures including Sand Cove, the Hooters, Top Rock Arch, Fatali’s Boneyard, The Alcove, and Meoldy Arch and the Grotto. To visit this impressive landscape though, you must get a permit and that can be difficult. There are ten permits granted for each day and generally more than 150 applicants but also walk-in permits so it’s not impossible.

7. Grand Prismatic Spring | Yellowstone National Park

Grand Prismatic Spring seems like a computer-generated image for it’s eye-popping, vibrant colours but there’s definitive science behind the U.S.A.’s largest hot spring in beautiful Yellowstone National Park. This is Yellowstone’s most beautiful attraction and its most remarkable one too. Radiating high-temperature water, and astounding kaleidoscopic colours, the spring can be seen via a boardwalk running alongside of it, reachable by a straightforward walk.
It was discovered in 1871 by the Hayden Expedition, which was the first exploration of what was discovered to be Yellowstone. After abundant research, it was scientifically determined that the colours endure because of bacteria thriving in the heat of the spring and the different colours are representative of different microscopic life forms living within the spring. To see the exceptional sight, hike to Midway Bluff where a panoramic scene unfolds of the spring and adjacent Midway Basin.

6. Red Beach | China

Imagine being surrounded by a sea of blood red as far as the eye can see, with only a wooden boardwalk carving through this natural and curious anomaly. Near China’s Panjin City, the Liaohe River Delta holds a one-of-a-kind landscape called Red Beach. During the summer, Red Beach appears s any other, lovely water and some sea weed (called suaeda salsa) in typical green hues but come the season’s change, the green sea weed across the entire stretch of beach transforms to a brilliant, fire-red colour. A large part of Red Beach is a protected nature reserve (it’s the biggest reed marsh and wetland in the world) but a small part is kept open for visitors to see this astonishing change and view nearly 240 bird species living nearby. Get to Red Beach from Beijing on one of several daily trains or easily from historic Panjin City via bus.

5. Sossusvlei | Namibia

Sossusvlei is a famous salt and clay flat in Namibia in the Namib Desert’s southern end within Namib‑Naukluft National Park (Africa’s biggest conservation are) and enclosed by a series of massive red dunes creating spectacular contrast with the white flats and painting one of the most beautiful landscapes in the country. The dunes are some of the world’s largest reaching more than 1,300 feet, providing photography buffs one of the most snap-worthy scenes on the continent. Sossusvlei translates to “dead-end-marsh,” Sossusvlei’s dunes create a natural dam, stopping the flow of the river Tsauchab but because of the desert’s extremely arid conditions, the river rarely reaches this point, keeping the flats bone-dry throughout but when a particularly wet rainy season occurs, visitors appear from ll over the world to see the magnificent site. The flats transform into a stunning, reflective lake enveloped by the dunes, and can remain that way or up to a year.

4. Cappadocia, Anatolia, Turkey

Cappadocia in Turkey’s Anatolia region seems to be pulled directly out of a chimerical fairytale and set into the Turkish plains, creating a geological curiosity of lofty boulders and punctured hills and an image that’s certainly ethereal. The history of humans in this part of the world though is just as fascinating as the whimsical topography–for centuries, inhabitants have taken advantage of the softness of the stones and used them to create underground shelters, leaving behind a countryside dispersed with captivating architecture. The subterranean havens of Kaymakl_ and Derinkuyu along with the rock-cut, painting-adorned shrines of Göreme are Cappadocia’s most famous landmarks. Don’t miss the unique opportunity of staying in one of the cave hotels to experience modern cave-dwelling at its best. Whether it’s quite literally sleeping in a cave that draws you here, or the incredible hiking possibilities, it’s the lunar-esque panoramas that are unforgettable.

3. Giant’s Causeway | Northern Ireland

Along Norther Ireland’s Antrim Coast is one of the most surreal landscapes in Europe, the Giant’s Causeway, a series of more than 35,000 interlinked black basalt columns jutting out of the sea, the result of an volcanic eruption about 50 million years ago. County Antrim, home to this legendary UNESCO World Heritage marvel, sits on Northern Ireland’s northeast coast, a landscape settled on lush, green countryside that touches sea under big blue skies just a few kilometers from Bushmills town. The name encouraged tales of giants stepping over the seas to Scotland. Today, the Giant’s Causeway draws millions of visitors who walk the coastal stretch with a guide or independently, often climbing the nearby Shepherd’s Steps, a cliff top path, reaching a summit for a bird’s eye view of the mystical columns. The Visitor’s Center is another vision altogether, with basalt columns, glass walls and a stunning interior designed by Heneghan-Peng, a pair of award-winning architects.

2. Antelope Canyon | Arizona

Antelope Canyon is east fo Page, Arizona on Navajo land. It’s a slot canyon, a narrow gully created by centuries of wear by water streaming through rock and characteristically much deeper than it is broad. This particular canyon is an astonishing sight comprised of two distinct slot canyon areas referred to as The Crack and The Corkscrew. The canyons are the American Southwest’s most treasured natural attraction, and similar to The Wave in Arizona, appear in many films and photo shoots for their incredible formation. To enter the canyon, visitors must walk through narrow and curving crevice spanning only a few feet in width. A drastic temperature change is most noticeable, dropping up to 20 degrees. The filtered sun reaching into the canyon depths is one of the most beautiful sights, creating magical patterns and shadows that are constantly changing and creating a dazzling range of colours.

1. Door to Hell | Turkmenistan

In Turkmenistan’s Karakum Desert by the village of Derweze is Darvaza Crater, aka The Door to Hell, a mysterious cavern that’s been burning for more than four decades. Soviet geologists discovered phenomena in 1971 when their drilling rig collapsed into the ground unexpectedly. That left a massive hole spanning more than 220 feet. The gaseous crater was thought to be poisonous, leaving the scientists to decide setting it on fire was the best way to get rid of it. The expectation was the fires would burn out in a short time yet several decades after, the fire is as strong as ever. The gas-filled, fiery crater is a visually stunning and fascinating point in a landscape otherwise dull and barren. Tour groups do make the trip as do scientists who actually suit up and bravely rappel in to collect soil samples and snap photos.

7 Trips Perfect for Taking in Your 20s

Age is just a mind set but your body, on the other hand, can deal out something a little less easygoing than attitude when you start getting up in numbers. While there’s really no ideal age to get up and take a crack at some of the world’s most adventurous destinations, tackling some of the following trips can be a lot easier in your 20s than in later years, especially when you might have a family in tow. Being single, young, and without boatloads of responsibility makes these endeavors some of the best to take in your 20s.

7. Mountain Bike Lake Tahoe’s Rim Trail

Encircling North America’s biggest alpine lake, Tahoe Rim Trail spans more than 260 kilometers and offers some of the best vistas from any single track. With more than 128 kilometers open to mountain bikers, Tahoe Rim Trail presents an epic ride with the track between Spooner Summit and Tahoe Meadows one of the best riding trails in the country. Bring your A-game here, where fast descents and gritty, skyward climbs bring a heart to the brink while offering rewards of spectacular Nevada desert views. Beginning at Spooner Lake campground, ride nine miles until splitting off to adjacent Flume Trail, a 35 kilometer run which technically isn’t part of the trail but is the Rim’s signature ride. When the lake comes in to view, the scene is breathtaking–keep your eyes on the single track though and stop to let them wander across the great landscape.

Lake Tahoe’s Rim Trail

6. Explore Namibia’s Skeleton Coast

On Namibia’s North Atlantic Ocean coastline is the Skeleton Coast, referred to by the Portuguese as The Gates of Hell and by Namibia’s bushmen as The Land God Made in Anger. The name stems from the book Skeleton Coast, written by John Henry March in 1944. It chronicled the Dunedin Star shipwreck of 1942, just one of many floundering off the Namib Desert Coast for the treacherous, rocky conditions. The landscape is barren, desolate, and stories abound of seafarers wandering endlessly in search of water and food. If you’re not a sailor, you’ve got nothing to worry about, only a surreal environment best known for the scattered bones of seals and whales, and possibly even a few ancient human remains. The Skeleton Coast is one of the most remote areas in southern Africa. Adventure tours take groups through, exploring the world’s biggest sand dunes, tracking endangered Black Rhinos and elephants on foot through the desert, and meeting Namibia’s indigenous tribes.

Namibia’s Skeleton Coast

5. Climb Huayna Potosi, Bolivia

A mountain climbing trip in your 20s is somewhat a rite of passage so why not aim for Bolivia’s Huayna Potosi, a 20,000-foot high mountain surpassing all the U.S.A’s highest peaks by at least a mile. Huayna Potosi is in Cordilla Real and though to climb it you’ll need ice axes and crampons, you won’t need any other technical experience, just basic equipment. Choose one of dozens of guided trips to Potosi in Paz, where you can’t pass a door front without someone shouting a climbing deal at you. The most common route is a no-nonsense glacier ascent. The first day is usually spent setting up camp, hiking to the glacier base, and practicing a variety of techniques, from walking to rescue. Day two is go time, but it’s on day three, when the peak is reached that the rewards are reaped with astonishing views of La Paz, Lake Titicaca, jungle valleys, and the entire Cordillera Real expanse.

Huayna Potosi, Bolivia

4. Yacht Week

Yacht Week requires no special skills–there are no glaciers to scale, mountain bikes to ride, or anything that takes more than just having a good time. Yacht Week is a seven-day adventure aboard a luxury yacht, hanging out in the trendiest spots, and exploring the best place to get a tan. It’s really quite perfect for anyone in their 20s. First, you choose a destination: Croatia, the British Virgin Islands, Italy, Greece, or Thailand. Next you choose a yacht type and then begin the journey with a boatload of friends and international personalities. On each of the seven days, a new destination is reached, with up to 20 yachts in tow, and every night, all the Yacht Week people party together at exclusive events. You don’t even need to know how to sail, though bonus points if you do because you won’t have to pay for a skipper.

Photo by: The Yacht Week
Photo by: The Yacht Week

3. Burning Man, Black Rock Desert, Nevada

Started in 1986 by two friends who burned an effigy on a beach during the Summer Solstice, Burning Man has grown through the years to become one of the biggest and most unique events in the United States, from a mere few hundred people throughout the 1980s to more than 60,000 people in 2015. The event is based on ten specific principles.“Burners” are inspired by the values echoed through these principles and endeavor to pursue a more connected and creative existence. How this is actually achieved is what’s so incredible about Burning Man. Tens of thousands of people gather to create “Black Rock City,” a makeshift society solely based on self-reliance, art, and self-expression. Each year there is an annual art theme, scores of special events, creative circles, and of course, the burning of the man on the final day within the temporary community. This is the place to completely let go of inhibitions.

burning man

2. Motorbike through Vietnam Highlands

Riding a motorcycle through Vietnam isn’t an act of madness, nor one of bravery. Vietnam’s cities do have some crazy, hard-to-manage roads but all you really have to know is how to cross a road in the country and the motorcycle part all slips into place. If there’s a gap in the road, traffic will swarm there. Once you learn that, and how to take it slow, everything is so much less daunting. One great route is to begin in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), explore the Mekong Delta via a boat ride, and continue on through the Vietnamese highlands by motorcycle. Make your way up and down the gorgeous countryside, stay in friendly, traditional villages, and meet like-minded people en route. Independent travelers can rent or buy a motorbike easily (if you buy one, it’s no different than haggling over a used car and you can easily offload it on another potential sightseer, often for what you paid).

Motorbike  Vietnam Highlands

1. Trek to Machu Picchu via the Sacred Valley

If pleasantly meandering, centuries-old trekking paths between traditional Peruvian villages sounds good, read on. If you’re yearning for a look at the alpine ruins of Machu Picchu, taking the alternative hiking route through the stunning Sacred Valley is the way to go. Yes, the Inca Trail is a classic and it’s definitely an incredible route but today, with no independent treks permitted, all you’ll see is mostly large groups of tourists ambling their way forward, with porters lugging their gear. But where the Inca Trail is a solid four to five day hike, the path through the Sacred Valley is ten, with about six hours of solid hiking each day at altitudes crossing mountain passes at well over 13,000 feet. Though it sounds a little rough, it’s a beautiful walk for anyone even moderately fit. The best part is the chance to explore and visit the village of Cachiccata and many other small, Peruvian alpine villages.

Machu Picchu  Sacred Valley

9 Awesome Canyons That are Just as “Grand”

What’s in a name? When we’re talking about canyons, one name will always come to mind before any other: the Grand Canyon in Arizona, USA. The name sure seems like a successful marketing ploy—not only is the Grand Canyon the first name that comes to mind, it’s often the only one. That’s despite the fact there are plenty of other canyons out there, scattered around the world, some of them larger, wider or deeper than the Grand Canyon. Here are just 9 examples of canyons that are just as “grand” as their American counterpart.

9. Katherine Gorge (Australia)

Bordering on the better-known Kakadu National Park, Nitmiluk National Park in the Northern Territory of Australia is home to a series of gorges on the Katherine River and Edith Falls. The Katherine Gorge is the central attraction of the park, which was formerly called Katherine Gorge National Park. The Katherine Gorge is actually a series of 13 gorges cut deep into the sandstone by the Katherine River. The gorges are home to a series of rapids and falls, as the Katherine River moves through the area. In the dry season, the gorges are disconnected from each other as the water dries up. Cruises will take you up to the 5th gorge, but you can also strike out and explore on your own via canoe or flat-bottomed boat. There are also 2 campgrounds and a number of trails throughout the park.

Katherine Gorge

8. Copper Canyon (Mexico)

Move over, Grand Canyon; Mexico’s Copper Canyon system should probably be your top North American canyon destination. This group of 6 distinct canyons, located in the southwestern part of Chihuahua state, is larger and deeper than the Grand Canyon. They’re also breathtaking, thanks to the large deposits of copper in their formation: the canyon walls are eye-catching copper and green hues. Copper Canyon has been the site of tourist development for the Mexican state, although there has been some resistance from local peoples and there are concerns about developing a tourist industry that protects and respects this sensitive ecosystem. Popular ways of exploring the canyons include hiking, biking and horseback riding. The Ferrocarril Chihuahua al Pacifico runs between Chihuahua and Los Mochis, and the train travels through Canyon Urique, the main canyon in the system.

Copper Canyon

7. Nine Mile Canyon (Utah)

Don’t let the name fool you—Nine Mile Canyon in Utah is actually more like 40 miles (60 kilometers) long. While it’s not necessarily the longest, deepest or widest canyon in the U.S.—and certainly not in the world—it has earned itself a reputation as the world’s “longest art gallery,” thanks to its extensive collection of rock art by the Fremont and Ute peoples. Ruins from these cultures also make the area an archaeological hotspot. There may be 10,000 or more individual pieces of rock art in the canyon, including the famous Cottonwood Panel, making it North America’s largest concentration of rock art. Many sites in the canyon have been added to the National Register of Historic Places since 2009, and there are plans to add more in the coming years as efforts to preserve the rich heritage of Nine Mile Canyon continue.

Nine Mile Canyon (Utah)

6. Rugova Canyon (Kosovo)

The Rugova Canyon, also known as the Rugova Gorge, is approximately 16 miles (25 kilometers) long and up to 1,000 meters deep in some places, making it one of Europe’s longest and deepest canyons. The canyon was carved out over years as the glacier near modern-day Pec melted and eroded through the Prokletije Mountains, near the border between Kosovo and Montenegro. The Pec Bistrica river cuts through the canyon, dividing it in 2. Waterfalls, colossal rocks and caves dot the landscape. The Gryka e Madhe (Great Canyon Cave) is one of the better-known caves in the area, although only about 11 kilometers of the cave system have been explored to date. Obviously, the area is popular for spelunkers, but it is also popular for rock-climbers, reflected in the recent addition of a via ferrata (iron road) for climbers.

Photo by: Otaulant via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by: Otaulant via Wikimedia Commons

5. Itaimbezinho Canyon (Brazil)

About 170 kilometers from Porto Alegre, in the Brazilian state of Rio Grande do Sul, is the Itaimbezinho Canyon. The canyon is located within the Aparados da Serra National Park, which was created in 1959 specifically to protect the canyon. One of Brazil’s first parks, Aparados da Serra is relatively small and has a daily cap on the number of visitors in order to better protect sensitive environments. The canyon is approximately 6,000 meters (6 miles) long and has a maximum width of 2,000 meters at some points, with a depth of about 1 mile, making it the largest canyon in Brazil. Waterfalls dot the landscape as the Rio do Boi wends its way through the canyon. The park offers hiking tours through the area. The Cotovelo Trail is a popular option, as it winds around the edge of the canyon.

Itaimbezinho Canyon

4. Fish River Canyon (Namibia)

Namibia is home to plenty of natural wonders, including the Namibian desert’s infamous red sands, but this African country is also home to Fish River Canyon—not only the largest canyon in the country, but the largest canyon on the whole African continent. The canyon is approximately 160 kilometers (100 miles) in length, with gaps up to 27 kilometers wide and depths of nearly 550 meters in some areas. The Fish River Canyon Hiking Trail follows the canyon for about 88 kilometers, from Hobas to the hot spring resort Ai Ais. There are a number of footpaths and some shortcuts, which means that the hike will be largely up to the hikers. While hiking the trail can take 5 days, trail running is a popular and faster way of taking in the canyon—the current record for trail running is just under 7 hours.

Fish River Canyon

3. Colca Canyon (Peru)

The Colca Canyon, located on the Colca River in Peru, is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. That’s fitting, considering that the canyon is one of the deepest in the world, with a depth of 3,270 meters (10,725 feet). More than twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, it is only the second-deepest gorge in Peru, ranking behind the Cotahuasi Canyon. The Colca Valley area surrounding the canyon is popular with tourists for other reasons as well: the area is rich with pre-Inca cultures, including the Collagua and Cabana peoples who still inhabit the area, as well as Spanish colonial towns. The Canyon is also noted for bird-watching, as it is home to the Andean condor and tourists flock to see them flying at close range near the Cruz del Condor. Ruins, rock art and local festivals are also popular attractions.

Colca Canyon

2. Tiger Leaping Gorge (China)

Part of the Three Parallel Rivers of Yunnan World Heritage Site, the Tiger Leaping Gorge lies on the Jinsha River, a tributary of the Yangtze River. The river passes between Jade Dragon Snow Mountain and Haba Snow Mountain in a series of rapids, down cliffs 6,600 feet (2,000 meters) high, creating one of the world’s deepest and most spectacular river canyons. The name comes from a legend, in which a tiger leaped across the gorge at its narrowest point to escape a hunter. Even then, the tiger was still leaping across 82 feet (25 meters)! The area is popular with hikers and backpackers from other areas of China and abroad. The high-road hiking path is well-maintained and takes hikers through a variety of micro-ecosystems along the gorge’s length. Although the gorge is only 15 kilometers long, the high road is approximately 22 kilometers (14 miles).

Tiger Leaping Gorge

l. Indus River Gorge (Pakistan)

The Indus River passes through the Himalayas, rising in Tibet and flowing through India and Pakistan, before emptying into the Arabian Sea. In the northern territories of Pakistan, the river must pass through the Nanga Parbat region, home of the world’s ninth-highest peak, the infamous Nanga Parbat. As the Indus winds through this mountainous region, it flows through enormous gorges, some of them 17,000 feet (5,200 meters) deep. Near Dasu Patan in Kohistan, the gorge plunges to a maximum depth of 6,500 meters—making it one of the deepest, if not the deepest, canyon in the world. Some dispute about the depth of the gorge and other contenders continues today. Nanga Parbat is likely the better-known tourist attraction in the area, but the Deosai Plains and the Karakorum Highway are also popular with visitors.

Indus River Gorge

The Cheapest Cities for Expats to Live Around the World

With so many reports and studies on the world’s most expensive or most livable cities, we have a refreshing new take on the subject with the least expensive places to live in, housing costs and all. This list is intriguing for adventure travelers and expatriates looking for a nice place to spend a year abroad or even for a warm, safe place to retire. Some places are cheap and nice through circumstances beyond their control, others are inexpensive because they are lousy places to change planes on a layover, let alone spend time living in. But some of the following are diamonds in the rough that you may not have heard of and you’ll definitely want to find out more about. So here is the Dollarama edition of travel destinations.

10. Tbilisi, Georgia

Tbilisi is an obscure place off the beaten path, but not for much longer. It’s said to be the next must-see wine destination. The winemaking tradition here goes back about 4000 years. Strikingly set on cliffs, bisected by a river, the architecture and cuisine of Tbilisi is a crazy, critically-acclaimed fusion of East, West, Russian and Near Eastern. The old city is a beautiful rabbit-warren of narrow streets and alleys. Instead of Starbucks coffee shops, there are wine bars on every corner. The beautiful wine route through stunning scenery is largely unknown – for now. A little apartment just outside town is barely $200 a month. It is a shockingly poor country. Sixty per cent of the population lives below the poverty line. There are signs of better days ahead but still, Tbilisi will remain a memorable place to visit or live at any price.

Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com
Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com

9. Managua, Nicaragua

Managua is one of those old, down at the heels, completely charming Latin American cities that resembles that past as if time simply stopped moving back in 1962. According to Numbeo, three bedroom apartments downtown can still be had for $466 a month. Or as the legendary Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians sang in a 1946 recording, “Managua, Nicaragua is a beautiful town/You buy a hacienda for a few pesos down”. Actually real estate prices are on the rise as it becomes more popular as a retirement destination and a place for expats to chill for a spell. Always warm, a cultural and financial center and a university town, it has cheap fine-dining, crazy markets, insane traffic, occasional garbage collection, and proximity to some impressive natural beauty. Guidebooks warn about wearing flashy jewelry at night, but the same be said of Cleveland.

Managua, Nicaragua

8. Cape Town, South Africa

A heavenly alignment of the economic planets for expats as the South African Rand is hitting fifteen year lows with no letup in sight, making one of the world’s great destinations ridiculously affordable. It’s no accident that more people visit Cape Town than the Great Pyramids. The one-bedroom downtown apartment is $600 and a meal at McDonald’s is $3.80. That’s not to suggest you should eat there all the time or even at all, but it is an uncannily accurate reflection of the cost of living. Yes there is crime and the tragic sadness of the Apartheid townships. But they should remind you how far this country has come and that you are truly blessed to see Table Top Mountain as you leave your flat every day. It’s also a great treat to be able to make a quick drive to some of the world’s best vineyards and feel the presence of greatness in Nelson Mandela’s cell on Robben Island.

Cape Town South Africa

7. Minsk, Belarus

Poor Minsk needs a little travel lovin’. Its battered economy sinks deeper every day with that of its biggest customer while Russia disintegrates with the effects of sanctions for invading Ukraine and the disappearing price of oil. But even 40 years ago, in his 1975 comedy Love and Death, Woody Allen uses Minsk as the setting for The Village Idiots Convention. It does have its cosmopolitan side but still, it is a virtual police state run by Alexander Lukashenko, a poor man’s Vladimir Putin whose views seem locked in a Cold War era time warp. They make great beer but seriously, when one of the 10 Best Tourist Attractions is the one time home of convicted Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald, it makes you think twice about hanging here for long.

Minsk, Belarus
Grisha Bruev / Shutterstock.com

6. Banjul, Gambia

Banjul is a little jewel on an island in the Gambia River in The Gambia of which it is the capital. It has a wonderful market, a charming if decrepit old town and only 43,000 people. Stunning beaches. The languorous pace of life that agrarian societies have. Lonely Planet calls it “urban Africa at its best”.  Its main economic staple is the growing and processing of peanuts, which is apt since that’s what its currency is worth. The annual per capita Gross Domestic Product is $1700 USD which puts it down there with the likes of North Korea and South Sudan. It can be a nice place, maybe even idyllic, but sometimes abject poverty and the persecution of innocent minorities can take the shine away. A small cost can sometimes come at a high price which might be why the expat community is on the small side here.

Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com
Anton_Ivanov / Shutterstock.com

5. Skopje, Macedonia

Skopje is a cheap place to live looking at all the comparisons. A pound of chicken is $2.31 and the three-bedroom downtown apartment is $422. Walmart can’t match these prices. Plus it’s just been given a modern facelift though it still has an ancient fortress dating back to the fifth century, a fantastic old bazaar second only to the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul and breathtaking mountain lakes and canyons nearby. Lonely Planet says it has some of the most affordable dining in Europe. It is two hours and 47 minutes by car to the renowned beaches and nightlife of Thessaloniki in Greece. It does have an unemployment rate of 27%, but this is a travel site you won’t find advertised online. Talk about a hidden gem!

Andrei Tudoran / Shutterstock.com
Andrei Tudoran / Shutterstock.com

4. Tunis, Tunisia

Recent terrorist attacks, responsibility for which has been claimed by Islamic State militants will wreak havoc on the country’s already fragile economy. At least half a million jobs depend on a tourism sector worth over $20 billion and that should be in past tense. The wonderful beaches and the sublime combination of Arab, French and African influences will be cheaper to experience but expats, especially Westerners, will need an amazing reason to settle there. The U.S. State Department advises “U.S. citizens in Tunisia maintain a high level of vigilance, as terrorism remains a significant concern”. It doesn’t really sound like now is the time or place to look for bargains here, now does it?

Tunis, Tunisia

3. Karachi, Pakistan

It sounds fantastic with a wealthy industrial, commercial, artistic and financial hub, one of the fastest growing cities in the world. Called the City of Lights for its nonstop nightlife. Close to fabulous beaches on the Arabian Sea. Less than $400 for a three bedroom place in the city. What’s not to like? You can’t help but wonder why it is so cheap. Unfortunately, it is not ideal in terms of deadly heat waves, unsustainable power accessibility and high rates of crime. So, if you can look past these headlines, it’s one of the cheapest places to travel in the world.

Asianet-Pakistan / Shutterstock.com
Asianet-Pakistan / Shutterstock.com

2. Windhoek, Namibia

Windhoek is the capital of Namibia and largest city in the country. It has a westernized appearance and wouldn’t look out of place anywhere in North America. Well, except for north of the Tree Line. It is clean, relatively safe, with a stable and occasionally corrupt government it is magically placed in one of the world’s most biodiverse and scenic nations. Numbeo.com says a one-bedroom apartment is $491 a month. Most expats can find work in the booming tourism business or the uranium and diamond mining companies. Main courses at the best African cuisine restaurants start at $8. Talk about a cheap date! Those who have traveled here rave about the ecotourism and safaris throughout gorgeous orange deserts. The New York Times put it at #6 of world’s destinations to see. Decent wine at $4.83? What are we waiting for -grab a wine glass and go!

Grobler du Preez / Shutterstock.com
Grobler du Preez / Shutterstock.com

1. Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

At 63 Kyrgyzstani Som to the dollar, a gin and tonic sets you back about a buck and a half while dinner will be five to 10 dollars. If you must, Marlboro’s are 86 cents a pack. According to the Expatistan cost of living chart, the rent for a two bedroom apartment in the expensive part of town is $763 USD. That’s about one-ninth the cost for a similar place in the survey’s most expensive city, Luanda, Angola. Many of the expats who travel here work the gold mines or teach English to students. It’s not the safest place to travel, but when visiting here be sure to take a tour along the legendary Silk Road.

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

12 Modern Day Ruins of the World

Aristotle once said “Time crumbles things”, he wasn’t wrong.
People travel halfway around the world to see the Colosseum, the pyramids in Egypt or the Great Wall of China. We ponder what people were like, what parallels connect them to us, what changes and remains the same. Like time travelers we can visit a more recent, almost familiar past, full of echoes from not too distant generations that have walked away, leaving their ghosts behind. The great team at EscapeHere has assembled a list of provoking modern-day ruins, I hope they capture your imagination like they did mine.

12. The Ryugyong Hotel

If feels almost too easy to list this as a modern day ruin, but this North Korean hotel has been one of the biggest examples of architectural failure in the last century (and probably this one too). Developed as some sort of state pants-envy indicator for power and progress for the peninsula dictatorship, the Ryugyong Hotel was unable to finish the initial construction schedule when the government simply ran out of money (while their people starved).

Work started on the hotel in 1987 and stopped in 1992, the vulgar pyramid spire sat dormant and dominant on the Pyongyang skyline for sixteen years. Although the structure was “topped out” no windows or fixtures have graced the structure until just recently as construction briefly resumed in 2008. North Korea pledged that the hotel would be finished by 2012 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the “Eternal President”, Kim Il-sung. However, the celebration took place without a shiny new hotel as the work stopped because of political instability.

Viktoria Gaman / Shutterstock.com
Viktoria Gaman / Shutterstock.com

11. The Book Tower

The Book Tower was at one point the tallest building in Detroit, and at 38 stories (not including two basement levels) remains one of the largest skyscrapers in the United States that has avoided demolition and renovation. The Book Tower is unique among the Detroit skyline with its awkward external fire escape, naked sculptures and the storybook crown, the Renaissance style somehow seems out of place in the town that Ford built.

J. Burgess Book Jr. and his brothers were on a mission to turn Detroit’s Washington Avenue into a destination that rivaled New York’s Fifth Avenue, with upscale culture and shopping. Their opening salvo in this endeavor was the Book Tower in 1917. The building was the center of downtown activity until the 1960s when it began its decline with the rest of the city. On January 5, 2009, the last remaining holdout tenant, Bookies Tavern, moved on to a newer location downtown.

Book Tower Detroit

10. Forbidden Discovery Island

Feel adventurous enough to brave waters rumored to be inhabited by alligators and potentially deadly nervous system-attacking bacteria? That’s probably the only way to see this next modern ruin first hand. If you were to make a clandestine trip deep into the interior of the Florida Walt Disney World property and swim, dingy, or scuba to the ominous island in the middle of Bay Lake, you will find the remains of Discovery Island; The Magic Kingdom’s former wildlife sanctuary that went wrong.

Walt Disney purchased the island in 1965 and opened (what was then called) Treasure Island here in 1974. The wildlife sanctuary hosted the largest colony of Scarlet Ibises in the U.S., as well as five Galapagos tortoises, flamingos, lemurs, swans, and brown pelicans. In 1999, the attraction was closed for unspecified reasons (but speculation abounds), and the abandoned attractions can still be seen from Disney’s Contemporary Resort and the Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground.

Photo by: imgkid.com
Photo by: imgkid.com

9. Six Flags Jazzland

Just off Interstate 10, on the eastern side of New Orleans sits the home of the now silent but still-standing Cajun attractions like the Zydeco Scream and the Muskrat Scrambler. Jazzland opened its doors as a small amusement park featuring the standard rickety wooden roller coaster, log flume, and other soak-you-with-carnival-water attractions in 2000, two years later the awesome Six Flags corporation bought the joint, upgraded it with various fun and safety additions and marketed it with Mr. Six (the dancing old guy). They had great plans on a water park to be included in 2005, which would have been included in the park admission.

Those plans however were thwarted when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and flooded the park removing all amusement here since. Most of New Orleans has been rebuilt, which is a testament to the vibrant community that lives there, but Jazzland remains, untouched since the storm. As of today you can still see the remnants of the park in its former glory, and some people trespass to capture this unique surreal landscape. If you want to see what remains, head to the Big Easy soon as talks are in place to turn this former fun-town into an outdoor mall.

Photo by: Frank Aymami
Photo by: Frank Aymami

8. The Second-Largest Man-Made Hole in the History of the World (and ghost town)

Deep in Siberia, there exists an open-pit diamond mine reaching 1,722 feet deep and 3,900 feet wide that sits beside the town of Mirny; a town that sits just below the Arctic Circle (bring extra socks). Founded in 1955, there exists today a town that could hold 3500 mine workers and their families (not to mention the people working in other industries needed to make a town run) which sits almost entirely perfectly preserved and empty today.

The people that lived here had to endure some of the harshest winters imaginable, which would typically last up to 7 months at a time, punctuated by short “summers” that turned the ground to slush. It was so cold that even oil froze, rubber automotive tires would shatter, and workers had to routinely use jet engines to thaw the permafrost so they could dig. That being said, the town is generally off limits to outsiders without a special permit but visiting this perfectly preserved modern ruin is not unheard of as universities host modern archaeology tours.

Mirny Town

7. Kolmanskop

If you ever find yourself in Namibia, just outside of the port town of Lüderitz, take some time to visit the ghost town that diamonds built. Kolmanskop is Afrikkans for Coleman’s hill, and the place got this name simply because a transport driver named Johnny Coleman abandoned his ox wagon here, continuing the tradition of “naming places where your rig stops” that has taken place the world over (looking at you, Eyebrow, Saskatchewan). In 1908, when laying some train tracks, some poor schmo found a diamond and showed it to his German Boss, who in turn told some German government official, who in turn named the area Sperrgebiet, or loosely translated “wow this place is worth a lot of money so nobody can come here but us!”.

Like every boomtown, the initial residents were filthy-rich and built themselves a tiny paradise full of super opulent stuff, including infrastructure like ballrooms, a hospital, power station, school, sports hall, casino, ice factory (for their fancy drinks) and the first x-ray station in the Southern Hemisphere. The town declined after the diamonds ran out and today, all that’s left are the incredibly well engineered houses that are slowly being swallowed up by the desert sands once again. To travel to this town you will need to get permission from the Namibian government through their special permit program.

Kolmanskop Namibia

6. Fordlândia

Deep in the Amazon rainforest there sits an abandoned, prefabricated industrial town that was established in 1928 by the industrialist Henry Ford. Ford controlled almost all of the raw materials that went into his automobiles, save for the rubber in the tires, which at that time was monopolized by the British Malay Peninsula. He negotiated a deal with the Brazilian government for a parcel of land the size of a small state, and created a plantation settlement there in exchange for 9% of the profits gained. The project was ultimately a total failure and Henry Ford never actually visited his now abandoned town.

The structures of Fordlândia have been left empty for the decades following the towns’ demise. The only way to reach the site is by boats, which leave the nearby town Santarém from the Praça Tiradentes port Monday to Saturday at 4PM and on Sunday at 2PM. The overnight trip takes 12 hours and costs about $45, arriving early the next morning. You can hang your hammock on the dock until it is light enough to explore the remains of this historical fiasco.

Photo by: Latin America Bureau
Photo by: Latin America Bureau

5. Ellis Island

More than 40% of all US citizens can trace at least one of their ancestors to Ellis Island, being the primary immigration gateway from 1892 to 1954. Located in the Upper New York Bay, east of Liberty State Park and north of Liberty Island, Ellis Island is now a huge decaying complex, featuring what used to be a state of the art hospital center with laboratories, psychopathic ward, power station, laundry building and dormitories. Most of the island is closed to the general public and has been uninhabited for almost 70 years only guarded by patrols of the United States Park Police.

Travel to Ellis Island is limited to the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, restored in the 1980s, this main immigration processing building reopened as a facility to chronicle Ellis Island’s role in American immigration history. Due to the recent destruction from Hurricane Sandy, a few parts of the historic main building and museum are closed, but are due to reopen soon.

Ellis Island

4. A.M.A.R.C.

Close to Tucson, Arizona is AMARC; the Aerospace Maintenance And Regeneration Center. This is the place where the U.S. Air Force stores all of its old planes until needed again, scrapped for parts, or sold to foreign and civilian interests. It’s part of the Air Force’s sales pitch that for whatever aircraft they sell, they will always have spare parts. If you are a military history geek like me, you would have probably had your interest piqued when this location was showcased in movies like Transformers; Revenge of the Fallen, and Harley Davidson and the Marlboro man.

Today there are about 4,000 planes in storage, with the lion’s share of them from the Vietnam War; this location is a testament to man’s ingenuity and creativity. This airplane graveyard speaks to my inner ten year old, full of excitement and mystery. Regular civilians are disallowed from wandering around the aircraft, but you can partake in a bus tour around the facility hosted by the Pima Air Museum, learn more at the official AMARC homepage.

AMARC Tucson
Photo By: U.S. Navy /Photographer’s Mate 3rd Class Shannon R. Smith. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

3. Hashima Island

Hashima Island, also known as BattleShip Island is an abandoned island 15 kilometers off the coast of Japan. The Island is known for its abandoned apartment buildings and community infrastructure surrounded by a substantial sea wall (it was even featured in the recent James Bond movie, Skyfall). The abandoned island-city was known for its undersea coal mines and at its peak housed over 5000 residents when it closed in 1974, most of the people left the city with only the clothes on their back and suitcases they could carry shortly afterward.

After the turn of the Millennium, the island has become a favorite destination for ruin enthusiasts, and travel was officially been reopened for limited tourism in 2009. Increased popularity and media exposure to the island has caused the Japanese Government to declare the island a site of industrial heritage, and to petition that Hashima be included as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Hashima Island

2. El Caminito del Rey

This site is also known as “The King’s Little Path” and “The Walk of Death” and is located in the Gaitanes Gorge in the western portion of the Baetic Mountains of Spain with walls reaching as high as 700 meters and narrowing to 10 meters. The Gorge itself is fascinating with its sandstone formations, fossilized whale remains and eroded natural caves. All this natural beauty is nothing but an added bonus to the jaw-dropping adrenaline junkie pathway that has the dangerous name attached to it.

The Caminito del Rey is a pathway that was built to transport workers and building materials between two hydroelectric plants situated at either end of the Gaitanes Gorge. The path was built in 1905 out of sand and cement, held in place by metal brackets and festooned with a simple iron rail for “safety”. The pathway gained its regal name when King Alfonso walked along the Caminito and was so impressed that a plaque was erected in recognition of the path’s designer and the momentous day of his journey. During the last century, the pathway has fallen into disrepair and has undergone a full restoration, but it is still listed as one of the most dangerous hikes in the world.

El Caminito del Rey

1. Pripyat Ukraine

Pripyat is the site of one of the most notorious “ruins” of the last 100 years, and is generally what is referred to when the Chernobyl disaster is referenced. “Chernobyl” is how we reference one of the biggest man-made disasters ever recorded but Pripyat is the remaining symbol of this event. Founded on February 4, 1970, Pripyat was designated officially as an atomograd (‘the town of the atomic scientists and workers’), the 9th settlement of its kind in the former USSR. Although this was a former “hot zone”, radiation levels have dropped due to the decay of the short-lived isotopes released during the accident and tours are regularly scheduled.

Ukraine would be a tough sell for a travel agent these days, but if you are determined to see this historic site, you will begin your journey in Kiev, Ukraine’s capital, a fantastic city with a fantastic nightlife. After staging there you will travel north to the Chernobyl site after booking a tour in advance, you will need government clearance and the tour company is well equipped to ease you over any bureaucratic bumps. The most reviewed company hosting these tours is Chernobyl Tours, cost is variable depending on the size of your group and it includes transportation.

Pripyat Ukraine

Lonely Planet’s Top 10 Countries to Visit in 2015

As 2014 has started to wind down, no doubt many of us are already looking ahead and planning those vacations for the coming year. If you’ve been having trouble deciding just where you want to cross off your travel bucket list next, check out this list of the top countries to visit in 2015 as per Lonely Planet’s new guidebook; ‘Best in Travel 2015’. All countries were reportedly chosen for their “topicality, unique experiences and ‘wow’ factor”.

10. Morocco

Lonely Planet describes Morocco as one of the most diverse countries in Africa and we agree with this choice given the countries array of ancient cities, vast dessert landscapes and rough coastline. With 9 UNESCO World Heritage listings, the history in this country is rich and opportunities for exploration are endless.

Marrakesh, Morocco

9. St Lucia

While most noted for its abundance of luxury beach resorts, St Lucia has so much more to offer outside the obvious (not that being waited on hand and foot in paradise is a bad thing). While beaches are definitely the top attraction of this Caribbean island, there’s also amazing rainforest adventures to be had along with unique markets, bazaars and tiny beach towns to be explored.

St. Lucia

8. The Philippines

Lonely Planet states that the placement of The Philippines in this list is long overdue. With beautiful white sand beaches, picturesque coastlines and enchanting coral reefs it’s much more of a vacation destination that you might think. The country is also known for its love of food, music and street festivals creating an almost carnival like atmosphere.

El Nido bay and Cadlao island, Philippines

7. Serbia

While many European destinations are notoriously pricey, Serbia makes the top 10 for its amazing value for money and was called one of “Europe’s best kept secrets” by the travel guide. The countries ‘Exit Festival’ was also just named ‘Best Major European Festival’ at the European Festival Awards. The nightclubs in Belgrade are also said to rival those of major party meccas like Ibiza and Berlin. Now is this time to check out this value destination because now that word is out, the crowds will be coming.

Saint Sava temple, Belgrade Serbia

6. Republic of Congo

Quite possibly the biggest surprise on this list, the Republic of Congo comes in 6th place, ahead of some clear vacation favorites like St. Lucia. Along the reasons for this are improved tourism infrastructure, better roads and new safari attractions with chances to see gorillas and elephants in the wild. This country is also packed with dense barely touched rainforest making it a nature lover’s dream destination.

shutterstock_173629688

5. Ireland

Coming in 5th in this group, Ireland can almost certainly look forward to a boost in tourism in 2015 as a result of this ranking. The influential guidebook calls Ireland “stunningly scenic” and “the real deal”. It’s true, as the traditions of music, dance, beer, whiskey and food are firmly rooted and just waiting for enthusiastic travelers to come experience.

Kylemore Abbey, Ireland

4. Nicaragua

With a resurgence of travel to Central America in recent years it’s no surprise to see one of these Latin American Gems on this list. Nicaragua, once best known for its political turmoil and civil unrest has come a long way to become a recognized tourist destination. Along with wild jungle landscapes, you’ll find vibrant cities and some amazing food. The country has also become a premier destination for eco-tourism, one of the hottest trends in the industry.

Conception Volcano, Nicaragua

3. Lithuania

Another one of Europe’s hidden gems, Lithuania comes in number 3 on the Lonely Planet rankings for being a “rebellious, quirky and vibrant” country. Located on the majestic Baltic Sea the country is full of history, scenery, and mystery. With other popular European tourist destinations becoming increasingly more crowded, you can be sure you’re going to start hearing about Lithuania a lot more.

Vilnius, Lithuania

2. Namibia

Celebrating its 25th anniversary of independence in 2015, Namibia is the second African country to make this year’s list. While the Congo was recognized for its rugged wilderness, Namibia is being included for its progress in sustainable development. The country is even the first in Africa to include environmental protection in its constitution. With loss of habitat being a global theme, now is the time to support a country who takes the opposite stance.

Namibia

1. Singapore

Landing in first place and making its debut in the top 10 list, Singapore is clearly a travel destination on the rise. Influential factors for this choice were reportedly the many new developments within the country like a number of new luxury hotels, and attractions like the Singapore Sports Hub and the soon to open National Art Gallery. Increasing in popularity are also the countries high fashion scene and wide array of high end shopping centers. Couple these with the fact that in 2015 the country celebrates its 50th anniversary of independence and we agree that Singapore is a must visit for the coming year.

Singapore city at night

10 Best Safaris in Africa

Up and down the Great Rift Valley, there are many parks and game reserves that offer visitors the beauty of Africa. Whether you are looking for lions and luxury or roughing it with rhinos, here are ten African safari destinations that are sure to please.

1. Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya

Best known for the Great Wildebeest Migration between July and October, the Mara grasslands are home to zebra, lion, African elephant and the endangered black rhino, while hippo and crocodile can be seen in the Mara and Talek rivers. Visitors can find lodges or camps offering driving tours, horse-riding or even hot air balloon tours.

Black Rhino

2. Okavango Delta and the Moremi Game Reserve, Botswana

The Okavango Delta is a lush oasis nestled in the heart of the Kalahari Desert, containing the Moremi Game Preserve. With both fertile grasslands and meandering waterways, the delta offers visitors breathtaking dry and wetland safaris, whether on game drives, on foot or aboard canoes, called makoru. Moremi is also a birdwatcher’s paradise, boasting more than 400 colorful species.

Bird Watching Okavango Delta

3. Kruger National Park, South Africa

Offering both guided and self-driven safari adventures, this national park is home to all of the Big Five game attractions: lion, African elephant, Cape buffalo, leopard and rhinoceros. Lodging at the park includes everything from tents to luxury accommodations in 26 rest camps.

Leopard Kruger National Park

4. Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe/Zambia

Not only does this area offer stunning views of the Zambezi River crashing spectacularly over Victoria Falls, but there are also many diverse safari options. Elephant and water buffalo can be seen drinking along the river from canoes or while walking along the numerous river trail walks. Visitors can also view the rare Sable antelope at the Matetsi Game Reserve, or literally get in touch with nature on elephant-back safaris.

Elephants Victoria Falls

5. Ngorongoro Crater Tanzania 

Where there had once stood a looming volcano is now one of the most beautiful natural wonders in Africa. The world’s largest unbroken caldera, a collapsed volcano crater, Ngorongoro is home to large populations of lion, hippo and gazelle. Luxury lodges can be found on the crater rim with stunning views looking down into the heart of the once mighty mountain.

Gazelle Ngorongoro Crater Tanzania

6. Etosha National Park, Namibia

Home to African elephants, black and white rhinoceros, giraffes and leopards, the Etosha Pan floods during the summer months, attracting water birds, including flamingos and pelicans. Tourism is managed by the Namibia Wildlife Resorts, with five in-park sites for lodging or camping.

Giraffe Etosha National Park

7. Lake Malawi National Park, Malawi

Located at the southern end of the lake, the Lake Malawi National Park boasts the first freshwater national park in the world. From Cape McClear and other landing sites, visitors can enjoy the pristine water, home to many different species of mbuna, freshwater fish known as cichlids. Other wildlife seen on game drives, boating and walking tours include baboons, fish eagles and hyrax.

Cichlids Lake Malawi National Park

8. Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, Uganda

Despite its foreboding name, Bwindi welcomes visitors, offering thrilling mountain safaris, most notably, gorilla-tracking tours. Accommodations range from luxury lodges to tented forest camps, surrounded by more than 200 tree species, colobus monkey and chimpanzees. The park is open year round, but it is best to visit during dry seasons to avoid the muddy conditions of roads and trails.

Bwindi Impenetrable National Park

9. Luangwa Valley, Zambia

View the world’s largest concentration of hippos in one of the four national parks in this valley: North and South Luangwa, Luambe and Lukusuzi. Safari adventures here include walking elephant trails and day and night game drives. The valley is also home to two endemic species, Thornicroft’s Giraffe and Cookson’s Wildebeest.

Giraffes Luangwa Valley

10. Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique

After decades of civil war, tourism in Mozambique is experiencing a renaissance, and the Gorongosa National Park has steadily rebounded since 2004. Now an active tourist destination, the park offers diverse flora and fauna, including buffalo, wildebeests and rainforest habitats on Mount Gorongosa.

Wildebeasts Gorongosa National Park