Ignore the obvious and book a flight to Yemen, Somaliland or North Korea
Time Out Dubai staff
Some people need to feel the rush of adrenaline coursing through their veins to feel truly alive, others need to keep discovering new places in order to stay feeling sharp. Everything on this list of alternative travel destinations promises both, at the very least. Of course, we’re not encouraging you to jump into a live volcano or snap your way around Pyongyang without doing any extra research to ensure your safety at all times. What we do hope is that you’ll be inspired to look a little harder for that next adventure this year, before you settle for wherever Air Arabia is offering the best deal on return flights to.
Offbeat Tours This Dubai-based tour operator runs trips to Afghanistan, Kurdish Iraq, Armenia, north east India, Yemen and Pakistan, providing an on-the-ground guide in each location, and security where necessary. The aim is to provide adventurous travellers with an eye-opening, local experience. As the safety of holiday-makers is paramount, itineraries are subject to change at short notice, depending on the security situation at your destination. www.offbeatours.com (050 735 7922).
Tehran, Iran Home to more than 7.3 million people, the Iranian capital has far more going for it than the makers of TV's Homeland would have you believe – though do be sure to check with your embassy or consulate for travel alerts.
The country is home to one of the world’s oldest civilisations, which has over time given birth to some of the region’s most distinctive arts forms, including classic Persian carpet weaving and the intricate mosaics that cover its many markets, mosques and other buildings of importance. To learn more about the country’s eventful history, start your trip in the National Museum of Iran, while other must-visits include the Tehran Bazaar, a crowded, noisy market with merchants selling rugs, spice, gold and dried fruits to name but a few – traders have been selling their goods at this site for nearly 1,000 years.
For those who’ve always fancied having a bit of work done but find themselves priced out of Dubai’s plastic surgery market, Tehran has forged itself a reputation as an affordable alternative – with nose jobs among the most popular procedures. www.itto.org.
Shibam, Yemen Situated in the Yemeni Highlands, the old walled city of Shibam sits proudly on the UNESCO World Heritage list. The architecturally mesmerising city teeters on the edge of a cliff at Wadi Hadramaut, with ancient mud brick towers rising up to seven storeys high. The village of Kawkaban on the edge of a nearby mountain, is yet another feat of centuries-old engineering, and also worth a visit if you’re in the area. While you’re there, be sure to pick up as much honey as you can carry – Hadramaut honey is among the most expensive in the world, and you won’t find it for a better price than at its place of production. www.yementourism.com.
Pyongyang, North Korea To visit this secretive state, there’s no getting around the absolute need for an official tour guide. These guides will tell you exactly what you are and are not allowed to take photographs of – and don’t expect to be allowed to speak to the locals.
A visit to the War Museum provides an interesting insight into the North's version of events of the 1945-1949 Korean War, while a stop at the somewhat creepy Monument to Party Founding (featuring the traditional communist symbols of a hammer and sickle, as well as a writing brush – all 50m tall) is worth it for the photo op. Though your trip will likely be heavily policed (stories abound of bugged hotel rooms and travellers being relieved of electronics such as phones and computers on arrival), the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is widely reported to be a safe place to travel. The country's official website is currently taking bookings for a visit in April 2014, to celebrate the anniversary of former leader Kim Il Sung (with flights to North Korea leaving from Beijing). www.korea-dpr.com.
Mount Everest, Nepal Push yourself to the limit – and then some. A trek to the top of the world’s highest peak is the ultimate bucket list endeavour for keen climbers and adrenaline junkies, but just getting to base camp is a feat in itself. To make it to the latter, which sits at an altitude of 5,364m, you will need to set aside around 20 days, plus several more for acclimatisation once you’re there. Continue onwards, and beyond 8,000m (the summit is 8,848m – more than ten times the height of Burj Khalifa) you are considered to be in the ‘death zone’ – frostbite, thin air, high winds and slipping or falling on well-frozen snow are the main causes of casualty. Since the 1922 British expedition, there have been more than 200 deaths on the mountain. Despite the risk, it hasn’t stopped more than 5,000 climbers reaching the summit – with more taking on the challenge every year. www.welcomenepal.com.
Death Road Tour, Bolivia Frequently topping the list of ‘extreme tourism’ activities for thrill-seeking lunatics around the world is a trip that takes in Yungas Road, one of the most dangerous highways on the planet. Clinging precariously to the hillsides as it winds from La Paz to Coroico, it’s one of the few routes to connect the Amazon rainforest region of the country to its capital city – shame about the 800m sheer drop if you’re not careful, then. According to the American Development Bank (the largest source of development financing for Latin America and the Caribbean), an average 26 vehicles plunge over the edge each year, claiming more than 100 lives. For those with a head for heights, this heart-in-the-throat 60-odd km route does throw up some fantastic jungle scenery, though we recommend keeping your eyes on the wheel. www.bolivia.travel.
Lahore, Pakistan One of the country’s oldest cities, Lahore is known as the City of the Mughals and has been the capital of the Punjab region for more than 1,000 years. If you want to go anywhere in Pakistan, go here first. Rich in history, culture and architecture (it’s often called the cultural heart of Pakistan), it houses centuries-old structures from a variety of dynasties, as well as newer buildings from British colonial times, such as the Punjab University, and the roughly 500-year-old Fort and Shalimar Gardens from the Mughal civilisation.
Lahori cuisine is not to be missed, and Food Street in Gawalmandi is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and is one of the best places to get a sense for the best of local flavours and dining culture. Fond of Ravi Restaurant in Dubai? You haven’t seen anything yet. www.tourism.gov.pk.
Dive with great white sharks, Gansbaai, South Africa Head to the fishing town of Gansbaai to find yourself in what is known as the great white shark capital of the world. Take a boat out towards Dyer Island, home to a colony of penguins and scores of seals, to get a breathtakingly close look at one of the world’s most incredible apex predators. Do a dive with the White Shark Projects, which is dedicated to the conservation of these fantastic, elusive and incredibly misunderstood creatures, and offers the chance to get face-to-face with great whites underwater for 20 minutes. www.whitesharkprojects.co.za, www.southafrica.net.
Somaliland, Africa This self-declared state is still unrecognised by the rest of the world, despite having de facto independence for more than 20 years. In general, tourism is all but unheard of here, but there’s plenty to see, and a number of small operators who orchestrate guided expeditions. Responsible Travel is one of these, and it offers an eight-day tour taking in war memorials, markets, nomadic tribes and settlements, and the caves of Las Geel, which feature rock art dating back a staggering 5,000 years. There’s also the chance to explore Burao’s hectic livestock market, while the scenic port city of Zeila on the Gulf of Aden (near the border with Dijibouti) is not to be missed. www.visitsomaliland.com, www.responsibletravel.com.