Vancouver Sun

Off the beaten track

5 must-see destinatio­ns that will take you out of your comfort zone.


Close your eyes and picture your favourite holiday destinatio­n. What do you see? As a Canadian, you’re probably visualizin­g white sand beaches, crystal clear water, palm trees and tropical jungles. But your next vacation could be so much more than sangrias, sunbathing and snorkellin­g. What if you could dive into a culture head first and experience things you never thought possible? What if you trade in your Caribbean beach paradise for an alpine hot-spring or a bustling market that makes you feel as if you’ve travelled back in time? This is the joy of stepping out of the comfort zone and heading to an off-track destinatio­n where few have ventured before you. It’s time to strap on your backpack, dust off your passport and ready yourself for the adventure of a lifetime. Here are five off-track countries that should definitely make it on your travel bucket-list.

1. GRENADA Let’s start off slow and easy. We know you still want to live out your holiday beach fantasy and to tell you the truth, you really can’t find a more post-card perfect destinatio­n than Grenada. This tiny island bobs in the Lesser-Antilles in the southern Caribbean and is located just 140 kilometres north of Venezuela. If you’re looking for beaches, this place has them in spades. Pure, powdery white sand, glass-calm aquamarine waters and hardly a tourist in sight! Most people who visit the Caribbean typically stick to the northern countries of Cuba, Dominican Republic and Jamaica ... but they’re missing out on a real untouched jewel. Not only does Grenada have some of the best beaches in the Caribbean (and in the world), but it also boasts a mountainou­s, jungle-clad interior that is perfect for trekking. Hire 74-year-old Telfor to guide you on a hike deep into the lush rainforest where you can discover sparkling waterfalls hidden within the thick foliage. Telfor is a legend on the island and has clocked over 16,000 kilometres in his lifetime of guiding; walking up, down and all around these incredible jungle paths. From beaches and jungle, to friendly people and tasty food ... Grenada truly has it all. 2. IRAN: Did you gasp? That’s OK. Many people believe that this Islamic Republic is a dangerous place to visit, with government travel advisories listing “avoid all travel” warnings. However, if you do some independen­t research and actually go to Iran, you’ll see the country for what it truly is. You’ll wonder how these warning messages have made their way to the television and around the web. With a low crime rate and a high regard for community and personal well-being, Iran is a very safe place to travel. The diversity here is amazing. One day you can be visiting the Persian Gulf, gazing out at the beach and watching fishermen haul in their daily catch, while the next day you could be experienci­ng the barren desert with rolling sand dunes and sauntering camels. Head north and you’ll find towering snow-capped mountains with captivatin­g Troglodyte Villages, while in the west you’ll discover a labyrinth of mud brick towns and bustling street markets. This is a country with incredible Islamic architectu­re. The mosques, mausoleums and minarets are adorned with intricate mosaics and designs. The covered bazaars are exciting, with wafts of exotic spices filling the air and smiling carpet salesmen loudly boasting the quality of their elegant Persian rugs. The transporta­tion in Iran is also amazing. Get those visions of chicken buses and over-packed trains out of your head. The buses in Iran put the Greyhound to shame, with enormous reclining seats, A/C and an attendant that serves up fresh snacks and hot drinks. You could only compare the land transport services in Iran to business class flights, and you can take a 7-hour bus ride for just a few dollars! By far, the most amazing thing about Iran is the people. The locals are profoundly hospitable with travellers often being invited for weeklong stays in complete stranger’s homes. People will speak with you on buses, call you over for tea and help with directions whenever you look lost. Iranians are, without a doubt, some of the friendlies­t people on Earth. On top of all of this, Iran is extremely safe, outrageous­ly affordable and easy to get around. Forget what you thought about Iran, go there and see how remarkable it truly is.

3. MOZAMBIQUE: Ok Vancouveri­tes, we know you’re reading this and looking out the window at a grey rainy day, so let’s get back to the beautiful beaches shall we? Mozambique is one of the most underrated beach destinatio­ns we can think of, and if you head to the far north of the country, you’ll see countless idyllic islands rimmed by palm trees, turquoise water and sand as white as snow. Seeing such bliss will make you wonder why more people don’t know about this holiday utopia. And don’t worry, there are cheap, good quality hotel rooms to be had and you can fly domestical­ly in Mozambique relatively cheaply. This is not always an easy place to travel, but the people are friendly and they will help you any way they can. Imagine mixing your beach holiday with a trip to a local African village. Meet children who have little, but feel as though they have it all. You’ll be touched by their giant smiles and their love for their country. This is Mozambique and it is the real Africa. Get in the mix of it and explore, it can offer you the adventure of a lifetime. 4. KYRGYZSTAN: It’s time we leave the beaches behind ... well, the tropical ones anyway. Kyrgyzstan is a landlocked nation in the former-soviet region known as Central Asia. Before you let the “stan” suffix scare you, you should know that Kyrgyzstan is nothing like Afghanista­n or Pakistan. It is very safe to travel here, you will be given a free travel-visa on arrival (unlike any of its neighbouri­ng countries) and you’ll be treated like an honoured guest for the entire duration of your stay. You don’t have to completely give up on your vacation beach dreams either. Issyk Kul is a heated, endorheic alpine lake at 1,600 metres above sea level and it is absolutely breathtaki­ng. Put on your bathing suit and enjoy a refreshing swim with a view of the snow-capped Tian Shan mountains as a backdrop. After you’re done soaking in the high altitude sun, you can head into the mountains for some amazing treks. The hike from Karakul to Altyn Arashan is exhilarati­ng, exhausting and brilliantl­y scenic. You’ll pass by the powder-blue Ala-kul lake at 3,560 metres before hiking up another few hundred metres over the Ala-kul pass, where you’ll enjoy magnificen­t views of the jagged mountain ranges and deserted valleys in all directions. You’ll finish the trek in a small town called Altyn Arashan where you can soak in a steamy natural hot spring and let your muscles rest after your marvellous accomplish­ment. You don’t get rewards like this from a beach holiday! If trekking by foot isn’t your thing, you can hire a horse and let it do all of the work for you. Horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan is very popular and a mustdo during your trip. The journey from the tiny town of Kochkor to Lake SongKul is fantastic, with two night’s spent in warm, authentic felt yurts along the way! 5. MONGOLIA: Our final stop on this intrepid travel journey takes us to a land of endless sky and the nation of nomadic horsemen. None of the above countries can match Mongolia for its sheer beauty and pristine, empty countrysid­e. Picture brilliantl­y green hills, rolling on for miles into the horizon and not a soul around. You can hire a guide and a horse to take you into the deserted steppe, or you can simply trek there yourself. Despite the fact that this is one of the least populated regions on our planet, there always seems to be a curious and friendly Mongolian around to help. Lace up your hiking (or your riding) boots and just venture out into the vast open steppe. The land here is owned by the Crown, meaning you can camp anywhere and everywhere. Go for a trek and pitch your tent wherever you like, and if you love fishing, you’re in for a massive treat. Mongolia is home to the hugo taimen which can grow to over 6 feet in length, making them one of the largest river fish in the world. Bring your fly rod and hook into one of these enormous beasts, but make sure you catch and release as they are a highly protected species. Other fish in the rivers, such as lenok and grayling, could keep you sustained on your travels if needed. If you’re not into hiking alone in the countrysid­e and fishing for food, you can simply take buses or minivans between major destinatio­ns in Mongolia and while they aren’t the most comfortabl­e way to travel, they’ll give you plenty of stories to tell when you return home. Add these tales to others about meeting local nomads and spending a night in their family ger (yurt), getting drunk on fermented mare’s milk, learning about Tibetan Buddhism and sleeping under a sky of countless stars. Mongolia is an adventure waiting to happen.

 ??  ?? Setting up camp in the middle of the Mongolian steppe along the Chuluut River offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience that few travellers think about doing. The fishing is fantastic too.
Setting up camp in the middle of the Mongolian steppe along the Chuluut River offers a once-in-a-lifetime experience that few travellers think about doing. The fishing is fantastic too.
 ??  ?? The arched entrance of the Jameh Mosque in Kerman, Iran is just one example of the country’s incredible Islamic architectu­re.
The arched entrance of the Jameh Mosque in Kerman, Iran is just one example of the country’s incredible Islamic architectu­re.
 ??  ?? Morne Rouge Beach in Grenada with hardly a tourist in sight.
Morne Rouge Beach in Grenada with hardly a tourist in sight.
 ??  ??
 ??  ?? A view of Ala-Kul Lake from the Ala-Kul Pass at 3,860 metres in Kyrgyzstan.
A view of Ala-Kul Lake from the Ala-Kul Pass at 3,860 metres in Kyrgyzstan.
 ??  ?? Mozambique offers gorgeous white beaches.
Mozambique offers gorgeous white beaches.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada