Image © Cayo Espanto
The Great Blue Hole, Belize
The world is full of hidden corners – even the most experienced travellers have must-visit lists that get longer each time they venture out of the house. The more one travels, the more one hears about lesser-known destinations (Loango in Gabon, the Great Blue Hole, Mongolia's Yol Valley), and the desire to visit those places is so strong because they're not pandering to tourists – they are authentic. These vacations are true escapes from quotidien life.
And then there are the places so storied (the Amazon), so remote (Antarctica), so unspoiled (Papua New Guinea), that they're on almost any traveller's radar. Thanks to an ever-shrinking world – due in large part to the internet and improved transportation infrastructure – even the most hard-to-reach locales are now possible.
Take, for instance, Antarctica: although a trip there sounds intrepid (and it surely can be) today it is more accessible than ever. Bob Simpson, who is in charge of the luxury travel company Abercrombie and Kent's Antarctica cruises, relates: "We had a passenger who was 98 years old. He only got off the boat once to touch the ground in Antarctica, just to say he'd been there."
It's similar for other destinations: Catherine Heald, co-founder and CEO of Remote Lands (which organizes luxury trips to Asia), has spent nights in felt yurts in remote Mongolian villages, during the dead of winter, when temperatures plummet to 35 degrees below zero. "Before I left, I visited Tent and Trails, a store in New York City that outfits people who climb Mount Everest. They told me I'd be sweating in the coats the mountaineers wear. 'They'll be much too hot for you!'"
Image © Inverlochy Castle Hotel
Inverlochy Castle Hotel, in the Scottish Isles
In Mongolia as elsewhere, Heald says the locals she meets are always kind and welcoming: "Everywhere I've been, people are invariably wonderful, even if I'm the first westerner they've seen. And since they're giving you a great experience, it important to help them, too."
For those who are privileged to see pure, unparalleled areas of the world, it's important to leave them in their original condition, or change them for the better. In Antarctica, every ship is equipped with a team of experts, whether of ornithology, history or glaciology, to enrich the passengers and help them truly understand what they're seeing.
"Each year, I have one private client who pays for a group of students to go on the trip," says Simpson. "But it's not approached as a free trip – it's an educational opportunity. The students are so engaged that they come back as ambassadors for the environment."
Unspoiled territories like Antarctica won't always remain so. Remote Lands runs a trip to Papua New Guinea, where indigenous people have been living the way their ancestors have for thousands of years. "I don't know how much longer that will last but it certainly won't last forever," says Heald.
Whatever your ultimate, unparalleled, untouched destination is – the Whitsundays, Alaska, the Scottish Isles – see it while you can.