Visa-securing hassles have been steadily decreasing since the dismantling of the Soviet Union in 1991opening the door for a trickle of visitors to horseback ride into the Sayan Mountains' alpine lakes (there are no rentals; buy a steed for $500 in Kyzyl), and paddle the republic's Kyzyl-Khem River, a Class IV run recently discovered by outfitters.
In 1991, this nation's oppressive military regime signed peace pacts with the Pa-O, a sovereignty-seeking hill tribe that lives primarily in southeastern Myanmar. But it wasn't until a few years ago that hostilities were sufficiently quelled for adventurers to begin trekking through the rolling tea fields of the Shan Hills near Thailand without fear of being caught in the crossfire.
It used to be that a holy pilgrimage to Mecca or a work visa were the only viable excuses for setting foot on a plane bound for this Arab kingdom. But in 1999, the government began warming up to tourism, allowing Saudi Arabian Airlines to dispense visas to outfitters like Geographic Expeditions and Mountain Travel-Sobek, who both lead jeep trips to the Red Sea, the 6,000-foot Asir Mountains, and the Arabian Desert.
The 1,000-foot-tall red sand dunes of Sossusvlei and the seals and desert elephants of the Skeleton Coast are the draws, as is the reprieve from the tourist crowds in the neighboring adventure-travel meccas of South Africa and Botswana. What's kept the throngs away? For two weeks in August of 1999, secessionist violence in the tiny northeastern region of Caprivi threw the country into a state of emergency, which has since been lifted. But the rest of the country is ripe for travel, as long as you avoid Caprivi and its neighboring Kavango region, where the civil war in Angola spills over the border.