What are the best, rough-around-the-edges, far-flung destinations to visit?
I love foreign locales and culture, but don't like the occasional side factors: street crime, food-borne illness, bartering for souvenirs, etc. You have any ideas for great places and adventures that take my preferences into account? Andrew Menlo Park, CA
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Wow, you really live on the edge, don’t you Andrew? My advice would be to book a trip to one of those colossal all-inclusive resorts where you can spend a week and never have to leave the property. That way you’re in a foreign land but you don’t need to barter at the gift shop, and there’s little risk of getting a stomach bug from the burgers (especially if you remember to bring Purell, which I bet you carry everywhere, already). Or maybe you should stick to a cruise ship. You know, one that drops into a port for an afternoon, but leaves before you have to eat the food there. Now, to all you other readers, you might be better served if I name five great adventurous trips that Andrew would never take—to places that are a little rough around the edges, but offer cultural experiences of a lifetime.
Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, Mongolia
The grassy plains of Genghis Khan’s homeland have barely been touched since he roamed there nearly a thousand years ago, and you can catch it in all its verdant glory. This expansive park below the Gorkhi Mountains gives you an authentic taste of not only the remarkable Mongolian landscape, but also its culture. It’s filled with rock outcroppings, rivers, lakes, and is even home to an ancient monastery. Nomad herders are allowed to bring their sheep, yaks, and goats within its borders, and you can stay in a traditional wood-heated yurt called a ger. There are ger camps on the fringe of the park that charge a few dollars a night, and Juulchin, the state tourism company can help arrange trips there.
Easter Island, Chile
Considered the most remote speck of land on the planet, Easter Island is officially a part of Chile, even though it lies 2,100 miles off the South American coast in the South Pacific. (Its closest neighbor is Pitcairn Island, of Mutiny on the Bounty fame, some 1,300 miles away.) How the island’s Polynesian ancestors found this grassy piece of volcanic rock is as big a mystery as how its famed towering Moai statues were built and transported throughout it. (Of course, maybe it was the work of aliens.) What you’ll find: volcanoes, dramatic cliffs, rolling, wide-open scenery across its grass-carpeted expanses, Moai and impressive archaeological sites, and amazingly warm and friendly people. What you won’t find: hotels. Lodging on Easter Island is found in guest houses owned and operated by locals, and the impressive sustainably built lodge, Posada de Mike Rapu, jointly operated with the Chilean adventure company Explora (rates are $2,300 for a double room for three nights).
Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
This diverse protected area envelops a Rhode Island-sized swath of grasslands extending from Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park and following the Mara River through the Great Rift Valley of southwestern Kenya. It belongs to the semi-nomadic Maasai who have made this region their home for centuries. Wildebeest, zebras, giraffes, lions, leopards, hippos, and rhino all inhabit the preserve, as do more than 50 birds of prey. Stay at the Oldarpoi Maasai Safari Camp, a tented camp on 40 acres on the park’s fringe that’s owned and operated by the Maasai. It has a low-frill, romantic Hemmingway-esque feel to it—right down the security provided by Maasai warriors ($70 per person a night).