27 of the world’s secret destinations, as chosen by 27 experts

1. Admire the Neoclassical in Symi, Greece

Symi, Greece (Shutterstock)

Simon Reeve, author and TV presenter

My travel secret is the little Greek island of Symi, off Rhodes, which has arguably the most spectacular harbour in the country, entirely surrounded by Neoclassical houses.

Think Greece is all package holidays? Greece has the tenth longest coastline of any country on the planet and there are still plenty of areas (and beaches) free of other travellers.

Some of the best events in Greece happen before and after summer. And areas of Greece that you might think you know already during summer are a completely different experience at other times of year. During spring, flowers and greenery are abundant and parts of Greece are as lush as the Tropics, while Greek Easter can be an amazing spectacle.

2. Go wild in Maya Nord in the Republic of Congo

A western lowland gorilla (Shutterstock)

Gavin Thurston, Planet Earth II cameraman

Maya Nord is not a travel destination for the faint-hearted, more for the adventurous and intrepid with a hint of the hidden explorer in them. It is a bai or open clearing in the forests of Odzala-Kokoua National Park, in the Republic of Congo.

With clever planning, you can get from the UK, via Paris and Brazzaville, to deepest Africa within a day or so. The journey itself is an adventure – planes, cars, dug out canoes and some jungle hiking.

The reward is a truly wild paradise inhabited by a host of charismatic mammals, including elephant, western lowland gorilla, chimpanzee, leopard, and forest buffalo, not to mention the bird life. It’s a naturalist’s heaven and one of the truly wild places left on earth.

3. Explore colonial architecture in overlooked Córdoba

Catedral y Cabildo de Córdoba, Argentina (Shutterstock)

Shafik Meghji, writer and co-author of The Rough Guide to Argentina

Popular with Argentines, but often overlooked by foreign travellers, Córdoba province i san incredibly rewarding place to explore.

Its eponymous capital is a youthful, forward-lookingcity, packed with colonial-era architecture, art and cultural spaces, and a dynamic restaurant scene centred on the hip Güemes neighbourhood.

The dramatic Sierras de Córdoba mountain range is wonderful for horseriding, while Mar Chiquita, one of South America’s biggest lakes, is a haven for birdwatchers.

Plus there’s the kitsch Germanic town of Villa General Belgrano, remarkable pre-Columbian petroglyphs, excellent hang-gliding and paragliding, Che Guevara’s childhood home, and a series of Jesuit estancias that date back 400 years.

4. Explore hidden niches at the Hsinbyume Pagoda, Burma

Hsinbyume Pagoda, Myanmar (Shutterstock)

Lyn Hughes, editor-in-chief, Wanderlust

A lot of visitors to Mandalay in Myanmar (Burma) visit the well-known temples.

But the Hsinbyume Pagoda on the western back of the Irrawaddy is a real hidden gem (it’s also called Mya Thein Tan, which translates as 100,000 emeralds).

To get there, either take the daily morning ferry from Mandalay to Mingunjetty, or join a sightseeing river cruise.

The beautiful all-white temple has seven terraces to explore, which represent the mountains that rise up to mythical Mount Meru.

There are even secret statues to spot in hidden niches decorating the waves of the temple.

5. Shop for traditional crafts in Morocco

Selection of spices on a traditional Moroccan market (souk) in Marrakech, Morocco (Shutterstock)

Helen Fanthorpe, senior editor, Rough Guides

Shop with a conscience in Morocco. There are numerous Fairtrade cooperatives and associations in Morocco, which are worth seeking out. Visiting them often means meeting locals, as well as buying beautiful crafts or delicious
food to benefit the community.

A few projects to look out for include the 40 plus cooperatives in the AïtBouguemez, which produce traditional crafts; Al Nour in Marrakesh, a professional training centre for women with disabilities, who create hand-embroidered bed and bath linens; and the Amal Women’s Training Centre, also in Marrakesh, where disadvantaged women gain financial and social security through cooking.

The updated Rough Guide to Morocco is out now.

6. Step back in time at the Kings Weston estate in Bristol

Kings Weston Estate, Bristol (Shutterstock)

Dan Linstead, former editor, Wanderlust

My backyard overlooks the sprawling Blaise and Kings Weston estates in north Bristol. In the 18th century, their woodlands, river-carved gorges and views over the Severn Estuary were internationally famous, visited by European nobility and admired by Jane Austen.

Today, Kings Weston is a true locals’ haunt, a place for ramblers and dog-walkers to step into the dusky woods and back in time. Stand in the Echo, a tumbledown stone folly sprouting vegetation from every nook, and you could almost be in Angkor Wat, Cambodia.

7. Recharge at the Towpath Café in east London

Regents Canal, London (Shutterstock)

Sophie Darlington, wildlife filmmaker

Every spring the Towpath Cafe on Regent’s Canal near Haggerston quietly opens its shutters and you can find the most delicious seasonal food served there until late autumn.

After a shoot it’s where I head to recharge and watch the wildlife and the light refracting on the water.

8. See the flower with the largest bloom in the world in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

Rafflesia, Sarawak, Borneo, Malaysia (Shutterstock)

Anthony Bennett, former media specialist, Wanderlust

Atrek through the Cameron Highlands can bring many highlights, one of which is finding the rare Rafflesia, a parasitic plant that has the largest bloom in the world.

The current record is 107cm in diameter and they can weigh up to 10kg. It is rare due to the fact they are collected illegally for use in traditional medicines to treat injuries and infertility.

They also only flower for three to five days, so you have to be in the right place at the right time to catch them in all their glory. As well as the Rafflesia, there are incredible animals in the Highlands; tigers and clouded leopards have even been seen.

9. Go horseback riding in the Paricutín’s lava fields, Mexico

Paricutin, Mexico (Shutterstock)

Dan Stables, author, Rough Guide to Mexico

The hamlet of San Juan Parangaricutiro in Michoacán was almost entirely engulfed by a cataclysmic volcanic eruption in 1943.

Today, all that survives of the original village is the top half of the old church, its tower rising dramatically from the black, cracked lava fields that form the slopes of the young volcano of Paricutín.

Riding to the spectral church on horseback from the nearby village of Angahuan is an unforgettable experience.

The updated Rough Guide to Mexico is out now.

10. Get lost in the secret gardens in Horta, Barcelona

The Maze in Horta Gardens, Barcelona (Shutterstock)

Kirtey Verma, editorial assistant, Wanderlust

Spend a day with the Greek gods at the Labyrinth Park of Horta and you’ll find a place where time stands still. Located on the outskirts of the city, the park doesn’t attract the same amount of attention or crowds as Parc Güell, but it doesn’t seek it – only 750 people are allowed in the park at any given time to preserve its character.

Make your way through the twists and turns of the park’s eponymous maze, where you’ll find a sculpture of love god Eros at the centre. If you can find your way out, climb to the upper terraces – a few people will be taking pictures of the pavilions filled with busts and statues of more Greek gods, but if you continue upwards into the hills, you’ll find fewer people and panoramic views over the city.

Winding pathways lead you past shaded flower gardens, small waterfalls and ponds buzzing with the sound of bright dragonflies into secluded alcoves. Here, you can escape the crowds of Las Ramblas and while away the day in peace. Plus, it’s free on a Sunday.

11. Enter another realm at the Lençóis Maranhenses National Park in Brazil

The lagoons at Lencois Maranhenses, Maranhão, Brazil (Shutterstock)

Rachel Lawrence, managing editor, Insight Guide: Brazil

Visitors who make it to this remote corner of north-eastern Brazil are rewarded by an otherworldly environment of rolling sand dunes and crystalline lakes.

The journey from São Luís to Barreirinhas takes about three hours. From here, tours into the park by boat and 4×4 can be arranged. The lagoons are best visited while at their fullest, between July and September.

The updated Insight Guide: Brazil is out now.

12. Dive the Amazon

Pygocentrus nattereri. Flock of ferocious Amazonian piranhas (Shutterstock)

Jeremy Wade, TV presenter

There’s a place on one of the Amazon’s southern sub-tributaries where you can push through the vegetation into a tiny channel, which leads to a pool of the clearest water, and a truly surreal underwater landscape.

Dive down; every boulder-pile holds an electric eel, but in the clear water visitors can avoid the consequences of blundering into one of these guardians.

13. Unravel secrets at the My Son temples in Vietnam

My Son, Vietnam (Shutterstock)

Nora Wallaya, digital executive, Wanderlust

My Son sanctuary is a collection of temples dating from the 4th to the 13th century in Vietnam.

This impressive site was left behind by the mysterious Champa civilisation, whose secrets have still not all been unravelled.

Situated around an hour’s drive west of Hoi An, its rural location means it gets fewer visitors.

When you’re there, check out the local graveyard on a steep hill nearby – where hundreds of brightly-coloured headstones resemble an assortment of little dolls’ houses.

14. See hidden falls in Switzerland

Trummelbach waterfall, Switzerland, the biggest waterfall in Europe (Shutterstock)

Mike Wright, art editor, Wanderlust

There are a total of 72 waterfalls to see in the Lauterbrunnen Valley in Switzerland but don’t miss those not on view: the hidden Trummelbach Falls.

Accessed via an ancient tunnel funicular and lift, ten glacial waterfalls thunder down inside the mountain spraying you with a fine soaking mist. The roaring force of the water plunges down multiple tiers all easily seen from small viewing platforms.

15. Get in pole position in Poznan, Poland

Poznan, Poland (Shutterstock)

Ben Aitken, travel writer

I moved to Poland to find out why the Poles were leaving. The answer was money. I could have Googled it. But a Google search wouldn’t have taught me that Poland is beautiful, complicated and utterly memorable, and that working in a fish and chip shop on minimum wage is only fun up to a point.

I lived in Poznan. Its secret? I’d say its corners, its outskirts. I spent days riding the trams, acquiring a bigger picture. Centres are fine, but edges are rich. Sometimes it’s good to look the wrong way.

Ben’s A Chip Shop in Poznan: My Unlikely Year in Poland (Icon Books, 2019) is out now.

16. Lose the crowds at Holkham Beach in North Norfolk

Tidal salt marsh creek on the North Norfolk coast at Holkham (Shutterstock)

Catriona Bolger, former publishing director, Wanderlust

Yes, Holkham Beach is award-winning, yes the estate owned parking can be limited, but it’s so easy to lose any crowds by taking a walk through the pine forest or along the amazing wide open beach.

Even in peak, school holiday, summer you can easily find yourselves alone where the sand meets the sky. Go bird watching, spot a seal or two if you are lucky and then enjoy a pint in The Victoria at the end of the day.

17. Uncover the Hôtel-Dieu, France

Main Courtyard of the Hotel Dieu (Shutterstock)

Just seconds away from Notre-Dame Cathedral is a blue door. You could easily miss it, but what lies beyond is one of Paris’s best-kept secrets: the Hôtel-Dieu complex, the city’s oldest working hospital.

Slip through the sliding doors, ask for directions to the courtyard, and you’ll find a piano and Hausmanian architecture – the ideal cure to the city’s crowds. But remember to be quiet – the patients don’t want the word getting out.

18. Avoid long queues in Rome

The Roman Forum (Shutterstock)

Nick Boulos, founder of MakeMyDay

Avoid the long queues that snake around the Colosseum and instead go across the road to buy your entrance tickets at the fascinating Roman Forum. It’s usually more quiet and your ticket also includes fast track admission to the Colosseum. Result!

19. Ignore stereotypes and visit Essex

Epping Forest (Shutterstock)

Tom Hawker, managing editor, Wanderlust

Ignored by guidebooks but adored by the likes of Robert Macfarlane, Essex is England’s most under-appreciated travel spot.

Whether for the ancient woodlands of Epping and Hainault or the bird-heavy coastlines and marshy wildernesses – like Rainham Marches and Two Tree Island – that stretch up the Thames. Time to chuck those stereotypes into the Estuary.

20. Kayak in uncharted rivers, Suriname

Suriname River, Upper Suriname (Shutterstock)

Aldo Kane, world record-setting adventurer

My recent trip to Suriname left me speechless. It’s one of the last bastions of true adventure and exploration on the planet with well over 94% of its surface area still covered in primary forest. It’s relatively easy to get to and is a shining example of how to manage resources and the environment properly.

Taking an internal flight out to Kabalebo Nature Resort can have you kayaking in uncharted rivers, wildlife spotting and going on guided ranger trips into the country’s interior. Once you’ve had your fix of adventure you can head back to the capital, Paramaribo and relax in one of the many excellent hotels.

21. Find adventure in one of Morocco’s ancient sites

Lixus, Morocco (Dreamstime)

Aimee White, editor, Make The Most of Your Time on Earth

’Travel far enough and you’ll meet yourself’ – or so the saying goes. But travel far enough and you’ll also bump into the Romans, who at the height of their Empire touched Lixus in Morocco. Off the beaten track and with few modern-day markings, Lixus is one of the oldest inhabited sites in Morocco.

In the city where Hercules completed one of his 12 labours, catch a glimpse of Roman life with its deserted temple sanctuaries, intricate mosaics and the Upper Town’s crumbling amphitheatre, away from the souks and unforgiving deserts.

Make the Most of Your Time on Earth (Rough Guides) is out now

22. Dive unexplored sunken caves in the Yucatan, Mexico

Cave Cenote, Yucatan, Mexico (Shutterstock)

Steve Backshall, BAFTA-winning wildlife presenter and adventurer

My secret location is the Cenotes, the sunken caves of Yucatan, Mexico. I guess the exciting thing for me about the Yucatan is it’s somewhere where there are millions of tourists. It’s a very well-known area.

You have beaches that are thronged with people and you can go a mile away from those crowds and be underground, underwater in a place that no other human being has ever been before. That as an idea it blows my mind. And I think it’s one of the most exciting things that I’ve seen and learnt this year.

23. Go cycling in Tupiza, Bolivia

Duende Canyon, Bolivia (Shutterstock)

Tupiza in Bolivia is surrounded by fabulous rock formations and dry river beds. It’s a great place for trekking, cycling and riding.

The route north to the Salar de Uyuni salt flat takes in old mining towns (with Butch and Sundance connections) and miles of roads above 4,000m past lakes of blue, black, green and red waters, lonely volcanoes, surreal rocks and hot springs that you daren’t come out of because the cold air outside.

24. Stop off for a pick-me-up at Cape Wrath, Scotland

The Cape Wrath Trail, Scotland (Shutterstock)

Sean Conway, endurance adventurer, author and motivational speaker

Have you ever been on a long walk and arrive at the café 10 minutes after it closes? It’s heart-breaking when that piece of cake and cup of soup you’ve been dreaming of for hours is locked behind a glass door.

Well, if you happen to be walking toward Cape Wrath lighthouse on Scotland’s northern- most reaches then you will never have this problem. There is a café in the lighthouse that will open for you whatever time of day or night. I know this because I have tested it when I arrived at 10:30pm to a warm bowl of soup.

25. Go skiing in Tehran, Iran

Alborz Mountains, Dizin, Tehran, Iran (Shutterstock)

Andy Smart, comedian and travel writer

If you have some time off in Tehran why not go skiing for the day. The city is surrounded by the desert to the south and a crescent of mountains to the north.

There is a ski resort at Tochal, on the highest peak of these mountains. It takes about an hour from the city centre to the bottom of the lifts. The runs are basic but not busy. Just two hours north is the bigger resort of Dizin, with chalets and ski hire shops.

Andy’s book A Hitch in Time (AA Publishing, 2019) is out now.

26. Adventure down the Amazon on a public riverboat

The riverboat to Manaus (Shutterstock)

Mark Stratton, travel writer and radio broadcaster

Adventure cruises by boat are an exciting way to explore the world’s great rivers. Yet such expeditions can be prohibitively expensive. So consider using long distance public ferries for a fraction of the cost. I recently made a legendary trip down the Amazon from its mouth at Belem to Manaus on a public riverboat.

The 6-day journey cost just R$200 (£40) for a cabin. Besides soaking in the Amazonian scenery I wiled the days away getting to know the mostly Brazilian passengers.

27. Take a tour of Rurrenabaque Pampas, Bolivia

Rurrenabaque, Bolivia (Shutterstock)

100km north-east of Rurrenabaque, in the Bolivian lowlands, is Santa Rosa, the remote jumping off point for boat tours on the slow-moving Río Yacuma, where wildlife is bountiful. Families of capybara, hundreds of caiman, pink river dolphin, raucous hoatzin, herons and innumerable other birds can be seen at boat level.

Look up into the gallery forest for howler, squirrel and capuchin monkeys. On a walk through the marshes, wading in parts, you’ll see spoonbills and maybe even an anaconda if you’re lucky.

Find out more of the world’s secrets:

16 of the best secret trips in the world

1. Head for the hills in Kenya

Fly camp in the Lolldaigas (Audley Travel)

See the mighty Laikipia Plateau from a new angle on a bespoke adventure in Kenya’s Lolldaiga Conservancy with Audley Travel.

Though the reserve itself is relatively unknown, its views of Laikipia, Mount Kenya and the Aberdare mountain range are unrivalled – while lions, cheetahs and Grévy’s zebra roam nearby.

You’ll explore on game drives and walking safaris, and spend a night or two camping in the Lolldaiga Hills – before making tracks for Mara North Conservancy and Ol Pejeta Conservancy, home to the world’s last northern white rhinos.

Who?Audley Travel(01993 838510)

When? June to March 2019; 2020

How long? Seven nights

How much? From £5,600 (including int’l flights)

2. Go gallery-hopping in Japan

Naoshima Art (Selective Asia)

Discover the little-known ‘art island’ of Naoshima on An Insider’s Japan, a tailor-made trip with Selective Asia.

On this sleepy isle in the Seto Inland Sea, you’ll see creations by renowned local artists and architects – alongside the likes of Warhol, Monet and Hockney – in numerous tiny museums and galleries.

A clutch of outdoor sculptures, such as Yayoi Kusama’s towering Yellow Pumpkin, make a striking addition to the otherwise wild coast and woodlands.

Cycle around the island (it takes less than half an hour) before ducking into the traditional houses-turned-studios in this former fishing settlement. Gallery hopping never felt so intrepid.

Who?Selective Asia (01273 670 001)

When? Year-round. We recommend March to April and October to November

How long? 12 days

How much? From £3,760 (excluding int’l flights)

3. Gaze on the treasures of India

Gaze on the treasures of India (Shutterstock)

In the silvery glow of a full moon, the Taj Mahal takes on an ethereal, otherworldly beauty – its marble curves shimmering in the celestial spotlight.

Corinthian Travel’s India and Taj Mahal by Moonlight private tour is timed to make the most of this lunar spectacle, with additional opportunities to explore the mausoleum at sunrise and sunset too.

After a tour of Agra Fort, you’ll venture to the haunting city of Fatehpur Sikri – abandoned over 400 years ago – and then to Ranthambore National Park, in search of its leopards and tigers. Accompanied by an experienced wildlife guide, you’ll learn the secrets of tracking and spotting these elusive creatures.

Who?Corinthian Travel (020 3583 6089)

When? Year-round. We recommended October to November and February to May

How long? 10 days

How much? From £1,395 (excluding int’l flights)

4. Rock the boat in Norway

Island Hopping on Norway’s Fjord Coast

Hop on board the postal boat that serves some of Norway’s little-visited islands, where basking seals and swooping eagles are the only crowds you’ll encounter.

On Discover The World’s Island Hopping Along Norway’s Fjord Coast trip, you’ll explore the land and sea between Bergen and Ålesund by local ferry, kayak, bus, bike, and mailboat – with the option to hire a car too.

Slow travel at its best, the itinerary also allows for following wild hiking trails, discovering small fishing communities, photographing vast sea bridges, and visiting the Norwegian Red Deer Centre to observe these elegant native animals.

Who?Discover The World (01737 888442)

When? Selected dates June to August 2020

How long? Seven nights

How much? From £1,036 (including int’l flights)

5. Voyage into the South Pacific

(Heritage Expeditions)

Sail around the isolated, intriguing islands of the South Pacific and discover the many Secrets of Melanesia with Heritage Expeditions – your ticket to this rarely-visited part of the world.

Head to Malaita, where ‘shell money’ is still used, to explore forests a-flutter with rare golden fantails – before delving into the tribal heritage of Ngongosila Island and witnessing time-honoured traditional dances.

In Vanuatu, the Listerine-hued shallows of Champagne Beach are yours to wallow in, but don’t get too comfortable: there are wild waterfalls to climb, lively reefs to snorkel on, and rare birds to spot. Keep an eye out for Falla’s petrels, Solomon sea eagles, and Vanikoro white-eyes – all highly notable sightings.

When? Selected dates in October 2019 & 2020

How long? 12 days

How much? From around £4,394 (excluding int’l flights)

6. Discover hidden heritage in Colombia

Colombia Lost City Trek Travelers (G Adventures)

Unearth Colombia’s lost civilisations on a Lost City Trekking adventure with G Adventures.

To begin, you’ll hike through thick jungle and wild river valleys on a three-day pilgrimage to sacred Ciudad Perdida – a pre-Hispanic treasure in the Sierra Nevada mountains. Older than Machu Picchu, this ‘lost city’ lay hidden until 1972, and remains almost untouched by tourism.

The journey isn’t too gruelling, but it does require stamina – particularly for the 1,200-step final ascent. From here, you’ll follow gentle pathways to remote Wiwa and Kogi villages, where you’ll camp in spectacular hilltop clearings and enjoy a lunch cooked by local women in the indigenous Gotsezhi Wiwa community.

Who?G Adventures (0207 313 6953)

When? Year-round

How long? Seven days

How much? From £499 (excluding int’l flights)

7. Walk the wilds of Poland

An elk in Poland (Shutterstock)

Encounter an ancient world that has been left untouched for millennia with Naturetrek’s Poland in Spring trip.

Wildlife secrets are whispered in the quieter corners of the immense Białowieża Forest where European bison, wolf, lynx and elk roam the UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.

Then head to the Biebrza Marshes, led by an expert ornithologist and naturalist; birdwatchers will be in paradise – spotted eagles and bluethroats swoop through the skies above.

Who? Naturetrek (01962 733051)

When? 10 May 2020

How long? Eight days

How much? From £1,495 (including int’l flights)

8. Fly high in Peru

Fly high in Peru (Peru Safari)

While Machu Picchu grabs the limelight, it also hogs the crowds – meaning that Peru’s other ancient riches (which are plentiful) slip quietly under the radar… so you can have them almost all to yourself.

Unearth one such treasure on the Cloud Warrior Tracks Tour to Kuelap with Peru Safari. Assisted by a 4×4 self-drive expedition vehicle, you’ll take the ‘scenic route’ through coastal settlements and South America’s highest peaks – and up, up, to the highlight of the trip: the Cloud Warrior Fortress of Kuelap.

This remote jungle citadel was built by the Chachapoyas in the sixth century, and perches 3,000m above sea level in the cloud forest – a land you’ll explore on foot or horseback, with only hummingbirds, toucans and monkeys for company.

Who?Peru Safari (01744 889819)

When? 15 June 2020 and 3 Dec 2020

How long? 17 days

How much? From £4,290 (excluding int’l flights)

9. Blaze a trail in Palestine

Abraham Path, Jenin Sanur to Sebastia (Frits Meyst/Meyst Photo)

Uncover the Holy Land with Silk Road Adventures, on its new hiking expedition though Palestine: Walk the Masar Ibrahim al Khalil with Leon McCarron.

Unheard of by most, the ancient Masar Ibrahim al Khalil trail – also known as ‘Abraham’s Path’ – leads travellers through Rummaneh, Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and offers real insight into the region’s complex history.

Along the way, you’ll sleep in homestays and Bedouin camps, and walk an average of five hours per day through olive groves, desert gorges and remote villages – stopping to explore ancient Canaanite, Greek, Roman and Byzantine ruins.

“Of all the expeditions I’ve done, the Masar has been the most instantly inspiring,” says adventurer and filmmaker Leon McCarron, who will guide the trip. High praise indeed: McCarron has already walked 1,000 miles through this complex, storied region.

Who?Silk Road Adventures (0117 427 0129)

When? 13 April 2020

How long? 14 days

How much? From £2,980 (excluding int’l flights)

Before you go: Consult the UK Foreign Office’s travel advice before travelling to Palestine, or visit your local government’s website for up-to-date guidance.

10. Hike to the heavens in Ethiopia

Landscape on the Sanetti Plateau in the Bale Mountains National Park in Ethiopia (Shutterstock)

See a side of Ethiopia that goes missed on the Ethiopia Bale Mountains trip with YellowWood Adventures.

Cross the highest plateau in Africa and see exotic wildlife from mountain nyala to the rare Ethiopian red wolf. Impala and warthogs also walk across the plains, with nomadic herders grazing their flocks on the plateau, too.

Hike through the ancient Harenna cloud forest, where cascading waterfalls drop down to reveal hidden bamboo groves and rock pools.

Colobus monkeys are at home here, so look out for their distinctive monochrome fur, before making your way over to thatched-roof villages to uncover a unique way of life.

Who? YellowWood Adventures (020 7846 0197)

When? 5 October 2019

How long? Eight nights

How much? From £1,299 (excluding int’l flights)

11. Be wowed in Sulawesi

The Togean Islands (Shutterstock)

Go on Adventures in Sulawesi with Bamboo Travel. Start in busy Makassar before trekking to a remote Torajan village, tucked away from plain sight.

See boat-shaped Tongkonan houses and learn about their traditional customs on an overnight stay, before cruising across Lake Poso and admiring prehistoric megaliths at Bada Valley.

Listen out for the birdsong at Malei rainforest in Lore Lindu National Park, where hornbill, kingfishers and eagles are all counted among the species at home here.

Round off your trip at the idyllic Togean Islands, where you can rest and relax or snorkel over coral reef in crystal-clear waters.

Who? Bamboo Travel (020 7720 9285)

When? September to October 2019

How long? 20 days

How much? From £3,795 (including int’l flights)

12. Revisit ancient history in Italy

Theatre of Herculaneum (Shutterstock)

Join Andante Travels to see a secret side to Pompeii, Herculaneum and Classical Campania. With an expert archaeologist, you will be able to exclusively access the ancient underground Theatre of Herculaneum and see its many relics.

You will also have private entry into the Cave of Sejanus and the adjoining villa of Pausilypon, as well as the store rooms at Paestum, where you’ll find Lucanian tombs decorated with painted scenes.

Along the way, you will spend time exploring the ruins of Pompeii, hiking Mount Vesuvius and touring the Villas of San Marco and Arianna and examining the intricate frescoes of a bygone era.

Who? Andante Travels (01722 786545)

When? Selected dates January to May; July to December 2020

How long? Eight days

How much? From £1,895 (including int’l flights)

13. Cross the desert in Oman

The Wahiba Sands in Oman (Shutterstock)

Jump onto one of the finest Arab horses on Venture Co Worldwide’s Wahiba Desert Crossing trip. Known only to nomadic tribes, the route has never been conquered by Westerners – or attempted on horseback.

Starting in Muscat, you will ride south past the rugged Al-Hajar Mountains towards Wahiba Sands, where the dust of the golden sand will fly behind you as you continue to canter to the Arabian Sea. Here, you can hop off the saddle and relax in the waters at Wadi Shab.

Float upstream to swim beneath waterfalls and climb ropes to a lagoon above the falls – the perfect place to rest your tired muscles.

Who?Venture Co Worldwide (01837 55907)

When? 9 Oct 2020 & 20 Feb 2021

How long? Nine days

How much? From £3,125

14. Relax on the coast in Greece

Relax on the coast in Greece (Shutterstock)

Leave everything behind and relax on Halkidiki’s ‘secret’ island with Sunvil.

With only a single village to its name, Ammouliani is the perfect getaway – stroll through the old fishing harbour and along golden beaches without bumping into crowds of people.

You can pop in and out of local tavernas and cafés on your way or take a cruise along the western Athos coastline. Look out for UNESCO-listed monasteries from the sea or ferry over to Ouranoupolis for the day, where you’ll find priests mixing amongst pilgrims and Byzantine architecture.

Who?Sunvil (020 8568 4499)

When? September to October

How long? Seven days

How much? From £750 (including int’l flights)

15.Party with primates in the Republic of Congo

Party with primates in the Republic of Congo (Shutterstock)

Head deep into the heart of Africa with Tracks Safari for a unique chance to interact with gorillas in a setting that has largely gone under the radar.

Meet with gorilla research teams and go on morning treks for an encounter with the furry primates – then meet all sorts of nocturnal wildlife as they come out of hiding on evening forest walks. Thrill-seekers can kayak along the Lekoli River, take a dip in the Lango bai and see African grey parrots.

At Odzala-Kokoua National Park, you’ll find even more wildlife opportunities – lowland gorillas, chimpanzees, spotted hyena and forest elephant can all be spotted here.

Who?Tracks Safaris (01386 830264)

When? November to December 2019

How long? Seven nights

How much? From 6,550 (excluding int’l flights)

16. Discover a tucked-away tribe in Guyana

Warapoka, Guyana (Geodyssey)

Travel down Guyana’s wild north-west coast and discover an unseen side to the nation and its indigenous communities on Geodyssey’s Warapoka trip.

Sail down blackwater rivers and wind your way through dense forest to find the tucked-away village of Warapoka, where you will encounter a traditional way of life that has lasted for thousands of years.

Not only will you get to observe the cultural secrets of the Warrau people, you will get a chance to bustle about in Georgetown and witness the grandeur of Kaieteur Falls, the world’s largest single drop waterfall.

Who?Geodyssey(020 7281 7788)

When? Year-round

How long? Seven nights

How much? From £2,750 (excluding int’l flights)

Need more inspiration? Find more great trips:

Chris Tarrant’s Extreme Railways

Chris Tarrant is perhaps best known as the host of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?. In the new Channel 5 travel series called Chris Tarrant: Extreme Railways, the radio and TV personality asks a fundamentally more interesting question: ‘Who wants to ride the world’s most dangerous railways?”

Over three action packed episodes, Chris finds himself stuck in the heart of an African jungle, crossing the Australian Outback and exploring the coast of India. He meets the drivers, engineers, local characters and fellow passengers and finds out how these extreme railways were built, how they are kept running and how they change the lives of the local people they connect.

He talks to Peter Moore about the challenges of making the series. And the best thing to do when an Indian transvestite flashes you his bits.

Having watched the first episode about the Congo, I can vouch that your new show, Chris Tarrant: Extreme Railways, lives up to its name.

It was unbelievable. When they said to me “Show One, I think we’ll go to Congo,” I said “Congo? Are you mad? We’re all going to die.” But it was OK. You kind of felt safe hanging around your hotel room at night. You didn’t go wandering around dark areas at night at 3 o’clock in the morning, but to be honest, you wouldn’t do that in London.

It was just the railway system. It was just an absolute shambles. The train we were catching was six days late and then it broke down in a tunnel at 2 o’clock in the morning.

Was that your scariest moment?

Yeah. We thought “We are now walking down the middle of a railway line, in the middle of the night, in the Congo.” You can’t get much more extreme than that.

The conductor told us that the train was going to be broken down for at least the whole night, and I thought “I really don’t want to be spending the night on this train” and then all of a sudden another train came along to pick up the broken down train and towed it to the next station. I don’t know how they’d communicated to each other.

What worried you most about your Congo train journey?

That they hadn’t done any serious upgrading of the tracks for decades. They’ve got a brand new train on one section, but the same old track. They had very serious derailment five or six years ago, where 90 people died. We were basically on the same line on a brand new train, doing 100 miles an hour, but thinking “Yeah, this is all very nice, but the rails are exactly the same ones that were in use when they had the derailment.”

We went out on the tracks a couple of times on a little maintenance vehicle, a mini truck thing, and Sam the cameraman and I were looking down the side of some of the ravines and looking at the state of the track and thinking “Shit! This is not very clever!” So, again, it wasn’t scary being in the Congo. It was more about the state of the railway.

How did the Congo trip compare to rail journeys you’re used to?

My local station here is Pangbourne, in Berkshire, which is really rather nice. When I went to the Congo I generally thought I’ll go down and get on the train, buy a First Class ticket and it will all be rather very pleasant. What you don’t expect is to come across 1,500 people waiting for the same train.

When my 11.02 comes into Pangbourne, and it is generally on time, we’re fully loaded on our way by 11.03. In the Congo, not only is the train days late, it takes several hours to load the train.

Nor could we move from one carriage to the next. We tried to go through the train, but there was no way we could do it. We had the head of the railway with us and he said: “Oh I will take you up to the front of the train!’ but there was no way we were going to get through.

I’ve never seen anything so congested in my life. There were whole families sitting on the couplings between carriages – mum, dad and the children, all smiling. How dangerous is that, not to mention extremely uncomfortable?

It sounds like it was a real eye-opener for you…

I suppose what it did was demonstrate the theme of the series, which is how amazing railways can be in these parts of the world. Without this railway in the Congo, most of those villages would have no connection with the outside world. There are no roads. If you needed supplies from the next town, you’d have to walk, no matter how much stuff you had to carry. So, the only way to get there and back is on this train, even if you have to sit there for four or five days.

In England, if a train is not running or you think, “I’ll get in the car and drive up to Manchester.” Or get a flight. In the bloody Congo you’ve got no chance. There are no alternative forms of transport, and, if there was, you wouldn’t be able to afford it anyway.

Not that the new train is that affordable anyway. The ticket for the new train from Dolisie to Brazzaville cost £27. I thought it was fantastic. But what you realise is that for most of these people that is half their annual wage. There is just no way they can afford it. So, already, the new train has problems.

There is still the old train…?

Sure, the six-day-late one is affordable but it’s in a dreadful state. We couldn’t film out the window because they were so caked in mud and God knows what else.

The lavatories. Oh my God! They were disgraceful. Even the locals barely use the bog themselves because it’s so disgusting. As soon as you get to a station, everyone, men and women, pull down their pants and wee on the line.

In the second episode you travelled to Central Australia.

Yeah, we went right up from Adelaide to Darwin. Basically did the entire Australian continent from south to north. First, we went on the Ghan. Then we looked at the old Ghan line, which is very different. We caught a steam train on that.

For the next bit, we travelled by four-wheel drive, which isn’t a railway, but I tell you what, it was unreal. You go for days without seeing anyone. One day I drove from eight in the morning until about nine o’clock at night, and over the entire day I saw two cars. You can’t do that on the M25. It was unbelievable.

And you missed the new Ghan.

We arrived in Alice Springs to catch the new Ghan for the last leg of the journey up to Darwin, and the Ghan had gone. The office was locked up and the next train wasn’t until the next week. So I got a ride on a bloody big freight train. 22 hours in the cab of a freight train – just me, the cameraman and the drivers. It was a real adventure.

There was nowhere to sleep so I stayed up all night. My eyes were staring out like corks, staring at this line. We were battering along, really going. There were kangaroos coming onto the line from all angles.

It’s a real problem out there. They hit kangaroos. They hit camels. They hit cows. They can’t stop. It’s a massive train, a huge long thing. The tonnage must be terrifying. We hit a dingo in the middle of the night. Absolutely splattered it. But the driver said there was no way he could stop, whether it’s a human or whatever, he just keeps going.

The final episode is set in India.

We went from Mumbai down to Mangalore, the monsoon bit, in the west of India. It’s the first railway they’ve ever had in that part of India. There are British built railways all over India but they didn’t build one there. It was too inaccessible and there was always the monsoon to deal with.

It’s a fantastic railway. Some of the visuals from this episode are just stunning, especially the massive aqueducts. It has completely opened up this whole area of India for people who otherwise would not been able to go anywhere in their own country.

What was the most extreme thing about your Indian railway journey?

Just to give you an idea, I’ll compare it again with my local station. They say “The train coming in at 11.03, scheduled to come into platform one, is now coming into platform three.” So we all go down the subway or over the footbridge. In India, they just run across the line. And I’m not talking just one bloke. I’m talking hundreds of people. Kids on their shoulders, goats, whatever, all just race across the track.

We filmed one bit, it was terrifying. All these people, running across in front of an oncoming train, tooting its horn like mad. Yet somehow, they survived. I honestly thought we were going to be filming a catastrophe.

Here’s a statistic for you. On the railway lines around Mumbai, just one tiny bit of this huge country, ten people a day are killed on the railway line. For fuck’s sake, ten people a day? If there was one killed a year in England it’d be front page news, there’d be an enquiry and a white paper from the government. Ten people a day die on the railway lines, just around Mumbai. And I thought we were going to film some. It was madness.

How did you find life onboard an Indian train?

It’s great. The train is full of people all the time, getting on and off, trying to sell you things; selling you curry, selling you a drink.

At one point I was accosted by a very strange drag act, a transvestite. Apparently, they come on and curse you, and if you don’t give them money they won’t lift the curse. So I had this terrifying creature – I couldn’t tell if he was man, woman or beast – curse me, then lift up their skirt and show me their bits and pieces, until I gave them money. It was like that every day in India. I never knew what was going to happen next.

Your train ride in the Congo was pretty lively too…

Yeah, there was those missionaries singing in the carriage in the Congo. It was very impromptu. We had some of that in India as well, they were going to some religious festival – the wailing and singing and beating their drums.

Mainly, in good old England, we get on a train, we sit there, we read our paper, stare straight ahead and no one speaks to anyone else. It’s part of the English stiff upper lip. India, Congo, and, to a certain extent Australia, because they like a chat too, everyone talks to everybody and has an opinion.

If you had to nominate a favourite moment from the series, what would it be?

I think it would be the breakdown in the middle of the tunnel in the Congo. I remember thinking it doesn’t get much more extreme than this. What have I signed up for here? It’s 2 o’clock in the morning. I wasn’t tickled pink about it at the time, but looking back I think it’s an amazing bit of television.

Where to next?

The producers are talking about South American railways. They’re talking about Siberia. They’re talking about something up in Mongolia. There’s lots more to do. It’s such a good subject. I was surprised just how much I got into it. I spent the whole series thinking “Oh my God! This is unreal. This is like no experience I’ve ever had.”

The travelling goats of Pointe-Noire

I need coffee,” I thought. “And food… But mostly coffee.”

8:30 am and I was doing a Groundhog Day-like repeat of yesterday. I woke up in an air-conditioned concrete square in Hotel Gabriella in Dolisie, Republic of Congo. Hadn’t I checked out of here? I pulled on all my clothes and padded down the hall to the toilet block in the hotel courtyard.

There, that’s the toilet with paper.”

I needed to figure out what to do, now that I’d fled the train heading to Brazzaville. Did I want to fly? I knew I didn’t want to embark on a two-day hellish overland truck journey through the mud. Or did I want to go to Pointe-Noire on the coast? From there, lots of planes flew to Brazzaville, or I could apply for an Angola visa and transit the Angolan enclave of Cabinda to Democratic Republic of Congo. But tourists were struggling to get Angolan visas at the moment, and if I managed to get one, I’d be using a day of a five-day transit visa in Cabinda, which meant having four days to cross all of Angola.

On the bus.

On bad roads.

In a country with virtually no tourist infrastructure.

Clearly, I needed that breakfast and coffee to give this more thought.

I walked through the courtyard to the hotel restaurant, next to the reception area.

I stood there for a moment, baffled. I was alone in the restaurant.

Then a man – maybe the hotel owner – walked in.

“Wait, wait,” he said. He motioned for me to sit down.

I waited. After ten minutes, I went back to my room and packed a bit. When I returned to the restaurant, there was still no one there to take an order. I went to pack some more.

The third time I went to the restaurant, a young woman showed up, rumpled but well-manicured, and just out of bed.

“Let’s see… I’ll have cafe au lait, s’il vous plais, et…”

“No lait,” she said.

I looked at her dumbly.

“No lait?”

“No lait.” She smiled breezily, charmingly at me. Charm didn’t fix the lack of lait.

I stood up, walked to the front gate, and went outside to buy milk.

I looked right. No shops. But to the left, there was… something. I walked towards it.

Oh, a photocopy shop.

Defeated, I went back to Hotel Gabriella, abandoned the idea of breakfast, got my luggage, checked out, and hailed a taxi.

“Gare routiere pour taxi a Pointe-Noire, s’il vous plait.” I got in.

I was still uncertain about what I should be doing, where I should go next. I quizzed the driver.

“Ou est la aeroport? Avec planes pour Brazzaville?”

“Aeroport? Or gare?”

I shrugged, not really committed to either the airport or the bus. “Je ne sais pas.”

The driver looked worried. “What’s it gonna be?” he said. “Make up your mind.” Or maybe he said “Are you crazy, woman?” It was in French. Much of what I understand as I travel around the world is through context.

“I was on el tren last nuit a Brazzaville but tren ne pas bon. So I vais now to Pointe-Noire. I guess.” My French-speaking abilities – now mixed with Spanish and English – were ludicrous but I was too tired to try to pretend I was any better at it.

“I will drive you to Pointe-Noire,” declared the driver.

What a sweetheart, I thought. But I shook my head.

“Not enough money left,” I said ruefully. “Only share taxi.”

“OK, but you buy deux place. Four hours to Pointe-Noire.” The young driver was firm with me.


At the gare routiere, the taxi driver dropped me off at a share taxi sedan bound for Pointe-Noire and demanded that I have (and pay for) the front seat, both places. Two people normally share the single passenger seat for 7,000 CFA each. I was more than ready to take the whole front seat, but a tall woman was already in it. She wanted to share.

“Sit with me,” she said in English.

I did gamely try, but the idea of sitting with a left buttock on the emergency brake for four hours was too much. I was in the mood for refusing to do insane things now that I’d acknowledged my inner wimp and abandoned the train I called the Ninja Express after the self-styled “Ninja” insurgents along the route.

I got out. No, my left butt cheek on the emergency brake was not acceptable.

I needed a better solution than this, a better way to ride in a sedan for four hours. Then… wait.

Was that my backpack in the trunk? Behind SIX LIVE GOATS?

“1,000 CFA for baggage,” demanded the driver.

I laughed. I heard a bleat.

“You’re kidding.” I was pretty far past the point where any politeness or edit functions were still working in my brain. “You want me to pay for my bag to ride WITH GOATS? There are GOATS in the trunk. No. I won’t. Get the goats back out. Give me my bag. I want deux place and I don’t want my bag to smell like goats. I will go in the next taxi. My bag cannot be in the trunk WITH GOATS!”

Now all the passengers panicked, seeing I had gone off the deep end and would happily sit and wait for hours in order to avoid me on a hand brake and my bag with goats.

That would mean they’d have to wait for another passenger before they could leave. The woman who’d wanted to share with me nearly flew into the back seat.

“It’s OK,” she said. “Take the deux place.”

“It’s OK,” the driver said. “The goats are no problem. The baggage rides free.”

When I looked behind me at the backseat at the four adults and two children, I did feel bad for them all crammed in there. Though I felt worse for the goats. I realised that this wasn’t my home country, that things were done differently here, and that goats had to ride somewhere, but… goats in a trunk?

“It’s 14,000 if you buy two places,” whispered one of the older women at me, trying to save me $15. She was kind to be concerned, but I was done with ordeal travel for now.

No more. I didn’t know what I was going to do when I got to Kinshasa, but I was done with roughing it, done with the idea of suffering through Angola, and done with the threat of being stuck in the mud. The next time I put up with difficult travel, I planned to be in Tibet or India, months from now, after a long rest in Thailand.

Off we drove, four hours across under-construction roads, goats bleating all the way, passing sprawling Chinese camps with dangling red lanterns. Congolese workers with pickaxes and shovels tackled the road while the Chinese operated heavy equipment. The road was only rough in a few places.

And when we pulled into the outskirts of Pointe-Noire, passing an entire section of town with shops solely dedicated to airbrushed shop signs, we stopped and all the passengers dispersed, melting into the landscape. The goats miraculously seemed none the worse for wear.

I couldn’t say the same for my rucksack, which was coated in a layer of dust and goat hair.

The driver sheepishly tried to brush my pack off before handing me the filthy bag.

The woman I’d thrown out of the front seat offered to help me check into a cheap-and-cheerful church guesthouse. A wedding, complete with ululating, was going on.

I took a single room with a shared bath. I didn’t expect the room to have air conditioning, but I couldn’t figure out how to make the ceiling fan work.

I went to the front desk.

“How do I turn on the ceiling fan?”

She laughed gently at me.

“It doesn’t work.”

Oh. Of course.

Later, I’d walk a few blocks to the town center, which was – surprisingly for an oil town – kind of pleasant. I’d run into an oil worker from Queens, New York. I’d eat yoghurt and consider my options.

Transit Cabinda by land? End up in Soyo, Angola, where I’d have five hellish bus journeys to cross Angola into Namibia? Sleep on the bus or on the urine-soaked ground at a bus station?

Or I could fly.

In an aeroplane.

“The safety records of these local airlines are terrible,” pointed out the oil worker from Queens.

I laughed. “Do you have any idea how I’ve been travelling?”

I’d fly in an aeroplane to Brazzaville, continue by boat to Kinshasa.

Big bad terrifying Kinshasa.

Didn’t scare me so much any more, I realised. Plane it was then.

I should have just flown from Dolisie, I thought.

But then I’d have missed the goats in the trunk…

Want to travel the world solo? Check out our solo travel guide. Fancy taking a career break? Here are 7 reasons why you CAN take one.

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Brazzaville Blues. When good trips go bad

I awoke and peeked out of my room at Hotel Gabriella, which I’d crawled into late last night, after the 14.5 hour, 140-mile truck journey from the Congo-Gabon border to here in Dolisie. I vaguely remembered the night clerk being hopelessly inept. He’d taken a basket of keys, then counted the room doors. There were no numbers on the doors, so he had to count from left to right to figure out which door was which.

“Un, deux, trois…”

I wanted to tell him the rooms hadn’t moved. Hadn’t he done this before? But I didn’t dare interrupt as he kept starting over as it was.

I quickly packed up and left at 7am. If there was an eight o’clock train to Brazzaville, I wanted to be on it to continue my trip south all the way to Cape Town. If there wasn’t, I needed an early start on whatever Plan B was going to be as I made my way around the world.

At the railway station, Congolese women dressed in colorful handmade matching head wraps, skirts, and blouses kept pushing past me in line, but then the friendly station master spotted me. He motioned me around into his brightly lit, air-conditioned office.

Using a combination of writing, hand signals, semi-English, and semi-French, he explained to me that the train was running late and still had to go to Pointe-Noire on the coast. It would return here at 5:30pm. A first-class ticket was 15,000 CFA.

Deflated, I asked if luggage storage was available in the station. I knew there wasn’t, but I was angling for an invite. Which this friendly man cheerily provided.

“Baggage ici,” he said, pointing to a dusty cove under a counter, next to an unused stool. I could leave my baggage here until departure time.