Having spent 17 years circling the globe for my job at the Smithsonian Institution, I am often asked, “Where is your favorite destination and where should I go next?”
Seems like an easy question, but it isn’t. My own list of favorites has shifted dramatically as my personal travel comfort zone expanded. For your consideration, I present the following seven step travel plan to expand your comfort zone and explore new horizons.
1. Upper Amazon – Yes, this is a luxury trip to a remote region. You can cruise the upper reaches of the Amazon on a most comfortable 14 cabin boat that will serve gourmet meals and bugs are kept to a minimum by the breezes from the water. You will fish for piranha, swim with the botos (Dolphins) and meet a local tribe. All during a 4 or 7 day cruise from the Peruvian city of Iquitos. For a longer trip, several cruise lines now offer sailings from Belem to Manaus, a few go on to Iquitos. Opt for the latter to see the rarely visited Manaus to Iquitos ports.
2. Moscow and Saint Petersburg– Moscow is one of the most vibrant, exciting cities in the world. The contemporary art scene is second only to that found in China. You can see and feel the sense of the old Soviet Union in many of the buildings and you can now visit Stalin’s bunkers. The Kremlin, (don’t miss the Terem Palace) takes you further back in history and Lenin’s tomb may be open, though Putin has mentioned the possibility of finally burying him-so hurry. After a few days take the new train to St. Petersburg to see and feel Russia’s imperial past. The Hermitage is great, their storage rooms even better and the glorious mansions of the Romanov period are opening for a glimpse of the past we have all read about. The Catherine Palace is of course on the list, but Pavlosk Palace is my preferred royal home. And the Alexander Palace, the birthplace and home from where Nicolas II and his family left for exile and death is being renovated and is a poignant must see. The hottest new hotel is the Four Seasons Lion Palace.
3. Gorilla Trekking in Uganda, Rwanda and the D.R.C. – Visiting any of these countries offers much to see and do, but it is the promise of gorillas in the wild (really habituated to humans to a degree, but living in the wild) that will get you there. You will have to hike to see them and that might mean a very long hike. Because of strict rules limiting the human exposure of each gorilla family, you may have to trek 30 minutes or 5 hours, as your guide leads you to those less visited. The experience is beyond all expectations.
4. Thailand and Cambodia -Start in frenetic Bangkok to see the highlights and don’t miss Jim Thompson’s house (and store.) I prefer the Mandarin Oriental but want to try the new The Siam Hotel. From Bangkok head north to the hill tribes in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai. The luxury tented elephant camps in Chiang Rai are a must if you dream of communing with these magnificent creatures. Return to Bangkok for the short flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia to visit the vast Angkor temple complex. Spend at least 3 days here and you will begin to feel like a local, albeit cosseted in your 5 star hotel of which there are several.
5. Antarctica – A cruise for the intrepid. First comes Drake’s Passage, it can be calm as a lake, though I have never seen it so. Usually you will be tossed a little, even with stabilizers on your ship, but this adds realism to your talks on Shackleton’s expedition. Once you get to the White Continent, you will be donning your red parka daily to go ashore and meet the wildlife. You will be told to not approach them but don’t worry, they will approach you and your pictures will be fabulous. But then you need such memories to sustain you back across Drake’s Passage as you head home.
6. Egypt and Jordan – As I write this, most people would not go to Egypt, but I would monitor Cairo closely. Consider staying out in Giza at the pyramids or skip Cairo and head directly to Upper Egypt. Luxor and Aswan are worlds away from Cairo. In Luxor you will walk the sands of ancient Thebes, enter the tombs of the Kings, Queens and Nobles and view their daily life in the paintings surrounding them. Cruise the Nile to the warmth of Nubian culture in Aswan and take the short flight to Abu Simbel to see the ancient miracle of the building of Ramses temples and the modern miracle (almost) of the move to build the Aswan dam. Then of course, you must hop over to Jordan and ride a donkey through the siq into Petra, soak in the Dead Sea and visit two great archaeological sites — Bethany Beyond the Jordan and Jerash. If Egyptian uncertainty and riots escalate, and you choose to avoid, just spend 7 days in Jordan.
7. Trans-Siberian Express – You are now ready to experience full immersion on one of the most famous rail trips in the world. The TransSiberian express takes several routes, mine was from Vladivostok to Moscow and took 7 days. Only by train can you experience the expanse that is the Russian Far East. Passing Lake Baikal alone is worth the trip, the world’s oldest and deepest lake. Go by yourself, or with a partner, but not in a group. Take appropriate books, yes including Dr. Zhivago and note, your Wi-Fi or cell won’t work after you leave Vladivostok until you get close to Moscow, so bring several.
What are your choices? Inspire through our collective intelligence, share your comments and my next list could be drastically different. (I am highly impressionable.)