Image: Gabon
Africa's Eden
In one of the world's most ambitious conservation projects, Gabon's President Omar Bongo in 2002 set aside 10 percent of his country's terrain for national parkland.
updated 8/23/2009 4:22:35 PM ET 2009-08-23T20:22:35

The world is full of hidden corners — even the most experienced travelers 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 most any travelers' 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 heads up 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 mountainneers wear.  ‘They'll be much too hot for you.’ ”

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 ever seen. And since they're giving you a great experience, it important to help them, too.”

Image: The Great Blue Hole
Cayo Espanto
The Great Blue Hole is the world's largest underwater sinkhole, located off the coast of Belize, and can be reached with a quick two-hour plane trip from most major southern U.S. airports — and yet it feels planets away.

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.”

Image: Scottish islands
Inverlochy Castle Hotel
Nearly 800, little-explored islands surround Scotland, from the rugged northern areas thought to harbor huge, as-yet undiscoverd waterfalls to eastern isles like May, itself a nature reserve for puffins, grey seals and thousands of other creatures.

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.


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