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Indiana Jones’ favorite destinations

In pursuit of fortune, glory and historical truth, daredevil archaeologist Indiana Jones, portrayed by Harrison Ford, engages in adventure across the globe. The first three blockbusters, "Raiders of the Lost Ark," Temple of Doom" and "The Last Crusade," span North and South America, Africa and Asia.
Facade of the Khasneh (´Treasury´) at Petra. Jordan
Facade of the Khasneh (´Treasury´) at Petra.
/ Source: Forbes

In pursuit of fortune, glory and historical truth, daredevil archaeologist Indiana Jones, portrayed by Harrison Ford, engages in adventure across the globe. The first three blockbusters, "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "Temple of Doom" and "The Last Crusade," span North and South America, Africa and Asia. While little information about the upcoming film has been confirmed, the trailer and early reports for "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" indicate that the globe-trotting historian will once again bring his whip into jungles, ancient temples and maybe even a secret government compound.

For those who simply want to follow Doctor Jones’s trail, it’s a matter of booking flights or, in some cases, a tour (Expedia, for example, is offering Indiana Jones Travel Experiences). But recreating the spirit of his travels is much more difficult. The movies, inspired by the cheap and fast movie serials of the '20s and '30s, were rarely shot on location. In fact, much of the films were shot in Elstree Studio, a cavernous filmmaking facility in England.

“George Lucas wanted to do something like these old movie serials, but modernize it and do it better, with higher production values,” says Jonathon Rinzler, author of "The Complete Making of Indiana Jones." “At the same time, he didn’t want $10 million on a shot you could do for $10,000.”

Still, the Indiana Jones crew has collected a lot of flyer miles over the years.

For the first film, "Raiders of the Lost Ark," Hawaii stood in for Peru in the opening scene where Jones nabs an Incan statuette from a booby-trapped temple. While scores of tourists flock to the ruins at Machu Piccu, Peru still offers plenty of off-the-track adventure. Martin Haggland, owner of New York-based Inka Empire tours, urges travelers to explore Choquequirao, a ruined city in the south of Peru.

“Access has been difficult until the last few years, and it’s had few visitors,” Haggland says. “If you’re looking for an Indiana Jones experience, where the ruins are still in the jungle and only partially revealed, this will be the place for you.”

The Nepal scene in "Raiders of the Lost Ark", where Jones acquires the headpiece to the Staff of Ra—and a “partner” in Karen Allen’s Marion Ravenwood—was shot on a set. If you want to re-enact Ravenwood’s drinking contest, Nepal offers several indigenous liquors, notably the potent raksi. Before heading out, study the political scene—last April, the Nepalese government imposed a week-long ban on the production and sale of alcohol.

For the Egyptian scenes, the "Raiders" crew turned to Tunisia, where producer George Lucas also filmed portions of "Star Wars."TheTunisian city Kairouan, which means “Little Cairo,” served as backdrop for the desert chase scenes as well as cinema’s most memorable match-up between a master swordsman and Indiana Jones’ pistol.

Egypt is among the most popular tourist destinations in the world, but there are still places the average tourist can’t access. The Archaeological Institute of America—Harrison Ford is an honorary member—offers small group Egypt tours with exclusive access to the Tomb of Nefertari, the Step Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara, the mountain of the great temple of Abu Simbel and other sites.

The second film in the quadrilogy, "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," was shot mostly at Elstree Studios and in Sri Lanka. “They originally planned to film in a real temple in India,” says Rinzler, “but they didn’t get permission.” The Indian government reportedly did not approve of the Maharaja’s depiction in the movie.

monumental statues in Abu Simbel temple in southern Egypt
monumental statues in Abu Simbel temple in southern EgyptMichal Kram

In Shanghai, Indy survives poison, a car chase and even Kate Capshaw’s ear-shattering version of “Anything Goes” (in Mandarin!), only to end up in Northern India by way of a raft dropped from a plane flying over the Himalayas. He and the crew eventually reach a village devastated by the loss of its children and holy sankara stones, which finally shifts the plot into second gear.

After an elephant ride, Jones and crew arrive at the fictional Pankot Palace, where their hosts serve them snake surprise and chilled monkey brains. While a memorable scene, it’s an inaccurate portrayal of Indian cuisine. “Lentils and green vegetables are the staple of the diet,” says Sanjiv Vashist, assistant director for the Los Angeles office of Indian tourism. The region is also chillier than what is shown in the film, but just as isolated. Vashist said Northern India’s scarce population and diverse terrain is ideal for treks and safaris.

The third film, "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," opens with young Henry “Indiana” Jones, portrayed by the late River Phoenix, learning to hate snakes and love whips while eluding unscrupulous treasure-hunters in Utah’s Moab desert. The film soon moves to an adult Indy traversing Italy and Germany in pursuit of his father, whose search for the Holy Grail has gained the unwanted attention of occultist Nazis.

Exterior shots of the castle where Sean Connery’s Henry Jones, Sr. is held captive were taken at Castle Bürresheim in Germany's Eiffel Mountains. Steven Spielberg enhanced the image, but it’s impressive even without the digital assist. “It’s one of the few castles in Germany that has never been conquered or destroyed. It’s not restored, so you really get the old feeling,” says German tourism spokesman Tim Rosenkranz.

Following a book-burning in Berlin, where Jones accidentally acquires Hitler’s autograph, the Joneses slowly spirit away in a zeppelin. In real life, no zeppelins fly out of modern Berlin, but Airship Initiatives offers them in the south German town Friedrichshafen, which also houses the Zeppelin Museum. The Joneses tangle with birds, planes, tanks and horses before they’re outflanked by the Nazis at the home of the Holy Grail, portrayed in the film as UNESCO-protected archaeological site Petra, with its temples hewn from the tan rock face of a basin near the Dead Sea.

The upcoming "Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" is named for an ancient Mexican quartz skull purportedly imbued with psychic powers. The skull, recently discovered to be a hoax in real life, is chased by Jones and Soviet agents.

The producers are keeping a tight lid on story elements; co-star Shia Labeouf joked in an interview that Spielberg has snipers follow him to ward off spoilage. Reported filming locations include Connecticut, New Mexico and Hawaii, but as previous films indicate, that doesn’t mean the movie’s scenes actually take place there.

“Let’s say it will definitely be in the spirit of Indiana Jones,” says Rinzler.

While you wait for the fourth film to land in theaters, Lucasfilm and Paramount Home Entertainment recently released a DVD box set of the first three films.