From the paradisical islands of the Bikini Atoll – which could have been the next Hawaii if nuclear testing in the 50’s hadn’t rendered the place toxic to humans, to the undulating dunes of the remote Namib Desert scarred by ghost towns like Kolmanskop; there are a myriad of beautiful places around the world that are simply too remote, or indeed, too peaceful, for today’s aspiring travellers. But, if you really are intent on getting away from it all, or just fancy visiting somewhere your mates have never heard of, we’ve compiled a fascinating selection of the world’s least visited beautiful places. Free of crowds, jostling queues and wailing children, these are places where you’ll almost certainly be guaranteed a peaceful break!
Kolmanskop, Southern Namibia
Set amid the undulating dunes of the Namib Desert just over 12km from the port town of Lüderitz, the abandoned former mining town of Kolmanskop has become a place of endless fascination for Western tourists. Its beauty, and perhaps most alluring quality, is not, as some might think, its situation amid the sweeping Martian landscapes of the desert, but in its distinctly colonial architecture. An eclectic blend of French, Italian and American influences, the stately porticoed houses that line the main street give a fascinating insight into the sheer wealth of the town’s former German settlers – many of whom uprooted their entire families from Europe during the diamond rush of the early 1900’s.
But, as is the story of many a former mining town, once the diamond field had been exploited completely, the town fell into decline, and with no future means of income, the workers abandoned the town. By 1954, Kolmanskop was completely deserted, and fell to the mercy of the sandstorms of the Namib Desert. Tours of the town today encompass numerous buildings of note along the main thoroughfare, many of which are now so full of sand, the rooms are filled waist deep. The eerie desolation of the town, coupled with the beauty of the wilderness surrounding it makes it a fascinating and photogenic location for visitors – even if it is just for an afternoon!
Beautiful though it is, the Western region of the Ukraine isn’t exactly known for its plethora of tourist attractions. But, tucked away in a small corner of the Rivne Raion District on the banks of the Stubla River is a tiny 12th Century town of fairytale proportions – Klevan. Formerly the seat of the royal Czartoryski household until the 1800’s, the leafy Jewish settlement boasts a number of beautiful historical attractions, including the ruinous Klevan Castle overlooking the Stublo River, and the Baroque Church of the Annunciation. The tiny riverside town is also home to the ‘Tunnel of Love’, a three kilometre section of tree-lined railway between the local wood processing factory and Rivne. The trees form a wall of greenery on either side in summer months, and the overhanging branches an impenetrable canopy over the line. Unsurprisingly, the tunnel has become a popular place for marriage proposals, yet is also a pretty ambient place for an afternoon stroll – as long as you don’t mind dodging the odd train or two!
The “Door To Hell”, Turkmenistan
A largely barren, dusty country, Turkmenistan has little in the way of photogenic landscapes to speak of – unless you count the cracked plains of the Repetek Desert Reserve at Lebap, or the dusty old ruins of the Parthian capital Nisa, near Ashgabat. It is, however, home to one of the few burning open caverns of natural gas in the Northern Hemisphere. Dubbed the “Door to Hell” by locals, the fiery, 70-metre wide pit in the middle of the Karakum Desert is the result of geological excavation work carried out by Soviet scientists in the 1970’s. Hoping to tap into natural gas reserve, the team mistakenly drilled too far, causing a huge chunk of the cavern ceiling to fall away. Worried the noxious gases would pollute the nearby town of Derweze, the scientists decided to set fire to the cavern in the hope of burning the fuel away. Nature had other ideas, and fed by a constant supply of natural gases, the fiery crater has continued to burn for the past 40 years.
Paro Taktsang, Bhutan
With fewer than 28,000 visitors per year, the tiny Himalayan country of Bhutan in South East Asia is on a par with Turkmenistan as one of the least visited in the world – and is probably just as difficult to gain entry to. The Bhutan Government has imposed strict limitations upon the number of people per annum permitted to enter the country, and those that are given permission must be travelling with a group that has been fully vetted by the Embassy. But, as many who have gone before will attest, the hassle of obtaining a tourist visa is actually well worth it given the fascinating Buddhist heritage of Bhutan. One of the country’s most famous heritage sites is Paro Taktsang, a sprawling temple complex hugging a steep cliff-side in the Paro Valley. Constructed in 1692 by Gyalse Tenzin, the ornate, tiered structure was built to commemorate Guru Padmasambhava, a prophet of Buddha who allegedly meditated for three years, three months, three weeks, three days and three hours in a cave on the cliff-side in the 8th Century. The “Second Buddha”, as he has become known, is credited with introducing Buddhism to the Bhutan people and forms the central focus of many beautiful murals housed within the main worship halls. Surrounded by blue pine forests, trickling rivers and formidable cliffs, the trek to the hillside complex is almost as scenic as the panoramic views from the temple!
The Solomon Islands
Stigmatised due to past wars and malaria outbreaks, the Solomon Islands just East of Papua New Guinea are still a relatively undiscovered part of Oceania despite their intriguing indigenous heritage and world-class scuba diving locations. With a rugged topography, sweeping sandy bays and cascading waterfalls, there are plenty of adventure opportunities to be had among the volcanic islands – namely the capital of the Western Province, Gizo, which is slowly becoming recognised as a prime surfing destination.
With a population of just over 6,000 people, Gizo is little more than a fishing village by tourism standards, yet offers myriad of ways to keep yourself occupied. The small Waterfront Market gives a fascinating insight into the culture and artistic prowess of the islanders, with everything from tapestries and clothing to fresh fruit and crops being sold from tiny motorboats on the waterfront. The waters around Gizo are largely cut off from the Pacific currents, and littered with the wrecks of WWII craft, offer some of the most spectacular reef diving experiences to be had outside of Australia.
Christ of the Abyss, San Fruttuoso, Italy
From nautical tourism to romantic weekend breaks, the Ligurian coastline lends itself to multifarious holiday ideas. It also happens to be one of the Mediterranean’s premier destinations for scuba-diving, with areas of protected coral reef abound along the Portofino-Genoa coastline. Protected since 1998, the Marine Park of Portofino is home to an abundance of fascinating marine species rarely found in other parts of the Mediterranean (including the wacky giant moon fish), and with over 25 designated dive sites, there are no end of exciting new places to discover. But there’s one place that features more prominently than most on the itineraries of scuba-diving enthusiasts: Christ of the Abyss.
Submerged at a depth of 17 metres in 1954, the giant, 2.5 metre cast bronze statue of the Messiah has become one of the Mediterranean’s most notable underwater landmarks. It was originally created by small time Italian artist Guido Galletti as an underwater memorial dedicated to the memory of Dario Gonzatti. One of the early pioneers of scuba diving equipment, Gonzatti is credited with the testing of much of the technology still in use today. Sadly the scuba diving aficionado didn’t live long enough to see the lowering of the Christ of the Abyss in 1954, however many Italians still make the pilgrimage to the site in his memory. It’s worth noting that there have been various casts made from the original over the years, including the Christ of the Abyss at Key Largo, Florida, and St. Georges, Grenada.
The Marshall Islands, Pacific Ocean
With sparkling azure waters, powder white sands, and around seven months of uninterrupted sunshine each year, the allure of the Pacific Marshall Islands (collectively the “Federated States of Micronesia”) seems all too obvious to those who aren’t aware of their history. Situated at the far North end of the Ralik Chain hundreds of miles from civilisation, the remote Bikini Atoll islands were the site of numerous high profile nuclear experiments after the Second World War, the fallout of which has rendered many of the islands toxic to anything other than endemic plant and animal species.
Unfortunately the stigma of nuclear testing has had a marked impact upon the touristic appeal of the other safer island atolls, such as Majuro, which are only now being rediscovered by curious travellers. Encompassed by coral reefs and crystal clear lagoons, Majuro has much to offer the intrepid adventurer, including guided dives to the recently established shark sanctuary at Kalalin Pass, and various World War II plane wrecks that litter the heavily populated pink coral reefs. Majuro’s hinterland also offers up some pretty unique experiences – lagoon fishing with native tribesmen using only spears, guided nature walks into the jungle, and pink sanded Laura Beach on the Western tip of the island.
There’s something strangely beautiful about abandoned ruins and forgotten towns. Perhaps it’s the mystery that so often surrounds their abandonment. Or maybe its to do with the fact that nature, in its quest to reclaim the ground once plundered by humans, often transforms these forgotten places into spectacular biospheres for hundreds of animal and plant species. Set atop a 400 metre cliff overlooking the Cavone River Valley, the “citta morta” (“dead city”) of Craco in the Region of Basilicata, Italy, has become a popular pit stop for tourists exploring the Matera coastline. Originally settled by the Normans sometime around the 8th Century, Craco grew into a prosperous hilltop town throughout the medieval period. That was until a series of earthquakes between 1959 and 1972 rendered the town too dangerous for continued inhabitation.
Over a period of less than thirteen years, the town’s entire population (approximately 1,800 people) uprooted themselves from Craco and established a new town, Craco Peschiera, further down the hillside. A series of further earthquakes compromised many of the buildings at Craco, toppling palazzos and causing deep ravines to form beneath the churches. The dilapidated state of the ruinous buildings contributes to the eerie atmosphere of Craco, yet have also made it a popular shooting location for Hollywood movies: the setting for both “Quantum of Solace” and Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ.”
Kiribati, Central Pacific
With less than 3,900 visitors per year, the tiny island nation of Kiribati in the Central Pacific ranks among the top ten least visited places on earth according to recent statistics. But, unlike other destinations where visitor safety might be compromised by political instability and civil war, the equatorial island nation has much to offer the discerning visitor – including the world’s largest coral reef by landmass, and has even been named one of the world’s premier diving and fishing destinations. Its main problem, however, is its inaccessibility. Although there are 32 islands that make up the atoll, they are only served by one international airline – Our Air – which connects Kiribati, the Solomons and Republic of Nauru via a once-a-week service to and from Brisbane, Australia. Island hopping is also made difficult by the fact that Kiribati’s two main domestic flight operators, Air Kiribati and Coral Sun Airways, only serve a few destinations among the 32 islands – namely Bonriki and Tarawa.
The Valley of the Mills, Sorrento, Italy
Situated at the foot of a deep rift behind Tasso Square, Sorrento’s stream-fed sawmills were once an integral cog in the town’s furniture making industry. The construction of Tasso Square in the mid-18th Century effectively cut off the rift from the currents of the sea, causing a sharp rise in the level of humidity. Both streams feeding the mills began to dry up, and before long, the mills had been abandoned completely. The high levels of humidity caused the ravine to develop its own micro-climate, which in turn allowed rare species of fern – Phillitis Vulgaris – to flourish on the valley floor. Today, both the mills and surrounding bridges are almost entirely carpeted with greenery, giving the place a truly ethereal quality. While almost completely inaccessible to all but the most experienced of abseiling enthusiasts, visitors can still look down into the valley from the cliff edge. For the best aerial views, head to the safer vantage points along Fuorimora Street, behind Tasso Square.
El Hotel de Salto, Colombia
There are few places that fit the ‘haunted house’ stereotype quite as well as El Hotel de Salto, located on the Bogotá River in San Antonio del Tequendama province. Veiled by swirling mountain mists and dense greenery, the Gothic former hotel commands an imposing sight from the roadside with its impressive arched windows and creeper covered terraces. But it isn’t always this gloomy. In fact, the impressive Franco-inspired hotel was originally intended as a “symbol of the joy and elegance of the elite citizens of the 20s” when it was commissioned in 1923.
Built on a prominent cliff face directly opposite the Tequendama Falls, the hotel afforded magnificent views from its terraces of the surrounding forest and Bogotá River. Briefly abandoned in the late 1940’s, the hotel was extensively refurbished in 1956, and went on to enjoy a significant period of prosperity until river contamination forced its closure again in 1992. Recently purchased by the National University of Colombia for an undisclosed sum, El Hotel de Salto looks set to become a fascinating museum devoted to highlighting the biodiversity of the region. The museum is not yet open to the public, however visitors to Tequendama Falls can still drive up the cliff road beside the hotel for a closer look.