From an Andaman island paradise to Idi Amin’s favourite hunting spot: eight secret hideaways to unleash your inner explorer.
This March, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, one of the world’s greatest modern-day explorers, declared to The Times that there are no new lands to discover. This is true – everywhere is mapped, if not photographed, blogged about and compiled into a full-colour guidebook to boot. But it’s not true that you have to be a first-footer to get the buzz of new frontiers. Complicated geopolitics, touchy security issues and difficult logistics mean there are plenty of locales where you can still chase that feeling of euphoria belonging to the travelling pioneer. Look a little more closely at the world, and many a former no-go zone is opening up.
The trick to navigating and enjoying these areas is finding the niche specialists who can pull a rabbit out of a hat – or put a helicopter into a desert almost anywhere in the world – to reveal frontier territories whose reputations are often at odds with their realities, from Chad to Iran and the Horn of Africa to the wilds of Afghanistan. Know the right fixer and he or she will pull in the tools, from choppers to Cessnas, from boats to super-guides, and pack the tentage to ensure comfort isn’t compromised. Bring this mindset to your adventures and there’s no reason why you can’t enjoy slipping off the edge of the known world in one of the following, underestimated destinations.
Clockwise from left: one of Camp Nomade’s canvas tented bedrooms Andrew Brukman/ African Parks; an aerial view of Zakouma Tom Parker; one of Africa’s last-remaining elephant congregations Michael Lorentz/ Passage To Africa
On Chad’s southern border, where this land-locked country butts up to South Sudan, it’s possible to find one of Central Africa’s last remaining congregations of elephants in their natural habitat. Arab militias have hunted them for their ivory for centuries. Now conservationists are fighting back, with a remarkable turnaround story taking place in ravishingly remote Zakouma National Park.
Your bed in the wild: Zakouma’s new mobile Camp Nomade has a South African polish to it, with its simple canvas tents pepped up with madder-red Libyan rugs and a thousand lanterns redolent of a fashion shoot by Mr Tim Walker. african-parks.org
Who to know: Mr Michael Lorentz is a South African-born safari guide who has travelled to Zakouma three times. In March and April 2016, he leads two more trips, opening up the seams of Zakouma, the wildlife and the colourful nomadic markets on the park’s wild flanks. passagetoafrica.com
Clockwise from left: cruise the stunning Mergui Archipelago Tom Parker; relax on the deck of Clan VI Ocean Independence; some of the world’s most unspoilt beaches are found here Barbara Muller/ Ocean Independence
Under the 50-year-rule of Myanmar’s military junta, the 800-odd islands that make up the Mergui Archipelago on Myanmar’s southwest coast were closed to visitors. As the country has opened up post-2008’s quasi-democratic elections, this Andaman paradise has revealed its lures, including the sea-gypsy culture of Mergui’s indigenous Moken tribe, but also, crucially, some of the best and most unspoilt beaches in the world.
Your bed in the wild: It’s not cheap at €80,000 a week, but there’s no more stylish way to travel this wilderness than under sail, booking Clan VI, a 1983, 10m Perini Navi blue-water sailing yacht with wood and cream interiors. oceanindependence.com
Who to know: Mr Jay Tindall, based in Bangkok, is experienced with the red tape a Mergui boat charter requires. He can organise the vessel (note Mr Tindall tends towards the superyacht end of the scale) as well as excellent skippers and guides. remotelands.com
Clockwise from left: escape to PNG’s tranquil Oro Province Tom Parker; the view from Tufi Resort Tufi Resort; the resort is only accessible by sea or air Epic Private Journeys
Papua New Guinea has a rotten reputation for security because of its warring tribes. But out of the mountain provinces and the shifty capital, Port Moresby, lies a little sliver of paradise: the forested tongues of Oro Province, which reach into a cobalt Solomon Sea. Gentle sea people, along with Edenic 100ft-high waterfalls hidden at the back of fjords, upturn all PNG’s violent clichés.
Your bed in the wild: Tufi Resort is the posh hotel with the expert divemasters. Stay a little longer and you can creep up the coast in local sail-powered rafts to stay at the spectacularly attractive homestays popping up in bays only accessible from the water. tufidive.com
Who to know: Mr William Kegana is a brilliant divemaster, who can take you to Veels Reef, home to two albino hammerhead sharks. Book through PNG specialist, Mr Pedro O’Connor. epicprivatejourneys.com
Clockwise from left: Danakil’s almost otherworldly landscape Tropic Air; one of the best ways to travel in the desert is by camel Tropic Air; the simple wood-and-stone aesthetic of Gheralta Lodge
In explorer and travel writer Mr Wilfred Thesiger’s time (the middle of the 20th century), the Danakil’s Afar tribe was said to have a penchant for cutting off the testicles of their enemies to hang them around their necks. Charming. These days, however, they have more pleasant habits, transporting salt in huge caravans across the awe-inspiring moonscape of the Danakil Depression — one of the hottest, lowest and most surreally beautiful places on earth, which, thanks to its acid lakes, bright yellow springs and bubbling seams of lava, looks as if it’s been snatched out of the closing reel of Mr Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. No, these pictures have not been retouched.
Your bed in the wild: Gheralta Lodge is only an hour’s helicopter flight from the Danakil fringe. It’s owned by Italians, so expect a spare wood-and-stone aesthetic reminiscent of a Pantelleria beach house. gheraltalodgetigrai.com
Who to know: Kenya-based helicopter pilot Mr Ben Simpson has done more forays into the Danakil than most, chauffeuring former US presidents, film-makers and more on extraordinary flying safaris that give a unique perspective on this epic, unbelievable landscape. tropicairkenya.com
Clockwise from left: Kidepo’s honey-coloured savanna Michael Turek; inside one of the stylish lodges Michael Turek; spot grazing giraffe and zebra Michael Turek
During notoriously bonkers Ugandan dictator Idi Amin’s time, Kidepo on the country’s northeast border was one of the “Lord of all the beasts of the earth and fishes of the sea” favourite spots to hunt game. Next up in its less-than chucklesome history came cattle-rustling wars between the region’s AK-wielding Karamojong. But now peace almost reigns in Kidepo’s honey-coloured savanna, where clouds skim so low, they graze the backs of the buffalo herds thriving in the riverine bends.
Your bed in the wild: Apoka Lodge is the most curious of surprises – a seriously elegant lodge with cottages positioned on a rocky kopje overlooking the park’s sea of sun-scorched grass. wildplacesafrica.com
Who to know: Mr Will Jones is the man to fix your Ugandan safari, mixing up the rare mountain gorillas of Bwindi Forest with the savanna wildlife and tribes of forgotten Kidepo. The two are connected by a Cessna charter. journeysbydesign.com
Clockwise from left: one of Kaafila Camp’s canopied tents Ken Kochey; Nubra Valley’s dramatic scenery Ken Kochey; villages and temples perch atop the cliffs Ken Kochey
In India, at a point where the Himalayas crumple into the border with Pakistan and China, lies the hidden Nubra Valley. For years this was off-limits because of the contested Line of Control dividing India, Pakistan and the Siachen Glacier, which remains the world’s highest war zone. Now permits have loosened up, enabling intrepid travellers to witness first-hand the valley’s dramatic mountainous scenery, sand dunes and Buddhist temples, which echo with the sound of peaceful chanting.
Your bed in the wild: Kaafila is a new mobile camp made up of tasteful canopied tents and ensuite bathrooms with mahogany and brass sinks, pitched at 3,000m and above. steppestravel.com
Who to know: Mr David Sonam is a Himalayan naturalist who spends his winters tracking snow leopards. Book him as your guide to the summer grazing grounds of his youth in view of the snow-dusted Karakorums. steppestravel.com
Clockwise from left: cruise the waters surrounding the Banda Islands Michael Turek; lounge around on your private deck Tiger Blue; the diving boasts steep drop-offs and vibrant coral reefs Tiger Blue
It’s not war that has kept the divers’ paradise of the Banda Islands off limits, but geography. Known for their crystal-clear waters, steep drop-offs, hard coral and vibrant sealife, they’re a five-hour flight from Jakarta (if the airstrip even functioned reliably), despite being part of the same archipelago. Formerly among the most coveted real estate in the world, for their rich spice harvests, the Bandas have a particularly interesting history. In the 17th century when Banda nutmeg was more valuable than gold, the Dutch swapped the island of Run, which measures three by two kilometres, for Manhattan. Today you can still see vestiges of this, in the colonial architecture peppered around the islands.
Your bed in the wild:Tiger Blue is a traditional 34m-long, 10-berth, eight-sailed boat, and one among a handful of pioneering Indonesia-flagged ships that now stop off to cruise the Bandas for a few weeks each autumn. tigerblue.info
Who to know: Mr Sam Clark is a travel fixer with an obsession. He doesn’t look for the smartest boats and lodges, but searches out the ones with soul, researching every nook and cranny of Indonesia, which is the world’s largest archipelago. experiencetravelgroup.com
Clockwise from left: mist clings to the Alborz mountains Wild Frontiers UK; the only way to travel this route is to make like the nomads Wild Frontiers UK; some of the best trails in the world await you in the Valleys of the Assassins Wild Frontiers UK
In Iran’s Alborz mountains lie a series of Persian citadels, built under the 10th-century cult of the Assassins, which, at the time, promised potential inhabitants the reward of gardens running with milk. A journey through this range, which rises out of the Caspian Sea, was documented by Ms Freya Stark in a book The Valleys of the Assassins: and Other Persian Travels, first published in 1934. That route is now opening up in a part of the world as topographically extraordinary as it is culturally misunderstood.
Your bed in the wild: The only way to do this route is with tents. But it’s not often you have to pitch them. Such is the hospitality of the Shahsevan Nomads, pastoralists who will more often than not invite you to stay in their village homes.
Who to know: Mr Jonny Bealby is one of the great adventurers, and a formidable author too. He owns a house in the Hindu Kush, while Iran and Afghanistan are as familiar to him as the back of his hand. He is also the founder of adventure travel company, Wild Frontiers. wildfrontierstravel.com