International hospitality from Iceland to Bosnia
Want to get off the beaten path? Then here are 10 places that will stump most travel agents and reward you with original experiences.
But remember, these are "no pain, no gain" destinations, so you will need to be prepared for long transit times there and back - and you will not be able to recover at a five star hotel after a day of walking up 300m sand dunes or climbing an active volcano.
To reach Concordia, the junction of the Baltoro, Godwin-Austen and Vigne Glaciers in Baltistan, northern Pakistan, you must walk for about 10 days, eventually arriving at the foot of K2, the world's second-highest mountain. Easy ways in do not exist, and there are few places on earth where you can be buried so deep within a mountainscape. Described by the photographer Galen Rowell as the "throne room of the mountain gods", Concordia is as starkly beautiful as it is remote. Its name was given by European explorers, who thought it looked like a spot in the European Alps.
Empty Quarter, Saudi Arabia
Whether you call it the Empty Quarter (Rub al-Khali) or the Abode of Silence, the largest area of sand on earth is, well, rather empty. Covering an area of the Arabian Peninsula that is larger than France, Belgium and the Netherlands combined, it also has sand dunes as high as the Eiffel Tower, rising to more than 300m in height and stretching for hundreds of kilometres. And while the Eiffel Tower remains firmly rooted in Parisian soil, these dunes can move up to 30m a year, pushed along by strong winds.
Cape York, Australia
Australia is renowned as a place of nowheres but even to Aussies, Cape York presents a remote and forbidding frontier. The northernmost tip in the country is reached along corrugated 4WD tracks that will rattle the teeth loose from your jaw. You will find the cape approximately 1000km from Cairns, which means days and days of driving, including crossing creeks inhabited by estuarine crocodiles. For your reward, you wll find a rocky headland and, well, not much else. Now the only thing left to do is to turn around and clatter your way back.
Quttinirpaaq National Park, Canada
Canada's second-largest national park is probably also its least visited. Straddling the 80th parallel on Ellesmere Island, it reaches to North America's northernmost point (Cape Columbia) and, for visitors, deep into their pockets - a charter flight in from the town of Resolute will set you back an immodest $32,000 Canadian. The park has no facilities, roads or even trees. What it does have are bears and bares: polar bears and beautiful, bare mountains. While here you may as well pay a visit to Grise Fiord, Canada's most northerly town.
The earth's northernmost point is a place so far off the human radar that somebody turned it into the mythical home of Santa Claus - after all, who would come here to prove the story wrong. Unlike the South Pole, there is no land at the North Pole. The few adventurers who come here do so by literally walking on water across the frozen Arctic Ocean. The ice cover fluctuates between nine million square kilometres in summer and 16 million square kilometres in winter, and is rarely more than 5m in depth; a disturbing thought when compared to the 3000m-thick Antarctic ice shield.
Robinson Crusoe Island, Chile
The most famous loneliest person in literary history is Robinson Crusoe. As lonely as the man is the island that bears his name, 670km off the South American coast. It was here, in 1704, that Alexander Selkirk asked to be put ashore after a dispute with his ship's captain. He lived here alone for four years, inspiring Daniel Defoe to create Robinson Crusoe. Today, around 500 people live on the Pacific island named for its very solitude. Few others come here; visitor numbers rarely top 100 in a year.