Edgy escapes

Go somewhere different: make tracks to Colombia, Burma and Iraq

Edgy escapes A young monk looks over the Bagan Temples in Mayanmar, Burma - © iStockphoto.com/Alan Tobey
By Chris Moss

Here, we've selected countries or regions that are firmly on the responsible tourist radar, but where recent events – or just reputation – make a trip there exciting and sure to impress.

Burma (aka Myanmar)

Edgy or just wrong? Severed from the world by one of its toughest military regimes, Burma is South-east Asia’s forgotten wonderland. Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and many human rights groups have frequently stated that travelling to Burma effectively sponsors the government and should therefore be avoided. Others say its long-suffering people crave contact with the outside world and visitors can bring them hope. Whichever camp you join, Burma’s natural beauty inspired Rudyard Kipling, and those who do visit are blown away by its Buddhist temples, unspoilt landscapes and the warmth of its people.

If you decide to make the trip, don’t miss the Buddhist temples of Bagan, the mystical scenery of Inle Lake and the ancient cities near Mandalay.

Book with TransIndus (020 8566 3739, www.transindus.co.uk).

Colombia

Until the mid 1990s, Colombia was best known as the planet’s chief source of cocaine and the setting for bloody civil conflicts. But in the last few years, some factions have been bought off and former Farc-controlled areas are now accessible. In fact, the central strip of this vibrant country is as safe as anywhere else in Latin America. With Pacific and Caribbean beaches at its edges and snow-capped Andes at its heart – as well as romantic colonial towns, archaeological ruins and coffee haciendas – it’s diverse and dramatically beautiful, and you’ll find the locals warm and welcoming – not least because tourists have kept away for decades. A few words of Spanish go a long way.

Head to Bogotá, Popayán, the ‘Lost City’ (Ciudad Perdida) and Parque Nacional Tayrona. Avoid areas along the border with Ecuador and Peru.

Book with Responsible Travel (01273 600030, www.responsibletravel.com).

Kurdistan, Iraq

For 8,000 years, civilisations and states have risen and fallen on this extraordinary land. You may prefer not to tell your parents, but for an exhilarating voyage through time, you can tread the remains of the biblical city of Babylon, tour ancient Sumerian cities and even see Saddam’s presidential palaces. Visits to Basra, notorious for British soldiers’ battles for hearts and minds, and Baghdad, can also be arranged. Make sure you read the FCO travel advice before planning your trip, and bear in mind that operators may change the itinerary without warning. Babylon, Dohuk and surrounding areas, Ur and Eridu are the country’s highlights. Avoid insurgent strongholds by reading up on the news, and be especially vigilant on Fridays after weekly prayers and during religious holidays.

Book with Hinterland Travel (01484 719549, www.hinterlandtravel.com).

Mexico

Swine flu, gunfights between cops and arms- and drug-traffickers along the US border, plus regular meteorological ‘challenges’ (hurricanes every year, floods from time to time) make Mexico a dead cert for lovers of out-there tourism. Tijuana has the edginess of a lawless cowboy town, Mexico City can seem dark and dodgy, and too many tequilas can make for lively fistful fiestas in the provinces – but this is still one of the most visited countries in the world with a huge range of resorts and types of experiences.

For safe(ish) bets, head to the Mayan Riviera, Oaxaca and Baja California. Avoid Ciudad Juárez on the US–Mexico border.

Book with Journey Latin America (020 8747 8315, www.journeylatinamerica.co.uk).

Yemen

Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, is a magical layering of icing-cake houses, temples and a desert backdrop; founded by one of Noah’s sons (they say), it’s also the world’s oldest city. The four-island archipelago of Socotra (or Soqotra) was isolated for much of history due to its reputation as a refuge for dragons. It does indeed harbour extraordinary flora and fauna and is also said to hold the secret to eternal life. The romantic myths end when it comes to local sayings, like ‘Everyone in the West carries a mobile phone, almost everyone in Yemen carries a gun.’

Avoid travelling here when the country is blacklisted, for insurance purposes as well as for survival; read up on the news as kidnappings are sometimes a risk in the Sana’a province and elsewhere.

Book with Wild Frontiers (020 7736 3968, www.wildfrontiers.co.uk).

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