Why you should care
These places probably aren’t on your bucket list, but perhaps they should be.
The United States’ relationships with North Korea, Iran and Cuba are unhappy, each in its own way. Yet American travelers can visit all these supposedly forbidden places — legally — as long as they go with an authorized tour group. Why go? Long Island physician Bimal Massand, who’s traveled to all three countries, quotes Mark Twain to explain: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” Here’s why you should go and how you can pull it off.
If you had the chance to visit the moon and Mars while chewing on llama meat, would you take it? If so, book a trip to San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Exploring the Atacama Desert makes you feel as if you have landed on a different planet. This 1,000-kilometer strip on the Pacific Coast, west of the Andes, features alien rock formations and sand dunes cascading into red adobe mountains covered in salt. Flamingo-dotted salt flats, steaming geysers, hot springs and volcanic peaks are all on offer. The views are breathtaking — especially when you’re propelling down a dune with a plank of wood strapped to your feet. The scenery is outlandish and otherwordly; NASA even tests some of its equipment there because the landscape is the closest it has found to Mars.
Destination: Oman. First stop? Google Maps — to figure out where the hell it is and how likely it is to politically implode. (Three hours from Dubai, and not likely.) Not to be confused with its more volatile neighbor Yemen, Oman is where we were headed. Why? To go canyoning, of course. Canyoning? Oh, yes: Think bouldering meets bungee jumping meets the high dive; as scary as it may sound, it’s arguably simpler than any of those. And though you can canyon anywhere from Utah to New Zealand to Costa Rica, there’s nowhere more majestic — or remote — than the craggy, mountainous terrain sprawled between Oman and Dubai, its glitzier/tackier neighbor.