We all like to dream about destinations we’d like to visit, if only… If only we had time, if only we had health, if only we didn’t have kids. The most common “if only”, of course, is money – let’s face it, many other “if onlys” kind of disappear if money is suddenly no object.
So what would I visit if I suddenly won a jackpot in a lottery? Here’s my list, in no particular order. Some of these places are actually more accessible than others, and who knows, I might get a chance to visit one day…
There are a lot of people, including some that I know, that have visited Antarctica, and they all say how amazing it was. Who wouldn’t want to see the majestic icebergs and huge colonies of penguins? Visiting Antarctica, unless you work on a scientific station, is possible only on a boat cruise, and they ain’t cheap – anywhere from $3000 if you buy last minute from Ushuaia to well over $10000 if you book in advance from your home country. Of course, as a backpacker, I strongly advise you get to Ushuaia (which isn’t too cheap from your home country, of course) with an intent to get on the cruise at last minute with ample time to spare (2 weeks minimum). This blog post can help you find some of those deals.
While in the area, the beautiful islands of South Georgia, Tristan Da Cunha, South Sandwich and many others could also be visited – again, potentially at a cost of chartering your own boat (=very pricey).
Just as Antarctica or any other polar destination, visiting Greenland, the biggest icy expanse in the Northern Hemisphere, isn’t cheap. In fact, it’s even more expensive than Antarctica since you would spend most of your time on the island doing various activities, rather than just sightsee from a cruise boat. The budget numbers I have seen around the web are all well over $200/day, which probably includes only basic expenses, and of course, not counting the cost of getting there, which will be around $1000 from Iceland. If you want to take local flights, they can run well over $400. You do the math.
What fascinates me about Greenland is that, unlike Antarctica, it is populated with people, making for interesting photography and a cultural, not just nature, experience. And with the global warming melting Greenland’s ice shield at alarming rates, I would recommend visiting soon.
Staying in the region, besides Greenland, I would also very much like to visit the Canadian Arctic. The names of vast and nearly empty islands in Canada’s North are enough to make any traveler’s heart beat faster: Baffin, Ellesmere, Banks, Victoria…
As with Greenland, getting there isn’t cheap. There are cruises into the high Arctic ranging from $7000 to well over $20000, for 10-17 days. However, besides sightseeing from an icebreaker’s deck, I would like to disembark and visit some of the breathtaking national parks in Canadian North. One that I find particularly interesting is Auyuittuq, on Baffin Island. Based on the pictures I’ve seen, the scenery is simply out of this world. If you want to hike this park, easily one of the most stunning in the world, you would have to hire an outfitter for the cost $4000 plus, depending on the duration of the hike.
There are many other parks in the region, all costing a pretty penny to visit. You can even have a taste of the Canadian north in the Torngat National Park of Newfoundland and Labrador, but that would still cost you thousands of dollars, unless you are experienced enough to hike and camp in the true sub-arctic wilderness alone.
If there is one destination from this list that you’ve never heard of, it’s probably this one. Kerguelen is a fairly large island in the southern Indian Ocean, very far away from any civilization. Population is around 120, mostly French scientists and weather watchers, as the island is administered by France. The only way to visit is on one of the four trips per year departing from Reunion Island (an interesting destination by itself), taking about 28 days total. Cost – over $10,000, and that’s based on double occupancy. You can also charter a yacht or join a friend who is an avid (and skilled) skipper as private boats do occasionally dock at Kerguelen.
Why would I like to visit there? Apart from its sheer remoteness, which a plus in its own way, Kerguelen, a mountainous island, has some beautiful scenery reminiscent of Iceland and Faroe Islands – minus the tourists.
When most folks hear the words “French Polynesia”, they think Tahiti, or perhaps Bora Bora, but in fact, there are 118 islands that belong to it, covering a vast area of the Pacific Ocean.
There is no question, Bora Bora, Moorea and Tahiti are beautiful islands, and also not cheap to visit and to stay. They are, however, in a lot of people’s budgets to visit. But there are actually 4 archipelagos in total, and some are very difficult and expensive to reach. Besides Society islands, where Tahiti is located, there are Tuamotu, Marquesas, Gambier and Austral islands in the group.
Tuamotu is mostly atolls, where the natural beauty lies underneath the water in the form of world class scuba diving. Marquesas islands are volcanic, and include such gems as Hiva Oa of Paul Gaugin’s fame.
Gambier and Austral islands are volcanic as well, and just as with the Marquesas, it means jagged peaks and mountains amidst lush tropical jungle, any explorer’s paradise. To get to Gambier, you have a weekly flight from Tahiti, and for Australs, there are a few flights available from Tahiti as well. Needless to say, due to very low population, flights between all these islands are an expensive proposition, as is accommodation there.
Imagine the famous Thai Andaman Sea islands such as Phuket, Ko Phi Phi or Ko Lanta but completely without tourists. Such is Mergui (or Myeik) Archipelago belonging to Myanmar that is yet to be touristified and has been visited only by a handful of lucky and well-to-do foreigners so far (not counting the locals, of course).
Currently, the only way to visit the islands is to join a boat tour from the Burmese town of Kawthaung, at a cost of over $1000 just for 5 days’ trip, and if you want to stay on one of the islands, you’d have to fork out the additional $500 for 2 nights’ package. That’s a pretty penny for South-East Asia, and none of that, of course, includes your meals or scuba diving trips. You can join one of a few diving live-aboards that go out to the islands for thousands more. Oh, and the islands cannot be visited between June and October due to monsoon season.
Mountain Gorilla Parks in Rwanda or Uganda
Visiting mountain gorillas in Rwanda has become somewhat of a rite of passage among the American rich. And rich you’d have to be: gorilla sighting prices in Volcanoes National Park have skyrocketed from $500 around 10 years ago to $1500/hour of a visit. That’s right, an hour! So while Rwanda’s gorillas are most accessible and probably most abundant, it will cost you a small fortune to see them.
Uganda’s Bwindi National Forest has gorillas, too, and seeing them there is a bit cheaper – “only” $600/hour not counting the cost of getting there. So as you can see, any way you slice it, seeing these marvelous great apes will cost you.
There are other alternatives in Africa: mountain gorillas can be seen in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which unfortunately is still going through periodic rebel warfare, or you can opt to see lowland gorillas in several other countries. Still, as you can see, you options are really quite limited, and since travel in Africa is generally very expensive for a foreign tourist, you could use that lottery winning to visit and see the gorillas.
Kamchatka Peninsula is Russia’s natural gem – geysers, huge volcanoes, wildlife and little-explored terrain that is just begging to be visited. However, as most northern destinations, travelling to Kamchatka, even from Moscow, can be prohibitively expensive. But, let’s say, you found a decent flight deal and got there for under $1000. Getting around Kamchatka is a whole other challenge. The roads span out only a few tens of kilometres from the main city, Petropavlovsk, so really, go get anywhere, you would have to hire an outfitter for the price of anywhere between $900 and $2000 depending on route and duration of the trip. It is possible that with spoken Russian and plenty of time at your disposal, you could find cheaper alternatives, but still, Kamchatka as well as all of Russian Far East are not budget destinations by any means.
Mount Kailash Trekking
Mount Kailash is a sacred mountain to Tibetans and one of the most beautiful in the region. But visiting Tibet in general, and Kailash in particular, are not cheap propositions. First, you need to get to China, then purchase a tour package to visit Tibet that will cost a few hundred dollars. A 15-day trekking tour from Lhasa will set you back between $1500 and over $2500, which is quite pricey for the region and especially, compared to trekking in Nepal or Indian Ladakh. I am sure there are cheaper options, especially if you buy directly from Lhasa, but as with all last minute bookings, you would need to be very flexible with time.
Son Doong Cave
Son Doong cave, located in Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park, contains the largest cave passage in the world by volume, yet it was discovered only in 1991, not surveyed until 2009, and visiting the cave became possible for tourists only in 2013.
The cost of a 4 day/3 night trek with camping inside the cave is $3000. For that price, you can be assured there won’t be any budget backpackers in your group, nor would it be crowded. The trek itself is strenuous enough and involves climbing and descending by ropes. The price, however, includes all the professional staff you would need.
How cool would it be to see the underground passage through which a Boeing 747 could fly, not to mention some of the tallest stalactites in the world!
What could be more unique that seeing the Earth from its orbit? Well, you could ask the few hundred living astronauts or cosmonauts, or you could pony up for a commercial space flight. It appears that at the moment, there are no options to fly to space. However, a few are in development. And the cost would pale in comparison to even the most expensive destination on Earth. The best known space flight program, Virgin Galactic, was selling tickets for a cool $250,000 a pop, but the project is on hold as one of the launch tests was unsuccessful. I am sure, however, that it’s a matter of a few short years before billionaires could start flying to space again, and if you happen to be one of them, good luck! For the rest of us, there’s always Discovery Channel.