10 Unimaginable Destinations: The Definitive Guide
An Antipodean travel company serving world travellers since 1983
10 Unimaginable Destinations | Small Group Travel
In this article we will look at ten unimaginable destinations scattered all across the globe. Although much of the mystery of travel may seem diminished in the age of online search engines and low air-fares, there are still many distinctive and unusual travel destinations in the world that remain unexplored by all but the most inquisitive of travellers. Some destinations, such as the Galapagos Islands, have long been isolated by their geographical remoteness; others, such as the Buzludzha Monument in Bulgaria, have faded from the public consciousness as locals moved away and cultural tastes changed. Nonetheless, each one of the destinations listed below remain as remarkable place visit in their own right, uniquely shaped either by the people that inhabited the area or by the forces of nature itself. For those interested in a memorable travel experience, unlike any other holiday you have had before, this list may serve as the inspiration you need.
Derinkuyu Underground City, Turkey
The Derinkuyu underground city is a massive underground network of caves and subterranean dwellings located in the Derinkuyu district of Nevşehir Province in Turkey. The caves may have been in use by the Phrygians, an ancient Indo-European people, as far back as the 8th-7th centuries BCE. However, it was later during the time of the Byzantine Empire that the underground city saw its most significant expansion, with the city eventually large enough to shelter 20,000 people, as well as having additional room for food stores and livestock. The city extensively developed, descending 18 stories below ground and featured storerooms, kitchens, cellars, chapels, and even a winery. As the Christian Byzantine Empire found itself beset with invasions from Muslim powers over the centuries, the local inhabitants of Derinkuyu used the underground city as a place of shelter during these times of war and conflict. Eventually the tunnels were abandoned as the Christian population of Derinkuyu moved out of the area – however, the city still remains as a reminder of the ingenuity of its former inhabitants.
What is most fascinating about this labyrinthic city of caves is that it was discovered in modern times. In 1963, a man renovating his home in Cappadocia found a hidden room behind a wall in his basement. Further digging revealed the enormous eighteen levels of the city. Today, you can visit the world’s deepest underground city and explore eight of the eighteen levels, which offer an amazing insight into the complex history of the region and civilisations’ ability to adapt to the circumstances of their time.
Derinkuyu Underground City
Sitting in the Pacific Ocean nearly 1,000 kilometres away from the South American continent, the Galapagos Islands has enchanted travellers ever since Charles Darwin first set foot on the island in 1835. Volcanic activity formed the Galapagos islands, with the island platform created by underwater volcanoes and seismic activity. The geographic isolation of the islands has meant that it has become home to an array of truly unique animal and plant life – even after the establishment of permanent human settlements, 95% of the islands’ pre-human diversity remains intact. Many of the species of animals that inhabit the Galapagos are found nowhere else on Earth, including marine iguanas, flightless cormorants, giant tortoises, and numerous varieties of finches. The archipelago’s location at the confluence of three ocean currents means that the Galapagos is also one of the richest marine ecosystems in the world. If you’re interested in exploring flora and fauna found nowhere else on earth, against the backdrop of breathtaking volcanic scenery, then look no further than this inimitable archipelago.
Buzludzha Monument, Bulgaria
The otherworldly Buzludzha Monument, sometimes referred to as Bulgaria’s Communist UFO, sits atop the Buzludzha mountain in Bulgaria. The area is a site of national significance, having been the location of several battles fought in the 19th century as Bulgaria struggled to free itself from Ottoman rule. It was also the site chosen for the first congress of the Bulgarian Social Democratic Workers Party, which later became the Bulgarian Communist Party. Given its historical significance and the different interests associated with the area, the then ruling Communist Party selected it as the location to build a large memorial to celebrate their legacy. The monument was built over the course of the 1970s and took some 70,000 tonnes of concrete, 3,000 tonnes of steel and 40 tonnes of glass to build. It was officially opened on 23 August, 1981 and was adorned with Communist iconography, including images of prominent Soviet leaders and murals depicting the history of the Bulgarian Communist Party. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Buzludzha was abandoned and left to decay from exposure and neglect. Recently however, there has been a push to restore the building and to preserve it as a site of remembrance for Bulgaria’s tragic Communist past.
Neft Dashlari, Azerbaijan
Neft Dashlari, or ‘Oily Rock’, is a sprawling, haphazard industrial settlement built on the waters of the Caspian Sea. In 1949, Soviet engineers struck oil 1,000 km below the seabed, with construction of oil rigs and industrial facilities following soon after. The development of the site was unusual, with the pillars of platforms mounted on the remains of capsized shipwrecks that dotted the seabed. Over time, a sprawling network of steel and timber trestle bridges connected the separate platforms of the settlement, with the bridge-roadways stretching over several thousand kilometres in length. What resulted was a fully functional offshore oil city. At its peak, there were around 5,000 employees living permanently on-site, with apartment blocks, shops, a cinema, a park, and a football pitch all constructed to provide amenities to the workers. Eventually, however, fluctuating oil prices and the collapse of the Soviet Union saw Neft Dashlari’s fortunes plummet, and much of the site was left to decay, with its bridges and industrial facilities slowly sinking into the sea as the city struggles against natural forces. What remains however is a startling monument to human ingenuity and innovation.
Nowa Huta, Poland
Founded in the aftermath of the Second World War, Nowa Huta stands as one of only two examples of socialist realist settlements ever built. Located in Krakow, Nowa Huta was designed to be a utopian workers’ paradise in Poland. The concrete city radiated out in a star-burst pattern that echoed the layouts of Paris and London and featured wide avenues, large apartment blocks and a towering statue of Communist icon Vladimir Lenin. The centrepiece of the city was a massive steelworks that became the largest steelworks operation in Europe – and indeed, the city’s name of Nowa Huta means “New Steelworks”. Ironically, despite being founded as a socialist utopia, the city became a centre of dissent against Communist rule in Poland, with civil unrest in the city ramping up dramatically in the 1980s as support for the anti-Communist Solidarity movement surged. Following the end of Communist rule, Nowa Huta was stripped of much of its socialist imagery, with streets renamed and a prominent statue of Vladimir Lenin taken down. Although not beautiful in the way that Krakow typically is, a visit to Nowa Huta offers a profound insight into socialist realist planning and architecture and provides a glimpse into how deliberate social engineering shaped the suburb.
Manshiyat Naser, Egypt
Although Egypt is famous for its historic monuments and ancient wonders, one notable locale lies hidden away in the busy streets of Cairo: Manshiyat Naser or ‘Garbage City’. Manshiyat Naser is a slum settlement on the outskirts of Cairo. The original inhabitants of the district were rural migrants from Upper Egypt and initially herded livestock on Cairo’s outskirts. Over time however, they found it more profitable and sustainable to sort through the city’s rubbish, with the local economy eventually centering around rubbish collection and recycling. The district of Manshiyat Naser became the eventual destination of much of the city’s rubbish, with bags of rubbish piled high along dusty streets and inside empty apartment blocks. Living conditions in Manshiyat Naser are poor, with no running water or electricity available in the district, and no sanitation system in operation. Most of the inhabitants are Coptic Christians, with the district being home to the Saint Simon Church, an underground cave church that seats over 15,000 worshippers and is the largest church in the Middle East. Despite the poverty and difficult living conditions of the area, the continued and sustained operation of the district’s recycling economy is a testament to the resourcefulness and inventiveness of the local residents. For many travellers, this is the ultimate off-the-beaten-track location, offering an unprecedented look at a different side of Egypt.
Jaisalmer Fort, India
One of the only “living forts” in the world, Jaisalmer Fort is a fortress situated in the city of Jaisalmer in the Indian state of Rajasthan. Built in 1156 by Rawal Jaisal, the fort sat astride the historic “Silk Road” trade route that linked China and India to distant trade destinations in Central Asia and Europe (click here for more information about the Silk Road). Towering walls built from the region’s striking yellow sandstone ring the fort, and stand 250 feet tall and 30 feet wide. Increasing maritime trade in the 19th century led to the economic decline of Jaisalmer, with the city losing its former importance as a strategic location. Nevertheless, the fort remained in use by the local inhabitants, and as of today up to a quarter of the city’s population live within the walls of Jaisalmer Fort. Today, the greatest existential threat to the fort is neither armed invaders nor the elements, but the city’s sewerage system – poor planning of Jaisalmer’s sewerage system meant that running water has continually leaked on to the fort’s foundations, causing the fort’s walls and buildings to deteriorate. However, there are ongoing efforts to prevent further deterioration and to ensure the preservation of the fort.
Lascaux Caves, France
The Lascaux caves is a subterranean complex in the southwest of France. The complex was discovered by 18-year-old teenager Marcel Ravidat in September 1940, who found the interior of Lascaux cave covered with prehistoric cave paintings. Over 600 painted images decorate the interior of the cave, depicting animals such as bison, stag, and horses, although interestingly the paintings contain no images of surrounding landscape or the vegetation of the time. Colourful pigments were used to create the vibrant and remarkably well-preserved images that decorated the walls. Over the next two decades, the cave paintings began to deteriorate due to exposure to carbon dioxide and microorganisms carried in by visitors to the caves, and Lascaux Cave was eventually closed to the public in 1963. However, a replica cave was opened in 1983, featuring painstakingly recreations of the artwork found in the original cave, with another, more extensive replica cave opening in December 2016.
Matmata Village, Tunisia
A small Berber-speaking town in Tunisia, the village of Matmata is marked by its distinctive “troglodyte”, or cave-like, houses that rise out of the surrounding earth. The unusual dwellings of Matmata village were dug out of the dusty soil, and served as shelter from both hostile invaders, and from the searing heat. The local Berbers of the region created homes in this fashion for centuries, with cave dwellings of this type stretching as far back as the fourth century BC, although Matmata itself was largely settled in the sixteenth or seventeenth century. The striking appearance of the Berber dwellings were later used as a filming location for the Star Wars films, which helped fuel tourism to the area. In recent years however, the number of inhabitants in Matmata has dwindled, as locals drifted towards larger towns and cities in search of more conventional housing, with only a handful of residents still remaining in the village.
Grand Tsingy, Madagascar
In keeping with the island’s unique geography and natural features, Grand Tsingy is a truly remarkable location featuring the distinctive ‘stone forests’ of Madagascar. Located in the western half of Madagascar, Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve covers an area of 152,000 hectares. The limestone formations are the result of millions of years of tectonic activity, falling sea levels and rainfall-induced erosion, all of which shaped and moulded the limestone surface until it formed the unusual, needle-like surface so characteristic of Tsingy’s stone forests. ‘Tsingy’ means ‘where one cannot walk barefoot’, which itself is a reference to how sharp and jagged the rocks are – indeed, the surface of the limestone rock is so sharp that it can easily cut through flesh and equipment, making it extremely difficult to traverse. Aside from stone forests, the area also happens to be home to the island’s iconic lemurs, as well a wide variety of rare flora and fauna.
Odyssey Traveller runs educational senior travel tours all over the world, including tours to Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Americas. Our small-group tours specifically cater to mature travellers who are eager to explore and learn about the world. To see what tours we have running in the near future, click here to find out!