Number 8 on our list: Gorongosa, Mozambique

10 journeys for the 21st Century

1st December 2006

Here we unearth 10 extraordinary destinations that were impossible to visit a decade ago

Paul Simpson

1. Preah Vihear, Cambodia

This enigmatic temple/fortress near the Thai/Cambodian border welcomed tourists until, in 1993, the Khmer Rouge settled here. Though they soon left, it was ten years until Preah Vihear was completely reopened – Cambodia finally finished the access road in 2003.

The original temple is older than Angkor Wat – building started in the 9th century, though Preah Vihear was subsequently maintained and enlarged by many different kings. For the makers, the cracking views were incidental: building the temple on a mountain was designed to encourage religious meditation.

The best way to reach Preah Vihear is to hire a driver or join a coach party from Siem Reap. If you go under your own steam you might want to stay overnight in the basic accommodation at the foot of the mountain or the even more primitive accommodation atop the 550m peak. The area has been largely cleared of land mines but it's probably best to stick to the main paths.

2. The Peace Parks, Peru and Ecuador

In January 1995, Ecuador and Peru fought a 33-day war along an undemarcated 78km stretch of border that ended, as any Ecuadorian will tell you, in their first and only military victory. Ecuador won the war but lost its central argument – that it should have sovereign access to the Amazon. In consolation, Ecuador was granted Tiwintza, a small hill in Peruvian territory, and navigating rights on the Amazon.

The border remained a demilitarised zone until peace finally came about in 1999, when both sides agreed to create contiguous national parks in the border-straddling Cordillera del Condor. Peace was a massive relief to the indigenous Shuar Indian population, divided by a border that didn't actually exist.

If you fancy rubbing shoulders with biologists and miners – the area's main visitors – fly from Quito to Loja and get a bus or hire a car/driver. But be careful: parts of the range are peppered with unmarked land mines.

3. Kurdistan, Iraq

Thomson won't be offering package holidays here anytime soon but the Kurdistan Development Corporation is promoting this area of northern Iraq as a holiday destination on American TV.

The Kurds' US marketer, Sal Russo, doesn't underestimate the challenge, "You think of bombings and this is peaceful,"he says."You think of desert and this is mountainous; you think of camels and you're more likely to see sheep."

Despite the dearth of bombs, deserts and camels, Kurdistan has much to offer: epic mountains, river rafting, Roman ruins and, in Zahko, the longest queue of oil tankers in the known world. If you fancy it, the best route into Iraqi Kurdistan is to fly to Diyarbakir in eastern Turkey and drive south. But note, the Foreign Office still advises against all but essential travel to Iraq.

4. Bikini Atoll, Micronesia

The Pacific's nuclear testing capital – 23 tests were conducted on this small Micronesian island between 1946 and 1958 – is still uninhabited. But now you can dive and fish off its coast, thanks to the entrepreneurial verve of Bikini Atoll Divers, which employs some descendants of the Bikinians who were ejected from the island in 1946.

Studies to allow diving were conducted in 1996 but tourism only really took off when a 1998 report by the International Atomic Energy Agency concluded, with caveats and reservations, that the atoll was safe to live on. However, the Bikinians are still suing America for £300 million to finance a thorough ecological clean up.

Once you've flown in from Honolulu (via the Marshall Islands) you'll find that – bizarrely, given its past – Bikini resembles an unspoilt tropical paradise.

5. The Laerdal Tunnel, Norway

Some journeys are distinguished by their scenery but this 24.5km  stretch of road between Aurland and Laerdal in western Norway is remarkable for its lack of scenery. Opened six years ago, this part of the E16 (the main highway from Oslo to Bergen) is the world's longest road tunnel, though it should take just 20 minutes to drive through.

The designers have done their utmost to ensure drivers don't get dangerously bored. The tunnel is divided into four sections separated by three large caverns (each decorated with special lighting to "refresh" the driver), and has 15 turning bays and 48 lay-bys.

6. Mount Elgon, Kenya

Border tensions between Kenya and Uganda meant that, for years, it was impossible to trek over this craggy, extinct volcano. But, as frictions have eased, this intriguing hike through deep forest and broad moorland in the far corner of east Africa has now reopened.

You don't have to be a mountaineer to enjoy 4,321m Elgon. Astounding as the view is, it isn't as remarkable as Elgon's lava tube caves. The most notorious cave, Kitum, runs 200m into the mountain and is home to wild elephants that lick the salt they've gouged out of the walls with their tusks. The cave also has a darker history. Two tourists who visited it in the 1980s died of Ebola and some have suggested the virus's natural carrier can be found here. Despite this, many adventurous souls feel the mountain, and the national park that surrounds it, are worth the 470km drive from Nairobi.

7. The Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India

The recent arrival of Indian settlers and an epidemic of poaching have left the indigenous Jarawa tribe of this remote archipelago facing extinction. Which makes the Indian government's decision to open 15 northern Andaman islands (ten islands already welcome tourists) seriously controversial.

Of the 572 Andaman Islands, which lie 950km off the Indian mainland (accessible by ship or short flight from Kolkatta), only 36 are inhabited – some by races who may be 10,000 years old. The 2004 tsunami killed thousands of islanders and briefly devastated the tourist trade. Dharam Pal, local head of tourism, hopes environmentally sensitive development will revive the economy, attracting travellers from beyond India.

8. Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique

Ten years ago, this magnificent wildlife park in central Mozambique was an environmental disaster area. In 1971, 12,000 visitors came here, attracted by the greatest lion population in Africa. From 1983 to 1992, the park was the stage for many bloody battles in Mozambique's civil war. By 1992, when peace arrived, the park's stock of large mammals had fallen by 95%.

The park, a day's drive from the capital Maputo, partially reopened in 1998 but many mines and unexploded bombs still had to be cleared.

Gorongosa's recovery has gathered momentum this year. Buffalo have been reintroduced and the park has received donations from internet mogul Greg Carr and Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood. It may be a while before the cheetah and rhinos return but 1,862m-high Mount Gorongosa is still an unforgettable hike.

9. The Panama Railroad

The world's first transcontinental railroad has, since July 2001, once again connected two cities – Panama City and the port of Colon – and two oceans – the Pacific and the Atlantic.

Built between 1850 and 1855, the original railway had become a ghost of its former self with much of the line in disrepair. After 18 months' work clearing forest and laying new track, the railroad was reborn, offering a 15-minute ride though spider monkey- and caiman-infested jungle.

10. Space

To book your seat on Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic space shuttle, due to take off in 2009, all you need is a clean bill of health and $200,000 sitting in the bank. If you've long dreamed of peering down at the earth from 96km above it, sign up now. Aside from Branson and NASA, space tourism is attracting the usual misfits, looney toons and con-artists and, if some dubious missions fail, the insurance costs will soar stratospherically.

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Key Facts

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    Kenya travel guide, including map of Kenya, top Kenya travel experiences, tips for travel in Kenya, plus where to see wildlife in Kenya

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