Author David Fletcher has made a career of avoiding tourists. Here's 5 places he had pretty much to himself
There are apparently very few tourists near the South Pole or in suburban Baltimore. However, there are some alternative overseas destinations that avoid both extreme cold and possible extreme tedium, and where one would still be unfortunate to find too many other people. Five of these are presented here.
The Fish River Canyon is situated in the south of Namibia. Ryanair go nowhere near it and, in any event, one is much more likely to be travelling to this destination in a rugged 4x4 than in an aeroplane.
This is because it is a long way from anywhere and quite a long way from any metalled roads. Indeed, the first experience of many who are visiting the canyon is one of intense relief – when, as they are driving towards it, they meet another vehicle coming the other way. This means that the gravel road ahead is still passable and that their tyres still have a chance.
Fish River Canyon is a gigantic ravine that stretches for over 150 kilometres and, in places, is half a kilometre deep. This makes it the second largest canyon in the world, after the Grand Canyon, and a place well worth visiting. If one so desires, one can simply marvel at its majesty. However, if one is deranged, one can embark on the Fish River Canyon Trail. This takes only five days of your life or, if you have an accident, then probably your whole life. This is because there are no amenities of any sort on the trail and no mobile phone reception, but quite a few hazards, starting with the precipitous descent to the trail itself.
In fact, one requires a permit for this trail, and this is issued only between May and September (when the temperatures in the canyon drop below 48C) and only to those who have supplied the necessary medical confirmation of their physical (but not mental) fitness. So, quite plainly, one should forget the trail, and just look at the canyon – and enjoy its almost complete lack of even entirely sane tourists.
The Cristalino Jungle Lodge features in this tourist-free list because of its situation. It is in a private rainforest reserve in the southern Amazon and is probably further away from any World Cup stadium than England is from winning the World Cup itself.
When the author took his wife there a number of years ago, it involved a five-stop flight from Sao Paulo (at airstrips of diminishing size), a car ride, an overnight stay in a place called Alta Floresta, a morning lorry ride and then a trip in a very small boat. But it was worth it. The lodge sits on the banks of the Cristalino River; it is surrounded by stunning primary rainforest, full of oodles of birds and, with access only by tin boat, it is properly remote – and very difficult for tourists to get to.
Indeed, the author and his wife, Sue, spent ten days there with just the resident guide, Francisco, and the resident cook, Naira, both of whom knew as much English as their guests knew Portuguese (which was none), and for all this time, the two visitors could be confident that their retreat would not be interrupted by any other guests. It proved to be an experience of literally splendid isolation, the ultimate in tourist-free haunts.
However, the lodge has now been “improved”. Gone are the rustic-concrete huts, with en-suite insects and room to swing a lizard, and in their place there are now swish bungalows. Gone too are the two hours of generator-powered power each day and the use of a shack as a kitchen. One only hopes that Francisco and Naira haven’t gone as well. One also hopes that neither has the paucity of tourists at this place. After all, no matter how much it might have been poshed up, they can’t have moved it from its site in the southern Amazon. And with all that money that the Brazilians have spent on those stadia, it’s highly unlikely that they’d have had any left to have put in roads to Cristalino or even to have lengthened those airstrips. So, with luck, it should still be OK.
A confession. This is a beach resort. However, when the author and his wife stayed there, it was for a short period of recuperation in the middle of a rather demanding trip around the southern half of Madagascar. Furthermore, they needed some recuperation after their ride to the resort.
Laguna Blu sits on the remote and undeveloped west coast of this island nation. To reach it, one is obliged to drive for eight hours up a coastal road, which isn’t in fact a road, but instead a sand-track, studded liberally with tyre-demolishing “tsingy” rocks, and something of a challenge for even a seen-it-all-before Land Cruiser. When one arrives there, one will need some sort of rest – and a good bath.
One might also, if one arrives mid-afternoon, need a private detective to locate the staff. This will be the case if, as then, the resort is empty of guests and its Italian manager and his two local helpers are having their normal afternoon siesta or maybe just wondering why anybody thought it was a good idea to build a resort in such an unbelievably out-of-the-way place. Nevertheless, the staff will make an appearance at some point, and one can then start to relish the attractive accommodation in Laguna Blu and, later on, its fine standard of food – all prepared by the Italian manager.
Unless things have changed radically, other tourists are unlikely to feature, an aspect of this destination that was reinforced during the author’s stay by an Australian prospector. He arrived the first evening with his prospecting companion, and eventually explained why he had looked so shocked when he’d first arrived. It was because, once a fortnight for the last four months, he and his colleague had forsaken their prospecting in the interior in order to bring their laundry to Laguna Blu – and the author and his wife were the first guests they had ever seen here. One can only pray that Laguna Blu is still just as inaccessible and just as completely empty.
Jack’s Camp is located in the Makgadikgadi Pans in Botswana. It is an oasis in an otherwise empty void. It has few tourists for two very good reasons. The first is its isolation. One normally flies into it in a light aircraft, and only if one is very foolish, like the author, does one drive in. The drive takes about a day from anywhere else in Botswana and the last sixty kilometres to the camp is over a track which is not only rough but which also requires a guide. The route is by no means obvious, and if one gets lost one will probably be lost for all time, or technically until one has expired.
The Makgadikgadi Pans are not very forgiving, and even in a 4x4, one can soon find oneself in real trouble, not least because the ambient temperature in this empty zone is often over forty. The second reason that it hosts few tourists is that few tourists are prepared to pay the small fortune that is required to stay at Jack’s. It is a very, very expensive destination.
This is because it has been modelled on a traditional safari retreat and an inordinate amount of money has been spent in creating a real haven of luxury. The accommodation tents are ridiculously opulent; the dining tent incorporates a small natural history museum and a billiards table as well as a mansion-sized dining table – and there is also a large pool tent, in which, not unreasonably, there is a large pool. So… it could be argued that there are never any tourists at Jack’s, but only oligarchs, tax-exiles, the odd celebrity and, occasionally, people who don’t even have the sense to fly in, but instead risk all by driving in. Definitely not for backpackers, this one, but a must-go for every misguided, tourist-averse traveller who has more money than sense.
Another remote destination. To get to Karanambu Lodge, one first has to get to Guyana and then one has to get from the country’s capital, Georgetown, to the country’s deep interior – without the benefit of any noticeable infrastructure.
This inland trip entails a long drive in a 4x4, mostly on a sand-track through a forest, a river crossing on a pontoon, masquerading as a ferry, more sand-tracking and then a boat-ride down a river. It makes commuting from Maidstone into London look like a doddle. However, when one has finally made it there, one will be thrilled to find that one is now in a tiny retreat in the middle of one hundred square miles of savannah, marsh and riparian forest, and right next to the wonderful Rupununi River.
It isn’t the Savoy here, and indeed the four thatched huts that make up the lodge could never be described as “deluxe” – or even as “standard”. But it doesn’t matter. Because at this place, it’s what surrounds the lodge that matters, and what’s living in this surrounding pristine environment. And this includes an awful lot of birds and an awful lot of giants, as in giant river otters, giant anteaters, giant black caimen – and even giant water lilies.
That this stuff remains here is all thanks to the lodge’s proprietor, a wonderful lady by the name of Diane McTurk, who, as well as being a famous conservationist and a world-renowned expert on those giant river otters, is also a fantastic host. Dinner in the lodge is taken at a communal dining table that resides under a tall thatched canopy, a canopy that also serves as a bat roost.
To observe Diane, towards the end of a meal, flicking bat-poo from the table with a used napkin, whilst continuing, at the same time, to converse in her cut-glass voice as though nothing had happened, is an experience and a delight. Indeed, Karanambu is definitely a place where delights outnumber tourists by about a hundred to one, and it should certainly be on the itinerary of all those who want to see more of the world’s wonders, but not necessarily more tourists like themselves.
David Fletcher's new book, Strip Van Winkle: Namibia and Botswana, can be ordered on Amazon now.