Saturday, September 22, 2018 Edition: U.S. & World | Regional

Shhh! 3 Incredible (Almost) Secret Destinations

For any number of reasons, there are destinations which are seldom visited by outsiders. They are no less intriguing than their well-visited counterparts, but for one reason or another, they have yet to be fully exploited. Perhaps they lie within areas of political unrest or within an underdeveloped nation. They could just be too difficult to get to. But the chart-topper of all reasons for passing these cool places by is simply not knowing they exist.

Unless a person is fortunate enough to be a full-time world-traveler their time and resources are often limited. They must wisely decide where to spend both. If you fall into either or perhaps both of these categories as the bulk of us do, you may want to pause for a moment and read on. While the better-known widely advertised tourist spots may appear appealing, these destinations might change your mind about where you want to go next.
 
Garajonay National Park – Canary Islands (Spain)

Garajonay National Park is more surrealistic than a Van Gogh painting, but it is no mere vision from an artists imagination, it’s the real deal. The forest’s mystique begins with a constant shrouding of hovering mist drifting in from the ocean. This type of subtropical forest, known as a laurel forest, is only seen in areas of high humidity and moderate temperatures so they are a rarity only native to a couple of locations in the world. Laurel trees bend and twist their way to the sky, their roots embedded in the soft carpeting of green moss covering the forest’s floor. Wildflowers of every color, worthy of an artists canvas, bloom at their sole discretion wherever they choose.

The park receives 450,000 visitors per year, but to put this in a better perspective, the Eiffel Tower receives over 7-million. Garajonay National Park lies on the island of Gomera and consumes a 15-square-mile radius with parts of it touching all six of the island’s municipalities. The most humid and most protected portion of the park lies to the islands north, and this is where the densest and the lushest portion of the forest can be found. This is where winding dirt paths lead adventurers through a mystical land of enchantment where they soon become one with nature.

In 1986 UNESCO named Garajonay National Park a World Heritage Site. Accommodations are available just outside parks boundaries. It’s very easy to spend an entire week exploring the park, which many visitors do.
 
Garajonay National Park   Canary Islands (Spain)
 
Lake Baikal – Siberia (Russia)

Lake Baikal holds 20% of the entire planets fresh water supply. At an estimated 25-million-years-old it is the oldest known lake in the world, the largest lake in Asia, and the seventh largest in the world. Lake Baikal is home to a massive variety of aquatic life not found elsewhere on earth, including the extremely rare freshwater seal. But beyond the lake’s complex eco-system lies breathtaking beauty in its natural untouched glory. Lake Baikal is truly one of the prettiest locations on earth.

To gain a better idea of the lakes immense size, Lake Baikal’s surface area makes it roughly the size of Belgium. Its elongated shape from one tip to the other is the approximate distance between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Lake Baikal boasts the clearest lake water in the world with visibility as far as 131 feet below the surface. The bottom of the lake at its deepest point is a staggering 12,000-feet below sea level.

The lake has 27 islands and is surrounded by mountains with the highest peak jutting up 1.5 miles. There are 1,000 species of plants and 2,500 species of animals depending on the lake for their survival, but some claim the estimate should be much higher. Eighty percent of the animal species surrounding the lake cannot be found elsewhere, causing some to dub this area as the “Galapagos of Russia”. Thirty of the 60 species of fish swimming in the waters are native only to Lake Baikal. There are 150 different varieties of snails, 117 of which are exclusive, and 18 sponge varieties.

In 1996, Lake Baikal was added to the list of World Heritage Sites.
 
Lake Baikal   Siberia (Russia)
 
Sark – Channel Islands (United Kingdom)

If the hectic pace of modern life says it’s time to escape, look no further than Sark, located near the coast of Normandy. Just don’t expect to drive since there are no cars and no roads with which to put them on. The landscape is sprinkled with picturesque centuries-old farmhouses and a small yet quaint village seemingly forgotten by time. All of this sits alongside a rugged relatively unexplored coastline where awe striking beauty awaits those who make the journey.

The island of Sark, with no public lighting, was designated as Europe’s first International Dark Sky Community. Some swear they can see clear to the end of the universe. The island is three miles long by one and a half miles wide, has only 400 fulltime residents, and is accessible only by boat. Bicycles, horse-drawn carriages, and feet, are the only three modes of transportation. The only mechanized machinery on the island are a few tractors used by local farmers.

Sark is a deep-sided plateau and as such is surrounded by steep sea cliffs. The forests on the island escaped the destruction of World War Two and provide serene enchanting views beyond comparison. Woodland and coastal trails zig-zag across the island and following any one of them will lead to a scenic treat.

The shorelines are riddled with coves and caves, and huge waves make for some intense water fun. Wreck diving and kayaking are excellent. Most visitors come to the island seeking the quiet and serenity this land before time provides, and to question the purpose of life while lying in an open field staring into the nighttime sky. Because of the tourist trade, there are a variety of small restaurants from which to choose. The Stocks Hotel, a quaint family-owned establishment tucked neatly in the woods, provides a welcoming stay for travelers.
 
Sark   Channel Islands (United Kingdom)
 
Getting far away from the madding crowd by visiting lesser-known sites does not always mean the adventure will be any less thrilling. In many cases, it’s just the opposite. Never be afraid of exploring the road less traveled. You never know just what you may stumble across.

 

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