For some travelers the average everyday destinations just don’t cut it. They yearn for something more; they want to explore the extremes. For them we offer this examination of the world’s most extreme places to visit.
For those wanting to get down, way down, the lowest lying place on earth is the Dead Sea in Jordan. At 1,300 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea, once a narrow, crooked bay fed by the waters of the Mediterranean, became an isolated basin thick with salt about 3 million years ago. Today it is heavily visited for its salutary health effects and for the novel buoyancy of its brackish waters. It is easily accessible by road from Jerusalem.
Somewhat less accessible is Mount Everest, the highest place on earth. A flight into Kathmandu, Nepal usually starts the trip, followed by a short chartered flight to remote Lukla. From there a 10 hour trek to the Sherpa capital of Namche Bazaar is followed by a 12 hour hike to the town of Dinboche at 4200m (13,779 ft). Another two days of climbing brings you to the Everest Base Camp at 5545m (18,192 ft) where you can spend the day marveling up at the summit and trying to catch your breath before beginning the trek back down.
The weather on Everest is unpredictable. It is somewhat less so in Dallol, Ethiopia where it can be summed up in one word: hot! In fact, Dallol owns the record for the highest average temperature for an inhabited location anywhere on the planet. Average annual temps of 34°C (94°F) routinely spike to well over 49°C (120°F). Getting there can be tricky as there are no roads. Camel caravans are about your only option, and once you get there don’t expect to see much. What’s left of the mostly deserted town sits on the basalt floor of the Afar Depression and offers little to the visitor except salt deposits and the threat of a volcanic eruption.
On the other end of the spectrum is the thriving village of Oymyakon, Siberia where 521 hearty souls live out their lives in the coldest regularly inhabited place on earth. Here low temperatures average -49°C (-57°F) and record lows have been recorded at −69°C (−93 °F), enough, it is said, to freeze birds in flight. If you want to visit, you’ll have to travel the Kolmya Highway from Yakutsk more than 2,000 km (1,500 miles) away or try to fly into remote Magadan, a mere 570km (350 miles) down the road and then try to work your way up on parts of the Kolmya highway that are often impassable.
When it comes to being remote, however, Oymyakon doesn’t hold a candle to Tristan de Cunha. The 270 farmers who inhabit this far off group of islands in the south Atlantic are 1,750 miles from their nearest neighbors. They are so isolated they might as well be on the moon. In 2007 an outbreak of virus-induced asthma threatened to wipe out the entire population before the disease eventually subsided. If you would like to go there and talk to a group of people who don’t get much of a chance to talk to anyone else you will have to take a fishing boat over nearly two thousand miles of ocean from South Africa, and you will have to be the sort of person who doesn’t become lonely.
Loneliness will never be a problem in Shanghai, China where 16.7 million people are spread out over an urban area of 6,340 square km (4,000 sq miles) but density within the inner ring road is far greater. Here people are crammed together with an earnest intensity bordering on the ludicrous. Personal space is practically zeroed out as inhabitants find themselves literally face to face with one another 24/7. Hours are spent waiting in queues, roads and streets are clogged into atrophy, walking a few blocks can feel like a tiresome slog. If you want to visit, there are plenty of ways to get in but it may take you awhile to get back out.
It’s enough to make you yearn for a faraway desert like the Atacama Desert in Chile, the driest place on earth. Blocked from moisture by the Andes Mountains on the east and by the Chilean Coastal Range on the west, the desert gets an average annual rainfall of just 1 millimeter a year. In fact, some weather stations there have never reported rainfall. Tests by NASA have made the startling discovery that parts of the Atacama are lifeless, making it a fitting double for Mars and other presumably lifeless planets. If you want to go to this remote and arid place, tours originate out of San Pedro de Atacama and involve up to two weeks of travel and camping by horse and four-wheel drive vehicles.
Several places vie for the designation of the wettest place on earth but the clear winner appears to be Lloro, Colombia where an astonishing 13,300 millimeters (43 feet) of rain falls annually. The rain here is relentless, falling all year round, rather than during an annual season. The name of the town translates roughly into “crying” which may refer to the rainfall or to the way the inhabitants feel about it. If you haven’t gotten enough moisture in your life, you can get to Lloro by flying into the International Airport at Pereira, Colombia 116 km (72 miles) away, renting a car and driving there. Just make sure the windshield wipers function.
Wet, dry, hot, cold, high, low, these are some of the most extreme places on earth. If you are looking for something intense, really out there, these places will do it for you. Who knows, by the time you are finished, you may find that the well-trodden tourist destinations you once dismissed as too ordinary have a certain comfy appeal after all.
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