Travel

10 remote places to escape to once international travel reopens

Colorful houses in front of a field of flowers in Longyearbyen, Svalbard, Norway Colorful houses in the town of Longyearbyen, on the island of Svalbard.

The coronavirus pandemic has left many of those who love international travel feeling confined.

Once it’s OK to go abroad again, travelers may find themselves eager to get as far from home and as far from ordinary as possible. We look at some of the most distinctive far-away destinations that are still practical to reach—places travelers can shake off that confinement for good.

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1. The Azores, Portugal

This island chain is an oasis of land in the middle of the Atlantic, with about 1,800 miles of ocean separating it from the U.S. and around 800 miles from Europe. Sao Miguel is the largest, with both the islands’ biggest city (Ponta Delgada) and many of their most famous natural features.

An aerial view of Ponta Delgada in the Azores, looking out to sea Mount Pico in the Azores

What makes them unique?

Unusually, the Azores were uninhabited by humans when the Portuguese began settling them in the 15th century. The islands’ most famous flower is also a recent immigrant: Blue hydrangeas aren’t native, but since their introduction, they’ve become an Azorean symbol and hedges of them can be found almost everywhere. The nearby Gulf Stream keeps the climate exceptionally mild—year-round, the average daily high is just 68°F, with the average low only slightly lower at 58°F.

What is there to see & do?

The Azorean landscape reflects its volcanic origins, and no visit to Sao Miguel is complete without seeing the dormant volcano lake at Sete Cidades. Further west on the island of Pico, visitors will find Mount Pico, a 7,700-foot volcano and the tallest mountain in Portugal. Nature enthusiasts will find the highest concentration of hydrangeas on the nearby island of Faial, while those interested in history and architecture can walk the beautiful stone-paved avenues of Angra do Heroismo on Terceira.

Book the Azores: Jewels of Portugal package

This 12-day tour of the Azores lets you explore the entire rim of the Sete Cidades Caldera, indulge in a traditional cozido das furnas meal, spend 3 nights in a lava stone house, and much more. From thermal pools and lush craters to local farms and volcanic cuisine, delve into the culture of Portuguese island life. Learn more and book now.

Map of Iqaluit in Canada's Nunavut territory

2. Iqaluit, Canada

The capital of Nunavut territory, Iqaluit (pronounced “ee-CAL-oo-it”) is situated in the Canadian Arctic Archipelago and is home to more than 7,000 people, most of whom are Inuit.

Pink flowers on the tundra near Iqaluit A stop sign in Iqaluit, Nunavut, with Inuktitut and English

What makes it unique?

More than half the city's residents speak Inuktitut, an Inuit language and one of Nunavut’s official languages, so traffic signs and building names are displayed in English and Inuktitut. It lies on the tundra, and though it’s below the Arctic Circle, the average temperature is only above freezing from June to September. It doesn’t have a road or rail connection to mainland Canada—most visitors arrive by plane. (There’s also a harbor, but ice blocks it for much of the year.)

What is there to do & see?

The 2 main attractions are the natural beauty of the surrounding tundra and the traditional arts and culture of the local Inuit community. Nearby Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park offers great views of the natural landscape, as well as wildlife such as caribou, arctic foxes, and migratory birds.

On the culture front, locally made Inuit art and clothing are offered at several boutiques. Other attractions include the igloo-shaped St. Jude's Cathedral and the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum, which displays Inuit art and artifacts from around Nunavut.

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Map of Madagascar's location relative to the United States

3. Madagascar

Thanks to millions of years of geographic isolation, this island nation is one of the world’s premier biodiversity hotspots. Today, it’s also home to more than 26 million people, but national parks and other protected areas help the island retain its natural charm. 

The Avenue of the Baobabs at sunset in Madagascar Ring-tailed lemurs in Madagascar

What makes it unique?

Madagascar is massive: the world’s second largest island nation, and more than twice as big as the United Kingdom. Though it’s only a few hundred miles off the coast of Africa, it’s more than 8,000 miles away from the U.S. mainland. About 90% of the wildlife and plant species on Madagascar are found nowhere else in the wild. These include the island’s famous lemurs, as well as the cat-like fossa, the traveller’s tree (a national symbol), and many species of baobab, among hundreds of others.

What is there to do & see?

The island’s most famous attraction is probably the Avenue of the Baobabs, a grove of about 2 dozen Grandidier’s baobabs, which are Madagascar’s biggest species of native baobab. Other draws include the otherworldly limestone landscapes of Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, the ring-tailed lemurs of Anja Community Reserve, and the reefs and pirate cemetery of Nosy Boraha.

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Map of the Gobi desert relative to the United States

4. The Gobi Desert

This inland desert, the world’s sixth largest, stretches across northern China and southern Mongolia. Most visitors arrive through the gateway city of Ulaanbaatar and head southwest to the Gobi, where picturesque sand dunes alternate with greener oases. (Given the vast, barren distances involved, traveling with a tour is recommended.)

Bactrian camels cross sand dunes in the Gobi Desert Traditional Mongolian yurts

What makes it unique?

The Gobi’s northern location and high elevation combine to make its climate cooler than one might expect for a desert, though temperatures can still reach extremes of hot and cold—sometimes both in the same day. Many important dinosaur fossils have come from the Gobi, including the first discovered Velociraptor bones and many fossilized eggs. There are famous living animals, too, notably Bactrian (2-humped) camels and wild onagers.

What is there to do & see?

Gobi Gurvansaikhan National Park contains many of the desert’s highlights, including the famous Khongoryn Els sand dunes, also known as the “Singing Dunes.” It’s also where you’ll find the surprising Yolyn Am, a gorge that shelters an ice field even during the summer months. Visiting with and sharing a meal with some of the nomadic families that call the Gobi home is another classic.

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Map of Longyearbyen, Svalbard, relative to the United States

5. Longyearbyen, Norway

If you want to get as close to the North Pole as you can, the town of Longyearbyen on the Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard is your best bet. It’s well within the Arctic Circle at 78° north latitude, putting it about 800 miles from the Pole. (For comparison, the northernmost town in Alaska is at a mere 71° north.) It also holds the title of the planet’s northernmost settlement of more than 1,000 people.

A field of flowers on the island of Svalbard The aurora borealis at night above Longyearbyen, Norway

What makes it unique?

Most extreme northern settlements are unsuited for tourists, nearly impossible to get to, or both. Longyearbyen is neither, with multiple hotels and commercial flights connecting to Oslo and Tromso. It experiences some of the most extreme polar days and nights of any human settlement: From mid-April to late August, the sun never sets, and from late October to mid-February, it never rises.

What is there to see & do?

Beyond the never-ending days and nights, Longyearbyen’s most famous feature is the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The vault itself isn’t open for visitors, but you can get a selfie with its iconic exterior, and there’s an exhibit about the vault at the nearby Svalbard Museum. There are also nature hikes (or if you’re feeling adventurous, snowmobile tours) to see glaciers, ice caves, and ghost towns from the island’s past.

Book Hurtigruten's Circumnavigating Spitsbergen cruise

This 10-day cruise sails around most of Svalbard and includes a visit to Longyearbyen. Other highlights include expeditions to nature reserves around the archipelago, great views of fjords and icebergs, and a chance to sail above 80° north latitude.

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A map of Ushuaia, Argentina, relative to the United States

6. Ushuaia, Argentina

Ushuaia (oo-SHWAI-uh) is one of a handful of towns that claim to be the world’s southernmost city. Located near the southern tip of South America, it’s a common starting point for Antarctic cruises, but it’s also a gateway city to the Tierra del Fuego archipelago and a destination of its own.

A trail at Tierra del Fuego National Park in Argentina The Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse in the Beagle Channel near Ushuaia, Argentina

What makes it unique?

Ushuaia markets itself as “the End of the World.” (The Chilean town of Puerto Williams is technically farther south, but it’s also much smaller.) That dramatic name is joined by Tierra del Fuego’s dramatic landscape of snow-capped mountain vistas and windy shores.

What is there to do & see?

The rugged Tierra del Fuego National Park is nearby and a great place to see Fuegian wildlife, especially birds such as albatrosses, petrels, Magellan geese, and even condors. There are lots of hiking trails, but another popular way to explore the park is via the Train of the End of the World, which winds through the park’s forests and valleys. Then hop aboard a boat to see the desolate beauty of the 100-year-old Les Eclaireurs Lighthouse, still in operation.

Book Viking's South America & the Chilean Fjords cruise

This 18-day expedition sails around the bottom of South America and includes a stop in Ushuaia. Travelers can also soak in the mix of Latin and European influences in Buenos Aires, the birthplace of tango. Visit Port Stanley, home to more than 1 million penguins, before sailing the Strait of Magellan, passing rugged mountain peaks and blue-tinted icebergs. Learn more and book now.

Map of Easter Island (Rapa Nui) relative to the United States

7. Easter Island, Chile

Known indigenously as Rapa Nui, this South Pacific island redefines “remote.” The nearest island is more than 250 miles away, the nearest inhabited island is more than 1,200 miles away, and the nearest point on the South American mainland is about 2,200 miles away.

Two moai statue heads on Easter Island (Rapa Nui) A petroglyph of a birdman on Easter Island (Rapa Nui)

What makes it unique?

More than a third of the island is part of Rapa Nui National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that contains hundreds of iconic moai statues. It’s believed the moai were carved hundreds of years ago to commemorate deceased ancestors and to watch over their families’ lands. There are also thousands of ancient rock art carvings in a multitude of designs, located almost anywhere a suitable surface was available.

What is there to see & do?

The moai are the stars of the show here, and visitors can make a circuit of the island to see many of them standing in their historic spots along the coast, with their backs turned to the sea. Further points of interest are atop the dormant volcano Rano Kau to the south: There’s now a lake within the crater, and the ruins of the village of Orongo lie on the crater’s west rim. Orongo provides scenic views of the islets Motu Nui and Motu Iti, as well as a chance to see ancient “birdmen” rock carvings.

Plan your escape with the help of a AAA travel agent
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A map of Antarctica, relative to the United States

8. Antarctica

Though it’s the fifth-largest continent by land area, just a few thousand people live here at any given time, almost all of them scientists. The lack of infrastructure means most visitors see Antarctica by cruising along its coasts and islands, though some intrepid explorers charter flights into the interior.

An iceberg in the Lemaire Channel in Antarctica Two emperor penguins with a penguin chick in Antarctica

What makes it unique?

Antarctica is by far the most desolate place on Earth, with a population density about 100 times lower than Greenland. It’s also got the lowest temperatures on the planet, colder than the Arctic (though the more frequented coastal areas are less extreme than the truly frigid interior). Many cruises visit the Antarctic Peninsula by crossing the Drake Passage, a famously turbulent stretch of sea that gives travelers who can stomach it a real taste of adventure.

What is there to see & do?

Penguin-watching isn’t unique to Antarctica, but many species are, including the beloved emperor penguin. Most cruises focus on seeing penguins, whales, seals, and dramatic icy scenery such as the Lemaire Channel, with landings on shore if weather permits. Visitors interested in the history of Antarctic exploration can journey to the U.S. research outpost of McMurdo Station, where they’ll find preserved structures built by explorers Ernest Shackleton and Robert Falcon Scott.

Book Hurtigruten's Antarctica – Highlights of the Frozen Continent cruise

Set sail for 12 days to experience spectacular wildlife and natural beauty. Enjoy five full days in Antarctica with landings and ice-boat cruising, as well as chances to kayak, hike and much more.

Contact an agent online | Call your local branch

Map of the Amazon Rainforest, relative to the United States

9. The Amazon

The world’s largest rainforest provides more than enough room to get away from everyday life. Travel centers on the Amazon River, which winds through the forest for about 4,100 miles from the Andes Mountains to the Atlantic.

A view from a canoe in a flooded Amazon forest Two squirrel monkeys on a branch in the Amazon rainforest

What makes it unique?

The Amazon hosts a stunning diversity of life; 1 of every 10 known species in the world lives here—howler monkeys, toucans, piranhas, poison dart frogs, hoatzins, jaguars, and thousands of others. Many parts of the Amazon flood each year, usually in May and June, supporting a unique flooded forest ecosystem where fish swim among trees.

What is there to see & do?

Activities are as diverse as the wildlife: Go sightseeing at a wildlife reserve, fish for piranhas, hike among the treetops on a canopy bridge walk, tour a rubber plantation, or just listen to the sounds of the rainforest. Forest lodges and river cruising are the 2 main ways to stay in the Amazon. Lodges offer a more in-depth experience in a single region, while cruises allow visitors to relax and watch the scenery go by in between on-shore excursions.

Plan your escape with the help of a AAA travel agent
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Book the Heart of the Amazon river cruise

On this 10-day cruise on the Amazon, your captain and expedition leader will choose from fascinating sites for Zodiac and kayak explorations, treks, and visits to places and people of interest. Expedition team members will also be on deck and in observation lounges offering insights into the passing terrain and pointing out wildlife and other highlights. Learn more and book now.

A map of Hokkaido, Japan, relative to the United States

10. Hokkaido, Japan

The northernmost and least densely populated of Japan’s 4 main islands, Hokkaido is home to natural landscapes both beautiful and strange. The capital and gateway city of Sapporo is a bustling metropolis, but even there, the wilderness is never far. 

An aerial view of Sapporo, Japan, at sunset The Jigokudani volcanic hot springs in Hokkaido

What makes it unique?

Hokkaido experiences a much different climate from most of Japan: Summers are cooler and winters are very snowy, making it a popular region for skiing. Volcanic features add to the natural splendor of lakes, forests, waterfalls, and mountains, many of which are contained within pristine national parks. On the man-made front, visitors can travel on a bullet train beneath the Pacific Ocean via the undersea Seikan Tunnel, which is Hokkaido’s only land connection to the rest of Japan.

What is there to see & do?

Daisetsuzan National Park is Japan’s largest, and contains many of Hokkaido’s premier sights, including Mount Asahi, an active volcano that rewards hikers with views of steaming volcanic vents down its flanks. Hot spring resorts there and elsewhere are common places to stay. One of the most notable springs is Jigokudani (Japanese for “Hell Valley”), a volcanic crater where visitors can walk through a moonscape of colorful steaming ponds. And while Mount Fuji is in a different part of Japan, don’t despair: Hokkaido’s Mount Yotei is famous for looking very similar.

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