Some countries in the world are difficult to visit because they’re way off the beaten path, while others are tough because they just don’t like you. Or at least, don’t want you there.
This ‘stan borders Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Afghanistan, and Iran, and is one of the lesser known Central Asian countries for a reason; the only way you’ll get in is with a letter of invitation (LOI), and by signing up/paying for a guide (who’s with you 24/7) in advance.
And these eight strongholds – well, they’re a combination of both: remote, hard-to-get-to, and run by government bureaucracies that make trying to visit an absolute nightmare.
But things look set to change with Turkmenistan’s current president, Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedow, taking steps to open up the isolated country. Since taking office in 2007 he has unified the country’s dual currency exchange rate and channelled a reported $1.5 billion into building a world-class tourism zone on the Caspian Sea. “We are very proud of our country, and what it’s become in such a short time,” said our [Oasis Overland] (http://www.oasisoverland.co.uk/) guide, Kseniya Mikhailova. “Hopefully more people can come and visit.” (Nellie Huang) (bbc.com)
If you get accepted for a visa, you’ll need to decide what sites you want to see in advance, as your route will be mostly set in stone before you arrive. That said, don’t hold your breath – it’s common to get rejected and deemed “an undesirable.”
In accordance with the law, citizens of all countries require a visa to visit Turkmenistan , a police state. To obtain a tourist visa for Turkmenistan, all foreign nationals must supply an invitation letter issued by a travel agency licensed in Turkmenistan.
Holders of a letter of invitation issued by a company registered in Turkmenistan with a prior approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs can obtain a visa on arrival valid for 10 days, and extendable for another 10 days.
Citizens of all countries have the right to visa-free transit through the international transit area of the Ashgabat Airport.
A special permit, issued prior to arrival by Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is required if visiting the following places: Atamurat, Cheleken, Dashoquz, Serakhs and Serhetabat. (en.wikipedia.org)
Turkmenistan – about the size of Spain and home to roughly five million people – remains a tightly controlled police state, so understanding the realities of travelling on the ground will mean an easier trip, and less surprises all round.
One of the most off-putting facts for all visitors to Turkmenistan is that outside of the capital and it’s limits, you are required to have a guide, which is both costly and restrictive. However, there are plenty of rewarding and exciting sights in store for prepared travellers who are up for a bona fide adventure – from dinosaur footprints and Arabian camels; to golden Akhal-Teke horses and burning gas craters. (worldnomads.com)
Once you do score a visa, you get to Nauru by flying to Brisbane, Australia, and hopping a once-weekly Our Airline flight to Nauru, with a layover in the Solomon Islands. From there, you might have to hitchhike to the hotel; there’s no public transportation on the island and gas is crazy expensive, which makes it difficult to find cars for hire. (yahoo.com)
Nauru is not the easiest place to visit. Access is subject to the whims of transport, weather and the immigration department. With the closing of the phosphate mine, associated hospitality services such as hotels, restaurants and hire cars – where they exist at all – are minimal. Most visitors are politicians, diplomats or development workers – and during the days ofAustralia‘s ‘Pacific Solution’ to the arrival of refugees, extraordinary numbers of security guards and other contractors. (lonelyplanet.com)
A volcanic island in the Arctic Ocean, Jan Mayen is part of Norway and with just 3000 residents is one of the least populated places in the world.
Other options for getting to the island include chartering a boat from Iceland or Norway or booking a trip through Eco-expeditions.
If you do decided to go you’ll need to obtain permission from the station commander and if you want to stay for more than 24 hours you’ll need to speak with the Commissioner of the Salten Police District in Bodo. (news.com.au)
Visitors to this Norweigan island are mostly soldiers and scientists and probably with good reason. Jan Mayen has no harbor and only a single gravel airstrip that receives eight flights a year, all operated by the Royal Norwegian Air Force. You could charter a boat though…(au.totaltravel.yahoo.com)
One of the most secretive countries in Africa, Eritrea remains off the tourist path due to its ongoing conflict with neighbouring Ethiopia and Sudan.
Thanks to Mussolini, this former Italian colony is full of incredible architectural gems (like this sexy gas station) and art deco style. No longer a colony, it’s now a non-democratic country that ranks last – yes, even below North Korea – in terms of journalistic freedom. As you can imagine, visitors are highly monitored, and visas – which take almost eight weeks to process – are said to be rejected on a whim.
There’s only one border crossing from Djibouti, and sporadic bus and taxi service from Sudan. You can drive from Sudan too, but only if you have proof of ownership of the vehicle. That said, there is tension between Sudan and Eritrea, and official advisories warn against traveling between the two countries. The Ethiopian border isn’t much better though, as it’s heavily armed and known for altercations.
Or you can just fly into Asmara Airport from a handful of European and African airports, although prices are hefty.
Flights to Russia are easy to come by these days but in terms of bureaucracy it appears the Iron Curtain is still very much in place. It can take weeks or even months to obtain a visa that allows a 30-day visit if you have a letter of invitiation.
According to Australia’s Smart Traveller, visitors must register with the Federal Migration Services within seven working days of arrival. Most hotels undertake visa registrations on behalf of guests, however it is your responsibility to ensure this is done by hotel staff.
If you are not staying at a hotel, the process of registration can be complex. Those travelling on a visitor-type visa should register at the nearest post office. Those with visas allowing employment should be registered through their employer. Failure to register may result in significant delays and fines upon departure. (news.com.au)
If just getting into Russia wasn’t enough of a challenge, you can up the ante by visiting Sakhalin Island. Seven times zones away from Moscow, getting there involves taking the Trans-Siberian Railway across the continent to Khabarovsk, switching to a ferry, then another train, and THEN back to another ferry. Or you could just walk around Red Square and save yourself the trouble.
Like Turkmenistan, you can’t just waltz into Bhutan as an independent traveler. Instead, you have work with a travel agent who will create an itinerary and organize your visa, and you’ll have to pay for all of it – meals, housing, flights, buses – up front. Via money transfer too, which doesn’t make things easier. Plus, Bhutan is one of the more expensive places in the world to visit, so be prepared to spend the government-mandated minimum of $250 a day on taxes, guide, accommodation, and meals.
The best way to access this remote Himalayan kingdom is to fly in from Bangkok, Singapore, Kathmandu, or Delhi, though only a handful of flights operate each week and few planes can land on the short/high (7,300 feet above sea level) runway at Paro’s International Airport. (worldnomads.com)
The site of a raging civil war until 2002, Angola is now rich in oil but discourages tourism by making visas incredibly hard to get. In fact, obtaining one takes at least eight weeks, and requires dozens of supporting documents, hefty consular fees, and a Letter Of Invitation from a person or organization in Angola, as well as a Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate.
Finally, there’s the actual getting there. There are basically two options: 1) catch the rare flight from a handful of somewhat random African, European, and South American locations; 2) fly to Namibia and either drive or take a bus over, or catch a flight from Windhoek to Luanda. (worldnomads.com)
South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands
These super-remote British territories are north of Antarctica and a full 1,200 miles east of Chile’s Cape Horn. These British territories in the southern Atlantic Ocean are a remote collection of islands home to just a handful of scientists and British government employees.
There is no airstrip and visitors must take a gruelling three day trip by ship from the Falkland Islands to reach them. Ready your puke bags, though, as the Southern Ocean is one of the world’s roughest.