Doug’s Travel Picks: 10 Places to Visit in 2019
MIR co-founder and president Doug Grimes travels overseas for a good portion of each year, searching out new experiences in favorite old places, tightening up the gears that keep our tours running smoothly, and tinkering with itineraries to bring you the best of the best in MIR’s slice of the globe. He and his hand-picked team of specialists at MIR design and support imaginative small group tours and independent travel to Russia and all its neighbors.
No matter how many times I’ve explored MIR’s diverse and dynamic slice of the globe, I’ve always found myself surprised and excited to see how these once-overlooked destinations have evolved since we first began organizing tours. Every year has brought new discoveries and more reasons to return again and again, whether it’s new and noteworthy hotel openings, hidden gems, outstanding cultural opportunities, or unique and memorable experiences you won’t find anywhere else.
It’s not easy to narrow down a list of travel recommendations to a manageable number, but I’m giving it a whirl in honor of a brand new year. From the majesty of Moscow’s Kremlin and Red Square to the rugged mountain ranges of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, here are 10 of my personal picks for the most intriguing and exciting places to visit in the year ahead.
1. Do Lake Baikal in Winter
UNESCO-listed Lake Baikal, the oldest and deepest lake in the world, cuts through Siberia from north to south, filling a rift in the earth’s surface.
My recommendation: Visit Siberia in winter. That’s right! Late February/early March is the time to visit Lake Baikal – when it’s frozen and you can travel by hovercraft, dog sled, or snow machine, do some ice-fishing, and even drink vodka out of a hole drilled in the crystal clear ice!
Contact us today to talk about all the travel options to Lake Baikal.
2. See a Launch of the Soyuz from Baikonur
Baikonur Cosmodrome on the arid Kazakh steppe is Russia’s premier space launch facility. It was here that Yuri Gagarin buckled himself into the space capsule that transformed him from an ordinary man into a legend – the first human being in space.
I’ve had the opportunity to attend nine previous manned launches at Baikonur, and I plan to attend as many more as possible. I love to hear the unearthly crackle and feel the power in my whole body as the rocket leaves the earth.
- Postcard from Doug: Watch a Soyuz Launch at the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan
- Train Like a Cosmonaut in Russia
- Watch a Soyuz Launch at the Baikonur Cosmodrome
- MIR’s 30 Years: Beyond the Stars, Inside the Russian Space Program
Travel to BaikonurThere’s still time to book your spot on MIR’s small group tour, Inside the Russian Space Program.
Contact us today.
3. Crest the Torugart Pass between Kyrgyzstan and Western China
The Torugart Pass is a 12,000-foot pass through the Tien Shan Mountains on the border of Kyrgyzstan and China. One of the routes used by the old Silk Road caravans, the road separates the red sand desert of western China and the green mountain pastures of Kyrgyzstan. Considered the most spectacular route into or out of Central Asia, Torugart Pass was formerly closed to foreigners because of its strategic location.
I recommend that after hiking around 10,500-foot Tash Rabat, a massive stone fortress and caravanserai used by 15th century Silk Road caravans, you travel over the top of Torugart to 2,000-year-old Kashgar in western China. You’ll see unbelievable vistas and stark contrasts.
Travel the Torugart PassTravel this historic pass on these MIR’s small group tours:
Contact us today to talk about travel to this remote part of the Silk Road.
4. Listen to Tuvan Throat-Singing – Live in Tuva
Tuva is tucked away in a remote corner of southwest Siberia, and is today a federal subject of the Russian Federation. Situated in a hilly mountain basin surrounded by the majestic Sayan and Tannu-Ola mountain ranges, its landscapes, plants, and animals are extremely diverse.
Throat-singing is practiced in both Tuva and Mongolia. In one type of throat-singing, a remarkable droning and buzzing vocalization underlies a sort of whistling melody formed by changes in the lips, tongue, and palate. You’ve got to see and hear it to believe that one person can make those sounds simultaneously. And once you have heard it, you won’t forget it.
Travel to TuvaWitness a throat-singing demonstration for yourself on MIR’s small group tour, Siberian Odyssey: Legends of Lake Baikal & Tuva.
Contact us today.
5. Attend a Country Naadam Festival in Mongolia’s Gobi Desert
Mongolia’s Naadam Festival showcases each region’s best in wrestling, horse racing and archery as well as uniquely Mongolian sports such as “ankle-bone shooting.” A local country Naadam celebration is a rural festival, with the same holiday atmosphere and the same sports competitions as put on at the main Naadam in the capital, but on a more intimate basis without the crowds and grandstands.
Learning all about the “three manly sports” of archery, horse racing, and wrestling – skills which have been so important to Mongolian nomads through the centuries – greatly enhances your travel experience.
- Mongolia: There’s Nothing Like Naadam
- Spiritual & National Roots of Mongolia’s Naadam Festival
- Naadam Festival: Mongolia’s Ancient Games
- Places to Go, People to See in Mongolia: 7 Favorites
- Mongolia’s Naadam Festival: Why Go?
- Naadam Festival: Opening Ceremonies
Experience the Naadam FestivalContact us today to talk about travel to Mongolia’s Naadam Festival.
There’s still space available on our 2019 small group tour, Siberia & Mongolia: Spirits & Nomads!
6. Tent Camp at Darvaza Gas Crater
Locally called the “Door to Hell,” Darvaza was the site of natural gas exploration in the 1970s in Turkmenistan. The story goes that the drilling equipment was swallowed up by a huge sinkhole, which was filled with gas. Soviet engineers decided to burn off the gas to make the cavern safe for more drilling, and it has been burning ever since.
Standing at the rim of the gas crater at night is one of the most curious experiences I’ve had. Try it yourself – make an independent journey, or book an extension from Ashgabat.
Travel to DarvazaMIR has several different ways to get to Turkmenistan – with a small group tour, or on a pre-planned Flexible Essential private journey. You can also plan your own private, independent trip.
Contact us today.
7. Explore the Backstreets and Bazaars of Bukhara
On MIR’s small group tour, Backstreets & Bazaars of Uzbekistan, travelers get to taste their way through Uzbekistan, the vibrant heart of the Silk Road, during the height of the Uzbek New Year, Navruz. You can celebrate Navruz with the locals as they welcome you into their homes and communities, and discover the enduring traditions and abundant hospitality essential to everyday Uzbek culture.
My favorite highlights of celebrating Navruz in Uzbekistan include interacting with friendly locals in national dress, trying my hand at chess with a local master, and sampling the best melons I’ve ever had.
- Celebrating Navruz in Uzbekistan: My Favorite Moments on a Festive Journey
- Enthralling Uzbekistan: Our Favorite Things to See & Do
- A Walk Through Old Town Khiva, Uzbekistan
- Breathtaking Bukhara: Your Guide to Uzbekistan’s UNESCO-listed Oasis
- Favorites from the Fergana Valley: Uzbekistan’s Hub of Crafts & Culture
- 8 Ways to Savor Silk Road Culture With the Locals in Uzbekistan
- Traveler’s Tale: A Journey Through Central Asia
- Client Spotlight: Trains, Textiles and Travel on the Silk Road
- Learn from the Locals: Navruz in Uzbekistan
- Classic Celebrations: Wedding Traditions in Uzbekistan
Special Offer:For a limited time, new bookings on the 2019 departure of this tour can save up to $300 per person.
8. Hang Out in Moscow
Founded in 1147, Moscow rose to prominence during Mongol domination and eventually became the Russian capital. Eclipsed for 200 years by St. Petersburg, Moscow was restored as a political center after the October Revolution in 1917 and served as the capital of the Soviet Union until 1991. Moscow today is a booming metropolis, dignified yet dynamic, where ancient churches sit shoulder- to-shoulder with 21st century financial institutions and lavish hotels.
Moscow has gone through a major transformation over the last three or four years. It has become a very friendly and desirable city to spend time in. While before it was always upstaged by lovely St. Petersburg, I would now suggest a few extra days in Moscow to really take in the city and all its beautiful architecture, pedestrian streets, cool restaurants, museums, and cultural events.
- 5 Tips: How to Travel Like an Insider in Moscow, Russia
- Tips for Shopping for Souvenirs in Moscow
- Moscow’s Red Square: Beautiful in Red
Travel to MoscowJoin one of our Russia small group tours, or we can put together a custom trip handcrafted to your interests, dates and pace.
Contact us today to talk about all the travel options to Moscow.
9. Check Out Azerbaijan
The epicenter of a 21st century oil boom, Azerbaijan sits on the western Caspian Sea shore and lays claim to vast reserves of oil and gas. Here, travelers can stay in a glass-and-steel luxury hotel, yet still experience the classic vividness of Azerbaijani hand loomed carpets and the mesmerizing music of mugham, its chanting melodies passed from ear to ear over centuries.
The capital, Baku, is a great place to learn all about Azerbaijan, now with more frequent air access. Also get out and discover some other parts of the country, like the apple orchards of Guba to the north, or Sheki, one of the oldest towns in Azerbaijan, on the road to Georgia.
- A Traveler’s Tale: Baku, Azerbaijan and the Shores of the Caspian Sea
- South Caucasus Travel: Jewish Heritage in Azerbaijan
Travel to AzerbaijanVisit Azerbaijan on any of these MIR itineraries:
- Treasures of the South Caucasus
- Village Traditions of the South Caucasus
- Caspian Odyssey by Private Train
- Essential Caucasus
Contact us today to talk about all the travel options to Azerbaijan.
10. Follow the Fabled Pamir Highway
The Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan are some of the most rugged and beautiful on Earth, soaring upward where the Himalayas, the Tien Shan and the Hindu Kush meet. A journey over the Pamir Highway is a breathtaking route, in use since the time of the Silk Road.
Right along the border with Afghanistan, you will find fantastic scenery, rugged roads, and tough but beautiful people. You can drive along the Panj River, which forms the natural border between Tajikistan and Afghanistan, overnighting in the Pamiri village of Kalaikhumb.
- Lovin’ the Pamirs: Tajikistan’s Other Half
- Top 10 Places to Discover in Tajikistan: Undiscovered, Remote, Incredible
Travel to the PamirsYou can visit the Pamir Highway custom, private tour, hand-crafted to your travel interests and style.
Or, opt for one of our small group tours:
- The Pamir Highway & Across Fabled Frontiers
- From the Heavenly Tien Shan to the High Pamirs – new for 2019!
Contact us today.
Travel with MIR in 2019
MIR has more than 30 years experience connecting travelers to fascinating destinations at the crossroads of Europe and Asia. Our full service, dedication, commitment to quality, and destination expertise have twice earned us a place on National Geographic Adventure’s list of “Best Adventure Travel Companies on Earth.”
Over 30 years of travel expertise means that the specialists at MIR know how to get there, what to do while you’re there, and how to enhance your trip in each of our destinations.
Wondering which destination or itinerary is right for you? In addition to browsing the pages of our free catalog, you can narrow down your choices online using our Trip Finder and the Destination Map. Or chat with our Private Journeys department to have a trip handcrafted to your interests, pace and budget.
Contact MIR today at email@example.com or 1-800-424-7289
Doug Grimes baking bread in Uzbekistan. Photo: Doug Grimes
PUBLISHED: January 22, 2019