Doug’s Travel Picks: 10 Places to Visit in 2019

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
Cheers from a frozen Lake Baikal Photo: Douglas Grimes

Cheers from a frozen Lake Baikal!
Photo: Douglas Grimes

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! 


More photos and info

 

Travel to Siberia This WinterYou can experience some or all of these winter sports on a handcrafted, custom trip or the Trans-Siberian Winter Wonderland Route.

Contact us today to talk about all the travel options to Lake Baikal.

 

 

2. See a Launch of the Soyuz from Baikonur
A fantastic night launch of the Soyuz. Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

A fantastic night launch of the Soyuz
Photo credit: Douglas Grimes

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.


More photos and info

 

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
Views along the Torugart Pass Photo: Willis Hughes

Views along the Torugart Pass
Photo: Willis Hughes

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.


More photos and info

 

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
A throat-singer performs in his ger in Tuva Photo: Martin Klimenta

A throat-singer performs inside his ger in Tuva
Photo: Martin Klimenta

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.


More photos and info

 

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
Riders in traditional costumes at the Opening Ceremonies of the Gobi Naadam Festival Photo: Alla Shishkina

Riders in traditional costumes at the Opening Ceremonies of the Gobi Naadam Festival
Photo: Alla Shishkina

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. 


More photos and info about Mongolia’s Naadam Festival

 

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
The view from the edge Photo: Justin & Crystal Barnes

The view from the edge
Photo: Justin & Crystal Barnes

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.


More photos and articles about Darvaza

 

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
Young girls dressed in their finest outfits for Navruz Photo: Regina Mnatsakanian

Young girls dressed in their finest outfits for Navruz
Photo: Regina Mnatsakanian

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.


More photos and info about Uzbekistan

 

Celebrate Navruz in UzbekistanContact us today to talk about the options or to book your spot on the 2019 departure of our small group tour, Backstreets & Bazaars of Uzbekistan.

Special Offer: For a limited time, new bookings on the 2019 departure of this tour can save up to $300 per person.

More Information About This Special Offer

 

8. Hang Out in Moscow
One of Doug's favorite views - Red Square at night Photo: Douglas Grimes

One of Doug’s favorite views – Red Square at night
Photo: Douglas Grimes

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.


More photos and info about Moscow

 

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
View of the Flame Towers from Martyr's Lane in Baku Photo: Jered Gorman

View of the Flame Towers from Martyr’s Lane in Baku
Photo: Jered Gorman

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.


More photos and info

 

Travel to AzerbaijanVisit Azerbaijan on any of these MIR itineraries:

Contact us today to talk about all the travel options to Azerbaijan.

 

10. Follow the Fabled Pamir Highway
Views in every direction along the Pamir Highway Photo: Jered Gorman

Views in every direction along the Pamir Highway
Photo: Jered Gorman

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.


More photos and info

 

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:

Contact us today.

 

The Pamirs in Tajikistan are one of the last places left where oxen are still yoked to all-wooden ploughsPhoto credit: Jake Smith

The Pamirs in Tajikistan are one of the last places left where oxen are still yoked to all-wooden ploughs
Photo credit: Jake Smith

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 info@mircorp.com or 1-800-424-7289

 

Doug Grimes baking bread in Uzbekistan. Photo: Doug Grimes

PUBLISHED: January 22, 2019

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