By VARDHAN KONDVIKAR, Editor, Lonely Planet Magazine India
If you have carpentry skills, you’re welcome to help, as we knock down a wall in the Caribbean, take down the remains of an iron curtain in the Baltic, and put up some lights over a misunderstood hero in darkest Africa. In this issue, we’re going back to forgotten destinations, places that you once couldn’t get to – and which, because of their isolation, have retained a purity that McDonald’s-encrusted tourist destinations can’t match. And, surprisingly, most of them are actually pretty accessible, even for the more cautious traveller.
We started work on this issue after the wonderful and long-overdue news that Cuba and the USA had decided to be grown-ups, and the land of cigars, glorious old cars and untouched beaches is going to be easy to access again. And the best news of all? The much-maligned food has improved dramatically, and you can stay and eat at a wonderfully low cost in local homes.
Do you know where Estonia is? Even we had to check the map – it’s one of the Baltic states that was swallowed up by the Soviet Union – and it still overflows with stories of an era where James Bond-style spying was very real. The capital, Tallinn, even has a hotel with a secret floor, meant for spying on foreign officials, and a tower used for jamming radio signals.
And then for the big, bad one, the Congo. Hang on, though, this isn’t the volatile Democratic Republic, it’s the quieter Republic of Congo, with low emphasis on dictators and civil war, and much more on endangered gorillas in virgin forests, the sort of sight that gets seared onto your brain forever. This probably isn’t the place for first-time travellers, but make the effort and it’ll be spectacular.
Get your passports out, and be the first to go – imagine the bragging rights!