Alternative Travel: 6 Unique Travel Ideas through the Lens of Steve McCurry
If the thrill of off-the-beaten-path travel destinations induces your urge to explore, why stick to the conventional? In increasing quantities, travelers are seeking more immersive experiences in lesser-traveled destinations – from remote islands in the Pacific Ocean to vast landlocked countries that were previously overlooked. Hand-selected to inspire your next trip, the following up-and-coming travel destinations have been captured by a legend of alternative travel: Steve McCurry.
For the past couple of years, the era-defining photographer has been shining a light on villages, towns and even cities that still evade the mainstream; with each trip, McCurry seeks to capture authentic beauty, in its purest form. His passion for our beautiful planet has taken him to the farthest corners of the Earth. He has chronicled in images a rich diversity of landscapes, people, cultures, wildlife and experiences.
Trekking to the jungles of East Africa, the tribal villages of Papua New Guinea, the emerald-green fields of Ireland and points beyond, McCurry has leveraged his photographic expertise to immortalize on camera some of the world’s truest treasures. These are places of jaw-dropping beauty, or vanishing cultures, or unexpected surprises. These are the places you might want to venture to before the rest of the world does.
Spotlighted below are six such undiscovered destinations chosen for their beauty from an array of contrasting landscapes — from towering mountains and a wind-swept desert to isolated highlands and a Pacific island jewel — all masterfully revealed through the lens of Steve McCurry.
1. Easter Island
Surrounded by the gorgeous Pacific and brimming with mystery, Easter Island calls to those eager to travel deeper to discover hidden travel gems. The closest mainland is Chile, roughly 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers) away. Known locally as Rapa Nui, the island is home not only to mystifying moai statues, but its rocky fields are virtually overrun with wild horses. “These amazing animals are one of the island’s best-kept secrets. I was honored to photograph their majestic beauty,” says McCurry. Easter Island’s equine culture is celebrated in the annual Tapati Festival, when islanders compete in breathtaking horse races along the coast.
The snow-capped peaks, lush forests and sparkling lakes and rivers of Bhutan provide the perfect backdrop for a Buddhist kingdom focused on generating Gross National Happiness.
But beyond the natural attributes, such spiritual sites as the Tiger’s Nest Monastery, perched on a cliff overlooking the picturesque Paro Valley, can offer extraordinary life-enriching moments. “It was the bell chiming in the distance, prayer flags fluttering in the wind, and chanting monks that touched my soul in a way few places can,” recalls McCurry of his experience in Bhutan.
3. Svalbard, Norway
Svalbard sits atop the world in Arctic Norway. Among the best alternative travel destinations, this pristine archipelago is best explored on a Zodiac excursion launched during an expedition cruise. Such was the case with McCurry’s experience here. He joined a Silversea expedition in the summer of 2017 to witness ancient glaciers, blue-hued ice floes and a panoply of wildlife, from soaring seabirds and breaching whales to napping walruses. “Having the chance to photograph the untouched natural beauty of Svalbard is a gratifying and humbling experience,” says McCurry. Millions of birds share my love of Svalbard. They flock to its steep dolerite cliffs each summer to create nesting colonies, not to mention incredible photo-worthy moments.
Steppe-laden Mongolia is a dream come true for those seeking an alternative travel experience. Within its vast landscape of wild grasslands, rugged mountains and vibrant blue lakes, a dwindling nomadic culture endures. Known for their hospitality, meeting Mongolian nomads can be transformative. “I was deeply moved by the reindeer herders of the taiga, and the Kazakh people of the Altai Mountains, who survive harsh winters by hunting with eagles,” says McCurry. “It’s remarkable how they live in harmony with an undisturbed wilderness.”
5. Quito, Ecuador
Nestled high in the Andes, Ecuador’s capital, Quito, is highly valued as a gateway for the Galapagos Islands, yet the city itself is worthy of UNESCO World Heritage status, thanks to its charming Old Town. Built on the ruins of an Inca city, the historic center is awash in well-preserved Spanish colonial monuments, charming red-tiled roofs, colorful market stands and magnificent churches. It’s the kind of place a visual storyteller like McCurry can revel in.
6. Petra, Jordan
Few places evoke wonder like Jordan’s Petra, accessible from Aqaba, and the neighboring desert landscape of Wadi Rum. Between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba sits the city of Petra. Ancient Nabataeans built the city. A vibrant caravan trade enabled their accomplishment. McCurry sees Petra’s magnificent architecture, carved directly into rose-colored sandstone, as “a testament to the Nabataeans’ ability to gracefully conform with nature.” McCurry also traveled a short distance south of Petra to Wadi Rum. Here, he captured the enchanting beauty of its towering cliffs, massive wind-carved rocks, and desert sands.