Hiking the majestic Machu Picchu, exploring the remote villages of Amazon, climbing the Great Wall of China, marveling at the Ottoman-era mansions in Turkey, getting lost within the thousands of ancient temples in Bagan, admiring the majestic Taj Mahal in India, trekking in Himalayas, and partying at Khao San Road - is something that you dream about doing. Often there are impediments to such excursions namely finances, time and even the mode of travel. Do you fall in the latter category and are afraid of flying? Fret not! We have put together alternative ways to reach these seemingly unattainable destinations - via rail, cruise, trek or wheels - for some amazing, life-altering experiences. Read on to know more about the destinations that can be reached via routes alternative to flying.
1. Travelling from Europe to Asia
Want to have a life-changing experience? Then travel from Europe to Asia by land. It may seem daunting, but it’s well worth the trip for it guarantees unique cultural experiences.
1.1 Moscow - Beijing
At 9,289 km (5,772 miles), the Trans-Siberian Railway is the world’s longest railway line. Spanning seven time zones, it takes up to seven days to reach Beijing from Moscow via this train. There are many stops along the way. However, the best ones include the cities below.
Yekaterinburg and Ural Mountains
Located on the crossroads of Asia and Europe, Yekaterinburg is home to numerous pre-Soviet buildings. One of the best ways to explore the major attractions of the city is by taking a Red Line Walking Tour - it is a self-guided 5.5 km (3.4 miles) route replete with historical and cultural sites. Stretching 2000 km (1243 miles) from north to south, the Ural Mountains is one of the oldest (and picturesque) mountain ranges in the world. It comprises numerous forests, caves, hills, rivers, and lakes.
Irkutsk and Lake Baikal
The main highlights of Irkutsk are its 19th-century wooden architecture and indigenous cultures. Additionally, it serves as a starting point for exploring the world’s biggest freshwater lake - Lake Baikal. The lake is home to 1,000 species of plants and marine life. The more active travelers can visit Listvyanka as the township nestled on the shore of the lake. Here, you can indulge in hiking, snowmobiling, dog-sledding, and skiing.
This Siberian city is the center of Buddhism culture in Russia, and the must-visit place is Ivolginsky Datsan - a Buddhist monastery situated just outside of the city.
The capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar is a beautiful city that seamlessly blends old and new. Hop off the train to see the Genghis Khan monument at the Sukhbaatar Square, Winter Palace of Bogd Khan, the Zanabazar Fine Arts Museum and the National Museum of Mongolia. An unmissable sight here includes Gandantegchinlen Monastery or the ‘Great Place of Complete Joy’. It’s a holy place for Buddhists and comprises of three temples.
The capital city of China, Beijing is brimming with royal gardens, palaces, and temples. One of the most recognizable landmarks is the Great Wall of China, one of the seven wonders of the world. Stretching 21,196 km (13,171 miles), the must-visit sections of the Great Wall include Shanhai Pass, Badaling and Jiayu Pass. You can go hiking, diving, running and camping on the Great Wall. If you’re a real daredevil, go tobogganing. Other noteworthy attractions in Beijing include the Palace Museum, Yiheyuan (Summer Palace) and 798 Art District (to name but a few).
1.2 Greece - Turkey - Iran - Pakistan - India - Thailand
Greece - Turkey
Turkey is a transcontinental country, connecting Europe to Asia via Bosphorus Strait. Most travelers enter Turkey from Greece via ferry. You can book the tickets online or through a travel agency from one of the Greek islands. There’s so much to see and do in Turkey, from exploring the Ottoman-era mansions and ancient ruins to lazing out on the beach or indulging in a hammam experience. Some of the worthwhile activities include cruising along the Aegean coast or the Mediterranean sea, hiking in the Black Sea region and a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia. Other worthy attractions include Hagia Sophia, Topkapı Palace and Grand Bazaar in Istanbul; old Artuqid structures in Mardin; beaches of Fethiye; the Greek city of Ephesus; and the white travertines of Pamukkale.
Turkey - Iran
Crossing the Turkey-Iran border is comparatively easy; you just need to have a valid passport. That said, some passport holders do need to be accompanied by a tour guide while traveling in Iran. The nearest town to the border is Bazargan (Maku County), from there you can take a bus to Tabriz and spend a day there. Make sure to visit the Kabud Mosque (Blue Mosque) and Tabriz Bazaar. Then, head to Tehran, which is about a seven-hour drive. The must-visit places include Tehran Grand Bazaar, Golestan Palace and Mount Damavand (Asia’s highest volcano). Other worthy places include Naqshe-Jahan in Isfahan, Nasir al-Molk Mosque and Eram Gardens in Shiraz, the ancient city of Persepolis, and the historic houses of Kashan. Trains, minibuses and shared taxis (savari) are easily available in Iran, which makes getting between and within the cities easy.
Iran - Pakistan
The Iran - Pakistan border crossing is long (the process can sometimes take up to a week), but it is worth it for its abundant natural beauty, cultural diversity, historical sites, and warm hospitality. The best places to visit include Lahore, Islamabad, Gilgit-Baltistan, Karimabad village, Skardu, Multan, Karachi, and Mohenjodaro.
Pakistan - India
The best and cheapest way to travel from Pakistan to India is via a Delhi-Lahore bus. It is a passenger bus service that operates from Lahore (Pakistan) to Delhi (India) via the Wagah Border, which is perhaps the only crossing point for international travelers.
If you want history and culture (and are on a tight schedule), then take India’s most popular and classic tourist circuit - The Golden Triangle. It comprises three cities - Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur - and are located in an equilateral triangle, approximately 230 km (143 miles) from each other, hence the name ‘Golden Triangle’. These places are well-connected by trains; alternatively, you can hire a car and explore the cities at your own pace. The unmissable spots in this journey include forts and mosques of Old Delhi, Qutub Minar and India Gate in Delhi, Taj Mahal in Agra; Hawa Mahal, City Palace and Amer Fort in Jaipur. If time permits, visit Fatehpur Sikri on the way to Jaipur, for an insightful historical experience. If you’re into spirituality, visit Rishikesh or Varanasi; for beautiful beaches, head to Goa; for Ayurvedic massage, make your way over to the southern Indian state of Kerala; for street food and shopping, head to Mumbai; for a royal holiday experience, Rajasthan is the place to be; and for a challenge, enter Himachal Pradesh, the adventure playground of India.
India - Thailand via Myanmar
If you’ve got wheels (bus, car or camper), wanderlust and two weeks of time off, we recommend taking this epic road trip from India to Thailand via Myanmar. Stretching across 4500 km (2796 miles), embark from Moreh (a small town in Manipur, located on the India-Myanmar border), cross over the Friendship Bridge and enter Tamu in Myanmar. From here, head to Mandalay and spend a few nights there. You can explore this riverside city by bicycle or on foot. The top sights worth visiting include Mandalay Palace, Kuthodaw Pagoda, Mingun Pagoda and the U-Bein bridge, which is perhaps the longest teakwood bridge in the world. It is best known for sunrise or sunset view. A trip to Mandalay is incomplete without visiting the 760 feet (231.6 meters) tall Mandalay Hill, which offers the best view of the entire city. It can be reached by taxi or by trekking if you’re looking for some thrill.
If you’ve got the time, take a quick drive to Bagan and explore its plethora of ancient temples. Feeling adventurous after temple-hopping? Trek to Inle Lake. Along the way, you’ll come across rice fields, cabbage farms and stunning views of the mountains. We recommend staying for a day at Inle lake and exploring its attractions like Tofu Palace, Mingala Market, and Pindaya Caves. Take the Yangon - Naypyitaw - Mandalay Expressway, towards the historic city of Yangon. There are numerous places to explore in Yangon. At the very least, be sure to visit the 2500-year-old Shwedagon Pagoda. It is nestled atop Singuttara Hill overlooking the city. We recommend visiting this pagoda at dusk, as the view of the sunset over its golden exterior is magical (and Instagram-worthy). There is a 6 USD entry fee into the pagoda.
Your adventure is far from over for you can venture west to Mae Sot, a border town on Thailand side. Ascend onwards to Chai Nat and carry on towards Bang Pa-In Royal Palace, which is nestled along the Chao Phraya River. Bang Pa-In Royal Palace is also called the Summer Royal Palace, and it is divided into two zones, one of which is off limits to visitors. After admiring the beauty of the palace, wrap this road trip in Bangkok that is brimming with cultural and historic sights. Some of the must-visit attractions include the Grand Palace, Wat Phra Kaew, Wat Pho (Temple of Reclining Buddha), Wat Arun (Temple of the Dawn) and the Bangkok National Museum. Be sure to sample the local Thai cuisine at any restaurant on Yaowarat Road, and then perhaps enjoy a beer or two after dark at Khao San Road.
2. Travelling within South America
2.1 Within Peru: Cusco - Machu Picchu
Cusco - Machu Picchu
Literally meaning ‘old mountain’ in Quechua language, Machu Picchu is a spectacular Inca citadel, perched in the Andes Mountains, at 2,430 meters (7972.4 feet) above sea level. There are many ways to reach this world-famous Peruvian archeological site, and the easiest way is by rail. There are mainly two rail operators - Inca Rail and Perurail. Both the operators offer numerous trains to Machu Picchu, departing from Cusco, Ollantaytambo, and Urubamba. The Expedition and Vistadome trains by Perurail, and Machu Picchu train by Inca Rail are the economical options. The average cost ranges from 65-100 USD per person, one-way. Luxury trains are also available if you have some cash to splash. The Belmond Hiram Bingham train by Perurail and the 360° Machu Picchu Train and private train by Inca Rail are the best options. They offer gourmet food, fully stocked bar and onboard entertainment, in addition to 360-degree views of the landscape. Depending on where you board, it will take one to four hours. The price varies depending on the amenities and season. Alternatively, you can take a private taxi or bus from Cusco to Ollantaytambo, and then train to Aguas Calientes, the town below Machu Picchu.
If you want to crank it up a notch, opt for an Inca trail trek. It is one of the most popular - albeit more expensive - way to get to Machu Picchu. It costs an average of 500 to 1000 USD and takes around four days and three nights to complete the trek which passes through Incan ruins and mountains. Point to note: you’re not allowed to complete the trek without a guided group. A cheaper alternative to the classic Inca trail is the Salkantay trek. Costing about 180 USD, it takes five days and four nights to complete it and can be done without a guide. It passes through a lagoon, snowy mountains and finishes off in a jungle.
2.2 Peru - Brazil
Peru - Amazon Rainforest
Spanning an area of 6.9 million sq km (2.72 million sq miles), the Amazon Rainforest is a massive natural habitat with lots to explore. The best way to explore it is by boat - luxury cruises, motorized skiff boats, speed boats or cargo ships. You’ll pass through some remote villages, which are untouched by modernism, and still follow the traditional ways of living. You’ll find witch doctors, healers and medicine men in these villages. While floating along the river, you’ll also spot the diverse Amazonian wildlife, including speckled bear, monkeys, jaguar, boars, sloths, and colorful birds. If you’re lucky, you can even spot the river dolphins.
Amazon Rainforest encompasses nine countries and it can be difficult to figure out where to start. However, one of the best places to start your Amazon adventure is Peru - either from Iquitos or Parque Manu National Park. A lot of vessels ply the Peruvian Amazon, from luxury cruises to basic ones. Some of the best cruises include-
Delfin I that has four luxurious suites, outfitted with floor-to-ceiling windows offering unparalleled views of the forests. In addition, there is a private terrace, gourmet meals and naturalist guides.
Zafiro Amazon Cruise has 19 suites kitted out with floor-to-ceiling windows, air conditioning, massage room, outdoor jacuzzi, and a fully stocked bar.
Amazon Star Cruise is a mid-range vessel that goes deep into the untouched parts of the jungle.
Aria Amazon is one of the most luxurious cruise ships on the river that is known for its amenities. Of particular note is its impressive list of wines accompanied by a delicious menu created by the celebrity Peruvian chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino.
You can book all these cruises and more via Peru Amazon Tours.
If you’re up for the challenge, you can opt for day hikes or multi-day hikes into the jungle. No matter which option you choose, it will surely be an adventure of a lifetime.
Life-changing trips via alternative routes
From hiking up to Machu Picchu to walking the Great Wall of China(after all, it’s over 20,921.472 km [13,000 miles]) to cruising the world’s largest tropical rainforest, discover experiences that will change your lives, and all being accessible through routes alternative to flying.
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