Many backpackers dream of trekking in new and exciting places – places where few have gone before – but this is a difficult goal with tourism opening all over the globe. No less exciting is the prospect of going where many have gone before. A long, long time before.
Angkor, Cambodia (9th c AD to 15th c AD)
From your hostel in Siem Reap, central Cambodia, you can access about 40 ancient Khmer temples and monuments over 200 square km. Angkor itself was an ancient political city modeled on the temples and monuments of India, but the beautiful Cambodian landscape – including the impressive Mekong river, abundant jungle foliage, northern Kulen hills and Tonle Sap (Great Lake), a UNESCO biosphere reserve – give Angkor its own distinct majesty. Make sure to take a river tour!
Baalbek, Lebanon (30th c BC to 15th c AD
With levels dating back to the early Bronze Age, the temple complex of Baalbek holds more history than some geological formations. Set on a high point in the lush Bekaa Valley between the rolling, snow-capped Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon mountain ranges, these ruins shed light on 5000 years of Prehistoric, Phoenecian, Seleucin, Roman and Islamic dynasties. Once thought of as “The City of the Sun” this former site of the Roman temple of Jupiter is only an hour out of Beirut – an awesome day trip for the adventurous.
Tikal, Guatemala (4th c BC to 10th c AD)
Not only is Tikal a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the largest excavated ruins of the Mayan civilization, it is also part of the Maya Biosphere Reserve. Hear the wild wails of howler monkeys, watch spider monkeys swing by overhead or catch glimpses of any of over 330 bird species as you explore this vast national park, part of the Peten Jungle. The ruins themselves are breathtaking but be sure to splurge on a walking tour – the mysteries behind the monuments are worth delving into.
Newgrange, Ireland (33rd c BC)
Newgrange is one of a number of passage tombs, or chambered cairns, to be found in Ireland’s County Meath. It is technically stone-aged, built in the Neolithic era, so its wide range of non-local building materials, startling preservation and architectural and cosmological sophistication (the central chamber receives natural light only at sunrise on solstice days) might surprise you. Newgrange is a great pit-stop while exploring castles, monasteries and gorgeous green countryside from your hostel in Drogheda (only a fifteen minute drive away).
There you have it – four exciting ancient destinations free from the crowds, expense and been-done aspect of the Pyramids, Parthenon and Machu Picchu. As the saying goes, “Everything old is new again!”