It's summertime. That means it's time for you, Fearless Traveler, to collect some new stamps in your old passport.
But what's left to explore on our ever-shrinking planet? More importantly, where can you go without bumping into other gringo backpackers?
We've come up with a list of truly original vacation spots right here in the Americas. These are foreign lands that are so wondrously obscure that most people have never heard of them. So half the fun will be trying to figure out where these places are and how to get there (and honestly, that might be all the fun since there's absolutely zero going on in some of these places).
Anyway, if you like a travel challenge, here is a list of self-proclaimed countries and aspiring micro-nations that are tucked uncomfortably inside the borders of host countries that don't recognize their independence. Buen viaje!
This self-styled separatist nation on Nicaragua's northern Caribbean coast declared its independence on April 19, 2009 to the sound of crickets. The aspiring indigenous nation declared it was reestablishing 19th century colonial-era boundaries, a throwback to when the Kingdom of the Moskitia was a British protectorate. The indigenous Council of Elders even sent a letter to the Queen of England informing her of their nation's rebirth. (She didn't write back).
"People have been waiting and waiting for this for 115 years. But everything has its moment," separatist leader Rev. Hector Williams, the Wihta Tara, or Great Judge, told me when his group declared their independence, complete with a flag, national anthem that nobody knows the words to, and an alleged army that no one has ever seen.
Nicaragua never recognized the Miskito nation's independence, and has made clear to the separatist leaders that they don't appreciate their attempt at secession.
The good thing about the Moskitia is you can actually visit. It's an hour flight on an island-hopper from Managua to Bilwi, also known as Puerto Cabezas. It's a fascinating indigenous community with a great seafood, cold beer (when the electricity is on), and just enough lawless narco-mayhem to remain interesting. For the really adventurous traveler, try to visit during an outbreak of a collective hysteria known as Grisi Siknis. I did and it's given me enough stories for a lifetime.
A misplaced border stone dropped haphazardly at the edge of swamp 110 years ago between Costa Rica and Nicaragua gave birth — sorta, but not really — to the 170-square mile Republic of Airrecu, which means "friendship" in the native Maleku language.
The short version of the story is this: In 1905, border surveyors decided not to enter a snake-infested swamp to put the border stone where it belonged, so instead they placed a "provisional" border marker several miles south of the swamp in Costa Rican territory. Over time, people forgot the stone was provisional, and the border was never adjusted, which is why the border south of Lake Nicaragua appears to be drawn in a strange "V" shape rather than hugging the lakeshore as it was intended to do. In the 1990s, an ambitious Costa Rican cartographer challenged the long-accepted error and demanded that Costa Rica reclaim its lost territory ceded to Nicaragua more than a century earlier. Costa Rica said nah, not worth it. So a group of patriotic Ticos decided to proclaim the no-man's land as the Republic of Airrecu.
Nicaragua said no, and sent military helicopters to circle the area as a show of force. The separatist leaders scattered but later regrouped in 2003 to make another half-hearted attempt at independence. But by then they were old and overweight and not really up to the challenge. In 2012 a small group of dedicated Airrecú fans started the Friends of Airrecú Facebook page, which remains the saddest place on the internet, swelling to 10 members in its heyday
To get to Airrecú, travel to San Carlos, a town on the source of Nicaragua's Rio San Juan, then take a boat across the river to the Los Guatuzos nature reserve. Wander a few more clicks south of there and you'll be in Airrecú —but don't tell any of the Nicaraguans standing around you because they won't know what you're talking about.
There's plenty of booby on Redonda, but you'll have to hire your own boat to get to this rocky, barren island located between the Caribbean islands of Montserrat and Nevis. Don’t expect to have too much fun once you get there. The mile-long island is only inhabitant by a blue-footed bird known as the booby. (Oh, wait, did you think I meant something else?)
Still, the island has long been linked with some notable figures.
First discovered in 1493 by Christopher Columbus (a boob in his own right), the island has an eccentric history. It has long been associated with writers, actors and filmmakers, which makes it difficult to know how much of its history is fact or fiction. Legend has it that an Irish trader, Matthew Shiell, bought the island in 1865 and had his son, M.P. Shiell, crowned the King of Redonda.
The younger Shiell eventually went on to become a fantasy writer and later abdicated his “throne” to a poet friend, setting off a line of succession that has been passed from one writer to another. Today, its current king is widely recognized as Spanish novelist Javier Marias (seriously).
Marias has given out ceremonial Redondan titles to a number of artists. In 1999, filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola accepted the title of Duke of Megalopolis. Two years later, Architect Frank Gehry was appointed Duke of Nervion (seriously).
Even though no one lives on the island, Redonda has its own national anthem and passport.
You might actually be able to get to the Principality of Trinidad, but you’ll need to hitch a ride with the Brazilian Navy.
This South Atlantic island, located some 700 miles off the southeastern Brazilian coast, still pops up on the lists of micronations, even though it technically now belongs to Brazil.
That could be due to its bizarre history. The Principality of Trinidad was declared in 1893 by American James Harden-Hickey, who had hopes of establishing it as an independent country and then a military dictatorship. Harden-Hickey was so intent on moving ahead with his plan that he opened a consular office in New York and designed a national flag, a coat of arms and postage stamps. He planned on making French the official language.
But Brazil eventually claimed the island for itself, arguing it was discovered in the 1500s by Portuguese navigators. Today the island is home to a Brazilian Navy base.
Covering an area about the size of Massachussets, Republica Glaciar —the Glacier Republic — is one of the biggest micronations in the world.
It's also one of the frostiest; this “country” exists on Chile’s glaciers.
Republica Glaciar was set up by environmental group Greenpeace last year, in an effort to pressure the Chilean government into protecting the country’s glaciers.
Activists want Chile to draft a law that would make glaciers off-limits to mining corporations that have been encroaching on these water reserves to look for copper and aluminum in the Andes mountains.
Ctiizens of the Glacier Repubic argue that, because Chile currently has no laws to protect its 24,000 glaciers, it has decided to relinquish its sovereignty over these frozen rivers.
As for recognition from other countries?
“It’s not necessary if you want to create a republic,” says Matías Asun, the Glacier Republic’s self-appointed “ambassador” to Chile. “China and Taiwan are not officially recognized by many countries out there, which means they have the same problem we do.”
Republica Glaciar issues its own passports and uses Greenpeace’s offices in several world capitals as its “embassies.” The micronation is also lobbying the Chilean congress for a glacier law, and recently launched its national soccer team. But bring your own tent and crampons if you want to visit. There's no permanent structure on Republica Glaciar.
“Having a permanent camp there is not environmentally feasible,” Asun said.
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.
Tim Rogers, Fusion's senior editor for Latin America, was born a gringo to well-meaning parents, but would rather have been Nicaraguan. Also, he's the second hit on Google when you search for "Guatemalan superhero." Tim was a Nieman Fellow in 2014.