My Best Travel Experiences of 2019: Destinations

Bart Lapers is a Belgian travel blogger visiting every country in the world

In 2019, I visited 33 countriesย of which 19 for the first time: Albania ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡ฑ Andorra ๐Ÿ‡ฆ๐Ÿ‡ฉ Bahrain ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ญ Bosnia and Herzegovina ๐Ÿ‡ง๐Ÿ‡ฆ Cyprus ๐Ÿ‡จ๐Ÿ‡พ Estonia ๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡ช Ethiopia ๐Ÿ‡ช๐Ÿ‡น Liechtenstein ๐Ÿ‡ฑ๐Ÿ‡ฎ Moldova ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฉ Montenegro ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ช North Korea ๐Ÿ‡ฐ๐Ÿ‡ต North Macedonia ๐Ÿ‡ฒ๐Ÿ‡ฐ Oman ๐Ÿ‡ด๐Ÿ‡ฒ San Marino ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡ฒ Syria ๐Ÿ‡ธ๐Ÿ‡พ Tanzania ๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ฟ Tunisia ๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ณ Turkmenistan ๐Ÿ‡น๐Ÿ‡ฒ Yemen ๐Ÿ‡พ๐Ÿ‡ช. It was also the year I decided to visit every country in the world by 2025. At the end of 2019, I had visited 98 out of 193 UN countries. Below are some of my favourite travel experiences of the past year. I hope they inspire you for an awesome travel year 2020.

North Bali, Indonesia

Gitgit Waterfall North Bali Indonesia
Gitgit waterfall (Jan 2019)ย 
In January, I finally explored โ€˜the other side of Baliโ€™. On previous visits I had never wandered up more North than Ubud. It turned out to be a stunning destination with an authentic culture and pristine nature with tranquil, rural surroundings. Check my Instagram Stories for the Northern Bali trip report.
Bart Lapers at Gapura Bali Handara Kosaido
Gapura Bali Handara Kosaido (Jan 2019)

Cape Town, South Africa

Bart Lapers in Bo-Kaap, Cape Town, South Africa 2019
Bo-Kaap, Cape Town (May 2019)
Thanks to a British Airways First Class error fare, I visited Cape Town both in March and May of 2019. A perfect destination to relax and enjoy good food & wine with friends. Activities to add to your Cape Town checklist:

      • Visit Bo-Kaap: Formerly known as the Malay Quarter, itโ€™s the historical centre of Cape Malay culture in Cape Town
      • Hike Lion’s Head which peaks at 669 metres above sea level. The peak forms part of a dramatic backdrop to the city of Cape Town
      • Sunset catamaran cruise with Mirage at V&A Waterfront

Check my Instagram Stories for the March and May Cape Town trip report.
Lion's Head Cape Town South Africa
Lion’s Head, Cape Town (Mar 2019)

North Vietnam

Hang Mua Ninh Binh Province Vietnam
Hang Mua Ninh Binh Province (May 2019)
In May, I travelled to North Vietnam with Cathay Pacific. It was a very different (better!) experience compared to the South which I visited several years ago. Highlights were Hanoi, Ninh Binh and cruising Halong Bay. Full trip report on my blog.

Transnistria, Moldova

Bart Lapers at Chisinau airport Moldova
Chisinau airport (Jul 2019)
In my quest to visit every country in the world, I used the summer to explore the remaining countries on my European continent checklist. A list which included the least visited country in Europe: Moldova. Even more interestingly, I got the opportunity to visit Transnistria, a separatist state which isnโ€™t recognised by any UN member state but gets support from Russia. There are 2000 Russian soldiers based in Transnistria to ‘protect’ the border between Transnistria and Moldova. Check my full trip report on IG Stories.
Bart Lapers in Tiraspol Transnistria Moldova
Tiraspol, Transnistria (Jul 2019)
Famous Transnistrian plastic money coins Transnistrian ruble
Famous Transnistrian plastic money (Jul 2019)
Bart Lapers with guide Katya in Tiraspol Transnistria
My guide Katya in Tiraspol, Transnistria (Jul 2019)

Danakil Depression, Ethiopia

Bart Lapers at Dallol Danakil Depression Afar Region Ethiopia
Dallol at Danakil Depression (Aug 2019)
In August, I spent several days at the hottest place on Earth in terms of year-round average temperatures: the Danakil Depression. My tour included a visit to the hydrothermal system of Dallol, Erta Ale volcano and Danakil salt flats. Check my Ethiopia Stories.
Salt water pool in the middle of the Ethiopian desert Afar region
Salt water pool in Ethiopian salt desert (Aug 2019)
The colorful hydrothermal pools and terraces of Dallol
Highly-active hydrothermal system of Dallol (Aug 2019)
Bart Lapers at Dallol Danakil Depression Ethiopia
The unearthly scenery of Dallol (Aug 2019)
Lava at Crater of Erta Ale volcano in Ethiopia
Crater of the Erta Ale volcano (Aug 2019)

Pyongyang, North Korea

Bart Lapers at Mansu Hill Grand Monument in Pyongyang
Mansu Hill Grand Monument in Pyongyang (Sep 2019)
In September, I started checking off ESTA banned countries. Just before my departure to North Korea, the United States had decided to add North Korea to the list of nations which, once visited, ban you from entering the USA without applying for a visa in advance. The full list of banned countries: Iran, Iraq, Libya, North Korea, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.
Bart Lapers on Pyongyang Metro North Korea
Pyongyang Metro (Sep 2019)
Bart Lapers at Grand Peoples Study House in Pyongyang
Grand Peoples Study House in Pyongyang (Sep 2019)
My visit to North Korea was brief, but allowed me to get a first impression of the country. I flew North Korean airline Air Koryo from Beijing to Pyongyang and returned to Beijing by train via Dandong, a 24-hour journey. Check my Instagram Stories video.Arch of Reunification Pyongyang Bart Lapers
Arch of Reunification Pyongyang (Sep 2019)
The most impressive experience of my 3 days in Pyongyang was definitely the Arirang Mass Games performance. The world’s largest choreography spectacle with more than 100,000 gymnasts. May Day stadium is also the largest stadium in the world.

Turkmenistan

The Alem Center Turkmenistan the world's largest indoor ferris wheel
World’s largest indoor ferris wheel (Sep 2019)
End of September, I visited another mysterious country: Turkmenistan.ย I attended the Turkmenistan Independence Day celebrations at Kopetdag Stadium, watched horse races at Akhalteke Horse Sports Complex in presence of the president and explored Ashgabat, the capital of the country.
Bart Lapers at Darvaza Gas Crater Gates of Hell Turkmenistan
Darvaza Gas Crater aka “Gates of Hell” (Sep 2019)
The real highlight of my visit to Turkmenistan however was the Gates of Hell in the Karakum desert. The Darvaza Gas Crater was created in 1971 when a Soviet drilling rig accidentally punched into a massive underground natural gas cavern, causing the ground to collapse and the entire drilling rig to fall in. Having punctured a pocket of gas, poisonous fumes began leaking at an alarming rate. To head off a potential environmental catastrophe, the Soviets set the hole alight, figuring it would stop burning within a few weeks. Decades later, and the fiery pit is still going strong. Make sure to check my video.
Sunrise at Darvaza Gas Crater Gates of Hell Turkmenistan
Sunrise at Darvaza Gas Crater (Sep 2019)
Bart Lapers at Darvaza gas crater Gates of Hell Turkmenistan
Nighttime at Gates of Hell (Sep 2019)

Syria

Bart Lapers in Damasus
After my exciting experiences in North Korea and Turkmenistan, I was ready for more challenging destinations. Early November, I arranged a trip for myself and two friends via a local travel agency in Syria. We visited Damascus, Maaloula, Homs, Krak Des Chevaliers and Tartous. It offered a great opportunity to get a better understanding of the current conflict, explore the amazing cultural heritage and taste the wonderful food. The trip made clear to me Syria has a lot more to offer than what we got to see on TV in the past 10 years.
Bart Lapers in Damascus Syria
Temple of Jupiter, Damascus (Nov 2019)
Homs Syria
Destruction in Homs (Nov 2019)
Krak Des Chevaliers
Crusader castle Krak Des Chevaliers (Nov 2019)
Juice seller at Al-Hamidiyah Souq Damascus
Juice seller at Al-Hamidiyah Souq Damascus (Nov 2019)

Hawf, Yemen

Hawf Yemen
Yemeni coastline in Hawf (Dec 2019)
My final trip of the year was another unusual destination: Yemen. Unfortunately, visiting the beautiful capital of Sanaa wasn’t an option due to the brutal conflict going on in the region. As an alternative, I visited the coastal city of Hawf near the border with Oman. More of this trip on my Instagram.
lunch with locals in hawf yemen
Lunch with locals in Hawf (Dec 2019)
Bart Lapers in Hawf Yemen December 2019
Azam, my fixer and local guide in Yemen (Dec 2019)

Conclusion

Bart Lapers in San Marino
Three Towers of San Marino (Aug 2019)
If you would have told me at the beginning of 2019 I would be visiting Syria, North Korea, Ethiopia, Yemen and so many other challenging destination that year, I would not have believed it. Turns out the last minute plans can be really rewarding. I met some awesome people along the way and look forward to share more of my adventurous travels in 2020 with you. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. Let’s chase the UN 193!

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