It’s never been cooler to be a geek and these destination ideas below are definitely not your average travel experiences – think bygone civilisations, international intrigue and unimaginable futures. Here’s 5 great destinations around the world for geeks.
Relive the Cold War at the Nevada National Security Site, USA
Back in the 1950s, Las Vegas wasn’t just known as ‘Sin City’ – it was also the ‘Atomic City’. About 100km away, in an area covering 3500 square kilometres of desert and mountainous terrain, 100 atomic bombs were tested above ground until the 1992 moratorium. To this day, the testing site remains pockmarked with craters.
Equally surreal is how the city’s casinos threw dawn parties to celebrate these explosions. You’d be trying your luck at the gambling tables and then a big flash would be seen in the distance followed by a mushroom cloud. Despite its dangers, the bombs were a popular drawcard and the city even had a Miss Atomic Bomb pageant – which, yes, inspired The Killers’ song of the same name (the band’s from Las Vegas, too).
Visit the Nevada National Security Site on an official tour, which is run by the US Department of Energy’s Nevada Field Office once a month. It fills up well in advance, so book ahead. You might also want to brush up on your knowledge at the National Atomic Testing Museum in Las Vegas before heading out.
Hunt For Fossils on the Jurassic Coast, England
If you’ve ever harboured fantasies of becoming a dust-stained palaeontologist, this trip is for you. The Jurassic Coast is a World Heritage Site that stretches 155km from East Devon to Dorset in the south of England (you can walk its entire length via the South West Coast Path). This area has a story that encompasses 250 million years of the Earth’s history, including the Triassic, Jurassic and Cretaceous periods.
Many museums and visitor centres along the coast have awe-inspiring exhibitions of prehistoric monsters, such as a 2.4m-long skull of a pliosaur – reportedly the largest sea creature that ever lived – which is on display at the Dorset County Museum. However, if you’re looking to get out on the beach and hunt for some fossils yourself, the best and safest place to do so is at Charmouth – the Charmouth Heritage Coast Centre and Lyme Regis Museum offer guided fossil hunts.
To get yourself into the right mindset before you go, try reading Tracy Chevalier’s historical novel Remarkable Creatures, inspired by the life of palaeontologist Mary Anning.
Check Out Diseased Brains at Lima’s Neuropathology Museum, Peru
Peru has many museums, but if you have a taste for the macabre, make sure you don’t miss this one. Housed in the Institute of Neurological Science in the capital city of Lima, this museum has been slowly collecting brain and fetus samples since 1947 and has amassed more than 3000 specimens.
Why go? These samples exhibit abnormalities caused by neurological diseases, psychiatric disorders and substance abuse, ranging from alcoholism to Alzheimer’s and mad cow disease. There are other larger collections in the world, but none that allow public viewing. It’s pretty useful, I’d say, if you want to know what your brain shouldn’t look like…
Stargaze in the Atacama Desert, Chile
It’s been said that there’s no better place on Earth to stargaze than in the arid moon-like landscape of the Atacama Desert.
Most tourists base themselves in the town of San Pedro de Atacama and the go-to man seems to be French astronomer Alain Maury, who has been running stargazing tours since 2003 with San Pedro de Atacama Celestial Explorations (SPACE). Another recommended outfit is Ahlarkapin, which provides a similar experience with a twist: it’s run by the local indigenous people and combines scientific astronomy with Andean history.
If you’re looking for something more cutting edge, there’s the Atacama Large Millimetre/submillimetre Array (ALMA) observatory, which is located 5000m above sea level and is the largest land-based observatory ever built, or the Paranal Observatory on the Cerro Paranal mountain. Both are open to the public on weekends.
Train as a Cosmonaut, Russia
Unlike the world-renowned singer, Sarah Brightman, you probably can’t afford to travel in space just yet, but one can’t be too prepared! Like Brightman, you can train as a cosmonaut as part of a tour at Star City, which is about 48km outside of Moscow.
The closed town of Star City has a long history: it’s where Russian cosmonauts have lived and trained since the 1960s. Though it’s been open to tourists since the 1990s, back then it was a top-secret military site. Located deep in the forest, it was not even marked on maps.
Besides the training facility, which is still in operation today, there’s also an on-site museum, as well as homes and all the facilities you’d expect of a small town, such as shops, a church and a school.
Apparently, the family of Yuri Gagarin, the first man to venture into outer space, still lives here.