It may not be fashionable but I’m a bit of a box-ticker when it comes to travel. I have a list of the countries I’ve visited and I keep track of memorable places such the highest, lowest and driest I’ve visited. I’m also rather proud of my passports (past and present) that have filled up with the stamps I’ve collected.
The standard entry and exit stamps from most countries are fairly mundane. However, beyond the typical destinations are some unusual (and brag-worthy) passport stamps to collect on your travels including microstates, geographical landmarks, inaccessible lands and a range of historical sights.
1. Checkpoint Charlie, Berlin, Germany
Symbolic of the Cold War and a divided Europe, Checkpoint Charlie in Berlin was the best-known border crossing between East and West Berlin throughout its 28-year active life. The checkpoint has not been in use since the official reunification of Germany in October 1990. Tourists today can visit the Haus am Checkpoint Charlie museum and have a range of unofficial passport stamps to choose from at a cost between €1 and €3.
2. El Fin del Mundo, Ushuaia, Argentina
It’s not called the end of the world for nothing. We visited the furthermost southern part of Argentina at the beginning of winter, just as Tierra del Fuego received its first snows of the season. Ushuaia is not quite the southernmost population on the continent (that would be Puerto Williams on the Chilean side of Tierra del Fuego) but it is the most dramatic. The windswept town has a picturesque setting between the Martial Mountains and the choppy seas of the Beagle Channel. Visit the tourist information center on the waterfront to choose between two passport stamps.
3. Republic of San Marino
Apart from the Vatican (where you can’t get your passport stamped) San Marino is Europe’s smallest state and the fifth smallest in the world. The Republic of San Marino is an enclave microstate just over 60km2 in size. Surrounded by Italy on all sides and with a population of 32,000, San Marino claims to be the oldest surviving sovereign state and constitutional republic in the world. Citizens of the EU will need to pay €2.50 to get their passport stamped at the tourist information office. Visitors from outside the EU will automatically get a stamp on entry.
4. Ciudad Mitad del Mundo, Quito, Ecuador
From the end to the middle of the world, the South American continent has quite a few claims to fame. Located 26km north of Quito is Ciudad Mitad del Mundo (Middle of the World City), where the equator passes through Ecuador. There is some confusion around exactly where the equator lies. Apparently, the equator is actually where the Ethnographic Museum Monument is located, about 240 meters north of the marked line and pyramidal monument at the official site. Both sites have the means to stamp your passport, the cost included in the entrance fees.
5. North Korea
Only around 1,500 western tourists visit North Korea every year, making it one of the least-visited countries in the world. Moreover, it is the political and social opposition to entering such a closed-off and undemocratic country that makes this crossing such a prize for travellers. Tourists must book onto a pre-planned tour with two North Korean guides for company. The guides have to be specially appointed by the country’s Ministry of Tourism and it can take around 6-8 weeks to organise. Passport stamps are issued upon entry.
6. The polar bear capital of the world, Churchill, Canada
The small town of Churchill in northern Manitoba is on the west shore of Hudson Bay. Every autumn, its large population of polar bears move toward the shore from inland, inspiring the name “Polar Bear Capital of the World”. The polar bears spearhead the region’s growing ecotourism industry where tourists can visit a “polar bear jail” in which bears that persistently loiter in or close to town are held pending release back into the wild in winter. In Churchill’s post office you can have your passport unofficially stamped with a polar bear.
7. Machu Picchu, Peru
Most tourists to Peru will want to visit Machu Picchu, one of the new seven wonders of the world. In the 15th century, the Incan Emperor Pachacútec built a city in the clouds on the mountain known as Machu Picchu (“old mountain”). As you enter the UNESCO World Heritage Site via the world-famous Inca Trail there is an opportunity to get your passport stamped (included in the park entrance fee). If you miss this opportunity or don’t fancy the trek, there is also a small office just inside the entrance to the actual Inca ruins where you can also get your stamp.
8. Llanfairpwllgwyngyll-gogerychwyrndrobwll-llantysilio-gogogoch, Wales, UK
This large village in Wales with 58 characters has the longest place name in Europe and the second longest official one-word place name in the world. The James Pringle Weavers shop is one of Llanfairpwll’s (short name) main tourist attractions and can stamp your passport with the full Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch name. (We had to hyphenate the title to fit it onto the page!) You can also buy a novelty train ticket featuring the platform name, record breaking in length.
Not the easiest place in the world to access and for good reason: it is Earth’s southernmost continent and contains the South Pole. Most tourists visit from either Chilean or Argentine Tierra del Fuego, but some make the epic journey from New Zealand or South Africa. Antarctica is managed by more than 50 nations via the Antarctic Treaty System, so there are no official passport stamps. However, tour operators can arrange to visit scientific stations where visitors can get souvenir stamps. There is also an historic British post office at Port Lockroy which has souvenir stamps available.
An autonomous country within Denmark, Greenland is geographically part of North America but politically part of Europe, although not part of the EU. Greenland is described as a country within the Kingdom of Denmark, despite it being 50 times the size of the “motherland”. Its rather idiosyncratic political and geographic status is what makes this passport stamp unusual – not to mention the isolation, pristine glaciers and bracing clean air.
11. Tristan da Cunha, South Atlantic Ocean
Tristan da Cunha in the South Atlantic Ocean is 2,434 km (1,512 miles) from Saint Helena, 2,816 km (1,750 miles) from South Africa, and 3,360 km (2,090 miles) from South America. With a population of approximately 270, the main island of Tristan da Cunha is also the remotest inhabited island in the world. It has no airport, so all travel must be by boat, making it the most remote inhabited place by transport time as well. Boat travel to the nearest scheduled airport in South Africa takes five days. On arrival, visitors have to get a landing stamp, one of the world’s hardest passport stamps to get. If you make it here, you’re either very dedicated or very lost.
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