The ultimate travel experiences
The spirit of adventure is something that unites travellers across the globe. There’s nothing more exciting and enriching in life than discovering new places. But with so many ‘once in a lifetime’ places to explore, it’s hard to know where to begin.
Not everyone has the courage to get off the beaten track and out of their comfort zone, to seek out some of the more rare and remote corners of the world. But life’s short, and some of those beautiful spots we spend our time daydreaming about sadly won’t be around forever.
So don’t just sit behind your desk fantasising about that far flung adventure you’ve always wanted to do. Book that trip, and you could find yourself trekking to Peru’s Rainbow Mountain, living it up at a Caribbean fish fry or sleeping in a crystal blue ice hotel.
We hope these 15 experiences will inspire you to travel more.
1. Slide down the Athabasca Sand Dunes
Stretching approximately 100km along the south shore of Lake Athabasca, the Athabasca Sand Dunes in Alberta, Canada, are powerful enough to bury forests and fill in lakes. And because they’re surrounded by woods, lakes and marshes, visitors never run out of adventures.
In addition to your unforgettable slides down the dunes, you may have an opportunity to see wildlife you’d never spot back home, such as American dune grass, beaver, muskrat, red fox, lynx, moose, river otters and willow ptarmigans. Keep your camera handy - the ever-shifting dunes make for gorgeous photos.
Visitors can only access this isolated attraction by boat or float plane. Take a guided tour to enjoy this remote wilderness with the safety of an expert.
2. Dip into Scotland’s Fairy Pools
With the Cuillin Mountains in the background, you can explore a series of crystal-clear pools and waterfalls as you walk along the Allt Coir’ a’ Mhadaidh stream. Breathe in the crisp, windswept air, and clear your head. The waters are chilly, but that doesn’t stop the adventurous from taking a dip in the turquoise blue waters.
At one particularly enchanting point, you can see an underwater stone arch in the stream. The trail also takes you past Coire na Creiche, the site of the last battle between the MacDonald and Macleod clans. Far away from the bustle of the city, you can almost hear the clashing of their swords and the echoes down through the years.
3. Spot dolphins in the Maldives
Sleep in an over-the-water bungalow by night, and watch dolphins twist and splash by day in the glorious Maldives. Just before sunset is the best time to spot playful dolphin pods in the turquoise waters surrounding the 26 islands that make up this Indian Ocean nation.
A knowledgeable guide will be able to tell you the differences between bottlenose dolphins, Risso’s dolphins, spinner dolphins and striped dolphins. After a day in the sun, enjoy a romantic dinner overlooking the world-famous turquoise waters.
4. Set sail through Halong Bay
Legend has it that dragons descended on the islands of northeastern Vietnam to protect their inhabitants from foreign invaders. The dragons repelled the invaders by breathing fire and scattering giant emeralds across the sea. Today you can sail this UNESCO heritage site, weaving through the emerald islands and breathtaking cliffs.
The serene landscape of the bay is a welcome contrast from the bustle of cosmopolitan Hanoi. Take an overnight boat trip, which often includes the opportunity to kayak through hidden caves, swim in emerald green waters, stargaze beneath the heavens, and feast on sumptuous Vietnamese food aboard a traditional-style wooden boat.
5. Trek to Rainbow Mountain
Vinicunca (also known as Rainbow Mountain) doesn’t look like it belongs on Earth, but there it is, right in front of you! A three hour drive from Cusco, hike Rainbow Mountain and enjoy the Peruvian countryside, where you’ll pass local villages, glittering mountain streams, plus herds of alpacas, llamas and sheep.
How did those crazy stripes end up on the mountain? Over time, sedimentary mineral layers on the mountain have been exposed by erosion, creating the rainbow affect often seen today.
Not for the faint hearted, the changing weather conditions combined with high altitude can be a challenge for even the most experienced hikers, so it’s best to summit the mountain with a tour guide. The dry season peaks in June and July, which is said to be the best time to visit.
6. Sleep in an ice hotel
Located in the tiny village of Jukkasjärvi, Sweden, the Ice Hotel accommodates guests year round. After a gourmet supper of locally sourced ingredients served on Torne river ice, you can retire to your personal ice palace, carved by local ice artists and gorgeously appointed with everything you need, including an ice crystal chandelier.
Immerse yourself in the solitude of this remote attraction, surrounded by glistening snow clad forests. Those lucky enough may even be able to get a natural lightshow from the enchanting Aurora Borealis.
The village’s only road, Marknadsvägen, passes by a scattering of rustic homes and the oldest church in the region. With its glassy lakes, towering fir trees and wild reindeers, Jukkasjärvi may be the closest you ever get to Santa’s North Pole workshop.
7. Hike to Christ the Redeemer
Every day, thousands hike to the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue, overlooking Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. You’ll be well-rewarded by the 360° panoramic views from the top of Mount Corcovado. While you can take a train or van up to the top of the mountain, the hiking trail through the Tijuca rainforest is well-worn, well-marked and for some, far more enjoyable.
Completed in 1931, the Art-Deco-style statue is 30 metres high (excluding its 8 metre pedestal) and covered in a mosaic of triangular soapstone tiles, making it gleam in the Brazilian sunshine.
If you’re planning to spend a few days in Rio, wait for a clear day and arrive as early as possible to avoid the selfie sticks and midday heat.
8. Watch whales from Nantucket
Three hundred years ago, Nantucket was the epicentre of the world’s whaling industry. Today, this small island off the U.S. Massachusetts coast hosts travellers who love history, whale watching and slowing down.
There aren’t many experiences more exciting and humbling than getting up close to some of the planet’s largest mammals. Join a boat tour that offers guaranteed sightings of whales, including Humpbacks, Finbacks and Minke whales. Nature lovers may also be lucky enough to spot Basking Sharks, White Sided Dolphins, and Sea Turtles during their trip.
The best time of year to visit is from April to October, when whales come to the shores of the east coast to feed.
A place of contradictions, Nantucket provides both small-town peace and the thrills of seeing these majestic mammals bursting out of the ocean. And if you want to be watched instead of doing the watching, spend some time near the seals, who love to people-watch.
9. Swim with the jellyfish in Palau
Reverse your jellyfish fears with a swim in Jellyfish Lake in Palau, Micronesia. The Golden jellyfish who live in this lake have stings so light that they’re deemed virtually harmless, and you can surround yourself with thousands of them at a time.
Jellyfish prefer light to darkness, so swim out to where the sunshine hits the water, and then bask in the magical jellyfish-filled lake. Remember to enter the lake sunscreen-free to protect the jellyfish from substances that can harm them, and refrain from lifting them out of the water. This is an experience like no other.
When you’re tired of swimming, enjoy the local Palauan cuisine, with influences from Japan, Thai and Italy.
10. Take a classic car tour of Havana, Cuba
For more than 50 years, Cuba has been concealed from the rest of the world so exploring Cuba can feel like travelling back in time. When you arrive, you will find that classic cars are ingrained into Cuban life. They are dotted along the roads of Havana which makes for a great way of seeing this beautiful city, taking in the colourful streets, and the legendary beaches.
When you’re not touring through Cuba’s many streets, consider visiting La Habana Vieja (or Old Havana), aUNESCO World Heritage site, which showcases the rich history of Havana. Here you will find historical colonial buildings, gorgeous plazas, restaurants and art galleries. With no cars being allowed in Old Havana, you can stroll for hours, soaking up all the colours and history around you. Old Havana is also where you can discover some of Ernest Hemmingway’s favourite spots and find out why this literary legend fell in love with Cuba.
11. Chow down at a Caribbean fish fry
Experience true home cooking at the fish fries in Arawak Cay, a 10-minute drive west from Nassau, Bahamas. Today’s fish fry fare includes conch fritters, fried and steamed fillets, sides of macaroni, plantains, beans and rice, and an array of pre-feast cocktails.
On many Caribbean islands, fish fries only happen on the weekends, but visitors to Arawak Cay can feast every single day. But you can’t eat all the time, so when you’re not sitting down to conch fritters, consider visiting the Ardastra Gardens, renting a bike and cruising around the island or strolling through the National Art Gallery of the Bahamas.
12. Look for Dracula in Transylvania
You probably won’t find him, but you will find picture-perfect castles situated among gorgeous primaeval forests. Bran Castle and Peles Castle feature paneled rooms, incredible rugs and the kind of armor you’d want if you knew Vlad the Impaler were lurking nearby.
A royal residence until the Communists took control of it in 1947, Bran Castle was built by the medieval Saxons in the 14th century. If you’re enchanted by its natural surroundings, make a stop at Piatra Craiului National Park, with its many trails crisscrossing mountain villages. As you walk, enjoy the many species of natural orchids as well as sweet pea, edelweiss and rhododendrons.
13. Watch the sunset in Meteora
Many years ago, monks chose Meteora, Greece, as a perfect place for worship and reflection. You can learn why when you go on a sunset tour high in the hills of Meteora’s magnificent rock forest. While you’re there, visit the Great Meteora Monastery, which perches on a cliff, over 600 meters above sea level.
Meteora (which means ‘suspended in the air’) is one of the most jaw dropping and otherworldly wonders on our planet, so it’s no surprise that it was the inspiration for a scene from fantasy TV series Game of Thrones. The Meteora Monasteries provide the backdrop for the Eyrie castle in the sky, where Tyrion has his cell.
Springtime is said to be the perfect season to visit, when nature is at its most colourful and you can hike to the ancient ruins without the stifling summer sun.
14. Taste Tokyo’s food culture
Tokyo takes its food seriously, and you should too with a trip to the sushi capital of the world. Don’t miss the sushi and sashimi prepared with fish fresh from Tsukiji Market, and enjoy Japan’s rich and hospitable culture.
Try some of these popular Tokyo dishes:
- Yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) seasoned with salt or savoury tare sauce
- Ramen noodles - check out Tokyo Ramen Street at Tokyo Station or the Ramen Museum at Shin-Yokohama Station
- Okonomiyaki (Japanese savoury pancakes) served with sweet and salty sauce
- Soba noodles served hot or cold, and slurped with delight
15. Bathe elephants in Thailand
Situated an hour from Chiang Mai’s city centre, the Elephant Nature Park is a conservation project that rescues elephants, and invites visitors to feed and take care of them. After a tour of the gorgeous grounds, you’ll learn how to bathe these gentle giants.
You won’t find elephant rides or shows here - this is a sanctuary. Some of the animals have been rescued from circuses, and others were injured working in the logging industry. According to their website, the elephant population has dwindled to 3,000-4,000 (down from 100,000) over the past century. The decline is mostly due to threats from tourism, logging, poaching and human encroachment on elephant habitats.
Visitors to the park will be picked up from their accommodation or a local bus station in Chiang Mai and transported to the project. If you stay overnight at the park, expect vegetarian buffet style meals and your own private hut to stay in (complete with mosquito net).
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