Start checking off these travel bucket list items!
The world is a truly inspiring place, filled with unique cultural encounters, breathtaking landscapes and exotic wildlife that provide endless travel opportunities. But, when you open a world map, it’s hard to know where to start and you could travel for a lifetime and still only scratch the surface. So where should you aspire to go with limited funds or time available, and what should you do there? Here we’ve put together our travel bucket list for 15 experiences in fascinating destinations. We hope it will inspire your own selection!
Update: We’ve added a section under each item called “how to do it” with information and helpful links on how to travel or stay at each destination. Enjoy!
1. Explore the ancient Nabataean city of Petra in Jordan
Travel bucket list item #1 is carved into solid sandstone rock in the south of Jordan, the ancient Nabataean city of Petra is a truly magnificent sight to behold. Follow its flowing Siq passage to behold the famed Treasury building, venture off-the-beaten track to explore its ancient tombs, and watch sunset illuminate the magnificent Monastery building before an evening of Bedouin music at the new “Petra By Night” experience.
How to do it
Petra is located about 3 hours drive from Jordan’s Queen Alia International Airport and connected to the capital Amman via public buses. But if you plan on exploring Jordan more extensively, then hiring a car is the way to go, with many of the country’s major sights not easily accessible by public transport. Tickets into the archaeological site cost 50JD for 1 day, 55JD for 2 days and 60JD for 3 days, with at least 2 days recommended to see everything. If you plan on visiting a few of Jordan’s major tourist sights, then purchase the Jordan Pass before you arrive as it will save you a lot of money and also includes your visa entrance fee.
2. Walk Madagascar’s Avenue of the Baobabs
Madagascar should be on every travel bucket list for many reasons, including its endemic wildlife species and fascinating stone forests. The enchanting Avenue of the Baobabs near Morondava is truly breathtaking, with bulbous trees lining a dusty road, traversed by farmers and local villagers. The lack of development around what is Madagascar’s first “natural monument” is a big part of its allure, making it a photographer’s dream location.
How to do it
The Avenue of Baobabs is located around 45 minutes northeast of Morondava and not easily accessed by public transport. If you want to go solo, you can catch a bus east from Morondava to the turn-off and then walk the final 6 kilometers through the rural countryside to where the Avenue of Baobabs is. But most opt to visit on a day tour from Morondava, including a stop at the 350-year old Lover’s Baobab, the Sacred Baobab, the Kirindy Forest Reserve and the Tsingy de Bemaraha. For the best photos, visit during the sunset “golden hour”.
3. Trek the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu
Travel bucket list item #3 is one of our favorites and a stop on many of our Build Abroad Peru trips. The Inca citadel of Machu Picchu is undoubtedly one of the world’s most captivating sights, nestled between two mountain peaks in Peru’s Sacred Valley. Taking the four-day trek along the famed Inca Trail is an experience in itself, winding between spectacular scenery, ancient Inca ruins, and remote Andean villages. It culminates in watching the day’s first rays of light hit Machu Picchu from the elevated “Sun Gate” – a sight only Inca Trail trekkers get to witness!
How to do it
Cusco is the gateway to the Sacred Valley and where most visitors depart for the Inca Trail. It’s a 4 day/3 night trek and you must go with a licensed guide and secure a permit (these are checked!). Because permits can be difficult to get, most trekkers opt to go with a tour company who will secure it for you, as well as supply guides, porters, all camping equipment and meals. If you do opt to plan it yourself and book your own guide and porter, you will need to organize your camping gear and meals and keep in mind that there is a strict load limit of 20kg for porters on the Inca Trail.
4. Volunteer in the Amazon Basin
Spanning Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana and Suriname over a 2,600,000-square mile basin, the Amazon Rainforest is an ecological paradise and one of the world’s most bio-diverse regions. Volunteering at one of the research stations set deep within the jungle allows you to assist in vital conservation work to protect the Amazon’s plant and animal life, while gaining first-hand insight into the rich cultural heritage of its indigenous people and their ancient connections to the natural world.
How to do it
There are lots of different companies which offer volunteer placements in the Amazon Basin, from Peru to Ecuador and Guyana. Most are focused on conservation work and community development, while some offer the opportunity to work alongside the Amazon’s indigenous people.
5. Witness the wild landscapes of Patagonia
With its glacier-carved landscapes home to snow-capped mountain peaks, turquoise lakes and spellbinding fjords, Patagonia is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream. Go trekking through the magnificent wilds of Chile’s Torres del Paine National Park, watch ice carving from the picture-perfect Perito Moreno Glacier and venture to the “End of the World” in Tierra del Fuego.
How to do it
Patagonia is an easy destination to explore as a solo traveler, with a good public transport network that will whisk you from Puerto Natales (the gateway to Torres del Paine), across the border to El Calafate (near Perito Moreno) and to El Chaten (at the other end of Los Glaciares National Park. From the adventure hub of Ushuaia you can organize day tours to explore Tierra del Fuego or jump on the historic Fin del Mundo tourist train for a dose of history as you travel through the national park.
6. Experience the “Gross National Happiness” of Bhutan
Discover the rich Buddhist culture and dramatic Eastern Himalayan landscapes of the Kingdom of Bhutan. Trek between ancient monasteries, which hug the cliffs of the Paro Valley, witness the panoramic views from its high altitude, and discover why Bhutan’s development is measured in “Gross National Happiness”.
How to do it
If you want to travel to Bhutan then you only really have one option – to book an organized tour through one of the country’s operators or international partners. Independent travel is not permitted by the government! The tour company will also take care of securing your visa, but it doesn’t come cheap, with tours costing $250USD a day if you travel during high season and $200USD during low season (including accommodation, transportation, guide, meals, bottled water and special entry fees).
7. Photograph the Great Wildebeest Migration
While most African safaris offer unforgettable photographic encounters with big game wildlife, the annual Great Wildebeest Migration puts it all into overdrive. Capture thousands upon thousands of wildebeest and zebra as they travel across the savannah of Tanzania’s Serengeti into Kenya’s Masai Mara each year, followed by opportunistic predators, such as lions, leopards and the lurking crocodiles of the famed Mara River crossing.
How to do it
The Great Wildebeest Migration generally begins around April, with herds traveling north from the Serengeti, moving through the Western Corridor and crossing the Grumeti River around June. July and August they tend to be in the Grumeti Reserve and Ikorongo Controlled Area, before making the dangerous Mara River crossing around September into the Masai Mara National Reserve. Here they will graze throughout October before starting the return journey to the Serengeti where they arrive around December. It’s possible to witness the Great Wildebeest Migration from permanent lodges, taking day trips out to where all the animals have congregated. Or you can opt for a mobile tented safari which follows the herds and sets up camp nearby so you can be close to all the action.
8. Dive the reefs of Raja Ampat
While the Great Barrier Reef is listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World and an obvious choice for divers, the little-visited waters surrounding West Papua’s Raja Ampat Islands are more of a hidden secret. Dubbed the “Amazon of the Underwater World” for their staggering marine diversity, the archipelago boasts stunning beauty above water and a remote paradisiacal setting. The reefs here are in pristine condition and, unlike their southern Australian neighbor, the dive sites are enticingly uncrowded.
How to do it
Sorong in West Papua is the gateway to Raja Ampat and is connected to Jakarta and Denpasar by domestic flights. There are daily ferries from Sorong out to the major island hub of Waisai where you can either base yourself, or organize a boat out to one of the island homestays. If you have booked with a resort, they will probably pick you up from Sorong by speedboat or meet the ferry on arrival in Waisai to transfer you directly to the resort. Most of the resorts offer all-inclusive dive packages, but if you want a more local experience, opt for a Papuan homestay. Keep in mind that many homestays don’t have internet access and poor mobile connections, so try and organize as far in advance as possible and be patient waiting for replies!
9. Embark on an Antartic Cruise
Sprawling across the bottom of the globe, the icy wilderness of Antarctica remains one of the most inaccessible regions on earth and one of the few places humans haven’t managed to permanently colonize. The wildlife encounters with whales, penguins and seals, together with the otherworldly ice landscapes are the main draw for cruise expeditions. There is also a fascinating history to discover of explorers who came before, many of whom didn’t survive to tell their tales.
How to do it
Ushuaia at the tip of Argentina is the launching point for most Antarctic cruises, with the season running from November until March. There’s numerous different itineraries to choose from, with longer ones venturing to the Falklands, the South Orkneys and South Georgia as well. Prices for Antarctic cruises don’t come cheap, but if you are willing to test your luck, you can always try and grab a last minute deal a couple of days before departure from tour agencies in Ushuaia.
10. Set foot on the Great Wall of China
Travel bucket list item #10 is none other than the great wall. Stretching more than 8000 kilometers across China, from Dandong in the east to Lop Lake in the west, the Great Wall remains one of man’s greatest feats of engineering. Standing on top of its stone defenses takes you on a journey through China’s rich imperial history, built to defend the state against nomadic invaders and collect duty on goods transported along the Silk Road. It’s easy to visit on a day trip from Beijing to some of the most well-preserved sections of the wall, but venturing to its more remote regions for a multi-day trek will allow you to experience the Great Wall without the crowds.
How to do it
The sections of the Great Wall at Badaling, Juyongguan and Mutianyu are all easily accessed by public bus and train from Beijing. But because of their accessibility, they are also far more crowded. Walking a section of the wall is a good way to escape the tourist hawkers, with the sections between Jinshanling and Simatai, as well as Jiankou to Mutianyu both popular. There are also plenty of multi-day hikes on offer through different tour companies in Beijing which explore off-the-beaten-track and will allow you to soak up the rural villages and landscapes which surround the Great Wall.
11. Witness the Northern Lights of the Arctic
Whether you venture into the northern reaches of Norway, the remote landscapes of Greenland or the “land of fire and ice” in Iceland, witnessing the Aurora Borealis, or Northern Lights, is an unforgettable experience. One of nature’s most spellbinding sights, the Northern Lights illuminate the sky in a multicolored, swirling display, with the dark nights of September through to April offering the best viewing opportunities.
How to do it
No matter which northern destination you choose to visit to see the Northern Lights, you need to travel outside of the summer months. From June through to August, some Arctic regions experience 24-hour sunlight and the main ingredient necessary to see the Northern Lights is darkness. You also need a clear sky!
12. Explore above and below water in the Galapagos Islands
Made famous by Charles Darwin for their influence on his Theory of Evolution, the Galapagos Islands are one of the world’s most fascinating wildlife watching destinations. Whether you’re tracking Galapagos tortoises and blue-footed boobies on land, or snorkeling with seals and marine iguanas below the surface, the rare and unique wildlife encounters are outstanding. Coupled with dramatic lava landscapes, pristine beaches and fascinating cactus forests, the Galapagos Islands are a destination like no other.
How to do it
The best way to explore the Galapagos Islands is on a boat tour, with everything from budget trips to luxury yachts cruising through the archipelago. There are daily flights from Quito out to numerous departure points across the islands, which you can book once you decide which cruise you want to go with and where they depart from. There’s also a $100USD national park fee which is payable on arrival. Keep in mind that the cheaper boats often only visit the inner islands, so if you want to visit further afield, you’ll need to pay a little bit more. It is possible to get last minute deals after arriving in Puerto Ayora, but during the high season from June to September and December/January, most of the vessels get booked out well in advance.
13. Float in a hot air balloon over the temples of Bagan
Mushrooming in their thousands across the plains of Bagan in Myanmar, the Bagan Archaeological Site is home to elaborate temples, pagodas and monasteries which date to the 9th century. You can cycle or take a horse-drawn carriage to explore its rich Buddhist and Hindu legacy, and climb to the top of its structures for stunning sunsets. Watching the sunrise over the temples of Bagan while floating above in a hot air balloon is unquestionably worth the price tag.
How to do it
You can either fly or get the overnight train from Yangon and Mandalay to Bagan, which is situated in the center of the country. The entrance fee is currently 25,000 kyat for 5 days, with bicycles, e-bikes and horse-and-carts all available for rent in the main town, just a short distance from the archaeological site. There are two companies which offer sunrise hot air balloon trips from October through to April, costing between $320-350USD per person.
14. Camel trek into the Sahara Desert
Slowly lumbering on camel back through the mesmerizing sand dunes of the Sahara as the sun slowly sets is one of Morocco’s most enchanting experiences. Couple with a night at a nomadic Berber camp, feasting on spicy tagine, drinking sweet mint tea and star gazing at a brilliant night sky, makes it truly memorable.
How to do it
Merzouga is the gateway to the Erg Cheggi dunes and the town of M’hamid the launching point for camel treks into the Erg Cheggaga dunes, both of which lie to the east of Ouarzazate. While many people visit on organized tours from Marrakech, it’s easy enough to just turn up and book a camel trek for the same afternoon at one of the tour agencies or kasbah hotels in town. A typical overnight tour leaves around 1 1/2 hours before sunset so you are not camel trekking during the heat of the day, returning just after sunrise the following morning for a breakfast buffet and shower at the associated hotel. You can also organize multi-day camel treks or just an hour or two ride if you don’t want to spend the night.
15. Travel along the Silk Road
Last, but definitely not least is travel bucket list item #15. Connecting the eastern reaches of China with the Mediterranean Sea, the Silk Road is actually a series of ancient caravan routes used to transport not only Chinese silk, but also gunpowder, gems, religions and philosophies that would transform the world as it was known. In addition to soaking up the history and magnificent landscapes along these ancient routes, a highlight is visiting the Central Asian “stan” countries which still remain well off-the-beaten tourist track.
How to do it
The Silk Road routes cover a vast area and whether you want to explore just a section across Northern China or travel by train across China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Russia , there’s a tour to suit. Because these ancient trade routes cover so many modern day countries, it’s easy to cross paths with a section of the Silk Road if you are traveling anywhere in Central Asia.