A to Z of Destinations
Australia, NZ and South Pacific
A to Z of Experiences
Walking and trekking
Diving and snorkelling
Wildlife and safaris
Meet the locals
Frontier and expedition
Cycling and Mountain Biking
Visiting the Poles
Career breaks and BIG trips
Body and soul
Volunteer and conservation
Australia, East Coast
Everest Base Camp
Trans-Siberian and Trans-Mongolian railway
Aurora Borealis/Northern Lights
Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail
A to Z of Destinations
Australia, NZ and South Pacific
A to Z of Experiences
Walking and trekking
Diving and snorkelling
Wildlife and safaris
Meet the locals
Frontier and expedition
Cycling and Mountain Biking
Visiting the Poles
Career breaks and BIG trips
Body and soul
Volunteer and conservation
31st December 2013
We asked for your ultimate travel experiences – and you voted in your thousands. So here it is, the definitive travel wish list...
Romance out of cataclysm, that’s Santorini’s story. This mini-archipelago in the Cyclades was once a huge volcano, but a super-eruption around 1640BC saw it sink into the sea, leaving only remnants of its craggy caldera to be lapped by the Med. The result is pure Greek-isle fantasy: white-washed houses, steep-stepped switchback alleys leading to old harbours, and traditional tavernas serving fish suppers. The volcanic soil has other benefits – Santorini’s vineyards produce excellent wine.
Make it happen: Ferries connect Santorini’s main island of Thira with other islands, including Crete (5hrs), Mykonos (2.5hrs) and Rhodes (16hrs). Santorini also has an airport.
Get more info on Santorini: Avoid the crowds on Wanderlust's favourite Greek islands
It’s like a sub-aqua Great Wall of China: 2,600km of coral hugging Australia’s east coast, from Bundaberg in the south to beyond Cape York. Simply, the biggest reef in the world. Due to its scale, it has options for all: novice divers can learn in safe, sheltered waters – yet still see plenty of the reef’s 1,500 fish species during lessons. More experienced sub-aqua souls should sail to the Outer Reef for a few days, for pristine coral gardens, remote outcrops, a wealth of marine life (small, big and even bigger) but few other people.
Make it happen: Key hubs for diving trips out to the reef include Port Douglas, Cairns, the Whitsunday Islands and Airlie Beach.
Get more info on the Great Barrier Reef: Discover Wanderlust's complete guide to the Great Barrier Reef or the Great Barrier Reef's top 10 secrets
Scotland’s remote isles are the only places in Britain to make this list, a tribute, perhaps, to their other-worldly beauty. Cut off by the wind-whipped waters of the Minch, rural populations have expanded and collapsed over the centuries, but small-scale crofting endures today. Ringed by some of the UK’s loveliest white-sand beaches and crystal-clear waters, these islands are a mecca for marine wildlife too, with whales, dolphins, porpoises and basking sharks all visiting at various times of the year. Hikers and bikers will find trails galore, or you could take to the skies and kitesurf over Barra’s beach airstrip, the only one in the UK.
Make it happen: Buy a rover ticket and island-hop on the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry (www.calmac.co.uk). Avoid June - August to frustrate the dreaded Highland midge.
Get more info on the Outer Hebrides: How many of Wanderlust's top 5 activities will you try?
Running straight off the world’s highest mountains, it’s no wonder Nepal’s rivers pick up a bit of speed. The country is a-froth with rapids of varying ferocity that not only offer an adrenalin shot to the intrepid, but access to glorious gorges and riverbank camps impossible to reach by other means. The Trisuli River is near Kathmandu, ideal for the time-poor, while the Kali Gandaki, nearer Pokhara, is wilder with fine peak views. For a frontier feel, head out west to the Karnali – eight-day expeditions offer tough rapids, dramatic and unspoilt scenery and, ending in Bardia National Park, perhaps a rhino, croc and tiger or two.
Make it happen: Rivers are dangerously fast at the height of the monsoon (Jul-Aug); the best time is Oct-Nov, when water is fast but manageable by novices. Different rivers have different peak times – make sure you check before booking.
It’s one of those travel names – up there with Timbuktu and Marrakech – that exudes exoticism in its very syllables: Kathmandu, Kathmandu... You’re itching to go before you even know anything about the place. And it doesn’t disappoint. Though modernising apace, the Nepalese capital has intrigue aplenty. Start amid the tiered-roof temples of Durbar Square – former seat of the country’s monarchy, and the old city’s heart – before plunging off-piste, down alleys where dogs are decorated with marigolds, dim shrines flicker with butter lamps, prayer wheels spin, shops sell wool carpets and Gore-Tex jackets, and cafés serve mouthwatering cakes to old hippies, Everest summiteers and locals alike.
Make it happen: There are no direct UK-Kathmandu flights; flight time, usually via India or the Middle East, is from around 11 hours.
Get more info on Kathmandu: Wanderlust editor Phoebe Smith explains how to spend your first 24 hours in Kathmandu.
The island of Spitsbergen is home to the northernmost settlements on earth, thanks to the moderating influence of the Gulf Stream. But there are more polar bears (around 3,000) than humans (2,700), which is what makes it so attractive to travellers, most of whom spy a bear on the shores or floes.
Make it happen: Fly into Longyearbyen. Either take an expedition cruise (summer),
or stay on the iced-in schooner Noorderlicht (winter).
Get more info on Spitsbergen: Don't miss Wanderlust's travel guide to Spitsbergen for more information and inspiration. Plus, check out Nigel Richardson's account of exploring Spitsbergen.
Towns and cities
In a city as busy as Venice, the real pleasure is not sight-seeing but getting well and truly lost. Away from the bustling masses of the Piazza San Marco or the Rialto Bridge lies a maze of courtyards, cafés and canals, quietly waiting for those who stumble upon them. Front doorsteps lead into the water, and what you might at first construe to be a dead end could turn out to be an idyllic spot to watch the gondolas float by. When you’re completely bewildered, take a water taxi out of the labyrinth into the laguna for spectacular city panoramas.
Make it happen: Many airlines fly to Venice’s Marco Polo airport, from which you can
catch a connecting bus or boat to take you into the city. High summer is best avoided.
Get more info on Venice: Resident Gillian Price shows you how to spend your first 24 hours in the city.
“Kyoto really sums up what I had imagined Japan to be – full of beautiful ancient temples and traditions, with a thriving contemporary culture. My friend and I had three days in Kyoto to explore and could easily have stayed a week; there is so much to see and experience! A high point of the trip was definitely Kinkaku-ji, the Temple of the Golden Pavilion. This is one of Japan’s most famous sights and definitely worth a visit to marvel at the amazing gold-covered architecture and beautiful traditional gardens. We also visited Ryoan-ji, a Zen temple with a fascinating dry-landscape rock garden, and spent an evening wandering around Gion district, the best place to see traditional teahouses and restaurants. I will always remember staying in a traditional ryokan in the heart of Kyoto, a great way to experience authentic Japanese hospitality, complete with delicious dishes.” – Annabelle Wilkins
Make it happen: Fly to Tokyo; Kyoto can be reached by car, train or plane.
Get more info on Kyoto: From where to eat to where to sleep don't miss Lyn Hughes' ultimate guide to Kyoto.
How many travelling lives have started with a scrimped-and-saved-for InterRail ticket and a copy of the Thomas Cook European Rail Timetable? Since 1973, the hop-on-hop-off continental rail pass has been a rite of passage for Europeans, the budget Grand Tour – and every InterRailer has their tale to tell. Breathtaking trundles through the Swiss Alps. Sardine-like squeezes through old Yugoslavia. Sleeping on deck on the Patras-Brindisi ferry. Border snarl-ups, sleep deprivation, hospitable strangers, romantic adventures and everything in between: the only certainty is that, after a month, your free ride is up.
Make it happen: InterRail passes are now available for all ages and various durations:
Great travel experiences aren’t necessarily great fun. Take Auschwitz: you don’t exactly enjoy walking through the eerie corridors and scrubby wastes of the former concentration camp, but it will certainly make a lasting and profound impression. The horror of what happened here still echoes around the walls; the cabinets full of used toothbrushes, Zyklon B canisters and human hair send shivers down the spine. Most affecting are the long, long walls of prisoner-portraits, hinting at the true scale of the atrocity, and a step inside Gas Chamber 1, where many of those prisoners breathed their last.
Make it happen: Oswiecim (for Auschwitz) is on the Katowice-Kraków train line; Auschwitz 1 is a ten-minute walk or short bus ride from the station. See en.auschwitz.org.pl.
The geologists will tell you it’s all about tectonic friction, but we prefer the local legend: that at the request of an ancient king, a dragon spat pearls into the Gulf of Tonkin, forming a ragged barrier of 1,969 islands. Vietnam’s biggest attraction has commercialised fast in recent years, but this waterworld of ghostly limestone crags, caves and floating villages – seemingly lifted from a watercolour – still has the power to enthral. Vietnam War-era sites on Cat Ba island add a less fairytale dimension.
Make it happen: Budget one/ two-night tours from Hanoi are two-a-penny. For a more leisurely experience, take the ferry to Cat Ba island and explore by kayak or foot.
Get more info on Halong Bay: Don't miss Wanderlust's top 5 alternative activities and the ultimate guide to visiting Halong Bay.
Watch wildlife from wildlife: sitting atop an Asian elephant is the best way to explore Royal Chitwan. Aboard an elephant you can negotiate (aka, bash through) this protected patch of Nepal’s lowlands with ease – your mount will make light work of the 8m-high grasses and jungle scrub, getting you closer to the creatures lurking within: rhino, gaur, sloth bear and, perhaps, the orange-black flash of a tiger. Then look forward to bathtime – every day the eles are scrubbed down in the Rapti River; take a loofah and join them.
Make it happen: Chitwan is a six-hour drive from Kathmandu. Jan–Mar, after the long grasses have been cut, are best for wildlife viewing; Jun–Sept is very hot and wet.
Get more info on Chitwan national park: Follow Wanderlust blogger Marie Javins as she goes in search of rhinos.
Jordan’s russet landscape of sandstone mesas is one of the world’s great, accessible desert adventures. For TE Lawrence it was ‘vast, echoing and God-like’, a natural wonder so beautiful it distracted him from staging the Arab Revolt. By day, Wadi Rum overwhelms with its scale (are we getting any closer to that mountain at all?), but by night it’s the star-serried sky that will leave you speechless. Tents are optional here – unfurl a blanket, gaze up at the infinity of lights above, feel the dying embers of the Bedouin cooking fire – and then sleep like a rock.
Make it happen: Wadi Rum is one hour’s drive from Aqaba; see www.wadirum.jo for info.
Get more info on Wadi Rum: Don't miss the ultimate guide to Petra and Wadi Rum, written by readers of Wanderlust magazine.
To a generation, the name conjures up a war. But nearly 30 years after the Falklands conflict, Britain’s south Atlantic islands are finally being appreciated for their natural assets. Put simply, if you’re into seabirds, you’ve hit the jackpot. Thousands of albatross, southern petrels and king cormorants ride the breeze, while down on the beaches platoons of king and gentoo penguins and elephant seals waddle and posture. Add in the brightly coloured Lego-like buildings of capital Stanley, the moving memorials to the war- time dead, and the sheer appeal of hopping between islands by light aircraft for around £25 a go, and you’ll agree there’s nowhere remotely like it.
Make it happen: You’ve got three options: fly in from Santiago, Chile; take the 18-hour RAF direct flight from Brize Norton; or join a cruise. See www.falklandislands.com.
Get more info on the Falkland Islands: William Gray reveals the best places to spot wildlife. Plus, don't miss Wanderlust's travel guide to the Falkland Islands.
“My experience of Lake Titicaca started with a trip to the floating Uros Islands, and then on to Taquile, where we ate some delicious fried trout, and took a look round the local craft market, which has amazing woven products, all traditionally produced. Then I took a boat to a tiny village on the lakeshore, where I was introduced to a local family in whose house I was staying for the night. Once settled in, I was dressed up in local costume and went with the family to the local ‘hall’ where I was treated to food, drinks, and plenty of music and dancing! Also, near Puno there are some fascinating Aymara tombs (called chullpas) not far away at Sillustani. They are massive, tower-like structures, very impressive on top of a plateau, with no other tourists in sight.” – Eleanor Mawer
Make it happen: Lake Titicaca’s two hub towns are Copacabana (Bolivia) and Puno (Peru) – the latter is busier. You can arrange homestays on the lake at either.
Get more info on Lake Titicaca: 5 things you simply shouldn't miss on your trip.
At 130 million years old, the Taman Negara rainforest deserves a little respect when you step under her hallowed canopy. Lying 150km north-east of Kuala Lumpur, this awesome 4,000 sq km jungle is home to herds of elephants, Orang Asli hunter-gatherers and mysterious caves and rivers. The Gua Telinga caves are a tight squeeze, and surprisingly deep, yet whip spiders and thousands of tiny roundleaf fruitbats all survive in their cavernous depths. Elsewhere, canopy walkways are slung between strong trees, where gibbons and hill squirrels slouch in the branches. Longer hikes, such as the seven-dayer to the Four Steps waterfall, offer full-on jungle immersion.
Make it happen: Kuala Tahan is the gateway town – get there from Kuala Lumpur by train or bus via Jerantut. Tours can be booked locally or in KL.
Hikes and climbs
Back in the day, bridge-climbing was generally the preserve of drunk university students. But you’ll want all your faculties unimpaired for a hike to the summit of this particular structure. Kitted up in specially camouflaged climbing suits, you’ll get to see Sydney Harbour from a unique perspective on a climb up its iconic bridge. Once at the top, you’re afforded astounding views over the city, including the famous Opera House. The views are especially magical on the dawn and twilight climbs: these timings lend a tranquillity to the experience, as you watch the bustling metropolis come to life far below or wind down in the golden dusk.
Make it happen: Guided climbs are offered exclusively by Bridge Climb Sydney. Go to www.bridgeclimb.com; early booking is recommended.
Get more info on Sydney: Nick Bolous explains where to spend your first 24 hours in the city. If you're on a budget, don't miss these 7 free things to do.
Mata Ganga, or ‘Mother Ganges’, is central to India’s sense of itself, a formidable river that’s also the spiritual backbone of the subcontinent. From its source high in the Himalayas, the river cuts diagonally west to east, emptying out into the Bay of Bengal 2,510km later. Along its route lie some of India’s most sacred cities – Haridwar, Varanasi and Allahabad among them. Head north to Haridwar (and its similarly venerable neighbour, Rishikesh) and experience the Ganges at its freshest (and cleanest). It’s here, too, that you’ll witness the moving aarti ceremony at dusk, where candles set in tiny boats made from flowers (known as diyas), float in their thousands down the river, carrying with them the hopes of millions of believers.
Make it happen: BA, Virgin and Jet all fly direct to Delhi. From here, take a train to Haridwar and use buses or taxis to visit nearby Rishikesh. For more, go to www.incredibleindia.org.
Get more info on the Ganges: Discovering the river's source was named one of the world's greatest journeys by Wanderlust.
The world’s second-largest coral reef lurks just to the east of tiny Caye Caulker – enticing enough to motivate even the laziest of visitors to this laid-back isle to get off their deckchairs and jump in.
No need for diving: the snorkelling is world-class. Float above the coral to spot tonnes of technicolour tropical fish, toothy barracuda and glum-mouthed groupers. For even bigger specimens, flipper around the aptly named Shark Ray Alley and Shark Ray Village, where schools of nurse sharks and flapping stingrays play in abundance – and like to come very close...
Make it happen: Reach Caye Caulker from Belize City by plane (15 minutes) or water taxi (45 minutes). The Caye is small enough to get around on foot.
Get more info on Caye Caulker: Discover little-visited Belize and its world-class corals with Alex Robinson.
Your full-sensory experience of the fabled spice island of Zanzibar starts at the harbour, when you first catch a whiff of nutmeg and cinnamon stacked in hessian sacks on the dock. And it continues throughout your stay. Watch the sunset while cradling an icy beer as lateen-sailed dhows float by. Taste the deliciously fresh seafood, sizzling on barbecues under the light of hurricane lamps in Fordhani Gardens. Listen to the children playing in the maze of dusty lanes that form the heart of Stone Town. When life in Stone Town gets too hectic – we’re talking relatively here – head to the beaches. Nungwe offers sugar-white sand, but the east coast is quieter, and allows you to cross the interior, brimming with the spices the island is famous for.
Make it happen: Fly to Dar es Salaam, and then take a boat or a prop-engined plane to the island. Many visitors combine Zanzibar with climbing Kilimanjaro or a Tanzanian safari.
Get more info on Zanzibar: Don't miss our top four suggested trip itineraries and these ten things to do for free on the island.
We love India for its high-energy, high-intensity mayhem, its constant barrage of colour, noise and people. But as fun as India is with the volume cranked up to eleven, sooner or later you need to turn it down and take a breather. That’s where the Keralan backwaters come in. On a kettuvallam houseboat, floating along some of the 900km of lagoons, canals, rivers and lakes, a meditative calm descends and you can once again hear yourself think. Meals are included on a standard cruise, and the quality is usually excellent. Make sure you try some of the local fish known as karimeen – it will be among the tastiest things you’ll ever eat on the subcontinent.
Make it happen: There are no direct UK-Kochi (Cochin) flights; however, domestic flights serve the city from major hubs, including Mumbai and Delhi. Most backwater cruises depart between Kollam and Alappuzha; stay at least one night on the backwaters. For info see www.atdcalleppey.com.
Get more info on Kerala: Lyn Hughes discovers there's more to Kerala than beautiful backwaters (including leopard sightings!)
It’s a bit like a large and lumpy sandstone canvas. Because Uluru, the outie belly button pimpling Australia’s middle, is at the mercy of master painter Mother Nature; its hue shifts with the sun. Set your alarm early to see the inky Outback sky turn purple, and the sleeping monolith awaken, its nighttime shadow brightening to warm browns and rich reds with the rising sun. At midday, rays spotlight Uluru’s every crag and crevice (best seen on the 10km round-rock Base Walk). Come dusk, old Ayers blazes orange – a last hurrah, before fading to black. Until tomorrow.
Make it happen: There are various sunrise/set viewpoints within the national park: Talinguru Nyakunytjaku lookout offers views of Uluru and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas). Find out more at www.environment.gov.au/parks/uluru.
Get more info on Uluru: If you're planning a trip to Uluru, don't our Travel Icon guide
When we think of the all-American road trip, it’s difficult not to view it as a series of nostalgic vignettes: a cherry-red Chevy with the sound of Chuck Berry coming from the radio; a roadside burger joint straight out of an Edward Hopper painting; the neon sign for some remote church glowing with the promise of redemption. And the great thing is, you’ll find just this sort of thing (and much more) when you hit the highway. Sure, you’ll hit the odd traffic jam, too, but whether you’re thundering down Thunder Road in Georgia, driving through a preternatural Utah moonscape or breathing in the balmy air on the Pacific Coast Highway in Californ-i-a, what becomes clear is that America is never more itself than on the road.
Make it happen: For inspirational route ideas and information on logistics, see www.roadtripusa.com. Hiring an RV motorhome can keep down costs; check out www.cruiseamerica.com.
Get more info on taking a road trip: Why not explore the US in a campervan? Here's how.
Not one for the indecisive, there are more than 350 routes to the top of Table Mountain – such is the lure of the squat, cloud-shrouded monolith that lords it over Cape Town and the Atlantic beyond. The route you choose depends on your skill level: some of these options are for experienced climbers only, but many are manageable by more casual walkers. The Platteklip Gorge trail follows the route taken by the first explorers to conquer the peak, and remains the easiest way up to its 1,086m high point (aside from the cable car, of course). The Pipe Track, from Kloofnek, is a picturesque alternative, skirting the massif’s western flanks, with gorgeous views of the sea.
Make it happen: Visitors to Table Mountain National Park must pay a standard conservation fee on entering: R80 (£7.20) a day for adults, R20 (£1.80) for children. www.sanparks.org/parks/table_mountain
Get more info on Cape Town: How to spend your first 24 hours in the city | 7 things to do on the cheap in Cape Town
Kakadu is Australia. This vast park (at 20,000 sq km, the country’s biggest) is the sweltering Outback, croc-infested wetland, roo-hopped scrub and art-daubed rock of your Oz imagination. Here, cliché becomes spectacularly three dimensional; you can feel millennia of red dust and Aboriginal history hanging in the air. In this primordial playground wildlife abounds – dawn and dusk are good times to spot species such as bats and wallabies, while a boat trip on Yellow Water Billabong reveals a wealth of birds. Or unroll your swag for the night and simply listen: to the dingo’s howl, the barking owl and the untold unknown rustlings beyond...
Make it happen: Kakadu is a three-hour drive from Darwin. Some areas are inaccessible in the Wet (Oct-Mar); Jun to mid-Aug is best for wildlife-watching. www.environment.gov.au/parks/kakadu.
Get more info on Kakadu NP: 9 things you should do in Australia's Top End
Where waters collide – tropical hot and Antarctic chilled – so too do fish. And where fish gather, so too do mammals that like to eat them. Thus it is that the seas off New Zealand are a hearty stew of wildlife, the waves thick with dusky dolphins, orca, humpbacks, sperm whales, even the mighty blue. Well-run boat trips will take you out amid the marine melée – see dolphins frolicking in your bow waves (or even jump in to swim with them) before overhead spotter planes lead you to where the whales are, so you don’t miss a fin-flick.
Make it happen: Kaikoura (South Island) is a marine-mammal hotspot. Sperm whales are seen year-round; Jun-Jul is the best time to see humpbacks. It’s also a great place to get the quintessential whale photo: a tail silhouetted against snow-capped mountain peaks – in this case, the majestic Kaikoura ranges.
Get more info on whale watching: With Wanderlust's ultimate travel guide
If you thought Iceland was, volcanically speaking, where it’s at, think again. Take a trip into the heart of the Rocky Mountains and you’ll find an extraordinary wilderness ruled by extremes of fire and ice. Fed by the energy of a volcanic caldera, half of the whole world’s geothermal features – some 10,000 individual sites – are located in Yellowstone. They include burbling mudpots, sulphurous cauldrons and the explosive Old Faithful geyser. Oh, and there’s wildlife galore too: American icons such as grizzly bears, elk and bison. You can drive the figure-of-eight-shaped road system to visit the best-known sights, but this is a place to revel in the Great Outdoors. Hike the Fairy Falls trail and stare in wonder at the vivid blues, greens and reds of the simmering Grand Prismatic Spring. Join a ranger-led nature walk, or try whitewater rafting through the rapids and pristine scenery of Beartrap Canyon.
Make it happen: From the nearest international airport at Salt Lake City, Yellowstone is a 625km drive. Domestic flights to Jackson or Cody in Wyoming will take you within 80km of the park. Visit the US National Parks site at www.nps.gov/yell for downloadable brochures, maps and trip planners.
Get more info on Yellowstone: Geoffrey Roy on his experience tracking wolves
Despite a history of whalers firing their harpoons here, the deep and krill-filled St Lawrence River remains one of the world’s greatest whale-watching waterways. Thirteen species of large mammals have been spotted in its leviathan flow, which slices Québec from south of Montréal to the gaping Gulf of St Lawrence. Come here to see acrobatic humpbacks, 25m-long blues, almost-as-massive fins and seemingly smiling belugas. There’s so much marine action you can often see it from land, but best is to hop in a kayak and paddle out into the whales’ world.
Make it happen: Peak season is May-Sept. Boat trips leave from spots such as Tadoussac and Baie-Sainte-Catherine. Spot from land on the 900km Whale Route along the North Shore.
Get more info on St Lawrence: William Gray gets a glimpse of Beluga whales on a self-drive trip | Go glacier hunting on the St Lawrence river | Lyn Hughes rounds-up where else to see whales in Canada
If Rome was a gelato (a food, incidentally, in which the city excels) it would be tutti frutti – a speckled confection of countless fruits and flavours. Because in the Italian capital the remnants of 2,000 years of habitation are scattered liberally: an ancient column supports a modern house; a motorway follows the curve of a millennia-old road. It’s a metropolis-sized museum, endlessly intriguing. The big sites are obvious: Colosseum, Forum, the Vatican’s St Peter’s. But it’s the cumulation of so much old in one place that makes Rome so delicious.
Make it happen: One ticket (€12, valid for two days) covers entry to the Colosseum, Forum and Palatine Hill sites. Admission to the Vatican Museums, including the Sistine Chapel, costs €15.
Poking like a thumbs-up into the Caribbean Sea, the porous Yucatán peninsula is something of a geological sponge. Its jungly interior, devoid of obvious lakes and rivers, is dimpled instead by thousands of soggy cenotes – sinkholes fed by underground springs. Popular watery chasms include Ik-Kil, near Chichén Itzá, deep and inky Azul and Kankirixche, atmospherically riddled with tree roots. To explore one of these crystal-clear hidden pools, often overhung by dangling vines and craggy cave-tops, is to combine swimming with spelunking. Dive in to float above stalagmites and strange rock formations, and to paddle with a fish or two.
Make it happen: Swim sensitively: wear biodegradable sunscreen; do not touch or break off bits of rock; be wary of hitting stalagmites with flippers.
Get more info on the Yucatán: 4 ways to travel the Mayan route | 4 unmissable trip itineraries through Mexico
“Having spent a month in Argentina, I turned my sights to Chile and boarded a bus for San Pedro de Atacama – an arduous bus journey across the Andes, climbing to about 5,000m in a very short space of time. For me, the trip to the geysers was the high point of my time in the Atacama desert – an incredible landscape often reckoned to be the driest place on earth. A trip to the geysers requires a very early start; we were on the road by 4am so as to reach the geysers before sun-up. Waiting in the freezing cold at 6.30am, at over 4,000m, with steam pouring from the earth, it felt as if we’d landed on another planet. We finished our visit by leaping into a small thermal pool for a dip, then headed back to San Pedro de Atacama, with sightings en route of llamas, vicuñas and various cacti. ” – Nicola Robson
Make it happen: San Pedro de Atacama is 98km from the nearest airport at Calama. Aim to spend at least four days, not least to adjust to the altitude.
Get more info on the Atacama Desert: with Wanderlust's Travel Icon guide
Don’t be in a hurry to get to Milford Sound: the journey to this remote geological masterstroke – whether you drive via mountain-carved Milford Road or fly in over the peaks of Fiordland – is as impressive as the arrival. By the time you get to Mitre Peak, which lords over the Sound’s head, you’ll already have been treated to some of New Zealand’s best bits. Cruises out into the fiord pass its steep rock sides, carved by ancient glaciers, plus you’ll see your fair share of charging waterfalls and local residents: fur seals, dolphins and little penguins among them. Book an overnight sail to drop anchor in a remote cove, for a magical Sound sleep.
Make it happen: Milford Sound is a 2.5-hour drive from Te Anau or a 35-minute scenic flight from Queenstown. Go to www.fiordland.org.nz for more.
Get more info on Milford Sound: with Wanderlust's Travel Icon guide
Is it about the journey, or the destination? Any boat trip on the fabled Mekong has a certain allure, but when you’re heading for Luang Prabang, there’s an additional dose of anticipation. Laos’ celebrated town of Buddhist temples and French colonial villas hugs the river’s banks, and every day brings a fresh consignment of travellers on the brightly painted covered barge that plies the route from the Thai border to the north. After a day watching the sunlit jungle crawl past, you arrive at the languid posting every French colonialist hankered after – and you can well see why.
Make it happen: Slow boats depart daily for Luang Prabang from the Thai border at Huay Xai – you can overnight at Pakbeng. Speedboats (6 hours) and luxury cruises are also on offer. Alternatively, start your boat trip from Luang Prabang; the Pak Ou caves, 25km upriver, are a popular day trip.
Get more info on Luang Prabang: Mark Stratton reveals what you must seek out in the city, while Lyn Hughes explores the surrounding areas
Entering the ancient rock fortress of Sigiriya between the giant stone claws of the Lion’s Gate gives you your first taste of what’s to come. Woven into a 150m-high pillar of rock, this incredible feat of human ingenuity dating to the fifth century AD was once home to kings and, later, Buddhist monks. Explore the elaborate water garden, boulder garden and terrace gardens, and ascend through the levels of the city to see the mirror walls and ancient fresco paintings that make this a Unesco World Heritage site.
Make it happen: Sigiriya is a 90km drive from the city of Kandy, which has bus and rail links to capital Colombo.
The first time most people see the Manhattan skyline there is, ironically, something unreal about it. You’ve spent so much of your life looking at the virtual version through the medium of TV, cinema and advertising, you can’t quite convince yourself it isn’t an elaborate film set or green screen mirage. But then this is precisely part of the thrill of the city. On arriving here, you’re immediately cast as one of the actors. Here you are in soft-focus taking a romantic stroll over the Brooklyn Bridge at sunset; now you’re glamming it up amid the neon-lit fizz of Times Square; come the morning you’ll be brooding heroically on a boat across from the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. No matter when and where, the Big Apple always succeeds in serving up a blockbuster performance.
Make it happen: Get to know the city through a local’s eyes (for free) – go to www.bigapplegreeter.org.
Get more info on New York City: 7 things to do for free | How to spend your first 24 hours in NYC | 5 secrets about NYC's subway | How to spend an island-hopping weekend in NYC
Originally called Great Sandy Island (a name straight from the Aussie school of telling it like it is) this 123km-long wildlife sanctuary – the world’s largest sand island – sits within Queensland’s Great Sandy National Park. As you might have guessed by now, it’s sandy. But more than this, Fraser feels like nature’s theme park, a place where lakes, dunes and streams seem built for human fun. Four-wheel drive across the beaches to access the ‘rides’ – Champagne Pools’ fizzing surf, the dark depths of Lake Wabby, a gentle float with the fish down Eli Creek and the perfect-blue shallows of Lake Mckenzie. There are over 350 species of bird to tick off the list, too, as well as flora unique to the island. Just watch out for dingo looking to steal your campfire supper.
Make it happen: Fraser is 15km offshore from Hervey Bay, 300km north of Brisbane. A 4WD is necessary to drive the island’s beaches and inland roads; purchase permits before arrival. www.derm.qld.gov.au/parks/fraser/index.html
Get more info on the Great Barrier Reef: With Wanderlust's ultimate guide and the area's ten biggest secrets
You come for the culture, but you’ll stay for the clothes. Vietnam’s most atmospheric traveller town is an elegant waterfront harbour of 18th-century merchant houses, ornate pagodas and French colonial airs. You’ll nose into museums, sip café au laits overlooking the Thu Bon River – and then you’ll buy clothes. Whimsical suits for £20 (why not?), shimmery cocktail dresses, a couple of shirts, one like that from GQ or Vogue (the magazines well-leafed) – and before you know it, you have fitting appointments all over town, and a spiralling set of bills. But shop carefully and you’ll still be wearing well-made mementoes from Hoi An a decade later.
Make it happen: Hoi An is halfway between Saigon and Hanoi; the nearest train station is 30km away at Danang. Remember to leave space in your bags for a new wardrobe.
Get more info on Hoi An: Could this be the best city on earth? | 5 mouth-watering moments in Hoi An
It’s an adventure for a gap year or a career break, a turning point in your life. Somehow, you have a month – maybe three months, or more – and nothing to hold you back. Australia beckons, its vast red blanks on the map as enticing as the coastal cities you’ll start from. You hit Sydney or Melbourne, and get bowled over by the kookaburras and flying foxes, surfboards and the Central Business District.
You hire a car or a campervan, or jump on a bus, and head out: north onto Queensland’s Barrier Reef coast, west along the surf-smashed Great Ocean Road, up through the simmering Outback, or all the way over to Western Australia, with its vineyards and wild coastline. You learn to be wary of ’roos and road trains, and what it really means to be hundreds of km from petrol or help, and how to pass the time on a 24-hour drive through nothing. You become part of the great gyre of Europeans spinning round the country. Who’d give a XXXX for anything else?
Make it happen: Hire a campervan from Maui or Britz; or browse second-hand vehicles for sale at www.gumtree.com.
Sunrise and sunset are the times to visit Palmyra. In the dawn light, the columns and arches are gradually infused with a honeyed glow as the sun breaks free from the horizon. During the day, both the temperature and the touts are too intense, so it’s better to head off for some shade – try exploring the Arab castle on the hill, the Qala’at Ibn Maan. As the evening draws in, this becomes the ideal vantage point from which to take in the full extent of the ruins, the columns now creating lengthening shadows that slowly fan out across the desert sands.
Make it happen: bmi flies direct to Damascus; from the capital, taking a minivan is a popular, cheap option. Check the Foreign Office for the latest safety information and travel advice.
Get more info on Palmyra: Ben Oliver discovers Syria is friendly, colourful and steeped in history
The granite grandeur of Yosemite is no secret – it’s been a national park since 1890, and every year hordes descend on its riverside meadows, nostril-clearing pine forests and sheer rockfaces. But that doesn’t stop it being jaw-dropping in aspect and fun to explore. Set up camp, stash comestibles in your bear locker and hit one of the many hiking trails; plan your trip for autumn, when most areas of the park are still open but the crowds have gone home.
Make it happen: Yosemite is 314km from San Francisco. The park is open year-round but some roads are inaccessible Nov-May. www.nps.gov/yose.
One of the finest colonial cities in the Americas, Cartagena de Indias (to give it its full name) was once a strategic shipping post for the vast riches amassed by Spanish plunder. Today, much of the original walls (built in 1616) remain, topped by cannons and flagpoles. However, the true magnificence of Cartagena lies within the old Centro Histórico: stroll amid the attractive plazas, grand bubble-gum-hued mansion houses and charming cobblestone streets. In January, it’s also home to the Cartagena Hay Festival, an exuberant literary shindig sometimes attended by local hero Gabriel García Márquez.
Make it happen: Colombia’s dry season, or verano (‘summer’), is December to March, with a second dry season June-August. Visitors from Europe typically fly in via Madrid/the US and Bogotá.
Get more info on Cartagena: Trip ideas for Cartagena and northern Colombia
Water is not in short supply in Fiordland National Park. This glacially gouged chunk of South Island’s south-west is riven with inlets, well rinsed by waterfalls, and receives a sou’wester-splattering 8m of rain each year. So, unsurprisingly, taking to the water is the best way to see it. Flick back a few pages and at number 69 on our list was Milford Sound, but even more remote than that is Doubtful Sound, the name given by James Cook, who harboured concerns about whether he would be able to take his ship through it or not. More manoeuvrable kayaks are the ideal vessel – for paddling into quiet coves and bays unreachable on foot, and for getting a sea-level introduction to the fur seals, penguins and bottlenose dolphins that call it home.
Make it happen: Te Anau is Fiordland’s main hub. From there it’s a 20km drive to Manapouri, followed by a 30km boat trip across the lake to reach Doubtful Sound.
Get more info on kayaking in New Zealand: William Gray guides you through the best sea adventures
Big, brash American cars (with Russian engines) groan down the cratered streets as teenagers kick back on the sidewalk puffing on rolled cigarettes, too hot to do much more. It’s evening when Cuba comes alive, and nowhere more so than in the capital, Havana. Through the cigar smoke comes the sound of feet stamping, hands clapping, dresses swishing up on the terraces. Two women flick their hems and click their heels as they sashay back towards their partners, men wearing neatly positioned bowler hats and wicked smiles. “Aqui, aqui!” they shout, and the women move towards them, mojitos in hand, while other Cubans holler and cheer, moving to the salsa beat. Now who wouldn’t want to be part of that vibe?
Make it happen: Caledonia (www.caledonialanguages.com) can arrange salsa trips in Cuba. Its two-week course involves dance lessons in Santiago de Cuba, with a chance to stay in a homestay in Havana.
Get more info on Havana: How to spend your first 24 hours in Havana | A quick guide to gay Havana | Travel Icon: Old Havana
Vancouver Island: natural beauty, enviably chilled-out locals, and one of the best places in the world to see killer whales, aka orcas. There are resident pods that live in these waters year-round, but they are joined in the summer by many others, as they congregate in Johnstone Strait to feast on salmon.
You sometimes hear them before you see them: the whoosh of air as they draw breath before diving. Or you’ll see the distinctive shape of the huge dorsal fin of an adult male as he slices through the water, and then realise there is in fact a whole family pod, including babies sticking to their mother’s sides. Out on the water, you in your flimsy-seeming kayak, you realise just how big and powerful they are.
Make it happen: June to October is best for orcas. Fly to Vancouver, then take the ferry to Vancouver Island; there are plenty of local outfitters who can arrange kayaking trips.
“In 2004 I went to Lapland in Sweden. We had an afternoon where we were taken out on the sleds by the guides, two of us to a sleigh, with six to eight dogs leading and the guide steering the sleighs. But the real fun was the next day when we did it ourselves. We were on shorter sleighs with three dogs each, and after a practise run we were off. We were going over frozen lakes and through the trees, keeping our feet on the sides of the sled with a brake in between. Our only rule was not to let go of the sled, as the dogs would just carry on. We all fell off at different points as we tried to avoid the ice, the mounds and the sharp bends, but I did it spectacularly. I ended up flat on the ground holding onto the sled for dear life, and had to wait for the guy behind to come to help me up! Once we got to the camp we unhitched the dogs, fastened them up for the night and fed and petted them. That night we fell asleep at the camp to the sound of their gentle howls.” – Liz Davies
Make it happen: Numerous tour operators offer dog-sledding trips in Sweden – check out Trip Finder Wanderlust’s recommended companies.
Get more info on husking mushing: With Wanderlust's complete travel guide
These mind-blowingly big, old and beautiful monuments are so great they were actually built twice. Originally carved out of a cliff to honour Ramses II in the 13th century BC, the Great Temple and smaller Temple of Hathor were then cut up and relocated, block by block, in the 1960s to save them from the rapidly encroaching waters of the Nile, caused by the creation of Lake Nasser. It cost around a quarter of a billon dollars (in today’s money), but it looks like money well spent. Secure on the new riverbank, the 33m-high facade with its four inbuilt statues of Ramses impresses and interrogates visitors, just as it has for thousands of years.
Make it happen: There are sound and light shows 7pm-10pm, which add another dimension to this ancient landmark. Avoid visiting in the afternoon, when temperatures are at their scorching max.
Most of us at one time or another have squinted through a pinhole in a piece of cardboard or donned a pair of particularly dark glasses to get a look at a solar eclipse. But there are those – numerous enough to have spawned the collective moniker of ‘umbraphiles’ – who are eclipse-chasers, traversing the globe in search of total solar eclipses (which come around every 18 months on average, although partial eclipses are far more common). We’ve had reports from readers watching this cosmic drama play out in Bhutan, Easter Island and Turkey among other places. The next is due in Australia in November 2012.
Make it happen: A number of tour operators run trips combining eclipse-watching with soft adventure.
“My friend and I flew into Kiruna in Sweden with the main aim of seeing the northern lights. But after two nights of light pollution and distractions such as skiing in the Arctic Circle and dog sledding, we were out of luck. We had planned to go from there across to Finland but we decided to hold off one more day and head further north, to a remote place called Abisko, which we had been told is the best place to see the northern lights in Sweden.
"As darkness fell in Abisko, Hannah and I put on almost every piece of clothing we had; looking like a couple of Michelin people, we headed to the chairlift to take us up the mountain. As the lights of the town of Abisko dwindled below us, we got a superb view over the frozen lake and the still-cloudy sky. Once we arrived at the dimly lit hut at the top of the mountain, we huddled outside expectantly. We were in luck. The cold was completely forgotten as the clouds parted and we were all stunned into silence as the greens spread across the sky before they were joined by reds. It was easy to see why in older times people revered them as signs of the gods.” – James Kemp
Make it happen: As well as Kiruna, good places to see the northern lights include Svalbard, Tromsø (Norway), Yellowknife (Canada) and Wiseman (Alaska). You can even do a course in Churchill, Canada (www.churchillscience.ca).
Get more info on the northern lights: With Wanderlust's complete travel guide
You’re standing opposite a young bull elephant that may or may not be about to charge. Even as a junior jumbo, it’s very, very big – perhaps a third bigger than the Asian elephants you may have seen in Thailand or India. Your heart is going like a techno tune circa 1992, and you have your doubts about the effectiveness of your guide addressing the beast in that placating toneof voice rather than readying his shotgun, but all the same, you’re locked into the moment, senses primed, alive in a way you’ve rarely felt before.
It’s encounters like this (and the more serene, familial ones with this majestic creature) that count among our most treasured travel experiences. Emotions are at their most intense on a walking safari, getting you back to your roots rather than encased in a jeep. And when the guide’s sympathetic tones actually seem to pay off, and the young elephant quits eyeballing and goes on his way, you’re left with a memory of a lifetime.
Make it happen: Addo Elephant Park on the Eastern Cape is the third-largest national park in SA and home to the densest population of elephants in the world.
Get more info: With Wanderlust's guide to wildlife and safaris and Wanderlust's guide to travel in South Africa
Whether you rate a schlep up Africa’s highest mountain as a ‘great travel experience’ depends largely on when you’re asked. Question the climber rising at midnight to make the final push to the summit – an ascent from 4,000-ish metres to that longed-for success sign at 5,895m – and they’ll likely say not. At that moment it’s a tough, cold, thin-aired, boring, nauseating, exhausting hell-on-high. But ask that same soul about six hours later, when they’re grinning like an idiot on the roof of a continent, and the answer will be very different indeed.
Make it happen: There are five main routes up Kilimanjaro: Machame, Marangu, Lemosho/Shira, Rongai and Umbwe. Climbs take 5-9 days; longer treks allow better acclimatisation.
Get more info on climbing Kilimanjaro: A practical guide for making the climb | Wanderlust'stravel guide to Mount Kilimanjaro | A day-by-day account to the climb
Not surprisingly, Arizona’s world-beating Grand Canyon – up to 29km wide and 1.6km deep – featured varied and often among your top travel experiences: you climb it, hike it, raft it, fly over it or simply palpitate on the edge of it, consumed by the ineffable geological scale. Most people head to the South Rim where the crowds – in the summer at least – tend to take the sheen off the experience. Much better to head to the North Rim and then spend a couple of days hiking to the South Rim, taking in the buttes, mesas and stone outcrops along the way, sinking into the ‘deep time’ contained within its kaleidoscopic strata of rock.
Make it happen: The Canyon is accessed via the nearby cities of Las Vegas (approx 450km) and Phoenix (370km). Plane and helicopter sightseeing trips leave from these hubs; otherwise expect a four to six-hour drive, depending on which Rim you’re aiming for. www.nps.gov/grca
Get more info on Great Canyon: All you need to know for a trekking trip | How to escape the crowds at the Grand Canyon
Winter or summer, Banff gets the thumbs-up. Skiers love the sheer scale of it, the flinty vistas spread out under the dome of a cobalt sky, clouds scudding along in orderly fashion. Oh, and the skiing, of course, which is perfect for novice and experienced skier alike. In the summer, a drive down the Icefields Parkway has you floored in admiration. Many of you vote it your favourite road in the world, with spectacular views of mountains, rivers, lakes, forests, glaciers, icefields and, if you’re lucky, the occasional brown bear.
Make it happen: A great way to get to this region (and explore more of Canada in the process) is to fly into Vancouver and then take the Rocky Mountaineer train, a two-day journey east to Banff. Go to www.rockymountaineer.com.
Forget packed minibuses all clustering around one poor animal, cameras clicking. Zambia’s South Luangwa is how the safari experience would have been a hundred years ago – but with a luxurious camp or lodge to go back to at night. You won’t be tripping over other tourists; indeed, you can go several days without seeing anyone else. This is one of the best places in the world to see leopards. This was also where the concept of the walking safari was born, and exploring on foot will really help you appreciate the bush. Once you’ve sampled Luangwa, safaris elsewhere will be spoiled forever.
Make it happen: Mfuwe is the gateway to the park; there are daily flights from Lusaka and Livingstone.
Get more info on walking safaris: Lyn Hughes on her experiences in Zambia
Utah’s majority Mormon population arrived in the state about 150 years ago. They took one look at the dreaming spires, flying buttresses and vertiginous vaulting hewn out of the rock by nature herself, and felt compelled to make it home. Native Americans had, of course, revered this strange and beautiful land for millennia before the arrival of European settlers – evidenced in the rock art dotted throughout the state, which speaks of the alchemical power of this landscape to transfix and elevate the spirit. The national parks of Zion and Bryce Canyon are the most popular and, beyond simply gawping, are great for hiking, adventure sports and wildlife – you’ll see coyote, mule deer, bighorn sheep and, if you’re really lucky, mountain lion.
Make it happen: Fly to Salt Lake City. Hire a car and use Utah’s Scenic Byways to link the parks; see www.utah.com.
Get more info on Utah: Top 5 national parks
The mighty Zambezi River divides Zimbabwe and Zambia. After it takes a 100m-plus tumble over Victoria Falls, it squeezes through a narrow gorge for 120km, boiling up into the biggest sequence of Grade V rapids in the world. The Everest of whitewater rafting can be completed, unlike Everest, by a beginner – providing expert assistance is on hand, and you’re willing to hurtle yourself in a flimsy inflatable at white-knuckle speeds down a ferociously turbulent channel. Just make sure you hold on tight or you’ll be in the Zambezi – along with the hippos and the crocodiles...
Make it happen: The best time to raft the Zambezi is when the water levels are lowering and more rapids are accessible, between August and mid-October. In November and December it gets really hairy.
Get more info on rafting the Zambezi: Michael Woods learns how to take it easy on the Zambezi | Robert Twigger rafts the river
There are more than 60 glaciers sliding down to the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island, creaking white tongues as old as the hills. Franz Josef is one of the most impressive, galloping from the 3,000m highs of the Southern Alps to sea level in just a few kilometres. The result: glacial drama on a grand scale. Swoop over in a helicopter to see all of the ice-action in detail – look down on chilling crevasses, towering seracs and sculpted caves, and land on the snowfields to walk on this slowly shifting geological monster.
Make it happen: Several operators offer helicopter trips over Fox and Franz Josef glaciers; scenic flights last 20-40 minutes (with snow landing), heli-hiking tours last three hours. For more information, go to www.glaciercountry.co.nz.
You don’t have to be crazy to want to cycle or motorcycle in Vietnam, but it helps. Ho Chi Minh City is a maelstrom of scooters, cycles and cyclos. If you see a break in the traffic, go for it. Just make sure that the guy with a dozen live ducks hanging off his handlebars doesn’t beat you to it.
Thankfully things get a little more zen outside of the cities. Here you’ll find timeless Vietnam. Watercolour mountains; conical-hatted workers bobbing amongst the rice paddies; a toothless old man herding ducks along the road; a girl cycling by in a blindingly white ao dai tunic uttering a shy ‘hello Mister’ (or Mrs). Magic.
Make it happen: From December 2011, Vietnam Air will fly non-stop from London Gatwick to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) – the only direct service. Returns will cost from £817; see www.vietnamair.co.uk. In the meantime, fly to Bangkok and use one of the regional low-cost airlines. The best time to visit Vietnam is November-April, the dry season – though the highlands can be chilly at this time.
With a drop of 979m, Angel Falls makes Niagara look like your average garden water feature. From the sheer walls of the mesa mountain, Auyantepui, it cascades down at a thunderous pace in the rainy season, while in the dry season – from January to May – it turns to mist before ever reaching the base of the Cañon del Diablo (Devil’s Canyon) directly below. The way to experience it is to approach by dugout canoe from Canaima Camp, floating through lush rainforest, before a jungle trek to the vantage point of El Mirador de Laime. Alternatively, adrenalin-junkies may choose to scale the canyon’s face before base-jumping off the top.
Make it happen: From Caracas you can travel to Ciudad Bolivar by bus; from there the only way into Angel Falls / Canaima is to fly. Flights take about an hour and are an adventure in themselves, giving a bird’s eye view over the forest below.
The experience of walking along the entire Great Wall of China would be life-changing indeed. This most massive architectural undertaking – originally begun in 221BC, and extended and updated by four different dynasties – once spanned 7,000km, from Jiayuguan in the wild west, to the shores of the Yellow Sea.
It’s now quite crumbly in many parts, but some stretches hint at its former grandeur. Avoid the masses at the ‘I walked the Wall’ T-shirt hub of Badaling, and seek out the less crowded sections instead. The Gubeikou to Jinshanling stretch is still accessible from capital Beijing, and showcases the barrier at its best: rugged walking via Wall and watchtowers as it snakes over the mountains.
Make it happen: Gubeikou is a three-hour drive north of Beijing; the walk to Jinshanling (10km) takes around five hours. Or head to Simatai, north-east of Beijing, for snapshot-friendly views of the Wall clinging to sheer Yanshan Mountain.
Get more info on the Great Wall of China: With Wanderlust's complete travel guide
Both the Masai Mara National Reserve and the Serengeti National Park are part of a huge ecosystem that offers the quintessential safari experience: rolling savannah punctured with rocky outcrops and acacia trees, a smudge of distant hills, and big skies. The area is famous for the Great Migration: the two million herbivores that trek clockwise following the rains in a constant search for food. From June to September the herds bottleneck at the crossings of the Grumeti and Mara rivers, creating a feast for the waiting carnivores. Don’t worry if you can’t make the migration. You’ll still see plenty of wildlife whenever you go – and with fewer people.
Make it happen: Fly to Nairobi (Kenya) or Arusha (Tanzania). Pick up a safari locally, or pre-book with a specialist.
Get more info on the Great Migration: Top 15 tips for cracking photos | Great Migration calendar: 12 months, 12 ways | Wanderlust's travel guide to the Great Migration
In Bhutan, the closest the world has to a real-life Shangri-La, there are plenty of magical spots. But Paro Taktsang – or Tiger’s Nest Monastery – is perhaps the most iconic. This tumble-tiered fortress of white-washed walls and fluted roofs dangles 1,000m above the Paro Valley. It’s built on the site of a sacred cave, which Lotus-born Buddha, Guru Rinpoche, was said to have flown to on the back of a tiger; today, the temple in his honour looks like it might fall if not for the Buddha’s blessing.
Make it happen: Tiger’s Nest is 5km from Kyerchu. The road ends at 2,600m; a one-hour walk leads to a café and viewpoint (2,940m), followed by a steep climb to the high observation point (3,140m). www.tourism.gov.bt
Get more info on Bhutan: Discover the very best awe-inspiring treks and temples
Sometimes, size matters. And there’s nothing bigger – nothing more slap-you-in-the-face, wobble-you-in-your-walking-boots awesome – than the high Himalaya. The entire range spans 2,400km, from Pakistan in the west to India in the east; much of it lords over 7,000m, some of it over 8,000m – a height not nearly approached elsewhere on the planet. Whether it’s in the distance from an Indian hill station, up-close on a trek through remote Ladakh or on the white-knuckle flight into Bhutan’s Paro airport, simply getting a glimpse of this range will take your breath away.
Make it happen: Himalaya hub cities include Kathmandu, Lhasa, Islamabad, Paro, Delhi and Guwahati; take the train to Shimla from Delhi (via Kalka; approx 12 hours) for easily accessible views.
A ghoulish name for an eerie area: north-west Namibia’s Skeleton Coast is a no-man’s land of starkly spectacular proportions. It’s a place where bleached whale bones and the rusting hulks of shipwrecks line miles of empty sand; where shores sparkle with gem stones; where a few resilient animals – jackal, oryx, desert-adapted elephant – patrol the dunes. Skeleton Coast National Park stretches north for 500km up to the border with Angola, and it’s best to witness this vastness from above: up here you can see in wide-screen the battle of land and sea, which the relentless Atlantic appears to be winning.
Make it happen: The 200km from Swakopmund to the Ugab River is the National West Coast Tourist Recreational Area; no permits are required. Skeleton Coast National Park begins at the Ugab; the far north, between the Hoanib and Kunene rivers, can only be visited by fly-in tour. www.skeletoncoastsafaris.com
Get more info on the Skeleton Coast: In William Gray's guide to the Namib Desert
A smatter of ungulates – zebra, impala, oryx – takes watchful slurps. A warthog trots by, tail raised like a radio antenna. Three lions, with blood-stained chops, demolish an unfortunate creature under a mopane tree – until a huffy elephant decides to ruin their picnic. Just another day at the waterhole... Water is scarce in the calcrete pan of Etosha – bad news for animals, but excellent for those wanting to watch them. During the Dry (Jun-Nov), wildlife throngs to the park’s few puddles; simply drive to one yourself (assuming the road’s not blocked by an obstinate ele) and let the show unfold.
Make it happen: Etosha is a six-hour drive north of Windhoek. Three government camps within the park have floodlit waterholes for nighttime wildlife-viewing.
Never mind going down to the woods today – if it’s a bevy of picnicking bears you’re after, Canada’s your best bet. There’s nowhere better for an ursine encounter – just pick your spot dependent on your species. Those after polar bear sightings should head to Churchill, Manitoba, October-November, when tundra buggies drive you close to the Arctic animals. Those wanting grizzlies – a hefty sub-species of the brown bear – should head to British Columbia. Here, beasts weighing up to 450kg might be seen in the mountains or, come salmon-spawning season, standing mid-river, mouths open, waiting for lunch to jump right in. A special treat is an encounter with a blonde-furred spirit bear, a rare sub-type that inhabits the vast Great Bear Rainforest, and holds a special place in Native Indian legend.
Make it happen: Generally, May-October is best for bear-watching. If camping in bear country, obey the rules: clear up rubbish, keep food in a bear locker, never surprise or approach a bear.
Get more info on bear-watching in Canada: Anthony Lambert scouts out Churchill's surroundings | Amy Watkins takes an adventure with local Inuits
The Amazon has size and fame, but it’s in the Pantanal – Brazil’s lesser-known great green wilderness – that you’re more likely to meet the residents. Indeed, a lot lives in this vast wetland (most of it huge): giant otter, giant anteater, giant water lilies, huge caiman, umpteen birds. And jaguars, which – incredibly for this elusive cat – are regularly spotted. Simply driving along the road through the region can yield excellent wildlife sightings; stay at a lodge within the pantano (swamp) to make forays by 4WD, boat and on horseback, and you can expect a cawing, roaring, chirruping onslaught.
Make it happen: In the north, the Transpantaneira Highway runs for 145km from Poconé (near Cuibá) to Porto Jofre; Campo Grande is the main access point for the southern areas of the Pantanal.
Get more info on the Pantanal: With Lyn Hughes' guide to spotting jaguar
Sitting high on a hill at the end of a long valley, the Potala is one of the more arresting sights in the world. A quiet, solemn place, it acts as a poignant reminder that something fundamental has been missing from Tibetan life since the Dalai Lama fled in 1959. Jokhang Temple, in the centre of old Lhasa, is proof that the nation’s spiritual life still goes on. It’s a kaleidoscope of colourful prayer flags and trinket stalls where monks and farmers jostle for position on the pilgrim path that surrounds it. At its heart sits a temple where each morning crimson-robed monks chant in the glower of a thousand yak-butter candles.
Make it happen: Trains run from Xining to Lhasa; journey time is around 24 hours. Overland tours run from Nepal.
The volcanoes started it, and the Christians finished it off. Thirty million years ago, Turkey’s Anatolian plateau got carpeted in ash and lava, which eroded into a hallucinogenic landscape of knobbly basalt chimneys and stripy tabletop mountains. And then, around AD 600, early Christians on the hoof from the Arabs burrowed into the soft rock, creating underground homes, churches and monasteries. The result: a unique cultural adventure playground. Take a balloon ride to see the patchwork unfold beneath you. Or spend a night in your very own cave hotel.
Make it happen: Kayseri is the gateway city – fly via Istanbul, or take the train. The laid-back village of Göreme is a good base for hikes and ballooning.
Get more info on Cappadocia: Travel Icon guide to Cappadocia | Top 6 walks around Cappadocia
What’s the point of visiting the Taj Mahal? Sure, it’s pretty. But you’ve already seen it from every angle, in every light, on a million postcards – what more is there to see? It’s testament to the glory of this love-made-marble monument that this argument doesn’t hold. Yes, it seems familiar, but the Taj – its graceful white curves, misty reflections, exquisite inlaid stone – does not disappoint. You’ll be fighting the crowds so make your first sight special: get to the gates for dawn, to be first in to watch as the mausoleum transforms from picture-on-a-poster to living, breathing 3D beauty under the rising sun.
Make it happen: The Taj is open daily from sunrise to sunset (closed Friday); entry costs Rs750 (£10). www.tajmahal.gov.in
Get more info on the Taj Mahal: with Wanderlust's travel guide
North America is renowned for dishing up huge portions, but it’s outdone itself with Alaska. The Last Frontier State is the USA’s biggest – but its least densely populated. It has 17 of the country’s 20 tallest mountains, topping out at the formidable 6,194m Mt McKinley, plus 70,000km of coastline, 300 rivers and around 100,000 glaciers. Put simply, it does wilderness on a gargantuan scale. As a consequence, you can get wonderfully lost almost anywhere. Try Denali National Park if you’ve got a head for heights, the Aleutian island chain if you prefer the sea, or the Arctic-tickling Dalton Highway for a very different American roadtrip.
Make it happen: May-August is the best time to visit; winters are long and cold, and snow can make some areas inaccessible. Go to www.travelalaska.com for the full lowdown.
Get more info on Alaska: Lyn Hughes pratically cuddles brown bears | 5 things I wish I'd known before visiting Alaska | Alaska: the USA's wildest state
It’s not a friendly looking place. The sharp-shard peaks of Torres del Paine National Park, granite horns piercing the wilds of southern Chile, are fearsome – and often whipped by intemperate weather. But there’s majesty and drama on a romantic scale in these mountains, and for many they’re the emblem of Patagonia itself. Head to the lookout of Mirador Ferrier, via a winding beech-lined path from Lago Grey, for a panorama of the whole massif. Or delve in proper: the 150km Circuit trail gets right in among the lakes, wildflower meadows, hanging glaciers – and those terrifying, awe-inspiring peaks.
Make it happen: Weather is changeable year-round: December to March are warmest; October to November are best for wildflowers. The Circuit hike takes around 7-9 days, covering an average of 15-20km a day; hikers need to be relatively fit.
As the Zambezi River encounters the 1,700m-wide edge of the Victoria Falls gorge on the Zambia/Zimbabwe border it noisily and dramatically tumbles 100m into the depths below. Be prepared to fall head over heels for the world’s largest waterfall, as cascading torrents roar into deep plunge pools, producing giant clouds of misty spray, which glisten like diamonds in the powerful African sun. It’s easy to see why the local people named it Mosi-oa-Tunya, which translates literally to ‘the smoke that thunders’. Take a flight over the falls to truly appreciate their colossal scale or get up-close and personal: the best view from rim-level in the dry season is on the Zimbabwean side; hotspots in Zambia include Livingstone Island, the only accessible land in the middle of the falls – here, if you dare, you can take a dip in the Devil’s Pool, and swim right up to the torrent’s edge...
Make it happen: Victoria Falls’ water levels are highest April-June, but this is also the wet season; visit July-September for a good flow, but drier weather and better views. Tongabezi Lodge runs trips to Livingstone Island and the Devil’s Pool (tongabezi.com).
Get more info on Victoria Falls: 7 ways to see the iconic waterfall
Given that it’s the world’s highest mountain – an 8,848m behemoth – Everest is surprisingly accessible. Not its summit perhaps: tough training, 70 days and £30,000 are needed for that. But you can get amazingly intimate in other ways: just 32km from Kathmandu, Nagarkot offers non-trekkers a breathtaking panorama, while short scenic flights from the capital take you within touching distance. To feel like a true mountaineer, take to the Everest Base Camp trail – a 14-day trek via high Himalaya and Sherpa villages – to sleep at 5,340m, in the shadow of Sagarmatha itself.
Make it happen: The dry season (October-May) is best for clear skies. This is also peak trekking season. October-November are best; nights are cold December-February; Nepal’s rhododendrons bloom March-May.
Get more info on Everest Base Camp: 5 tips for tackling Everest Base Camp | Everest Base Camp kit list | Wanderlust editor Phoebe Smith makes the climb
Desert, delta, forest, big skies: Botswana is the safari destination par excellence, and the choices are endless. Here, you can gallop on horseback alongside herds of zebra, sway on elephant-back above feeding antelope, or canoe the Selinda Spillway, currently full of water after being dry for 30 years. For maximum independence, embark on a self-drive safari: potter from luxury lodge to lodge through the Okavango Delta, or feel the frisson of true wilderness on a 4WD camping expedition into the Kalahari desert. Wherever you go, you’ll exult in the power of nature, whether watching huge herds of elephants in Chobe National Park, being seduced by the endless horizons of the Makgadikgadi salt pans, or simply marvelling at the rock art of the moody Tsodilo Hills.
Make it happen: Fly to Maun and pick up a safari, or cross the border from Zambia (having visited Victoria Falls en route), South Africa, Zimbabwe or Namibia.
Get more info on Botswana: Discover bushmen, baobabs and big wildlife with Graeme Green | Botswana's Central Kalahari is lion kingdom | Don't miss green season in Botswana's Okavango Delta
Waiting in anticipation on the forest floor, you scan the lush green canopy above for a flash of orange. After listening in silence to the guide’s orang utan calls for a few tense minutes, you suddenly lay eyes on these humanlike creatures as theymake their long-limbed way to the fruit bonanza laid out especially for them. Though they are fed, make no mistake: these are wild animals. Borneo’s Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary does rehabilitate orphaned apes, but it also provides a much-needed reserve for wild ones – the species, indigenous to Borneo and Sumatra, is endangered, and faces severe habitat loss. Sanctuaries such as Sepilok and the Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Sarawak are the easiest places to get a good glimpse; in the unfettered forest you’ll need lots of luck – though forays in the unspoiled lushness of Batang Ai National Park and boat trips along the Kinabatangan River are perhaps the best ways to give it a try.
Make it happen: Sepilok Orangutan Sanctuary is 23km from Sandakan, on Sabah’s east coast; public buses run to within 1.5km of the sanctuary, or you can take a tour. Sepilok is open 8am-5pm; orang utans are fed twice daily, at 10am and 3pm. Pack binoculars; a fee is charged for using cameras/camcorders.
Get more info on orang utans: Mike Gerrard meets plenty of colourful characters on his trip to Sumatra
This spectacularly beautiful island is often summed up as being like Switzerland dropped into polar waters. It was where Shackleton finally found help 20 months after the Endurance was crushed by ice. But the real reason to visit is the wildlife. You may have been told to keep 5m from the creatures, but they won’t have attended the same briefing! Expect sensory overload at Salisbury Plain, where 100,000 king penguins crowd the vast beach. At Gold Harbour, get close to the giant elephant seals.
Make it happen: Join an expedition cruise to Antarctica from Ushuaia (Argentina) that takes in South Georgia.
Get more info on South Georgia: with Wanderlust's travel guide | Lyn Hughes gets up close and personal with king penguins and elephant seals
In the state of Karnataka lies Hampi, capital of the once great Vijayanagara Empire. In the 15th century the city was ringed by 38km of walls and home to as many as 500,000 people. According to travellers at the time, it constituted one of the most magnificent sights in the world. The city was destroyed in 1565, but even in its present state – a vast ruin set among incongruously shaped rocks and boulders – the scale of the achievement still reverberates in the colossal Virupaksha temple (somehow spared the annihilation and still an important site for Hindu pilgrims) and in intricately carved curiosities such as the stone chariot in the Vittala complex. Get here early, hire a bicycle (or a moped) and marvel at a city that was once said to rival Rome.
Make it happen: Bangalore (Bengaluru) is the closest major hub with direct flights from the UK. Take the Hampi Express night train to the ruins.
Get more info on Hampi: David Abram guides you through the ruins and their bloody history
From the onion domes of Moscow to the mountainous bays of Vladivostok, the Trans-Siberian Railway will take you on a journey like no other. Beginning in the heartland of European Russia, the railway rolls eastwards, through the rugged Ural mountains and the vastness of Siberia, finally ending in the Russian Far East, on the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Or maybe not. Veer off after Lake Baikal and make for the steppes of Mongolia or the north of China on the railway’s popular Trans-Mongolian and Trans-Manchurian offshoots.
Make it happen: Most travellers begin in Moscow due to ease of access. Trans-Siberian high season runs May-September.
Get more info on the Trans-Siberian: 10 stops on the Trans-Siberian | Wanderlust's travel guide to the Trans-Siberian | A guide to the ultimate train journey
There are sand dunes, and there are sand dunes. And the Namib Desert’s offerings in this arena are the Himalaya of the granular world: the dunes here tower up to 300m, massive undulations that shape-shift with the wind. They’re not just big, they’re beautiful – gracefully curved, rippled as the sea and apricot-orange under a perennial blue sky. There are many ways to experience the Sossusvlei area: climb the elegant S-sweep of Dune 45 (popular at sunrise), hike to the dramatic tree-trunk graveyard of Dead Vlei, or take off in a hot-air balloon for the ultimate overview.
Make it happen: Sossusvlei is 590km west of Windhoek. It’s accessible by 2WD; a 4WD is necessary for the final 5km to Sossusvlei Pan (or walk from the car park).
Get more info on Sossusvlei: Wanderlust blogger Marie Javins gets a bird's eye view
Surrounded by jungle, shrouded in mist and protected by unseen, but voluble, howler monkeys, the ancient temples at Tikal are the archetypical Mayan ruins. The Maya first settled here around 700 BC; they abandoned its distinct pyramid-shaped towers to the jungle in ninth century. It was just missed by Cortes in 1525, and reintroduced to the world by the sketches of artist Eusebio Lara in 1848. Even today, deep in the tangled interior of the Petén Basin, it feels like time has stood still: climb the iconic Jaguar Temple and watch the sun set over the primordial jungle for an ancient overview. Just don’t leave your bag unattended: the local coatis, raccoon-type creatures, have light paws and a penchant for muesli bars.
Make it happen: Flores is the gateway town for Tikal, serviced by flights from Guatemala City. The Flores-Tikal minibus ride takes around 75 minutes. Tikal is open 6am-6pm; stay overnight so you can catch sunset and sunrise at the site.
Get more info on Mayan wonders: 4 ways to travel the Mayan route | Explore El Mirador, Guatemala's lost city
Although none of Thailand’s famous islands made our top 100, Malaysia’s less celebrated east coast idylls, Tioman and the Perhentians, had you in raptures. Most famous for their natural beauty, these coral-fringed islands offer lush forest scenery, unspoiled white beaches and plentiful opportunities for snorkelling and scuba diving in their pristine turquoise waters. Get hands-on with green turtle conservation projects on the beaches of Perhentian Besar, or stretch your legs on a short trek through inland jungle brimming with wildlife including exotic birds, monkeys and giant monitor lizards.
Make it happen: The Perhentian Islands can be accessed by boat from Kuala Besut, about 110km north of Kuala Terengganu. Ferries to Tioman run from the east coast town of Mersing.
Get more info on Maylasia: with Wanderlust's travel guide
When man is left to his own devices, the result, it seems, is to get bigheaded. Polynesians first arrived on the isolated, 164 sq km Pacific outcrop of Easter Island around AD 300. And here they stayed, unbothered by anyone else, until Europeans arrived in the 18th century. In that time, they got creative, constructing nearly 900 massive stone moai – long-faced figures, hewn from the tuff. Believed to represent ancient ancestors, many of these sacred spirits continue to watch over the island’s beaches, volcanoes and cliffs today.
Make it happen: Easter Island is 3,800km west of mainland Chile. Flights from Santiago with LAN take around five hours; onward flights to Tahiti are around five hours.
Get more info on Easter Island: with Wanderlust's travel guide | How to do Easter Island on the cheap
It’s touted as New Zealand’s – if not the world’s – best day walk. Quite a claim. But this 19km tramp across the volcanically sculpted wilds of North Island is a contender. It’s a manageable challenge, for starters – at six- to eight hours it will test but not break you. Then there’s the variety: from the shrubby Mangatepopo Valley, to the lunar weirdness of Red Crater, the sulphurous sparkles of Blue and Emerald Lakes and, finally, the descent into lush podocarp forest. Add some Maori legend, and a sprinkle of Hollywood glam (Tongariro starred in the Lord of the Rings trilogy), and world-class status is in the bag.
Make it happen: The Crossing starts from Mangatepopo Roadend, 6km off Highway 47; it finishes at Ketetahi Roadend. Local operators can arrange transfers; www.doc.govt.nz.
Get more info on the Tongariro Crossing: Sarah Baxter asks, if this still the best day walk in the world?
Glacier in not retreating shock! Patagonia’s Perito Moreno is bucking the dismal global trend – this inching ice tongue is just about maintaining its mammoth proportions (5km wide, 30km long) in the face of climate confusion. Sail up to its terminus in a small boat to appreciate this scale: the blindingly white-blue cliff is up to 70m high, creakingly advancing into Lake Argentino. Keep a safe distance, though: every now and then the glacier heaves, and huge chunks calve off into the chill water below.
Make it happen: Los Glaciares NP is 78km from El Calafate, accessible by car or bus. Boat tours can be taken from Puerto Bandera; www.losglaciares.com.
Get more info on Perito Moreno Glacier: with Wanderlust's Travel Icon guide
How did they do that? How did those 15th-century Inca architects construct a city of mortarless stone, on steep terraces, 2,500m up in the seemingly impenetrable Andes? Standing at the Sun Gate, catching your first glimpse of the ruins – swirled in mist and couched by vertiginous mountains – you may well ask these questions. This is engineering of the tallest order, in the most dramatic of settings – one so remote even the marauding conquistadores couldn’t find it. Today, 100 years after explorer Hiram Bingham rediscovered the site in 1911, access is a little easier – but the views and the achievement no less impressive.
Make it happen: The classic 43km Inca Trail hike from Km88 to Machu Picchu takes 3-4 days; permits are necessary – independent trekking is not allowed. Non-trekkers can catch the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, a 20-minute bus ride from the site.
Get more info on Machu Picchu: Know before you go: Peru | 10 things you may not know about Machu Picchu | Wanderlust's Machu Picchu travel guide
The Karakoram Highway is the stuff of travel legend. It’s the Silk Road, Marco Polo and the Hippy Trail all rolled into one. And it’s a challenger for the greatest feat of human engineering in history – a 1,300km thoroughfare somehow carved out of and around three of the world’s mightiest mountain ranges. The route wriggles from just north of Islamabad to Kashgar in China, and there are plenty of adventures on the way: averting landslides, hiking up to Fairy Meadows, avoiding collisions with rainbow-blinged trucks veering around tight bends at frightening speeds. You’ll drink tea with polo players, see peaks soaring over 7,000m and spot ancient rock art by the roadside. You’ll be whiplashed, butt-bruised and probably exhausted. You’ll have the time of your life.
Make it happen: UK nationals require a visa to enter Pakistan; a single-entry visa costs £104; www.pakmission-uk.gov.pk.
Get more info on the Karakoram Highway: Discover welcoming people and jaw-dropping scenery with Sarah Baxter
Traditionally carved from a tree trunk, the mokoro was the common means of transport of the Bavei tribe. Today, fibreglass is increasingly common, rather than wood, but these canoes are still the best ways to explore the channels and waterways of the largest delta in the world. The mokoros are steered by polers, who stand in the dugout and use a wooden pole around 3m long. Gliding along, you don’t always see a lot, but the only sounds are of mysterious plops, splashes and rustles. And, if you’re lucky enough to see an elephant from this vantage point...
Make it happen: Maun is the gateway into the region. Pick up a safari there, or pre-book with a specialist.
It’s just so very unlikely. Deep in the Jordanian desert, hemmed in by sandstone crags and approached along a slither of a canyon, suddenly an ancient facade looms out of the rock. And not a weathered, barely- there outline: a crisply-defined colossus, six mighty pillars guarding the entrance as if the Nabateans (who built them two millennia ago) had just popped out for lunch. You gawp. You smile. You take the obligatory photo of the Treasury (for that’s what it was) peeping out from the walls of the siq. You find a quiet corner and contemplate the rock. You wax philosophical about mighty empires. You pinch yourself: you’re in Petra.
Make it happen: Allow two days (or more). See our Petra travel guide for more information.
Get more info on Petra: How to take great photographs at Petra | Ultimate top 5 guide: Petra and Wadi Rum | The complete guide to Petra
For most of you, it’s the combination of beauty and scale that provides the wow factor for this remarkable temple, the principal monument in a city complex that includes Hindu and Buddhist temples in their hundreds. Most Wanderlust readers advise arriving early to catch the sunrise and miss the crowds, not to mention making the most of that famous view from across the moat, where Angkor Wat’s ethereal double is reflected in the water. After you’ve had your fill, hire a motorised bicycle and get ‘temple bagging’, being sure to tick off the south gate entrance to Angkor Thom, the Bayon temple with its proliferation of serene Buddha faces and Ta Prohm, the atmospherically root-encircled ‘jungle temple’, along the way.
Make it happen: Siem Reap is the hub town for Angkor, served by flights from cities including Bangkok and Hanoi.
Get more info on Angkor: Angkor Wat by bike | Angkor Wat: temple by temple | Alternative 'sunset' finder developed for Angkor
It’s the sheer scale that astounds: the remains of 2,217 ancient stone temples, scattered across a vast, barren, copper-coloured plain. From the 11th to 13th centuries this 41 sq km complex was the biggest religious and cultural centre in the world. Now dusty and abandoned, what is left is best toured by bicycle or by horse and cart. At dawn and sunset the temples glow. The best views come from some of the lesser known temples such as Tha Kyas Hi, looking back across at the more photogenic Shwesandaw Paya and Dhammayangyi, and far from the hawkers and beggars that descend upon them.
Make it happen: Bagan is 140km south-west of Mandalay.
Get more info on Bagan: Burma's top 3 bike rides | Martin Symington discovers the real Burma | 5 things I wish I'd known before visiting Burma
“As you approach Shibam from Sana’a by plane, you get spectacular views of the mud-brick towns of the Hadhramaut built high into the backdrop of the rugged flat-topped mountains. Shibam dates from the fourth century and all the houses – which rise up to nine storeys, with the tallest at 30m – are made from mud-brick, with highly decorated doors and windows. It was Freya Stark that named it ‘The Manhattan of the Desert’. Once on the ground you approach the city through the grand and well-preserved main gate and find yourself marvelling at the houses towering above you, their charm enhanced by the mixture of the restored and the run down. Children appear at the open windows shouting “Sura!”, which is Arabic for photo. I completed the experience by climbing the hill opposite and taking photographs. As the daylight started to fade, the city took on a golden glow.” – Jane Baxter
Make it happen: Yemen is currently off-limits: the Foreign Office advises against all travel to the whole of the country. For more, see www.yementourism.com.
Geological marvel or one vast optical illusion? Whichever, the unique landscape of the world’s largest salt flats in the south-west corner of Bolivia is a photographer’s dream. In the dry season these vast expanses appear as an endless patchwork of interlocking hexagonal shapes, white as the Arctic; in the rainy season (December to April) the area becomes a 9,000 sq km mirror, giving the sensation of travelling across the sky. Where workers have harvested the literal salt of the earth, small pyramids of the precious grains pock the flats like mini mountains. Drive out over the plains in a jeep and stay in a hotel made entirely out of salt – beds, chairs, tables, the lot. Tour the rusting train graveyard around the town of Uyuni, bathe in hot springs near the Chilean border, and visit pink flamingo breeding grounds at blood-red Laguna Colorada. Wonderfully weird indeed.
Make it happen: The hub-town of Uyuni is a seven-hour bus ride from Potosí; 12-15 hours by bus from capital La Paz. The seven-hour train ride from Oruro is a scenic access option. Tours out onto the Salar (the best, and safest, way to explore) can be arranged in Uyuni.
Get more info on Bolivia: 5 reasons to get friendly with Bolivia | Bolivia's 10 unmissable street foods | Bolivia's best landscapes
Nothing prepares you for the beauty of the ice. The notorious sail to Antarctica across the Drake Passage can be a tough one, but that is swiftly forgotten as you start to see more and more ‘bergy bits’. Of course, the wildlife is a reason to go to Antarctica too: the various penguins steal your heart while sightings of whales, leopard seals and snowy shearwaters will make any trip memorable. But it is the scenery, and the colours – astonishing blues, greens, turquoises – patterns and textures of the icebergs that are unexpected and will have you acknowledging that man can’t design anything as beautiful as Mother Nature can.
Make it happen: Expedition cruises leave from Ushuaia (Argentina), Christchurch (NZ) and Hobart (Tasmania).
Get more info on Antarctica: 3 unmissable Antarctica trips | 7 ways to get there
People come for the quiet and the nature, so the locals say. But they also come for ‘Iddu’. Iddu is dialect for ‘him’, him being the volcano that constitutes Stromboli itself. The climb up is not a long one, about two to three hours, moving through fig trees, oleander and broom at the base to sparse shrubs further up and finally nothing but black volcanic rock. If you set off in the late afternoon, you reach the summit at dusk and are rewarded with the spectacular sight of the sun dissolving into the Tyrrhenian Sea. The soundtrack to this is less serene – a primeval basso profundo that the locals refer to as ‘Iddu parla’ – ‘He speaks’. Hard-hat on, you spend the next hour ooh-ing and ahh-ing as fluorescent magma and vapour bubbles and hisses through the volcano’s vents.
Make it happen: Stromboli is a four-hour ferry or 1.5-hour hydrofoil journey from the Aeolian Island of Lipari. There is no airport.
“Poor Niagara” exclaimed Eleanor Roosevelt when she first set eyes on the awe-inspiring Iguaçu Falls. A fine force of nature straddling the border between Argentina and Brazil, this cataract chasm is one of the widest waterfalls in the world, consisting of 275 thunderous cascades spread in a horseshoe shape over 3km. Make the journey on foot through the virtually virgin rainforest of Iguaçu National Park and let your anticipation build with the growing roar before emerging to soak up the spray on a catwalk or boat ride. For the most mesmerising views, explore the upper tier tracks from the Brazilian side and descend into the mists of the 100m-high Devil’s Throat.
Make it happen: Puerto Iguazú, Argentina, is a 90-minute flight from Buenos Aires. Buses run to the visitor centre; from here, walk or take a quick train ride to the falls. Foz do Iguaçu, Brazil, is a 90-minute flight from São Paulo; the falls are a short drive.
For a front-row seat at the manta ray aquatic ballet, nowhere can rival the South Pacific paradise of Bora Bora, which novelist James Michener described as ‘the most beautiful island in the world’. The turquoise-blue plankton-rich lagoon is the perfect manta feeding ground and there’s a popular aquatic cleaning station out in the open water making sightings virtually guaranteed. There’s no need to don your diving gear, just bring a mask and snorkel, immerse yourself in the shallow, crystal-clear lagoon and wait for a graceful giant to glide silently by. While you are exploring this underwater garden, don’t be surprised if you bump into a bat, leopard or eagle ray – the waters here host some of the most diverse marine life on earth.
Make it happen: Bora Bora is 250km north-west of Tahiti. Daily flights from Tahiti’s Faa’a airport take 45 minutes; some stop at the islands of Moorea, Huahine and Raiatea. There are also regular boats to Bora Bora from Papeete in Tahiti.
Get more info on French Polynesia: Don't miss these four trip itineraries
Madagascar is the oldest island on earth, and its flora and fauna have evolved in isolation over tens of millions of years. It split from Gondwanaland before big predators had developed and, instead of chimps or gorillas, Madagascar developed lemurs, a gentle, unaggressive primate. There are 86 different species recognised, ranging from mouse lemurs (the smallest primate in the world) up to the indri, the size of a chimpanzee, with an amazing call. Incredibly there were once lemurs the size of gorillas, but sadly they are now extinct. All in all, a stunning 90% of Madagascar’s flora and fauna is endemic, special species found nowhere else in the world.
Make it happen: Fly to capital Antananarivo (known as Tana), via France or South Africa. Apr/May and Oct/Nov are the best times to visit.
Get more info on Madagascar: Explore the island's wild west limestone forest | Go in search of the incredible (and ugly!) aye-aye
The small, dusty town of Timbuktu has long been a byword for isolation. Reach it, and you’ll find not only that you’ve gone where few other travellers dare (and have the passport stamp to prove it), but you’ll also discover a well of human life on the fringes of the Sahara. Visit the bustling market, where salt was once worth as much as gold, and then cool down with sweet tea as you barter for silver with the Tuareg nomads. Come sunset, venture out into the desert by camel, and drift to sleep under a million stars.
Make it happen: The FCO currently advises against travel to Timbuktu. If you do choose to go, you can fly from Bamako to Timbuktu airport, or take a more romantic Niger River trip to nearby Kabara. To buy Tuareg jewellery, visit www.jump4timbuktu.org.
Get more info on Timbuktu: Sail the River Niger to Timbuktu | Take a taxi to Timbuktu... Yes, really!
“The Virunga Mountains were looking ominous as we set out – great black clouds were hanging overhead. We trekked up the foothills, feeling as if we were following in the footsteps of the early explorers. Imagine our surprise, then, when we came upon the family of gorillas all sleeping peacefully with only the silverback on watch. We sat enchanted at their feet and, after a while, they started to wake and stretch and move sluggishly just like a human family coming to in the morning. The youngsters were soon playing while some other family members groomed one another. The stately silverback reached into the shrubs and assembled a salad of leaves in his dinner-plate-sized hand. He was unperturbed by our presence and we felt especially privileged to be visiting with his family.” – Alan Wood
Make it happen: For Rwanda, Brussels Airlines flies from the UK to Kigali for around £750. For Uganda, fly to Entebbe, near Kampala. In both countries, gorilla-trekking permits cost US$500, though off-season permits in Uganda are less: see www.ugandawildlife.org.
Get more info on gorillas: 10 best places for gorilla watching | Guide to knowing which gorilla is which | How to spend one perfect hour with Uganda's gorillas
On this unique, remote archipelago in the Pacific, 1,000km west of mainland Ecuador, the animals have never learned fear of man. They ignore the captivated visitors and simply get on with their daily business. Every island has a completely different atmosphere, different landscape and different species. One day you’re watching giant tortoises mate in swirling highland mists, the next you’re nose to nose with a seafaring lizard, the next you’re snorkelling with a group of penguins… on the equator. And, as Darwin came to appreciate, neighbouring islands have sub-species that have evolved differently, leading to one of the most important, world-changing discoveries ever known. In short, scientifically, scenically and sensorially spectacular.
Make it happen: The best way to explore is by boat. Although three or four night cruises are available, try to go for a week at least.
Get more info on the Galapagos Islands: with Wanderlust's travel guide | Nick Boulos visits the archipelago and finds change is afoot
So, there's the final countdown – a feet-itching mix of animal encounters, mountain climbs and super sites. Take a look at our ticklist online and mark of which ones you've tried.
How many of the top 100 greatest travel experiences have YOU done? Tell us below... Anyone tried all 100?
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I've only done 15 of them..hmnnn need to get out a bit more.
Done 27 of them, trekking to the Mountain Gorillas in Rwanda is the best, rafting the Zambezi in November the scariest.
33 - and something from each category. Many from the same amazing overland journey from the UK to Nepal: Seeing a total solar eclipse, Cappadocia, sleeping under the stars in Wadi Rum, exploring Petra and Palmyra, driving the Karakorum Highway, seeing the Taj Mahal and boating on the mighty Ganges at Varanasi, culminating in meandering the backstreets of Kathmandu.Then went down to Hampi, but that was just the start...
Some great experiences here - only done a handful but I'm sure there's plenty of time to tick off some more..!Also, I know that watching polar bears must be a fantastic experience but do they really merit two entries (95 and 36)?
Any food in Spain! Great restaurants but even better experience with Gemma of EatWith.com - amazing food and experience and definitely the highlight of our trip!
Great Travel experience. I read and enjoy the post..
So pleased to see that the Northern Lights are on this list! Truly amazing! If any one is tempted Discover The World do some great travel deals to Iceland that include special trips and tours to see the lights! I have to say though climbing up to Tiger's Nest in Bhutan looks incredible!!! A new one for my travel bucket list!Great post!
We've done more than a quarter, plus lots of others as well.Check them out in our blog:www.teachorbeach.com
I have done 21 and almost a few more - like watching others rafting, visiting South Luangawa but didn't go walking, had an ele walk up to me outside my tent in Botswana and sniff my face, drove up the Skeleton Coast in Namibia, etc. I don't go trekking but in my younger days walked up to Tigers Nest and various monasteries in the Himalayas. There are others that are still on my "to do" list before I finally have to give up travelling.
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Join the very first Wildfjords Trail and save up to £475/person
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