Top 10 travel icons to see before you die

Travel icons


Wonders of the world you have to see before you die. Top 10 travel icons like Machu Picchu, Kilimanjaro, Petra, Taj Mahal, the Great Wall, Angkor Wat and more

There are some sites you just have to see before you die – architectural masterpieces and geological marvels that, even though they are visited by truckloads of travellers each year, are still so splendid they’re worth battling the crowds for.

Their names alone get your feet itching: the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu, Peru; Kilimanjaro – the world’s tallest free-standing volcano; the desert city of Petra, Jordan; the marvel-in-marble minarets of India’s Taj Mahal. Then there’s the Grand Canyon, the Great Wall of China, Angkor Wat… Spots this iconic are to the travel world what Elvis was to music, Pelé to football. We’re talking the royal family of tourist attractions.

These sights are all famous for a reason. Peru’s mist-swirled Inca stronghold, Machu Picchu, is the ultimate lost city – best seen from the Sun Gate after you’ve completed the awesome four-day Inca Trail. The Grand Canyon is the world’s largest gorge, and assumes a different character as the light shifts during the day. Egypt’s Pyramids boggle the mind, as they have scientists for millennia – they’ve been around for thousands of years yet still no one knows exactly how they were built.

A trip to a travel icon needs some planning. Many tour operators will offer to take you there so you need to ask plenty of questions to ensure the best experience: which company gives the porters on Kilimanjaro the fairest deal? Which has inside knowledge of Cambodia’s Angkorian temples, so you avoid some of the crowds? Which uses Aboriginal guides to show you an alternative view of Uluru (Ayers Rock)?

Also, for the best possible interaction with a travel icon, try to get some insider information. Be prepared to get up early to beat the crowds, look for opportunities to stay after hours (did you know you can stay in one of the watch towers of the Great Wall of China?) and look for similar alternatives (perhaps the Choquequirao Inca trek instead of Machu Picchu?).

From the unique wildlife of the Galápagos Islands to the shifting sands of Sossusvlei in the Namib Desert, the world is full of wonders. Prepare to be blown away.


Further Reading

Top 10 travel icons

They're popular destinations for a reason: these classic travel spots are must-sees, and with a bit of insider info, you CAN avoid the crowds

  1. The Inca Trail, Peru – hike one of the spectacular routes to Machu Picchu, the 'lost city' of the Incas. Numbers on the main trail are limited, so book well in advance to secure your permit, or consider one of the region's alternative treks.
  2. Angkor Wat, Cambodia – explore the world’s biggest, and most fascinating, temple complex, which is slowly being reclaimed by the jungle. Enlist a local guide for insider knowledge or hire a bike to reach the more far-flung temples.
  3. Great Wall of China – visit the best remaining sections of the epic barrier against the Mongol hordes. There are some great sections easily accessible from Beijing, or head to the Wall's far west for a true frontier feel.
  4. Taj Mahal in Agra, India – be awed by the world’s greatest monument to love. Get up early to see the sun rise over the Taj, and to see it before the tour buses arrive.
  5. Grand Canyon, USA – delve into the mile-deep chasm and discover Native American history. The North Rim tends to be less-visited than the South Rim; the region's Havasupai gorge offers lush waterfalls and few tourists.
  6. Galápagos Islands, Ecuador – meet the welcoming wildlife that spawned an evolutionary theory. Book as long a cruise as you can afford to enable access to the more remote landing sites – it's well worth the cost for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
  7. Petra, Jordan – gallop down a canyon like Indiana Jones to discover the rock-hewn city. Plan to spend several days in Petra – the sight is vast – and consider accessing it via the three- to four-day trek from Dana Nature Reserve. 
  8. Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania – pull on your boots to tackle the world’s highest trekking peak. There are multiple routes up the mountain: consider the lesser-used Rongai route for fewer people and a higher chance of animal sightings.
  9. Uluru (Ayers Rock), Australia – go bush to watch the sun rise over Australia's Red Centre. Activities in the area abound: Aboriginal owners prefer people not to climb Uluru, but you can still camel-trek across the desert or walk around the rock's base.
  10. Iguaçu Falls, Argentina & Brazil – feel the spray – and meet the wildlife – at the world's most impressive waterfall. Don't miss the nearby bird park for the best chance of spotting region's profuse avian inhabitants.

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