The rarest travel experiences. The toughest. The dearest. The ones that won’t be around forever. These are the real do-before-you-die journeys you need to try…
Raft the Grand Canyon Arizona, USA
See the great gorge from a completely different – and rare – angle. Looking down on the squiggle of the Colorado River from a mile up on the rocky rim, it seems impossible that this river could have carved the gargantuan Grand Canyon.
Of course, it’s had about two billion years to do so, slowly slicing through the black-red-orange-purple strata to create one of the natural wonders of the world and this is why seeing the canyon from water level is the best way to appreciate it – offering a far more intimate encounter than peering the glorious geology from on top.
Trek to Machu Picchu, Peru
It’s more satisfying than the train, that’s for sure. It’s virtually impossible to make a bucket list that doesn’t include Machu Picchu. A secret city, perched in the mountains, swirled by mists and mysteries – it’s the stuff of travel legend.
The trouble is, when you’ve seen so many, many photos of the Inca citadel, there’s a danger it’ll be a bit of a let-down, and that’s one reason, you should go on foot. The city deserves the slow build, the accumulated excitement and that’s what trekking provides.
Also, deciding to lace up doesn’t mean you have to hit the Inca Trail. There are plenty of alternatives to the classic: you can hike via the much less-visited ruins of Choquequirao; head along the dramatic and diverse Salkantay Trail (with posh lodges en route) or tackle the tough Vilcabamba Traverse.
Hike the Milford Track, New Zealand
Complete one of New Zealand’s greatest walks in great style. New Zealand has nine official Great Walks (with a new one opening in 2019), and the Milford Track is arguably the greatest of the lot.
This four-day, 53.5km hike from Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound slices through the splendour of Fiordland National Park, taking in lakes, waterfalls, ice fields, forest and plenty of pioneer history, and tops out at the panoramic Mackinnon Pass (1,154m).
In the peak summer trekking months (November-April), it’s always oversubscribed; camping is not permitted and numbers are limited by the bunk-space available in the three DOC lodges en route. That is unless you opt for an upgrade. Ultimate Hikes operates a series of private lodges (with both dorms and doubles) that enable hikers to tramp the track, with a guide, in a little more comfort.
You still have to carry your own bag, but – unlike those in the DOC huts – you get hot showers, duvets, drying rooms and hairdryers; breakfasts, lunches and three-course dinners are cooked up for you; each lodge even has a well-stocked bar. Cheers to that: a Great Hike indeed.
Swim with Turtles in Ningaloo, Western Australia
Western Oz’s Ningaloo Reef isn’t as big as the Great Barrier, on the opposite coast, but it still attracts around 500 species of fish, Best of all, in parts it lays only 100m offshore, making its underwater riches extremely accessible making snorkelling superb.
Three of the world’s seven species of marine turtles nest on beaches and islands near Ningaloo between November and April: green (endangered), hawksbill (critically endangered) and loggerhead (vulnerable).
However, turtles swim offshore year-round, their lumpen on-land movements transforming into a graceful ballet once they’re in the water. Good spots include Shark Bay, the Muiron Islands and Turtle Bay on Dirk Hartog Island.
Descend into a Volcano, Iceland
For a unique descent into the earth’s belly, you need to head to Iceland. It’s a strange, singular place; a newborn babe in geological terms where you can virtually see it being formed before your eyes – the land groans, hisses and spews.
Clipped on to what’s essentially a window cleaner’s lift, you’re slowly lowered 120m into another world – a magma chamber uniquely drained of its magma. Lights reveal a cavern of many colours – bruise purples, sulphur yellows, blood reds.
Water drip-drops from above, while breaking into song demonstrates the excellent acoustics. It is wonderful and very weird. Thrihnukagigur is dormant, last erupting over 4,000 years ago, and don’t worry, there’s no sign that it’s about to spring into life.
Climb Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
It’s travel’s greatest trekking summit – and it could well be losing its snows. Tanzania’s Mount Kilimanjaro deserves to be on every travel bucket list.
No other mountain manages to combine such a wealth of wow-factors to tick all those boxes. It’s an aesthetically awesome monolith poking out of the African plains; it’s a tough but achievable challenge; at 5,895m, it’s the roof of a continent; it’s a climatological oddity, proving snow can sit virtually on the equator. Tick, tick, tick, tick.
But just to add an extra bit of tock to all those ticks, doom-sayers predict that those snows might be gone in just a few decades – all the more reason to tackle Kili quick.
Raft the Zambezi River, Zambia
Run the great river, while you can. The Zambezi is one of the world’s most iconic waterways, slicing its way through south-eastern Africa and famously plunging over Victoria Falls.
Rafting it – whether you choose a short trip from Livingstone or a multi-day, beach-camping expedition – is up there with the world’s greatest river journeys. You’ll tackle hair-raising rapids called Oblivion and The Devil’s Toilet Bowl. You might spot hippos lazing in the channels and even crocs on the banks too if you’re lucky.
Hopefully, you’re up to doing most of them, but don’t hesitate to tell us in the comments below which ones you’ve already done and which ones you recommend to us!