We don’t subscribe to the idea of a bucket list. Every trip is life-changing, in some way or another. Whether it gets us out of our comfort zone, gives us a new perspective on the world, or just lets us breathe a little deeper—there’s just no need to be checking things off a list. Here are a few places that could change your life.
1. Temple Complex, Bagan, Mandalay Division, Burma – Thante Myingyan, Myanmar
The secret to having a good time in Bagan has nothing to do with getting there – all that takes is faith in a Burmese pilot and his ancient aircraft, or an unwavering belief that your 13-hour bus ride from Yangon will actually deliver you to the dusty plains before all your hair turns grey (update: travelers now have the options of new turboprop airplanes and the new highway means that drive time is now approximately seven hours). The secret is in finding a new way to look at the temples themselves, at just the right time of day, and in just the right light. I’ll never understand why most visitors cluster together to climb one pagoda when the plains are littered with thousands of others that afford anyone willing to visit a wholly new perspective on an oft-visited place. This is the way I look at every destination, whether new, old, untamed or untrammeled.
2. An architectural masterpiece – La Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Spain
Antoni Gaudi was a man well ahead of his time! His creative mind gave life to this remarkable cathedral, though that term doesn’t do the building justice.
Before visiting Spain I read a review that said not to bother going inside, the wait for tickets was long and it was the outside that was the most impressive; that is the most inaccurate review I have ever read.
You can purchase your ticket on-line the day before to avoid the long lines and make sure you include a trip up to the top of one of the towers for an amazing view!
3. Dropping in on the Galapagos by cruise – Galapagos National Park, Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
Technically, you don’t have to be a science geek to appreciate a cruise to the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. That said, basic knowledge of the archipelago as the inspiration for Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution certainly won’t hurt. While marveling at blue-footed boobies, giant tortoises, and some of the other species one only can find on these 21 islands, it becomes easier to appreciate the biology that has taken place on these islands for centuries; here, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, science largely has been left to do its thing. Other types of science are prevalent, too—the islands have nearly a dozen active volcanoes, as well as acres upon acres of dry forest, all which can be explored as daytrip excursions on your ship’s shore day(s). Trips from cruise companies such as Zeghram Expeditions incorporate multiple activities.
4. experience the clear, crisp air of San Pedro de Atacama – Valle de Luna, Algarrobo, San Pedro de Atacama, Chile
San Pedro de Atacama is a beautiful adobe-esque town on the edge of Atacama Desert in Chile, just west of the Bolivian border.
I took this photo in near by Valle De Luna, while I was mountain biking through a virtual moonscape of natural geography. The air is so dry and clear here, you get these amazing colors from sunsets. This wild cloud formation just formed before our eyes, and the setting sun painted this crimson red…. an amazing sight.
You have to fly into Calama, (90 min bus to San Pedro), or you overland for a couple days from Uyuni, Bolivia and cross the border into San Pedro. The evenings are full of festive small bars with fireplaces and good fun. Try Andes Traveller to rent bikes or horses (www.andestraveller.com.ar).
Go hike or bike through Valle de Luna and get lost in time.
5. Berlenga Blue – Forte das Berlengas, 58 Rua Filipa de Vilhena, Peniche, Portugal
Hire a boat out of Peniche, Portugal, when available, and travel six miles offshore to the pristine Berlenga Islands. Then hike, kayak, snorkel, and swim the day away. Pack a picnic lunch and feast on the beach. The perfect day in paradise.
6. Cruising the Amazon River and Tributaries – Aqua Expeditions, Iquitos, Peru
Piranha fishing…pink dolphin sightings…holding a caimen…beautiful day explorations by skiff and canoe along the Ucayali River and in the Pacaya Samiria National Reserve…Add to jaw-dropping explorations, the 5-star comfort of the Aqua Amazon with large, comfortable and well designed, air conditioned staterooms with picture windows allowing the world to float by as you relax, showers big enough for two, great cuisine and an amazing staff – as well as congenial company on board in an intimate, yet spacious, cruise. Just 12 cabins means no crowds, just fun at mealtime and in the salon/bar. Excellent, knowledgable river guides are from the Amazon – so know it, and the wildlife, intimately.
7. Mexican Folk Dance at its Finest – Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City, Mexico
Ballet Folklórico de México de Amalia Hernández is Mexico’s oldest, finest, and most celebrated dance company. Dancer and choreographer Hernández founded the company in 1952 to preserve Mexico’s dance traditions, dating all the way back to pre-Columbian civilizations. Today, the troupe, which is based in Mexico City, features a cast of 75 dancers and musicians who continue to perform the colorful, historic dances of Mexico. The ensemble performs three times weekly at the Palace of Fine Arts (Palacio de Bellas Artes). You can buy tickets online from ticketmaster.mx and then pick them up at the counter on the night of the performance. Palacio de Bellas Artes is a small but beautiful art deco style building. If you go for a performance, arrive early so you can walk around and check out the famous murals, including one by Diego Rivera, in the building’s galleries.
8. Hiking Atop an Iced Paradise – Paradise Bay, Antarctica
The Antarctic weather was unpredictable and often inhospitable throughout our 1-week expedition cruise. Dramamine came in really handy the last day as we sailed the Gerlach Straight. I popped them like candy before cautiously eating dinner. Just a third of our 42 shipmates were at the tables; most took just one bite of their delicious Argentine steak before calling it an early night.
But just the day before, the sun was beaming, water was glassy smooth, and I comfortably shed my upper layers down to a tank top during a hike to a viewpoint over Paradise Bay. Our captain joined us and mentioned that it was the most beautiful day he’d seen in at least 10 years. It was a beauty so vast and still, that the exuberant sense of joy of that moment felt deeply imprinted within me.
9. Westminster Abbey, London – Westminster Abbey, London, United Kingdom
The famous Westminster Abbey is a must-go place in London. It’s where the recent Royal wedding taking place in 2011. As their own website described: “Kings, queens, statesmen and soldiers; poets, priests, heroes and villains – the Abbey is a must-see living pageant of British history.”
10. Stone Town, Zanzibar, Tanzania
Zanzibar, an archipelago off the Tanzania coast, has long attracted travelers to its capital city, Stone Town. Visitors come to cap off a safari, dance to taarab music, and snorkel among dragon moray eels—all in the historic birthplace of the Swahili language.
The cotton kanga (pictured above), worn as a wrap dress, skirt, or shawl, is the principal item of clothing for East African women. Named for the dappled feathers of the guinea fowl, the kanga is not complete without a Swahili maxim printed along its border. One favorite: Kupata na kukosa kwangu, wewe kunakuhusu nini, or “Whether I succeed or fail, it’s not your business.”