1. Raft the Grand Canyon Arizona, USA
Why the Grand Canyon? To 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 – the experience offers a far more intimate encounter than peering in from the top, as well as a close up of all that glorious geology.
The official launch point for a full run is Lees Ferry, at the north-east of Grand Canyon National Park; the end is at Lake Mead, 443km further on. En route are side canyons, Puebloan sites, swimming holes and sandy beaches, not to mention plenty of wild water.
So, all good – it’s just getting authorisation to enter that’s the problem. There’s a ‘weighted lottery? system, with a waiting list of several years, to secure a private rafting permit.
Fortunately, commercial tour-op trips – which range from one-day to three-week floats – are available, but even these need booking in advance if you want to guarantee your rendezvous with all this ancient rock.
How to tick it off your bucket list: The best time to raft the Colorado is May to October, so book your trip then. Overall, the river is graded a IV (intermediate), with many I to III rapids, plus some Vs.
Start your adventure: Get more info from the Grand Canyon National Park site
Like that? Try this: Tackle the Rio Futaleufu, an absolute classic that cuts through the canyons and wilderness of Patagonia.
2. See the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, Italy
Why the Sistine Chapel? Massive art, small crowds. Damn Michelangelo for not picking a bigger room! The 40m long by 13m wide box, squished into the Vatican Museum complex is woefully inadequate for the 25,000-odd people who now traipse through here every day.
Yes, the iconic ceiling, and particularly the altar wall’s Last Judgement, are probably the most impressive paintings you’ll ever see – but that’s only if you can see them, over the heads of the rest of humanity.
Fortunately, there is another way. It’s possible to book private tours of the site, which take small groups into Vatican rooms usually off limits, and finish in the Sistine Chapel for an after-hours viewing of Michelangelo’s masterpieces, without all the other people.
How to tick it off your bucket list: Advance booking is essential, so don't delay in organising your visit to the Sistine Chapel.
Start your adventure: We'd recommend booking a private after-hours tour for the ultimate experience.
Like that? Try this: When in Rome... join a nighttime, crowd-free tour of the Colosseum.
3. Sleep at Everest Base Camp, Nepal
Why Everest Base Camp? To complete an epic trek, then snooze with the summiteers. The trek to Everest Base Camp – a breathtaking 14-day out-and-back into Sagarmatha NP to the foot of the world’s highest mountain – is a classic.
But while the teahouse hospitality and Himalaya views en route are magnificent, most treks are not actually allowed to stay at Everest Base Camp – it requires specific permission. Most hikers visit their 5,340m goal for a ‘been there’ photo op, then descend to nearby Gorak Shep to sleep.
However, a few special departures do offer the chance to overnight at the iconic camp. Also, these trips may be timed to coincide with peak summit-attempt season, when groups of climbers are also in residence.
It’s a unique opportunity, to both sleep in the shadow of the mighty mountain and to speak to the brave/mad souls making their final preparations; you might even see teams setting off up the notorious Khumbu Ice Fall, the start of their push for the top.
How to tick it off your bucket list: Summiteers usually arrive at Base Camp April/May, so plan your trip accordingly. keep yourself healthy, too, as trekkers with illnesses will not be allowed to stay at Base Camp to avoid potentially infecting the climbers.
Start your adventure: Book your trek with our Trip Finder or by choosing one of these remarkable Nepalese trekking routes.
Like that? Try this: Hike up to Camping Arolla (1,950m), in Petit Praz, Switzerland – Europe’s highest campsite.
4. Trek to Machu Picchu, Peru
Why Machu Picchu? It’s more satisfying than the train, and there are lots of options. It’s virtually impossible to make a bucket list that doesn’t include Machu Picchu. A secret city, never found by those pesky conquistadores, 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 why, if you can, you should go on foot. The city deserves the slow build, the accumulated excitement, that trekking there 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.
How to tick it off your list: Hikes vary in length, altitude and difficulty, so you'll need to acclimatise before setting off. Remember, dry season (the best time to go) is April to October. You also need a permit for the Inca Trail. Only a limited number are released each year and they sell out quick.
Start your adventure: Book your trip using our Trip Finder
Like that? Try this: Make a grand entrance at Jordan’s once-lost Nabatean city via the multi-day Dana-Petra trek – the Inca Trail of the Middle East.
5. Hike the Milford Track, New Zealand
Why the Milford Track? Complete one of New Zealand’s Great(est) Walks in great style. New Zealand has nine official Great Walks (with a new one recently opened), 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 to 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.
How to tick it off your list: Make sure you're prepared fitness wise before the October to April hiking season commences, and whenever you go, prepare your packs for all weather conditions.
Start your adventure: Book Ultimate Hikes’ five-day/four-night guided walk.
Like that? Try this: Hike Tasmania’s Overland Track in style with Cradle Mountain Huts.
6. Sleep under the stars in NamibRand, Namibia
Why the NamibRand? To experience some of the world’s best celestial sights. Sure, leave the big city and you can see stars almost anywhere. But the experience will be extra heavenly if you travel somewhere very dark, very clear and very remote.
Namibia’s vast NamibRand Nature Reserve is one of only a few gold-certified Dark Sky Reserves. Simply, it has some of the world’s best dark skies. There are no towns or settlements inside it, or even nearby – Namibia is one of the planet’s most sparsely populated countries. And the dry climate means cloudless skies are the norm.
By day, explore NamibRand’s ochre-hued wilderness of dunes, mountains and plains, looking for oryx and Hartmann’s zebra. Then, after a blazing sunset, it’s time to turn your eyes skyward.
How to tick it off your list: It may seem difficult to get to the desert, but the reserve is around 375km from Windhoek. So, you can always start from the capital, and find your way to the reserve.
Start your adventure: Splurge on a stay at Sossusvlei Desert Lodge, which has its own observatory and ten luxurious chalets, each with a terrace, telescope and skylight over the bed.
Or join the Tok Tokkie Trails three-day desert walk, on which nights are spent sleeping on a canvas stretcher under the stars. And consult the NamibRand website for further information.
Like that? Try this: Unroll a swag in Australia’s Red Centre for a snooze with uninterrupted night-sky views.
7. Swim with turtles in Ningaloo, Western Australia
Why Ningaloo Reef? To take a dip with endangered species. Western Oz’s Ningaloo Reef isn’t as big as the Great Barrier, on the opposite coast.
But it’s still attracts around 500 species of fish; best of all, in parts it lays only 100m offshore, making its underwater riches extremely accessible – the snorkelling is superb, too.
How to tick it off your list: Three of the world’s seven species of marine turtles nest on beaches and islands near Ningaloo between November and April: green (listed as endangered), hawksbill (critically endangered) and loggerhead (vulnerable).
However, turtles swim offshore year-round, their lumpen on-land movements transformed 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.
Start your adventure: More information
Like that? Try this: Snorkel with endangered leatherback and hawksbill turtles in Barbados.
8. Visit an endangered tribe in the Amazon, Ecuador
Photo copyright: National Geographic
Why the Ecuadorian Amazon? To glimpse a unique culture, but to do it sensitively and responsibly. Understandably, many struggling minority tribes don’t want to be gawped at by tourists passing through – the arrow-firing Sentinelese of the Andaman Islands being a case in point.
But for some such groups, tourism is providing a cultural lifeline, and travellers staying at lodges or booking tours owned and run by the tribes themselves are helping to keep endangered traditions alive (and protect their much-threatened environment from developers), while also giving visitors an authentic insight into how the peoples have existed for centuries: everybody wins.
The indigenous peoples of Ecuador’s Oriente seem to have mastered this kind of community eco-tourism; there are several well-regarded options. For example, the Cofán – one of the oldest Amazonian tribes have been running community-based ecotourism in northern Ecuador since 1978.
Trips here include canoeing and piranha fishing, sleeping in traditional thatched huts and trekking into the wildlife-dense rainforest with Cofán guides – with optional overnight camping trip for the adventurous minded.
How to tick it off your list: Trips to the Cofán community at Zabalo depart from Lago Agrio (seven to eight hours from Quito by bus).
Start your adventure: Learn more about the community and book your stay by visiting their official website, Cofan Survival Fund.
Like that? Try this: Visit the El Molo of Lake Turkana, Kenya, for whom tourism is helping their economy.
9. Spot a snow leopard in Ladakh, India
Why Ladakh? Few have seen this endangered cat. There are thought to be just 4,000 to 6,500 snow leopards left in the wild. Coupled with the fact that these charismatic big cats tend to live in cold, inhospitable, rocky clifftops at altitudes above 3,000m, they’re not that easy to spot.
This makes a sighting very special, and most trips that venture into their domain – largely Tibet, the Himalaya and the ’Stans – make it clear that you’d be fortunate to see even a paw-print. However, in recent years Ladakh’s Hemis National Park has gained a reputation as the world’s snow leopard capital, with hundreds of leopards, and as time passes, local guides gain an ever better understanding of their habits.
There are still no guarantees, but in Hemis’s Husing, Tarbuns and Rumbak Valleys, sightings are relatively common; Husing is on a well-known snow leopard corridor. Visit in winter, when the snow brings the cats to lower ground and, with the help of local knowledge, trained trackers and spotting scopes, you might be in luck.
How to tick it off your list: Flights connect Delhi to regional hub Leh, which is 40km from Hemis NP. There are six villages in the park; accommodation is in homestays or camping.
Start your adventure: As of 2020, you'll need to check the UK Foreign Office travel advice before considering a visit to Ladakh. If you're keen to travel there, explore our Trip Finder to help you book.
Like that, try this: Track giant pandas in China’s Foping Nature Reserve, for the frisson of seeing the poster child of conservation in the wild.
10. Descend into a volcano, Iceland
Why Iceland? For a unique descent into the Earth’s belly. To inject some Jules Verne adventure into your bucket list you need to head to Iceland. It’s a strange, singular place; a newborn babe in geological terms, you can virtually see it being formed before your eyes – the land groans, hisses and spews.
This makes delving beneath the surface quite exciting indeed, though something that’s been easy to achieve since 2012, when commercial tours began plunging into Thrihnukagigur volcano.
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-drips 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. There’s no sign that it’s about to spring into life, but tours are only announced on a year-by-year basis because, well, you never know...
How to tick it off your list: Tours run 10 May to 31 October, so book your trip accordingly.
Start your adventure: Book your three day tour with Inside The volcano
Like that, try this: Hike up Mount Etna, to stand on one of the most active volcanos in the world.
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