We are all moved to travel, whether it’s to visit the covered bridges of a nearby town or to explore ancient cultures in far-flung places around the globe. Some of us are adventurous and only feel really alive when flying a little too close to the sun; maybe heli-skiing or peering into the abyss of an active volcano is for you. Others prefer adventure with a side of luxury, perhaps a sundowner of fine gin after a long day tracking wildlife on safari. Whether your dreams are big or small, daring or cultured, we have an experience for you.
This is not a bucket list, this is a life list. We’re given just one glorious wild life on this planet. How will we spend it? Visiting the same condo and beach in Florida year after year? Switch it up, try the beaches in the Seychelles or diving the Great Barrier Reef. Skiing in Vermont is great, but heli-skiing in Revelstoke, British Columbia, is better. Sadly some of these trips fall under “last chance tourism.” Our world is undeniably changing, glaciers are melting, animals are going extinct. The time to see these wonders is now. Of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, only one remains. It’s on our list.
So throw off the bowlines and set your course for a wild adventure. To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Live in the sunshine, swim the sea, drink the wild air.”
Feel The Heat
For some people seeing a volcano up-close and personal is a lifelong dream; for others, it’s a daily obsession. George Kourounis, host of the television show Angry Planet, recently lowered himself into a bubbling volcano for the ultimate selfie. Why would someone do that? He says, “I just love visiting volcanoes because you get to witness firsthand the awesome power of nature. The Earth is a dynamic place, and it is still creating new land. Volcanoes are the only place where we can witness this process happening right in front of our own eyes.” Many active volcanoes are in remote places around the globe—the Philippines, Japan, Indonesia. Luckily for thrill-seekers, we have one closer to home. Head to Hawaii. Kilauea is the youngest volcano on the Big Island and also one of the most active in the world. Take a ride over this majestic site with Blue Hawaiian Helicopters.
Be Francis Ford Coppola’s Guest
Francis Ford Coppola discovered the abandoned Blancaneaux Lodge in 1981 while searching for a lost paradise rumored to be hidden in the mountains of Pine Ridge in Belize. It seems he found it—the tropical paradise with the scenic falls of Privasson Creek became his family retreat for more than a decade. Coppola opened it to the public in 1993. Tucked away in a pocket of the Maya Mountains, Blancaneaux Lodge is a twenty-room luxury resort. The villas and cabanas are dotted alongside the meandering Privasson River, with water pure enough to drink and waterfall pools perfect for back-to-nature bathing. Explore the jungle on horseback, visit ancient Mayan ruins, or just hop into a hammock and take in the sights and sounds of the rainforest. Rooms in Coppola’s villa run around $1,000 per night in peak season. A stay at the even higher-end villa, the Enchanted Cottage, is roughly $1,800 per night.
You’re Gonna Be Royals
The motto of the North Island Resort in the Seychelles is “heaven on earth is handmade.” Apparently celebs agree. Mr. and Mrs. Clooney recently honeymooned here at the suggestion of Brad Pitt. And of course the most famous honeymooners, the future king and queen of Britain suntanned their newlywed bodies on these exclusive beaches. How exclusive? There are only eleven jaw-droppingly gorgeous villas and the resort is accessible only by helicopter. Each villa is over 5,000 square feet and has its own plunge pool to ensure absolute privacy, naturally. Reports suggest that Clooney rented a luxury villa that came with a price tag of more than $5,000 per person, per night. In fact, earlier this year the resort was named the most expensive hotel in the world.
The Ultimate Tequila Tour
Tequila isn’t just a shot, it’s also the name of the town that is home to the family-run Mundo Cuervo distillery, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Guests staying at the Four Seasons Punta Mita in Mexico can experience a once-in-a-lifetime tour that should be at the top of every margarita lover’s bucket list. The tour starts in the agave fields, where visitors get to plant their own agave plant, which is plaqued so that when they return they can enjoy spirits from their personal plant. Guests then enjoy a tour of La Rojeña, said to be the world’s oldest distillery (established at the time of the Spanish conquest in 1795), gourmet lunch and the exclusive opportunity to label and take home a Reserva de la Familia bottle with a personalized serial number and customized seal. The experience starts at $20,000 per couple.
Light It Up
Lucky travelers have a chance to see the aurora borealis in either Iceland or Norway. But as there is never any guarantee of a light show, we suggest you head to Iceland since there’s a lot to see in Reykjavík. (In other words, if you miss the lights, it’s not a lost vacation.) The flight from New York is just shy of six hours. Stay at Hotel Ranga, the only four-star hotel in South Iceland. They offer a wake-up call if the lights make an appearance, saving you from staying awake through the night. Exhaustion from pulling all-nighters can be soothed in the warm waters of the world famous Blue Lagoon. The hotel says that most guests who stay four nights see the light show. However, the displays don’t last long; they may only show for a few minutes. The aurora is at its most active around the equinoxes in March and September. Suites average $479 per night. Iceland Air offers nonstop service from JFK for as little as $500 round trip
Dozens of movies have used Santorini as a picturesque backdrop. But it’s the famed diver Jacques Cousteau that first made the stunning Greek island famous. It is here that Cousteau searched for the lost city of Atlantis in 1978. Ever since Plato wrote about Atlantis in the fourth century B.C., explorers have been captivated by the fable and gone in search of the ruins. The volcanic eruption that created Santorini closely mirrors the myth, though Cousteau did not find any evidence of such. Today the island plays host to beer-guzzling college students in the capital of Fira. But in Oia, developers and bars have been kept at bay. Locals have stayed, and nightly hushed tourists gather with them on the ramparts of a thirteenth-century castle that was built by the Venetians to watch for pirates. Today the view is best for toasting the setting of the world-famous sunset at Oia as it dips into the Aegean. Luxury hotels start at around $500 per night in summer.
Go Before It’s Gone
Current models predict that all of the glaciers in majestic Glacier National Park in Montana will be gone by 2030 (but some say it will actually be ten years earlier). Indeed, only twenty-five remain of the 150 that existed when the park was established in 1910. If you have ever pined to see these spectacular masses of ancient ice, now is the time. Sadly, there is a term for this type of travel, it’s last-chance tourism (major glaciers have already disappeared from the Andes). Book your flight to Montana and go during huckleberry season at the end of the summer. Whether you hike, ride the “red jammers” or simply take in the view from the Many Glacier Hotel (the only hotel in the park), this is a trip you might want to move to the top of your list.
Called Old Mountain by the Inca people who built it, the ancient Peruvian site of Machu Picchu was built in the fifteenth century. The best way to do Machu Picchu is by taking the luxurious Hiram Bingham train to Aguas Calientes and staying at the Sanctuary Lodge right outside the gate. This means avoiding waking up painfully early to catch the regular train, plus you’ll be able to enter before all the big bus tours and other tourists. It’s as close as you can come to having the place mostly to yourself. Travel with Kensington Tours for a private guide who will immerse you in this ancient world wonder with tales of the Incan civilization, show you the best places for photographs and help you bypass lines. You will have exclusive access to go in and out of the site between 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. (head back to the hotel for a nap, lunch, refreshments, etc.), while others have to stay there all day and wait for their train ride back. Do note that there is a contingent of tourists who nude up before climbing the ancient ruin—you’ll want to avoid that crowd.
Two unique experiences await you in Kenya: viewing the wildebeest migration to the Maasai Mara National Reserve and meeting the Maasai tribe. It is never guaranteed that the wildebeests will get to Maasai Mara, but it has been the norm for many years. The migration runs from July to October, and is the best time to see the incredible movement of animals.
The Maasai tribe is a unique and popular tribe because of their long-preserved culture. Despite education, civilization and Western cultural influences, the Maasai have clung to their traditional way of life, making them a symbol of Kenyan culture. When visiting, it’s important to work with a tour provider that can offer an authentic Maasai encounter versus a tourist show. Jackson Looseyia is a Maasai with whom the travel company cazenove + loyd has worked with as a guide for almost twenty years. Growing up in the heart of Kenya’s wild plains, Jackson is now one of East Africa’s most renowned guides. He will bring you into his world as a guest and a friend.
Known for its vast wilderness, roving elephant herds and other big game, Botswana in Southern Africa is one of the most iconic safari destinations. Here you can spot the Big Five: buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion, rhino. Henrietta Loyd started the travel agency cazenove + loyd based on her years working and living in the Okavango Delta and can offer experiences second to none. She suggests doing two contrasting camps: heading first to a traditional camp on the banks of the Xudum River, where in addition to game drives in specially adapted 4×4 vehicles, you will be able to glide through the Delta’s many waterways in mokoros (hollowed out canoes). This allows for fantastic animal sightings as the game heads to the water’s edge to drink and bathe.
The Makgadikgadi Salt Pan is one of the most extraordinary places on earth. The remnants of a vast lake the size of Switzerland that dried up some 1,500 years ago, what remains is a flat salt desert stretching as far as the eye can see.
Horseback safaris are a magical way to witness the openness of the area as the game treats you and your horse as one, and you get closer than if you were in a vehicle or on foot. Your stay can be in thatched lodges with brass beds and plunge pools, or the luxury tented camps, which allow greater flexibility to be close to the game.
Walk to Wall
The Great Wall of China is actually a network of fortifications rather than a single structure, and in China it is simply known as the “long wall.” This 2,000-year-old relic is the largest manmade structure in the world. As is appropriate for a monument so massive, there are many ways to visit it. Some admire the views from touristy sections, some choose to explore the unrestored “wild wall” sections, and real thrill-seekers opt for paragliding off the Simatai section of the wall. Adventurers glide 1,000 feet to the valley below. Paragliding is actually permitted on all sections of the wall open to the public. Those seeking a less crowded experience head to the well-preserved Mutianyu section of the Great Wall, which appears today almost exactly as it did centuries ago.
The Last Wonder
There is only one remaining Wonder of the World from the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World—the pyramids at Giza in Egypt. The largest pyramid ever built still stands in Giza. You could build thirty Empire State Buildings with its masonry. This is not an excursion you should undertake without a great guide. To really get the Lawrence of Arabia feeling, look for travel with a luxury tour company like Abercrombie and Kent and let its Egyptologists guide you by camelback through Giza, providing exclusive insider access to private tombs, temple openings and current excavations. Follow this up with a luxury cruise on the Nile for the complete Egypt experience. Though some are nervous about travel to Egypt after the Arab Spring, tours are selling out, possibly because they are well-priced, but tourists are returning to Egypt. Travel with a trusted expert like A&K allows visitors to feel safe and enjoy this iconic destination at a time when it is not overrun by tourists.
The Most Refined Travel
Step back in time to an era when glamorous train travel meant liveried footmen, Louis Vuitton train cases and black-tie dinners. Climb aboard the 1920s vintage carriages of the Belmond British Pullman at London’s Victoria Station and enjoy a gourmet brunch as you travel through the countryside. After crossing the English Channel and arriving in Calais, board the iconic Venice Simplon-Orient-Express and settle into your private cabin, with the help of staff, naturally. After the formal four-course meal, retire to the luxe accommodations and rise to amazing views of the Alps’ foothills as the train wends its way toward the Venetian Lagoon. This one-night journey starts at $3,200.
Take a peaceful walk beside monks amongst the ancient temples of Angkor Wat, the largest religious monument in the world. This twelfth-century “temple-mountain” was built as a spiritual home for the Hindu god Vishnu and still attracts both Hindu and Buddhist worshipers. Angkor Wat, which means City Temple, and the surrounding temples are one of the ancient wonders of Southeast Asia and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Though it attracts millions of visitors every year, its sheer size (over 390 square miles) allows travelers a chance to find the tranquility they are seeking. Archaeologists believe Angkor Wat was the largest preindustrial city in the world at one time. Located just twenty minutes north of Siem Reap, Cambodia, a three-day pass to explore the temples costs just $40.
The Secrets of the Moai
Discovered in 1722 on Easter Sunday (hence the name), this is one of the most isolated places on the face of the earth. Here the mysterious moai statues stand in silence keeping the secret of how their Polynesian creators managed to construct them and move them about the island. In fact, little is known about why they undertook this monumental task.
Most scholars suspect that the moai were created to honor ancestors or chiefs. However, no written and little oral history exists on the island, so it’s impossible to be certain. Visitors can hike through “the way of the moai,” the trail once used to transport the sculptures, and climb to the moai stone quarry toward the interior of the crater and outer slopes of the volcano where the moai were carved. Travel to Easter Island via long-haul flight from Santiago, Chile, or Tahiti. Or, if you’re looking to arrive in grand style, hop on the Abercrombie and Kent private jet on a custom tour of the Wonders of the World (sites in Istanbul not yet open to the public, Samoa, Australia, Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu, Taj Mahal and Morocco) with founder Geoffrey Kent departing next September 17, 2015, and returning October 10. Price for the trip of a lifetime? $108,000. A bargain really.
Wyoming & California
Hit the Slopes With an Olympian
Head to Jackson Hole or Squaw Valley and carve it up like a pro. During the holidays Squaw Valley hosts complimentary “Ski with Jonny” mountain tours. Jonny is the only skier to have won medals in the X Games and the Olympics. He is also a member of the Ski Hall of Fame. But when you’re on the lift, he chats just like any other ski buddy. Keep an eye on the Squaw Valley website for dates. It’s a little easier to get out with Tommy Moe at Jackson Hole; you just need some cash and a desire to ski fast. Tommy leads private groups on personal tours of the mountain, including his favorite stashes. For those of you non-skiers, that’s powder, not cash. A half-day group rate is $750 for five people. For reservations call 307-739-6257.
British Columbia & Switzerland
A Helluva Good Time
Heli-skiing doesn’t have to be all pick axes and adventure freaks. The über-luxe Bighorn resort in Revelstoke, British Columbia, makes getting the adrenaline rush as easy as opening your back door. The chalet sleeps sixteen, comes with a full staff and a helipad out back. This is the stuff deep powder dreams are made of. Prices aren’t published. As the old saying goes: “If you have to ask…”
For a huge amount of heli-skiing options, head to Switzerland. VIP Ski will meet you at the Geneva airport and get you to Val d’Isère in just thirty-five minutes via helicopter (for those who want to avoid the three-hour drive). Arriving like Trump will set you back around $625 per person. Once there you can rent all your safety equipment (transceiver, shovel, probe, harness and ABS air bag) for under $100. Prices for one flight start from $360 per person, with a drop on either Petit Combin, Glacier du Trient and Rosablanche.
Links & Legends
If playing inside the ropes has always been your dream, you can make it a reality at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai when you tee off with the ultimate partner—a PGA golf legend. All you need to qualify for this event is a credit card and nerves of steel. This experience is offered annually during the PGA Tour Champions Pro-Am event; in 2016 it will be held from January 19 through 25. This exclusive opportunity offers you a spot in the Pro-Am tournament and unmatched access to golf’s greatest players. Your six-night adventure starts at the pairings party, where your PGA pro partner is announced (past years have included Bernhard Langer, Fred Couples, John Cook, Tom Watson, Fred Funk and many more).
The next day you’ll hit the course together for a round you’ll never forget. Kick back at the beach party that night where you’ll mingle with more legends of the game. Your ultimate golf package also includes tickets to watch the PGA Tour Champions event, the only one of its kind in Hawaii. Cost for this six-night experience is $19,170.
Get Personal With Penguins
Settle in for a picnic on one of the many beaches in the Falkland Islands and prepare yourself for the arrival of short, tuxedoed visitors. The islands are known as the Penguin Capital of the World. As many as a million penguins nest here every year. Come November and December, visitors can view these Arctic birds with their eggs. In January watch the babies waddle about.
Most visitors come to the Falklands on board cruise and expedition vessels. Many tour operators offer a chance to explore these islands in conjunction with a trip to Antarctica, the White Continent. Abercrombie and Kent offers this destination as part of a seventeen-day luxury sailing cruise to Antarctica, South Georgia and the Falkland Islands. Prices start at $19,995.
Frozen All Grown-Up
If traveling to the original Ice Hotel in Lapland, Sweden, is not in your future, cross the border to Canada and tuck in for a frosty night at the Hotel de Glace near Old Quebec. Think sleeping on a bed of ice isn’t your thing? Guests of the Ice Hotel swear it is the best night’s sleep of their lives. Each of the forty-four rooms and suites are artist created, there is even an ice bar and an ice chapel. Most overnight guests book a room at a nearby hotel as you don’t have access to your icy hideaway until 9:00 pm. It is suggested that you enjoy the Nordic hot tub under the stars prior to tucking in; should you need a warm up mid-sleep, it’s open all night. And don’t worry, you don’t sleep directly on ice; there is a mattress on top of the ice block and a sleeping bag that hotel management promises will keep you cozy. A suite with a fireplace starts at around $1,000 per night.