Machu Picchu, the Great Wall and the Taj Mahal used to occupy top spots on many people’s bucket lists. But the “bucket list”—a term I’ve always despised—is giving way to a general desire to go big, splurge on an adventure and seek out dream experiences now, because we’ve all been pent up for too long and because we’ve all seen how quickly plans can change, how quickly opportunities might disappear.
Also, for various reasons, visiting places that get millions of visitors each year is less appealing than it used to be. We want to have mind-blowing experiences in mind-blowing places, but without the crowds. The pandemic isn’t finished, overtourism is back, and we don’t want to be part of either. Here’s some better dream fodder.
The ends of the earth in a fisherman’s village in Norway
Earlier this year, the high-end travel company Blue Parallel—which began life nearly 20 years ago as the premier experts on South American luxury travel—broadened its horizons. In a very big way: Their new Polar initiatives include the wide-open spaces above or below the 66th parallel. In Norway, that includes immersions into Viking history, private rib boat safaris to Runde Bird Island, hiking and cycling along Geirangerfjord and staying in a fisherman’s cabin in the gorgeous Lofoten archipelago, above the Arctic Circle.
The size and scale of NIHI Sumba—and the island it’s on
Routinely—and very deservedly—named the best hotel in the world, NIHI Sumba occupies 500 hectares on a sparsely populated island where local animist traditions have remained largely intact. “It’s an hour east of Bali and from Java, the most populated island on earth, and it’s a completely different island,” says the hotel’s partner and CEO, James McBride. While it started out as a surf destination with a legendary break, it has since grown into a totality of experience, with a herd of 24 horses for rides in the sea, a “spa safari” in which a single couple relaxes all day in a wellness sanctuary, waterfalls, palm trees, organic food that’s grown on site and cooked over fires and plenty of space—“the ultimate dream,” says McBride.
Heli-hopping on a private tour of Iceland
Blue Parallel Polar is also taking guests to increasingly remote parts of Iceland—far from the crowded Golden Circle and up onto glaciers (and into the Westman Islands, one of the country’s best kept secrets, and scuba diving (brrrr!) in the Silfra fissure, a rift between the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia, and home to fascinating cold water marine life.
Sailing the Turquoise Coast in a Turkish gulet
The word turquoise comes from the old French for “Turkish stone,” but it just as aptly dies to the waters around the country’s southwest coast. A week aboard a traditional Turkish gulet (sailing ship), eating delicious food, sunbathing, swimming and taking in the beautiful, vivid colors of the water is the stuff of pure fantasy. A good way to make it a reality is to book in with ScicsSailing, a company that has been offering no-fuss, all-inclusive voyages in the bays around Bodrum for decades, both for guests who reserve a single cabin about a “comfort” yacht and for those who privately charter a “luxury” one, which has hotel-style amenities.
Adventuring through the Gobi Desert
Riding horses past sacsaoul bushes, black-tailed gazelle and ibex. Mountain biking along ancient desert routes past dramatic canyons and cliffs. Camping in the shadow of the Gobi Altai Mountains and later sleeping in a glamorously done-up yurt. These are a few of the things that spring to mind when thinking of Mongolia’s vast, empty playground. Earthtones, a startup focused on nature-immersive journeys has put together a program that includes all of this and more, such as rides on the desert’s famous Bactrian (two-hump) camels.
Meeting the women of northern Kenya saving Africa’s elephants
When Katie Rowe founded Reteti in 2016, she brought nine female rangers and keepers from the local community to help care for a growing brood of orphaned elephants. Reteti is unique in that the Samburu women who keep it going are as respected and valued as male elephant keepers are. They’re blazing a trail for women in conservation everywhere, which is one reason the adventure travel company Uncharted sends guests their way. Reteti is open to visitors, who can see the elephants and talk to the keepers while staying in the lovely new Reteti House, an exclusive-use private retreat.
Diving in Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
Midway between South America and Africa—meaning far from everything—the hyper-protected Brazilian island went from being an undeveloped military outpost to a natural paradise with strict limits on tourism and a massive commitment to preservation. This is an ecological sanctuary, a place that marine researches use as a control group, in contrast with the developed beaches on the mainland. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip for divers (something Blue Parallel can organize too), not only for its warm, gin-clear waters and abundant marine life but also for its laid-back Brazilian island vibe.
The ultimate New Zealand soft adventure
The experimental travel company Hiking New Zealand recently put together a 15-day experience that they’re calling New Zealand Uncut. It covers the vast and varied landscapes of both islands as it makes its was from north to south without the rigor and discomforts of, say, the Milford Track. Rather, this is New Zealand for people who don’t camp, a series of day hikes and short walks—from strenuous alpine hikes to beach strolls—in remote areas where the islands’ majesty shines.
A flying tiger safari in Central India
Royal Expeditions is a boutique luxury travel company founded by the Princess of Jodhpur, who was a member of parliament and the minister of culture. The outfit created a flying tiger safari (by Pilatus jet) over the wilderness of central India—Rudyard Kipling’s inspiration for The Jungle Book. On land, naturalist guides show visitors around national parks in open-top vehicles, there’s an option of taking special full-day photography permits, which allow access from sunrise to sunset.
Glorious Alpine foraging in Slovenia
An increasingly better known secret, Slovenia is one of the world’s last great forest paradises, full of beautiful places to visit and teeming with delicious things to eat. Wanderlux Journeys’ trip takes guests into Velika Planina, a herdsmen’s settlement place in the Kamnik-Savinja Alps . It’s accessible only by foot or by daytime cable car, making slowing down part of the program. The trip includes chef Bine Volcic (known for his daring zero-waste cuisine at Monstera Bistro in Ljubljana) and renowned forager (yes, this is a thing in Slovenia) Katja Rebolj, and there’s hiking, foraging, a hands-on culinary workshop and a night in a cottage high above the city lights.
Off the beaten path in Tanzania
The Serengeti has many selling points, but solitude is not among them. Fortunately, Tanzania is a big country, with a number of game reserves that are still remote and untouched. In the south, there’s Ruaha National Park, the best park you’ve never heard of and Tanzania’s “best-kept wildlife secret”—with an impressive number of elephant and even more lion. The greater Ruaha landscape has one of only six lion populations larger than 1,000 in the world and is now home to some 10% of the planet’s lion. Another corner of Tanzania worth exploring is Mahale National Park on the western border and Greystoke, where visitors can observe wild chimpanzees. Cartology Travel can being either one to life.
Puma tracking in Torres del Paine, Chile
Southern Chile’s top predator, the Patagonian puma, calls Torres del Paine home. Heading out to look for them with wildness tracking professionals—something else offered by Earthtones—adds a new dimension to a trip to this majestic end of the earth. The hikes are accessible, short in duration and light on difficultly, and they’re capped off with star-filled nights in a mountain ecolodge.
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