The ultimate travel bucket list: 50 best things to see and do
“Stop dreaming about your bucket list and make sh*t happen,” said someone, somewhere…
When you’re lucky enough to make people’s vacation dreams come true as part of your job, you get used to hearing about endless travel bucket lists. Examples often include snowy mountain ranges, UNESCO World Heritage sites, picture-perfect islands, and dizzying panoramic views…
Everyone’s bucket list is different, but some landmarks and locations are just classic. We’ve put together the ultimate travel bucket list here, full of unmissable experiences around the world, all in one place, so you have no excuse not to check each one off your list or forget any!
Without further ado (and in no particular order), discover our top 50 travel bucket list destinations you have to hit at least once in your life!
1. Go island hopping in Raja Ampat
Those who have travelled to South East Asia always come back brimming with stories, and they usually involve Raja Ampat. Why visit one island when you could visit an entire archipelago? In other words, a stunning natural cluster of tiny islands – over 1,500 in this case!
The tropical climate here rarely falls below 25C, meaning there’s an abundance of coral reefs and a kaleidoscope of colourful fish swimming in the ocean. Island hopping and a spot of scuba? Sign us up!
2. Trek to Everest Base Camp
Don’t look down! Mt Everest is the world’s highest mountain, towering at 8,849 metres, 5 and a half miles above sea level. Only around 4,000 people throughout history have climbed to the peak… but don’t worry, you don’t need to reach the top for an exhilarating trek.
Everest Base Camp is around 5,000 metres high, with some steep sections, but totally walkable without fancy equipment. You may want to spend a few weeks getting in shape though… What? You didn’t think you’d have to put some work into this? *sighs* Maybe someone can give you a piggy-back ride to the top…
3. Glide over Cape Town
The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway is a bit of a mouthful to say, but the view speaks for itself. If you’ve decided you’re not going to climb Everest because, fair enough, it’s a trek-and-a-half, then head to Cape Town and take the cable car 1000 meters high. You get to sit down, plus it takes you over Table Mountain, one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature!
The mountain range was given this title due to its unique collection of plants and flowers, plus the architecturally-stunning cableway that showcases ocean views.
4. Have a picnic by the Eiffel Tower
Yeah, Paris is a short day trip for most Europeans – but a much-dreamt-of experience for many elsewhere across the world! Nothing says ‘I <3 Paris!’ quite like taking a picnic basket full of baguette, cheese, and fine wine to the lush lawns by the Eiffel Tower.
And if we’re talking travel bucket lists, you’ve got to climb to the top right? The view will have you humming ‘Les Champs-Elysées’ all the way back home, to the annoyance of everyone around you. Paris, c’est jolie, non?
5. Take a road-trip of the United States
What better way to see the USA than getting your kicks on Route 66? Even though it’s no longer possible to drive down America’s most famous uninterrupted road, you can still experience most of the route and all the adventures that come with it. Plus, it’s still kinda fun to sing the famous song while you’re cruising the most iconic North American highways.
Plan a road trip and don’t miss the sprawling Great River Road that traces the Mississippi, or the 50-mile marvel, Going-To-The-Sun Road. Instead of actually leading you to that big ball of fire and melting everything Icarus-style, this route actually ends at Glacier National Park, Montana. The only thing that’ll be melting is the snowflakes on your tongue, trust.
6. Watch the summer solstice at Stonehenge
For thousands of years, people have flocked to Stonehenge in England to catch the summer solstice. The sunsets and sunrises at this time are glorious across Salisbury Plain, with orange light reflecting off those ancient stones.
Some people visit for spiritual reasons, some visit to be closer to nature as the seasons change. And sure, a discreet but determined few head over for a good old fashioned Solstice Party in the footsteps of druids from long ago. To each their own!
7. Feel blessed at Angkor Wat in Cambodia
Wat’s that over there? Oh, thank heavens, it’s just Angkor Wat – thought to be the largest religious building in the world and one of the most beautiful for sure. It was built over 900 years ago by Suryavarman II, during a time when Cambodian rulers were constantly trying to up the ante and build bigger and bigger temples.
Well, the result is Anghor Wat, an architect’s dream which still functions perfectly as a Hindu temple and very popular tourist attraction. Look out for locks of hair scattered around the temple grounds, left in gratitude to the gods by soon-to-be-wed couples and travellers alike.
8. Get dizzy at the Grand Canyon’s Skywalk Bridge
One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Grand Canyon is sure to be at the top of many travel bucket lists. But have you ever heard of Skywalk Bridge? If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to fly over these magnificent gorges like a bald eagle (because, duh, who hasn’t?) then this is the place for you.
This horseshoe-shaped viewing platform was born from that very same vision, more or less, and was completed in 2007, allowing thrill-seekers around the world to be suspended above a rocky abyss on nothing but a pane of glass… So, you first?
9. Eat seafood pasta at Cinque Terre
Is it true that travellers head to Cinque Terre every year just to sample the seafood? Absolutely. Fresh linguine with juicy prawns and mussels at a local trattoria is most definitely something to write home about (perhaps on a glossy postcard showcasing the iconic cliffside homes?)
But if you’re not vibing with seafood, don’t worry, there’s plenty more meals in the sea (is that right?). Head for an evening boat ride on the Ligurian Sea and watch the Aperol-coloured apartments drift away as you sail the endless waters.
10. Ride a camel by the Pyramids of Giza
The Pyramids of Giza are famous famous, truly the It Girls of travel bucket lists. They’re in all the films, but did you know they also serve as mausoleums for three Pharoahs? The largest pyramid, The Great Pyramid, was built for Pharaoh Khufu. It’ll leave you a little speechless as you spot it cresting over the dunes atop your camel. It’s cool, camels aren’t very good conversationalists anyway.
Make sure you also look out for the Great Sphinx (we’re noticing a trend here…), it’s the one with the broken nose. Oh, and The Solar Boat Museum, home to one of the oldest ships ever.
11. Take a helicopter ride over the Statue of Liberty
The ever iconic Statue of Liberty is located in New York Harbor, but did you know there are also a few smaller versions doted around France? That’s because The Statue of Liberty was a gift to the USA from France all the way back in 1886 to commemorate the end of the French Revolution which America supported. The more you know!
There are boat trips, bungee jumps, and even skydives available in eyesight of the Statue of Liberty. But for the ultimate travel bucket list, we reckon a helicopter ride will suffice. The 360 view of New York from the heavens will make you feel like a movie star!
12. Make a splash in Bora Bora
I once met a guy who only had one item on his travel bucket list: swim with sea turtles in Bora Bora. He really loved sea turtles, and who can blame him? They live for centuries and are probably really wise. So wise, in fact, that they made warm and lush Bora Bora their home. Catching a glimpse of loggerhead, green, and hawksbill turtles is a common occurrence here, but the easiest place to see them is at the Bora Bora Turtle Centre.
But enough about turtles! The bungalows in Bora Bora will light up your Instagram, plus there’s loads to do here, from jet-skiing and paddle boarding to submarine rides (yes, really).
13. Ski the Austrian Alps
Scared of the snow? Well, this bucket list is designed to push you out of your comfort zone sometimes. Get shredding down that slope! Nestled in the Austrian Alps, Tyrol is one of many skiing towns with world-famous slopes. Whiz down the mountain like a madman and catch a (blurry) glimpse of some iconic landmarks along the way.
Plus, Tyrol is dotted with toasty chalets where you can sample Austrian wines, and host parties in the evening! Even better, we at Contiki actually have an Austrian chalet with a sauna and super cool bar that you can spend a little time in… You should definitely check it out, anyway.
14. Gawk at the Northern Lights in Iceland
Now, this is a really special one. Seeing the Northern Lights in Iceland is pretty magical, and part of that magic is the unpredictability of it all. You might never see them on your trip, or you might be treated to them every night. You’ve just got to let fate decide.
While you spend your evening with your head craned towards the sky, why don’t you chill in the Blue Lagoon. This natural geothermal spa will have you oohing and ahhing in pure delight, whether those mystical lights make an appearance or not.
15. Scuba the Great Barrier Reef
One of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World (so many on this list), the Great Barrier Reef spans over 400,000 kilometres of the Pacific Ocean and is as close to a aquatic paradise as you can get. Unfortunately, time is ticking, due to climate change.
The corals are bleaching because of warmer temperatures, causing them and the wildlife they sustain to die. If you do choose to travel to this destination, make sure to travel responsibly and book a carbon neutral trip!
16. Sailing up the Dalmatian Coast
With its hidden coves, gorgeous fields carpeted by blooming flowers, and idyllic beaches, the best way to experience the Dalmatian Coast is by sailing along it. The food, drink, and culture lives up to the scenery too, with old churches and Roman ruins to explore, as well as some of Europe’s best nightlife to dive into.
You can charter your own boat, with an abundance of experienced captains able to weave you through the sparkling Adriatic. The summer months are the best to visit, but late spring and early autumn will mean a little more privacy with just as much sun.
17. Explore the Garden Route
There are few places where you can go from oyster fishing and seeing whales to hiking through temperate rainforests within the hour, but the famous Garden Route in South Africa is one of them. This heavenly stretch also delivers a host of quaint seaside towns to rest in, alongside the sort of natural highlights that you dream of experiencing during the morning commute. Best of all, you can drive yourself, so you can take it all in at your own pace.
18. Experience Mykonos by night
With sparkling scenery and multiple beaches that belong on postcards, Mykonos is an incredible place to spend a few days, but at night time the spectacularly beautiful Greek island shows a slightly different character. The nightlife scene throughout Mykonos is second-to-none, with everything from megaclubs to quaint bars where you can drink ouzo with locals. You can even rent out a boat and sip champagne while watching the moon dance across the water!
Little Venice is one of the best neighbourhoods to head to when the sun falls over the horizon, with a great combination of cool bars and fun clubs, as well as serene sea so you can take a dip under the stars.
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19. Check out the Colosseum
Of all the landmarks of Ancient Rome that remain standing, the Colosseum is the most iconic, and for good reason. The epicentre of entertainment during the empire, it’s amazing to think that gladiators battled lions and other large animals there; some sources say that the entire structure was even filled with water so the crowds could watch naval battles!
While the Colosseum is well worth a visit on its own terms, it’s also surrounded by other famous historical spots such as the Forum. So, once you’ve enjoyed your tour of the famous ruin, you’re only minutes away from some other pieces of living history.
20. Crawl through Củ Chi Tunnels
The scars of the famous war remain tracked into the Vietnamese landscape to this day, and you can’t go anywhere in the country without learning something about how the locals fared. The most obvious (and intriguing) example of this is the Củ Chi Tunnels in Ho Chi Minh City, which unravel under the city in a complex web. Used by the Viet Cong as hiding spots and transportation routes, the tunnels played a vital part in helping to repel the American invading forces, and are the perfect place to spend a morning if you’re keen to learn more about the North Vietnamese resistance. A trip here might not be comfortable the entire time, but it will be unforgettable.
21. Marvel at the Taj Mahal
Some famous travel bucket list hotspots are, frankly, a bit overrated. But, despite being one of the most pictured attractions in the world, there really is nothing like the Taj Mahal when it comes to taking your breath away. The ancient monument to love is massive yet full of intricate artwork, and it’s amazing to think just how much blood and sweat went into its construction.
In a country as vast, varied, and full of interesting history and nature as India is, it says a lot about the Taj Mahal that it’s considered the most vital thing to see when visiting, but don’t take our word for it – just make sure you give yourself the time to really appreciate it.
22. See Songkran in Chiang Mai
Chiang Mai is remarkable at any time, but during the festival of Songkran it explodes in a frenzy of fun. The Thai New Year is marked by free plays, exhibitions, and parties, but the most famous way residents like to celebrate is with a near-week long water fight.
Get yourself a waterproof bag and try not to wear white, because whether you like it or not, you will be splashed. But, given the joy you feel at being a part of the festivities – and the scorching temperatures – it’s well worth the soak.
Image source:kenny eliason @ Unsplash
23. Stargaze in Aoraki
Isolated, wild, and full of treasures, there’s just something different about New Zealand, and there’s no doubt its tallest peak is one of its most glittering gems. Known as Mt Cook in English, the mountain has earned the designation of International Dark Sky Reserve. What that means in reality is that, after a day of hiking through some incredible scenery, you’ll be treated to the heavens in their full glory at night. Awe-inspiring.
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24. Hike to Machu Picchu
There are few things in life that match watching the sun’s first rays blaze over Machu Picchu. If anything has ever been worth a 3am wake-up call and a four-hour hike in dreich rain and freezing winds, it’s watching the complex light up. It says a lot that the timeless beauty of the architecture is the main attraction, considering the majesty of the wilderness that surrounds it.
Because of its popularity, planning to hike to Machu Picchu means pre-booking. But given the reward at the end, it’s well worth it. And if you don’t fancy the walk, you can always get the train!
25. Take a Gothic Walking Tour
Labyrinths are usually depicted as terrifying, helpless places, but the maze of streets that makes up Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter is a pure dream. Local guides are useful to make sense of it all, and with lots of decent, free options, a tour can be done on the cheap. You’ll be given a whistle-stop tour that includes highlights like La Seu cathedral and some hidden gems most walkers don’t know about, such as the Roman Temple of Augustus, which is tucked away in a residential area. With that said, after you’ve seen all the sights we’d highly recommend letting yourself get lost in the narrow, cobbled streets, and checking out what the stores have to offer.
26. Explore Sintra
A short drive away from the buzzing life of Lisbon lies a magical wonderland. Oozing a calm the capital simply doesn’t, the old town of Sintra is nestled in pine trees and replete with stunning old buildings, including castles, villas, and cathedrals. It’s easy to spend a day wandering through its delightful streets, but if you want to see everything you’ll need to rent a car or a bike. Avoid the queues by buying tickets for attractions the day before, and you’ll be able to fit it all in!
27. Cycle through a mystical bamboo forest
The very outskirts of Kyoto is home to one of nature’s most divine creations: the Arashiyama Bamboo Grove. This unbelievable wonder has a mystical quality to it, and it feels like time and space work differently while you’re surrounded by the expanse of massive bamboo – travelling through the forest can almost be a spiritual experience.
The rest of Arashiyama is well worth a visit too, with gorgeous villas, temples, and parks to enjoy. Plus, like everywhere in Japan, the food is phenomenal, so make sure you grab a bite to eat!
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28. Visit the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan
If there’s anywhere that will make you believe magic once existed, it’s Teotihuacan. The main attractions of this otherworldly archaeological complex are the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon, which stand facing each other like Gods. The first is larger and is thought to have once been the temple of a deity, whereas the lunar temple was used for sacrifices. The rest of the complex is full of other interesting artefacts and buildings, and can be seen in half a day. Compact yet astounding.
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29. Meander through the Alhambra
A Moorish complex like no other, the Alhambra is one of the jewels of Andalucia. The attraction’s storied past seeps through the walls as you wander through the incredible geometric carvings and palatial, bloom-filled gardens, and the sweeping views of Granada below only add to its romance.
Book a day or two in advance for a ticket, because you’ll need to. Despite the crowds at the beginning, it’s easy to find quiet spots in the complex where you can reflect on its timeless beauty.
30. Eat your way through George Town
Malaysian street food culture remains one of the hidden gems of global cuisine. While people (rightfully) flock to neighbouring Thailand, they’re missing out on one of Southeast Asia’s most eclectic and lip-smacking culinary scenes, and nowhere sums this up better than George Town in Penang.
With a blend of Malay, Indian, and Chinese dishes, the variety is absolutely astounding, and the quality is top-notch – in sharp contrast to the incredibly cheap prices. Add in the charm of George Town itself, with its colonial forts, mix of houses of worship, and unbelievable street art, and you’ve got a dream city break.
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31. Chase waterfalls at Iguazu National Park
The surging power that flows from the waterfalls that make up the Iguazu National Park has to be seen to be believed. With 275 different features to experience, and dozens of great view points to watch them from, you’ll have plenty to see and do, whether you’re on the Brazilian or Argentinian side.
With that said, the Portuguese-speaking side probably does offer more variety, and is home to the viewing platform with the best view of Iguazu’s most infamous fall, the Devil’s Throat. A truly life-changing experience.
32. Get some perspective at the Uyuni Salt Flats
A huge expanse of nothingness might not seem like it belongs on a travel bucket list, but when you see the world’s largest salt flats in Uyuni, Bolivia, you’ll understand why we’ve included them.
An alien landscape stretching as far as the eye can see, there’s so much more to this natural wonder than funny perspective pictures (although those are a hoot). If you’re lucky, you’ll come just after rain, when some of the flats are covered in water that delivers crystal clear reflections of the sky – perfect for sunrise and sunset.
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33. Catch the midnight sun on Tromsø
There’s nothing quite like sitting on the beach while watching the sun hover over the horizon, only to check your phone to see that it’s 3am. That’s the reality of life in summer for residents of Tromsø, one of Norway’s northernmost towns and the perfect place for sunseekers – in the most literal sense.
Tromsø in summer is much more than the novelty of hiking or swimming at odd hours, though. The food is delicious, the natural scenery is magical, and the locals know how to have fun.
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34. Check out an alternative community in Christiania
It might not seem like it when you cross the border into Freetown Christiania, but this is a community that’s been living on the edge of legality since its inception. An autonomous microstate right in the heart of Copenhagen, the small settlement is full of galleries, bars, and gorgeous lakeside views. Famously, you’re not allowed to take pictures while inside this commune that was founded on reclaimed army land, but the memories you make while wandering around will last a lifetime.
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35. Watch the day begin and end at Uluru
To be the most famous natural attraction in a land as vast and diverse as Australia takes some doing, but Uluru lives up to the hype. The sandstone formation in the heart of the Outback is sacred to the local Pitjantjatjara people, and once you’re in its vicinity it’s easy to see why. Uluru just emanates a kind of mystique, especially if you watch the sunrise or sunset over it. Make sure to also check it out at night for some of Australia’s best stargazing!
36. Safari in Maasai Mara
Stretching across the Kenyan and Tanzanian border, Maasai Mara is what you think about when someone says the word safari. Packed to the brim with wildlife of all kinds, including the safari ‘big five’, you could spend months wandering around its vast wilderness and only see a fraction of what’s on offer.
The landscape is defined by rolling hills, grassy plains, and surging rivers, and there are a few tribes dotted around too, so a visit means a chance to experience the region’s culture and natural highlights all in one. There really is nothing quite like it.
37. Bar hop through Ruins
Walk through the streets of Budapest’s old Jewish Quarter and you’d think it’s been left in disrepair. But when you step through these supposed ruins, you’re in for a surprise: some of Hungary’s best bars are located in these shells of buildings. Decor varies between venues but there’s usually a bohemian feel to the bars, with street art and soft lighting making a lot of appearances. Most importantly, though, they’re the beating heart of the city’s nightlife, and an evening spent exploring them is one of the best way to get to grips with the culture of this unique city.
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38. Haggle in the souks
A mazy rabbit’s warren of stalls selling everything from leather bags to spices by the bagful, the souks of Marrakech have to be experienced in person to truly grasp. Heading into the chaotic collection of shops for the first time is a bit of a sensory overload, with sights and sounds and smells that you’ll have never been exposed to before, but once you’re in it’s like wandering through a fairy tale land. Although it might feel a bit wrong to haggle, it’s all part of the dance between customer and seller, so don’t be afraid to ask for lower prices!
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39. Swim with turtles in Tortuguero National Park
Costa Rica is famous for its idyllic shoreline, but it’s not just a wonderful place to laze about – the Central American country is also home to a vast population of sea turtles. These majestic creatures are best spotted in the spring and summer months, and if you want to see their babies hatching that’s also possible too; just make sure to follow the instructions of the local organisations who have sprung up to make sure these gentle animals are protected.
40. Hang with orangutans, pygmy elephants and komodo dragons
Indonesia unfurls across multiple islands, each with their own unique character, but some are a cut above when it comes to wildlife. On Borneo you’ll get the chance to spot orangutans and pygmy elephants, two of the island’s greatest natural treasures. And, of course, on the island of Komodo you’ll find the prehistoric looking komodo dragons – the closest thing we’ll get to dinosaurs unless Jurassic Park becomes a reality!
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41. Walk along the Great Wall of China
There’s so much to admire about China as a destination, from its varied landscapes to the unbelievable mix of food and cultures that’s spread across this vast land. But traversing the ancient Great Wall is truly something else. Of course, walking along the whole thing is practically impossible (unless you have months spare, and the ability to survive in the desert), but Badaling, the section just outside of Beijing, is both accessible and awe-inspiring, even with the crowds.
42. Check out a Salt Cathedral
A short drive north of the Colombian capital Bogota is a truly special house of worship. Nestled underground, the Salt Cathedral of Zipaquirá is built 200m into a salt mine, and its eerie beauty has captivated tourists and worshippers alike for decades.
The church alone makes a trip here worth it, but there are also several other attractions nearby that can teach you about the region, and the importance of the salt trade to the locals throughout history. An unmissable, unique experience.
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43. Take a DMZ tour
In a world of camera phones and Google Maps, few things are shrouded in secrecy like North Korea. While it is possible to go on a highly regimented tour of the country’s capital, a much more accessible (and less ethically dubious) experience is heading to the South Korean capital Seoul, and from there taking an organised trip up to the 38th parallel, where the countries have their border. This isn’t the sort of place you can just turn up and wander around, so make sure to book a tour – it will be something you’ll never forget.
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44. Head to Islay for whiskey tasting
With more distilleries per square mile than schools, Islay is famed for its production of the famous drink, and the perfect place to go if you’re a fan of a tipple or three. The Scottish island has a long, intertwined history with whisky, and when combined with its sweeping views, wonderful pubs, and friendly locals, you have a dream destination. If you’re going to make your way through the distilleries then book a driver, because those drams really add up!
45. Watch the border dance in Punjab
The scars of partition still run deep in Punjab. While animosity reigns between India and Pakistan on a geopolitical level, at the Attari–Wagah border there’s a bit more pageantry to the rivalry, typified by the famous border dance between the two nations. A military drill that’s best likened to a mating ritual, the two opposing armed units face-off every day, giving the gathered crowd a great show while also underlining the strained yet close relationship the two countries have. Intriguing on its own terms, when you add in the history this simply cannot be missed.
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46. Be awed by Victoria Falls
Seeing Victoria Falls can feel like being on the edge of the world. Located at the Zimbabwe/Zambia border and twice the height of Niagara, the falls are the world’s largest sheet of falling water, and the spray from it can be seen from nearly fifty kilometres away! The falls are also surrounded by some truly unique flora and fauna, so once you’ve been wowed by their gushing power you’ll have plenty more interesting things to see.
47. Party at Carnival
Rio de Janeiro is worth visiting at any time of year, but during Carnival time there’s nothing quite like it. The colours and sounds and smells surround you in a whirlwind of senses, and the party atmosphere practically seeps into your bones, making it impossible not to shimmy your way around the city. Take in street parties, watch parades, or just dance the day and night away on the beach – everything in this gorgeous city is infused with fun when Carnival is in town.
48. Trek Kilimanjaro
Kilimanjaro rises out of the earth like an ancient deity. The world’s largest freestanding mountain straddles the border between Tanzania and Kenya, and offers sweeping views of the mountain forest that encircles its base, as well as the vast, untamed savanna that surrounds the mountain. You can try and summit it, but even just trekking through some of its more scenic parts is an otherworldly experience. Not for the faint-hearted, but certainly an experience that will remain imprinted on your mind.
49. See gorillas in the wild in Uganda and Botswana
Considering their terrifying size and lumbering gait, gorillas remain one of the most mesmerising animals to see in their natural habitat. The massive apes are yet another species we’ve pushed to the brink of extinction, but thanks to conservation work there’s a real chance we can fix our mistake with them, and rightly so. Make sure you go gorilla spotting with a reputable agency, as that will contribute to making sure others in the future will get to see these majestic creatures in all their glory.
50. Hike to Paro Taktsang Monastery
Nestled on the side of a mountain and surrounded by lush forest, Paro Taktsang Monastery in Bhutan seems to almost float. Hiking to this secluded, sacred spot usually takes between three and five hours, and although that is a commitment the walk itself is truly stunning. However, there’s no doubt the reward is seeing the house of worship hover gently over a sheer drop.