Ultimate Travel Bucket List: 50 Best Experiences & Must See Destinations
If you’re anything like me, then there is nothing better than waking up in a strange new place and enjoying the best adventures that are a world away from your normal routine. These ultimate experiences around the globe are what I have found to be the best of the best, and I hope these ideas inspire you to add a destination or two to your travel bucket list (and to start checking them off!).
If you need even more motivation, check out the best 200 travel quotes for inspiration.
Ultimate Travel Bucket List: 50 Best Experiences & Must See Destinations Around the World
1. ✦ Hike to the Top of Piaynemo in Raja Ampat
Indonesia is filled with beautiful scenery, but for me none was more picturesque than the view from the top of Piaynemo Island in Raja Ampat. Pulling up to the small dock on the island, there was a set of stairs heading straight up into the forest.
These 318 steps (I counted!) were strenuous in the humid heat, but the view from the top was worth every single one. From the peak you can see an iconic karst island seascape, small islands surrounded by a dozen shades of brilliant turquoise. This million dollar view wasn’t my only reward, so was the fresh coconut juice waiting for me at the bottom.
Ibiza, an island off the coast of Spain, is notorious for its parties but also boasts crystal clear water and lux beaches. So experience the best of both worlds by staying up all night in the club and then drifting to the beach to see one of the islands infamous sunrises. Big-name DJs, and festivals are frequent on the island, and there are a wide variety of accommodation and food options, from high to low end. Your time will fly in this incredible destination.
In this UNESCO desert you can ride camels along the same path as Lawrence of Arabia, run down the soft sand dunes and sleep inside of a tent in a small Bedouin-run camp surrounded by sandstone rocks. It is the ultimate adventure!
4. ✧ Take the Walk of Faith at Tianmen Mountain in China
In the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park you will find a 196-foot long see-through glass path that stands over 4,000 feet above sea level. This adrenaline-producing walkway clings to the side of the Tianmen Mountain. A stroll along this path is only for the most adventurous, who will marvel at the crystal-clear view below their trembling feet.
5. ✦ Feed the Swimming Pigs of Exuma
Somewhere out there in the Outer Exuma Islands is Big Major Cay, a small island ruled by pigs—that’s right, actual pigs! It is in fact one of the biggest attractions on this island. The pigs will swim out to your boat as you approach the island and depending on how friendly they are on the day they will hang around, swim with you guys and have some of your lunch as well.
The swimming pigs tend to come out to play when the midday sun cools down a bit. There are myths and stories of how the swimming pigs of the Bahamas got there. Some people believe that they survived a shipwreck while others think that they were left there by pirates who intended them to be a future meal but never came back. Whatever the case, they are interesting swimming companions and one of the most unique ideas on this list.
The Great Pyramids at Giza have had a firm hold on the western imagination for generations… and with good reason. They are a true marvel to behold! The Pyramids were created as tombs for various pharaohs, and their consorts, to ensure transcendence into the afterlife. And thanks to the many artifacts the ancient Egyptians left within their tombs, we now have an incredible insight into their epic history. Still, there is nothing quite like seeing them up close… especially on camel back.
7. ✦ Swim in Jellyfish Lake in Palau
Jellyfish Lake in the Micronesian country of Palau is home to millions of jellyfish that are deemed relatively harmless since their sting is so light. It was still frightening for the first five minutes to be surrounded by jellyfish, some brushing up against my body. But, after the panic dissipated, this was one of my all-time favorite bucket list travel adventures.
You’ve seen the photos of a string of bungalows perched atop the azure waters below. A memorable trip to Tahiti’s Bora Bora must include a night in one of these overwater hideaways where you can wake by diving into the warm water and go to sleep to the sound of the swish of the water beneath you. One of the most luxurious ones you will find is at the Four Seasons.
9. ✦ Marvel at Guyana’s Kaieteur Falls
Venture into the Amazon rainforest to see Kaieteur Falls in Guyana, the world’s widest single-drop waterfall. Kaieteur Falls is one of the world’s most powerful waterfalls with an immense volume of water from the Potaro river plummeting down a cliff at a height of more than 700 feet in the Kaieteur National Park. Located in Guyana’s Potaro-Siparuni region, the waterfall nestled in the Amazon rainforest is the closest you can get to pure nature when compared with other well-known waterfalls. As you watch the more than 350-foot-wide waterfall plunge from the edge of the steep rock face, you will be in awe of the beauty and power of nature.
10. ✦ Walk Through Indonesia’s Tegalalang Rice Terraces
If you’ve seen pictures from Bali, you’ve probably seen a few of these stunning green rice paddies. They are some of the island’s most popular destinations for travelers, and they don’t disappoint!
The traditional Tegalalang Rice Terraces are just about half an hour north of Ubud, in the Tegalalang Village. The whole community pitches in to maintain the paddies’ complex irrigation system, which is centuries old. They also let tourists in to wander much of the terraces for free.
Take your life list to another level and trek through the dense rain forest of Uganda to get a close encounter with the mountain gorillas of the jungle. The fact that these species are on the brink of extinction and you need to travel to faraway lands to see them adds to the experience. A great place to see them is at Bwindi Forest National Park.
12. ✦ Drive Colorado’s Million Dollar Highway
The Million Dollar Highway is a 25 mile section of U.S Route 550, from Silverton to Ouray in Coloraado. It was initially built in the 1880s, and offers one of the most thrilling road experiences. The highway is part of the San Juan Skyway that snakes its way through the San Juan mountains passing through Dolores, Telluride and Durango.
You will go up and down three mountain passes – the Coal Bank Pass, the Molas Pass and the Red Mountain Pass during a ride on this route. All three have an elevation of more than 10,000 feet (3000 m) each. In certain areas, watch out for steep drops, hairpin bends and absence of guardrails. Keep your eyes on the road during the tricky sections, and admire the stunning vistas during the easy portions of the drive.
Of course you can drive your own car along this adventurous route, or a more unique idea is to do as I did and make the ride even more thrilling in a sporty Polaris Slingshot!
13. ✦ Tour a Monastery at Meteora in Greece
Greece is not all about white buildings with blue rooftops and delicious Greek food. There is so much more to explore. Like, the Meteora monasteries. Meteora, meaning “suspended in the air” in Greek, is a magical complex of six active monasteries that are strategically built on natural sandstone pillars, some that rise up to thirteen hundred feet in the air.
Perched on the pinnacles of the Thessaly region, worshippers came to this world heritage site to discover peace and absolute isolation. Many years ago, access to these monasteries was strenuous, using handmade ladders and baskets with a pulley system to hoist the monks and their goods up — this was a system that had long been abandoned by the time I had arrived!
You can admire the Meteora Monasteries from afar, but also take the opportunity to tour the interiors and get a glimpse into a monk’s lifestyle one thousand years ago.
Just three-and-a-half-hour drive from the bustle of the city of Hanoi lays a peaceful set of 1,600 islands and islets, Halong Bay. This UNESCO World Heritage site has been the backdrop to many movies, including the Oscar-winning Indochine. Spend a day or a week cruising through the green-topped limestone islands and emerald waters on an ancient-style junk boat.
Each year in the village of Jukkasjärvi, in northern Sweden, the IceHotel is built from natural ice and snow. It is an art exhibition as much as a hotel, where the canvases span from floor to ceiling. Spend the night in one of their negative-five-degree rooms, where you will be surrounded by artistically chiseled ice. It’s a bonus that there is also a chance of seeing the Northern Lights from their location on the bank of the Torne River.
16. ✦ Marvel at the Taj Mahal
This incredible towering structure is a tribute to one of the greatest love stories of all time. Emperor Shan Jahan built it as the burial tomb for his favorite wife after her death in the 17th century. It is perfectly symmetrical, built of white marble from around the world, and detailed with semi-precious stones. Due to his obsession with symmetry two identical mosques flank each side of the Taj Mahal itself and it is surrounded by lush green gardens. It is not hard to see why it is one of the seven wonders of the world.
I got to see it while on a luxury train ride through India aboard the Palace on Wheels!
17. ✦ Go Tidal Bore Rafting in Nova Scotia
The Nova Scotia tides cause 160 billion tons of water flow through the Bay of Fundy twice a day, which feeds into the Shubenacadie River. This surge of seawater creates a once-in-a-lifetime adventure like no other, tidal bore rafting. It’s a wild ride where you will zip through up to 10 foot waves, they will crash over your motorized raft drenching you from head to toe or submerging you completely. If you have only one adventurous thing you do in Nova Scotia, this is it!!
At one time this truly iconic activity was the only way to get around Venice. Although today there are more than one way to see the city, taking a gondola in Venice remains the most magical. As you drift along waterways with a lover, friend, or group you will pass under stone bridges and by gorgeous ancient buildings, palazzos and churches to discover corners of Venice only accessible by water. This is one of the more common ideas that is still a once in a lifetime experience in one of the world’s most picturesque city’s.
19. ✦ See the Sunrise at Borobudur Temple in Indonesia
You will need to begin your day in the wee hours of the morning (we woke up at 3:30am!) to catch the sunrise over Borobudur Temple, but it will be worth it. The historical UNESCO World Heritage site is set on a mountaintop in the central Java area of Indonesia, amidst volcanoes and lush forest. It is the world’s largest Buddhist temple, with over 500 Buddha statues scattered around the site.
Climbing to the top of 95-foot high pyramid is like a pilgrimage in itself, providing an inner peace and enlightenment. Beware that the ascent of this monument can be difficult, but there are several terraces to explore along the way, each one giving a different perspective.
This challenging hike is well-worth the effort to one of the world’s most iconic precipitates. The summit raises nearly 6000 feet above the Yosemite Valley, with the last 400 feet of the summit being assisted by metal cables. Needless to say this not for the faint of heart but it always exceeds expectations!
21. ✦ Explore the Ancient Ruins of Petra in Jordan
The ancient city of Petra was carved into the rose colored sandstone cliffs by the Nabataeans as early as 312BC. There are over 30 incredible sites spread over 60 square kilometers, from temples to tombs to elaborate buildings. No Trip to Jordan would be complete without a stop here.
Three days a week visitors can attend Petra at Night, where over 1,500 candles light the mile trek from the Siq to the Treasury, an elaborate two-story tomb. A group of roughly two hundred people will walk through the narrow rock fissures that are lit by candlelight. Walking through the Siq at night is a very mysterious experience. But, don’t miss Petra by day too.
During the day, you can wander way beyond the iconic Treasury building and explore trails that will pass by the Street of Facades, the Theater, countless tombs and through the Arch.
Savor every moment of the Cinque Terre region by hiking from each charming village to the next and if you have time, staying at lovely guesthouses along the way. The path is well-maintained, well-marked, and affords truly astounding views of one of Italy’s most picturesque landscapes. You will discover various sections of the trail wind through fog covered mountains to only moments later reveal the sparkling Mediterranean coastline below! It’s a must-see and here’s everything you need to know about hiking Cinque Terre.
23. ✦ Explore the Silent City of Mdina in Malta
Mdina is the old capital of Malta and referred to as the “Silent City”. It’s not to hard to understand why. There are limited cars that can enter to immaculate town, mostly owned by the approximately 300 residents. This contributes to the peaceful atmosphere as you stroll through the narrow cobbled streets admiring the shuttered windows and a handful of quaint shops.
For a special evening, dine at The Mdina Restaurant, which specializes in Mediterranean and local cuisine, like the Stuffat Tal-Qarnit, a traditional stew consisting of octopus cooked in red wine, raisins, apples and roasted walnuts.
Standing at over 19,000 feet, Mount Kilimanjaro is Africa’s highest peak. The once-in-a-lifetime trek to the summit will have you hiking through lush rainforests, over glaciers, and across the Tanzanian landscape, plus traveling through four different climatic zones. It takes roughly six days to reach what has been called “the roof of Africa,” where the stunning view will be worth the challenge. This is one of the most popular ideas on people’s Things to do Before You Die lists!
25. ✦ Climb to the Peak of Sigiriya Rock in Sri Lanka
Sigiriya is an ancient palace built in 480 AD, located in the central Matale District of Sri Lanka. This UNESCO World Heritage site is known for its beautifully landscaped gardens, well-preserved frescos, and twelve hundred different anxiety-producing levels of stairs to reach the summit. These steps will bring you to the sky palace that sits atop the rock, a royal residence built sixteen hundred years ago.
Australia’s iconic Great Barrier Reef stretches for more than 1,200 miles, running parallel to the Queensland coastline. It is the world’s largest coral reef system with over 2,900 reefs, 1,500 fish species, 400 types of coral, and 900 remote islands. Scuba divers flock here to glide with hundreds of manta rays, marvel at the colorful sea fans, and swim with schools of blackfin barracudas.
27. ✦ Kayak with Beluga Whales in Manitoba
Between mid-June to September one of Canada’s most incredible wildlife display happens — the beluga whales come to town. More than 50,000 of these sociable creatures patrol the Arctic in Northern Manitoba, and the Hudson Bay coastline sees the world’s largest population.
Nicknamed ‘melon heads’ these majestic, fluorescent white creatures will mesmerize as much as baffle you as they swim right up to your kayak. I glided along while whales swam underneath and next to me, a couple babies even came right up to the boat to inspect my GoPro.
28. ✧ Walk the Spanish El Camino de Santiago de Compostela
El Camino de Santiago was originally a pilgrimage leading to Santiago de Compostela, to the tomb of the apostle St. James. Now, scores of people on a personal journey walk this five-hundred- mile network of routes across Spain and Europe. Whether the motivation is spiritual or adventurous, many choose to take this month long challenge.
29. ✦ Experience Istanbul’s Call to Prayer at the Blue Mosque
Five times a day throughout the streets of Istanbul you can hear the trilling call to prayer, also known as ezan. During this time the voice of the bellowing muezzin, the man who calls the Muslims to prayer from a minaret, can be heard over the loud- speakers at different mosques in the city. One of the best locations to witness this is while sitting on the benches between the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia as a quavering musical battle begins.
Machu Picchu is an Incan citadel that stands 2,430 meters above sea level in the mountain forest of Peru. Getting to this ancient city can be done by train, bus, or a four-day trek along the same paths that the Incans did years ago. People choose the challenging hike not only to see other ruins along the way, but for the sense of pride when reaching this UNESCO World Heritage Site by foot.
31. ✦ Swim with Whale Sharks in Cancun
Don’t let the name “whale shark” scare you, these enormous fish are gentle giants. During the warm season, hundreds migrate to the waters of the Caribbean Sea. A boat ride from Cancun will take you to a place where you can swim with several of the largest fish in the world that grow up to sixty feet long and can weigh over forty thousand pounds. It is a thrill to be face to face with their gigantic mouths that can extend five feet when open. You can get up close and personal with a Cancun Whale Shark Tour.
At over twenty-nine thousand feet, Mount Everest soars above Khumbu in northeastern Nepal. Though a rare few attempt to reach the summit, the trek to Everest Base Camp at 17,590 feet is still a challenging adventure and an achievable goal for the rest of us. Along the way the stunning Himalaya views, hospitability of the village people, and spectacular glimpse of its peak will take you aback.
33. ✦ Go on an African Safari
There are plenty of places in Africa to go on safari, but mine was done in Tanzania with the Shadows of Africa tour team. For four days we explored the surreal Ngorongoro, Tarangire and Serengeti National Parks. Though we missed out on spotting the big five, because of the elusive rhino, it was still one of the most memorable travel bucket list adventures on my list of things to do before you die.
Even if you’re not up for tackling the entire 1800-mile length of the Great Wall, taking the opportunity to walk even a section will give you a boundless appreciation for one of mankind’s greatest engineering feats. The beauty of the surrounding landscape is astounding as you meander along the ancient border of China and Mongolia. You will pass over steep mountain ranges, thick vegetation, and see dots of villages in the distance. As you walk along remember that it was built as early as the 7th century- a truly impressive achievement!
35. ✦ Ride in a Vintage Car in Havana
For more than 50 years Cuba has lived in seclusion from the western world, so entering Havana feels like you are being truly transported back in time. Riding around in one of the beautiful vintage cars still on the road is a quintessential Cuban experience. You will fly by turquoise waters, and grand, ethereal buildings in various states of repair. But hurry before the hordes of tourists get there, and for good measure pop in a classic Cuban Cigar for the ride.
It isn’t just the world-class horses that set the Kentucky Derby apart from other horse races, it’s the spectacular hats. Let your inner Southern Belle emerge, and don your most dramatic bonnet while watching what has been called the “greatest two minutes in sports.”
37. ✦ Watch the Florence Sunset over the Arno River
There is a rumor that when the Germans were retreating, they were under strict orders from the Führer himself NOT to destroy the Ponte Vecchio Bridge. That is how beautiful this structure is, even today.
Lined with souvenir shops and high-end jewelers, this medieval work of art is something you have to cross at least once when in Florence. Be warned, it gets a little hectic because of the amount of human traffic it sees! After the chaos and shopping, simply walk to the next bridge over to watch the sun set over the Arno River as it illuminates the Ponte Vecchio Bridge in all its splendor.
Don’t forget to make a quick stop at Gusta Pizza beforehand to get a take out pie to bring to the river!
38. ✧ Shop the Souks in Morocco
The Souks in Morocco are nothing if not lively. The colorful stalls are filled with a myriad of patterns, details and countless aromas. You can buy anything from tapestries, to leather, and spices. And even if shopping isn’t your thing, the souks in Morocco are a must-see cultural experience. You will be graced with glimpses of the daily lives of the Moroccan locals. Just remember, if you are shopping don’t be afraid to haggle! It is all a part of the experience.
39. ✦ Visit Dracula’s Castle in Transylvania
High above the valley of Romania, in the principality of Transylvania, there lies an unusual castle that is said to have once been occupied by Count Dracula himself. You will find the gothic Bran Castle near the town of Brasov, which has long been linked to this ancient vampire, though Dracula probably won’t be there when you arrive. There is a mystical atmosphere surrounding Bran Castle; it looks like the perfect setting for a vampire novel, perched on top of a hill and filled with dozens of tunneled stairs, dark wood paneling, and stark white walls.
If you think the city of Paris is beautiful from street level, you will be astonished to see it from the heart of the Eiffel Tower. There are three levels of the tower but the views from the top are truly breathtaking. The top level can be reached by lift, or steps depending on your preference. Did you know that every 7 years the tower is painted three different colors? Lighter at the top and darker at the bottom to give the tower the illusion of extra height. See for yourself if it is as tall as your imagined with this bucket list experience.
Mardi Gras is often dubbed the “Great Show on Earth”, and with good reason. It is truly madness… but of the best kind! Several parades are held leading up to the main event, Fat Tuesday, which typically falls from early February to early March. On the day of, the French Quarter comes alive with people from around the globe for the parades, ceremonies and parties. Locals even liken the event to their version of Christmas, and spend the year leading up to it painstakingly preparing their costumes or floats. So don’t be afraid to don your own costume for this incredible experience. The locals love it when you do!
43. ✦ Float in the Dead Sea
The Dead Sea is a salt lake over thirteen hundred feet below sea level, making it the lowest elevation on Earth. Nestled between the country of Jordan to the east and Israel to the west, the unusually high salt concentration (8.6 times saltier than the ocean) causes a natural buoyancy that makes people float. Many people use this oasis as a chance to aimlessly drift while reading a newspaper.
The Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) are mysterious twists of multicolored lights that can only be seen in a handful of locations in the world, mostly in the Arctic Circle. To witness them is a once-in-a-lifetime experience whether you do it while relaxing in a thermal spa in Iceland, cruising on a yacht through Alaska, or night dogsled-ding in Norway. Check out the Aurora Zone for help.
45. ✦ Stay in a Tuscan Villa in Italy
This travel bucket list goal was definitely inspired by the movie Under the Tuscan Sun. There are plenty to choose from, but just a few kilometers South of Siena you will find Villa Pippistrelli, a luxury Tuscan farmhouse located on the Monstegliano estate. This charming house is everything you’d expect from a Tuscan villa. It may be old in years, but the villa has been restored with present-day conveniences and elegant interiors while still keeping its rustic 17th century Tuscan feel.
Blanketing more than forty-five hundred square miles, the Salar de Uyuni is a flat salt dessert that seems to go on infinitely. It is the remains of a lake that once covered the southwestern corner of Bolivia, but is now a vastness of white that plays an optical illusion on you. During the wet season, the shallow water that collects acts as a mirror of the sky, showing reflections of the sky and clouds, making the world seem endless. In the dry season, you can walk or drive across it, taking goofy photos that play with the lack of perspective created by the continuous sheets of hexagonal tiles.
47. ✦ Volunteer at a Elephant Rescue in Thailand
In Northern Thailand, an hour from Chiang Mai‘s city center, I spent a memorable day volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park. This is a special place where there was an eclectic bunch of Asian Elephants; some old, some young, some blind, some injured from working in the logging industry, some abused and some rescued from the circus. Not only will you be able to feed these majestic creatures, but you can also take them down to the river for a bath.
See the surreal landscape of Cappadocia from high above in a sky dotted with colorful balloons. Cappadocia is the land in central Turkey known for its fairy chimneys (rock formations), rolling vineyards, and troglodyte dwellings that are best seen from three thousand feet in the air. Butterfly Balloons can take you up up and away.
49. ✦ Hike the Active Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala
Just like skiing and mountaineering is a part of the culture of the Swiss Alps, volcano hiking is huge chunk of the culture in Guatemala. The country has 37 officially named volcanoes, three of which that are still active. And you can hike up one.
The Volcano of Pacaya is one of the most accessible volcanoes in Guatemala, which makes it very popular. You will be sharing the trail with many others. This, along with the food stands that you will find on different segments of the trail and the marshmallows you will get to toast on the heat of the volcanic rock, make the experience much more fun. Bring some graham crackers and chocolate if you want to make your marshmallow a s’more!
This is always a truly incredible experience whether it is near or far. Maybe you will finally be able to put your eyes some elements of a story your family members have talked about for years or perhaps you will have an opportunity to meet family you didn’t even know you had. You never truly know what you will find on a genealogical trip because no two trips are ever the same! One thing is for sure though you will feel a sense of connection with your roots. Bonus points if you bring another family member to share the experience with.