Ultimate travel bucket list: From following the tea trails in Sri Lanka to exploring the Mayan ruins in Mexico

WT Writer
Mar 3, 2021

There’s no time like the present to plan your next adventure. In the first of four parts, we’ve compiled 100 of our writers’ favourite travel experiences, so grab some paper, sharpen that pencil, and start reworking that bucket list…

Visit the Acropolis in Greece

The inquisitive travellers and prospective conquerors who first laid eyes on the Acropolis would have immediately understood the power of its creators. The towering columns of the Parthenon, the looming marble façades, the intricate sculptures of the Erechtheion: all were designed to showcase the muscle and might of classical Greece, an effect that holds true to this day. The settlement sits on a natural rock platform, high above the sprawl of Athens, its white marble columns still dazzling in the sun. There’s no better place to tread in the historic footsteps of the ancient Athenians

Acropolis at sunset
View of Acropolis at sunset, Athens, Greece

Whale watch in Kaikoura, New Zealand

Most whale watching experiences are carefully timed to catch pods of on their annual migrations – but not in Kaikoura, one of the few places in the world where giant sperm whales can be seen year-round, and close to shore. The 3km deep Kaikoura Canyon runs right up against the New Zealand coast, creating a rare and rich system of sea currents that sustain a huge marine food chain including seals, dolphins and the outsized seabirds known as shearwaters. A great resource to find the right tour for you is whalewatch.co.nz, where you can also learn more about New Zealand’s marine culture before your trip

Hit the ski slopes, The Alps

Plenty of resorts contribute to the best of the Alps, but those dedicated to a bout of ski and après-ski inspire imagery of powdery pistes, luxury lodges, roaring fires, and ski-lifts ascending over trails. Tignes and Courcheval in France, Verbier, Zermatt and St.Moritz in Switzerland, Innsbruck and fashionable Lech Zürs am Arlberg in Austria… every afiskionado will have their own resort de jour, but it remains that skiing in the Alps exists as a season-long social occupation for the upper classes. Majestic mountains, cool air, alpine villages, glasses of bubbles and perhaps even the fleeting sighting of a Royal Family member zipping past on the slopes.

Follow the tea trails in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is the globe’s fourth largest tea producer, providing the world with 340,000 tonnes of the stuff every year and, in the lush tea counties of Sri Lanka, you can sip up some history with a trail through old colonial plantations. Head to Tea Trails – the world’s first tea bungalow resort perched an altitude of 1,250m – and enjoy rambling across 2,000 acres in the panoramic region whilst staying at bungalows and cottages that date back to the seventeenth-century. Learn time-honoured planting traditions, follow the trails of old Ceylon, enjoy meals packed with fresh homegrown vegetables and, of course, sample the world’s most popular teas.

tea plantation
Tea growing in Ceylon, Sri Lanka

Witness the Northern Lights, Scandanavia

The Northern Lights (or aurora borealis) are visible across Scandinavia, Scotland and northern Canada, but the further north you go, the better viewing you’ll get – you don’t get much further than Norway’s Svalbard. There you’ll experience the polar night, with unearthly colours and sounds in a crisp night-sky, above a snowy Arctic wilderness that is 1,200km from the North Pole. Alternatively, Kakslauttanen in Finnish Lapland is great for those who want to gaze at the Northern Lights from the comfort of their own glass igloo. When these enchanting solar winds are in a phase of high activity, a visit heralds pure visual magic.

Stay in a stately home in England

With the popularity of period dramas (Downton Abbey, The Crown, Bridgerton et al), this experience is ascending must-try travel lists, with historical fascination now blended with a dash of popular culture. Highclere Castle has moved with the trend, offering 2- or 3-bedroom cottages to rent within its 5,000-acre estate, meaning one can prolong the feeling of being part of the drama. For a quieter opportunity, Cliveden House in Berkshire encourages you to create your own moment in history. They’ve a host of rooms (right up to the Prince of Wales Suite, and a Spring Cottage), where one can wine, dine and enjoy family time in the snugly rich confines of a stately home.

Enjoy every side of the island in Mauritius

This Indian Ocean isle is no ordinary beach destination. You’ll have over 160km of beach at your fingertips, from calm lagoons to wild stretches where pro surfers play. So why choose just one resort? Make your own tour of the island to experience its coastal treasures. Head north for the largest concentration of paradise beaches, with crystalline waters. Down south, discover turquoise bays with mountainous backdrops, while incredible sunset views await on the west coast. In the east, the island’s most glamorous boltholes reside – including One&Only Le Saint Geran and the fabulous LUX* Belle Mare. Eat your heart out, Robinson Crusoe.

mountain and turquoise sea
Le Morne, Mauritius

Drink splendid coffee along Ethiopia’s bean belt’

It was Ethiopia’s nomadic tribes who first discovered the restorative effects of coffee. In the tenth-century they would pluck the red fruits to eat as they roamed, buoyed by the tiny nuggets of caffeine. True coffee lovers should make a pilgrimage to the town of Kaffa (which lent its name to the beans) to visit coffee farms and roam the valleys where the plants grow wild. Ethiopians drink copious cups every day, and a coffee ceremony (with tall earthenware pots and tiny cups of sweet black brews) is a highlight. Back-home, the aroma of every freshly-brewed cup will bring back memories.

Visit the Pyramids and the relics of Cairo’s Egyptian Museum

You haven’t seen real gold until you’ve seen the gold of ancient Egypt. Sought after by pharaohs and fought over by raiders, the glittering treasures that lie in Cairo’s Egyptian Museum have entranced mankind for thousands of years. Set aside at least one day to immerse yourself in Egypt’s myths and legends – although that will barely do justice to the world’s largest collection of Pharaonic antiquities. The iconic Giza pyramids are just a stone’s throw from central Cairo, giving you time to rifle through dusty tombs and spooky burial chambers, following in the footsteps of treasure hunter

Pyramids in Cairo
Pyramids, Cairo

Stay in a riad in Marrakech, Morocco

There’s no doubt that busy souks, beautiful palaces and bustling nightlife make for an intoxicating adventure, but the real delights of Marrakech lie in its historic riads – the old houses found in its atmospheric old quarter. These unique abodes have stood for hundreds of years, little oases of calm in a restless city. Happily, many have been turned into charming hotels, complete with cool courtyard gardens, sensational restaurants and sumptuous interior design. Head up to the roof to sip Moroccan mint tea while you watch city life unfurl, or lie back in a private courtyard swimming pool under a sliver of clear blue sky. Divine.

Samba at the Rio Carnival in Brazil

What happens when over 200 samba schools take to the streets of Rio for a dance-off? One helluva party, that’s what – with so many sequins, feather boas and booty-shaking divas it feels like the whole city is bouncing to the beat. Welcome to the biggest knees-up in Brazil – or even the world – where two million performers and partygoers flock for five whirlwind days in February. You’ll hear the drums before you’ve barely stepped off the plane – an irresistible invitation to throw caution to the wind and shimmy like nobody’s watching. Trust us: by the end of the day, you’ll be dancing on the tables just like everybody else.

Explore the Mayan ruins of Mexico

If Mexico’s Mayan ruins could talk, they would tell tales of human sacrifices and merciless rulers – but for all of their blood-thirst, the people who built this stone fortress 1,000 years ago were actually quite a civilised bunch. Their engineering, agriculture and astronomy expertise was well ahead of their time – and the fruits of their architectural prowess are evident even today. Their cities of Chichen Itza, Palenque, Teotihuacán and Monte Alban are the most impressive, boasting pyramids and palaces that still stand strong. The monuments of the Mayans might now be overgrown and crumbling, but their power spans centuries.

Mayan ruins
Mayan ruins, Mexico

Traverse Jordan’s narrow gorge to reach historic Petra

The ancient city of Petra is one of the world’s must-see archaeological sites, and rightly so. Where else could you see such a blend of ancient Eastern traditions mixed with Hellenistic architecture, in majestic-carved structures that sprawl far deeper than the rock face from which they protrude? An important crossroads between Arabia, Egypt and Phoenicia, this ‘lost’ city has many secrets, not least its hidden back-door entrance, dubbed the Inca Trail of the Middle East. Trek from Dana to Petra, over 45km of mountainous landscapes, across a tangle of tracks, through dry riverbeds and over burnt orange foothills, bedding down for the evenings in a tent, under a sea of shimmering stars. Marvel at sporadic flora and fauna like the electric blue Sinai agama, prickly sea squills and fragrant juniper trees and drink tea with Bedouins during this long-distance hike. Your reward for this enduring trek? Entry to the hidden city, via a majestic touch-the-walls-narrow gorge where swirls of burnt orange and angry red lead you directly in to one of the world’s New 7 Wonders.

Get a suit made bespoke on Savile Row, England

It’s the street that is the first and last word in bespoke tailoring, where sartorial standards are impeccably high, built on time-honoured traditions and practices. The leading names are stitched onto the cognisance of any well-heeled gentleman: Gieves & Hawkes (located at No. 1), Richard James, Huntsman (go-to of Laurence Olivier), Hardy Aimes, Kilgour (the rumoured birthplace of the grey-flannel suit) and Henry Poole (whose crest reads ‘By Special Appointment to the Late Emperor Napoleon III’). That’s not to say you can’t be well-dressed by a less-traditional tailoring outfit: those willing to depart from Mayfair purism will find an influx of designers breaking the Savile Row mould, like Ozwald Boateng and Timothy Everest – international designers crafting labels that create silhouettes and colours with a difference, whilst upholding the immense history upon their well-formed shoulders. Savile Row is where your gentlemanly identity will be carefully captured and your personality shaped, in the form of a perfect suit. A wearable masterpiece.

Ponder the mysterious heads, Easter Island

Standing sentry on the slopes of the very volcano that formed Easter Island, the Moai keep some of the world’s last great secrets. They were assembled between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries by the inhabitants of this far-flung nugget of rock, surely one of the most gruelling construction feats of the time. It’s thought that they represented the islanders’ ancestors (they were placed facing towards villages, as if to protect them) so why were they torn down by the same people who created them? What sparked the end of this ancient civilisation? They’ve now been restored to their former glory, but their lips are still sealed…

Easter Island
Easter island

Make the journey to Machu Picchu, Peru

A view so iconic it feels like you’re gazing at a travel magazine even when it’s right before your eyes, the sight of Machu Picchu – perched on its wind-whipped plateau high in the Peruvian Andes – has captivated travellers for centuries. Once only reachable after days of trekking, the site is now connected with the city of Cusco by train. How was this 500-year-old enclave built with such precision in such perilous environs? What were the whimsies of its pampered royal inhabitants? Ponder these questions as you walk amongst its ruins, running your hands over its smooth stone contours, with centuries of history at your fingertips.

Take a helicopter ride over Niagara Falls, Canada

Hovering over a roiling waterfall – its spray soaking your clothes through the open helicopter door – is one of those heart-in-mouth moments that lifelong memories are made of. We’d defy even the steeliest thrillseeker not to let out a whoop as the chopper dips towards the white-water fray, the churning pools edging ever-closer while those thundering walls close in. But while the Niagara River is famed for its intense torrents, up here you can appreciate its intense serenity too: lush forest stretches out in every direction, while rainbows dance in the mist. It’s Canada’s raw beauty, up close.

Tour Versailles Palace, France

A lasting legacy of Louis XIV, the surroundings of the glorious ‘Château’ are a lot different from when it was built in the seventeenth century: you’ll now discover it nestled in a wealthy suburb of Paris. It served as the Royal Court, and opulence abounds: the Opéra Royal, resplendent Chapel of Versailles, gleaming Hall of Mirrors, Galerie des Batailles, grands apartments… not to mention 250 acres of manicured, geometric gardens. This is how it feels to live like a King. It’s a symbol of lavish luxury that 30,000 toiled to build; an immense creation by the man who proclaimed, “L’état, c’est moi,” meaning “I am the state.”

Drive Pacific Coast Highway, USA

Less well-known than the iconic Route 66 but arguably more scenic, the serene Pacific Coast Highway meanders for just 235km along the Californian coast from Monterey to Morro Bay. This road is made for bikers, with scrubby mountains along one side, the bright blue ocean on the other, and sunshine on your back; it’s enough to convince anyone that two wheels are better than four. Sites along the road include Hearst Castle, Point Lobos State Reserve and the fabled Big Sur, where giant redwood trees reach skyward and the Santa Lucia Range of rocks plunge into the sea in a demonstration of elemental majesty. It’s the definition of ‘the open road’.

Dive the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Larger than the Great Wall of China and the only living thing visible from space, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven wonders of the natural world and is Australia’s pride and joy. Comprised of over 3,000 individual reef systems and coral cays, while dotted with sun-drenched tropical islands, diving this incredible site with its teeming marine ecosystem is a rite of passage for those with an affinity with the underwater world. You’ll spy turtles, dolphins and sharks… Cairns is the ideal base from which to explore the reef, but cities like Port Douglas, Rockhampton and Townsville are also picturesque holiday spots to plan your dive.

aerial shot of Great Barrier Reef
Heart Reef, part of the Great Barrier Reef

Stay in a former palace in India

Favoured by Hollywood and Bollywood stars alike, sleep like a sultan and step back in time in one of India’s majestic palace hotels, the likes of Umaid Bhawan Palace in Jodhpur or Taj Falaknuma Palace, Hyderabad. Each has its own unique charm and décor. Some are only accessible by boat, others offer limousine services, resident astrologers, butterfly gardens and refreshing subterranean pools. While each has a unique history, all have one thing in common – pure, opulent decadence, where the only decision you’ll have to make is the choice between a relaxing massage or a spot of lunch, brought to you by a private butler.

Drive the Garden Route in South Africa

The best bit of driving the Garden Route isn’t actually the driving: it’s what you encounter along the way. Discover ancient indigenous forests where endangered elephants roam; spot dolphins while you laze on crowd-free beaches; take a tiny steam train that threads through dramatic mountain ranges. This 300km route between Mossel Bay and Plettenberg Bay is packed with incredible landscapes and experiences, so it’s not a road trip to rush. Stop as often as you can, and let the wonderful wildlife reveal itself: it’s not everywhere that you can spy humpback whales, vervet monkeys and rainbow-plumed birds of paradise all in one day.

Encounter elephants in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Skip tourist-trap Phuket and keep the island hopping for elsewhere – Chiang Mai is your go-to destination in Thailand. The mountainous northern capital is a fantastic escape from Bangkok’s hectic pace of life and, as the cultural centre of the country, is steeped in history. Riding on the back of an elephant at Thailand’s best-known elephant rehabilitation centre can be done without a shred of guilt, as the refuge has won countless awards for its ethical approach to rehabilitating elephants since it opened. Help the keepers feed these colossal animals, before accompanying the elephants on a walk to the river for their afternoon bath.

Elephant in forest
Elephant in the beautiful forest at Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Book a bed on board Russia’s Trans-Siberian Railway

Usually the journey isn’t the highlight of any trip. Except when the journey encompasses the spectacular vastness of the world’s largest country, via the longest voyage you can make by single train – the perfect opportunity to get stuck into War and Peace. Cabins in first and second class come with standard bed and breakfast, but you can treat yourself to the Golden Eagle for a double bed, TV, and en-suite shower room. While tickets don’t include any stop offs, you can book tick-off-your-bucket-list trips with visits to World Heritage Site the Kremlin and Lake Baikal, the world’s deepest hole.

See the sights and sounds of Baku’s Old City in Azerbaijan

Don’t be distracted by the rainbow-lit skyscrapers and Zaha Hadid-designed modern marvels that puncture Baku’s skyline: the heart of Azerbaijan’s capital is actually in its Old City, a fascinating settlement whose roots can be traced back to the seventh century. It has been lived in since its ancient beginnings – with one step you can gaze into twelfth-century madrassas, while round the corner you’ll spy majestic Baroque houses. This UNESCO-listed treasure is no museum piece: it’s stuffed with fascinating shops, charming hotels, and even a bathhouse, restored to former glory.

See more from World Traveller’s ultimate travel bucket list here.