The world is full of wonders natural and manmade, ancient and modern. Some people make it their mission to experience as many of these once-in-a-lifetime places as possible.
These five adventures are a sampling of top dream trips. If your group craves incredible experiences, read on to discover the highlights of dream destinations, learn what going on the trips involves and find some unexpected surprises that may be encountered along the way.
Float in the Dead Sea
Most visits to Israel will include a soak in the saline waters of the Dead Sea along with visiting the country’s historic sites. The Dead Sea is also accessible from Jordan and Egypt. At 1,388 feet below sea level, it’s the lowest point on earth. It has a salinity of 33.7%, and its high concentration of salt makes it inhospitable to almost every type of life but creates incredible buoyancy.
It’s been sought for its healing mineral-rich waters for thousands of years, even by King David and Herod the Great. The balms and asphalts from the Dead Sea were used in ancient Egyptian mummification, and its muds and salts continue to be packaged and sold today for their healing properties.
“The famous Dead Sea attracts thousands of international travelers each year eager to relax and indulge in its healing properties,” said Kylie Goldstein of tour company Tourist Israel. “Its minerals are known to heal skin ailments and are particularly good for those with skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis and rheumatoid arthritis. The Dead Sea is the ultimate natural spa, both visually beautiful and deeply relaxing; it is an experience that can only be had by visiting Israel.”
Guests may want to visit the Dead Sea in cooler months, October through March, since in the summer, temperatures top 100 degrees. Private beach access is available at any of the hotels lining the beach, where there may also be a wellness spa. Ein Gedi and Ein Bokek are the two main public beaches. Many people opt to let the salt dry on their skin or like to slather themselves in Dead Sea mud before showering off. It’s advisable to wear sunscreen and water shoes and avoid shaving before soaking.
Ride a Gondola in Venice
Cruising the canals of Venice in a flat-bottomed boat is one of the most dreamed-about experiences for visitors. The gondola is easily one of the world’s most recognizable images representing the romance and history of Venice. There’s no better way for travelers to explore the city’s architecture than by gliding tranquilly along the waterways, guided by a gondolier. A gondola ride is not about getting from point A to point B quickly but soaking in all the magic of Venice.
Venice is an archipelago of man-made islands. Motorized vehicles and bicycles aren’t allowed on the pathways that crisscross the city, so the canals serve as its primary transportation routes. Gondolas came into use in the 11th century, and at one point there were as many as 10,000 of the flat-bottomed boats floating through the city. Now, there are only about 400, but the role of the gondolier is still taken as a noble profession that requires years of training in boating, art, history and linguistics.
Many gondoliers line their boats with ornate pillows and blankets, letting passengers relax in timeless luxury. The image of a serenading gondolier is pure Hollywood fiction, but most speak some English and will offer historical anecdotes about landmarks along the way. With a backdrop of Baroque palazzi, former convents and other unseen gems, a gondola ride will also hit the major sights, including the Bridge of Sighs, the Basilica della Salute and St. Mark’s, all bathed in the mystical pink light at sunset.
Climb a Mountain
Summitting one of the world’s tallest peaks is on many a bucket list. For most, it is partly the reward of finishing the climb; but it is also about the physical and mental challenges that happen along the way.
Climbing peaks like these require a lot more preparation than a Sunday hike. These multiday climbs require both an experienced guide and staying with your group in a climbing camp at designated stops.
“It’s an irreplaceable euphoria that stays with you the rest of your life,” said Eddie Frank of Tusker Tours. “Every day of the climb, there’s an ethereal feeling of getting closer to your goal. There’s also the human connection made within the climbing group as you face challenges together; you have an unforgettable connection with a new lifetime friend.”
Being in great physical shape is a prerequisite to these types of treks, but its also important to give the body time to acclimatize over an altitude of 8,000 feet to prevent altitude sickness. A few days to adjust is something an experienced, quality guide will make sure is built into the trip. A good guide will coach climbers through being mentally prepared for some of the difficulties they’ll face on the journey, too.
A climber’s guide should make sure the behind-the-scenes essentials are taken care of, like having porters in place to carry gear. The guide will also know which route to take and how to diagnose climbing-related ailments and get climbers medical assistance if needed. A reputable guide will ensure that climbers get the most from their trip and enjoy the journey to the top.
Go On Safari
Going on safari is a top bucket-list adventure. Travelers imagine their ideal trip staying in a tent camp in the African wilderness, mingling with locals whose culture is different from their own and seeing lions, elephants, zebras and giraffes in the wild. However romanticized the safari is through Hollywood, the appeal of being completely out of one’s comfort zone while on a safari is real — and once in a lifetime.
“A lot of people aren’t sure what to expect or what a safari should be like and are surprised by how comfortable the accommodations in a tent camp and the experiences are,” said Darcie Smith, director of safari planning at The Wild Source. “A good guide will be the bridge to view an abundance of wildlife interacting with each other and authentic cultural experiences.”
In Kenya, the capital city of Nairobi offers experiences with locals and wildlife. Outside the city is Nairobi National Park where endangered black rhinos are bred and visitors can see zebras, giraffes and lions. The popular Elephant Orphanage and the Giraffe Centre are nearby, and visitors can also explore the Karen Blixen Museum and the National Museum. Nairobi is a common departure point for safaris farther afield, where guests can expect to go on early-morning game drives, when big cats are most active and the light is spectacular, and an evening game drive. Free time in between allows for additional activities and leisure time.
In Tanzania, there are many game reserves and national parks, allowing for many wildlife experiences. Guests are drawn to watch the Great Migration across the Serengeti. At the Ngoronogoro Crater, visitors can see the Big Five — lion, leopard, elephant, buffalo and rhino — as well as visit the local Masai community. Nearby Lake Manyara is home to pink flamingoes, hippos and monkeys. Visitors can combine their safari with a Kilimanjaro climb or a visit to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s pristine beach.
In South Africa, Kruger National Park is the place to see lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and buffalos and is only an hour’s flight from Johannesburg. Its Sabi Sabi Private Game reserve offers four private lodges and great wildlife viewing without the crowds.
See the Northern Lights
The natural phenomenon of the aurora borealis in the night sky near the Arctic Circle is a magical and unforgettable experience at the top of many travelers’ lists, but the northern lights are unpredictable and not always visible.
Common places to see the northern lights include Alaska, Canada, Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and even Scotland. The lights are visible only in the winter months, when most of the day is dark. Travelers will want to keep in mind that even if viewing the northern lights is a significant reason for their trip, it’s best to plan plenty of other activities into the vacation, too. Travelers will want to pick a place where they can enjoy a multitude of experiences and that they are eager to explore.
“On our weeklong Iceland trip, we plan plenty of outdoor adventures,” said Janel Jensen, REI Adventures program coordinator. “Lunch near the top of a glacier, geothermal pools, frozen waterfalls, snowshoeing over frozen lava fields and soaking in the Blue Lagoon, for example. Of course, a highlight is seeing the otherworldly, ethereal northern lights. Guests will experience a true winter wonderland.”
Weather is a factor in determining whether the lights will be visible — the sky must be clear. It’s advisable for light seekers to get outside of the city and into the countryside, where there is no light pollution that would make it impossible to see the lights. This will also allow viewers to see the range of colors presented in the aurora borealis.