BIG bucket list Adventures
1. Raft the Grand Canyon Arizona US
Why? To see the great gorge from a completely different and rare angle. Looking down on the squiggle of the Colorado River from a mile up on the rocky rim it seems impossible that this river could have carved the gargantuan Grand Canyon. Of course it s had about two billion years to do so slowly slicing through the black red orange purple strata to create one of the natural wonders of the world. And this is why seeing the canyon from water level is the best way to appreciate it the experience offers a far more intimate encounter than peering in from the top as well as a close up of all that glorious geology. The official launch point for a full run is Lees Ferry at the north east of Grand Canyon National Park; the end is at Lake Mead 443km further on. En route are side canyons Puebloan sites swimming holes and sandy beaches not to mention plenty of wild water. So all good it s just getting authorisation to enter that s the problem. There s a weighted lottery? system with a waiting list of several years to secure a private rafting permit. Fortunately commercial tour op trips which range from one day to three week floats are available but even these need booking in advance if you want to guarantee your rendezvous with all this ancient rock.
2. See the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City Italy
Why? Massive art small crowds. Damn Michelangelo for not picking a bigger room! The 40m long by 13m wide box squished into the Vatican Museum complex is woefully inadequate for the 25 000 odd people who now traipse through here every day. Yes the iconic ceiling and particularly the altar wall s Last Judgement are probably the most impressive paintings you ll ever see but that s only if you can see them over the heads of the rest of humanity. Fortunately there is another way. It s possible to book private tours of the site which take small groups (15 people) into Vatican rooms usually off limits and finish in the Sistine Chapel for an after hours viewing of Michelangelo s masterpieces without all the other people.
3. Sleep at Everest Base Camp Nepal
Why? To complete an epic trek then snooze with the summiteers. The trek to Everest Base Camp a breathtaking 14 day out and back into Sagarmatha NP to the foot of the world s highest mountain is a classic. And after the tragic earthquakes in 2015 the surrounding communities need the support from tourists. But while the teahouse hospitality and Himalaya views en route are magnificent most treks are not actually allowed to stay at Everest Base Camp it requires specific permission. Most hikers visit their 5 340m goal for a been there photo op then descend to nearby Gorak Shep to sleep. However a few special departures do offer the chance to overnight at the iconic camp. Also these trips may be timed to coincide with peak summit attempt season when groups of climbers are also in residence. It s a unique opportunity to both sleep in the shadow of the mighty mountain and to speak to the brave/mad souls making their final preparations; you might even see teams setting off up the notorious Khumbu Ice Fall the start of their push for the top.
4. Trek to Machu Picchu Peru
Why? It s more satisfying than the train and there are lots of options. It s virtually impossible to make a bucket list that doesn t include Machu Picchu. A secret city never found by those pesky conquistadores perched in the mountains swirled by mists and mysteries it s the stuff of travel legend. The trouble is when you ve seen so many many photos of the Inca citadel there s a danger it ll be a bit of a let down. And that s one reason why if you can you should go on foot. The city deserves the slow build the accumulated excitement that trekking there provides. Also deciding to lace up doesn t mean you have to hit the Inca Trail. There are plenty of alternatives to the classic: you can hike via the much less visited ruins of Choquequirao; head along the dramatic and diverse Salkantay Trail (with posh lodges en route); or tackle the tough Vilcabamba Traverse.
5. Hike the Milford Track New Zealand
Why? Complete one of New Zealand s Great(est) Walks in great style. New Zealand has nine official Great Walks and the Milford Track is arguably the greatest of the lot. This four day 53.5km hike from Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound slices through the splendour of Fiordland National Park taking in lakes waterfalls ice fields forest and plenty of pioneer history and tops out at the panoramic Mackinnon Pass (1 154m). In the peak summer trekking months (November April) it s always oversubscribed; camping is not permitted and numbers are limited by the bunk space available in the three DOC lodges en route. That is unless you opt for an upgrade. Ultimate Hikes operates a series of private lodges (with both dorms and doubles) that enable hikers to tramp the track with a guide in a little more comfort. You still have to carry your own bag but unlike those in the DOC huts you get hot showers duvets drying rooms and hairdryers; breakfasts lunches and three course dinners are cooked up for you; each lodge even has a well stocked bar. Cheers to that: a Great Hike indeed.
6. Sleep under the stars in NamibRand Namibia
Why? To experience some of the world s best celestial sights. Sure leave the big city and you can see stars almost anywhere. But the experience will be extra heavenly if you travel somewhere very dark very clear and very remote. Namibia s vast NamibRand Nature Reserve is one of only a few gold certified Dark Sky Reserves. Simply it has some of the world s best dark skies. There are no towns or settlements inside it or even nearby Namibia is one of the planet s most sparsely populated countries. And the dry climate means cloudless skies are the norm. By day explore NamibRand s ochre hued wilderness of dunes mountains and plains looking for oryx and Hartmann s zebra. Then after a blazing sunset it s time to turn your eyes skyward. Splurge on a stay at Sossusvlei Desert Lodge which has its own observatory and ten luxurious chalets each with a terrace telescope and skylight over the bed. Or join the Tok Tokkie Trails three day desert walk on which nights are spent sleeping on a canvas stretcher under the stars.
7. Swim with turtles in Ningaloo Western Australia
Why? To take a dip with endangered species. Western Oz s Ningaloo Reef isn t as big as the Great Barrier on the opposite coast. But it s still comprises 250 types of coral and attracting 500 species of fish; best of all in parts it lays only 100m offshore making its underwater riches extremely accessible the snorkelling is superb too. Three of the world s seven species of marine turtles nest on beaches and islands near Ningaloo between November and April: green (listed as vulnerable) hawksbill (critically endangered) and loggerhead (the most endangered species). However turtles swim offshore year round their lumpen on land movements transformed into a graceful ballet once they re in the water. Good spots include Shark Bay the Muiron Islands and Turtle Bay on Dirk Hartog Island.
8. Visit an endangered tribe in the Amazon Ecuador
Why? To glimpse a unique culture but to do it sensitively and responsibly. Understandably many struggling minority tribes don t want to be gawped at by tourists passing through the arrow firing Sentinelese of the Andaman Islands being a case in point. But for some such groups tourism is providing a cultural lifeline and travellers staying at lodges or booking tours owned and run by the tribes themselves are helping to keep endangered traditions alive (and protect their much threatened environment from developers) while also giving visitors an authentic insight into how the peoples have existed for centuries: everybody wins. The indigenous peoples of Ecuador s Oriente seem to have mastered this kind of community eco tourism; there are several well regarded options. For example the Cof?n one of the oldest Amazonian tribes now numbering just 2 000 have been running community based ecotourism in northern Ecuador since 1978. Trips here include canoeing and piranha fishing sleeping in traditional thatched huts and trekking into the wildlife dense rainforest with Cof?n guides with optional overnight camping trip for the adventurous minded.
9. Spot a snow leopard in Ladakh India
Why? Few have seen this endangered cat. There are thought to be just 4 000 to 6 500 snow leopards left in the wild. Coupled with the fact that these charismatic big cats tend to live in cold inhospitable rocky clifftops at altitudes above 3 000m they re not that easy to spot. This makes a sighting very special and most trips that venture into their domain largely Tibet the Himalaya and the Stans make it clear that you d be fortunate to see even a paw print. However in recent years Ladakh s Hemis National Park has gained a reputation as the world s snow leopard capital with around 200 leopards and as time passes local guides gain an ever better understanding of their habits. There are still no guarantees but in Hemis s Husing Tarbuns and Rumbak Valleys sightings are relatively common; Husing is on a well known snow leopard corridor. Visit in winter when the snow brings the cats to lower ground and with the help of local knowledge trained trackers and spotting scopes you might be in luck.
10. Descend into a volcano Iceland
Why? For a unique descent into the earth s belly. To inject some Jules Verne adventure into your bucket list you need to head to Iceland. It s a strange singular place; a newborn babe in geological terms you can virtually see it being formed before your eyes the land groans hisses and spews. This makes delving beneath the surface quite exciting indeed though something that s been easy to achieve since 2012 when commercial tours began plunging into Thrihnukagigur volcano. Clipped on to what s essentially a window cleaner s lift you re slowly lowered 120m into another world a magma chamber uniquely drained of its magma. Lights reveal a cavern of many colours bruise purples sulphur yellows blood reds. Water drip drips from above while breaking into song demonstrates the excellent acoustics. It is wonderful and very weird. Thrihnukagigur is dormant last erupting over 4 000 years ago. There s no sign that it s about to spring into life but tours are only announced on a year by year basis because well you never know...
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