There are so many places to visit and see… but there are some places in the world that literally take your breath away. You become overwhelmed with emotion – in awe of the natural beauty – and you leave feeling like, just by being there, your life has been changed in some way.
We asked our team of world travelers to name the top 10 places that left them speechless and made an indelible mark on their life.
1. Uluru (aka Ayers Rock), Australia
Uluru is an oval-shaped, sandstone monolith located in the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Australia. It rises 1,142 ft. above the Australian desert plain with a height of 2,831 ft. above sea level. Highly revered by the Aboriginal tribes, it has caves that are decorated with tribal paintings and carvings. The best times to see Uluru are at sunrise and sunset when the rock is brilliant with color.
“Ayers Rock (Uluru as it is also called), was surprisingly one of the most spiritual places I’ve ever visited. Not only is the story of the Anangu people (Aboriginals) truly emotional and sacred, but the morning hikes around the monolith as well as the night sky are truly breathtaking. It was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987.”
- Staff Contributor
2. The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China, also on the UNESCO World Heritage list, is China’s largest architectural military marvel. It stretches west to east over 13,000 miles on the northern border. Currently, about 30% of the Great Wall is gone due to natural erosion and human damage. Fun fact: It would take approximately 18 months to walk the Ming section of the Great Wall which is around 5,500 miles and is the most preserved section. Generally, travelers book tours that last 1-3 days and only walk smaller sections.
“The Great Wall blew me away by its immense length and width. Our group entered the Wall at Badaling, a short drive from Beijing. There are several less crowded places to enter. The Wall is very thick and over 10 feet wide. We were able to walk for about an hour before we got to a section that was closed because of needed repairs. This was a huge engineering feat over a thousand years ago. Definitely a must see if possible.” - Pat T.
3. The Great Barrier Reef
Want to see an enormous ecosystem with thousands of diverse species up close? The Great Barrier Reef can provide just that. It is located off the coast of Queensland, Australia. Stretching 1,429 miles, it is the largest living structure in the world and some parts can take up to 2 hours to reach from land. Snorkeling and diving can give you a closer look into this vibrant world alive with marine wildlife. The best time to visit is in winter (June – October) as temps are milder, and with rainfall being lower this time of year, there is better visibility in the water to avoid deadly jellyfish.
“Talk about swimming with the fishes… even a novice snorkeler (which I am) can feel up close and personal with marine life of all types & sizes… even ones with teeth. The reef is a living organism, and its existence is threatened by climate change and pollution. See it now!” – Staff Contributor
4. Machu Picchu
This awe-inspiring Incan Empire creation stands more than 7,000 ft. above sea level in the Andes Mountains of Peru and is surrounded on three sides by cliffs. It was built by ancient Incans using a unique way of laying stones tightly together and in doing so, no mortar was needed. There are two mountain hikes requiring a permit – Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain – and there are a couple of hikes within Machu Picchu that do not. Along with the archaeological structures, there are many varieties of flora and fauna native to Machu Picchu as it is on the border of the rainforest.
5. Venice, Italy
Venice is a city filled with old-world romance and charm. Located in northeastern Italy, it is known for gorgeous bridges, canals lined with architectural beauty, and charming districts. The historic St. Mark’s Square, Burano (not to be confused with Murano) the “most colorful village in the world”, and the Venetian Lagoon are all areas of interest to tourists. The history of Venice is strongly portrayed by culture and traditions and is a fascinating place to visit.
“I remember walking out of the train station and seeing Venice for the first time. My jaw literally dropped, and I had to pinch myself to remind myself that this was real. This wasn’t just an amazing replica of Venice in some theme park. We hopped in a water taxi and just stared in complete awe of the architecture as we zipped through the canals, past all the other boats and gondolas.” - Darlene C.
6. Galapagos Islands
Located off the coast of Ecuador, these lava-formed islands have some of the most exclusive wildlife in the world, and the area was designated a World Heritage site in 1978. Consisting of 13 major islands, Isabela being the largest at approximately 82 miles long, it was the site for many scientific studies done by Charles Darwin whose book, On the Origin of Species, is based on his observations during his brief visit.
“My typical vacation consists of relaxing, being pampered, reading a mindless trashy novel, and occasionally taking a shore excursion by bus to someplace I’ve never been before... this Galapagos vacation in NO WAY resembled one of my typical vacations. I was lucky enough to sail on the Celebrity Xpedition to the Galapagos, and it was the BEST vacation I ever had!” - Sandy C.
See Sandy’s day-by-day itinerary: Galapagos: A Once in a Lifetime Trip to The Land That Time Forgot
7. African Safari
Going on an African safari is a quintessential bucket list experience. It is a trip that, based on your preference of what to see, will require some planning as most of the experience is a search for wildlife. The best time of the year to go is said to be June – October as this is the drier time and many animals are roaming in search of water. This is also when the Great Migration happens and herds of wildebeest, zebras, gazelles and other herbivores migrate from the Serengeti to the Masai Mara in search of more plentiful grasses in which to feed.
“To see the majestic animals in their natural habitat is truly life-changing.” – Lindy N.
8. Iceland & the Northern Lights
Due to its location at the southern edge of the Arctic Circle, Iceland, the land of ‘Fire and Ice’, has spectacular views of the Aurora Borealis, otherwise known as the Northern Lights. Although there is a scientific reason for the Northern Lights (solar winds reacting to Earth’s magnetic field) many have described viewing them in their full glory in Iceland as ‘spiritual and breathtaking’. September through March is the peak season for viewing as it is when the nights are longest. Besides the Northern Lights, Iceland is home to many hot springs and volcanoes, both of which bring essences of beauty to the landscape. The people of Iceland uphold many traditions, languages and customs of their Nordic and Celtic ancestors.
“I dreamed of watching the most beautiful dance in the sky, having always believed that Iceland would be a guaranteed theatre ticket for this event. What I discovered was something equally breathtaking and unexpected: wind gusts that guided me along winding paths which consistently piqued my curiosity, bundled from head to toe in warm winter gear only to plunge into many hot springs, and perhaps most surprisingly was the minute-by-minute weather changes that forced me to let go of my plans, and just be in the moment. I thought I was looking to watch a dance, instead - I danced through Iceland.” – Carey N.
Antarctica may seem to the undiscerning eye to be a barren wasteland, but it is teeming with marine life such as seals, whales, and of course, penguins. It is home to one of the driest places on Earth known as the aptly named Dry Valleys. Covered in ice, it also has the world’s largest mountain range, the Gamburtsev Mountains. One of the best reasons to go to Antarctica is that with the absence of light pollution, the ability to study the night sky is otherworldly!
10. Bora Bora Picturesque tropical landscape, warm breezes, and crystal-clear water are enough reasons to have us packing for Bora Bora. Situated northwest of Tahiti, Bora Bora boasts a beautifully clear lagoon surrounded by a coral reef making it a great scuba diving destination. Traveler tip: Pack water shoes to protect your feet from sharp coral, sea urchins and stinging fish. And if you happen to be a single lady ready to mingle, put a flower behind your right ear (on the left if you are taken 😉). “Skip Tahiti and go straight to Bora Bora! Make sure you rent one of the overwater bungalows. Sit in the shallow water and have the manta rays swim over your legs. Watch the locals climb coconut trees. Visit Bloody Mary’s Bar and you might even see a star or two.” – Staff Contributor
By Karen O’Brien and Winni Contributors
We hope these 10 trips of a lifetime have you catching the travel bug and if we missed your favorite once-in-a-lifetime trip, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Hearing from you will make our day!