Exotic and exciting wonders of the world are often dreamt of by travelers but put off until a future date. This last year of social distancing and staying at home, however, has whet the appetite for bigger, bolder vacation planning. Dazzling natural beauty is everywhere around us, whether we bicycle around the corner or fly over an ocean and a continent. Make exploration a new priority as the world opens and begins to breathe fresh air again. Thousands of unique and inspiring cultures, cities, villages, and natural wonders are around us, just waiting to be shared. Life is an unpredictable adventure, and there's no longer a good reason to postpone seeing the parts of the world that have been calling for a lifetime.
The Nile was the heart of Ancient Egypt and the lifeblood that powered one of the world's mightiest civilizations. This huge river stretches 4,150 miles, making it the world's longest. Sail down its length to see the ancient wonders at Cairo, Luxor, Aswan, and Khartoum, including the Great Pyramids of Giza and the Sphinx, and disembark at each city to explore tombs, statues, and museums full of artifacts that are thousands of years old. Watch the Sun God Ra shine radiantly over his glorious lands.
Construction of the Great Wall began in the 7th century BCE to protect the burgeoning Chinese Empire from northern tribes. Today it stretches from Liaodong in the east to Tao River in the south and then to Lop Lake in the west. This collection of fortified walls is one of the most breathtaking architectural feats in human history, encompassing a thousand years of cultural and military evolution. To walk its entire 13,171-mile length would take nearly 200 days without stopping. Visitors can sign up for short walks of a few hours or a few days, to a week or more. If you have time to tackle this dream for several months, the winding path of stone will take you from the Mongolian steppes to the lush forests of China's deep interior.
As deep as the Spanish Conquistadores crept into the South American jungles, it's likely they never laid eyes on the lost city of Machu Picchu, nestled into the mountains of Cuzco. The Inca built this place according to the movement of the Sun, creating a city that captured specific phases of light throughout the year. Inhabited in the 15th century but later abandoned, the ancient city has been uncovered once more and can only be reached after 3-5 days of hiking.
On the two days of the year when night and day are the same lengths, the great pyramid at Chichen Itza comes to life. As the sun's rays move over the temple, the sun catches the edge of the pyramid that resembles the serpent God, Kukulcán. Kukulcán slithers down the steps of the pyramid and off into the jungle to disappear into a sacred cenote or deep limestone pool. You can bear witness to the Mayan God's descent every March 21st and September 21st.
Rome's massive Colosseum was built in 70 or 80 CE for the sole purpose of public entertainment. Constructed of travertine limestone, volcanic rock, and concrete, this was and still is the largest amphitheater in the world. Designed to hold 50,000 to 80,000 Roman spectators, this ancient space has seen many horrors at the hands of its various emperors. Gladiators were housed here between shows of combat in the arena, while larger displays such as mock sea battles, executions, live theater, and yes, people were thrown to hungry lions.
To witness one of nature's most breathtaking displays, you have to go north, above 60 degrees latitude. Iceland, Canada, Russia, Greenland, Alaska, and Scandinavia fit the bill perfectly. This magnetic light show grows stronger the closer to the North Pole you go, so get ready for a chilly, refreshing hike in the wilderness. The more open sky and less electric light, the better, which makes a glass igloo the ideal place to spend the night.
Ancient Pompeii is largely still preserved under a thick layer of volcanic ash that dates to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE. A small section of that once-bustling Roman city has been excavated, and the artifacts found within are often both banal and heartbreaking. Cobbled paths, concrete sidewalks, take-out restaurants, gardens, public baths, and homes have all been swept free of ash, revealing a well-preserved day in the life of an Ancient Roman. Forced to flee during the volcanic eruption, families left food on the table and dinner cooking on the fire that can still be found today. The remains of 100 people are still there, lovingly and carefully preserved in plaster by Italian archaeologists.
Victoria Falls comprises the largest body of falling water on the entire planet, at a width of 5,604 feet and a height of 354 feet. This vast curtain of rushing water is called "Boiling Water" by the local Tonga people, named for the immensity of the breaking water at its foot. The falls are found on the Zambezi River, marking the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. A hike to the falls will immerse you in the sound and fury of 38,430 cubic feet falling every second, but only from above can one truly witness the majesty and size of this enormous crack through the Earth.
Australia's Great Barrier Reef is a mass of living coral polyps in Queensland's Coral Sea, stretching over an area of nearly 35 million hectares. These colorful and diverse coral cities reach as high as 1,640 feet and can span over a mile in diameter at the base, offering seemingly endless underwater vistas. The original reefs that form the base of this massive structure date back 600,000 years, and currently, the living reef supports thousands of marine species, including green turtles, dugongs, humpback whales, sharks, stingrays, giant clams, sea snakes, and clownfish.
The city of Petra was carved directly into the mountains of Jabal Al-Madbah about 2,000 years ago by cave-dwelling people who were excellent agriculturists. To set eyes upon the Treasury is to question whether human hands are truly capable of creating such beauty from the face of naked red rock. Petra supported a population of as many as 20,000 despite its location in the dry climes of southern Jordan. According to folklore, the carved caves and highly decorated outer walls of this mountain city were created by Moses' wand when he brought forth water for the Israelites.
The last French queen was famous for excess in the form of delicate cakes and sweets, bejeweled silks, and ribboned hair; however, one of Marie Antoinette's most lasting legacies is that of her simplistic village outside the Palace of Versailles. Tired of the constant social pressure that came of living in the opulent palace, Marie Antoinette designed an entire miniature village on the grounds where she relaxed and lived a simple life with her children. The cottages, English gardens, barn, dairy, and artificial lake offer a pristine sense of calm and quietude where one can imagine the young queen still gathering cream straight from the cow.
The Serengeti Desert of Tanzania is home to the largest populations of herd animals in the world. In the early months of each year, wildebeest mothers give birth to calves by the hundreds of thousands. Come the heat of the summer dry season; those same wildebeest begin to move en masse towards the rains of the southern desert. Two million wildebeest, zebras, antelope, and gazelles make this journey every year, which attracts predator species such as hyenas and lions.
The waters and lands of the Galapagos are so teeming with life that they inspired Charles Darwin to write his famous tome, "On The Origin of Species." Swim in the salty sea of this pristine natural wonder and meet some of the same species Darwin met during his brief visit in the 1800s--including a few giant tortoises who may remember the old fellow. Flamingos, frigate birds, cactus finches, Darwin's finches, ground finches, tortoises, lava herons, whale sharks, and hundreds of other bird, reptile, and mammal species make this a paradise like no other.
The ancient city of gold is one still so mysterious and isolated that some even doubt its existence. Nevertheless, famed for its reputation as a center of learning and wisdom, Timbuktu does indeed still stand at the center of the Mali desert. Market days are much as they must have been a thousand years ago, characterized by billowing bolts of fabric fastened to polls to create dozens and dozens of individual stalls. Fish, salt, and books--once the glory of the city--can still be purchased here, just as a visit to the Sankore University, first of its kind in the world, is still possible.
Venice, Italy, still has an ominous aura of prestige, romance, and antiquity about it that is incredibly alluring to even the most well-traveled visitor. And yet, its striking homes and museums are sinking bit by bit into the Mediterranean. Come and take in the aromas of traditional Venetian fare, from the grilled pork and polenta staples to local specialties such as bigoli pasta and fried sardines. Glide along the canals from restaurant to book shop--where you will encounter stacks of books in first-floor shops stacked protectively in bathtubs.