There are some travel experiences that are guaranteed to give you a new appreciation of planet earth – not to mention a whole new world of discussion topics for your next dinner party. To help those stuck in a humdrum travel rut, online travel agency Zuji has complied their top 10 list of life-changing travel experiences.
1. Visit the temples of Bagan, Myanmar (Burma)
Get in now before the hordes arrive. Myanmar is quickly becoming a tourist hotspot now that the US has re-established diplomatic relations with the newly civilian government and the National League for Democracy has dropped its long-standing travel boycott. Nestled away in upper Myanmar, Bagan is the former centre of the Kingdom of Pagan. While it is estimated that in excess of 10,000 temples and pagodas were constructed at the site, a remarkable 2,200 still stand in what is the densest and largest concentration of Buddhist ruins in the world. To make the most of your experience, why not take to the sky in a hot air balloon to soak in the sheer scale of this impressive site. Bagan can be experienced year round, thanks to its dry climate.
2. Meet mountain gorillas in Rwanda
Rwanda’s animal kingdom promises to leave even the most seasoned traveller in awe, and Rwanda’s mountain gorilla is an essential must-see. With less than 700 left in the wild, these magnificent beasts can be found in either the Virunga volcanic mountains or the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park at an altitude range of 2,200-4,300 metres. Rwanda’s strict conservation laws mean only 50 travellers can get in the midst of the gorillas at a time making it more likely to spot one of these gentle giants than another tourist. The gorillas can be visited year round, regardless of season.
3. Admire the Mayan ruins of Tikal, Guatemala
Once the glittering jewel at the centre of the Mayan empire, Tikal was consumed by the jungle and lost for nearly three centuries. Today, the sites’ secrets have been once again revealed, and travellers from around the world can now witness first-hand some of the largest and most impressive ancient structures in South America. Tikal’s Great Plaza includes temples more than 70 metres high, sprawling royal palaces and a host of other buildings and monuments. It is recommended to visit during the dry season, which runs from January to May.
4. Witness the northern lights in Svalbard, Norway
It’s a long way from Australia, but the incredible phenomena of the northern lights is well worth the trip. ZUJI.com.au recommends you witness nature’s very own light show from Svalbard, a stunning Arctic archipelago where mountains meet massive glaciers. After you’ve caught a glimpse of the aurora, there’s an abundance of things to do in this winter wonderland, but spending a few days spotting Svalbard’s incredible wildlife is highly recommended. If you’re lucky you might even be able to see a few polar bears in their natural habitat. The lights are most easily spotted between September and March.
5. Find yourself on the Ganges, India
Take a journey to Varanasi, the holiest city in India, and witness tens of thousands of people descending the ghats to take a cleansing dip in the sacred river each day. Make sure you take some time to sail down the river and find yourself at one of the many meditation camps along the banks. The best time to experience Varanasi is from November to March.
6. Swim with humpback whales in Tonga
Once hunted to the brink of extinction, a first-hand encounter with a 36,000kg humpback whale is guaranteed to power up the endorphins. Tonga is one of the only places in the world where you can swim with these majestic mammals. These Southern Hemisphere humpbacks are said to migrate up to 25,000km from their feeding grounds in the Antarctic to the tropical waters of Tonga to mate and give birth. The best time to travel is between August and October.
7. Climb Kilimanjaro in Tanzania
Stretch your legs with a trek up Mount Kilimanjaro. The world’s highest walkable peak offers tough travellers an opportunity to traverse 80km of mountain, five different climatic zones and some truly amazing scenery all in the course of a few days. These treks are best experienced in January to mid-March or from June to October, however the most popular time for climbing is in December.
8. Witness the Great Migration in Kenya
Known as The Great Migration, this annual event sees millions of wildebeest, zebra and gnu journey from the plains of the Serengeti to the hills of Masai Mara. Gaze in awe as the herds brave rivers, ravines and other wildlife on their life-or-death trek towards greener pastures. The best time to catch the action is between July and October.
9. Ride the Trans-Siberian Railway through Mother Russia
Once hailed as ‘the fairest jewel in the crown of the Tsars’, a journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway is one of life’s great travel experiences. Sit back and watch the landscape slip by as you make the 9,288km trek through eight time zones from Moscow to Vladivostok on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Travel at your own pace through some of the most rugged and awe-inspiring terrain the planet has to offer.
If you’re after even more you can opt to then transfer to the Trans- Mongolian, which visits Beijing and Ulaanbataar, or select from a raft of other options and destinations.
10. White water rafting in Nepal
Home to the highest peaks in the world, Nepal has always been a mecca for mountain climbers. But what goes up must come down. Adventure junkies will be treated to an outstanding selection of snow-fed rivers, which range from PG-related fun to raging torrents. For ultimate bragging rights take a ride along the monster Sun Kosi rapids that start near the Tibetan border. The best months to take a plunge are October and November. Avoid the monsoon season from June to August.