Machu Picchu, the Great Wall, and the Taj Mahal once held the top spots on many people’s bucket lists. But the “to do list” – a term I’ve always despised – is giving way to a general desire to dream big, splurge on an adventure, and pursue dream experiences. now, because we’ve all been repressed for too long and because we’ve all seen how quickly plans can change, how quickly opportunities can disappear.
Moreover, for various reasons, visiting places that receive millions of visitors every year is less attractive than before. We want to have mind-blowing experiences in stunning places, but without the crowds. The pandemic is not over, overtourism is back and we don’t want to be part of it either. Here is better dream fodder.
The ends of the earth in a fishing village in Norway
Earlier this year, high-end travel company Blue Parallel, which began nearly 20 years ago as South America’s premier luxury travel expert, broadened its horizons. Very importantly: their new polar initiatives include the wide open spaces above or below the 66th parallel. In Norway, this includes immersions in Viking history, private rib boat safaris on the bird island of Runde, hiking and biking along the Geirangerfjord and a stay in a fisherman’s hut in the beautiful Lofoten archipelago, above the Arctic Circle.
The size and scale of NIHI Sumba and the island it sits on
Regularly – and deservedly – named the best hotel in the world, NIHI Sumba occupies 500 hectares on a sparsely populated island where local animist traditions have remained largely intact. “It’s an hour east of Bali and Java, the most populated island in the world, and it’s a completely different island,” says hotel partner and CEO James McBride. Initially a surfing destination with a mythical break, it has since been transformed into an experience of totality, with a herd of 24 horses for rides at sea, a “safari spa” in which a couple alone relaxing all day in a wellness sanctuary, waterfalls, palm trees, organic food grown on site and cooked over fires, and plenty of space — “the ultimate dream,” says McBride.
Heli-jump on a private tour of Iceland
Blue Parallel Polar also takes guests to increasingly remote parts of Iceland, away from the crowded Golden Circle and onto glaciers (and the Westman Islands, one of the country’s best kept secrets, and scuba diving (brrrr!) in the Silfra fissure, a fault between the tectonic plates of North America and Eurasia, and home to fascinating cold-water marine life.
Sail the Turquoise Coast in a Turkish Gulet
Word turquoise comes from the old French for “Turkish stone”, but it applies just as well to the waters around the country’s southwest coast. A week on board a traditional Turkish gulet (sailing boat), eating delicious food, sunbathing, swimming and admiring the beautiful bright colors of the water is pure fantasy. A great way to make this a reality is to book with ScicsSailing, a company that has been providing hassle-free, all-inclusive voyages to the bays around Bodrum for decades, both for guests booking a single cabin on a “comfort “yacht and for those who privately charter a “luxury” yacht, which has hotel-style amenities.
Adventure in the Gobi Desert
Ride a horse in front of bushes of sassoul, black-tailed gazelle and ibex. Mountain bike along ancient desert roads past dramatic canyons and cliffs. Camp in the shadow of the Gobi Altai Mountains and later sleep in a glamorously appointed yurt. These are some of the things that come to mind when thinking of Mongolia’s vast empty playground. Earthtones, a startup focused on immersive nature travel, has put together a program that includes all that and more, like rides on the famous Bactrian (two-humped) camels of the desert.
Meet the women of northern Kenya who are saving African elephants
When Katie Rowe founded Reteti in 2016, she brought in nine rangers and sitters from the local community to help care for a growing brood of orphaned elephants. Reteti is unique in that the Samburu women who support him are as respected and valued as the male elephant keepers. They’re paving the way for women in conservation everywhere, which is one of the reasons adventure travel company Uncharted sends guests on their journey. Reteti is open to visitors, who can see the elephants and talk to the keepers while staying in the charming new Reteti House, a private retreat for exclusive use.
Diving in Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
Halfway between South America and Africa, that is to say far from it all, the hyper-protected Brazilian island has transformed from an underdeveloped military outpost to a natural paradise with strict limits on tourism and a massive commitment to preservation. It is an ecological sanctuary, a place that marine research uses as a control group, unlike the developed beaches of the mainland. It’s a unique trip for divers (something Blue Parallel can also arrange), not only for its warm, clear waters and abundant marine life, but also for its laid-back Brazilian island vibe.
The ultimate New Zealand soft adventure
Experimental travel agency Hiking New Zealand recently organized a 15-day experience they call New Zealand Uncut. It covers the vast and varied landscapes of both islands as it makes its way from north to south without the rigors and discomforts of, say, the Milford Track. Rather, it’s New Zealand for those who aren’t camping, a series of day hikes and short walks – from strenuous alpine treks to beach strolls – in remote areas where the majesty of the islands shines.
A flying tiger safari in central India
Royal Expeditions is a luxury travel agency founded by the Princess of Jodhpur, who was an MP and Minister of Culture. The outfit created a flying tiger safari (in a Pilatus jet) above the wilderness of central India – Rudyard Kipling’s inspiration for The jungle Book. On land, naturalist guides show visitors the national parks in open-top vehicles, it is possible to take special full-day photography permits, which allow access from sunrise to sunset.
Glorious alpine picking in Slovenia
An increasingly well-known secret, Slovenia is one of the world’s last great forest havens, full of beautiful places to visit and bursting with delicious things to eat. Wanderlux Journeys’ journey takes guests to Velika Planina, a settlement of shepherds in the Kamnik-Savinja Alps. It is only accessible on foot or by cable car during the day, which makes slowing down part of the program. The trip features chef Bine Volcic (known for her daring zero-waste cuisine at Monstera Bistro in Ljubljana) and famous forager (yes, that’s a thing in Slovenia) Katja Rebolj, and there’s hiking, foraging , a hands-on cooking workshop and a night in a cottage above the city lights.
Off the beaten track in Tanzania
The Serengeti has many selling points, but solitude is not one of them. Fortunately, Tanzania is a big country, with a number of game reserves that are still remote and untouched. To the south is Ruaha National Park, the best park you’ve never heard of and Tanzania’s ‘best kept wildlife secret’, with impressive numbers of elephants and even more lions. The Great Ruaha Landscape has one of six lion populations of over 1,000 in the world and is now home to around 10% of the world’s lions. Another corner of Tanzania worth exploring is Mahale National Park on the western border and Greystoke, where visitors can spot wild chimpanzees. Cartology The journey can be one or the other for life.
Puma tracking in Torres del Paine, Chile
The main predator of southern Chile, the Patagonian puma, calls Torres del Paine home. Going to find them with professional wilderness trackers – something Earthtones offers – adds a whole new dimension to a trip to this majestic end of the earth. The hikes are accessible, short in duration and of low difficulty, and end with starry nights in a mountain ecolodge.