Well, it’s time to end our roundup of bucket list activities for jetsetters. Closing out the total 15 (check out the first set of five and the second set first) are these 5 final must-dos, each one painted in broad historical strokes and given enough context to explain why they landed at the top of our list. We think you’ll be as inspired to visit each one of them as we are. So without further ado…
11: Touch the sky at Machu Picchu.
While some imagine the mountaintop ruins of Machu Picchu to be thousands of years old, they were actually built in the 15th century. The work of native Incans, MP is located in the heights of Peru near the city of Cusco. Historians believe that the famous complex of ruins – which anchors the 125-square-mile Machu Picchu Historic Sanctuary – was built for Incan Emperor Pachacuti. Not only is the elevation of the complex astounding, given the relatively primitive Incan construction methods in the 15th century, but so are the buildings themselves. Many make use of the sun’s daily trajectory and illumination of the mountainside below, including the Room with the Three Windows and the Temple of the Sun. Additionally, it is said that when Machu Picchu is observed from above it resembles a bird flying toward the heavens. What’s more, the complex includes ample space for tiered farming – central to Incan existence – and signs of animal life, notably of alpacas and llamas.
To get to the ruins themselves, it’s best to take a train from Cusco; these leave throughout the week and offer a relaxing way to get to the mountain site in just under three hours. For an extra fancy experience, take the Belmond train – you’ll get a white tablecloth meal while you take in the gorgeous vistas on the way up to Machu Picchu. Once onsite, purchase a ticket at the entrance and, as needed, request a guide. Keep in mind that you’ll need your passport and local currency (Sols) – oh, and lots of high-SPF sunscreen as you’ll be very close to the sun.
12: Go on a safari in the Serengeti.
Africa as a whole is known for its safaris, but no region is more prized for its showcase of savannah wildlife than the Tanzanian Serengeti. Spanning some 12,000 miles, this arid region is particularly beloved for its animal migration – more specifically, the massive movement of wildebeests ever on the hunt for food and safe refuge from predators. It is this natural wonder that has earned the Serengeti a place on the list of the 10 Natural Wonders of the World. Imagine: Every February, 500,000 wildebeest calves and their protective adults move en masse to the Grumeti River in the northwest where the herd eats and the young are raised throughout the summer. Here is also where nature collides; crocodiles congregating at the Grumeti lay in wait for their prey every spring, hoping for an easy catch. While many wildebeest, old and young, fall victim to these water predators, roughly half of the migration herd typically survives.
While the migration of the wildebeest is its own magnificent spectacle, many other species thrive on the Serengeti plains, including lions, leopards, warthogs, cheetahs, zebras, giraffes, impalas, and others – easily seen on a multi-day safari into the wild. There are, indeed, many safari options that range from simple jeep jaunts into Tanzania to amenity-rich experiences with first-class treatment. Our recommendation, however, is to start by finding a trusted, reputable safari company with plenty of experience. National Geographic Expeditions is a good place to begin your research.
13: Discover the power of love at the Taj Mahal.
Agra would be an unknown entity outside of India if it weren’t for its towering landmark: the Taj Mahal. Translated to “Crown of the Palace,” this iconic complex was commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal. At 42 acres and 240 feet in height, inclusive of four minarets, the tomb, and an imposing gateway, is there a grander gesture of love? If that doesn’t impress you, this might: the Taj Mahal cost the modern equivalent of $1 billion to build. Compare that to the paltry $3.5 million used to build The White House and you have a sense of how much was invested in this homage to Mumtaz Mahal. But the size and cost are not nearly the most impressive elements; filigrees, gilded accents, elaborate Islamic motifs, ornate tilework, and gold and bronze gilding make the Taj a veritable work of art. To accent the structure’s beauty, a crisply manicured outdoor garden with roses, daffodils, and fruit trees; a crystal-clear reflecting pool; and crenellated walls punctuate the majesty of this impressively unique mausoleum.
As with so many major destinations the world over, there are tours available to take you through and around the Taj. However, we recommend just purchasing a Taj Mahal entrance ticket (about 1300 Rupees or $17), grabbing a guide book, and experiencing this magnificent memorial on your own.
14: Honor the past at One World Trade Center.
It seems forever ago that the United States suffered the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center Towers. But we showed, as a country, that we are not only resilient in the face of adversity; we are also innovative – we can build anew without forgetting the past that shaped us. To all Americans, this is the symbol of One World Trade Center, the complex that now stands where the Two Towers once stood. Designed by architect David Childs – whose firm also designed the Burj Khalifa in Dubai and Willis Tower in Chicago – One World Trade Center was intended to be a memorial to those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001, but also a forward-looking place of business, culture, and community. The complex, then, is comprised of the central commercial/residential skyscraper (towering 1,776 feet above ground), Liberty Park, the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, a performing arts center, a transportation hub (known as Oculus, already famed for its inverted boat-like architecture), a church, and several other adjoining buildings. While not yet completed, there will be five skyscrapers in total that form the One World Trade Center Complex.
Much of One World Trade Center can be enjoyed for free, including Liberty Park and Oculus. If you’d like to visit the museum, you can purchase tickets via the 911 Memorial & Museum website.
15: Marvel at the stars – and gaze into the future – at Paranal Observatory.
For those who dream of what lies beyond the stars, the very top of their bucket list must include a visit to an observatory – preferably one as well-known and respected as the Paranal Observatory in the Atacama Desert of northern Chile. Construction on the multi-telescope facility began in 1991 with the first observations made in 1998. Today, Paranal includes four main telescope units or observatories, including four Very Large Telescopes (VLTs), each one about 27 feet across; the VISTA Survey Telescope; the notably smaller VLT Survey Telescope; the Next-Generation Transit Survey (NGTS), built to find super-Earths and Neptune-sized planets around nearby stars; and the SPECULOOS Southern Observatory, which looks for exoplanets and dwarf stars. While all of this might seem a bit much for the lay lover of all things space, the onsite tour gives guests all the information they need to really appreciate the impressive work done at Paranal.
Tours of the facility are offered on weekends only and include many dos and don’ts – both for guest safety and for the protection of onsite tools and materials. Fortunately, however, Paranal tours are free to the public and include a trip to the VLT Telescope, the control room, and the ESO Hotel where scientists and other official guests stay during their time onsite.
Well, fellow travelers, that’s a wrap on our list of top 15 bucket list activities. Do you have any you think we missed? Just email us at email@example.com and we’ll consider including them in a future article.