From the majesty of India’s Taj Mahal to extraordinary African safaris and thrill-seeking on the pristine snow-capped mountains of New Zealand, here are 18 global adventures you won’t want to miss.
An Arab state in southwest Asia, Oman is intoxicating, exotic and exploding with history. It features otherworldly landscapes and exclusive accommodation that takes desert-luxe to a new level. Cocooned by pale, rugged mountain ranges, this oft-overlooked gem of a destination is like an Arabian fantasy come to life, with deserts, bustling townships, a stretch of pristine coastline and sparkling turquoise waters. With grand palaces, ancient forts and an old walled city, the capital, Muscat, is a history lover’s dream. See another side of Oman on a trekking expedition, caving adventure or marine life tour, or climb the highest peak on the Arabian Peninsula, Jebel Shams (“Mountain of the Sun”), to watch a spectacular sunset with your loved one. Visit one of the souqs – traditional markets filled with colourful produce, homewares and clothing – or get wonderfully lost in an archaeological wonder such as the ancient Al Balid City or Al-Ayn tombs. Safe and supremely welcoming, Oman is one of the Middle East’s most fascinating destinations.
An essential bucket list experience in this country is a visit to one of the world’s most photographed and iconic landmarks, the Taj Mahal. Situated in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, it was built in the 1600s as a memorial for the Emperor Shah Jahan’s late third wife, and described by Rudyard Kipling as: “the embodiment of all things pure”. The breathtaking monument to love features stunning marble work and semi-precious stones, and is surrounded by immaculate ornamental gardens and water features. For a little more excitement, visit the frantic, adrenaline-filled metropolis of Delhi; explore the Ajanta Caves, Buddhist cave monuments dating from the 2nd Century BC; and lose yourself in Indian life in one of Mumbai’s exuberant bazaars.
3. Machu Picchu
Discover the world’s most preserved porthole into ancient Incan life with an expedition to Machu Picchu, Peru’s sky-high national treasure. The breathtaking terraced site, which sits upon a mountain ridge just above the Sacred Valley, is often cloaked in wispy cloud – the craggy mountain peaks, rich green fields and crumbling stone ruins make up the iconic image that will be burned into your memory, and heart, forever. For an unforgettable Machu Picchu experience with your loved one, rise before the sun and make your way to the summit in time for its 6am opening – with the golden morning light and far fewer people, it’s a pretty special way to experience this natural wonder.
4. Chiang Mai
Northern Thailand’s largest city, Chiang Mai is a blossoming metropolis which blends old with new, winding its way along the Ping River. Lose yourselves in the fragrant hum of the buzzing Night Bazaar, the original trading point of the Yunnanese caravans following the Asian trade route, or view a spectacular example of classic Thai Lanna art and architecture at the Wat Phra Singh temple. If temples are your thing you won’t want to miss the mind-blowing Wat Rong Khun temple, otherwise known as the White Temple – a glowing, all-white architectural triumph featuring unbelievably intricate detailing. Take a relaxed cruise up the Ping River in a traditional scorpion-tailed boat, or venture outside of the busy city borders to reach some of the lush national parks and traditional hill tribe villages for some rest and relaxation.
5. Angkor and Siem Reap
Situated in northern Cambodia, the World Heritage attraction of Angkor is an archaeological site covering some 400km2. Home to astounding temples and monuments from the ancient Khmer Empire, this enormous historical site will keep you mesmerised for hours. The stone formations – some blending into the surrounding forest, camouflaged by moss and tree roots; others rising above landscaped gardens as a soaring collection of rugged stone turrets – have a mysterious, awe-inspiring presence. In the city of Siem Reap – the tourist hub just outside of Angkor – you’ll find streets lined with brightly hued French Colonial architecture, hoards of bustling tuk tuks and a raft of modern accommodation and local cuisine. A trip to this part of the world is a fascinating cultural adventure that blends the best of ancient and modern Cambodia.
6. African Safari
Whether you’re off to discover the grassy plains of Zimbabwe, the exotic jungles of Madagascar or the seaside brilliance of Mauritius, no romantic African escape is complete without a safari experience. In recent years the world of safaris has undergone a renaissance, with hobby-specific packages, über-luxurious accommodation and sublime cuisine all now part of the experience. Rise with the sun and embark on an expedition touring the knee-high grasses of the savannah; take a languid safari cruise up one of the country’s scenic waterways; or go trekking on foot on a jungle safari. Wind down at the end of the day with a gourmet dinner, followed by an outdoor bath for two, Champagne in hand and surrounded by the glow of a hundred tea lights.
Morocco is a vibrant, alluring destination perfect for the couple seeking a taste of the exotic. Offering romance and adventure, the exciting cultural wonderland blends a rich history with sparse desert landscapes and fascinating townships brimming with world-renowned architecture and luxurious accommodation. Dive into the mazes that are the ancient medina quarters and arrive at the doors of traditional riads, beautiful old homes and stunning palaces featuring internal courtyards and gardens. Explore colourful souqs – traditional marketplaces overflowing with spices, textiles and homewares. Escape on a day trip to the famed Atlas Mountains; take a camel ride into the Sahara Desert; or learn about Morocco’s glorious past with a visit to historical cities and ancient ruins. The partly excavated Roman city of Volubilis, located between Fes and Rabat, is a particularly special experience at sunset.
Japan – there’s simply no place in the world like it. Home to one of Asia’s most refined and unique cultures, Japan offers a raft of truly wondrous cultural experiences. In Kyoto you can explore stunning traditional gardens and sacred temples, indulge in some of the country’s most magnificent cuisine and see traditional geisha and architecture that has been untouched for centuries. In Tokyo, cool shops, world-class restaurants and the electric city streets beckon, while an excursion out to the majestic Mount Fuji will provide an unforgettable trekking adventure. Some of Japan’s most breathtaking scenery can be seen in Kamikochi (think pristine forests, snow-capped mountain peaks and bubbling streams), and make sure you experience a quintessential Japanese bathing ritual in a natural hot spring or an onsen.
Simultaneously exuberant, exciting and serene, Vietnam is a picturesque oasis of colour. Explore the World Heritage-listed Halong Bay by boat, winding between azure waters dotted with some 2,000 soaring limestone isles. The historic riverside town of Hoi An is charmingly laid-back and home to wonderfully preserved traditional buildings, teahouses and boutique accommodation. Pick up the pace and excitement in Ho Chin Minh City (formerly Saigon), exploring the vibrant street stalls, spiritual temples and modern pockets exploding with skyscrapers, trendy eateries and luxury shopping. End your trip with some scenic down time in the Con Dao Islands, a collection of 15 islands and islets set among flourishing coral reefs, protective bays and dense jungle.