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15 places you need to see in your lifetime.
Perhaps a list of places to see “before you die” sounds a bit morbid. Whether I like it or not, I’m always thinking about the places I need to visit in my lifetime to make the most of my short existance on this planet. While the top vacation spots and most amazing travel destinations is an entirely subjective list, I’m sure we can all agree on at least a few of them. Whether these attractions are considered touristy and even overrated by some, there are several must see travel destinations deemed the most interesting and important in the world. It might be a natural wonder, an architectural feat, or a majestic historic site. I’ve narrowed it down to 15 special spaces in the world that you absolutely need to visit. Of course, there are waaaaaay more on my list, but let’s start with these 15 for now, shall we?
When Justin and I arrived in Venice and boarded our first vaporetto, I was feeling rather jet-lagged…but I couldn’t fight my feelings of excitement through it all. We were in Venice. It was so surreal that I could hardly believe my eyes. Even if you see Venice in photos and videos, nothing compares to experiencing this magical Italian city in real life. It is absolutely one of the must see travel destinations, even if it’s thought to be touristy or crowded.
Take some time to wander around this wondrous city, truly one of the most amazing travel destinations. Wander around the narrow cobblestone streets, crossing small bridges across each canal. It’s even okay if you get lost as it’s all part of the fun. As a small note on the overcrowded nature of Venice, I recommend that you travel there during the off season or shoulder seasons for a more enjoyable experience. We went to Venice at the beginning of May and didn’t experience any crowds.
Not sure where to start your Venice travel planning? Check out my 3 day Venice travel itinerary.
Safari in Kenya
Kenya is one of the most amazing travel destinations worldwide and you absolutely must embark on a safari adventure while you’re there. When I traveled to Kenya, I had the opportunity to take a safari every single day; I was volunteering at a wildlife preserve in Kenya. However, you don’t have to take a working holiday to see the animals. You can explore iconic nature reserves on a luxury Kenya safari holiday for a journey of a lifetime.
Go searching for the “Big 5“, which are the lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant, and Cape buffalo. You can catch glimpses of these magnificent creatures on game drives by day or night, or even overhead from a hot air balloon. Not only that, but you can stay in lavish suites and savor delectable meals daily.
If you’re traveling through Nairobi, don’t miss the opportunity to visit the elephant orphanage at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Visitors have the chance to watch a morning feeding of the baby elephants who are victims of poaching in Africa. The DSWT does so much incredible work for African wildlife. They have the perfect methods for rehabilitating and releasing elephants back into the wild. I highly recommend that you read Daphne Sheldrick’s autobiography, Love, Life, and Elephants: An African Love Story to learn more about the story of the DSWT. It’s fascinating.
The Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef in Australia is truly one of the world’s most brilliant natural wonders. It’s one of the most amazing travel destinations because it’s the world’s largest coral reef system. There are over 2900 individual reefs and 900 islands, supporting a vast amount of sea life. The Great Barrier Reef can be seen from space, and it’s the world’s biggest structure made by living organisms.
Sadly, the Great Barrier Reef is in decline. About half of the coral there has died since 2016. With the rise of climate change and global warming, the dangerously hot water has virtually strangled and starved the coral. Widespread damage and coral bleaching threatens the entire ecosystem. We really need to work together, globally, to combat climate change to save the Great Barrier Reef. You might want to visit this one sooner than later.
When I visited Sri Lanka, I was completely wowed by this country. I discovered that it’s one of the most amazing travel destinations, and it should be right at the top of your travel bucket list. While you might not be able to name any spectacular landmarks right away, you shouldn’t miss a trip to Sigiriya Rock (or neighboring Pidurangala Rock for epic views of Sigiriya). Sigiriya Rock is an ancient rock fortress that is worthy of the high regard we give to places like Tikal and Machu Picchu.
While hiking to the top of these majestic boulders should top any Sri Lanka itinerary, you can also participate in so many iconic Sri Lanka tours and activities. Take a journey by train with views of rolling hills and tea plantations (be sure to also sample the tea!). Fall in love with the beautiful beaches and national parks with roaming elephants. Learn about the history and culture of Sri Lanka through a trip to the Dambulla cave temple. Sample the delicious curries and cuisine, which is very vegetarian friendly. It’s no wonder that Sri Lanka is referred to as the “Jewel of the Indian Ocean”.
The Grand Canyon
Grand Canyon National Park is 100 years old, and what better way to celebrate this milestone than visiting! This massive canyon is 277 river miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and one mile deep. It’s one of the most gigantic and colorful canyons in the world that truly overwhelms the senses.
While you might not know where to start when planning your trip (and you might not want to tackle hiking the entire rim of the canyon), I suggest starting at the South Rim if you’re a first time visitor. Although it’s more crowded, you’ll be rewarded with more sweeping views, hiking trails, activities, and accommodation options. You’ll be treated to those classic Grand Canyon panoramic scenes. If you’re seeking the road less traveled, head to the North Rim for more wildlife sightings and less people.
The South Rim is open all year long, while the North Rim is closed in the winter. I’d avoid coming here in the middle of the summer if you hate crowds. Visit in the shoulder seasons (spring and fall) for a more pleasant and less busy experience.
Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China is an ancient wall and fortification structure constructed 500 years ago. It’s unknown exactly how long it is, but it’s estimated to be anywhere between 1500 to 5000 miles long (although it could be double that length). It’s China’s greatest engineering triumph that took millennia to build, and it’s one of the world’s most famous landmarks.
You can visit the Great Wall of China in many northern China provinces. It exists in pieces and chunks, so don’t expect to be able to walk along the wall in one continuous path. The most famous sections of the wall lie over the peaks and hills near Beijing. Wear your most comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk; some sections are quite steep.
While Badaling is the most accessible area and closest to Beijing, it’s also the most crowded. Head to the Mutianyu or Jinshanling sections for fewer crowds with extraordinary views. View the wall as it winds through forests and treetops for an unforgettable experience.
While you might know Petra from the Indiana Jones franchise, it will certainly bring out your inner adventurer. The lost civilization of Petra in Jordan, also known as the “Rose City”, is one of the most amazing travel destinations you must see before you die. Petra dates back to 9,000 BC, possibly established in the 4th century BC as the capital city of the Nabataean Kingdom. Not much is known about the Nabateans, a nomadic desert tribe that became quite wealthy through the trading business.
The ruins of Petra demonstrate that it was not only an architectural phenomenon, but also a work of art. Perfectly carved into the mountains, Petra is a masterpiece and named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. It’s a fascinating and beautiful ancient city, and it’s such a treasure that you need to discover yourself.
Easter Island is a mysterious place in the southeastern Pacific Ocean, famous for its nearly 1000 monumental statues called moai. Most of the island is part of the Rapa Nui National Park, and it’s one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world. Easter Island is one of the most fascinating and amazing travel destinations that you must visit before you die.
No one really knows what happened to the founding population of Easter Island, responsible for the creation of the massive moai, which represent important Rapa Nui ancestors. You can walk all over the island, viewing these huge heads. Many of them have become partially buried over the passage of time. Seeing the wondrous moai in person and learning more about the remarkable history of the Rapa Nui people are reasons why Easter Island is one of the most amazing travel destinations.
Pyramids of Giza
The Pyramids of Giza are great relics of ancient Egypt, built over 4500 years ago. To prepare Egypt’s pharaohs for the afterlife, they constructed gigantic temples to the gods and vast tombs for themselves. These tombs were filled with treasures and wealth that would assist them after death. The Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids in the Giza complex. It’s the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World and remains largely in tact.
The pyramids preserved an ancient world for us to explore and understand. Tomb art and inscriptions detail daily life in ancient Egypt, as well as religious practices and rituals. A trip to the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Sphinx, and the complexes surrounding the pyramids should be at the top of any list of amazing travel destinations. It’s one thing to see a picture of these interesting places to visit around the world, but nothing compares to seeing them in person.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Even though it’s one of the most popular travel destinations in the world, it’s for incredibly excellent reasons. Machu Picchu is one of the most amazing travel destinations in the world because it’s such a magical and mystifying place to explore. The ancient Incan ruins lie on top of a mountain ridge, nearly 8000 feet above sea level. You can hike the Inca Trail for a memorable (and at times, grueling) journey to the top. However, there’s also a train ride that will transport you to Machu Picchu with ease.
It’s possible to visit Machu Picchu on your own without a guide, but a tour can help you to understand the site much better. Make sure you check out sites like the Temple of the Sun, Temple of the Condor, Temple of the Three Windows, the Sun Gate and the Intihuatana rock. Regardless, make sure you purchase a ticket in advance, as a limited amount of tourists are permitted to visit each day.
Antarctica is hailed as one of the world’s most remote and amazing travel destinations. It’s usually the last remaining continent for travelers to reach, and you must cross vast expanses of ocean to journey there. While so many of the places on this list are trips of a lifetime, Antarctica is probably one of the most fascinated places on earth.
Take a cruise to Antarctica to witness a surreal landscape like no other. Watch icebergs and massive ice floes as you sail across frigid waters. You’ll see a vast array of wildlife, like penguins, whales, and seals. It’s an opportunity to learn so much from the biologists on board and to see such a magical place in person. A trip to Antarctica remains only a faraway dream for me, but one that I hope to experience in my life.
The Galapagos Islands, a chain of 19 islands in Ecuador, are known for their wild landscapes and interesting array of wildlife that aren’t found anywhere else on the planet. It’s a word class destination for scuba divers as you’ll have the opportunity to see many sharks, seals, turtles, marine iguanas, and more. You don’t have to venture too far to see giant turtles or a vast collection of migratory birds, like pink flamingos. It’s easy to spot penguins, seals, sea lions, and iguanas.
The Galapagos Islands are one of the best places to visit if you’re a fan of viewing animals in their natural habitat. You can visit the Galapagos Islands by cruise ship, or by basing yourself at a hotel in one of the larger islands and taking day trips to the others. No matter how you decide to travel there, visiting the Galapagos Islands remains a dream for many, placing it near the top of my list of amazing travel destinations.
Before I visited Guatemala, I admittedly didn’t know too much about the ancient Mayan city of Tikal. I am so glad that I wandered around the massive site of this must see travel destination. Lying in the middle of the Guatemala jungle, this archaeological site was once one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient Maya. While some of its architecture dates back to the 4th century BC, most of the city’s structures were developed between 200 and 900 AD. Tikal declined in 900 AD and was completely abandoned around this time.
It wasn’t until 1848 that Tikal was rediscovered and the ruins were gradually uncovered. Only about 15% of the structures have been revealed, meaning that there’s still so much to explore and discover at Tikal. It’s common to see some sections covered in tarps because there are excavations always ongoing.
When you visit Tikal, I highly recommend that you bring lots of water, sunscreen, sunglasses, and a hat. It gets very warm there, and there are only a couple of areas where vendors sell cold beverages. If you want to beat the heat, book a sunrise hike. Your tour departs at 4:00am, but it’s a magical experience. Listen to the jungle animals wake up and watch the temples become more illuminated as the sun comes up. Then, explore Tikal with far fewer visitors this early in the morning.
Glowworm Caves, New Zealand
The Waitomo District, on the western side of the North Island in New Zealand, is famous for its glowworm caves. This natural phenomenon is something you have to see with your own eyes. It’s really easy to lose yourself in the experience. Time quickly slipped away as we observed one of nature’s most extraordinary sights.
The science behind glowworms is quite intriguing. Once an egg hatches on the ceiling, the larva builds up a tube of mucus that can be up to a foot long. Then, it projects many ultra-thin silk strings that hang from the bottom of the tube. The larva regurgitates mucus on the silks, which combines with water from the surrounding humid atmosphere. The glowworm illuminates this nest through its bioluminescent tail, which attracts mayflies. The mayflies become stuck in the mucus, and then the glowworms eat the mayflies. It sounds a bit disgusting, but it’s fascinating.
Every time there was an opportunity to see the glowworms, we’d all shut off our headlamps to witness the spectacle. Slowly, as our eyes adjusted to the darkness, more and more glowworms came into view. Before long, the entire ceiling of the cave was covered in sparking blue light. Witnessing the spectacle of the glowworms is only one incredible reason to visit New Zealand. I’m certain that Waitomo will be one of many amazing travel destinations in the country that you’ll see.
The Northern Lights
The Northern Lights, or aurora borealis, is a natural phenomenon in the night sky. This dramatic display originates as a burst of charged particles from the sun. The solar wind blows these particles along the sun’s magnetic field lines throughout the solar system. While most of these particles are directed away from earth by the magnetosphere, some become trapped near the earth’s magnetic poles. When the energized particles strike the neutral particles in our planet’s atmosphere, a colorful glow appears in shades of green, pink, blue, purple, yellow, and red. These are the Northern Lights.
It can be hard to predict when the Northern Lights will appear. There are no guarantees. Your odds increase when you choose a country (and specifically, regions within a country) where you can regularly see the Northern Lights. There are so many interesting travel destinations where you can view the Northern Lights – I’ve listed the 10 best places to view them here. If you travel to these places during certain times of the year, you’ll increase your chances of viewing this spectacular wonder.
You absolutely need to see the Northern Lights in your lifetime. I’ve seen them only once before, and I quickly became obsessed. It’s only a matter of time before I view them again, and I can’t wait!
Naturally, a trip around the world is the most incredible adventure of all. Until then, I’m slowly checking amazing places off my bucket list. I know that there are an absolute ton more amazing travel destinations to see before you die. I missed so many on this list as I only have it narrowed down to my top 15. If you had to make a list, which spots would you include and which ones would you add to the list? I’m curious to know what you think!