Think of fantastic bucket list travels, and instantly the Eiffel Tower in France, an island getaway in the Maldives, or an African safari comes to mind. But as the saying goes, “the road less travelled makes all the difference.”
Exploring hidden gems around the world makes each experience a new adventure away from crowded tourist hotspots. Not to mention the envy of friends and family for years to come. If you are seriously considering travelling off the beaten track around the world, check out these bucket list ideas you would not want to miss for a year-end trip and beyond!
Under-The-Radar Bucket List Travel Experiences Around The World
1. Marble Caves, Chile
Not many natural wonders in the world come close to the marvel of the Marble Caves in Patagonia, Chile. This geological formation of glaciers over 6000 years turned into marble caves and tunnels due to water erosion and strong winds. Over time, spectacular shades of yellow, brown, grey and green patterns emerged on the rock formations located on the General Carrera Lake near the Chilean town of Puerto Rio Tranquilo.
The Marble Cave system covers over 50 hectares of the coastal area and includes two other features – La Capilla de Marmol (The Marble Chapel) and La Catedral de Marmol (The Marble Cathedral). A few metres away from the shore is the Marble Cathedral. During the day, the deep turquoise waters of the lake cast a heavenly blue hue on the white and grey marble formations. The sound of gentle waves of the lake hitting against the sturdy walls of the cavern and drops of water plunging from the marble ceiling will instantly make you forget your worries.
As one of South America’s most underrated bucket list travel experiences, you must witness this geological paradise to experience its true beauty!
What to expect: You can only travel by boat or kayak to view the Marble caves up close. A boat tour would take as long as two hours or more, including transfer time to the caves and back to the shore. Only small boats can navigate the narrow tunnels and caverns around the Marble Caves, so be prepared for a shared boat ride.
Depending on the weather, the boat ride can be a bit rough and cold if the wind is strong. Make sure to wear a few layers to keep you warm. Travelling in a small boat also means you will experience water splashes. So, wear a water-resistant jacket and keep your camera and other gadgets in a bag to protect them from getting wet.
The tour guide will take you inside some of the caves and give you a run-down on the history of the caves and their unique features. While sightseeing, take advantage of the great photo-op moments to capture the colourful patterns on the walls of the caves against the turquoise waters. Although most tour guides speak Spanish, you can ask your tour operator for a guide who speaks English.
Since the General Carrera Lake waters may be icy cold throughout the year, swimming can be dangerous. You can still have an amazing outdoor adventure by kayaking, fishing or hiking up the surrounding hills and mountains with rough terrains for a vantage view of the picturesque scenery.
Best time to travel: Early morning or before noon from December to March when the water levels are low with loads of sunlight.
2. Machu Picchu, Peru
You can never say you have been to Peru without tasting ceviche or stepping foot in the famous Inca ruins of Machu Picchu. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ancient “Lost City of Inca” at an elevation of 8,000 feet amidst a bed of clouds in the Andes Mountains was largely unknown to the world until its discovery by the American explorer Hiram Bingham in 1911.
The truth is that many hidden gems of this ancient architectural wonder are just waiting to be discovered even today. Among the top three Machu Picchu secrets that make it worthwhile as a bucket list travel destination are the Temple of Condor, Huayna Picchu, and Phuyupatamarca.
The Temple of Condor is named after the massive birds with wings measuring 10 feet wide inhabiting the Andes region. When you reach this temple in Machu Picchu, you will immediately notice the image of an Andean Condor sculpted on the floor with only a head and body. To get the full view, you need to take a few steps back and look for two gigantic rocks carved in the shape of wings. The enormous stone carving is a spectacular feat, with the rock on the left not touching the ground, symbolising a bird flying in the air.
Any image of Machu Picchu known to man includes the towering mountain of Huayna Picchu right behind the ancient ruins. The ruins here feature mainly sacred sites like temples and structures used by the high priest during the Inca civilisation. One of the holy sites in Huayna Picchu is the Temple of the Moon, a finely-carved lithic piece of architecture built inside a cave. As the sister site to Machu Picchu, guided hiking Machu Picchu tours up the steep and winding Huayna Picchu trail or “Stairs of Death”’ is an exhilarating bucket list experience.
At Phuyupatamarca (Place of the Cloud), you will feel on top of the world at 3,670 meters above sea level with a breathtaking vantage point of the Andes Mountains. This part of Machu Picchu contains terraces and ritual Inca baths. A sea of cotton-candy-like clouds welcomes your journey to this majestic area, where you can view the workings of an ancient hydraulic system that channels water to the baths until today.
For a unique Machu Picchu bucket list experience, sign up for luxury Machu Picchu tours like a Peaceboat-style cruise. Not only do you get to cruise around South America, the pit stop in Callao, Peru, will have you flying to the city of Cusco and heading to Machu Picchu in no time!
What to expect: The inland journey to Machu Picchu can be physically demanding. Some travellers may have altitude sickness. The good thing is Machu Picchu tours like Peaceboat Cruises allow you to get some rest while flying inland into the city of Cusco from Callao. The city of Cusco is located 2400 above sea level, which helps your body get used to high altitudes. Always stay hydrated or drink coca leaf tea (yes, it’s legal in this part of the world!) and rest as much as possible before continuing your journey to Machu Picchu.
Interestingly, Cusco is the perfect place to experience Peruvian culture and historical sites. At Plaza de Armas (Main Square), enjoy Peruvian cuisine like Lomo Saltado (sliced meat with rice). If you feel extra adventurous, try Cuy Chactado (fried guinea pig) at any restaurant. You can wander around Cusco and visit the Twelve-Angled Stone Wall, another masonry wonder of the Inca empire. The stone wall takes its name after the twelve different cuts that form twelve corresponding joints. Each block of stone was cut with precision and care to perfectly to fit the surrounding blocks. Even centuries after its construction, not even a piece of paper can fit in between blocks of this structure.
The time taken to travel to Machu Picchu depends on whether you prefer to travel by car within a day (2 hours with a guide) or join trekking or adventure Machu Picchu tours, like the Salkantay Trek, popular among backpackers which could last between 4-5 days from Cusco while exploring scenic spots including Humanatay Lagoon and Salkantay Passage, or the Inca Trail which lasts 2 days covering historical spots like the Wiñaywayna Archaeological Zone.
If you have a big budget, the train journey to Machu Picchu, either by Inca Rail or PeruRail, promises an Orient Express-like adventure with stunning views and memorable Peruvian hospitality. You can board both trains from Cusco and choose from different types of train services based on your affordability.
On the Inca Rail, the Voyager is the most economical package preferred by travellers with a small capacity, comfortable seats and tables and large windows to enjoy the view. As the name suggests, the First Class offers incredible luxury and comfort, from live music and a three-course Peruvian menu to pisco sour tasting! The price of this train service also includes the transfer from Aguas Calientes to the gates of Machu Picchu. The PeruRail offers almost the same type of services although the train carriages are more modernised.
Best time to travel: During the dry season, from April and May or September to October. Avoid the peak travel season between July to August or the end of June when the locals celebrate the Festival of the Sun in Cusco.
3. Easter Island, Chile
As the most secluded island in the world, a trip to Easter Island (Rapa Nui) is nothing like an average island getaway. Located in the South Pacific Ocean and over 3,700 km from Chile, its mysterious and mythical origins boast fascinating history and adventure from the Maoi Statues to volcanic terrains.
Topping the bucket list of Easter Island travel is witnessing the iconic Maoi Statutes at Tongariki. The ancient sculptures of volcanic rock feature faces and people believed to be over 1200 years old. According to local legend, the seafarers that landed on Easter Island ages ago started carving images on rocks. These stone carvings have stood the test of time as one of the most recognised artworks in the world. Watching the sunrise in the backdrop shining radiantly over these ancient Maori statues, standing in a line and facing inwards, is a one-of-a-kind bucket list travel experience.
The Ancient Petroglyphs are another piece of fascinating art by the early inhabitants of the island. Although not clearly visible like the Maori Statues, there are many intricate volcanic rock incisions on-site depicting religious rituals or cultural traditions, like the Paka Vaka stone incisions of all things related to the sea, including the Rock of Hooks (Papa Mangai), canoes, and diverse marine creatures.
Other bucket list ideas for travels to Easter Island include visiting the Stone Village of Orongo, a ceremonial village of the birdman cult which has been restored over the years. Hike up the Terevaka Volcano, the highest point on Easter Island, for a stunning 3600 view of the entire island against the vast ocean. Otherwise, Rano Raraku, a crater on the lower slopes, offers a dramatic landscape view of this remote island.
Music and dance are essential parts of Easter Island culture. Complete your trip to Easter Island by watching a Sau Sau dance performance. This typical Easter Island dance of Polynesian origin is a sensual couple dance. The male dancers wear tribal clothing, like hami (loincloth), necklaces and feather crowns. Female dancers wear elaborate costumes like long sarongs or feather skirts and coconut shell tops with feather crowns. A choir of female and male voices accompanied by the ukulele and drums brings the entire performance alive.
What to expect: There are two ways to get to Easter Island – by plane or small boats. Joining a cruise like Peaceboat would be a great option to explore the mysterious island as the ship will anchor offshore and passengers are transported to Easter Island via tender boats.
Since Easter Island is remote, you may have trouble with your internet connection. Most of the time, a steady WiFi connection is only available in the town area of Hanga Roa. The weather on Easter Island is subtropical, so it is generally warm and humid. It frequently rains from June to August, and it may feel chilly. During winter, the weather is cool, with the lowest temperature below -500 Fahrenheit. Check the weather forecast before heading to Easter Island and pack appropriate clothing accordingly.
Although you may be tempted to touch a piece of ancient artwork, you are not allowed to touch the Maoi Statues. These historical sculptures are protected by local law, which comes with a fine. Constant touching of the statues increases the process of deterioration. Be mindful not to touch these mysterious statues. You can still purchase as many Maoi figurines as you wish from the souvenir shop.
Cycling or renting a car is a great way to get around Easter Island. Since the island is small, no local buses take travellers around the historical sites from the city besides tour buses. The main currency on Easter Island is the Chilean Peso. However, the US dollar is widely accepted with the influx of travellers from the United States or Hawaii. Overall, food and lodging here can be expensive as most things are flown into the mainland. Generally, travellers are advised to visit Easter Island during the non-peak season and make advance travel arrangements. You can also carry custom-approved snacks or food items to stretch your budget.
Best time to travel: Between March to April and October to November. Generally, the non-summer seasons mean good weather for hiking or visiting historical sites and preferable hotel rates.
4. Woodstock, Vermont, United States
One of the best yet underrated bucket list travels in the United States is the countryside town of Woodstock in Vermont. Once named “The Prettiest Small Town in America”, Woodstock thrives on its Americana roots, historic farms, mountainous landscape, iconic covered bridges, and farm-to-table dining.
A unique landmark in Woodstock is the iconic Covered Bridge Trio – Taftsville Covered Bridge (one of the oldest bridges in America, constructed in 1836), Lincoln Covered Bridge, and the Middle Bridge (the most photographed covered bridge in Vermont built with the help of oxen, Ben and Jo, in 1969). The Middle Bridge used traditional methods and building materials like wooden pegs instead of nails. This lattice bridge has a separate walkway for pedestrians, making it a perfect spot for a quick photo-op or simply strolling down the bridge and admiring the surrounding natural landscape.
You can take a walk through history at the Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller Historical Park, which covers 550 acres of pasture including 400-year-old hemlocks and woodland also houses the childhood home of the father of American ecology, George Perkins Marsh.
A visit to the Sugar Bush Farm is a must in Woodstock since Vermont is known for maple syrup and cheese. You can tour around the farmland to see maple tree tappings and the process of making maple syrup. The best part is you also sample over 15 varieties of cheeses and 4 distinct grades of maple syrup at this dairy and maple syrup farm.
What to expect: The distance between New York City and Woodstock is a five-hour drive. Foreign travellers can fly into Boston and rent a car to drive to Woodstock. You can get around Woodstock quickly with a rented car, as there are few taxi options. The main town in Woodstock can be explored on foot, but you will need to drive to visit farms and other picturesque locations.
Downtown Woodstock is known for farm-to-table dining. With many dairy farms and local breweries, you can taste the best seasonal produce in cafes and restaurants with rustic New-England vibes. Start your day at Mon Vert Café, a quaint organic breakfast and brunch spot in the heart of Woodstock. Try the Lox and Schmear smoked salmon and capers with cream cheese on an everything bagel or choose from a list of lunch sandwiches with witty names like I Got the Beet. Various beverages, from speciality teas to wine and beer, are also available.
5. Golden Skybridge, Canada
Get ready for a mind-blowing outdoor bucket list travel adventure on 1300-metre suspension bridges across the towering Rocky and Purcell mountains in British Columbia, Canada. As Canada’s highest suspension bridge, the scenic view includes rushing waters from a towering waterfall with a 130 to 150 metres drop, lush greenery with six national parks, and mountain peaks.
An ideal family bucket list travel experience, there are hiking trails and viewing platforms at designated levels that suit almost all ages and fitness levels. Children get to play in the kids’ park and experience strolling along a mini bridge and venturing up a treehouse. An Instagram-worthy shot awaits travellers at the giant photo swing at the Touch the Sky viewpoint overlooking the mountain ranges surrounded by endless forests.
Other major attractions at the Golden Skybridge (a dream come true for adrenaline junkies!) are ziplining across the canyons and bungee swing ride (where two people swing like a pendulum in and out of the canyon).
What to expect: The Golden Skybridge is located along the Trans-Canada Highway. It is a seven-minute drive from the town of Golden and 1.5 hours from Banff. You can spend more than 3 hours here exploring other thrilling activities like the Canyon Edge rope course or Giant Canyon Swing.
The Village area is a communal space to have picnics, buy food from the food truck or Village Grill or unwind as you breathe cool, fresh air. Light snacks, gelato, and craft beer are available at the Village Grill. Two playgrounds are also located in the Village with kids-version of ziplines, swings and more.
For beginners, try the Lower Skybridge, the second Golden suspension bridge over 200 feet above the canyon. It takes about 5 minutes to get to Upper Skybridge from the Village area. This bridge is 150 meters long and over 450 metres high. You can hold on to the chest-high cables as the bridge wobbles a little when people start walking. The Sky Zipline is 480 feet high and the highest point at the Golden Skybridge. You will almost fly across 300 metres while soaking in an aerial view of Hospital Creek and Columbia Valley.
The Golden Skybridge is set to re-open in May 2023. So, book your tickets in advance – a general admission pass (includes both suspension bridges and Touch the Sky viewpoint) or an adventure pass (includes suspension bridges, rope course, zipline and other adventure activities) and arrive early between 9 am to 10 am.
Plan your ultimate bucket list travels around the world today!
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