Exploring the ruins of Machu Picchu. Snorkeling in the Maldives. Sailing the Greek Islands. Hiking Mount Everest. No matter what constitutes a bucket-list adventure for you, you're going to need some help planning. These once-in-a-lifetime trips can be incredibly expensive and often require months of logistical finesse before you even step on the plane.
Below, we're telling you where to go, when to do it, and the best way to make your trip happen. You'll find itineraries, travel tips, and even some hotel recommendations in places like Machu Picchu, the Maldives, Japan, and more. We've also paired our travel expertise with G Adventures tour options, which can make acing your life-changing trip a bit easier. If you ask us, there's no better time than the present to make your dreams happen. So give yourself or someone you love the gift of a lifetime and book one of these bucket-list adventures now.
Why You Need to See The Maldives Before You Die:
To call the Maldives a once-in-a-lifetime getaway is an understatement. We’ve covered every corner of this beautiful island nation, but every time we return, there’s somewhere new to explore. Why do we love the Maldives so much? There really is no landscape on earth like it. Seeing the thousands of tiny atolls from above as you fly into Male is worth the cost alone. Turquoise waters, amazing snorkeling and diving, long and sunny days, and dazzling white-sand beaches also sweeten the deal. For many travelers, a trip here is as close as you can come to finding a private slice of paradise.
The Best Time to Visit The Maldives:
All international flights to the Maldives land and depart from Male, and airfare is generally cheapest from May to October. However, this corresponds with the Maldives’ monsoon season (which peaks in June). High season runs from December through March, which is when the weather is calmest. You’d do well to visit in November or April, which constitute shoulder season. You’ll score cheaper flights and hotel rates, plus the weather is still great (and the waters are calm) for all of that outdoor time you’re craving.
The Perfect Maldives Itinerary:
Most travelers choose to live their Maldivian dream by posting up at a luxury resort for a week or two. One of our favorites during our 2018 visit to the country was Soneva Fushi, where whimsical eco-chic architecture meets gourmet dining and beautiful beaches. However, the Maldives is so packed with beauty — both above and below the water — that moving around is the best way to check this off your must-see list. You’ll also save money on food and drink at the country’s famous all-inclusive resorts by opting for the Maldives island-hopping trip through G Adventures.
Why You Need to See Machu Picchu Before You Die:
At Machu Picchu, you’ll find stunning ruins left behind by the ancient cultures that thrived before the Americas were invaded by Europeans. Given its position high in the Andes, no one except the local community knew that Machu Picchu existed until the early 20th century. Since then, this former Inca development has captivated imaginations. With a picture-perfect setting surrounded by jagged mountains, this is the kind of place no traveler leaves feeling underwhelmed. If you have lots of time, consider hiking the Inca Trail, which winds its way through the Sacred Valley to reach Machu Picchu at the Sun Gate. Alternatively, Cusco is worth exploring for a couple of days, as it’s home to a charming town center and plenty of its own nearby Inca ruins. We love the JW Marriott El Convento Cusco for a luxurious step back in time.
The Best Time to Visit Machu Picchu:
If you’re after stunning views and envy-inducing pictures of Machu Picchu (and why wouldn’t you be?), your best bet is to avoid Peru’s summer. From December to March, rains and clouds in the region are at their peak. In recent years, climate change has caused serious flooding as well. You’ll find slight discounts on hotels and airfares to Peru and Cusco in April, May, September, and October. Machu Picchu is generally less crowded during these months than the height of North America’s summer period, which is peak season in the region.
How to Visit Machu Picchu:
There are numerous ways to visit the ruins (you can check out all of our Machu Picchu travel advice here). The most adventurous option includes a four-day trek along the Inca Trail from outside of the town of Ollantaytambo. Keep in mind that Inca Trail permits are required and are only available through licensed tour providers. Additionally, there are strict caps on the number of tourists who can begin the trail per day. Likewise, entrance to Machu Picchu itself is also subject to permit requirements, tickets, and tourist caps. Trains run from Ollantaytambo and Poroy to Aguas Calientes, outside of the Machu Picchu UNESCO site. Alternatively, opt for a small tour that handles all of your logistics, including transport from Lima to Cusco and the trains to the park itself. The Machu Picchu in Style trip from G Adventures perfectly fits the bill.
Why You Need to See Mount Everest Before You Die:
Mount Everest is, quite singularly, the most awe-inspiring mountain on the planet. Unsurprisingly, climbing it requires an incredible amount of time and a huge financial investment (it’s also quite dangerous). For many travelers, simply seeing the mighty peak is worth it. A visit to the Everest Base Camp requires a multi-day trek in Nepal, starting with a flight from Kathmandu to Lukla. Once there, you’ll spend 12 to 14 days winding your way from mountain glades to rugged ridges, surrounded by beautiful scenery and small temples the entire time. All in all, a visit to Everest Base Camp delivers on nearly every possible bucket-list goal.
The Best Time to See Mount Everest:
October and November generally offer the clearest skies and lowest chance of rain, along with reasonably pleasant temperatures. You’ll also avoid the throngs of adventurers seeking to ascend Everest in the late spring months. Early October happens to coincide with lower airfares, as other tourists avoid Nepal and northern India until later in the year.
The Best Everest Base Camp Itinerary:
Doing the Everest Base Camp trek requires at least 14 days, if you start the day after landing and leave right after finishing. However, you should budget extra time in Kathmandu to recover from jet lag and explore the city. From there, you’ll take a small plane to Lukla. A guide is generally necessary, as anything from altitude sickness to bad weather can require immediate attention. Local and international outfitters are widely available online. We like Outfitter Nepal, which is locally based in Kathmandu and includes all meals, internal flights and transit, and accommodations. Alternatively, G Adventures Everest Base Camp Trek has hundreds of enthusiastic reviews from previous travelers and offers a similar experience.
Why You Need to See the Galapagos Islands Before You Die:
Like many of the world’s best bucket-list destinations, the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador are a truly singular place. Studied by scientists for nearly two centuries (since Charles Darwin first visited in the 1830s), the islands’ ecosystems are unlike anywhere else in the world. They’re home to hundreds of indigenous species, including the giant Galapagos tortoise, marine iguana, and blue-footed booby. The islands also happen to be home to some truly spectacular natural scenery. Expect landscapes ranging from barren mountaintops and lush jungles to golden beaches and turquoise waters offshore.
The Best Time to Visit the Galapagos Islands:
The Galapagos Islands can be visited year-round, depending on what you’re hoping to see. However, the most pleasant time to visit is during South America’s winter from December through March. The weather is warmest during that time, and while showers are more likely, they tend to be short affairs. Underwater visibility is at its peak during these months, thanks to calmer seas. The weather is drier at other times in the year, if that’s important to you. Animals are most active in the first half of the year, meaning the likelihood of seeing mating and nesting displays is higher.
The Best Way to See the Galapagos:
We happen to think that cruising is one of the best ways to get a real taste of the Galapagos Islands. Why? For starters, it allows you see the archipelago’s diverse array of wildlife and landscapes in one trip. It also helps minimize logistics. The Galapagos Islands require permits to enter, plus patience when planning everything from flights to ferries. Luxury cruises like the National Geographic Endeavour II are a great way to get a naturalist’s take on the islands along with high-end style. You’ll be paying a huge amount of money, though. If you’d prefer something a bit easier on the wallet, consider a seven-day trip aboard the smaller Estrella del Mar with G Adventures. It includes flights to and from Quito as well as several excursions and hikes.
Why You Need to Visit India Before You Die:
From its massive cities and jaw-dropping historical sights to its amazing cuisine and frenetic pace of life, India can be a shock to the system. However, that balance of chaos and beauty is precisely what makes a trip to India a bucket-list adventure. Of course, India is a huge country (it takes more than six hours to fly from the extreme north in Ladakh to the southern tip — which is as long as a flight across the United States). For travelers who’d like a digestible India experience, the most popular circuit is called the Golden Triangle. This takes in Delhi and its history, the gorgeous Mughal monuments of Agra (including the Taj Mahal), and the fascinating Pink City of Jaipur in Rajasthan.
The Best Time to Visit Northern India:
The area including Delhi, Agra, and Rajasthan is one of seasonal extremes. It’s subject to a wet-dry climate dominated by yearly monsoons from May through September. At this time of year, soaking rains (and sometimes intense flooding) are the norm. Flights to India during these months are also incredibly pricey. From March to May, before the rains, the heat is searing across Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan, and skies are clogged with smoke from farms burning their lands after harvest time. With that in mind, you’d do best to time your visit for late October and November. Days will be warm to hot, skies are generally dry and clear, and the landscape isn’t quite yet parched (as it will be in March). Otherwise, winter is a solid time to visit, though you should expect fog and chilly temperatures in Delhi and Agra.
The Best Way to Visit Northern India:
Thousands of people complete this circuit every year without a guide or tour company. It’s completely doable and can be incredibly cheap (even hyper-luxe hotels like The Leela Palace New Delhi can be had for far less than you’d find elsewhere). However, you will be on your own when dealing with touts, tuk-tuk drivers, and everything else, meaning you’re likely to get overcharged or swindled at some point. You should also know that the trains connecting Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur sell out far in advance, and navigating the online booking platform is a long and tedious process. Additionally, India can be jarring for first-time visitors (and especially problematic for solo female travelers). That’s why traveling with a small group on your first India visit can be a great choice that’s still economical. You’ll find hotels and desert tented camps, plus tours and transit, included in G Adventures’ Golden Triangle and Taj Mahal package.
Why You Need to See the Grand Canyon and Zion Before You Die:
The Grand Canyon is, quite simply, one of the most astonishing natural sights in the world. Yes, it lives up to its name. However, the Grand Canyon isn’t the only thing of beauty in the southwest desert. Zion National Park also wows with its amazing hikes, sheer pink cliffs, and majestic views from the canyon floor (or above it all from the Angels Landing summit). Nearly every corner of the landscape shared by northern Arizona and southern Utah is stunning, so a road trip around the region is a must. What’s more? Las Vegas is the most common way to access these attractions, so you’ll get a healthy dose of gambling, shopping, and dining before or after your date with nature’s majesty.
The Best Time to Visit the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park:
Summer is peak season at both of these landmarks, drawing hordes of families, groups of friends, couples, and solo adventurers. However, these months also coincide with monsoon showers, which can cause rapid, unexpected flooding, depending on where you’re located. Showers are generally quick and take place in the afternoon, so there’s plenty of time for amazing views during the day. If you’re after smaller crowds, but still want warm and sunny weather, opt for late March through May. Both parks can be visited in the winter, though services are fewer and snowstorms aren’t uncommon.
The Best Way to See the Grand Canyon and Zion National Park:
When it comes to reaching the Grand Canyon and Zion, Las Vegas is generally the best jumping off point. You’ll find the cheapest flights into the Las Vegas airport, and drives from here to either national park are shorter than from Phoenix or Salt Lake City. It’s a four-hour drive from Vegas to the Grand Canyon, about two hours between the two parks, and then less than three hours back to Sin City from Zion. You could easily cover it all in five days on your own, though you’ll be missing out on a lot of the cool, lesser-known spots in the region (and cutting your time short in Vegas). Opting for a small group tour will allow you to tack on sights like the Petrified Forest and striking Monument Valley in Utah. It also reduces some of the stress of booking hotel rooms months in advance.
Why You Should Do an African Safari Before You Die:
The world’s climate is rapidly changing, and with it, all sorts of natural wonders are disappearing. Many safari operators in Africa are pumping much-needed money into protecting this continent’s majesty — preserving game lands, saving wildlife, and lifting the surrounding communities. That’s especially true in Kenya and Tanzania, where the Maasai Mara National Reserve and Serengeti National Park form one contiguous ecosystem that’s a safe haven for the so-called Big Five: lions, rhinos, elephants, Cape buffalo, and leopards. Seeing these creatures — and hundreds of others — in their natural habitats, as well as experiencing the local customs and cultures of the Maasai people, make this one of the most famous bucket-list adventures in the world.
The Best Time to Go on a Safari in East Africa:
Peak season for the Serengeti (in Tanzania) and Maasai Mara (in Kenya) comes in two parts. The first runs from August through early October in the Maasai Mara and the second from December through March in the Serengeti. Along with one-and-a-half million wildebeest, you can expect to see thousands of hoofed animals, like zebras and gazelles. Keep in mind that the cost of a safari spikes at this time of year, as do crowds, airfares, and hotel or eco-lodge rates.
The Best Way to Do a Safari in Kenya or Tanzania:
Take it from Oyster hotel investigator (and photo editor at sister site WhatToPack.com) Liz Allocca: “A safari just might be the last trip on earth where you actually need someone to help you plan.” If you have all of the time in the world, you can certainly craft a budget itinerary once you’re on the ground in Kenya or Tanzania. Though doing so during the Great Migration will be nearly impossible. Alternatively, opting for day trips from Nairobi can save money, but will reduce the likelihood of seeing animals in the early dawn hours. It’s worth booking your safari well in advance to secure your spot, especially during the Great Migration. G Adventures offers a nine-day safari that covers several amazing national reserves and parks in Kenya, including Maasai Mara. Alternatively, there are a number of luxurious jungle lodges inside Maasai Mara and Serengeti, all of which generally offer game drives during a stay.
Why You Need to Visit the Greek Islands Before You Die:
You haven’t really seen a sunset unless you’ve viewed it over the Greek Islands. This daily ritual is particularly beautiful on Santorini. In fact, the sunsets are one major reason why romance-seekers come here. Framed by a dramatic, partially submerged volcanic caldera, red, pink, and orange hues light up the sky and ocean, creating a particularly dramatic scene across Santorini’s white-washed buildings. But if you’re making your way to the Greek Islands, you’d be foolish to overlook other gems in the area, including lively Mykonos, and comparably more serene Naxos, Paros, and Ios. The latter three are particularly great as they offer a more authentic view of life in the picture-perfect Cyclades.
The Best Time to Visit the Greek Islands:
Seasonality heavily limits when you can and should visit the Greek Islands. Many of the islands’ small hotels and tourist attractions — as well as the bars, clubs, shops, and restaurants — shutter for the late fall, winter, and early spring months. Peak season (June through mid-September) is packed on Santorini and Mykonos. For slightly more reasonable hotel rates and smaller crowds, visit in May and early October, when the weather is still warm.
What is the Best Greek Island Itinerary:
The Greek Islands are undoubtedly expensive. Given their continually growing popularity, space is at a premium here. You can certainly post up at one of the charming hotels on Santorini or Mykonos for a week (we like Lilium Villas in Santorini for sunset views and private pools). If you have more time, ferries run regularly between the Cyclades, though keep in mind you’ll also have to coordinate your trip to and from Athens. If you don’t want to deal with logistics, and want the thrill of sleeping on a yacht, try a sailing tour, like this eight-day Mykonos to Santorini trip from G Adventures. It’s the perfect size for a group of friends to book together.
Why You Need to Visit Japan Before You Die:
From skyscrapers and mountain hot springs to stunning ancient temples and smoky nightclubs, Japan is one of the most spectacular destinations in the world. Oh, and the food isn’t half bad either. Chances are, you’ve been eating sushi and ramen your whole life, but until you’ve watched a master chef prepare sashimi, or slurped ramen as kitchen wizards whip baskets of noodles, you haven’t actually had Japanese food. It can be a dizzying place — intense and peaceful, familiar and not — but it’s also one of the top bucket-list destinations to visit.
The Best Time to Visit Japan:
Japan is a fairly large country with a diverse terrain, and you can visit any time of year and find something to do. If you’re hoping to visit Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka, and perhaps some hot springs in the mountains, you’ll likely want to time your visit for late March to October. The weather in this region is a bit milder in the spring and fall than you’ll find in the northeast U.S. Keep in mind that late March and early April mark the peak of Japan’s cherry blossom season, and hotels in Tokyo and Kyoto can book up far in advance (including our favorite, the Prince Gallery Tokyo Kioicho). Likewise, October is prime leaf-peeping season, which again tends to draw more tourists. Visiting in the late fall and winter months may score you cheaper flights and hotels, though you’ll have to contend with cool and often drizzly weather.
What’s the Best Japan Itinerary:
If you’re only looking to skim the surface of Japanese culture, you can get by on 10 days in Tokyo, Kyoto, and Osaka (check out our seven, 10, and 14-day itineraries for Japan). Keep in mind that these are big cities, each with a laundry list of things to see, do, eat, and experience. You’ll also need to budget for the JR Pass and purchase it before you leave your home country. That will allow you to move between the cities easily. Giving yourself 14 days will allow you to move at a slower pace, as well as add hot spring destinations like Hakone or the beautiful Fuji Five Lakes region to your itinerary. However, Japan isn’t quite as English-friendly as you might think. That’s especially true at the temples, where a mix of local and religious traditions blend to create a milieu that is beautiful, but not necessarily clear. With that in mind, a small group tour like the Japan Express: Osaka to Tokyo option from G Adventures can be a great way to get some context on what you’re seeing and doing.
Why You Should See the Amazon Before You Die:
If you’re after a bucket-list adventure, it’s hard to top a visit to the Amazon jungle. Sadly, booking this trip is becoming more pressing. With the erosion of policies prohibiting deforestation in the countries that make up the Amazon basin, less of this incredible place exists year after year. Making your way up the Amazon River puts you in touch with indigenous communities that have occupied this territory for thousands of years, while also offering countless chances to encounter breathtaking wildlife and truly get off the grid.
The Best Time to Visit the Amazon:
The Amazon is big, sprawling across Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Colombia, Guyana, Suriname, and Bolivia. However, the climate of the jungle itself is essentially uniform. Note that water levels vary drastically throughout the year. They’re at their highest when mountain runoff is at its peak, meaning December through May (summer in the Southern Hemisphere). Lower water levels can be found in June through November. No matter when you visit, you can expect a few hours of rain on most days — this is a rainforest, after all.
The Best Amazon Itinerary:
Like a safari, a trip up the Amazon River or any of its inland tributaries demands a good amount of logistical planning. In fact, you’ll likely want to have your tour booked before departing, as there many things to take care of prior to wandering this far off the grid. Most Amazon trips begin with a landing in Quito, Ecuador; Lima, Peru; or Manaus, Brazil. Each presents its own pros and cons, though traveling in Peru offers the chance to pair your Amazon trip with a visit to Machu Picchu. Peru also has an incredibly developed tourist infrastructure, which makes reaching the Amazon easier than some other destinations. We recommend booking a week to 10 days aboard a riverboat, like this Amazon Riverboat Adventure from G Adventures. This tour offers local experiences, riverboat accommodations, internal flights in Peru, and many meals.
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