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Top 10 life-changing travel experiences

Sick of the humdrum tourist destinations? Online travel agency ZUJI.com.au has searched the globe to come up with a list of the top 10 life-changing travel experiences, guaranteed to give you a new appreciation for planet Earth (and bragging rights).  So, without further ado, here’s the list: Admire the Mayan ruins of Tikal, Guatemala Once the glittering jewel at the centre of the Mayan empire, Tikal was consumed by the jungle and lost for nearly three centuries. Today, the sites’ secrets have been once again revealed, and travellers from around the world can now witness first-hand some of the largest and most impressive ancient structures in South America. Tikal’s Great Plaza includes temples more than 70 metres high, sprawling royal palaces and a host of other buildings and monuments. Visit during the dry season, which runs from January to May. Meet mountain gorillas in Rwanda Rwanda’s animal kingdom promises to leave even the most seasoned traveller in awe, and the country’s mountain gorilla is an essential to see. With just 880 left in the wild, these magnificent beasts can be found in either the Virunga volcanic mountains or the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park at an altitude range of 2,200-4,300 metres. Rwanda’s strict conservation laws mean only fifty travellers can get in the midst of the gorillas at a time making it more likely to spot one of these gentle giants than another tourist. The gorillas can be visited year round, regardless of season. Visit the temples of Bagan, Myanmar (Burma) Get in now before the hordes arrive. Myanmar is quickly becoming a tourist hotspot now that the US has re-established diplomatic relations with the newly civilian government and the National League for Democracy has dropped its long-standing travel boycott. Nestled away in upper Myanmar, Bagan is the former centre of the Kingdom of Pagan. While it is estimated that in excess of 10,000 temples and pagodas were constructed at the site, a remarkable 2,200 still stand in what is the densest and largest concentration of Buddhist ruins in the world. Take to the sky in a hot air balloon to soak in the sheer scale of this impressive site. Bagan can be experienced year round, thanks to its dry climate. Witness the Northern Lights in Svalbard, Norway It’s a long way from Australia, but the incredible phenomena of the northern lights is well worth the trip. Witness nature’s very own light show from Svalbard, a stunning Arctic archipelago where mountains meet massive glaciers. After you’ve caught a glimpse of the aurora, there’s an abundance of things to do in this winter wonderland, but spending a few days spotting Svalbard’s incredible wildlife is highly recommended. If you’re lucky you might even be able to see a few polar bears in their natural habitat. The lights are most easily spotted between September and March. Find yourself on the Ganges, India Take a journey to Varanasi, the holiest city in India, and witness tens of thousands of people descending the ghats to take a cleansing dip in the sacred river each day. Make sure you take some time to sail down river and find yourself at one of the many meditation camps along the banks. The best time to experience Varanasi is from November to March. Swim with humpback whales in Tonga Once hunted to the brink of extinction, a firsthand encounter with a 36,000 kg humpback whale is guaranteed to power up the endorphins. Tonga is one of the only places in the world where you can swim with these majestic mammals. These Southern Hemisphere humpbacks are said to migrate up to 25,000 kilometres from their feeding grounds in the Antarctic to the tropical waters of Tonga to mate and give birth. The best time to travel is between August and October. Climb Kilimanjaro in Tanzania Stretch your legs with a trek up Mount Kilimanjaro. The world’s highest walkable peak offers tough travellers an opportunity to traverse 80 kilometres of mountain, five different climatic zones and some truly amazing scenery all in the course of a few days. These treks are best experienced in January to mid-March or from June to October however, the most popular time for climbing is in December. Witness the Great Migration in Kenya Known as The Great Migration, this annual event sees millions of wildebeest, zebra and gnu journey from the plains of the Serengeti to the hills of Masai Mara. Gaze in awe as the herds brave rivers, ravines and other wildlife on their life-or-death trek towards greener pastures. The best time to catch the action is between July and October. Ride the Trans-Siberian Railway through Mother Russia Once hailed as ‘the fairest jewel in the crown of the Tsars’, a journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway is one of life’s great travel experiences. Sit back and watch the landscape slip by as you make the 9,288km trek through 8 time zones from Moscow to Vladivostok on the Trans-Siberian Railway. Travel at your own pace through some of the most rugged and awe-inspiring terrain the planet has to offer. If you’re after even more you can opt to then transfer to the Trans-Mongolian, which visits Beijing and Ulaanbataar, or select from a raft of other options and destinations. White water rafting in Nepal Home to the highest peaks in the world, Nepal has always been a mecca for mountain climbers. But what goes up must come down. Adventure junkies will be treated to an outstanding selection of snow-fed rivers, which range from PG fun to raging torrents. For ultimate bragging rights take a ride along the monster Sun Kosi rapids that start near the Tibetan border. The best months to take a plunge are October and November. Avoid the monsoon season from June to August.

Paul Johnson

Paul Johnson is Editor of A Luxury Travel Blog and has worked in the travel industry for more than 30 years. He is Winner of the Innovations in Travel ‘Best Travel Influencer’ Award from WIRED magazine. In addition to other awards, the blog has also been voted “one of the world’s best travel blogs” and “best for luxury” by The Daily Telegraph.

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  1. Too many places to add to my list of destinations. I want to get to Norway, but I already saw the northern lights in Iceland this winter. I might get to Burma and Nepal this summer.

  2. Really great list. I managed to witness the migration from the safety of a plane over the Masai Mara back in 2007. It was actually pretty frightening watching it! For any of you who would like to win your bucket list…make sure you check out My Destination’s travel comp BBB. It;s 6 months around the world and $50,000. If I was to win I think I would have all this list plus Day of the Dead in Mexico…that would be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for sure!

  3. I’ve been lucky enough to climb Kilimanjaro on the Machame Route, my next challenge is Everest Base Camp in October!

  4. It’s wonderful to see that luxury travel is also open to the more rugged things in life.
    I love luxury, but I find one misses out so much if only just sticking to complete luxury all the time.

  5. Completely agree with list – I have 3 boys and am lucky enough to be a guide in Tonga. I have taken kids out to swim with the whales and their reaction definitely is life-changing and awe-inspiring.

  6. Admire the Mayan ruins of Tikal, Guatemala

    Once the glittering jewel at the centre of the Mayan empire, Tikal … in South America.

    Isn’t Guatemala in Central America

  7. Great list. However, I think I would put Angkor Wat instead of Tikal. I’ve been to 5 of the 10 places. Just returned from Kilimanjaro a few weeks ago, and it was definitely one of the highlights of my “been there, done that” list. For me, the greatest life-changing travel experience ever was the Snowman Trek in Bhutan. I’ll never be the same person since the completion of that trek (and I mean that in the best of ways).

  8. I was surprised that I did the first item on the list, woohoo. I would really like to do the rest of them as well. I’ve been traveling around Thailand and blogging about training at Muay Thai gyms. Easy access to places like Burma from here.

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