Bucket List Bonanza: 50 Unforgettable Experiences To Have Before You Die
Bucket List Bonanza: 50 Unforgettable Experiences To Have Before You Die - Swim With Whale Sharks in Western Australia
Swimming with the world's largest fish in the pristine waters of Western Australia should be on every adventurer's bucket list. The gentle giants known as whale sharks swim through these azure seas between March and July each year, providing a once-in-a-lifetime experience for intrepid travelers who make the journey.
Gliding silently through the water alongside a 30-foot, spotted behemoth is an incredible privilege. Though whale sharks can weigh over 20 tons, they are remarkably graceful underwater ballet dancers. Their gaping mouths open and close steadily to filter massive amounts of plankton and krill without bothering the tiny human swimmers in their midst.
Divers lucky enough to have an encounter describe a feeling of awe and insignificance next to these ancient creatures, who have survived for millennia and can live up to a century. They speak of an unforgettable spiritual connection as the mammoth fish acknowledges their presence with a pass nearby or even a gentle bump.
The best place on Earth to have this magical experience is off the coast of Western Australia's Ningaloo Reef. The pristine reef is home to about 500 whale sharks that return here each autumn. This World Heritage site provides an unparalleled backdrop for a respectful whale shark encounter.
Tour operators in the area take small groups of visitors out snorkeling and diving with these gentle giants for a few hours each day throughout the season. The excursions are carefully regulated to ensure low impact on the endangered whale sharks.
With the guidance of an experienced team, getting up close and personal with a whale shark along Ningaloo is the adventure of a lifetime. The excitement of spotting one of their massive silhouettes in the distance, donning gear, and slipping into the water for a face-to-face meet is incomparable. Beachgoers can watch from the shore as lucky snorkelers' heads pop up nearby the giant fish.
Photographs never do justice to actually being alongside the spotted and striped sharks as their wide mouths vacuum up a swirling halo of nutrients. Many travelers are moved to tears by whale shark encounters, describing them as spiritual and life-changing experiences.
What else is in this post?
- Bucket List Bonanza: 50 Unforgettable Experiences To Have Before You Die - Swim With Whale Sharks in Western Australia
- Bucket List Bonanza: 50 Unforgettable Experiences To Have Before You Die - See the Northern Lights in Iceland or Norway
- Bucket List Bonanza: 50 Unforgettable Experiences To Have Before You Die - Explore the Ancient Ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru
- Bucket List Bonanza: 50 Unforgettable Experiences To Have Before You Die - Hot Air Ballooning Over Cappadocia in Turkey
- Bucket List Bonanza: 50 Unforgettable Experiences To Have Before You Die - Road Trip Along The Pacific Coast Highway in California
- Bucket List Bonanza: 50 Unforgettable Experiences To Have Before You Die - Hike to Everest Base Camp in Nepal
- Bucket List Bonanza: 50 Unforgettable Experiences To Have Before You Die - Try Authentic Neapolitan Pizza in Naples, Italy
- Bucket List Bonanza: 50 Unforgettable Experiences To Have Before You Die - Attend a Full Moon Party in Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand
Bucket List Bonanza: 50 Unforgettable Experiences To Have Before You Die - See the Northern Lights in Iceland or Norway
Chasing the luminous green, purple, and red curtains of the Aurora Borealis is on many travelers' bucket lists. Venturing into the frigid Arctic Circle during the dark winter provides the best chance to witness nature's dazzling light show in action. Though entirely unpredictable, seeing the Northern Lights firsthand can be a magical, humbling experience.
Iceland and Norway top the list for Northern Lights chasers thanks to easy access, tour infrastructure, and optimal viewing conditions. Their remote positions near the North Pole offer long winter nights with increased solar activity. Though the lights appear randomly, local guides in Iceland and Norway lead expeditions that enhance the odds of catching the elusive glow.
Venturing out into the Icelandic countryside after nightfall reveals endless stars in the black winter sky. Far from any city lights, the conditions are ideal. Frigid air stings exposed skin, but the anticipation of seeing the Aurora's curtains unfurl keeps viewers alert. Suddenly, a faint glow appears and begins shimmering and undulating in a silent dance. Hues of green, violet, pink and blue ebb and flow in overhead waves. The dazzling performance is humbling, reminding viewers of their insignificance against nature's wonder.
Seekers in northern Norway may experience similar magic. The long Polar night provides plenty of opportunity. Local Sami guides lead travelers away from ambient light into the wilderness via snowmobile or sleigh. Together they await the Aurora's appearance, telling stories and myths around a cozy fire. With incredible timing, the sky comes alive with vibrant, ghostly veils. The radiant lights reflect off the pristine snow, doubling their splendor.
For either destination, joining a small group Northern Lights tour is recommended over attempting to drive and explore independently. Expert guides closely monitor solar activity and weather to determine prime viewing locations and maximize sighting chances. They handle navigation and provide interesting facts, history and photography tips. Most importantly, they enthusiastically facilitate an unforgettable shared experience.
Bucket List Bonanza: 50 Unforgettable Experiences To Have Before You Die - Explore the Ancient Ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru
The awe-inspiring Incan citadel of Machu Picchu simply must be experienced firsthand to fully appreciate its grandeur and mystical energy. Hidden high in the Andes Mountains, Machu Picchu’s ancient stone temples, plazas, and terraces have endured in solitude for over 500 years. After its rediscovery in 1911, word of its majestic beauty spread. Today over a million annual visitors make the pilgrimage to Peru specifically to wander among the arched doorways, precision-cut rock walls, and astronomical observatories of this spiritual site.
Stepping foot on the age-worn stones of Machu Picchu for the first time is sure to give you goosebumps. Guidebooks and photos do not do justice to the humbling privilege of actually being present in this sacred place. As the early morning mist clears to reveal the sprawling ruins, a profound sense of insignificance sets in. Your modern troubles vanish as you contemplate the ancient people who built these structures by hand and the generations who lived, worked, and worshipped here long ago.
A visit to Machu Picchu is both a physical and a mental journey. The ruins sit nearly 8,000 feet above sea level; simply climbing the hundreds of ancient stairs leaves you winded. But breathing deeply against the altitude opens your mind and senses. Without the distractions of modern life, you become intensely aware of the details around you. Notice the perfect angles of the walls, the condors soaring overhead, the orchestrated flow of water, and the awe-inspiring views of mountain peaks emerging through clouds.
Getting up early for sunrise brings certain rewards. Watching the rising run's first rays illuminate the legendary Sun Gate and flow down over the citadel is a special moment. The slanted light creates ever-changing patterns on the structures, and fewer crowds allow a peaceful, contemplative experience. Patient photographers are treated to magnificent opportunities in the soft morning glow before day-trippers arrive.
A highlight is climbing Huayna Picchu, the towering peak that looms over the citadel. After exploring the ruins below, hiking the steep, exposed trail up the mountain puts Machu Picchu’s ridiculous beauty into perspective. The stunning panoramas make the taxing hour-long climb worthwhile. At the top, the Temple of the Moon offers a chance for reflection before descending (carefully) back down.
A visit to Machu Picchu should not be rushed. Staying overnight allows you to absorb the magic at different hours and avoid the largest crowds. When planning your trip, be sure to book your permits for both Machu Picchu and Huayna Picchu in advance, as availability is limited. Also account for travel time to and from Cusco.
Bucket List Bonanza: 50 Unforgettable Experiences To Have Before You Die - Hot Air Ballooning Over Cappadocia in Turkey
As the dark pre-dawn sky begins to brighten, the anticipation builds. Today you will float high above the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia in a hot air balloon, realizing a long-held travel dream. The spectacular and unique landscape of this region in central Turkey was formed by ancient volcanic eruptions, leaving behind cone-shaped rock formations, valleys, and caves. Humans have dwelled here for ages, carving homes, churches, even underground cities into the soft volcanic tuff. There is no better way to appreciate this area’s natural beauty and rich history than soaring peacefully overhead in a wicker basket.
The spectacle begins well before takeoff. Dozens of balloons are unfurled and inflated in the dim morning light. Propane flames shoot into each giant envelope, filled slowly with hot air. As the sun begins peeking over the horizon, your balloon rises steadily into the sky with several others. Looking down, the scene resembles a picture book as countless balloons float among the stone pillars and peaks. From your vantage point high above, the intricate cave dwellings carved into cone formations are visible. The beauty and seclusion of the region becomes apparent.
Up in the sky, your pilot skillfully maneuvers using altitude control and wind direction. He targets specific formations and valleys, aiming to maximize scenic viewing and photo opportunities for passengers. Though the balloons seem close enough to touch, navigation keeps them safely separated. As the sun rises higher, its angled light creates dazzling landscapes with contrasting shadows. Beyond adventure, a balloon ride also provides unique chances to photograph this ancient land.
Gliding gently through the air affords a peaceful, introspective experience vastly different from powered aircrafts. Silence surrounds you, broken only by occasional bursts from the burner flame propelling you along. Looking down at the preserved monasteries and villages below, a sense of timelessness sets in. A hot air balloon ride lasting a couple hours provides ample time for reflection about history and existence while surrounded by Cappadocia's unique beauty.
Bucket List Bonanza: 50 Unforgettable Experiences To Have Before You Die - Road Trip Along The Pacific Coast Highway in California
Winding along California’s rugged central and northern coast, the Pacific Coast Highway is considered one of the greatest road trips on the planet. The epic journey covers 655 miles of unforgettable scenery, quirky beach towns, delicious seafood, and unlimited adventures. Many travelers describe driving the PCH as life-changing.
Few drives can compete with the raw natural beauty witnessed along the PCH. Sheer cliffs and winding switchbacks hug the coastline as the roadway rolls over hills to reveal staggering ocean vistas around each bend. Beaches strewn with seaweed and driftwood alternate with rocky points and secluded coves. The road passes through scenic coastal towns and iconic spots like Big Sur’s Bixby Bridge and McWay Falls.
Beyond the views, the PCH appeals to road trippers with its flexibility and room for detours. Travelers dictate their own schedule, stopping to hike mountain trails, surf perfect waves, or sample wines in Santa Barbara along the way. Kayaking among sea otters, camping on a secluded beach, or touring Hearst Castle’s opulence all make great diversions. The road trip can be completed in a week, but many travelers take longer to fully experience all that the region offers.
While stunning in its entirety, the often-crowded drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco packs in the most bucket-list stops. Don’t rush past funky beach towns like Carmel-by-the-Sea and Monterey without detouring to stroll their charming streets. Similarly, budget extra time in photogenic spots like Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park and Bixby Bridge to fully soak in their beauty. Watching the sunset from these landmarks takes the experience to another level.
Big Sur is a definite highlight. Stop to gaze up at towering redwoods before scrambling over boulders to marvel at McWay Falls plummeting 80 feet onto a secluded cove. Enjoy a leisurely picnic atop jagged cliffs at Garrapata State Park. Hike a stretch of quiet beach or photograph wildflowers carpeting the hillsides in spring. Treat yourself to dinner with an ocean view at the legendary Nepenthe restaurant. Big Sur appeals to nature lovers and romantics alike.
Farther north, locations like Point Lobos State Park and the wild Sonoma Coast feel more remote. Pull over frequently; unexpected turnouts often deliver the most memorable vistas. The sounds of crashing waves, crying seabirds, and barking sea lions accompany you as you snake along cliffs carved by the relentlessly pounding surf. Stop for photo ops on picturesque bridges spanning cascading rivers that empty into the Pacific.
Aim to complete much of the driving during daylight hours since the PCH is just a two-lane road known for hairpin curves and occasional landslides. Drive cautiously and make use of roadside pullouts. Remember to look up from the road often to drink in the constantly changing panoramas.
Bucket List Bonanza: 50 Unforgettable Experiences To Have Before You Die - Hike to Everest Base Camp in Nepal
For adventurers and mountaineers, a multi-day hike to Mt. Everest's Base Camp in Nepal is the ultimate bucket list challenge. Situated 17,600 feet above sea level, Base Camp sits in the shadows of the tallest peak on Earth, where the views are dizzying and the air is thin. This is the launch point where expeditions prepare to summit the legendary mountain. The hike follows in the footsteps of famous climbers like Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, delivering a rugged trek across suspension bridges, rocky trails, and sweeping valleys.
Those who take on the roughly 40-mile long Base Camp trek embark on a demanding yet immensely rewarding odyssey. Trails start from either the village of Lukla or Jiri and take 9 to 15 days depending on pace and acclimatization time. Along the way, hikers spend nights in local teahouses, where guest rooms have minimal comforts but the cultural immersion and camaraderie with fellow adventurers make up for it. The landscape and cultural sights en route tell the tale of the Sherpa people and Buddhist spirituality that define the region. Prayer flags strung across the trails whip in the wind next to hand carved mani stones and colored stupas.
The journey itself serves up challenges with nasty tree roots underfoot, landslides, strong winds, and freezing temperatures. The rapid gain in elevation leaves trekkers short of breath, even when tackling simple steps. Though incredibly taxing at times, the spectacular Himalayan vistas opening up around each turn make the hike's hardships worthwhile. As the trails climb higher, wispy clouds roll through craggy, snow-capped peaks that dominate the skyline. Deep gorges give way to sweeping glaciers.
For many Base Camp trekkers, the highlight comes at sunrise from Kala Patthar. At 18,519 feet, this towering peak offers an unrivaled view of Everest’s full grandeur. As the first light touches Everest's summit and neighboring Lhotse and Nuptse peaks, the mountain panorama leaves observers in awe. After the grueling hike to Kala Patthar's summit, soaking in these views feels like a hard-earned privilege. The trek down takes you through Gorak Shep and on to Base Camp itself. Though physically exhausted, trekkers feel a great sense of accomplishment upon glimpsing the colorful tents dotting Base Camp below the towering Khumbu Icefall.
Bucket List Bonanza: 50 Unforgettable Experiences To Have Before You Die - Try Authentic Neapolitan Pizza in Naples, Italy
Far too often, pizza connoisseurs dismiss the thought of visiting Italy’s raucous capital of pizza. “Why go to Naples for pizza,” they ask, “when I can get ‘authentic’ Neapolitan pizza made by award-winning Neapolitan pizza chefs in my own hometown?”
While these artisanal pizzerias pride themselves on using traditional techniques, equipment, and ingredients approved by the Associazione Verace Pizza Napoletana, they still lack the x-factor only Naples can provide. The pizza experience in Naples goes far beyond dough fermented for hours, San Marzano tomatoes, and bufala mozzarella. Here, pizza making is an art form perfected over generations. The pizzaioli (pizza makers) have pizza running through their blood. They can spin, stretch, top, and bake a perfectly charred pie in their sleep.
More importantly, no pizzeria abroad can recreate the essence of a pizzeria in Naples. From their tile floors and small round tables to the buzz of lively conversation and the savory smells wafting from the ovens, Neapolitan pizzerias exude an intoxicating energy. Italians take their pizza very seriously. Sitting down for a meal at an authentic pizzeria in Naples offers insight into this devotion.
You’ll notice most pizzerias only serve pizza - no menus of pastas, risottos or desserts. The focus is entirely on the pizza. And not just any pizza, but Pizza Napoletana. This style follows strict guidelines from the AVPN, from ingredients and dough hydration to baking time and temperature. The result is a soft, chewy crust with just the right amount of char. The brilliant red San Marzano sauce provides a sweetness that perfectly balances the creamy mozzarella.
While marinara and margherita pizzas may sound basic, when crafted by a seasoned Neapolitan pizzaiolo, the flavors simply sing. The care that goes into each pie becomes apparent after that first tasty bite. Beyond the tangy sauce and luscious cheese, the local vibe and immediacy of eating piping hot pizza directly from the ovens enhances it exponentially.
Where should pizza pilgrims begin their Naples pizza tours? Pizzeria Brandi claims to be the birthplace of the classic Pizza Margherita, created in 1889 for Queen Margherita of Savoy. Legend has it the ingredients of tomato, mozzarella, and basil were chosen to represent the colors of the Italian flag. Pizza fritta stalwarts Pizzeria Port’Alba and Pizzeria Antonio e Antonio serve golden fried pizza dough stuffed with ricotta and salami since 1830.
For a modern take, Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo and 50 Kalò are renowned hot spots. Perennially mobbed Da Michele sticks to just two choices - Marinara and Margherita. The venerable Starita and Trianon bake pies for those craving pizza the classic Neapolitan way. Wherever you go, don’t ask for pineapple or pepperoni. In Naples, less is more when it comes to precious pizza.
Bucket List Bonanza: 50 Unforgettable Experiences To Have Before You Die - Attend a Full Moon Party in Ko Pha Ngan, Thailand
Of Thailand’s many bucket list-worthy experiences, few rival the spectacle of a Full Moon Party on the island of Ko Pha Ngan. On the night of, or leading up to, every full moon, thousands of revelers from around the world descend upon Haad Rin Beach to dance, party, and lose themselves in the lunacy. For backpackers and thrill seekers, it’s a rite of passage.
As darkness falls, the once quaint beach comes to life with stages blasting different genres — from thumping electronic dance music to trance and techno. Makeshift bars serve up cheap alcohol in neon-lit buckets, while food vendors dish out grilled meat skewers and savory crepes to soak it up. Fire shows, glowing body paint, and light-up toys add to the electric ambience.
No inhibitions are necessary to join the madness. Half-naked partiers covered in luminescent paint and flashing LEDs dance feverishly on platforms and tables. Others wander the shore lighting fireworks, swigging booze, or conversing in various states of inebriation. On the fringes, partygoers nap in hammocks or curl up on beach chairs awaiting a second wind.
The lunar celebration breeds a sense of community and abandon. Barriers slip away as strangers become family for a night. Crowds ebb and flow between stages until first light. Die-hards continue dancing along the beach amid fiery red and orange hues of the rising sun.
Yet beyond the drunken revelry and neon paint, a deeper spirituality exists around the Full Moon Party’s origin. Haad Rin’s palm-lined shores have drawn bohemians and truth seekers long before ravers arrived. The full moon’s luminous reflection across the tranquil bay beckoned.
Some attribute the inaugural Full Moon Party in 1985 to a farewell beach barbecue for a handful of travelers before one left Ko Pha Ngan. As word spread, more joined under the full moon. DJs played psychedelic trance music on generators, spinning until dawn.
Others cite mushroom-tea drinking hippies in the ‘80s gathering on nights of the full moon to trip beneath its illuminating beams. They danced together on Haad Rin as the moon rose over the bay.