Bucket List Destinations: 10 Must-See Places to Visit in 2023
Bucket List Destinations: 10 Must-See Places to Visit in 2023 - Bora Bora, French Polynesia - Paradise Found
With its turquoise lagoons, swaying palm trees, and iconic overwater bungalows, Bora Bora looks like paradise found. This small South Pacific island is part of French Polynesia and consistently ranks as one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Many travelers put Bora Bora on their bucket list for the chance to stay in one of the luxurious overwater bungalows that the island is famous for. These thatched-roof villas on stilts sit directly over the calm turquoise waters, offering postcard views of the lagoon and Mt. Otemanu. Waking up over the water and jumping into the lagoon for a morning swim is an incredible experience. Brands like the Four Seasons, St. Regis, and InterContinental have created indulgent five-star resorts here with amenities like infinity pools, fine dining, and world-class spas.
Of course, you don't have to break the bank to enjoy Bora Bora's beauty. More affordable hotels, guest houses, and Airbnbs can be found across the main island. No matter where you stay, you'll want to spend your days exploring the island's lush interior, snorkeling with manta rays and sharks, paddleboarding the lagoon, and watching breathtaking sunsets.
While the island's remote location adds to its mystique, the journey is all part of the experience. Most visitors fly into Bora Bora via Tahiti, enjoying spectacular aerial views of the Society Islands chain along the way. Some choose to arrive by luxury cruise ship, pulling into the deep blue waters like an ocean liner from the past.
Those who make the trek rave about Bora Bora's laidback Polynesian vibe, the friendly locals, and the island's couple-friendly atmosphere. Honeymooners flock here in droves for a romantic escape in an exotic paradise. You can dine by candlelight under the stars, get couple's massages in an overwater bungalow, and spend long days exploring secluded motus.
While Tahitian culture is alive and well here, Bora Bora attracts a cosmopolitan crowd. So you can expect excellent dining thanks to world-class resort restaurants and a few casual beachfront eateries on the main island. Local specialties to try include poisson cru (raw tuna soaked in coconut milk), chow mein de langouste (lobster noodles), and traditional Polynesian feasts called Ahima'a.
Some visitors venture out on excursions to swim with reef sharks and rays, while others are content to snorkel right off their hotel beach. Popular spots include Matira Beach, Anau and Motu Tapu. The best scuba diving areas are outside the lagoon, where you'll find shark-filled passes, WWII relics, and excellent coral formations.
What else is in this post?
- Bucket List Destinations: 10 Must-See Places to Visit in 2023 - Bora Bora, French Polynesia - Paradise Found
- Bucket List Destinations: 10 Must-See Places to Visit in 2023 - Petra, Jordan - Marvel at the Rose-Red City
- Bucket List Destinations: 10 Must-See Places to Visit in 2023 - Galápagos Islands, Ecuador - Up Close with Unique Wildlife
- Bucket List Destinations: 10 Must-See Places to Visit in 2023 - Northern Lights - See the Night Sky Come Alive
- Bucket List Destinations: 10 Must-See Places to Visit in 2023 - Great Barrier Reef, Australia - Dive One of the Seven Natural Wonders
- Bucket List Destinations: 10 Must-See Places to Visit in 2023 - Machu Picchu, Peru - Explore the Lost Incan City
- Bucket List Destinations: 10 Must-See Places to Visit in 2023 - Venice, Italy - Romance on the Canals
- Bucket List Destinations: 10 Must-See Places to Visit in 2023 - Serengeti National Park, Tanzania - An African Safari Adventure
Bucket List Destinations: 10 Must-See Places to Visit in 2023 - Petra, Jordan - Marvel at the Rose-Red City
With its magnificent ancient architecture carved into rose-colored cliffs, the ancient city of Petra has earned its nickname as the Rose-Red City. This archaeological wonder hidden in southern Jordan needs no introduction for history buffs, adventure seekers, and culture vultures.
Walking through the narrow Siq gorge, you suddenly come face to face with Al Khazneh, or the Treasury, Petra's icon. This impeccably preserved temple facade leaves all visitors awestruck when they set eyes on it for the first time. Beyond the Treasury lies an expansive complex of tombs, temples, Roman colonnaded streets, and incredible rock-cut dwellings. At its peak 2,000 years ago, Petra was home to 20,000 Nabateans who carved intricate buildings into the sandstone cliffs. This was once an opulent and cosmopolitan trade hub attracting merchants from the silk and spice roads. Today it's an enchanting 'lost city' inviting exploration.
Many travelers make time in their Jordan itinerary to visit Petra on a day trip from Amman or Aqaba. But to truly experience the magic, stay a night or two to catch the city at sunrise and sunset. I'd recommend staying at a high-end cave hotel for bucket list luxury right there among the carvings. Listen to the call to prayer echo while sipping tea on your balcony overlooking the honeycombed cliffs.
Exploring Petra takes time and energy with all the climbing and hiking on uneven trails. Many guides are available to show you hidden corners, share history, and take Instagram worthy pics. Don't miss the climb up the monastery steps for awe-inspiring views. Take time to wander the alleys past tombs and dwellings imagining caravan travelers from ancient Rome or Persia. Sit for a while in the theater or large square to watch light and shadow play across the grand architecture.
To fuel up between explorations, try Jordanian fare like manakish (flatbread), fattoush salad, and kebabs. Sip sugary tea or fresh juices while chatting with friendly Bedouins who live in Petra's caves. Locals sell crafts and souvenirs all around; rose products like soap and candles are fitting Petra mementos.
Bucket List Destinations: 10 Must-See Places to Visit in 2023 - Galápagos Islands, Ecuador - Up Close with Unique Wildlife
With their pristine volcanic terrain and astounding biodiversity, the Galápagos Islands offer truly singular encounters with wildlife found nowhere else on earth. This isolated archipelago is a living science laboratory, showcasing evolutionary wonders. A trip here feels like stepping into a National Geographic documentary, with opportunities to get up close with exotic creatures in their natural habitat.
Seeing the Galápagos was on Charles Darwin’s own 19th century bucket list. His study of the islands' endemic species led to his theory of natural selection and On the Origin of Species. Today, travelers follow in Darwin's footsteps, immersing themselves in this ecologically unique region that so inspired him.
The diverse volcanic islands each have their own personality, from cactus-studded Española to verdant Santa Cruz. Expedition cruises are ideal for island-hopping and wildlife viewing in comfort. Disembark frequently for guided hikes, snorkels, and paddleboarding adventures. Spot marine iguanas, giant tortoises, blue-footed boobies, and other species found only here.
Kayaking through mangroves with sea turtles, sea lions, and rays is unforgettable. A once-in-a-lifetime thrill is snorkeling alongside gentle whale sharks, the ocean’s largest fish. Preserving the fragile ecosystem is a top priority, with strict rules to protect wildlife. Maintain a respectful distance, move slowly, and listen to your naturalist guide.
To fully experience the enchantment of “Las Encantadas,” spend a few nights on land too. Stay at eco-friendly hotels and dine on cuisine highlighting the incredible fresh seafood. Don’t miss visiting the Charles Darwin Research Station to learn more about conservation and see giant tortoises in their natural habitat.
Most flights arrive on Isla Baltra, requiring a quick boat crossing or shuttle bus to reach bustling Puerto Ayora on Santa Cruz Island. This lively small town has hotels, restaurants, bars, tour agencies and the largest population. Day trips go to heavenly beaches, lava tunnels, and ranches to see giant tortoises.
Nearby Tortuga Bay has two superb beaches with swimming, kayaking and even surfing. Or enjoy lounging with playful sea lions who nap right on the beach! Don’t worry, a naturalist guide will explain proper etiquette for keeping your distance from wildlife.
To reach more islands, multi-day cruises depart weekly, allowing you to wake up at a new island daily. Small ships hold under 100 passengers for an intimate experience with personal service. Naturalist guides explain the unique ecosystems, lead shore excursions and give briefings.
Bucket List Destinations: 10 Must-See Places to Visit in 2023 - Northern Lights - See the Night Sky Come Alive
Gazing up at the magical glow of the Northern Lights is a truly unforgettable experience that belongs on every traveler's bucket list. This dazzling natural phenomenon occurs in high-latitude regions like Iceland, Norway, Alaska, and Northern Canada. Here, it's possible to see the ethereal auroras light up the night with colors ranging from emerald green to pink, purple and red.
Many who've been lucky enough to witness the Northern Lights describe it as a spiritual experience and one of the most jaw-dropping sights they've ever seen. The drifting and dancing lights never form the same shape or pattern twice. One moment they swirl overhead like transparent curtains, the next they emerge in glowing columns that stretch across the entire sky. Just when you think the light show has dimmed, it suddenly intensifies again with color and motion.
While the Northern Lights occur year-round, viewing them requires luck and careful timing. Ideal conditions include clear skies, solar activity, and locations with little light pollution. Most visitors head north during the fall and winter months to have the best chances. Even then, catching the auroras involves patience and late nights spent gazing skyward. Part of the thrill lies in the unpredictability, never knowing exactly when the ethereal lights might start glowing.
Many travelers choose to chase the lights via snowy dogsledding or snowmobiling adventures across the Arctic. Others prefer seeking them out during northern cruises or helicopter tours for unique aerial perspectives. Of course, you can also see the auroras the traditional way, by bundling up and finding a comfortable spot outside your hotel or cabin.
Bucket List Destinations: 10 Must-See Places to Visit in 2023 - Great Barrier Reef, Australia - Dive One of the Seven Natural Wonders
Stretching 1,400 miles along Australia's northeast coast, the Great Barrier Reef lives up to its reputation as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. As the largest coral reef system on the planet, this underwater oasis invites exploration by scuba divers, snorkelers and marine life lovers.
Many consider diving the Great Barrier Reef the experience of a lifetime and a must for any bucket list. Jacques Cousteau once called it "one of the truly magical places on Earth." The colors and diversity of marine life seem almost surreal and you'll feel like you're on a different planet.
The sheer size of the reef is hard to comprehend, composed of over 3,000 individual reefs and 900 sandy cays. This vast seascape ecosystem supports a stunning diversity of corals, fish, turtles, rays, dolphins and more. On any given dive you're guaranteed to cross paths with sea turtles, giant clams, parrot fish, clown fish and eagle rays. Adrenaline seekers can dive with reef sharks and humphead wrasse at Ribbon Reefs.
At Osprey Reef in the Far North, lucky divers swim alongside massive potato cod weighing over 100 pounds! This prehistoric fish is highly protected given its endangered status. Friendly gray reef sharks also cruise by in this area, along with schools of bright tropical fish and healthy staghorn coral formations.
Diving the SS Yongala shipwreck is ranked one of the best wreck dives in the world. Sunk in 1911 during a cyclone, this historic steamship sits intact beneath the waves buzzing with marine life. Giant resident groper and batfish greet divers at the Yongala, along with sea snakes and huge schools of snapper.
To dive the reef responsibly, go with an eco-accredited operator like Passions of Paradise who emphasize environmental protection. They limit numbers of divers and have expert staff to guide you. Choose to visit less crowded dive sites to minimize coral impact. Although damaged in recent years by warming waters, focused preservation efforts help protect this natural wonder.
Bucket List Destinations: 10 Must-See Places to Visit in 2023 - Machu Picchu, Peru - Explore the Lost Incan City
Perched high in the Andes, the ancient Incan citadel of Machu Picchu still holds allure as a long-lost city unveiled. This remarkably preserved settlement hidden by jungle and mountains for centuries invites awe and wonder when encountered in person. Journeying here feels like turning back time to glimpse life in the days of the mighty Inca civilization.
Trekking deep into the Andes to uncover Machu Picchu inspires a true sense of discovery. Many hikers describe their first glimpse of the stone terraces and temples peeking through the clouds as a spiritual experience. The rewarding journey makes reaching this ‘lost city’ all the more special. While some choose the train, hiking the steep Inca Trail offers multi-day adventures under starry skies. Passing through the Sun Gate brings that dramatic first glimpse of Machu Picchu in the distance. The roaring Urubamba River carves its way through the valley far below.
Wandering the agricultural terraces and temples, it’s incredible to visualize life here centuries ago. This hidden settlement was the estate of Emperor Pachacuti, built around 1450 as an elite country retreat. Steep stone walls seem to grow right from the cliffs, showcasing the masterful stonemasonry of the Incas. Temple of the Sun, Temple of the Condor and Intihuatana all invite exploration. Climbing Huayna Picchu mountain rewards those up for the challenge with awe-inspiring views looking down.
This awe-inspiring ‘lost city’ rose to further fame after historian Hiram Bingham unveiled it to the modern world in 1911. Jungle had completely overgrown the ruins before Bingham encountered local Quechua people living near the site. His National Geographic coverage soon captivated the world, putting Machu Picchu on the map. The myths and questions surrounding the hidden citadel have fueled intrigue ever since. Why was it built here in such an inaccessible cliffside location? As a royal estate or sacred religious center and observatory? Why did the Spanish never find and destroy it like other Incan cities? These enduring mysteries are part of what makes visiting Machu Picchu such a singular experience.
Bucket List Destinations: 10 Must-See Places to Visit in 2023 - Venice, Italy - Romance on the Canals
With its winding canals, iconic gondolas, and unrivaled Old World charm, Venice sets the scene for romance like no other place on earth. This floating city invites couples to leave the world behind and lose themselves in intimate moments and dazzling beauty. Away from the crowds, Venice reveals itself as the perfect hideaway to share unforgettable times with your sweetheart.
Venice seduces all the senses, from the lapping of waves against stone palazzos, to the sound of accordions drifting on the breeze. Unspoiled views transport you back centuries with every gilded Byzantine mosaic and marbled Gothic facade. Meander the atmospheric alleys hand-in-hand, cross arched bridges, and pause to steal kisses in quiet corners.
As the sun sets, settle in aboard your own private gondola, Venice’s signature water taxi. Glide through the Grand Canal and past centuries-old churches as your gondolier serenades you in song. Cuddle close beneath soft blankets as you float through the dreamy city by starlight and lamplight.
Savor languid mornings at cafes in St. Mark's Square, watching the passersby and pigeons over cappuccino. Wander slowly through the galleries of the Guggenheim Museum, or lose yourselves for hours exploring the hidden nooks of Burano Island.
In the evening, toast with bellinis at an elegant restaurant along the waterfront. Or enjoy an intimate meal of seafood risotto, fresh pasta, and tiramisu prepared in your apartment's cute kitchen. Cooking together lets you enjoy the tastes of Venice privately.
Stay in a charming boutique hotel full of character, not cookie-cutter chains. Some rooms even offer Juliet balconies overlooking the canals. Think fluffy canopied beds, exposed wood beams, comfy window seats, and historic details. Venice abounds with romantic accommodations if you avoid the crowded zones.
Unlock Venice’s most romantic views from atop St. Mark’s Clocktower. This special perspective stretches across red rooftops to the sea beyond. Or witness the dazzling island city illuminated at night during a private water taxi tour. Dancing lights reflect their colors onto the dark, rippling water all around you. These moments alone above the beauty below will take your breath away.
Bucket List Destinations: 10 Must-See Places to Visit in 2023 - Serengeti National Park, Tanzania - An African Safari Adventure
From majestic lions stalking their prey to immense herds of wildebeest crossing the Mara River, witnessing the iconic wildlife of the Serengeti is an unparalleled African adventure. This vast Tanzanian national park invites you to rediscover your sense of wonder observing nature's greatest spectacles play out in real time.
Of all African safaris, few compare to exploring the Serengeti, especially during the Great Migration from July through October. Imagine over a million wildebeest and hundreds of thousands of zebra and antelope endlessly trekking across the plains in search of greener grasses. Predators follow closely, with prides of lions ready to isolate the weak and young. Elephants gracefully amble by as giraffes munch leaves from flat-topped acacia trees dotting the landscape.
During river crossings, Nile crocodiles and big cats pick off wildebeest mercilessly in the frenzy. Vultures circle overhead, just waiting their turn. But still the thundering herds forge on, surviving by sheer strength of numbers. Witnessing the primal struggle for survival between hunter and hunted harkens back to beginnings of life on earth.
Beyond the Great Migration, the biodiversity of the Serengeti amazes travelers year round. Cheetahs sprint after fleet-footed Thomson's gazelle in the grassland savannah. Hippos laze about in muddy waterholes, yawning to reveal enormous jaws. Endangered rhinos graze close to safari vehicles, accompanied by vigilant oxpecker birds picking insects off their hides.
Serengeti sunrises offer unforgettable moments like seeing lions lounging after a successful nocturnal hunt. Their bloodied faces and full bellies attest to a fruitful night. Other days bring curious elephant herds surrounding vehicles, flapping their ears and trumpeting loudly. Safari drives reveal endless surprises and instill renewed respect for the natural world.