Jet Setting Journeys: Our Editors’ Travel Bucket Lists for the New Year
Jet Setting Journeys: Our Editors' Travel Bucket Lists for the New Year - See the Northern Lights Dance Across Iceland's Skies
Of all Iceland's natural wonders, none capture the imagination quite like the dazzling Northern Lights. This celestial phenomenon has drawn intrepid travelers from around the globe who brave frigid temperatures for a chance to see the fabled lights dance across the night sky.
While the Northern Lights can be seen throughout the northern latitudes, Iceland is uniquely positioned for prime aurora viewing. Its location just below the Arctic Circle coupled with limited light pollution and frequent clear nights make it one of the best places on earth to chase the elusive lights.
For many Iceland enthusiasts, glimpsing the Aurora Borealis is the ultimate bucket list experience. American travel blogger Cailin O'Neil recounts her lifelong fascination with the lights and her eventual "soul quenching" viewing on a winter trip to Iceland. Despite subzero temperatures, she says witnessing the flowing streaks of green, purple and red was a literally breathtaking event she'll never forget.
Professional storm chaser Mike Olbinski echoes Cailin's sentiments after catching the lights during a two week Icelandic road trip. Despite having seen awe-inspiring meteorological events worldwide, Mike ranks his time spent watching the Northern Lights shimmer above Iceland's snowy peaks as one of his most profound life experiences.
Of course, the Northern Lights are notoriously finicky, and viewing them requires luck and patience. The lights only occur when solar flares eject charged particles that interact with the earth's atmosphere upon entering the magnetic field around the poles. Ideal conditions happen only about 150 days a year in Iceland.
Auroras are also weather dependent, appearing on clear, dark nights. Clouds are the number one deterrent for spotting lights, so flexibility helps. Booking several nights or going during periods of high solar activity improve the odds. Moon phases are also a factor, with new moons offering the best visibility.
For the best experience, venture outside Reykjavik's city lights to places like the Snæfellsnes Peninsula or golden circle. Bundle up, find an unobstructed northern horizon and wait, sometimes for hours, for the show to start. Tours maximize viewing opportunities but aren't guaranteed. Patience and realistic expectations are key.
What else is in this post?
- Jet Setting Journeys: Our Editors' Travel Bucket Lists for the New Year - See the Northern Lights Dance Across Iceland's Skies
- Jet Setting Journeys: Our Editors' Travel Bucket Lists for the New Year - Hike the Epic Trail to Machu Picchu's Ancient Ruins
- Jet Setting Journeys: Our Editors' Travel Bucket Lists for the New Year - Safari Through The Serengeti To See Africa's Wild Wonders
- Jet Setting Journeys: Our Editors' Travel Bucket Lists for the New Year - Marvel At Sydney's Iconic Opera House And Harbour
- Jet Setting Journeys: Our Editors' Travel Bucket Lists for the New Year - Experience Diwali Festival Lights In Vibrant India
- Jet Setting Journeys: Our Editors' Travel Bucket Lists for the New Year - Snorkel Australia's Great Barrier Reef Before It's Too Late
- Jet Setting Journeys: Our Editors' Travel Bucket Lists for the New Year - Explore The Ancient Temples Of Angkor In Cambodia
- Jet Setting Journeys: Our Editors' Travel Bucket Lists for the New Year - Taste Authentic Neapolitan Pizza In Historic Naples
Jet Setting Journeys: Our Editors' Travel Bucket Lists for the New Year - Hike the Epic Trail to Machu Picchu's Ancient Ruins
Among avid hikers, few journeys can compete with the thrill of trekking the Inca Trail to reach the lost city of Machu Picchu. Winding through the Andes mountains, this iconic four-day trek follows original Incan stone paths and showcases breathtaking scenery culminating at the awe-inspiring ancient citadel, earning its reputation as one of the world's greatest hikes.
Spanning nearly 27 miles with ascents totalling over 13,000 feet, the Inca Trail is undeniably challenging. Yet its rewards are unparalleled, affording trekkers the chance to immerse themselves in a living slice of Incan history while taking in spectacular vistas of the cloud forest and Andean peaks. The final glimpse of Machu Picchu from the Sun Gate is an iconic moment no camera can fully capture.
Renowned travel writer Rick Steves echoes the sentiments of many who rank the Inca Trail a premier "must experience" trek. He urges ambitious hikers not to miss this perfect blend of cultural immersion, physical exertion and spiritual exhilaration only found along this route to Machu Picchu's stone ruins.
Lee Abbamonte, the youngest American to visit every country, explains how the Inca Trail literally took his breath away. Between the extreme elevation gains and stunning panoramas around each bend, he was constantly in awe during his four day trek culminating at the sacred site of Machu Picchu. Though challenging, he said the views make every step worthwhile.
Due to its popularity, Peru enforces strict limits on the number of trekkers. Only 500 hikers plus guides are allowed to begin the trail each day. Permits often sell out months in advance, so planning ahead is critical. Securing a knowledgeable guide company in advance also helps maximize the adventure and avoid complications. Many find going with a small group tour operator simplifies logistics while enhancing cultural connections.
While one can visit Machu Picchu via train, most adventurers insist hiking the iconic Inca Trail is the only way to fully appreciate the destination. The multi-day immersion in Incan culture and gradual acclimatization to the altitude allows hikers to absorb the full majesty of their surroundings. Approaching Machu Picchu on foot after days of anticipation enhances the moment of wonder as the granite citadel finally emerges from the clouds.
Jet Setting Journeys: Our Editors' Travel Bucket Lists for the New Year - Safari Through The Serengeti To See Africa's Wild Wonders
For wildlife enthusiasts, an African safari through Tanzania's legendary Serengeti National Park is the ultimate bucket list quest. Home to the Great Migration, the Serengeti offers unparalleled opportunities to witness immense herds of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle as they traverse the open savannas in search of greener pastures. Alongside sightings of the Big 5 and over 500 species of birds, a safari in this iconic park is a front row seat to nature's greatest theater.
Professional travel blogger Dalene Heck describes her six day Tanzanian safari through the Serengeti as the most thrilling trip of her life. During her stay at central Seronera, Dalene recounts seeing two dozen lions napping under trees after feasting on a fresh zebra kill. Tracking a leopard near the Grumeti River and witnessing a pair of cheetahs stalking Thomson's gazelle are etched in her memory as pinnacle wildlife viewing moments. But it was observing thousands of wildebeest swimming across crocodile-infested waters during their great migration that left her in total awe.
Lee Abbamonte, who prides himself on avoiding tourist traps, explains that while the Serengeti attracts thousands of visitors yearly, its immense size ensures an unspoiled wilderness ideal for safaris. He camped in the heart of the park during the migration's peak river crossing season. Waking to the sound of tremendous splashing as wildebeest herds leapt into turbulent waters at first light is a morning Lee will never forget. He says while wildlife abounds across Africa, the Serengeti is incomparable, living up to its legendary status.
A Serengeti safari offers opportunities to experience both the tremendous herds on the move during migration season as well as year-round predators honing their hunting skills. Prime wildlife viewing spans the Seronera Valley's woodlands and Kopjes rock formations to the endless grass plains of the southern Serengeti. Professional guide-led game drives provide the best chance to check off bucket list sightings. Whether deep in the heart of land roaming territory or near meandering rivers teeming with hippos and crocodiles, the Serengeti rarely disappoints.
Jet Setting Journeys: Our Editors' Travel Bucket Lists for the New Year - Marvel At Sydney's Iconic Opera House And Harbour
Sydney's magnificent harborfront is dominated by the graceful white sails of the Sydney Opera House, arguably the most instantly recognizable landmark in Australia. This architectural marvel has earned its place among the great buildings of the world and represents a quintessential Aussie experience.
American travel writer Cailin O'Neil explains how touring the iconic performing arts center and strolling the bustling Circular Quay fulfilled a lifelong dream. Growing up fascinated by images of the Opera House against the harbor bridge and crystalline blue waters, she finally made the pilgrimage halfway across the globe - and found it well worth the long journey. Cailin encourages first-time visitors to take a guided tour of the interior and catch a show if possible. The soaring vaulted ceilings and grand staircases inside match the exterior elegance. She also recommends harbor cruises and waterside strolls to fully appreciate the setting.
Frequent Australian visitor Lee Abbamonte is awed each time he surveys the panorama of the Opera House, bridge and shimmering bay. He says while many destinations have iconic structures, few integrate their landmark so seamlessly into the surrounding cityscape. The scenic ferry ride from Circular Quay gives a up-close perspective of the shell-like exterior that can't be matched. Lee also suggests photo ops from the Royal Botanic Garden and Mrs. Macquarie’s Point for unobstructed panoramas day or night.
No trip to Sydney is complete without spending quality time immersed in the beauty of its bustling harbor precinct. Visitors can choose from an array of ways to experience the area's magic based on their interests and schedule. Harbor cruises cater to every budget, from quick 45-minute jaunts to indulgent dining experiences capturing the city lights at night. For those short on time, a simple stroll along the waterfront walkway from the Opera House to the bridge rewards with nonstop views.
Touring the Opera House takes about an hour and reveals the elegant interior and backstage workings. Opting for a show in one of its impressive performance halls adds to the experience. Nearby Circular Quay teems with ferry traffic, street performers and restaurants, creating an electric vibe. Wandering the historic Rocks area unpacks the early history of Sydney's first European settlement. Those up for stretching their legs can follow the scenic harbourfront pedestrian path all the way to the beachside suburb of Manly.
Jet Setting Journeys: Our Editors' Travel Bucket Lists for the New Year - Experience Diwali Festival Lights In Vibrant India
Of India's many vibrant festivals, few can compare to the burst of color and light that is Diwali. Known as the "Festival of Lights", this major Hindu holiday celebrates the victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and hope over despair. For travelers, experiencing Diwali firsthand offers an unforgettable chance to immerse in Indian culture and join the joyous festivities honoring the triumphant return of Lord Rama to Ayodhya.
During Diwali, homes and shops are elaborately decorated with small oil lamps called diyas. Neighborhoods glitter with countless flickering lights, often accompanied by colorful rangoli art designs made from colored rice or sand. Lee Abbamonte, who visited India during Diwali, said seeing the twinkling diyas adorning doorways and windowsills was reminiscent of an Indian Christmas. He recommends travelers visit local markets to witness the Diwali preparations and sample the extensive sweets and treats that are a hallmark of the celebrations.
The five-day festival is considered one of the best times to experience India's infectious spirit of community, where even strangers exchange sweets and good wishes. Seeing people from all walks of life celebrating with smiles despite hardships represents the true meaning of Diwali according to American author Christine Gilbert, who observed festivities in the northern town of Rishikesh. She encourages soul-searching travelers to embrace Diwali's opportunity for reflection on life's blessings.
Most Indian cities host impressive fireworks displays throughout Diwali. However, photographer Ajay Sood particularly recommends experiencing the lights in Varanasi, where the Ganges riverfront comes alive with a long chain of floating diyas. He said observing the traditional Ganga Puja ceremony by boat and watching the fireworks reflect off shimmering waves was mesmerizing.
Jet Setting Journeys: Our Editors' Travel Bucket Lists for the New Year - Snorkel Australia's Great Barrier Reef Before It's Too Late
Of all Australia's natural wonders, the Great Barrier Reef reigns supreme. As the world's largest coral reef system, this ecological marvel stretches over 1,400 miles and hosts a dizzying diversity of marine life. Yet the very survival of this underwater paradise remains under threat. Rising ocean temperatures have led to large scale coral bleaching that risks permanently damaging delicate ecosystems. For snorkelers, the chance to immerse in the Great Barrier Reef's beauty should rank atop any travel bucket list. But with time running out, the window to experience Earth's largest living structure may be rapidly closing.
Renowned underwater photographer Darren Jew laments the extensive coral devastation he has documented over years of visiting the reef. Yet the intricate coral labyrinths, schools of impossibly colored fish and sea turtles still inspire awe. Lazy days drifting over reefs and sand flats reveal nature's wonder up close. From minuscule seahorses to giant Maori wrasse, encounters feel fantastical even for seasoned divers like Darren. He fears many may never fully appreciate the reef's fragile complexity before it's lost, urging people not to delay visiting.
Frequent Australian traveler Cailin O'Neil prioritizes spending time on the reef during every trip down under. The kaleidoscopic splendor simply can't compare to any other snorkeling locale. Cailin describes floating weightlessly through "swimming flower gardens" where the hardest part is remembering not to squeal through her snorkel! Watching reef sharks patrol deeper pinnacles prompts a humbling sense of ancient mystery. While climate challenges remain, Cailin finds motivation in protecting what still survives.
Opportunities to snorkel the reef abound from Cairns, Port Douglas, the Whitsunday Islands and elsewhere. Guided tours allow access to pristine outer reef sites via boats that minimize environmental impact. Most provide snorkel gear, intro sessions and ensure time to linger. Locals insight enhances context on threats facing ecosystems. Tours timed for seasonal coral spawning events maximize odds of witnessing the epic synchronized spectacle. With the right operator, simply dipping below the glassy surface unveils the sublime beauty tagging the reef as one of the natural wonders of the world.
Jet Setting Journeys: Our Editors' Travel Bucket Lists for the New Year - Explore The Ancient Temples Of Angkor In Cambodia
Of Southeast Asia's myriad marvels, the sprawling stone temples of Cambodia's Angkor Archaeological Park remain unrivaled. As the eminent heart of the ancient Khmer empire, Angkor's forest-encased relics offer an evocative glimpse into the sophistication of its former rulers. For history buffs and archaeological enthusiasts, exploring this UNESCO World Heritage site provides a window into the cultural zenith of the Angkor dynasty.
Adventure travel blogger Lee Abbamonte ranks Angkor among the world's most impressive ancient sites. He says that wandering the massive 12th century temple of Angkor Wat at sunrise when golden light filters through its ornate spires is an almost spiritual experience. Lee recommends hiring a knowledgeable local guide to fully decode the elaborate bas reliefs and gain insight into intricate astronomical alignments built into the structures. His night exploring shadowy corridors amid the tangle of trees and stone at Ta Prohm temple, famously featured in Tomb Raider, felt like pure magic.
Professional travel photographer Darren Jew extols Angkor as a photographer's paradise, ranking it among his favorite sites worldwide for capturing evocative images. Darren says quietly lingering amidst the ruins as the first rays of dawn illuminate crumbling relics feels like stepping into an Indiana Jones set. While Angkor Wat rightly claims fame, he urges not overlooking lesser known temples like the faces carved into the gates of Angkor Thom and the jungle-strangled ruins of Ta Prohm where enormous kapok tree roots snake over weathered walls.
Despite attracting over two million visitors annually, Angkor's sheer scale still allows escaping the crowds, especially in outlying temples. Freelance writer Christine Gilbert found pedaling a bike between sites not only a greener way to explore but also lets travelers soak in the tranquility of villages and rice paddies dotting the lanes. She prioritizes watching daily life unfold rather than just ticking off temples. Christine says no amount of photos can substitute being present in the moment when encountering sites like the haunting face towers of Bayon.
Jet Setting Journeys: Our Editors' Travel Bucket Lists for the New Year - Taste Authentic Neapolitan Pizza In Historic Naples
Of all Italy’s mouthwatering culinary traditions, few rival the delectable original Neapolitan pizza found in its birthplace of Naples. While pizza has evolved into an international phenomenon, sampling authentic Neapolitan pies with dough kissed by fiery wood-fired ovens remains an Italian foodie rite of passage. From hole-in-the-wall pizzerias to historic cafés, Naples promises the ultimate pizza experience for travelers.
Renowned chef Anthony Bourdain considers Naples the undisputed pizza capital of the planet. He says that biting into a blistered, chewy crust drizzled with olive oil and topped with fresh mozzarella, tomatoes and basil is a revelation that ruined him for all other pizza. While versions abound worldwide, Anthony insists nothing compares to certified Neapolitan pies baked in centuries-old brick ovens within sight of Mount Vesuvius. The pizza’s simplicity allows each ingredient to sing he says, from the slight smokiness of the crust to the bright tomato sauce made from seasonal San Marzano tomatoes.
American food blogger Cailin O’Neil prioritizes visiting Naples each time she’s in Italy solely for the pizza. She recommends Pizzeria Gino Sorbillo for its lively crowds and crispy-centered pies served on metal trays. Cailin says watching the pizzaoli swirl and flip the dough before expertly sliding pies directly atop the white hot coals left her in awe. The flavor takes her back to the origins of pizza in Naples over 200 years ago.
While upscale eateries abound, part of experiencing Naples means digging into pizza from classic neighborhood pizzerias and boisterous cafés. Freelance writer Christine Gilbert recommends bonding with locals by ordering the classic marinara Napolitana with garlic and oregano at places like Di Matteo Pizza. She says the secret is Neapolitan ingredients like fresh buffalo mozzarella and olive oil along with a perfect crust that’s chewy yet char-speckled. No fancy toppings required!