Will this be a bucket list year for travel plans? 2017, a tough year for U.S. politics and upending developments popping onto the world stage, may have some relief in sight. 2018 is a new day and a new year and we believe it is one that will see a spike in bucket list trips. With a strong U.S. economy in motion and favorable currency exchanges afoot, we predict Americans will take their bucket list trips this year and dip into those wanted worldly adventures waiting for just the right time.
Here are some top bucket list trips that come to mind from Kurtz-Ahlers & Associates, with JoAnn Kurtz-Ahlers weighing in with her favorite on-site tips.
Africa: Great Plains Conservation Safaris
Why Go: Seeing Africa is possibly the top bucket list wish for any would-be traveler and one that, done well, can be the most rewarding. Africa’s tough climates, tough economic conditions and rapidly expanding populations mean diminishing numbers for wildlife species that once reigned on these plains. A bucket list trip to Africa through Great Plains Conservation Safaris means not only seeing Africa, but saving it, too, through some rare people to people and natural sciences programs available through this vacation option.
What to Do: Great Plains takes visitors who want to experience the great nature of Africa before it disappears deep into the wilds of Kenya and Botswana on immersive “glamping” trips that leave barely a footprint. Guests are, for that time, as much a natural part of the landscape as the animals and local people that live there. Recommended is a trip to Duba Plains Camp in the heart of the Okavango Delta of Botswana. It’s been described as Africa’s Garden of Eden with its matrix of palm-dotted islands, flood plains and woodlands. Duba Plains Camp offers five bespoke tents as well as a separate two-bedroom suite, all calling up the romantic African safari style of the 1920’s.
JKA’s Tips: Photography is in focus for guest experiences. While high-powered cameras are available at some camps for guests use (and guests at all camps can rent special professional camera equipment), specialist photographer-guides are available (with advance notice) to meet guests and help them work the equipment and improve their photography skills. This amenity is also available at the beautiful Duba Plains Camp in Botswana. All reservations are individual, made according to guest wants and time lines.
Argentina: Arakur Ushuaia, Gateway to Antarctica
Why Go: For those well-traveled, a trip to Antarctica remains one of the last frontiers to conquer. That is why it belongs on the bucket list. Remote at its spot at the bottom of the world and in accessible for most of the warm months on the northern hemisphere, the short window of this extreme land makes it most alluring for seeing rare wildlife in their prime. A stay at Arakur Ushuaia, a member of Leading Hotels in the World, brings welcome luxury to this cold, far place that comes alive with newborn penguins and seals, frolicking whales, open passages to the South Pole and long days of light.
What to do: Take an adventure cruise with Stella Australis that retraces the route of Charles Darwin and the HMS Beagle through the secluded Fuegian Archipelago at the bottom of South America to legendary Cape Horn. Stay at Arakur Ushuaia and dine on king crab while exploring the town, that has a colorful and unusual history.
JKA’s Tips: Spend time on the outdoor pool deck at Arakur Ushuaia, immersed in the warm comforting waters of the Jacuzzi. If you time it right you may get lucky enough to be steaming in these waters surrounded by the cool winds of the Andes beneath a sky full of stars and swirling lights under the austral borealis.
Columbia: Casa San Augustin in Cartagena, Columbia
Why Go: Stay in a revamped 17th-century mansion tight in the middle of Old Town Cartagena, a town that is, in itself, a UNESCO World Heritage living museum. Casa San Agustin, a member of Leading Hotels of the World, offers 30 suites and guestrooms in what are actually three restored manors surrounding a stunning brick courtyard and pool. Each accommodation is its own design and opens to a view of the street or garden. Guests become part of this 15th century colonial settlement and can still experience the confluence of European, South American, African and Caribbean cultures that created it.
What to Do: Enjoy the mixture of cultures found in the foods, architecture, traditions and music of this great city. The hotel is right in the middle of town, close to restaurants, museums and the ramparts that protected this port for centuries.
JKA’s Tips: Try the Cartagena-style seafood chowder at Casa San Agustin’s Alma Restaurant. It’s a deliciously soft medley of lobster, shrimp, octopus, prawns and mussels, using coconut milk and a mound of fluffy rice.
Costa Rica: Villa Manzu Mansion on the Pacific
Why Go? Costa Rica is easy to get to, easy to navigate and replete with adventurous, eco-focused experiences while not forgoing luxury. Got friends? Whether a wedding, celebration or just a perfect getaway with buddies, Villa Manzu is a private mansion on the water with eight master suites, private chef and dedicated staff, within a complex of top resorts close to Liberia International Airport.
What to Do? The villa comes stocked with comfortable jeeps and SUVs and private drivers to take guests near and far. Zip line through the Witch’s Rock Canopy Tour nearby and join Bill Gates, Steven Tyler, Beyoncé, Andre Agassi, Steffi Graf and Cindy Crawford, as graduates.
JKA’s Tips: Sometimes doing less is more and relaxing on the sands of Villa Manzu’s private beach cove is one time when this rule of action pays off brilliantly.
Ecuador: Pikaia Lodge on Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos
Why Go? Visiting the Galapagos Islands is a huge bucket list prize. Mostly because getting to these parts requires a good deal of flying and often involves a cruise. An alternative to ships and crowds is the quiet peace to be found by staying at Pikaia Lodge, where Galapagos turtles, blue-footed boobies, Galapagos penguins, imposing iguanas and sea lions that play with swimmers are in abundance and enjoyed on terms that guests set for themselves. Luxury yachts take small parties to some of the best coves in the archipelago for experiencing rare wildlife. Nights are quiet and spent listening to waves and peering at the stars. Accommodations are large, luxurious stand-alone spaces with private terraces overlooking the waters.
What to Do? Because guests choosing Pikaia Lodge are not ship-bound, they can choose to bike around the island and commune with enormous tortoises or go into town for some local culinary adventures. They can board the lodge’s private yacht for a day of island and cove hopping, including naps in the yacht’s private cabins.
JKA’s Tips: Pikaia Lodge’s private yacht M/Y Pikaia I is like having your own private vacation where you can observe wildlife, go hiking, swimming, sea kayaking, snorkeling and return late in the afternoon to rest up at the lodge before dinner. In addition to land and sea explorations, scuba diving, fishing and mountain biking can also be arranged.
India: Suján Luxury Camps and Palaces
Why Go? India seduces with a connection to all the senses and the visitor is transported into worlds of fantasy and imagination. Nowhere is this truer than in a palace stay or luxury encampment through Suján. Jawai Leopard Camp in rustic Rajasthan surrounds guest with the wild and wondrous. All is quiet and calm through the red tinted dunes of meeting the horizon. All but the leopards that stir amid the rocks and the mysterious birds and monkeys that inhabit temple ruins that dot this ancient land. The Relais & Chateaux camp provides for every need within well-appointed luxury tents and candlelit dinners under the stars. Similarly, Sher Bagh in India’s Ranthambhore National Park allows a glimpse of the wild where tigers roam, all with hand-stitched tents sheltering super luxurious double-bedroom spaces with magnificent ensuite bathrooms and private verandahs. A more urban touch of royalty is found at a stay at Suján Rajmahal Palace, an original royal residence from the 18th century with rooms that have been temporary domain to Queen Elizabeth II, Lord Mountbatten and even Jackie Kennedy.
What to Do? Looking for leopards and hunting for tigers are two of the rare opportunities of this destination. Bird watching, hiking, tracking other wildlife, experiencing the lore of these ancient lands are all on the schedule and included in these luxury stays. Suján Rajmahal Palace is in Jaipur, with a colorful Old City that is also the epicenter of India’s jewelry and gem trade.
JKA’s Tips: At Jawai, dining under the stars on local tribal dishes while listening to hypnotic strums and chants of the local music gets pretty close to heaven. Then, to track the elusive Indian leopard, guests will rise before dawn and see the sun rise above the dunes, just a small breeze and this purity all around. Guests track these solo predators with the help of a knowing guide. Unlike Africa, an absence of lions here allows leopards to wander the paths and bush in the open rather than hide in the high branches. You get a perspective of being in their world and only a small part of nature on the grand plain.
Mexico: Magical Chablé Resort in the Yucatan
Why Go? Mexico is magic if you know where to go and Chablé Resort, just a 25-minute drive from the UNESCO archaeological ensemble of Merida, is one of those places of stunning mystery. The resort is newly opened with 40 deluxe villas and a sublime cenote or underground cave spring that centers it all.
What’s to Do? The Yucatan Peninsula and the lands around the 15th-century colonial port of Merida are often referred to as Mexico’s Egypt. There are numerous sites of pyramids and walled fortresses that were at their peak of use 1000 years ago. Toltec and local Mayan cultures tell stories in the rocks with jaguars, eagles, snakes and sacrifice, wisdom and folklore that remain mysterious and mesmerizing to this day.
JKA’s Tips: A 14-room spa surrounds the cenote at Chablé and the spa area is believed to harbor special powers from the center of the earth. While a 40-page spa guide outlines all the fitness classes, meditation and yoga sessions available (there are even special programs in Reiki and dance) guests should definitely try a treatment here, many of which draw from ancient rituals and local mysticism. Also find three plunge pools, a steam room cave laden in gold tiles, and a saltwater “floatarium.”
Mongolia: Nomadic Expeditions to Roam Far
Why Go? Few places remain as remote and pure as the 604,000 square miles of grassy plains, desert pans and mountains of Mongolia. Here, the horse and camel remain the main modes of transport; the canvas yurt is the shelter of choice and the way of the warrior is still the mantra in a land still lodged in the days of Genghis Khan. For bucket list questers, Mongolia will prove a star conquest, full of unusual experiences and memories. Nomadic Expeditions, based in New Jersey, is the pro-expert for travel to Mongolia, whether group, party of individual. Guests will stay in a luxurious yurt at Three Camel Lodge and be treated to feasts fit for a 14th-century empire builder under endless windswept stars. Nomadic Expeditions also runs unusual historical adventure explorations into Nepal, Siberia and Tibet.
What to Do? Hunt for dinosaur eggs in the rocks of the Gobi Desert; ride with noble horsemen on the steppes of Mongolia; ride the Silk Road by train from Moscow to Almaty crossing once treacherous no-man’s lands and visiting 6th century outposts that eventually opened up this world to western civilization; follow your path to Tibet to meditate at the roof of the world.
JKA’s Tips: The Gobi Camel Festival is an unusual take-in. It happens during the winter fest in March. The gathering near Dalanzadgad is quite a colorful spectacle and celebrates everything Bactrian.
Oman: Six Senses Resort at Stunning and Haunting Zighy Bay
Why Go? Oman only recently opened up to tourism and modernization and remains a hidden gem of the Arabian Gulf. While the location of this resort is stunning and remote, it is but a two-hour drive from bustling Dubai and a wonderful segue for anyone stopping over in Dubai or looking for luxury and adventure in the Middle East. As a Six Senses Resort it is a known luxury brand and offers all that one would expect for such a striking location: large villas with private plunge pools overlooking the calm blue waters of the Gulf; a spa that puts guests into a tale by Scheherazade; restaurants with gorgeous views and fresh bounty from the sea.
What to Do? Zighy Bay is a retreat that calls to be enjoyed. Guests mostly stay in place, relaxing at the beach and pools. The Omani capital of Muscat is about five hours away by car
JKA’s Tips: Don’t miss the chance to parasail into the resort from the cliff top above. Guests can let the resort know they are coming and arrange to parasail in while the car heads down the mountain with their bags. Also try to have a facial at the spa. Therapists use long-held local remedies, such as figs, almond powder and warm honey to bring out the glow.
Sweden: At Home at Ett Hem, Stockholm
Why Go? Ett Hem is a home, not a hotel, and gives guests the true feeling of warmth and belonging and all that goes with be welcomed into somebody’s home. Find just 12 rooms and suites in this cozy mansion that is a mere three-minute walk from Tekniska Högskolan metro station, and easy walking distance of the Stureplan shopping, museum and dining district.
What to Do? Stockholm is stacked with museums, experiences and activities: try Gamla Stan, the Old Town, the Royal Palace and the Vasa Museum for starters.
JKA’s Tips: Like any home, you can have your meals where you choose: Eat in the kitchen or perhaps a bit more formally in the library, or enjoy the garden in the cooler months from the Greenhouse. The kitchen is a favorite, though – with a grand family style table that invites conversations and plenty of treats to nibble on filling the counters and shelves, just as you would find in any home.
United States: Winter Wonders at Twin Farms, Barnard, VT
Why Go? Twin Farms may be Vermont’s best kept secret. The Relais & Chateaux property is the latest iteration of an estate once owned by author Sinclair Lewis and journalist Dorothy Thompson, now reimagined with original works of David Hockney, Frank Stella, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein and other celebrated masters of our time. Winter is an especially wondrous experience at Twin Farms, with endless cross-country ski trails, Snowshoeing, Ice Skating and bragworthy dinner and weekend programs – all within four hours from New York City. Privacy is at a premium at this fully inclusive resort. Only 20 cottages and rooms here to sleep a maximum of 40 guests and most of the rooms present their own inspiration.
What to Do? Have a private gourmet picnic on a mountain or lake on the property’s 300 acres. Head to Killington Ski Area, 45 minutes away. Explore quaint New England villages for antique stores and maple products.
JKA’s Tips: Go exploring in the forest on cross country skis or snow shoes. Come back for a little cognac by the fire and then head to the Bridge House Spa for an amazing soak in the Japanese furo surrounded by cathedral windows looking over the frozen meadows.