Here at Rough Guides, we believe wholeheartedly that you should make the most of your time on earth, and our authors and editors have hand-picked 1,000 travel experiences in an exciting new book, to help inspire you wherever in the world you’re travelling.
From adrenaline-based adventures to stumbling across undiscovered restaurants, memorable travel experiences come in all shapes and sizes. However humbling, awe-inspiring or downright exhilarating they are, our handpicked recommendations cover all seven continents. Whether you want to trundle along Scotland’s West Highland Railway, taste the world’s best coffee in Panama or go wild camping on the Arabian Peninsula, this new edition is packed with enough adventures to last a lifetime.
How to make the most of your time on earth
African elephants walking in Namibia © Efimova Anna/Shutterstock
Camp out in desert elephant country, Namibia
Eking out an existence in a region that receives barely any rainfall throughout the year is hard at the best of times – but when you’re competing with elephants, it’s considerably harder. Kunene, in Namibia’s northwest corner, is a remote and starkly beautiful region of rugged mountains scored by sandy seasonal river gorges that snake their way down towards the Atlantic coast. To the region’s desert-adapted elephants, these dry-looking gorges serve both as highways and as crucial sources of water. The feet of desert elephants, which are larger than those of savannah elephants, are sensitive to the tiny vibrations that signal there’s a subterranean watercourse somewhere below. If the signal is strong enough, they dig with their tusks and drink.
For the Himba and Herero people of Puros, a village close to the Hoarusib River in the heart of Kunene, dealing with large, thirsty wild animals is a daily headache. But the elephants also bring benefits.
In times past, women had to trek down to the dry riverbed to draw water from a well, but the presence of elephants made this hazardous and unhygienic. An appeal was launched, funds were raised and a new, elephant-proof well was built within the village. Another benefit of the pachyderms’ presence is that visitors, intrigued by the fact that elephants exist in these unlikely surroundings, make the trip to Kunene for a chance to see them.
Puros Campsite, created and run by the villagers, provides a welcoming base, with fees going directly into community funds.
This simple but immaculate site is set in a shady grove of camelthorn trees on the Hoarusib River’s sandy bank. Unfenced, it is a place where elephants make their presence felt. You’re likely to see their big, broad footprints in the sand, and there’s usually a heap or two of dung scattered about.
Very occasionally, the mighty beasts stroll close to the tents, so it’s crucial to stay alert. But it’s more common to see them at a distance, passing peacefully by in small family groups – a glorious vision on a unique camping adventure.
Emperor Penguins with chicks at Snow Hill, Antarctica © Vladsilver/Shutterstock
Take the Polar Plunge in Antarctica
An expedition cruise to the Antarctic Peninsula throws up more giddying thrills than you could ever hope to count. What with the glaciers and the whales, the mountains and the million-strong penguin colonies, the sunsets and the elephant seals, the scale and beauty of the place can be genuinely overwhelming. The most (literally) breathtaking tradition of all, however, has to be the opportunity to dunk yourself into the Southern Ocean for as long as you can bear. If you’ve never taken a dip in sub-zero Antarctic waters, rest assured that it’s a bracing experience.
The very idea may sound like madness, and some travellers choose to give the so-called “Polar Plunge” a wide berth, but it’s not so reckless as it might seem. By their very nature, cruises to the continent have to take place during the warmer portion of the year, when the seas aren’t frozen solid. So while it’s cold, teeth-chatteringly so at times, the temperature’s not so icy as to
seriously endanger health.
Cruise operators generally offer the Plunge as an optional extra during one of the shore landings towards the end of an itinerary. If, like most people, you only immerse yourself for a few seconds, you’re far more likely to be left with a life-affirming, all-over skin-tingle than a bad case of the sniffles. That said, you’ll have a new respect for the hardy penguins that somehow
cope with darting around beneath the chilly waves all day.
Any trip to Antarctica is inevitably dominated by the landscapes and the wildlife. So in a sense, stepping into the Southern Ocean and sinking into its cold, clear waters – however briefly – is not so much about rising to a challenge as giving yourself a short, sharp shock that enables you to appreciate the fullness of your surroundings.
Meeting orang-utans in the wild is an unforgettable experience © Yatra/Shutterstock
Meet orang-utans in Sumatra, Indonesia
Sandwiched between the raging Bohorok River and the deep, silent, steaming jungle, the Bukit Lawang Orang-utan Sanctuary, on the vast Indonesian island of Sumatra, offers the unique opportunity of witnessing one of our closest and most charming relatives in their own backyard.
Having crossed the Bohorok on a precarious makeshift canoe, your first sight of these kings of the jungle is at the enclosures housing recent arrivals, many of whom have been rescued from the thriving trade in exotic pets, particularly in nearby Singapore. It’s here that the long process of rehabilitation begins, a process that may include learning from their human guardians such basic simian skills as tree- climbing and fruit-peeling.
Most of these activities are done away from the prying cameras of tourists, but twice a day park officers lead visitors up to a feeding platform to wait and watch. The sound of rustling foliage and creaking branches betrays the presence of a rangy, shaggy silhouette making its languid yet majestic way through the treetops.
Orang-utans literally force the trees to bend to their will as they swing back and forth on one sapling until the next can be reached. Swooping just above the awestruck audience, they arrive at the platform to feast on bananas and milk, the diet kept deliberately monotonous to encourage the orang-utans – all of whom have been recently released from the sanctuary – to
look for more diverse flavours in the forest.
Once each ape has proved that it’s capable of surviving unaided, it will be left to fend for itself in the vast, dark forests of North Sumatra. Its rehabilitation will be considered complete. Sadly, at Bukit Lawang, there never seems to be a shortage of rescued apes to take their places.
Maori carving in Rotorua, New Zealand © Chris Howey/Shutterstock
Tuck into ‘hangi’ - a traditional Maori meal, New Zealand
A suitably reverential silence descends, broken only by munching and appreciative murmurs from the assembled masses – the hangi has finally been served. Pronounced “hungi”, this traditional Maori meal, similar to the luau prepared by the Maori people’s Polynesian kin in Hawaii, is essentially a feast cooked in an earth oven for several hours. It can’t be found on restaurant menus – but then again a hangi is not just a meal, it’s an event.
First of all, the men light a fire. Once that has burned down, carefully selected river stones are placed in the embers. While these are heating, a large pit is dug, measuring perhaps 2m square and 1.5m deep. Meanwhile the women are busy preparing lamb, pork, chicken, fish, shellfish and vegetables (particularly kumara, the New Zealand sweet potato). Traditionally these would have been wrapped in leaves and then arranged in baskets made of flax; these days baking foil and steel mesh are more common.
When everything is ready – the prep can take up to three hours – the hot stones are placed in the pit and covered with wet sacking. Then come the baskets of food, followed by a covering of earth that serves to seal in the steam and the flavours.
There’s a palpable sense of communal anticipation as hosts and guests mill around chatting and drinking, waiting for the unearthing. Eventually, a few hours later, the baskets are disinterred, to reveal fall-off-the-bone steam-smoked meat and fabulously tender vegetables with a faintly earthy flavour. A taste, and an occasion, not easily forgotten.
The Glenfinnan Viaduct on the West Highland Line © Ruslan Kalnitsky/Shutterstock
Trundle along the West Highland Railway in Scotland
Even in a country as scenic as Scotland, you might not expect to combine travelling by train with classic views of the Scottish Highlands; the tracks are down in the glens, after all, tracing the lower contours of the steep-sided scenery. On the other hand, you might have to crane your neck occasionally, but at least you don’t have to keep your eyes on the road. And you can always get out for a wander; some of the stations on the West Highland line are so remote that no public road connects them, and at each stop, a handful of deerstalkers, hikers, mountain bikers, photographers or day-trippers might get on or off. It’ll be a few hours until the next train comes along, but that’s not a problem. There’s a lot to take in.
The scenery along the West Highland Railway is both epic in its breadth and compelling in its imagery. You travel at a very sedate pace in a fairly workaday train carriage from the centre of Glasgow and its bold Victorian buildings, along the banks of the gleaming Clyde estuary, up the thickly wooded loch shores of Argyll, across the desolate heathery bogs of Rannoch Moor and deep into the grand natural architecture of the Central Highlands, their dappled birch forests fringing verdant green slopes and mist-enveloped peaks.
After a couple of hours, the train judders gently into the first of its destinations, Fort William, set at the foot of Britain’s highest peak, Ben Nevis. The second leg of the journey is a gradual pull towards the Hebrides. At Glenfinnan, the train glides over an impressive 21-arch viaduct, most famous these days for conveying Harry Potter on the Hogwarts Express. Not long afterwards, the line reaches the coast, where there are snatched glimpses of bumpy islands and silver sands, before you pull into the fishing port of Mallaig, with seagulls screeching overhead in the stiff, salty breeze, and the silhouette of Skye emerging from across the sea.
Burning Man fireworks in Nevada © Michael Timofeev/Shutterstock
Graze with the black Sheep at Burning Man, Nevada, USA
Picture a nudist miniature golf course, an advanced pole- dancing workshop and a bunch of neon-painted bodies glowing in the night, and you may be getting close to imagining what Burning Man is all about. Every year during the last week of August, several thousand digerati geeks, pyrotechnic maniacs, death-guild Goths, crusty hippies and too-hip yuppies descend on a
prehistoric dry lakebed in the Nevada Desert to build a temporary autonomous “city” – one that rivals some of Nevada’s largest in size and leaves no trace when it disbands. Known as Black Rock City, it’s not the ideal place to consume a heady cocktail of alcohol and drugs – temperatures are scorching – but the thousands of anarchists, deviants, techno-heads, trance-
dancers and freakish performance artists who arrive here from all over the world give it their best shot.
Art and interactivity are at the very core of the Burning Man ethos. Basically, this is the most survivalist, futuristic and utterly surreal show on Earth, where the strangest part of your alter ego reigns supreme. Faceless Pythia gives advice in oracle booths, flying zebras circle, caged men in ape suits pounce and motorized lobster cars tool about. Some of Burning Man’s participants see the event as a social experiment and others a total free-for-all. But the main goal is the same: you’re there to participate, not observe. Burning Man allows all the black sheep of the world to graze together, so the more experiential art you share, gifts you give, bizarre costumes you wear or free services you provide, the better.
The highlight of the week is the burning of a 50ft-tall effigy of a man, built from wood and neon and stuffed with fireworks. After all the laser-filled skies, electroluminescent wired bodysuits and fire-breathing mechanical dragons that illuminate the skies every evening for the rest of the week, it’s almost an anticlimax, but it’s still certainly a sight to behold. If you fancy making a smaller-scale statement, you can choose whatever alter ego or fantasy you desire. Just pack your (animal-friendly) non-feathered boas, body paint and imagination, and you’re all set.
Ecuadorian woman at the Quilotoa volcano in Ecuador © Laura Balvers/Shutterstock
Explore Quichua culture in Ecuador’s volcanic highlands
You’re at an altitude of 3900m, shivering in the cold as the sun rises behind you. Below, a saw-edge precipice encircles a still, emerald-green lake 3km in diameter. Lower still, fertile plateaus creased with deep, shadowed valleys are picked out by the golden dawn light and, beyond, snowcapped peaks fringe the horizon.
This is the dormant volcano of Quilotoa, high in the Andes’ central highlands. In the late 1940s, its altitude, beauty and proximity to the equator led a young American here who believed himself to be a reincarnation of John the Baptist. He called himself Johnny Lovewisdom and stayed on the lakeshore for a year, pursuing his belief that it’s possible to live on rarefied air
and sunlight alone.
There is an undeniable spirituality about this beautiful place, something partly fostered by the culture of the Quichua people, who lead a traditional farming life and have dotted the landscape with tiny shrines. Their religion is Catholicism blended with indigenous beliefs: the Virgin Mary is identified with Pachamama, the female Earth deity with whom a drop of any drink is shared by pouring it on the ground. A public bus is the best way of exploring the local area and culture on the Quilotoa Loop, a string of Quichua villages a half-day trip from Quito. If you can stomach the twists and turns as it hurtles along the bumpy hillside tracks, the views are much better from the roof. Anyway, inside the bus it’s probably more comfortable.
If you take a bus to the top of the pass, Quilotoa can be tackled as a challenging day-walk down to the villages in the valley below. The trail starts along the crater rim, winding between wild lupins and grasses, descends past farms and fields, plunges down a precipitous canyon and finally ends up by a handful of hostels in the sleepy village of Chugchilán.
The walk’s not particularly long, but it tells on the lungs, and the steep slopes are hard going. It’s at this point that staying at the Black Sheep Inn, a beautiful eco-lodge pays dividends: it boasts a homemade, wood-fired sauna and a hot tub to ease your aching limbs.
This is just a small selection of experiences featured in the updated fourth edition of Make the Most of Your Time on Earth, all personally recommended by the Rough Guides team. To get inspiration for your own travel adventure, buy your copy today.
Top image: Traditional Batak houses in Sumatra, Indonesia © Fabio Lamanna/Shutterstock