Unique travel experiences

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 11.06.2024

The information in this article is inspired by the The Rough Guides guidebooks — your essential guides for visiting the world.

1. Witnessing elephant bath time - one of the most exciting travel experiences in Nepal

Every morning a procession of dusty elephants is led to the Rapti River, on the edge of Chitwan National Park, for a good scrub down – and travellers are welcome to help out.

The pachyderms delight in shooting jets of water from their trunks, wallowing on their sides while layers of mud are scraped off. Occasionally, they even dump unsuspecting riders into the river. It’s a magical experience that the elephants seem to enjoy almost as much as the travellers.

Experience Nepal's hill villages and jungle lowlands as you embark on this tailor-made Himalayan Family Adventure of a lifetime. Expect mini mountain treks, overnight camps, river rafting and wildlife safaris. Come here for action, stunning mountain scenery and a look around bustling Kathmandu too.

Elephant bathing © adrenalinrnb/Shutterstock

Elephant bathing © adrenalinrnb/Shutterstock

2. Go volcano-boarding in León

Nicaragua’s former capital, León, is the birthplace of the Sandinista revolution. This vibrant city offers lovely colonial architecture and superlative fried chicken.

You can also take an unusual tour to the steep ash of nearby Cerro Negro, where gas belches from cracks and views stretch over Nicaragua’s Pacific plains. The walk up is a slog, while the descent sees you surf down the dune-like surface as dust rises around you.

Tourists are volcano boarding from Cerro Negro volcano, Nicaragua © Milosz Maslanka/Shutterstock

Boarding from Cerro Negro volcano is one of the best travel experiences you can have in Nicaragua © Milosz Maslanka/Shutterstock

3. Conquer an Icelandic glacier

While Reykjavik is an essential base - and the Blue Lagoon is a justifiably popular attraction - for the best travel experiences in Iceland you need to find a glacier.

A short minibus ride from the capital will take you far from the tourist trail of lava fields and waterfalls and into endless icy oblivion. Here, armed with crampons and pickaxes, you can explore the endless crevices and precarious ridges of the country’s vast but receding glaciers.

Try our tailor-made trip along Iceland's scenic Ring Road, which stretches around the outside of the country. Soak in a thermal tub or pool beside gushing geysers or waterfalls, and relish the prospect of whale-watching, bird-watching, and glacier hiking in magical surroundings.

Skaftafell, Vatnajokull National Park, Iceland © Jens Ottoson/Shutterstock

Skaftafell, Vatnajokull National Park, Iceland © Jens Ottoson/Shutterstock

4. Steam in a temazcal, Mexico

The door slid shut, plunging the small domed room into darkness. The drumming started, softly, and the room filled with herb-scented steam. Go into the Maya sweat lodge - known in Mexico as a temazcal - just for the dewy skin. After two hours of sweating in the dark, it is hard not to feel some kind of oneness with the universe. The Caribbean Sea will never feel so refreshing as afterwards.

Yucatán is calling you, and this tailor-made trip to Mayan Heritage is the way to do it; go into the jungle and know it like no one else has ever known it; enjoy incredible food, beautiful sunsets, and the warmth of its communities that will do everything possible to offer you a dream experience. Are you ready?

Getting ready for temazcal ceremony ©  photographer chicago/Shutterstock

Getting ready for temazcal ceremony © photographer chicago/Shutterstock

5. Sail around the Galápagos

The Galápagos islands are among the most remote and magical destinations on earth, so the sight of vast modern cruise ships chugging between them can come as a shock. To visit the islands in style pick a smaller vessel, preferably one with sails as well as an engine.

With the sound of canvas flapping in the wind and the creak of wooden decks beneath your feet, you can almost imagine how a certain young Mr Darwin felt when he arrived here in 1835.

The Galapagos islands in Ecuador are a truly special place. On this tailor-made trip to Galapagos Special, you will get to stay on 3 different islands and explore several more on boat tours. Start and end point of your journey is the UNESCO World Heritage Site and capital of Ecuador - Quito. You can also find more ideas for your future trip in our Galapagos itineraries.

For the best travel experience, check out our guides to the best time to visit Galapagos, the best time to visit Ecuador and our Ecuador travel tips. You might also find it helpful to read about what you need to know before traveling to Ecuador.

Besides all the other benefits, the Galapagos is also great for a family vacation. To prepare for such a trip, read our guide to Ecuador with kids.

Bartolome Island, Galapagos, Ecuador. Bartolome Island is a volcanic islet in the Galapagos Islands with an amazing viewpoint at the top © Seumas Christie-Johnston/Shutterstock

Bartolome Island, Galapagos, Ecuador. Bartolome Island is a volcanic islet in the Galapagos Islands with an amazing viewpoint at the top © Seumas Christie-Johnston/Shutterstock

6. Eat steak in Buenos Aires

Sampling a slice of bife de chorizo in Argentina is a must. The slice served at the La Cabrera restaurant in Buenos Aires’ Palermo barrio looks pretty standard. Then when you cut it the steak it seems to part before the knife. This is meat and man in perfect harmony.

Argentina is known for its dances and gastronomy scene, both to be discovered on this tailor-made trip to Tango & Wines in Argentina. Explore Buenos Aires on your own and with a guide, including its famous nightlife before heading to the vineyards of Mendoza, one of the most developed wine regions in the country.

Or find your dream accommodation in Buenos Aires.

Argentinian beef steak © Foodio/Shutterstock

Argentinian beef steak © Foodio/Shutterstock

7. Tickle whales in Mexico

One of the best travel experiences in Mexico is San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja California, on the Pacific coast. This a breeding ground for grey whales, which love to be scratched and tickled by visiting humans. This is arguably the most extraordinary, awe-inspiring and emotional wildlife encounter on the planet.

Baja California is an off-the-beaten-track unspoiled paradise. The area is home to mountains, deserts and thousands of kilometres of gorgeous Pacific coastline. On this tailor-made trip to Pacific Coast Paradise you will explore, snorkel, dive and do a spot of whale watching (in season). Otherwise, sit back and relax on its soft sandy shores.


Whale in San Ignacio Baja, Mexico © Roadwardbound/Shutterstock

8. Take the Trans-Mongolian Express

The Trans-Siberian Railway is the granddaddy of all train travel experiences. And easily the most interesting train is the weekly Trans-Mongolian Express from Moscow to Beijing.

This traverses Siberia and rounds Lake Baikal, strikes south across the Gobi desert past camels and nomads' yurts into the mountains of northern China. You can even steal glimpses of The Great Wall in the distance.


Trans-Mongolian train © Jose L Vilchez/Shutterstock

9. Watch ballet in Cuba

An evening of ballet at the brilliantly baroque Gran Teatro de la Habana invites you into a genre of Cuban music often overlooked by visitors in search of rumba and rum. Sets and costumes are resourceful and inventive, performances are breathtaking and an exuberant home crowd all celebrate Cuba’s position as a hub of world-class ballet.

Havana is like nowhere else on earth: the jewel in Cuba's crown effortlessly blends dishevelled beauty with risqué and vibrant charm. On our tailor-made trip to Havana you will spend a few days exploring the old town, Ernest Hemingway's favourite cigar-smoke-filled jazz club, and a tour of the city in a classic car!

Already started planning your holiday in Cuba? Explore your options for the best way to get there.


Great Theater, Havana, Cuba © Anna ART/Shutterstock

10. Hike China’s Great Wall

You’ll never forget stumbling wobbly-legged out of a rickety cable car to see this ancient monolith snaking away across the hills. To make sure you see the original fortifications, bypass the super-touristy reconstruction at Badaling and head on to more remote Jinshanling.

Just don’t attempt the steep-sided scramble in flip-flops as I did. This stunning stretch is mostly un-restored and the hike is as challenging as it as it is scenic in places.

From well-preserved tombs to The Great Wall, this tailor-made tour to The Best of China packs in all the essentials. From the bright city lights of Beijing and Shanghai to breathtaking rolling landscapes, meandering rivers and ancient treasures, there’s much to delight all visitors to China.

 Great wall of China during sunset  © Zhu Difeng / Shutterstock

Great wall of China during sunset © Zhu Difeng / Shutterstock

11. Spend a night in Wadi Rum

Wadi Rum is about as close as you’re going to get to the landscape of Mars here on Earth. The soil is a deep and rusty red, the mountains austere, and the silence almost disconcerting. Canyons and rock formations are scattered across the desert and make for good scrambling.

Join an overnight excursion - by jeep or camel - for the experience of sitting around a crackling fire underneath pearly stars. While here, take time to talk with the Bedouin about their life in this desolate space.

On this tailor-made trip to Jordan Culture in depth you will indulge in the mouthwatering street and local homemade food, meet the owner of the smallest hotel in the world, learn more about the Bedouins and the desert in Wadi Rum and finish off by floating over the Dead Sea mineral water.

The sunny desert with rocks . Jordan. Wadi Rum © Yury_1_2_3/Shutterstock

The sunny desert with rocks . Jordan. Wadi Rum © Yury_1_2_3/Shutterstock

12. Climb Cadair Idris, Wales

Standing 2930ft tall, Snowdon’s rugged, shorter sibling – Cadair Idris – makes up in looks for anything it lacks in height. Legend has it that if you spend a night at the top you will die, become a poet or go mad, but the views from here are stunning – a patchwork of greens interrupted by molten-metal slivers of river estuary and sea.

Hardy visitors can have a dip in Cwm Cau too, which changes colour from lagoon blue to inky black as clouds race overheard.

Cadair Idris, Wales © ieuan/Shutterstock

Cadair Idris, Wales © ieuan/Shutterstock

13. Take a slow boat up the Nam Ou

The Mekong may be more famous, but more unique travel experience in Laos is on the Nam Ou. This river which winds its way through the north’s mountains and limestone karsts. Sure, the boats are rickety and old and these days it is hard to predict if they’ll actually be running.

However, this three day journey, from sublime Luang Prabang to the tiny, isolated settlement of Hat Sa, gives you that rare feeling of experiencing a part of the country that few foreigners see.

One of Southeast Asia’s lesser-known countries, Laos is definitely off the beaten track, but it has retained its culture, charm and traditional village life, wild jungle and stunning countryside. Try our tailor-made trip to Historical Laos for tradition and mystery and a unique adventure.

Mekong river, Luang Prabang port in Laos © i viewfinder/Shutterstock

Mekong Luang Prabang © Shutterstock

14. Drive from Viñales to Cayo Jutías by scooter

Viñales, a sleepy little town to the west of Havana, is in many ways typical of rural Cuba. What sets it apart are the mogotes (boulder-like hillocks) that jut out of the landscape and provide a magnificent backdrop.

It’s lovely just lolling around in the sunshine taking in the strange and beautiful vistas. However, to ramp the experience up a notch, rent a scooter and wind your way around these spectacular formations by taking the local road to the beach at Cayo Justía.

Try our moderately challenging tailor-made cycling holiday through Cuban countryside visiting the tobacco fields of Viñales Valley and a pristine Caribbean beach in Cayo Jutias.

Morning view to Vinales valley, Cuba © Zaruba Ondrej/Shutterstock

Morning view to Vinales valley, Cuba © Zaruba Ondrej/Shutterstock

15. Witness Tibet’s true spirit

Tibet is sad in many places now, hideously over-developed and not at all the place you imagine. But it remains the one place that exerts a curious kind of spell and takes you to a different part of your being.

And in some ways its spirit has been strengthened and intensified even as - or sometimes because - its surfaces have been destroyed. Ladakh is more beautiful, Bhutan is better protected, Nepal is more funky. But Tibet is one place from which it's hard to come home unaltered.

On this tailor-made trip to Nepal you will trek in the Everest region of Nepal's Himalayas, absorbing spectacular views at every step, including Everest rising above the Nuptse Ridge, Lhotse, the iconic peak of Ama Dablam and other Himalayan giants too. Top this off with a shot of warm Nepalese culture for an experience of a lifetime.

Leh Palace the monastery in center of Leh city in Jammu India © sittitap/Shutterstock

Leh Palace the monastery in center of Leh city in Jammu India © sittitap/Shutterstock

16. Hike in Brazil’s Chapada Diamantina

The Diamond Highlands are Brazil’s top trekking destination. They lie in the interior of Bahia where three of Brazil’s biomes meet: the Atlantic rainforest, the cerrado – similar to the African savannah – and the caatinga (shrubland), which feels like the American chaparral. You can explore dry caves, swim in underground lakes, dive under waterfalls and climb near-vertical mesas all in the same day.

Discover the world's largest continental flood area - the Pantanal, one of the richest places in biodiversity. Continue this wildlife tailor-made trip to the Amazon River. Your lodges throughout the trip are located right in nature, with easy access to lodge trails around.

Iconic Morrao ridge in the Capao Valley of Chapada Diamantina national park, Bahia, Brazil © Double Bind Photography/Shutterstock

Iconic Morrao ridge in the Capao Valley of Chapada Diamantina national park, Bahia, Brazil © Double Bind Photography/Shutterstock

17. Sleep wild in central Sweden

Glassy lakes, pure air and an outside chance of bears: camping in the forests of central Sweden is both wild and free. There’s even a constitutional law protecting everyone’s right to enjoy the great outdoors. So go swimming, drink from a stream, or fill your belly with red berries. Then sip whisky around the campfire and crash out on a reindeer skin, gazing up at the starry sky.

Sunrise and Tent in Autumn in Lapland © Jens Ottoson/Shutterstock

Sunrise and Tent in Autumn in Lapland © Jens Ottoson/Shutterstock

18. Sleep beneath the stars in the Sahara Desert

As the sun shifts, the Sahara Desert takes on different colours. Silvery white at dawn, ochre in the heat of the day, and deep gold at sunset. Stay at a Berber camp and fell asleep on your back, counting shooting stars that burned through the darkness like rogue coals from the campfire.

In the morning you can climb a sand dune overlooking Algeria and watch the sun emerge from the horizon, a blazing ball of desert red that turned the sand rose gold. Desolate, but beautiful.

On this tailor-made trip to Moroccan Cities and Ultimate Sahara you will follow the footsteps of Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca. Discover the blue and whitewashed buildings of Chefchaouen before heading on to Fez and consequently the desert. Stay overnight in a luxurious desert camp before continuing to Marrakech.


Sahara, Morocco© Shutterstock

19. Swim with pink river dolphins

In the vast, swampy grasslands of Pampas del Yacuma, the pink freshwater dolphin is one of the more pleasant surprises hidden in the murky waters of the Bolivian Amazon. With the annual floods, they dreamily glide amidst tree trunks and chase fish between drowned, twisted branches.

There’s nothing quite like the thrill of diving into these muddy, unknown depths to swim alongside these surreal creatures; it’s a far cry from frolicking with dolphins in SeaWorld.

One of only two landlocked countries in South America, Bolivia is full of wonders. On this tailor-made trip through the natural and cultural wonders of Bolivia you will visit Lake Titicaca, the de facto capital La Paz, the actual capital Sucre as well as the fascinating Salar de Uyuni.


Pink dolphin © Shutterstock

20. Visit Tikal in Guatemala

A visit to the historical site of Tikal in Guatemala should be on everyone’s bucket list. These ancient Mayan ruins are a testament to a civilization that long passed. If you stay overnight, you can be there without the crowds giving the place an empty, eerie feeling that really makes you feel like you are Indiana Jones. It’s not often you get major historical sites to yourself but I found that it was just me, Tikal, and the jungle.

On our tailor-made trip to the Best Of Guatemala you will visit the most popular destinations including the Western Highlands, Tikal and Antigua Guatemala. Enjoy the different types of activities like exploring the Mayan pyramids in the middle of the virgin jungle or having one of the best cups of coffee surrounded by a unique landscape.

Tikal National Park, Guatemala © WitR/Shutterstock

Tikal National Park, Guatemala © WitR/Shutterstock

21. Get lost in Fez el Bali

Fez el Bali is an impenetrable maze of lanes and blind alleys that make up the beating heart of Morocco’s cultural capital. Drop down into the bowels of the Medina, past camel heads advertising the local butchers and vendors bartering in the spice souk.

Let your senses steer you: to the sound of metalworkers hammering away on Place Seffarine; to the brightly coloured yarns drying in the heat on Souk Sabbaghine; or to the thick stench of the tanneries.

For those short on time, this tailor-made trip to Highlights of Morocco allows you to visit Morocco in a little over a week. See the cultural capital Fez, the beautiful city of Chefchaouen, sleeping in a deluxe tent in the desert, as well as discover Marrakech. It's time to explore Morocco!

Find more accommodation options to stay in Fez

Fez tanneries, Morocco © Shutterstock

Fez, Morocco © Shutterstock

22. See the Northern Lights in Norway

At once eerily disconcerting and bewitchingly beautiful, the aurora borealis flicker across northern Norway’s winter firmament at irregular and unpredictable intervals.

Experiencing the Northern Lights, or aurora borealis is one of the unique experiences in Norway. The country is located in the northern part of the polar region where the lights are most commonly visible.

This tailor-made tour to Aurora Feast in Finland, Norway and Sweden is perfect for people who want to explore the Arctic. Begin your journey from the southern part of Finland via Sweden up to the northern part of Norway. Most importantly, you will be hunting for the Northern Lights in the best locations!


Northern lights, Skagsanden beach, Lofoten, Norway © Shutterstock

23. Take a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia

A lighter-than-air float gives an unrivalled perspective on the “fairy chimneys” and other features of the landscape and is one of the unique travel experiences in Turkey.

You can get airborne on a paraglider above Ölüdeniz and kaş, or more passively (and expensively) in a hot-air balloon over Cappadocia – champagne breakfast usually included.

3 different modes of transportation to explore Cappadocia - by hot air balloon, on the back of a camel as well as on an ATV quad. Why choose if you can have it all? This tailor-made trip to the sensational landscapes of Cappadocia is filled with fun and adventure in the volcanic valleys around Cappadocia making for an unforgettable trip.

 Uchhisar fortress and colorful hot air balloons flying over Pigeon valley in Cappadocia, Turkey © Shutterstock

Uchhisar fortress in Cappadocia, Turkey © Shutterstock

24. Visit Yosemite National Park in the USA

Yosemite National Park is a wild wonderland of snow-capped peaks, towering cliffs and giant granite domes that seem to be conjured from a fantasy world. Yosemite Valley is an undisputable contender for showcasing some of the world’s most stunning scenery.

Created by glaciers scoring through the canyon of the Merced River, the valley is walled by 3000ft near-sheer cliffs, marbled by waterfalls and topped by domes and jagged pinnacles. On the ground, deer, coyotes and black bears abound in the grassy meadows and forests.

Explore the diversity of nature reserves in the USA with our guide to the best national parks in the USA.

Yosemite national park, Yosemite Valley, California © christian_b/Shutterstock

Yosemite national park, Yosemite Valley, California © christian_b/Shutterstock

25. Watch the sunset from Table Mountain in Cape Town

The most spectacular way to ascend Cape Town’s famous landmark and one of the most unique travel experiences in South Africa is the revolving cable car. Table Mountain, which forms the backdrop to Cape Town, is the park’s focal point. The views are wholly dependent on the weather, so it is always advisable to visit Table Mountain early in your stay in Cape Town.

Discover the natural beauty on our tailor-made trip to Complete Cape Town. Located on the southwestern tip of South Africa, the area is home to rugged coastlines, undulating vineyards, and expanses of grassland. It is also home to some of the largest, wildest and most majestic creatures on earth.

Table mountain cable way, Cape Town, South Africa @ Shutterstock

Table mountain cableway, Cape Town, South Africa @ Shutterstock

26. Snork in the Great Barrier Reef in Australia

The Great Barrier Reef is to Australia is what rolling savannahs are to Africa. Calling it “another world”, as the commonest cliché has it, doesn’t begin to describe the feeling of donning a mask and fins and coming face to face with its extraordinary animals, shapes and colours.

There’s so little relationship to life above the surface that the distinctions one usually takes for granted. For example, the boundary between animal, vegetable and mineral seem blurred. While the respective roles of observer and observed are constantly inverted as shoals of curious fish follow the human interlopers about.

Interested? Read our guide to visiting Australia's Great Barrier Reef for more information.

Great Barrier Reef, Australia ©  I Shafiq/Shutterstock

Great Barrier Reef, Australia © I Shafiq/Shutterstock

27. Swim in the Dead Sea in Jordan

A few kilometres west of Amman’s city limits, the rugged highlands of central and northern Jordan drop away dramatically into the Dead Sea Rift. The Dead Sea is famed as the lowest point on Earth. Taking a dip here and relaxing on the beaches is one of the most unique travel experiences in Jordan, not least because of the world-class luxury resort hotels dotted along the shore.

Explore the country with this compact tailor-made trip to Highlights of Jordan. Activities include stargazing in Wadi Rum, exploring Petra and spending a day at leisure at the Dead Sea. Your knowledgeable guide will share stories about history and culture and introduce the Bedouin lifestyle to you.


Dead Sea, Jordan © Shutterstock

28. Get amazed by the Angel Falls in Venezuela

Angel Falls is a magnificent natural wonder in the Venezuelan rainforest, standing at an impressive height of 3,212 feet. The uninterrupted waterfall creates a dreamy atmosphere, with mist rising from the base and lush green rainforest surrounding it. It is a breathtaking sight to behold. A visit to Angel Falls is a humbling and unique travel experience that will leave a lasting impression.


Angel Falls, Venezuela © Shutterstock

29. Drive along the Amalfi coast

Go southwest in Italy to Campania and see the Amalfi Coast. It is spectacularly beautiful, despite the heavy tourist numbers in summer - spring and autumn are quieter. The Amalfi Coast (Costiera Amalfitana) lays claim to being Europe’s most beautiful stretch of coast. Its corniche road winds around the towering cliffs that slip almost sheer into the sea.

This tailor-made gastronomic journey in Tuscany and Amalfi Coast will have your sense tingling. Taste the most wonderful and freshly made Italian food in Naples one day and enjoy the most beautiful views of the Amalfi Coast the next. Experience the smells, tastes, feels and sights of Italy when travelling from Florence to the Amalfi Coast.

Positano, italy. Amalfi Coast © iacomino FRiMAGES/Shutterstock

Positano, italy. Amalfi Coast © iacomino FRiMAGES/Shutterstock

30. Visit Costa Rica National Parks

Over a quarter of Costa Rica’s landmass is National Park, which means you’re more than likely to come across at least one on your visit. Costa Rica is covered by rainforests, volcanoes, cloud forest and more. For many people, exploring the biodiversity of this small but beautifully formed country is a major reason to visit Costa Rica in the first place.

See our tailor-made Costa Rica Eco Adventure and discover its compact jungle, tropical beaches, forests, wildlife and national parks. The country may be small but it’s a land of stunning natural diversity and the perfect backdrop to a veritable eco-adventure.

Sloth in Costa Rica © Harry Collins Photography/Shutterstock

Sloth in Costa Rica © Harry Collins Photography/Shutterstock

If you are looking for some travel experiences for the whole family, explore our guide to the 30 best places to go with kids.

For more inspirational travel tips for your future trips check our Rough Guide books.

If you prefer to plan and book your trips without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.

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Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 11.06.2024

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