From Dawn till After Dark: 25 Amazing Experiences

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Olivia Rawes

Need more inspiration for your bucket list? These 25 experiences range from thrilling adventures to in-depth cultural experiences and fascinating wildlife encounters.

1. See dawn break over Bagan, Myanmar

Bagan, Myanmar's ancient capital enchants. This vast stretch of land is peppered with over two thousand Buddhist structures, which interrupt the vegetation and dusty plain with their gold-topped spires and sculpted pagodas. At dawn the views are even more mesmerising. Hot-air balloons sweep over the landscape, while the low-slung mist below gradually lifts to reveal countless ornate structures set against a hazy, orange sky.

Where to stay

Stay in a tropical garden in Old Bagan at the Aureum Palace Hotel & Resort Bagan.

What to do

See the temples from a different perspective and book a sunrise hot-air balloon ride and head to the skies.

2. Take a boat along the Ganges, India

Glide along the Ganges as Varanasi, India's holiest city, enters a new day. From a boat you can watch as the stone ghats that line the riverbanks flood with colour. Pilgrims and residents gather here first thing to perform puja ('respect') to the rising sun, do laundry or take a morning dip in the waters.

Where to stay

Varanasi can feel very busy and hectic, all the more reason to opt for a peaceful getaway such as the Taj Ganges.

What to do

Take the sunrise boat tour along the Ganges to experience these rituals first hand.

3. Rediscover Monument Valley, USA

Boasting perfectly distilled Wild West scenery – an expanse of red sands broken only by sandstone buttes and rocky pinnacles – Monument Valley has long been the go-to location for Hollywood films. Its harsh beauty is breathtaking, but if after all the movies it seems a bit too familiar then a trip at dawn can recapture the magic of the place. As the sun rises, the sky is washed with crimson, creating a dramatic backdrop for the 400m-high turrets, stark buttes and brooding mesas.

Where to stay

A roughly 40 minutes drive from Monument Valley is the Desert Rose Resort & Cabins with views of the surrounding canyon walls.

What to do

Witness a stunning sunset and experience the magic of the changing colors and famous rock formations on a small group tour.

4. Marvel at otherworldly Cappadocia, Turkey

Cappadocia is quite simply one of the most bizarre places on earth. This land of strange formations has everything from age-old underground cities to 30m-high rocky spires nicknamed “fairy chimneys”. And at first light it feel even more unreal. As the sun rises this vast, lunar landscape is slowly unveiled against a crimson-stained sky – best viewed from a hot-air balloon.

Accompanied by a mesmerising call to prayer, hot-air balloons sweep over Cappadocia's plunging canyons, high plateaus and underground dwellings.

Where to stay

Try out one of the many cave hotels in Goreme, such as the Sultan Cave Suites with their panoramic sun terrace offering stunning views across Goreme.

What to do

Glide over the fairy chimneys and rock-cut houses of Cappadocia on a 1-hour hot air balloon flight, and get privileged views of the unique landscape from the air.

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    5. Hike up to Machu Picchu, Peru

    Waking up early for a pitch-black, sticky hike through mountain forests to reach Machu Picchu may not sound tempting. But arriving there before the hoards of tourists is well worth the effort. Once at the top you can watch as the sun's rays spread across the ancient site, revealing stone-carved buildings, steep pathways and sculpted terraces, all set against a backdrop of deep valleys and the the distant snow-capped peaks of Salcantay.

    Where to stay

    Directly next to the train station, the Casa del Sol Machupicchu has wonderful river views and easy access to the historic sanctuary.

    What to do

    Book your entrance ticket to Machu Picchu in advance and enjoy hassle-free access to one of the world’s most iconic wonders. Secure a time slot to hike Huayna Picchu or Machu Picchu Mountain and take in even better views of the sanctuary.

    6. Get up close with a mountain gorilla, Rwanda

    Getting close to a mountain gorilla in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is one of Africa's most unforgettable experiences. The strenuous, guided trek sets off at dawn and takes you high into the Virunga Volcanoes, home to more than half of the world's remaining nine hundred mountain gorillas. It may be hard work, but it's all worth it when you finally get face-to-face with one of these magnificent, surprisingly well-tempered beasts.

    Where to stay

    If you want to splurge, take a look at the One & Only Gorilla's Nest in Kinigi, a new resort set in the middle of nature.

    7. Explore one of Lake Garda’s prettiest spots, Italy

    Forming a bridge between the Alps and the rest of the country, Lake Garda is Italy's largest lake. To the north it's hemmed in by village-freckled mountains, while at its southern end the lake spreads out. One of the most scenic spots to stay is Sirmione. Only accessed through ancient castle walls, the village squeezes along a narrow promontory out into the waters. Climb the castle turrets to witness the views out over the tiled rooftops, turquoise waters, and distant cypress-clad slopes.

    Rent a boat and explore the lake yourself – a small island with a lone palace atop is within easy reach.

    Where to stay

    A few steps from Lake Garda lies the peaceful Hotel Olivi Thermae & Natural Spa surrounded by olive groves.

    What to do

    Take a scenic boat cruise from Sirmione, soak up stunning views of the coastline, admire iconic sights including Isola Borghese, sip on a refreshing glass of prosecco, enjoy a tasty Italian pizza, and more.

    9. Experience Puerto Rico’s oldest Carnaval, Puerto Rico

    Ponce holds Puerto Rico’s oldest and most dazzling Carnaval, opening with a procession led by King Momo (the traditional “King of Carnivals”) and figures known as vejigantes, mostly local boys whose ornate masks are embellished with vivid colours and devilish horns. The festivities come to an end on Shrove Tuesday, culminating with the Entierro de la Sardina (Burial of the Sardine), a bizarre mock funeral procession where a fish is burnt to signify the purging of sins before the beginning of Lent.

    Where to stay

    Located in a tranquil historic building, the Boutique Hotel Belgica is just steps from the main square with many great restaurants and shops.

    9. Gorge on street food, Vietnam

    From hawkers with cauldrons of soup hanging from shoulder poles, to pushcarts, market stalls and makeshift “kitchens”, Vietnam’s street-food scene is unsurpassed. One of the best places to snack to your heart’s content is Hué, which boasts an array of speciality foods. Favourites include: banh khoai, a fried pancake with pork, shrimp and bean sprouts, served with a sesame and peanut sauce; bun bo, a deliciously spicy noodle soup; and chè, a drink made from fruit, lotus seed or a blend of green bean and coconut.

    Where to stay

    Only half a kilometre from the Huong River lies the Alba Spa Hotel, with a wonderful spa and jacuzzi area.

    What to do

    Since there are many different kinds of unique food in Hue, it is best to take a local guide with you, like on this 5h evening foodie tour by motorbike.

    10. Explore a jungle paradise, Guatemala

    A small country with an incredibly diverse ecosystem, Guatemala is a must-visit destination for wildlife-lovers. One of the best areas to explore are the dramatic lowlands of the northern department of Petén. This vast area covers around a third of the country, yet only holds just over three percent of Guatemala's population. Here ancient mahogany trees stretch 50m skyward, sheltering a rich variety of wildlife that ranges from lumbering tapir to ocelots, and colourful birds of paradise to jaguars.

    This expanse of tropical rainforest, swamp and savannah stretches into southern Mexico and across the Maya Mountains to Belize, and huge tracts remain virtually untouched.

    Where to stay

    If you're on a budget or just like to get to know other travellers, try Los Amigos Hostel. Their bar and restaurant area is a popular hangout spot to meet other travellers and share experiences and stories over some food and drinks.

    What to do

    A must-do when in the area is visiting stunning Tikal - the largest and most important site in Pre-Columbian Mayan history.

    11. Sample food from around the world at Borough Market, England

    From the Brick Lane's vintage stores to the floral abundance of Columbia Road, London’s East End markets could fill a weekend of browsing and bargain hunting. But for the best foodie shopping, head to Borough Market, which is tucked under the railway arches between Borough High Street and Southwark Cathedral. There's still an early-morning wholesale fruit and vegetable market, but these days Borough Market is best known for its specialist food, with stalls selling high-end produce from around the world.

    Where to stay

    About 800m from Borough Market and within easy reach of two tube stations is the Holiday Inn Express Southwark. The rooms are modern and clean and the location is unbeatable.

    What to do

    If this is your first time in London, we recommend taking a guided food tour to get to know British delicacies.

    12. Try the life aquatic in the Red Sea, Egypt

    Once a sleepy fishing village, over the last 25 years Hurghada has become a tourist destination. And it was diving – some of the best in Egypt – that put it on the map. Coral islands and reefs are only a few hours away by boat, while a clutch of further-flung sites can be visited on dive safaris and live-aboards. In the shallows there's an abundance of marine life, while the deeper waters are home to lurker sharks, giant moray eels and manta rays.

    Where to stay

    Stay at the family friendly Three Corners Rihana Resort in the resort town El Gouna, about 20km from Hurghada.

    What to do

    Explore the fascinating underwater world on a day trip to Giftun island.

    12. Explore the ancient temples of Angkor, Cambodia

    From the magnificent pyramidal temples of Angkor Wat and Pre Rup to the maze-like monasteries of Banteay Kdei and Ta Prohm, the temples of Angkor are one of the greatest architectural showpieces on earth. Seemingly sprinkled across a vast area of countryside, the temples were once at the centre of villages, towns and cities. Time has taken its toll; the surrounding houses and buildings have vanished and many of the monuments themselves have been smothered by the ever-encroaching jungle.

    Where to stay

    Siem Reap, the closest town to Angkor Wat, features many different accommodation types, suiting any budget. Our tip is the J7 Hotel in the Old French Quarter. In walking distance to vibrant Pub Street, yet located far enough to provide an atmosphere of peace and quietness.

    What to do

    Watch the sunrise over Angkor Wat and cycle your way through the ancient temples on this full day guided bicycle tour.

    14. Conquer the majestic Pamirs on foot, Tajikistan

    Standing at a skyscraping crossroads – the Himalaya, Karakorum, Hindu Kush and Tien Shan ranges meet here – the magnificent Pamirs remain one of the most unexplored places on the planet. Known as Bam-i-Dunya (“Roof of the World”), this vast, rugged stretch of Central Asia boasts astounding crested peaks and stretches of undulating fields. While many of Tajikistan’s hundred-odd mountains have never been scaled, you can climb Peak Lenin, which at 7134m is the country's second-highest mountain.

    The unique landscape gives awesome opportunities for hiking and climbing, and visitors can even try camping with nomads or bareback riding.

    15. Ski from the sky in British Columbia, Canada

    Daring but pricy, heliskiing is endlessly exhilarating. One of the best places to give it a go is in British Columbia, Canada. Cornices and drop-offs that seemed forbidding from the helicopter will be enticingly adventurous; trees that from a distance looked impossibly dense reveal tempting paths; and you’ll drop into inclines that would have been unthinkable on harder snow, plunging in and out of chest-deep powder again and again.

    Where to stay

    There's many places in Canada to go heli skiing, but Whistler frequently ranks as one of the world's top winter activities destination. The Summit Lodge Boutique Hotel Whistler is only a 10 minute walk from the Blackcomb Excalibur Gondola, providing an ideal location for all winter sports enthusiasts.

    16. Look down on Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

    Sitting pretty on the shores of near-landlocked Guanabara Bay, no other city in the world can compete with Rio de Janeiro’s sensational combination of raw urban sprawl, sweeping sandy shoreline and lush jungle-clad mountains. Even the city's skyscrapers manage to look magnificent against their verdant backdrop. At sunset it’s easy to see why Rio’s citizens call it the Cidade Marvil: as dusk falls, look down on sparkling Rio, its city lights slowly gathering against the silky waters of the ocean.

    Where to stay

    Imagine yourself with a Caipirinha next to the pool on a rooftop overlooking the ocean. Many hotels in Copacabana make that dream come true, for example the Astoria Palace, right on the beach.

    What to do

    See Rio de Janeiro from a different perspective, a bird's-eye view: on a tandem hang-gliding flight, you'll get to start from the Tijuca National Park, flying over Rio's incredible landscape and ending at the ocean.

    17. Admire the Chinese fishing nets in Fort Cochin, India

    The huge, elegant, and much-photographed Chinese fishing nets lining the northern shore of Fort Cochin are probably the single most familiar image of Kerala. The nets are said to have been introduced to the Malabar region by traders from the court of Kublai Khan. They're best seen at sunset, when the glowing, reddish orb of the sun hovers behind the mesh, and fishermen dart about in the foreground, preparing to head out for a long night on the water.

    Where to stay

    The Taj Malabar Resort & Spa did an excellent job combining Victorian charm with a contemporary design. It's location directly next to the harbour is ideal to explore the city.

    What to do

    Especially is this is your first time in India, the experience can be overwhelming. To discover the area and learn more about the history and culture, take a guided walking tour with a local guide. They know the area best and have exclusive insights to share.

    18. Go fishing on Alaska’s Naknek River, USA

    The Bristol Bay fishing village of Naknek in Alaska is the scene of the world’s largest sockeye run, with over twenty million fish passing between mid-June and the end of July. Around seventy percent of the world’s red salmon is caught in Bristol Bay, and three-quarters of those are fished out of the river in and around Naknek. Once the season starts, fishing boats are gunwhale to gunwhale, vying to be the first to get their nets in the water.

    Such is the remoteness, there’s no reason to come here – except, perhaps, for some solitary sunset fishing.

    19. Listen to the Sea Organ in Zadar, Croatia

    On pink-hued summer evenings, crowds of locals and tourists alike gather at Zadar's harbour to view its famous sunset. Adding to the magical experience is architect Nikola Bašic's Sea Organ, which emits an otherworldly melody from the sea rushing through its underwater pipes. Once the sun has almost disappeared on the horizon, Bašic's Monument to the Sun comes alive, its dancing coloured lights enchanting both young and old.

    Where to stay

    Just 150m from a stone-paved beach, the Sea Gate Studio offers a rooftop terrace right in the centre of the old town of Zadar.

    What to do

    Besides a fantastic old town, Zadar has much more to offer offshore: the archipelago boasts great snorkeling sites, a semi-submerged shipwreck and beaches far off the tourist trail. Take a kayak and go explore nature.

    20. Feel insignificant at the Grand Canyon, USA

    Five million people visit the Grand Canyon every year, and it's no wonder why; the distinctive burnt orange stripes of the immense rock formation, its swooping bends and craggy heights, are nothing short of awe-inspiring. Helicopter tours will give you a sense of the enormous scale of the canyon - a mind-boggling 277 miles long and one mile deep - but nothing beats the on-top-of-the-world feeling of standing at the top of the canyon's plateau.

    With rugged rocks below and an almost flat landscape above, the Grand Canyon is like a mountain range turned on its head.

    Where to stay

    A great value for your money in a fantastic location are the Red Canyon Cabins. Situated in Kanab, Red Canyon Cabins features accommodation with free WiFi, barbecue facilities and mountain views.

    What to do

    Hop on a pink jeep and explore the Grand Canyon in style. Your guide will explain the history of the area while you take in the breathtaking views.

    21. Marvel at the Golden Rock at dusk, Myanmar

    One of the holiest places in Myanmar, Kyaiktiyo is a major draw for Buddhist pilgrims, with thousands visiting every day during the pilgrimage season. The site also pulls substantial numbers of non-believers, attracted by the pagoda's spectacular location rising out of the huge Golden Rock, high up in the Eastern Yoma Mountains. Pilgrims throng Kyaiktiyo both day and night, but activity is greatest early in the morning and at dusk, with people praying, lighting candles and making offerings.

    Where to stay

    Take in fascinating views of the Golden Rock from the Eternity Resort's pool.

    What to do

    If you're pressed on time, consider taking a day trip from Yangon to the Golden Rock.

    22. Tantalize your taste buds in Marrakesh, Morocco

    Nowhere encapsulates colourful, fast-moving Marrakesh more than Jemaa El Fna. The huge square is lined with street vendors and performers throughout the day and as the sun goes down, it fills with people, the aroma of traditional Moroccan dishes steaming on food stands intensifies and the stalls' lights are illuminated, washing the packed market place in a dusty glow. As the world goes to sleep, the heart of Marrakesh is only just getting started.

    There's a tantalising range of food and drink on offer, with everything from freshly squeezed orange juice, couscous and tajine to sheep's head and stewed snails.

    Where to stay

    The traditional Riad Be Marrakech is located in the Medina of Marrakech, only 800m from Jemaa El Fna. The charming room interiors and courtyards make for an unforgettable experience.

    What to do

    Get to know the local cuisine on a night street food tour through the souks and markets, all accompanied by a local guide who will show and explain the food highlights of the country to you.

    23. Get a taste for the high life in Bangkok, Thailand

    Bangkok's heady mix of bustling urban streets, cultural sites and lively nightlife contribute to make it the most-visited city in the world. After a day exploring the city's rich offerings, head to the Lebua Hotel, whose majestic golden dome towers over the city. Stop for a drink at its sleek bar and, jutting out over the rooftops of Bangkok's skyscrapers, you'll have the best seat in the city to take in magnificent panoramic views of Thailand's sprawling capital.

    Where to stay

    Siam Square is the ideal place to stay for those taking public transportation - both Skytrain lines pass through Siam Square, connecting you anywhere in the city. The Anantara Siam is the stately home of Bangkok's top hotels. Afternoon tea is still served in the monumental lobby, which is adorned with magnificent eighteenth-century murals. Rooms are large and luxurious.

    What to do

    Marvel at Bangkok's skyline at night, on an intimate dining experience on the Shangri-La Dinner Cruise.

    24. Admire the northern lights in lapland, Sweden

    Head out into the frozen darkness of Swedish Lapland's winter to catch the breathtaking but elusive spectacle of the Northern Lights. Caused by solar particles hitting the earth’s atmosphere, each hue – from pale green to dark pink – is produced by a different element. Give yourself a week or two for the best chance of seeing them; pitch a tent, bring a sturdy tripod and keep your fingers crossed (inside a good pair of mittens) for cloudless skies.

    Where to stay

    Stay in a unique accommodation in the Santa Clause Village: Glass Resort features a sauna, private outdoor hot tubs, and floor-to-ceiling windows, granting you amazing views.

    What to do

    Spend the day like a true Finn and explore the outdoors: From riding a snowmobile to ice-fishing, this day will teach you about Finnish culture and traditions.

    25. Experience Hoi An’s Full-Moon Festival, Vietnam

    Banish any thoughts of glow-paint ravers, as Vietnam’s Full-Moon Festival in Hoi An is a much more sophisticated affair. As dusk encroaches on the fourteenth day of every month, the city is transformed into a magical scene with hundreds of glowing silk lanterns lighting its narrow alleys and lining the banks of the Thu Bon River. By nightfall, crowds of people have gathered along the riverbank to set tiny flickering candles adrift on the lazy waters.

    Where to stay

    In the heart of the ancient town, Hoian Nostalgia Hotel & Spa offers a beautiful swimming pools as well as free bicycles to explore the town on your own.

    What to do

    During the day, get to know Vietnamese cuisine in a hands-on cooking class. Together with your guide, visit the market first before you hop on a boat down the Thu Bon River to get to your cooking class in a rural setting.

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