Published February 19, 2013
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do,” once mused Mark Twain. “So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves. There’s an entire awe-inspiring world out there to see and experience. Rather than stay home and dream of what might have been, unearth that passport and get going. To get you started in the right direction, we’ve whittled down a “bucket list” of ten of the world’s most magnificent wonders.
Great Wall of China
Thousands of miles long, passing through 156 counties, with 7,062 lookout towers, the Great Wall of China is the largest cultural relic humans have ever built. It snakes through China ever so majestically, around undulating hills and through a vast countryside, stretching from Shanhaiguan in the east to Lop Lake in the west. Wall construction began more than 2,000 years ago in an attempt to keep out the tribes from the north. The most colorful (and less costly) times to go are spring and autumn — pink cherry blossoms blanket the landscape outside of Beijing in late-March and in mid-October red leaves abound near Badaling National Forest Park.
To learn more about the Great Wall of China, visit cnto.org
UTTAR PRADESH, INDIA
An architectural love letter, this massive marble temple in northern India is one of the most recognizable structures on the planet. It was built in the first half of the seventeenth century by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan to hold the body of his beloved third wife, Mumtaz Mahal (the building is now a mausoleum for both). The construction took more than 22 years to complete, requiring as many as 20,000 workers. Some skilled artisans came from as far as Constantinople (today, Istanbul), and about 1,000 elephants were used to transport materials. Today, vehicles that emit pollution are not allowed within a mile of the structure, so be prepared to walk or hire a battery-powered vehicle called a tuk tuk.
For detailed travel information, check out tajmahal.gov.in
CUSCO REGION, PERU
Eight thousand feet above sea level, this five-century-old pre-Columbian site was once the home to the Incas. Until American historian Hiram Bingham publicized his findings of the area in a 1911 book called "Across South America," the mountain-top ruins were widely unknown to anyone living outside of the Urubamba Valley and nearby Cusco. Since Spanish colonialists had no idea of Machu Picchu's existence, its Incan architecture and design were preserved. There are two ways up to the "old peak," by train or on foot. Unless you're wildly adventurous — and don't mind a two-to four-day massive hike up the Inca Trail — we recommend you go by rail, stay overnight in Aguas Calientes and take an early bus to the ruins to beat the crowds (and in the sweltering summer months, the sun).
For more information on visiting Machu Picchu, go to visitperu.com
Does the arrangement of the 25-ton sarsens (sandstone blocks) at Stonehenge suggest some sort of celestial prediction? Or is it just a bunch of big rocks? No one really knows. Theories about the nearly 5,000-year-old circular stone structure in southern England vary. Some believe it was a place of healing, others that it was a burial ground and used for ancestor worship. The most enchanting time to visit Stonehenge is at sunset when a yellow-orange glow can be seen through the magnificent towers' arches. Booking a guided tour is required to visit the center and see the stones up close. But the best views of the structure, about a two-hour drive from London, are from a distance where you can fully appreciate their grand design.
For visitor information, visit stonehenge.co.uk
Pyramids of Giza
Like Stonehenge, many mysteries surround the construction of these three pyramids which are part of a mausoleum complex. The Great Pyramid of Giza, the best-known of the group standing outside of Cairo, is the only one of the ancient Seven Wonders of the World that also graces our list. Finished around 2,560 BC, the 481-foot creation (now shorter due to erosion) was the tallest man-made structure in the world for 38 centuries until the completion of Lincoln Cathedral in 14th century England. How were these made? Were space aliens needed to cut, move and stack the millions of stones, some weighing 88 tons? Does some powerful force emanate from them today? Go visit and judge for yourself, by bus, taxi or camel.
For more info, check out touregypt.net
QUINTANA ROO, MEXICO
The 1,500-year-old pyramids, located just 75 miles from the town of Merida, may be less popular than their counterparts in Egypt, but they're just as striking. The main attraction at this Mayan site is El Castillo, the 78-foot, 91-step central pyramid. For those visiting this part of the world during the summer months, it's wise to arrive in the early morning or late afternoon when temperatures are cooler. But the absolute best time to travel to "the mouth of the well of Itza" is at sunset during the spring or autumn equinoxes when shadows give the illusion that a large serpent is slithering down the pyramid. Other site structures include the Temple of the Warriors, the Ball Court and Tzompantli, the Wall of Skulls.
For more information, visit the chichenitza.com
The Earth's southernmost point, Antarctica is the driest and coldest of the seven continents. For a place that's 98 per cent covered in one-mile-deep ice, it's hard to imagine why anyone would want to visit at all. But there's an eerie, stark beauty about Antarctica that is incomparable to anywhere else on the planet. Sprinkle in some penguin sightings and you've got one of the most unique settings in the world. While Antarctica has no permanent residents, there are often up to 5,000 researchers working there at a time. We recommend visiting by cruise ship via Ushuaia, Argentina.
To learn more about traveling to Antarctica, visit the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operations at iaato.org
On September 12, 1940, four teenagers in the Vézère valley of the Dordogne in southwestern France followed a dog into a cave and discovered 17,000-year-old animal paintings. Eight years later, the public was allowed to view the paintings of bison, horses and stags, among other Paleolithic Era images. To preserve the original findings, the cavern was closed in 1963 and a nearby cave, known as Lascaux II, displaying brilliant recreations of the paintings, was opened in its stead. Depending on the time of year, tickets for the 40-minute guided tours can be purchased at various locations: during the peak season of summer, you can find them on the site, and from late fall through winter, the nearby town of Montignac is your best bet. Keep in mind, only 2,000 visitors per day are allowed inside, so plan in advance.
For more information, visit the lascaux.culture.fr
RAPA NUI, CHILE
It is believed the natives of Easter Island carved massive heads out of stone hundreds of years ago to honor their ancestors. Today, there are 887 "moai," as the statues are called, which create a mysterious, yet intriguing landscape to this Polynesian island, which is a four-and-a-half hour flight from Lima, Peru. The tallest statue on the island — named Paro — is 33 feet high and weighs 82 tons. In addition to statue appreciation, Easter Island also boasts great hiking trails and decent scuba diving.
For more information, visit easterislandtourism.com
If North America's greatest natural wonder — a red-hued canyon 277 river miles long, eighteen miles wide, and one mile deep — doesn't make your mouth drop in awe, then you might not be human. While the north rim attracts fewer visitors, you'll most likely appreciate the epic vistas of the south rim. There are plenty of spots to pull the car over and have a look from the top, but we recommend trekking along the rim on foot. You can also descend into the canyon's depths via mules or guided hiking excursions, experience "The Heart of the Canyon" by raft on the Colorado River, and even spend the night at a lodge below the rim.
Find more information from the National Park Service website at nps.gov/grca
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