50 things to do before you die
Who am I to tell you what you should do before you die? Your bucket list is your business, as far as I am concerned. But as travel nuts of the first order, I couldn’t resist giving you a helping hand by compiling a list of truly outstanding worldwide experiences that beg to be bagged in this lifetime. Here are my top 50 adventures to remember – and boast of – for the rest of your days. I have yet to experience a lot from these… Enjoy the ride!
Bungee jump off the Kawarau Bridge, New Zealand
Flinging yourself off a ledge attached to nothing more than a springy cord may seem like madness, but kamikaze Kiwis love nothing more than a rush of adrenaline.
New Zealand is the home of commercial bungee jumping, and the 43m-high Kawarau Bridge in Queenstown is the original jump spot. 1,2,3 and you’re off, forwards or backwards, with a dip in the river if you so desire.
Take a zero gravity flight, Florida
If you can’t afford to hop aboard Virgin Galactic’s space flights (a mere snip at US$200,000 a seat [£140,000]), this is the closest you can get to space travel. Board a plane at Florida's Kennedy Space Centre, try to hold on to your breakfast through a series of parabolic flight manoeuvres and then you can fly, float and flip in zero gravity to your heart’s content.
Astronauts prepare for space missions in this way, and Hollywood has used these specially adapted craft for movies such as Apollo 13.
Witness a total eclipse, 2009 Asia
Shiver in the moon's shadow and goggle at the sun's ghostly corona during a total solar eclipse and you’ll never forget the experience. Britain won’t see a total eclipse for many decades, so be prepared to pack your bags: on July 22 2009, a total eclipse will be visible along a narrow corridor from India through Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Burma, China and Japan's Ryukyu Islands.
Fly a supersonic MiG jet, Russia
Fulfil those Top Gun fantasies you’ve been harbouring since adolescence. Break the sound barrier and slice through Russian airspace in one of the country’s top-grade military jet fighters. A few select agencies now offer travellers the chance to fly the classic MiG-29 or more advanced MiG-31 from Moscow and Nizhny.
Ride the world’s biggest rollercoaster, USA/Japan
Actually, you have a choice of two: the world’s tallest and fastest, or the world’s longest, ride. For the former you’ll need to head to Six Flags Great Adventure park in Jackson, New Jersey, and take a spin on the Kingda Ka. This metal monster reaches a speed of 206km/hr and climbs to a height of 140m.
Meanwhile for the longest ride in the world, strap yourself into the Steel Dragon 2000, in Nagashima, Japan – a mere 2,479m of track along which to maintain stomach control.
Spend summer solstice above the Arctic Circle
Need proof that the Earth is round? Stay awake for 24 hours of daylight, and watch the sun as it circles in the sky above the Arctic Circle during the summer solstice. Seeing the “midnight sun” is truly disorientating, and various events mark the occasion, from fun runs and cruises to all-day parties (well, they could hardly be all-night could they?). Some of the best locations include Hammerfest, Norway; Fairbanks, Alaska; and Inuvik, Canada.
Snorkel with orcas, Norway
Between October and January, shoals of herring swim up Tysfjord in northern Norway, pursued by pods of orcas (killer whales). The whales round up the fish before stunning them with their tails. You can watch these awesome creatures in action from inflatable zodiac boats, then don a dry suit and snorkel to join them in their own habitat.
Climb Sydney Harbour Bridge, Australia
Top off a visit to one of the world’s most beautiful cities with a windswept shinny up unmistakeable Sydney Harbour Bridge. Clamber around the upper arch by way of narrow catwalks and ladders to enjoy 360-degree views of Sydney Harbour, the ocean and the Opera House from a height of 134m. You can even sign up for a night climb, and lap up the sight of Sydney's lights reflected in the harbour; just watch your footing.
Try canopying, Costa Rica
There is no better place to live out your Tarzan fantasies than the wildlife-rich Costa Rican rainforest. The ever-more popular sport of canopying – swinging yourself from tree to tree through dense rainforest – is catching on across the American continent. It gives you an unforgettable perspective on the local wildlife: take a canopying ecotour in Rincón de la Vieja national park, for example, and you’ll swing past bemused monkeys and myriad colourful birds. Another canopying hotspot can be found in southern Chile.
Eat or sleep underwater, Maldives/Dubai/Fiji
Get a sense of what life as a goldfish must be like. Try out one of a small but growing number of underwater venues around the world, and gaze trance-like at marine life gliding by the windows.
The world’s first underwater restaurant is 5m below sea level at Ithaa, the Maldives – surrounded on all sides by shoals of fish, coral, rays and shark. Small-scale underwater hotels also exist – but the real humdingers are still under construction. A subaquatic palace, Hydropolis Dubai, is meant to open in 2009 and another, Poseidon of Fiji, in 2011.
Wing-walk on a bi-plane, Gloucestershire
Strap yourself on to the wing of a classic bi-plane and relive the glory days of aviation, looping through the sky with nothing but goggles and leather to shield you from forces of up to 4G and 150mph wind pressure.
Wing-walking was particularly popular in 1920s America, and is harder to experience these days thanks to strict regulations. But several places offer the chance to determined daredevils – including RFC Rendcomb Airfield, Gloucestershire.
Visit a live volcano, Costa Rica/Hawaii/Réunion
Smell the sulphur, feel the earth tremble and watch as molten lava spews from the ground. This once-in-a-lifetime experience is not for the faint of heart. But to see the Earth recreating itself right in front of you is an awe-inspiring sight, never forgotten.
Popular erupting volcano hikes include Hawaii Volcanoes national park, which is safe enough to bring the family along but active enough to see molten lava flowing into the sea; a more fearsome trek through Volcán Arenal national park in Costa Rica, which contains one of the most active volcanoes in the world and is also celebrated for its hot springs; and Piton de la Fournaise Volcano on the island of Réunion, east of Madagascar, which erupts in fountains of lava with surprising regularity.
Travel overland, London to Sydney
If you dream of swapping Bognor for Bondi, but your eco-conscience is getting in the way, skip the plane and let the OzBus take the strain.
In 13 weeks, you will drive – and occasionally float – from Britain to Australia via the classic European cities of Prague and Budapest, through Istanbul and the dazzling salt deserts of Iran to the colossal Taj Mahal, Thai islands and the mighty Australian outback. Complete the course and you’ll have “real travel” bragging rights for life.
Take the plunge skydiving, the Himalayas
If you are going to risk your life jumping out of a plane, you might as well do it somewhere truly spectacular. So how about Mount Everest? Incredible Adventures is one company that offers no-experience-required tandem jumps in front of Everest, landing on the world’s highest drop zone.
La Tomatina, Buñol, Spain
Better not wear your best clothes to this party. Every August the small town of Buñol in Spanish Valencia hosts the world’s biggest, squashiest and best known food fight – La Tomatina. Tens of thousands of revellers roll around in the pulpy tomatoes for which the area is famous, propelling armfuls at anyone within range.
La Tomatina started as an innocent food fight between friends in the 1940s – but it quickly spread to city officials and pedestrians, and has been celebrated annually ever since.
Ride the world’s biggest waves, Tahiti
Beginners can sit this once-in-a-lifetime surf experience out. Favoured by the top big-wave surfers, the waves at Teahupo’o reef in Tahiti are among the world’s largest. The deadly reef below only ups the ante.
In 2000, the tow-surfing daredevil Laird Hamilton mounted what is considered to be the biggest and most difficult wave ever ridden here, as documented in the film Riding Giants.
See orang-utans in the wild, Borneo
Along the Kinabatangan river in north-eastern Borneo, you can glimpse a plethora of exotic wildlife, including black hornbill birds, troops of proboscis monkeys and, for the eagle-eyed, gangly orang-utans, whose nests sit high in the rainforest canopy. These fascinating creatures are the world’s largest tree-dwelling animals, unique among great apes for their arboreal lifestyle and found only on the islands of Sumatra and Borneo.
Cycle the ‘world’s most dangerous road’, Bolivia
Only people with a good sense of balance – and head for heights – need apply for this risky but thrilling mountainside ride. It also helps if you’re untroubled by ever-present reminders of death: countless skeletal bus carcasses line the steep sides of this absurdly narrow, cliff-hugging road near La Paz in Bolivia, which has earned the title of the world’s most dangerous road.
But daredevil mountain bikers with an eye for awe-inspiring views find the “Death Road” challenge hard to resist. The 60km mostly dirt road drops through the Andes from an altitude of 4,700m to 1,200m, giving way to lush cloud forest.
Play elephant polo, Nepal
A sport in which Scotland are ranked world No 1 and England are the current world champions? Clearly this isn’t football or cricket. No, these are the World Elephant Polo Championships, held each December in southern Nepal.
Watch out for those sneaky elephants, though. They’ll do anything to stop their opponents, but the rules clearly state no standing on the ball and no lying in front of the goal. To join in, sign up with the World Elephant Polo Association.
Dance the tango, Buenos Aires
Think you can do better than the contestants on Strictly? Sultry, sensual and intense, this dance is said to have evolved in the brothels and impoverished barrios of Buenos Aires in the late 19th century.
Put yourself through your paces by combining Spanish classes with tango lessons in the Argentinian capital for the complete Latin experience.
Glide in a hot-air balloon, Cappadocia
Every “things to do before you die” list ever compiled will include taking a hot air balloon ride. But we would take that concept further and insist that you drift over some of the world’s most extraordinary scenery. One such ballooning route is over the surreal fairy chimneys of Cappadocia, in central Turkey. These conical pumice towers mushroom out of a 1,500-square-mile volcanic plateau – and many have been hollowed out to create cave dwellings.
Stay in an ice hotel, Sweden
Each winter, sculptors, artists, architects and designers create a new hotel using ice from the Torne River, 200km north of the Arctic Circle. There are many imitators these days, but this is the original frozen palace.
Cosy up on reindeer skins in a fantastical art suite, where the temperature hovers at around -5°C (positively balmy compared with outdoors). And if you’re searching for a novel wedding venue, why not tie the knot in the ice church?
Ride the trans-Siberian railway across Asia
Before you leave Moscow, be sure to pack a bottle of vodka and a hefty tome, as you are about to cross the entire Asian landmass by train.
You have three options to complete this once-in-a-lifetime trip: Moscow to the eastern port of Vladivostok (9,258km in seven days on the trans-Siberian line); Beijing via Manchuria (8,986km in just over six days on the trans-Manchurian line); or Beijing via the Mongolian steppe and the Gobi desert (7,621km in six days on the Trans-Mongolian line).
Ride the Cresta Run, St Moritz, Switzerland
For three-quarters of a mile of heart-pounding, knee-bashing insanity, lie stomach down, head first on a toboggan and rattle round 10 corners over a 157m drop. The Brits built the first Cresta ice run in 1885, and it’s the undisputed home of head-first, millimetres-from-the-snow so-called skeleton racing. A new natural ice run is created each year.
It’s perfect if you’re craving a hefty dose of adrenaline. But only if you are male; women have been banned since 1929.
Track gorillas in the wild, Uganda
Peek through the dense foliage of the tropical cloud forest surrounding the Virunga volcanoes or the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest to encounter families of mountain gorillas. These giants are endangered, with only around 700 remaining in the wild. So finding them is a particularly acute thrill.
Tracking permits are limited and time spent with the gorillas is restricted to one hour, making this experience extra special. Look out for the rare set of twins in Bwindi, born in early November last year.
Whale watching, Vancouver Island
The waters surrounding Vancouver Island in British Columbia are home to an abundance of cetaceans, making it one of the world’s top whale-watching spots.
A year-round population of around 80 orcas (killer whales) is resident off the southern coast. These mammals are not camera shy, so you have a good chance of snapping a close-up shot. You may also spot humpback whales, migrating grey whales, minke whales, dolphins, porpoises and seals.
Drink at Oktoberfest, Germany
Down a tankard or 20 at this, the world’s biggest beer extravaganza, held over 16 days in Munich during late September. Some six million people bend their elbows here every year – and between them guzzle well over six million litres of pale lager alone. Around 200 years old, the festival also features spit-roasted oxen, sausages by the truckload and traditional Bavarian dress.
Spot the big five, Kruger national park, South Africa
Lion, leopard, elephant, rhino, buffalo. The exceptionally well-endowed Kruger national park hosts all five safari must-sees within nearly two million hectares of diverse landscape. While you’re ticking off the big five, don’t forget to keep your eyes peeled for the little five: ant lion, leopard tortoise, elephant shrew, rhino beetle and buffalo weaver.
Drive route 66 in a Cadillac, USA
Top down, wind in your hair and your hands at the wheel of a classic Cadillac. Step on the gas for American’s most eulogised road trip taking you nearly 4,000km through eight US states, from Chicago’s lofty skyscrapers to the Great Plains, the south-west desert and the Californian coast.
The highway no longer exists officially, but you will still spot numerous Historic Route 66 markers along the way.
Stay in a Bedouin camp, Jordan
Eschew the luxuries of your hotel for a night under the stars in a traditional Bedouin tent. Seven tribal groups live in Wadi Rum, 720 sq km of protected desert wilderness peppered with sandstone and granite mountains.
Explore the area’s archaeological sites by camel and discover narrow canyons concealing ancient rock inscriptions.
Run with the bulls, Pamplona
Sweaty young men (and the odd woman) jostle together and sing to an image of San Fermín. A starter rocket goes off. The bulls are let loose. Runners high tail it through the streets for half a mile chased by the 600kg beasts.
Take your chances in this bovine challenge to male bravado every morning at 8am during the nine-day festival of San Fermín in July. Good hurdling skills are essential to avoid impalement.
Swim with dolphins, New Zealand/Hawaii/Azores/Red Sea
Yes, it’s a cliché. But for good reason. Swimming among, and interacting with, wild dolphins is one of life’s most inspirational and eye-opening experiences. Some of the best places in the world to find these friendly and intelligent animals on their own turf include Oahu and Kona, Hawaii; Kaikoura, New Zealand; and the Red Sea, Egypt.
Go heli-skiing, Alaska
You have watched those DVDs where fearless athletes power down super-steep mountain faces in waist-deep powder. Chances are the film was shot in Alaska’s 300-mile Chugach Mountain range, which has some of the best heli-skiing terrain on the planet.
Several operators guide mere mortal skiers through these gnarly chutes and vast powder fields. With over 15m of annual snowfall, it would be rude not to try it.
Float in the Dead Sea, Middle East
The world’s lowest land point, at 420m below sea level, and its saltiest body of water – about eight times saltier than the ocean – the Dead Sea is like nowhere else on the planet. And thanks to 34% salinity, sinking is all-but impossible. In fact, it’s difficult to swim at all and most people simply bob on the surface with a good book, before checking into the local spas for a mineral-rich mud bath.
The Dead Sea is located between Israel, the West Bank and Jordan.
Cross a glacier on foot, Patagonia
Short of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, there is no land force more powerful than that of an advancing glacier. And to get so close that you can literally hear and feel its cracking, grinding and pulverising power is a humbling experience.
Some of the best glacier hikes in the world are to be found in the Patagonian ice field, which is second in size only to Antarctica. One particularly popular destination is the still-advancing Perito Moreno glacier in the parque nacional Los Glaciares.
Take part in the Dakar Rally, South America
The Dakar is back, but it’s different. Security fears in Africa mean this January the race has gone Latino, with 530 teams competing on the tough terrain of South America. But this classic rally – open to amateurs and professionals alike – is still the ultimate off-road experience for rev-heads.
The ultra-tough vehicles will follow a 9,000km circular route from Buenos Aires through the Patagonian plains and the jagged Andean peaks to the historic Chilean port of Valparaíso, before pounding the Atacama desert dunes and racing back to the Argentine capital.
Climb Mt Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
At 5,898m, you will be at the highest point in Africa. On the way up, you will have hiked through several climatic zones from lush forest up rocky, barren slopes to snowfields.
There are six trekking trails on the mountain, the busiest being the Marangu path, popularly known as the Coca-Cola route. The Machame route is a more scenic alternative.
Catch sunset over Uluru, Australia
Camera in one hand: check. Glass of fizzy stuff in the other: check. As the sun goes down over mighty Uluru (Ayers Rock), you can’t fail to be mesmerised by the startling colour transformation from a rusty Forth Bridge red to a dazzling deep crimson hue.
Once the sun has set, turn your eyes skyward for an astronomical spectacle. An explosion of stars punctuates the inky sky like glitter over the Australian outback.
Watch the northern lights, Norway
During Norway’s long winter nights, the ethereal display of the aurora borealis, the northern lights, illuminates the sky.
Mint green and blush red swirls and rays irradiate the darkness. Travel north of the Arctic Circle between November and February to witness this celestial phenomenon at its best. You stand the best chance in far-northern Norwegian towns such as Andenes, Tromsø, Alta, Harstad, Narvik and Bodø.
See a space shuttle launch, Florida
Feel the earth tremble, the heat of the blast and hear the thunderous roar as a space shuttle takes off from Florida’s Kennedy Space Centre. If this is on your list of things to do before you die – you had better get your skates on. The shuttle program is in doubt beyond 2010. There are six shuttle launches planned for 2009. Keep track of dates through the Nasa website. Then try out the visitor centre’s new simulated shuttle launch attraction to imagine yourself part of the action.
Cage-dive with great whites, South Africa
Make peace with your childhood nightmares – or, indeed, bring them back with a vengeance – by taking a dip in the great white shark capital of the world. South Africa is home to the world’s largest population of great whites, and cage dives with the toothy beasts can be easily arranged just south of Cape Town.
Watch an opera in Italy
Leave your British cynicism at the airport, practice a few loud bravissimos and get ready to wallow in a performance of the most melodramatic of art forms in its Italian heartland.
La Scala opera house, in Milan, is arguably the world’s premier opera venue – and the fabled home of Bellini, Verdi, Toscanini, de Sabata among many other opera greats. Every singer worth his or her salt has performed here over the years, and the whole of Italian high society turns out for a premiere. Alternatively, for a venue as dramatic as the music, catch an open-air opera performance in a Roman amphitheatre during Verona’s famous opera festival.
Trek the Great Wall of China
It is often said the Great Wall is the only man-made creation visible from the moon. If anything, you are more likely to see the modern wonders of Dubai’s Palm Islands. Nonetheless, this architectural marvel still astounds, stretching over 6,000km from east to west (though not continuously).
Raft the Colorado river, Grand Canyon, US
Trek the Inca Trail, Peru
Follow in the rocky footsteps of the most well-known of all ancient pre-Columbian civilizations, the Inca. This classic hike roller-coasters through the Peruvian Andes from the Sacred Valley to the mountaintop lost city of Machu Picchu, reaching breathless altitudes of 4,200m.
Its 45km length is scattered with extraordinary ancient ruins; it passes through awesome mountain scenery and dips down into misty wildlife-rich cloud forest. But the highlight is undoubtedly arriving at Machu Picchu as the sun rises – the only time of day when you can have the magical site all to yourself before the tourist hordes arrive.
Go on a wildlife extravaganza, the Galapagos
Swim with sea lions, hammerhead sharks, tropical fish, penguins and dolphins before breakfast. Then meet giant tortoises more than 150 years old and build up an appetite for dinner by chasing multi-coloured iguana and unique bird species for the perfect photo. In short - a boat trip around the Galapagos Islands is simply one of the most exhilarating experiences open to wildlife enthusiasts.
Dance samba in Carnival, Brazil
Join in the biggest, most euphoric knees-up in the carnival capital of the world. Rio's famous orgy of feasting and dancing takes place annually at the beginning of Lent, and lasts for four days. It culminates in two spectacular street parades of competing samba schools.
Scuba dive on the Great Barrier Reef
Learn to dive – if only to explore this, the planet’s biggest coral reef system and one of the seven natural wonders of the world. The Great Barrier Reef offers some of the most spectacular dive sites imaginable, brimming over with labyrinthine coral and kaleidoscopic fish. But you’d better make your trip soon: climate change, over-fishing and aggressive tourism all threaten its abundance.
Trek to Everest base camp, Nepal
Everest’s summit may be beyond most of us, but trekking to Everest base camp is achievable with a good fitness level. You may not stand on top of the world, but you will soak up staggeringly beautiful views of the peak.
The south camp – and the more popular route up – on the Nepalese side lies at 5,630m and looks on to the tumbling Khumbu Icefall, while the Tibetan camp to the north sits at 5,208m. And best of all, you can spend a lifetime bragging of scaling Everest – well, sort of.
Shoot into space
Earth is so last year, darling. For those needing something new to boast about at the dinner table, how about flying 110km above Earth’s surface?
Virgin Galactic space flights will whisk passengers that vertiginous distance into space at about three times the speed of sound. The trip costs from US$200,000 (£140,000), but there’s no official launch date yet, so you still have time to save up.