Whether you’re a frequent flyer or the one-trip-a-year type, these tips deliver great value.
The outback’s showstopper, this sandstone monolith sacred to indigenous Australians glows orange and red at sunrise and sunset, but its remote location (462 kilometres from the nearest town) translates to an overnight stay at a pricey hotel. Ayers Rock Campground, however, offers six-person cabins with kitchenettes for just $133/Rs8,550 during peak season. Have a tent? Pitch it for $32/Rs2,050 per night (ayersrockresort.com.au).
Napa Valley, California
Limo and train tours are popular ways to visit the 500+ wineries in the verdant valley, but they’ll set you back at least a couple hundred bucks each. If you don’t mind a little sweat between sips, pack a picnic backpack, rent a bike for $45/Rs2,900, and hit the recently inaugurated 20-kilometre Napa Valley Vine Trail connecting the tasting rooms of downtown Napa to foodie-friendly Yountville (napavalleybiketours.com).
Alhambra, Granada, Spain
This Moorish palace and fortress built during the Nasrid dynasty (1238-1492) is beyond splendid by day, but skip the time-restricted $16/Rs1,030 night tour and walk through Granada’s Arab Quarter to the hilltop plaza Mirador de San Nicolás. “I like to grab an ice cream at Helados San Nicolas and watch the sunset over the Alhambra,” says Lauren Aloise, owner of Devour Tours. “The view is unbeatable” (devourgranadafoodtours.com).
Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, Ratchaburi, Thailand
The network of klongs (canals) crisscrossing Bangkok were major commerce routes during the 19th century and are still lined with floating markets. Damnoen Saduak, just outside Bangkok, especially lures tourists, but you don’t need to get there by expensive motorised boat rental. Roads go straight to the market, where you can browse canal-side stalls, then hop aboard a rowboat tour for much less.
In places with soaring popularity, these experiences go the extra mile to restore your sanity.
The capital of the 9th-to-13th-century Burmese kingdom of Pagan was once strewn with more than 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas, and stupas. Now roughly 2,200 remain across the vast Bagan Plains. While they can be explored by taxi, by bike, or on foot, nothing compares with the view from a hot-air balloon at dawn, when the grey morning mist clears and streaks of golden sunlight wash over the sacred landscape (balloonsoverbagan.com).
Fiji, South Pacific
The clear turquoise waters and powdery beaches of Fiji’s principal island of Viti Levu and the nearby Mamanuca archipelago may understandably draw travellers, but for a deeper understanding of Fiji’s natural treasures, visit the garden island of Taveuni. During rainforest hikes, look out for waterfalls, some of the island’s 100 bird species, and the tagimoucia, the unofficial floral emblem of Fiji (fiji.travel).
Rub al Khali, Oman
Less than 100 years ago, only the Bedouin experienced the profound silence and wind-sculpted beauty of the world’s largest sand desert. Now visitors can discover the so-called Empty Quarter with a camel ride at sunset, an Omani feast under the stars, and a stay in a Bedouin-style tent at Desert Nights Camp (omanhotels.com).
With temples and wellness retreats set in jungles and on beaches and mountainsides, Bali earns its title as a top spiritual destination. For a fully immersive experience, visit the sacred springs of Tirta Empul Temple, north of Ubud. Its curative cool waters are delivered via 30 stone waterspouts as you participate with locals in an ancient Balinese ritual of cleansing the spirit (balitourismboard.org).
You can’t pack extra time in your carry-on. Use your precious vacation hours wisely with these suggestions.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
At the world’s largest salt flat, in southwest Bolivia, shutterbugs prefer the rainy season for capturing truly ethereal images. During December to March, a thin layer of water turns the over 10,000-square-kilometre landscape into a giant mirror. A photo guide such as Sergio Ballivian can help maximise your time on-site, because he knows the light, the best time of day, and exactly where to go for optimal shooting (sergiophototours.com).
Mountain Gorilla Country, Uganda/Rwanda
Since only about 880 mountain gorillas still exist, seeing one up close in their habitats on the volcanic slopes of Uganda and Rwanda can be life changing. The Gorilla Habituation Experience in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park gives you four hours with the animals (compared with one hour on a traditional trek). Only four travellers join conservationists helping a gorilla family get used to humans (ugandawildlife.org).
Musée Du Louvre, Paris, France
Exploring the 6,50,000-plus square feet of the world’s largest art museum can be a daunting task, but the recently renovated Pavillon de l’Horloge is a good place to start. “You’ll get an overview of the permanent collection, and interactive touch screens help map your way from one masterpiece to the next,” says Hannah Seidl, a public relations officer at the Louvre who also suggests downloading its new smartphone app (louvre.fr).
Daitoku-ji Temple, Kyoto, Japan
Built in the 14th century, the vast Daitoku-ji Temple is one of Japan’s most revered centres of Zen Buddhism, comprising numerous temples and sub-temples. For more contemplation time, frequent visitor and National Geographic Traveler Editor at Large, Don George suggests heading straight to the sub-temple Koto-in. “In a complex that is extremely touristed, Koto-in is especially atmospheric, picturesque, and little visited.”