If you're anything like us, you probably have a bucket-list of "must-do" travel experiences. Perhaps an African safari or a private island rental has been on the docket for years, but you've never gotten around to planning it and making it happen. What better time than now? As the travel industry rejoices over the distribution of an effective, safe COVID-19 vaccine, planning that once-in-a-lifetime trip just got a little more feasible. With eyes on the future (winter 2021? spring 2022? fall 2023?), we've rounded up 10 of these incredible trips with guides on exactly how to plan them, ranging from the best time to go, what you can expect to pay for your plane tickets, and insider tips on packing lists, hotels, tour operators, and more.
An African Safari in Kenya
An African safari is the trip of dreams for wildlife lovers, and for a good reason: the biodiversity across the continent is breathtaking. For first-time safari-goers looking to check a classic tour off their bucket list, we recommend going on safari in Kenya. The East African country certainly hits the mark when it comes to animals—a visit to the Masai Mara grasslands is practically like living inside a "Planet Earth" episode—not to mention the dramatic landscapes that are worth a visit in their own right.
When to Go: Dry season, from June through October is best, plus you can see the Great Migration in the Masai Mara, from August through October. But there are discounts in the green season (March-May) and shoulder season (November-February).
Airfare: Starts around $800 round-trip from the U.S.
Where to Go
- Nairobi: Your journey will begin in Nairobi, a global metropolis known for its stellar shopping and dining. Acclimate to the time change and rest up after the long flights at luxury hotels Hemingways, Fairmont the Norfolk, or the Insta-famous Giraffe Manor. If you’re booking your safari through a tour operator, take time to visit the charities your safari supports.
- Masai Mara: The world-famous Masai Mara, which abuts Tanzania’s Serengeti, is absolutely teeming with wildlife—it’s a must-visit for safari lovers, especially those who’d like to see the Great Migration, the world’s largest mammal migration during which millions of wildebeest and zebra make treacherous river crossings. Feeling particularly adventurous? Consider a hot air balloon safari, where you’ll not only get a bird’s-eye-view of the landscape, but you might even have some close encounters when the pilots dip low. Stay at the new Mara Nyika, a small luxury tented camp by Great Plains Conservation on the nearby Naboisho conservancy, which offers that classic “safari” feel with canvas tents, but don’t worry: there’s electricity and Wi-Fi throughout, plus elegant touches like a gorgeous copper soaking tub in each tent and even a wine room for special dinners.
- Laikipia: Though the Maasai Mara is rife with wildlife, it’s also filled with tourists. After a few busy days in the grasslands, head to the Laikipia plateau for some much-needed solitude. Laikipia is a hotbed for conservation efforts and outdoor adventures like horseback riding, fishing, and helicopter tours. Still, it’s also ideal for a little R&R at its various luxury lodges. But this is Kenya, after all, so you’ll still see plenty of wildlife here, including the Big Five. Stay at the luxe Segera, which offers little something for everyone; the art-filled property (it’s owned by the Zeitz family of Cape Town’s Zeitz MOCAA fame) has a divine spa, a resort-like pool area, and, of course, access to impressive wildlife across its 50,000-acre estate. It wouldn’t be unusual to wake up to lions roaring just outside your villa.
Packing Tips: Interestingly, it’s not excruciatingly hot in Kenya, despite being at the equator. High elevation, particularly on the Laikipia plateau, keeps things relatively cool—at least in the shade. Dress for hotter, drier weather during the day and far chillier at night. And note: even in the dry season, it can rain any time. Just make sure you pack light, as bush planes, which will shuttle you between sites on your safari, can’t carry a lot of weight. Most luxury lodges do offer laundry.
How to Book: With so many moving parts, a safari is best booked via the pros; use a safari outfitter like Micato to make this bucket-list trip go without a hitch. Micato can help you set the ideal itinerary, picking the best lodges (especially the ones with impeccable pandemic safety standards for both guests and staff) and organizing transportation (even private charter flights) between them. The best part of traveling with Micato is that you’ll have a local guide, a Safari Director, with you the entire time, who will be not only your wildlife expert but also your logistics manager. With Micato, you can either join a pre-organized group safari or customize a private experience, which might be ideal as we come out of the pandemic. However, it is a far pricier option.
When to Book: At least a year in advance
Total Cost: Budget at least $30,000 for two for roughly two weeks. (Micato safaris are all-inclusive, covering lodging, meals with beer and wine, laundry, tips, and transfers.) —Stefanie Waldek
A Private Island Rental in Cambodia
Sleeping on a private island is a dream for many travelers—it’s just you and the gently lapping waves. Unfortunately, it’s beyond the budget for many, especially when you consider popular places like the Maldives. However, there are cheaper ways to do it, and one of our favorites is by booking your private island stay on one of the Cambodian islands in the Gulf of Thailand, also known as the Cambodian Riviera. These islands are part of the same island chain as the popular and pricier Thai islands like Phuket and Koh Samui and have many of the same characteristics—powder-soft sand, crystal clear water, and swaying palms—but are generally less overrun and cheaper. Even the most luxurious private island resorts in Cambodia can be booked for at least 20 percent less than their Thai counterparts.
When to Go: November–April for the dry season.
Airfare: Starts at around $850 round-trip to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, plus you’ll need an internal flight to Sihanoukville, which costs about $500 round-trip.
Where to Stay: The five-star Song Saa (from $1,000, all-inclusive options available) was the first luxury private island resort in Cambodia, and accommodation options include over-water villas. The equally luxurious Six Senses Krabey Island (from $735), known for its wellness program, has 40 pool villas and reopens later this year. Koh Russey Villas & Resort (from $350) also reopens this year (it was previously an Alila property when it opened in 2018) and is an excellent value for the price—they offer posh suites (called pavilions) as well as stand-alone villas. If you’re looking for a true budget option, you’ll want to book Nomads Land Koh Totang (from $75), which are basic beach bungalows.
Packing Tips: Cambodia is very hot and humid, so bring your island clothes: shorts, t-shirts, sarongs, dresses, bathing suits, sunglasses, and plenty of sunscreen. If you’re combining your private island stay with other parts of Cambodia or planning to make some mainland day trips, make sure to pack comfortable walking or hiking shoes and scarves and modest clothes for temple visits.
When to Book: Around three months in advance is ideal, although last-minute deals are possible. Song Saa has several special offers right now, though, including buy three nights, get a fourth free, and up to 40 percent off bookings with unlimited free changes for bookings made before Jan. 31, 2021.
How to Book: This is an easy trip to book and plan on your own, especially if you go with one of the high-end resort options because they will assist in planning and transportation within Cambodia. If you choose Nomads Land Koh Totang, you’ll have to do more legwork in terms of transportation and food preparation, but all resorts provide boat transportation to and from the island. Book your flight to Cambodia and the flight to Sihanoukville online.
If you want to make your private island stay part of a larger Cambodia trip, consider booking a tour with InsideAsia Tours for Cambodia (from $14,600 per person for 16 days), which includes a stay at Song Saa and other luxury accommodations, an Aqua Mekong Cruise, Angkor Wat tours with a helicopter ride over Koh Ker and Beng Mealea temples, and more. Note that flights to and from Cambodia are not included.
Travel Tip: If you have extra time, instead of flying into Sihanoukville, you can save money by taking a bus for around $10 from Phnom Penh or Siem Reap that will take about five or six hours. You can also hire a private taxi for about $60. Be aware that some roads are dirt and might be very bumpy.
Total Cost: About $15,250 for the full tour (16 days); about $6,500 for a luxury resort (five days); about $2,500 for budget option with a stay at Nomads Land (five days) —Devorah Lev-Tov
Until space tourism really lifts off, Antarctica is the final frontier for most travelers, which is why a cruise to the White Continent is such a coveted bucket-list trip. Plus, only a handful of ships are cleared for polar itineraries, making an Antarctica expedition all the more exclusive. But the investment is certainly worth the big price tag—there’s nothing quite like seeing the vast expanse of Antarctica, the sharp blue-and-white peaks of icebergs, and the millions-strong colonies of penguins!).
When to Go: The Antarctic sailing season runs from late October into early March, which is summer in the Southern Hemisphere. Visit on the earlier side for the most pristine landscapes and the later side for more abundant wildlife.
Airfare: Around $1,000 round-trip from the U.S. to Ushuaia
Things to Consider
- Ship Size: Pick a ship with fewer than 500 passengers, and ideally just 200. Only 100 people can disembark a cruise ship at a time per the International Association of Antarctica Tour Operators, so you’ll spend far more time on larger ships than off them. Even worse, some of the largest ships won’t even make port at all—you’ll do a sail-by of Antarctica.
- Operator: There are two types of sailings: those operated by the cruise lines themselves and those operated by tour companies that charter ships from the cruise lines. There’s not really a pro of one over the other, but if you’re booking a charter, remember to investigate the ship for your itinerary. Some ships are more bare-bones (scientific expedition ships) than luxurious.
- Itinerary: The shortest itineraries are roughly a week and a half long, and they’re a quick jaunt to Antarctica and back. If you’re making the trek, consider booking a longer itinerary that includes South Georgia and the Falkland Islands, both of which teem with wildlife like penguins, albatross, seals, and whales. South Georgia is also the final resting place of legendary explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton, and his grave is a must-visit for lovers of Antarctic history.
Travel Tip: Consider booking via a travel advisor, as they can often score discounts or perks like suite upgrades on this notoriously pricey trip. As for ships, we recommend Lindblad Expeditions' brand-new National Geographic Endurance or the mega-yacht Scenic Eclipse.
When to Book: Many sailings book up a year in advance, though sometimes you can score last-minute deals when the cruise lines try to fill any remaining inventory. While the payoff can be high, it’s a risky move—last-minute flights to Ushuaia might negate any savings on the sailing itself.
Total Cost: Expect to shell out $20,000 for two for shorter itineraries on expedition-style ships and at least $50,000 for two for longer trips on luxury ships. —Stefanie Waldek
A Perfect Ski Trip to Aspen
Skiing the Rockies is a right of passage for many skiers, and Aspen is the premier spot to do it. Between its luxe hotels, splashy aprés ski scene, and, oh yeah, world-class slopes, Aspen has it all. And while the mountain town is one of the pricier Colorado options, nearby Snowmass is more affordable and allows you to still ski Aspen mountain. In fact, your lift ticket will let you ski four area mountains—Aspen, Snowmass, Buttermilk, and Highlands—making it a great value. Plus, there’s plenty for the non-skiers in your group to do, from ice skating and tubing to art museums to incredible drinking and dining.
When to Go: December through April for ski season—although Aspen is wonderful in all seasons.
Airfare: Starts at around $300 round-trip from New York or $250 from Los Angeles
Where to Stay: The uber-luxurious The Little Nell (from $1,200 per night; from $585 per night in April) offers a five-star boutique experience and is the place to see and be seen, while the W Aspen (from $538 per night) and Limelight Hotel Snowmass (from $579 per night; from $199 per night in April) are ideal mid-range options for families. Limelight is currently offering 25 percent off four or more nights. A more affordable option is Stonebridge Inn (from $219 per night) in Snowmass. You can also book a vacation rental home if you need more space.
Packing Tips: Aspen in winter is cold and snowy. Bring your ski gear, plenty of warm clothes, and lots of layers, as well as boots, hats, gloves, scarves, and a ski jacket.
When to Book: Usually, you need to plan about six months ahead, but there are last-minute deals and availability for the current ski season. It’s advisable to buy lift tickets online in advance this season due to pandemic restrictions.
How to Book: Book flights and hotels online, as well as lift tickets(from $149 for a one day pass) and ski or snowboard rentals (from $63, save up to $10 if you book in advance). If you’ll need group or private lessons or ski school for kids, book online in advance to save money. Make reservations for popular restaurants and après ski spots a few weeks in advance (many have outdoor set-ups). Packages like this one include 20 percent off accommodations and a free lift ticket day.
Travel Tip: In early April, hotel and lift ticket prices drop significantly, but the snow is still fresh. Just check your dates carefully and make sure the ski season is still open; the season ends April 18, 2021, this winter. Aspen and Highlands are the most challenging mountains, while Buttermilk is the easiest, and Snowmass is ideal for all skill levels.
Total Cost: From $3,000 for four nights. —Devorah Lev-Tov
The Ultimate Road Trip in Western Australia
For those who have already “done” Australia—we’re talking Sydney, Melbourne, the Great Barrier Reef, and even Uluru—a grand road trip through Western Australia should be your next vacation Down Under. At more than 1 million square miles, the country’s largest state is about four times the size of Texas and encompasses all sorts of landscapes, from verdant wine regions to the rugged Outback to azure seas and white-sand beaches. Western Australia is also home to Perth, one of the world’s most remote major cities, as well as Rottnest Island and its famous smiling quokkas!
When to Go: Climate-wise, Western Australia covers it all; it’s extremely hot up north, and much, much more temperate down south. Based on that alone, we suggest fall, winter, or spring for a road trip to take advantage of the most manageable temperatures. Some aquatic wildlife seasonality to keep in mind: March to July for whale sharks, May to December for manta rays, and June to October for humpback whales.
Airfare: Around $1,400 round-trip from the U.S. to Perth
Where to Go
Give each of these segments at least one week, and tack on an additional one for extra driving time if connecting all three!
- South of Perth: For a low-key foodie road trip with some fantastic landscapes to boot, drive south from Perth into the Margaret Valley wine region—stay at the enchanting Cape Dutch–style Cape Lodge. Continue onto Esperance for the scenic beaches along the Great Ocean Drive and the famous pink Lake Hillier, then drive on to Hyden to see the iconic Wave Rock. It’s no Uluru, but it’ll make for a lovely photo nonetheless.
- Ningaloo Reef: For a more adventurous road trip that’s all about the sea, drive north from Perth, up through the beaches of Jurien Bay and the sea cliffs in Kalbarri National Park, then onto Exmouth, the backpacker town that serves as a hub for the Ningaloo Reef. This fringing reef sits just feet off the beach and extends for miles and miles—in just a minute or two in the water, you might spot sea turtles, octopi, sharks, and fish in every color in the spectrum. Book a multi-day snorkel or scuba charter with Sail Ningaloo to discover the best of the reef (and to swim with manta rays in the right season), and don’t miss swimming with whale sharks and humpback whales with a tour operator like Ningaloo Discovery. For overland activities, hit up the local breweries Froth Craft and Whalebone, or take a 4WD excursion into Cape Range National Park, home to the adorable (and rare) black-footed rock wallabies. Accommodations in Exmouth are pretty casual, but if you’re looking to splurge, try luxury glamping on the beach at Sal Salis.
- The Kimberley: Looking to put your road trip skills to the test? The rugged and remote Kimberley region is calling your name. Drive from the beachy city of Broome to the remote town of Kununurra through vast 40,000-year-old landscapes, either via the paved Great Northern Highway or the 4WD-only Gibb River Road, which you might consider the Outback version of Route 66. Whichever route you take, spend a night or two at El Questro, a 700,000-acre wilderness park that’s an outdoor lover's paradise; book scenic helicopter flights, hiking expeditions, and guided excursions to the famous Emma’s Gorge. Stay at the rustic El Questro Station for a taste of cattle station life, or splurge on the ultra-luxe El Questro Homestead.
Driving Tips: Don’t stray from the road, lest you get lost and die of thirst. Seriously! Bring plenty of water and snacks—some of the stretches of road are really remote. And definitely let someone know your itinerary, just in case something goes wrong.
When to Book: There’s usually availability until the last minute, except for some of the prime accommodations in more remote regions.
Total Cost: If you’re on a shoestring budget, you can reasonably spend $4,500 for two, including flights, provided you spend the month camping. But $7,000 is more reasonable for standard accommodations. And if you’re going all-out with the remote luxury lodges, you can easily spend $15,000 or more. —Stefanie Waldek
A Gourmand's Tour of Rome and Tuscany
Italy remains a favorite destination for so many, so it’s not surprising that it tops the list of many for 2021, as soon as borders open up. While there are many reasons to visit the beloved boot, the food, and wine scene is often in the top three, and deservedly so. While each region of the country has unique cuisine, two of our favorite foodie spots to hit are Rome and Tuscany. In Rome, visitors enjoy premier pasta, thin Roman pizza, fried artichokes, and so much more, while Tuscany’s wine can’t be beaten. Together, the two destinations make for the ultimate foodie trip.
When to Go: May to October will have the best weather, although summer is pretty hot in Rome and both places can be crowded and flights and accommodations more expensive. Fall is ideal for truffles and grape harvest, and spring and fall will often have better prices and fewer people.
Airfare: Flights from New York start at around $500 round-trip but can go up dramatically from there, especially in summer. Booking really early or really last minute can sometimes net good deals.
Where to Stay
- Rome: If you book the Roman Penthouse at Baglioni Hotel Regina, you can book a three-course private cooking class with Chef Luciano Sarzi Sartori in your suite, complete with wine pairings. The recently renovated Sofitel Rome Villa Borghese has plush rooms with exquisitely painted ceilings, and the Settimo Bar & Restaurant offers Roman cuisine and a rooftop terrace with stunning views—plus you can use or earn Accor reward points there. H’All Tailor Suite has just 14 curated rooms and is also home to the Michelin-starred All’Oro restaurant. For a still-lovely but more affordable option, check out Nerva Boutique Hotel, near the Roman Forum.
- Tuscany: COMO Castello Del Nero is a stunning Tuscan castle-turned-luxury-hotel that offers foodie experiences like truffle hunting, olive oil harvesting, gelato making, wine making, and more. The hotel, perched on the rolling hills of Chianti, has three dining venues, including the Michelin-starred La Torre. Toscana Resort Castelfalfi is an expansive resort in the medieval village of Castelfalfi with various accommodation options and one-site experiences like vineyard tours and wine and olive oil tastings. Chef-led tours of the estate’s vegetable garden and outdoor cooking classes of classic Tuscan dishes are also offered. Aside from hotels, Tuscany is filled with gorgeous villas, and many can be booked with private chefs, like this one or this one.
Packing Tips: Weather ranges from mild to hot so layers are key, along with comfortable shoes, stretchy pants (so you can eat a lot!), and sunscreen.
When to Book: Booking up to four months in advance will ensure you can book the Michelin-starred and other popular restaurants you want to dine at, as well as other experiences that might fill up.
How to Book: Most major tour companies offer Italy trips, and many have a Roman and Tuscan food-focused tour. For an all-inclusive (minus the flight) luxury tour, check out Ultimate Driving Tours' new Tuscany Self-Drive with a sports car and food and drink experiences (from $6,750) or Classic Journey’s A Taste of Tuscany Culinary Tour (from $5,095 per person). If you’re ready to splurge on a completely custom tour, you’ll want Abercrombie & Kent’s Tailor Made Italy Foodie Adventure (from $14,295 per person)—expect to experience everything you want and more. For wine lovers who really want to learn about Tuscan wine, try SOJRN’s immersive workcation, a four-week long Wine in Siena school (from $3,599 per person). For a more affordable tour, there’s Contiki Italian Espresso Foodie, a food-focused tour through Rome and Tuscany (from $1,999 per person). Or, do it yourself by booking some cooking classes and day tours by ToursByLocals (from $267) or Urban Adventure, which offer experiences like cooking classes on an olive farm, cheesemaking class, and a pasta factory tour.
Total Cost: A well-budgeted trip can be done for around $3,000 (see that Contiki tour), but prices can easily go up from there, with a mid-range trip for about a week costing around $6,500 and luxury options even more. —Devorah Lev-Tov
Romance and Luxury in Paris
Paris is always a good idea, but doubly so if you do it right—and by right, we mean in utter luxury. So forget the backpacking trip you took during your gap year or the whirlwind weekend you took with your gal pals after heartbreak in your 20s. On this bucket-list trip to Paris, it’s all about over-the-top indulgences with luxury hotels.
When to Go: Spring or fall are ideal; Paris can get pretty hot in the summer, and there’s not always air-conditioning! Winter, on the other hand, can be quite wet.
Airfare: From $500 round-trip in economy, $3,000 round-trip (or more) in business-class
Where to Stay: It’s all about the hotel when you want to do Paris in luxury, and the 12 palace hotels are the best of the best. In fact, these hotels could be considered destinations all on their own. The highest hotel ranking in France—even above five stars—the “palace hotel” designation is given properties that not only have the ultimate level of luxury service but also have a distinction as an embodiment of French culture and heritage. Our picks: Le Meurice for classic French style (and a prime location in the 1st arrondissement across from the Tuileries), Le Royal Monceau for over-the-top artistic flair (you can thank designer Philippe Starck for that), and Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme for contemporary, sexy discretion (you’re not here to see and be seen…).
When to Book: You can book a stay relatively last minute, but doing so a few months in advance is advised, especially if you're planning on any Michelin-starred dining. If you’re visiting during a busy time (think Christmas or Fashion Week), definitely book earlier rather than later.
Travel Tip: Use the concierge to your benefit. They can score coveted last-minute dinner reservations, set up private tours of museums, or organize a private shopping spree at your favorite designer’s atelier. You don’t need to wait until your arrival—once you’re booked with the hotel, you can work with your concierge in advance of your stay, and, in fact, this is encouraged to give them time to work their magic.
Total Cost: Varies, but expect to spend at least $1,000 per night at these hotels. So, that’s $13,000 for a week for two, including business-class airfare—this is a luxury trip, after all. —Stefanie Waldek
Northern Lights in Sweden
Seeing the wavering green and glowing aurora borealis glimmer across a cold night sky is one of the most incredible sights in the world. And while there are several places to try and catch the elusive lights, Arctic Sweden presents a magical winter experience in Lapland, complete with reindeer, ice hotels, Sami culture, and steaming saunas. It’s important to ensure that the destination you choose to chase the Northern Lights in is one that you’d like to visit anyway—because there’s always a chance you’ll miss seeing the lights. But, if you book a trip with an experienced guide, your chances of catching the aurora increase dramatically, and it’s an experience you won’t soon forget.
When to Go: September to March is the best time for aurora borealis sightings.
Airfare: Flights usually start around $600 round-trip from New York, but Norwegian Air can sometimes have deals as low as $450. Around the holidays, prices will increase.
Where to Stay: Spending the night at the IceHotel in Jukkasjärvi is a bucket list experience all its own, thanks to artist-carved ice rooms, sipping drinks at the ice bar, and sauna steams. Before snuggling into your provided expedition-level sleeping bag atop a reindeer pelt on your ice bed, scan the sky overhead for the Northern Lights and in the morning you’ll be woken with a steaming cup of warm lingonberry juice. Another only-in-Sweden accommodation is the Treehotel, which has eight uniquely designed treehouses like the Mirrorcube and Bird’s Nest, with the chance to see the aurora as you spend the night among the trees. Not to be outdone, the Arctic Bath hotel opened in 2020 with 12 cabins on a riverbank surrounding a fantastical spa with plunge pools and saunas, where the lights might dance overhead. For a more affordable stay, Camp Ripan in Kiruna is an ideal base for light chasing, and has a wonderful spa complete with indoor and outdoor heated pools, various saunas, and experiential showers.
Packing Tips: Temperatures are consistently below freezing this time of year, and snow and storms are common. Pack your warmest clothes and bring lots of layers. You’ll also want a heavy coat, snow pants, gloves, hat, scarf, boots. And don’t forget to pack a camera with a tripod if you’re trying to photograph the lights.
When to Book: Six months to one year in advance—start now for the end of the year. A last-minute trip might be possible, but with restrictions still in place for traveling to Europe, it’s unlikely you’d be able to get there before this aurora season ends.
How to Book: A tour with a professional guide is highly recommended for this kind of trip. Rapidly changing weather conditions not only make it hard to catch the lights but also to ensure safety. Professional guides will always have a plan B amid possible road closures and storms and make sure you’re always safe. And of course, a professional guide will increase your chances of getting to see the lights as they are professional trackers with the right tools and know all the best viewing places. Check out Scott Dunn US (from $2,300 per person), Abercrombie & Kent (custom and private, from $15,495 per person), and Off the Map Travel (from $1,400 per person) are all great tour options.
Total Cost: Expect to spend about $2,500 for a week-long or 10-day trip. —Devorah Lev-Tov
A Peruvian Adventure by Train
As one of the new seven wonders of the world, Machu Picchu is, understandably, a big-ticket item on many travelers’ bucket lists. But if you went all the way to Peru just to see Machu Picchu, you’d be missing out on some incredible adventure. Combine a visit to the ancient wonder with a train ride through the highlands, a cruise on the Amazon, and a foodie exploration of Lima.
When to Go: Dry season is the high season—the best conditions are from May through October.
Airfare: From $500 round-trip (less from Florida, more from New York or Los Angeles)
Where to Go
- Lima: Ever-cosmopolitan Lima has a well-earned reputation as a foodie city. Peruvian cuisine combines local agricultural riches, ancient Incan traditions, and Japanese and European influences for a fusion unlike any other. Make reservations at chef Virgilio Martínez Véliz’s flagship Central, ceviche hotspot La Mar, Japanese-Peruvian Maido, and Gastón Acurio’s Astrid y Gastón. As for where to stay: Hilton Miraflores for contemporary style in the heart of the city’s most desirable neighborhood, Country Club Lima for classic luxury, and Hotel B for a boutique stay in bohemian Barranco.
- Amazon River: Fly into the remote city of Iquitos, surrounded by nothing but miles of the Amazon rainforest, and head for the high seas—or rather, the Amazon river. Cruise lines Delfin and Aqua Expeditions offer three- and four-night sailings that’ll take you deep into the rainforest, where you’ll rendezvous with pink dolphins, hungry piranhas, and three-toed sloths. Delfin’s fleet of riverboats takes a more traditional, rustic approach to decor, while Aqua Expeditions is about contemporary style—but both are highly luxurious. Pack your bathing suit if you’re brave enough to take a dip in the river!
- Machu Picchu/Sacred Valley/Cusco: On your way to Machu Picchu, after flying into Cusco, spend a few nights in the Sacred Valley to acclimate to the high elevation. Stay at Tambo del Inka, a Luxury Collection Resort & Spa, if you’re seeking relaxation, or Sol y Luna if you’re interested in booking some adventurous excursions. Take the train from Ollantaytambo to Aguas Calientes, the base camp for Machu Picchu (stay at SUMAQ Machu Picchu for a luxury experience focused on Incan culture—the hotel can organize a tour of Machu Picchu with a shaman). Finish this leg of your journey with a few days in bustling Cusco, where Incan, colonial Spanish, and contemporary Peruvian cultures meet. Stay at Inkaterra La Casona, housed in a 16th-century mansion.
- Peruvian Highlands (Lake Titicaca/Puno/Arequipa): From Cusco, you can take a two-night journey on the luxe sleeper train Belmond Andean Explorer. The brief itinerary includes a stop at the town of Puno on Lake Titicaca, where you’ll embark on a day trip across the lake, and a terminus at the UNESCO Heritage Site of Arequipa, a colonial city surrounded by three volcanoes.
When to Book: A year in advance
Travel Tip: If you’re combining these different regions, consider using the expertise of a travel advisor or tour operator to organize domestic flights and transfers, plus entrance tickets and guides for Machu Picchu (you’ll need both to enter the site). If you’re booking on your own, remember to buy entrance tickets to Machu Picchu a couple of months in advance—there’s limited availability each day. There are even fewer tickets available for Huayna Picchu and the Inca Trail, so book those ASAP if you’re planning on hiking them. And don’t forget train tickets to Machu Picchu, as the trains are the only way to get to Aguas Calientes unless you’re hiking the Inca Trail).
Total Cost: About $14,000 for two weeks for two, including airfare —Stefanie Waldek
Hiking the National Parks in the American West
Tramping through the Western United States’ glorious national parks is one of the world's greatest hiking experiences. From the Grand Canyon to Yellowstone to Yosemite, many iconic American trails are found along the West Coast. And while everyone should experience these popular parks at least once, there are plenty of underrated national parks more than worth visiting, especially if you want to avoid crowds and save money. And trust us, Saguaro National Park and White Sands National Park just as impressive. And whichever route you choose, if you can avoid a summer visit, you’re also likely to have parts of the parks all to yourself.
When to Go: If you can avoid the summer months, you’ll avoid high heat and massive crowds—spring and fall are ideal times to save money and see fewer people while still experiencing untold beauty. But really, April to October is ideal for hiking-focused trips.
Airfare and Transportation: Airfare to Las Vegas, a good starting point for many routes, is around $250 roundtrip from New York. Flights into Wyoming or Montana for Yellowstone or Glacier National Park are usually a little more expensive, at about $450. The latest trend is charter flights, and if you really want to go all out, book Abercrombie & Kent’s Tailor Made National Parks by Air with stops in the Grand Canyon, Arches, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton. (It will run you a cool $125,000, all-inclusive.) Another option is the train, and Amtrak Vacations has a train package with stops in Yosemite, Yellowstone, and the Grand Canyon (from $3,099, including accommodation). Otherwise, you’ll need a car or an RV to get between parks.
Where to Go
There are a few classic routes that everyone should experience at some point in their lives, but if you’ve already done the classics or enjoy getting off the beaten path, there are plenty of options. Each of these routes takes about a week.
- Utah and Arizona: If you’ve never seen the Grand Canyon, now’s the time. The gaping gorge is truly awesome, and it’s easily combinable with several other great parks. It’s worth planning enough in advance to nab a room at the historic El Tovar Hotel or the Bright Angel Lodge, which are both right on the south rim. After a couple of days hiking one of the rims, head to Bryce and Zion national parks in Utah, two perennial hiking favorites with incredibly unique rock formations, gorges, and mountains. In Bryce, admire the one-of-a-kind hoodoos and descend into the canyon on The Queen's Garden/Navajo Loop or the longer Fairyland Loop. In Zion, choose from hikes like the water-sloshing Narrows, challenging Angel’s Landing, or the less popular Canyon Overlook Trail on the park’s east side. Spend the night at a posh rental home (like this or this) from Evolve Vacation Rental or splurge on a luxury resort-like Amangiri or the family-friendly Zion Ponderosa Ranch Resort. Utah is filled with parks, so if you have more time, visits to the less popular Canyonlands, National Reef, and Arches national parks are all worthwhile.
- Wyoming and Montana: Another classic route takes visitors through Wyoming and Montana's exquisite parks, two of the most ruggedly beautiful states in the country. One of America’s favorite parks—and the very first designated national park—Yellowstone straddles both states (and a little bit of Idaho). With more than 1,000 miles of hiking trails, one can spend an entire week just exploring that park. Recommended hikes include Electric Peak, Lamar River Trail, and Fairy Falls Trail, to name just a few. Since the park is so huge, it’s worth booking a few nights at different lodges inside the park, like the centrally located Canyon Village, which has various accommodations, and the iconic Old Faithful Inn. For a luxurious stay outside the park, book the Four Seasons Jackson Hole, which offers various park tours. If you want to add on other parks, Grand Teton is an excellent place to hike the Rockies (try Cascade Canyon Trail) and spot wildlife. At the same time, Glacier National Park in Montana is a showstopping stunner that can be a little less crowded than Yellowstone, especially in spring and fall. Hidden Lake Trail is a good moderate hike, while Granite Park Trail and the Garden Wall offer more challenging terrain. There are nine lodging options inside the park and thousands of campsites in and around the park, or book a simple cabin just outside the park, like this one.
- Under the Radar in the Southwest: If you’re looking to avoid popular parks altogether on this trip, we suggest making your way down to the southern part of Arizona. Start in Tucson, home to Saguaro National Park, named after the thousands of iconic cacti of the same name. Stay at the famed Tanque Verde Ranch, an authentic dude ranch near the Douglas Springs trailhead, which offers gorgeous waterfall views. Or, book one of six campgrounds inside the park that must be hiked to. About 100 miles east is Chiricahua National Monument, which has towering hoodoos and balancing rocks reminiscent of the more popular Bryce Canyon in Utah. Hiking Echo Canyon and the Sarah Deming Canyon Loop will give you a great overview of the 12,000-acre park. Continue into New Mexico and drive about three hours to White Sands National Park to peep the sweeping white dunes there. The park has just four easy hiking trails and one that’s more challenging, the Alkali Flat Trail—which is not flat!
Packing Tips: There will be milder temps in the spring and fall, and it can get extremely hot in summer at the parks in Utah and Arizona. However, the parks in Montana and Wyoming can still be pleasant in summer. While many parks are stunning and desolate in winter, many hiking trails and roads will be closed. Regardless of the season, pack lots of layers, waterproof jackets, sunscreen, bug spray, hats, hiking shoes, a comfortable backpack, binoculars, headlamps, flashlights, and hydration bottles. And if you plan on camping, make sure you have the right gear.
When to Book: Two to six months in advance is usually sufficient; however, if you want to stay inside some of the more popular parks like the Grand Canyon, you’ll need to book about a year in advance as those lodges fill up quickly.
How to Book: As domestic travel has become more popular in the last year, many more national parks tours have come online, like GAdventure's tour of Utah’s Big Five, which includes guided hikes, camping in tents, transport, and meals (on sale now for $1,421 per person), or Excursionist's Wild West for Families (Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone, Grand Teton National Parks for $3,700 per person). To dive deep into one or two specific parks, check out tours like Country Walkers’ Montana: Glacier Park, Utah: Bryce and Zion Canyons, or Wyoming: Grand Teton and Yellowstone, six-day off-the-beaten-path guided hiking tours (from $2,948). Of course, one of the best things about a national parks trip is that it’s easy to DIY it by booking transportation and hotels, campsites, or rental homes yourself. If you want to do a hike with a professional guide, you can reserve private, guided day hikes via ToursByLocals (from $695), but with a good map and the proper gear, it’s easy to hike on your own as well. Campspot is a great planning site that details campsites, RV parks, cabins, and even hiking trails.
Travel Tip: During the summer months, especially, getting an early start is key. Not only will you beat the crowds, but you can also avoid hiking during the highest temperatures of the day. But planning your trip for a shoulder season is really your best bet for avoiding crowded trails—plan your trip for just before schools let out or right in the fall. And finally, try to stay in at least one lodge inside the park, and do at least one night of camping if you can swing it—the experience of being able to wake up inside a park is unmissable.
Total Cost: There are so many ways to do a national park trip, and budgets vary widely. You can spend $1,000 to $100,000 and everything in between, depending on whether you go camping, drive yourself, get an RV, stay in luxury hotels, hire guides, or fly charters between parks. —Devorah Lev-Tov