25 Must-Have Travel Experiences

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Dino Reichmuth/Unsplash

A list of the most exceptional adventures a person should seek out was compiled by two writers with a global perspective, a chef, an architect, and a landscape photographer. These are the outcomes.

A five-person jury, which included writers Pico Iyer and Aatish Taseer, an architect named Toshiko Mori, a chef named David Zilber, and a landscape photographer named Victoria Sambunaris, convened over Zoom one morning in July to discuss what exactly qualifies as a “travel experience” and how some might stand out from the rest. Each panellist had listed at least 10 candidates before the call to help start the discussion; their current task was to reduce that list from 55 to 25.

History and world view

Some panellists rescinded nominations for experiences they hadn’t had themselves, despite having dreamed for years about what it might be like to, say, hike through Japan’s remote Yakushima Island National Park, the inspiration for Hayao Miyazaki’s “Princess Mononoke” (1997).

If something seemed too easy, they worried it might not be special enough.

The panel considered safety, too, with some participants concluding that what might make a destination “dangerous” is large, though not entirely, shaped by personal history and worldview.

Others wanted to be sure readers were asked to conduct their own research before deciding whether or not to set out for a particular place, as situations on the ground can change rapidly.

“War-torn countries and places in conflict right now haven’t always been and might not always be,” said

  1. Taste Wood-Smoked Sorcery at Asador Etxebarri in Spain’s Basque Country
Credit: Grant Harder & Gunnar Knechtel

The chef Victor Arguinzoniz was raised amid the rolling green hills of Atxondo, a small village in Spain’s Basque country where, when he was a child, his family kitchen had neither electricity nor gas. Perhaps that’s why the open hearth can produce such magic for him. He has no professional training but for 30 years has overseen a temple to smoke and flame at the Michelin-starred Asador Etxebarri, a rustic restaurant minutes from his childhood home. Arriving there, with its view of cattle grazing in the foothills below, is like stopping time. But in the kitchen, the clock has inched slightly forward: The six custom-made grills, designed by Arguinzoniz and adjustable via pulleys, are tools of culinary alchemy. The chef prepares his own wood coals in special ovens that are cranked up to 750 degrees Fahrenheit. For each protein, he pairs a fuel with the precision of a sommelier, selecting holm oak for delicate shellfish and turning to heartier vine wood for red meats. There’s only one service — at 1:30 p.m. — and one menu per day. The meal served in 15 courses, is a symphony that builds, plate by smoke-kissed plate, to a crescendo: first the smoked goat butter with Périgord truffle; then the salted, home-cured anchovies on grilled bread; then the beef chop with its crisp black sear and lustrous purple centre; and finally a coda of smoky-milk ice cream with an infusion of sweet beets. This is fine dining in its purest, most unpretentious form. — Debra Kamin

  1. Search for Muslim Spain in Al-Andalus
Credit: Fernanado Maquieira

From the eighth to the 11th centuries, the Iberian Peninsula, then under Muslim rule, was one of the world’s most important intellectual and artistic hubs. In the region of southern Spain known as Andalusia — the name a Hispanicization of Al-Andalus, as Islamic Spain was known — that heritage remains visible everywhere: in the crimped vocalizations of flamenco music; in the elaborate geometric friezes of Seville’s Alcázar Palace; in the infinite recess of the red-and-white archways of the Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba; and, above all, in Granada’s storied Alhambra, the last Moorish stronghold on the European continent, where it glitters in honeycomb muqarnas and moonlight-washed, waterway-threaded gardens. During the so-called Reconquista, as the centuries-long process through which Catholic kings gradually eroded territories accumulated by successive Muslim dynasties has been historically misnamed, the great cities of Andalusia became spectacular palimpsests of divergent faiths superimposed on top of each other. In Seville, the 15th-century cathedral — the largest Gothic-style building in Europe — stands on the footprint of an Almohad mosque whose graceful minaret was repurposed as a church tower, while in Córdoba, a Renaissance cathedral bursts from the austere, rhythmic heart of the mezquita, itself built atop the remains of a sixth-century Visigothic basilica. After experiencing these spaces, one finds that the influence of Islamic aesthetics throughout Spain — and, indeed, throughout the Americas, devastated and remade under Spanish colonial rule — reveals itself everywhere. Beyond its beauty, Andalusia is a tribute to the indelible marks that cultures and communities leave on one another across time and space. — Michael Snyder

  1. Venture Into the Norwegian Night in Search of the Northern Lights
Credit: Chris Burkard/Verb Photo

Spotting the aurora borealis, the elusive natural phenomenon colloquially known as the northern lights, involves careful coordination of time, place and, yes, luck. Like a digital rendering or laser beams projected above an after-hours rave, the unpredictable show illuminates the sky with dancing streaks of saturated yellow, pink, purple and green, a tangoing of solar gas and Earth’s magnetic field rendered in Technicolor. Locales roughly 66.5 degrees above the Equator, where the Arctic Circle begins, are considered prime viewing spots; cottage industries across Alaska, Canada and Scandinavia have sprung up to sell package tours and overnight accommodations to aurora hunters. Lofoten, an archipelago off Norway’s northwest coast, offers one of the most picturesque backdrops for witnessing this mercurial sight. There, a coastline framed by jagged peaks, sweeping fjords, sandy beaches and rorbu, old fishermen’s cabins painted cherry red and pine green, makes for a serene visit, day or night. Winters on the archipelago are long (November to April) and dark (for five weeks in December and January, the sun doesn’t even rise), so consider them a prime time to settle down on a north-facing beach (Unstad and Gimsøy are particularly beautiful) or sink into a hot tub at a heritage fishing lodge, neck craned skyward — and wait. The anticipation is half the fun. — Aileen Kwun

  1. Journey Across Two Continents and Eight Time Zones on the Trans-Siberian Railway
Credit: Michael Turek

Travelling to Russia now, as its war with Ukraine continues, is virtually impossible: Nearly all international flights have been suspended, and the State Department has recommended that Americans steer clear of the country. How or whether Russia’s relationship with the rest of the world, not to mention its tourism industry — a frivolous concern compared to the immense suffering of the Ukrainian people — will recover remains to be seen. But in more peaceful times, riding the Trans-Siberian Railway and its shorter connecting lines is an unparalleled experience — a tour through the many and varied cultures that make up the largest country on Earth. The 5,772 miles of track from Moscow to Vladivostok, built at the turn of the 20th century at the behest of Emperor Alexander III, constitutes by itself the longest continuous railway in the world, and before the pandemic and then the war interrupted its international reach, sleeper cars could take you from most major Western European capitals to Moscow in two or three days. From there, you can make it to the other end nonstop in seven days, but arranging layovers along the way allows for a variety of side excursions: Hop off at Yekaterinburg to see the Soviet-era architecture of Russia’s fourth-largest city, for example, or Irkutsk to visit the UNESCO World Heritage site of Lake Baikal, the world’s oldest and deepest freshwater lake. Better yet, switch at Ulan Ude to the Trans-Mongolian Railway, which extends through the capital of Ulaanbaatar and into the Gobi Desert, ideal for fossil hunting and camel riding, before arriving in Beijing. — Alwa Cooper

  1. Savor an Unforgettable Lunch at Ntounias in Western Crete
Credit: SteMajourneys

It takes a 45-minute drive from Chania, Crete, through the Greek island’s White Mountains to reach this mecca of homespun cooking in Drakona. Through scenic Therrisos Gorge, with occasional stops for sheep crossings, the journey is best made with the windows down, cooled by the hillside breeze and dazzled by the sun winking across limestone mountain caps. Expect a warm greeting upon arrival — the view from the terrace of the valley below will make up for any bumps in the rugged and twisty road — but don’t expect a menu. Along with his wife, Evmorfili, Stelios Trilyrakis, the chef, farmer, shepherd, butcher, owner and maître d’, takes care of all that. The daily bounty comes from an organic garden, part of the tavern Trilyrakis took over from his parents in 2004 after years of working as a chef in Chania. Guests are invited to tour the grounds and the nearby apiary as well as the wood stoves and ovens in the kitchen, though the meal rightfully remains the primary attraction. There might be a village salad (horiatiki), farm-baked bread and freshly churned butter, stuffed vegetables cooked in a traditional clay pot, potatoes fried in olive oil for close to an hour, goat sizzling in its own fat and house wine made on-site. In a country known for its cuisine, Ntounias stands apart. — Miguel Morales

  1. Join the Faithful in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for a Different Kind of White Christmas
Credit: Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

There is no Santa Claus in Ethiopia, no halls decked with holly. Christmas, which in so much of the Western world is a commercialized affair, is an intensely spiritual day here, observed not with gifts but with community, incantation and candlelight. The majority of Ethiopians are Christian and most worship freely, despite a history of extremist attacks on churches across the country. The nation follows a solar calendar, and Christmas, known as Genna, is observed on Jan. 7. The holiday begins with fasting on Jan. 6, when, at dusk, devotees head into the streets. In bustling Addis Ababa, a hush falls as thousands of men, women and children, all dressed in white and many wrapped in the traditional cotton robes called netelas, file to church like slow-moving snowdrifts. Many will worship all night, traveling by foot, lit candles in hand, from one church to the next until the small hours of morning. Ethiopia is home to some of the oldest and most beautiful churches in Africa, all of which are filled to capacity on Christmas Eve. (Visitors are welcome to observe.) In the capital, these include the Medhane Alem Cathedral, with its turquoise domes and columnar facade, and the Holy Trinity Cathedral, with its grand murals, jewel-toned stained glass windows and granite tombs in which Emperor Haile Selassie and his consort are interred. Some of the world’s oldest known human fossils have been unearthed from Ethiopian sands. On Christmas Eve, a nation that continues to endure famine and ethnic violence pauses for a prayer of peace. As worshipers pass one another and declare, “Melkam Genna!” — “Merry Christmas” in Amharic — the streets all but vibrate. — D.K.

  1. Traverse the Blossoming Oases and Ancient Desert Towns of Morocco’s Draa Valley
Credit: M’Hammed Kilito

In precolonial Morocco, the imposing grandeur of the Atlas Mountains marked the boundary between the bilad el-makhzen — land under the rule of the Alaouite sultan — and the bilad el-siba, or “region of anarchy.” Today, to drive the circuitous route through the Atlases and into the Draa Valley is to exist on that line: It’s a liminal place where verdant gardens and soaring minarets open onto the vast barrens of the Sahara. Departing from Marrakesh, head southeast to Ouarzazate, or “the door of the desert,” and then onto M’Hamid, whose Dar Paru hotel exemplifies Berber architecture, with its rammed-earth walls and geometric parapets. From there, follow the N9 and N12 roads to hew close to the Draa, a river that runs along the Algerian border, nourishing a landscape of riotous color: The mountains’ ochers, umbers and emeralds cede to rippling oases of blue palms, olive groves, fields of golden barley and sun-baked adobe casbahs. Once home to a bustling trade route, the region bears the marks of Morocco’s imbricated faiths and folkways. Fragrant date palms, first grown by Arabs who arrived in the seventh century, freckle stretches of arable land hemmed in by sand dunes. Towns such as Tissint draw their influences from the Berbers, who have lived in North Africa for more than 4,000 years. (“Tissint” is the Berber word for salt, another early commodity.) Further southeast, in Akka, more than 300 miles from Marrakesh, are the remains of a community of Jewish merchants and silversmiths who plied their trade in the area as early as the second century. Their homes — made of mud brick and stucco, with walls now jagged or altogether missing — stand as monuments to the Draa’s rich, syncretic past and to the enthralling boundlessness of its present. — Dan Piepenbring

 

  1. Come Face to Face With a Rare Marine Mammal Off the Coast of Southern Mozambique
Credit: Christopher P. Baker

Sea pig, sea cow, sea camel — the dugong’s epithets aren’t particularly evocative, but its serene presence is the highlight of any dive trip. The 200 or so animals that scientists estimate live in the protected waters of Bazaruto Archipelago National Park constitute the largest remaining dugong population on the East African coast. To experience them, you must fly into the nearest international airport, in the town of Vilankulo, and then organize a helicopter or dhow ride to one of the archipelago’s many resorts and lodges. There are numerous diving and snorkeling spots along Bazaruto’s famed Two-Mile Reef, which offers unusually clear visibility and a thriving coral population. Found in the shallow coastal waters of as many as 40 countries, the large and placid dugong (imagine a manatee with a wider, shorter snout) is intensely shy, and its population is considered “vulnerable,” according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species. Its hearing is sharp but its vision is poor; moving in slowly, silently and respectfully is key. Even so, only the luckiest Bazaruto divers will ever spot a dugong — often from a distance of several meters — drifting alone or in pairs. — A.C.

Credit: Sven Gruse/EyeEm/Getty Images

THE MIDDLE EAST

  1. Discover Paradise on Earth in the Secret Courtyard Gardens of Yazd, Iran
Credit: Marjan Yazdi

The very concept of paradise was born in Iran around 550 B.C., when Cyrus the Great, in the days of the Achaemenid Empire, oversaw the construction of a spectacular walled oasis called Parsargadae — a place of symmetry, flowering trees and calming waters — setting an example of how man might bend nature in pursuit of ultimate beauty. So deep do the Iranian roots of nirvana run that even the English word “paradise” comes from paridaida, the Old Persian term for walled garden. For those wishing to commune with Eden today, there’s perhaps no better place than Yazd, a 1,600-year-old Iranian desert town that was once a critical stop on the Silk Road. Here, the garden hotels of the city, which today is home to 530,000 people, pay homage to the Iranian legacy of paradise with their hidden courtyards. From the lush Kohan and the majestic Moshir Al Mamalek to the family-run Dad Hotel, the accommodations range from humble to luxurious. For guests who step through the door and out into the enclosed garden, hushed earthly delights of fountains and flowers — soft calla lilies, tulips and desert roses — await. — D.K.

  1. Swim in a Desert Oasis in Oman
Credit: Frans Sellies/Getty Images

Many of Oman’s wadis, or desert valleys, dry up in the scorching summer months, but wide pools of water glisten year-round at Wadi Bani Khalid. You drive through the desert and suddenly there it is: a cliché of a gleaming desert mirage. But this is no illusion. Above the pristine pools, date palms sway in the breeze, and the rocky white cliff sides of the Hajar Mountains reveal canyons and caves; if you hike into them, you can see shimmering waterfalls. Thousands of tiny garra fish flash beneath the surface of these pools, ready to nibble at the dead skin on your toes. Wadi Bani Khalid is a three-hour drive from Muscat, making it an ideal day trip, although there are lots of budget hotels and desert camps in the area. Many visitors stop first at the sandy outpost of Al Wasil for camel rides and an overnight stay in a Bedouin-style tent. From there, the mountain road winds through fishing villages until the vast expanse of Wadi Bani Khalid, with its nearly 12-mile stretch of water, appears on the horizon. Its natural beauty is as intact today as it was when Oman’s Bedouin tribes relied on it, and a visit here offers an instant connection to the region’s deep history. The Oman government has helped develop the site in recent years, too, bringing with it a paved parking lot, bridges and public restrooms. — D.K.

  1. Delve Into 6,000-Plus Years of History at Erbil Citadel in Iraq
Credit: Alexander Bee/Getty Images

The longest continuously inhabited settlement in the world, Erbil Citadel lies at the heart of the modern-day capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. To the north, the Zagros Mountains beckon. The Kurdistan Regional Government has been developing trails there to promote hiking across a range that rivals the Alps in size — an impressive backdrop for one of the cradles of civilization. The 6,000-year-old fort sits atop a tell, a 100-foot-high mound the size of 19 football fields made by generations of Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities that built on top of one another. Courtyard homes constructed with oven-fired brick, said to be inspired by the ring of tents nomads once formed around their cattle, nestle inside the citadel walls. Their plain facades conceal branching floor plans that gave privacy to the extended families who once lived there. Visit the citadel with a guide in the late afternoon, when its brick walls turn the color of amber, and then drop by the bustling Qaysari Bazaar, one of the oldest covered markets in the world. Dating to the Ottoman era, it houses stalls of jewelry, textiles, crafts and sweets. Erbil and its citadel have withstood waves of conquest by Sumerians, Akkadians, Assyrians, Babylonians, Achaemenids, Greeks, Parthians, Romans, Sassanids, Muslims, Timurids, Mongols and Ottomans. To repair and preserve the settlement, the High Commission for Erbil Citadel Revitalization was formed in 2007; the Kurdistan Regional Government has allocated more than $30 million to the undertaking. But just as the citadel was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2014, the rehab stalled temporarily owing to the rise of ISIS. Work has since resumed; the ancient tell remains open; and, despite centuries of conquest and long spells of neglect, the citadel stands: a testament to the resilience of the human spirit. — M.M.

  1. Marvel at the Threatened Mud-Brick Skyscrapers of Yemen
Credit: Kelly Cheng/Getty Images

In an ancient Semitic world as yet undivided by modern faiths, long before the rise of Christianity or Islam, the cities of what we now call Yemen emerged from the desert as their inhabitants made their fortunes on frankincense and myrrh. As trade between southern Arabia and the Mediterranean flourished, beginning around the third century B.C., these new urban centers sprouted along the so-called Incense Route, their occupants developing, over time, ingenious systems of irrigation and urban planning that are as remarkable today as they were a thousand years ago. In the 2,500-year-old historic center of Sana’a, the capital of modern Yemen, residents adorned the ocher walls of their multistory homes with garlands of gypsum plaster, while in the town of Shibam, which emerged in its current form in the 16th century, rammed-earth towers rose as high as seven stories from a cliff’s edge overlooking the Wadi Hadhramaut, a vertiginous landscape that blurs the boundary between the natural and the man-made. For decades now, these ancient settlements and the people who reside within them have suffered crisis upon crisis — floods and famines and a years-long civil war that, since its beginning in 2014, has precipitated mass starvation, even as historic neighborhoods are shredded by U.S.-backed Saudi bombings. Among the most extraordinary human settlements on earth, the tower cities of Yemen — and, more important, the communities that have for millenniums called them home — are in grave danger of disappearing for good. — M.S.

ASIA

  1. Follow the Silk Road Through the Caravan Cities of Uzbekistan
Credit: Felix Odell

Step back in time with a visit to three of the most important stops on the Silk Road, each city a distinctive meld of Greek, Turkish, Mongol, Muslim and Russian cultures. In the tiled expanse of the Registan, ancient Samarkand’s public square framed by three madrasas (Islamic schools), stand transfixed beneath the grand portals, patterned minarets and ornate cupolas. A little down the road to the west lies Gur-e-Amir, the resting place of the Turco-Mongol conqueror Tamerlane. Resplendent with intricate tile work and crowned by a heavenly blue dome, the mausoleum inspired the Mughal master craftspeople of the Taj Mahal. A leisurely walk northeast, past new developments and century-old buildings, calls for a stopover at Siyob Bazaar, where you can wander the food stalls selling pomegranates, dates, halvah, naan and more. A few hundred paces away is Bibi-Khanym: One of the largest mosques built in the 15th century, the structure was restored to much of its former glory in the latter half of the 20th, its grand azure dome and four minarets suspended against the backdrop of the iwan. There are no direct flights from Samarkand to Bukhara, so take the scenic route by train, past rippling red sands, the oases that punctuate the bleached-out plains of the Kyzylkum Desert and Poi-Kalyan, the sprawling mosque complex, where the baked brick of minaret, madrasa and mosque glow pink at sunset. And though all three cities have centuries-old caravansaries — the famed inns where Silk Road merchants stayed — Ichan-Kala, a remnant of the ancient Khiva oasis, checkered with medieval Islamic buildings, appears completely untouched by time. Countless others have walked these walls before, and now you have joined your steps to theirs, grounded together in the richness of the past. — M.M.

  1. Tour the Lofty Potala Palace in Lhasa, a Sacred Repository of Tibetan Artifacts
Credit: Andrew Rowat

Rising out of a cliff face more than 12,000 feet above sea level, Tibet’s Potala Palace feels like a lavish retreat, a religious sanctuary and an impregnable fortress all in one. The climb to the top of the 13-story building is breathtaking in every sense of the word; make sure you’ve acclimated to the altitude before you attempt it. And the palace’s sloped red-and-white facade — repainted annually with a mixture of honey, milk, brown sugar and saffron — is as inviting as it is magisterial. (Frank Lloyd Wright found it so inspiring that he kept a photo of it in his drafting room.) Completed in 1649, the palace’s two divisions, one red and one white, together comprise at least one thousand rooms that encapsulate the vibrant multiplicity of Tibetan history. Guided tours, lit by traditional butter lamps, take you through rooms crowded with hundreds of murals, works of porcelain and jade, intricate carpets and Buddhist scriptures; the world’s longest scroll of Tibetan calligraphy, measuring 676 feet in length, has been housed here since 2014. Also on display are astonishing gilded stupas — wooden towers of concentric rings inlaid with jewels, each crowned with a sun and moon — containing the remains of eight Dalai Lamas. The Potala is a tribute to Buddhism and an embattled people; located on a mountaintop in the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, or “place of gods,” it has survived numerous attempts at looting and destruction since Tibet was annexed by China in 1950. Its resilience is reason enough to go. — D.P.

  1. Explore the Architectural Syncretism in South India’s Deccan Plateau
Credit: Ambroise Tézenas

The vast highlands stretching between the eastern and western coastal ranges of the peninsular subcontinent have seen the rise and fall of countless kingdoms, each of which has left behind architectural remains as proof of its former glory. Nowhere is that immense cultural wealth more evident than in the temple towns and former imperial capitals of northern Karnataka, near the Deccan Plateau’s semi-arid heart. Beginning in the sixth century, the Eastern Chalukya dynasty, a vast and culturally diverse empire, turned its successive capitals in the now-sleepy villages of Aihole and Badami and the ceremonial center of Pattadakal into hubs for experimentation in religious architecture, assembling free-standing temples from elaborately carved stone that drew influence from both North and South India and excavating and erecting sites of Hindu, Jain and Buddhist devotion. In the 14th century, the Muslim Bahmani kings introduced Persianate domes and crenellated walls at the fortress capital of Bidar, while in Bijapur, roughly six hours southwest, the skyline bristles with minarets and domes left behind by the Adil Shahi sultans, who ruled there in the 16th and 17th centuries. Farther south, the subcontinent’s last great Hindu empire blossomed in the city of Vijayanagar, built over the course of 200 years, then abandoned in 1565 after its defeat by the sultanates of the northern Deccan. Now known as Hampi, that great city marks the pinnacle of Dravidian architecture, with its soaring temple towers and colonnades. Taken together, these cities and towns, clustered in the northern districts of Karnataka state, represent a practically endless trove of architectural treasures at least as rich as the Mughal mosques and Rajput temples of North India’s well-trodden tourist circuit. More important, they speak to the long tradition of syncretism that has always defined India, a tradition that contemporary politics increasingly — and tragically — aims to erase. — M.S.

  1. Hike Japan’s Lore-Steeped Kumano Kodo Trail
Credit: Craig Mod

South of the ancient cities of Kyoto and Nara, Japan’s Kii Peninsula offers dramatic ocean vistas and dense old-growth cedar forests. Its flickering shadows, creeping mosses and shrouds of ethereal mist have enraptured pilgrims and seekers since antiquity, and the region’s awe-inspiring tranquillity has come to embody the long commingling of Shinto and Buddhist traditions. Every year, as many as 15 million people hike the Kumano Kodo, a network of trails more than a thousand years old and totaling more than 600 miles, whose cobblestone stairs and long wooden footbridges lead to three grand shrines: the Kumano Hongu Taisha, the Kumano Nachi Taisha and the Kumano Hayatama Taisha, all prized for their ability to heal and purify. (That last one is said to date to A.D. 128, when it was built for gods who’d descended to Earth.) Comprising seven routes around the peninsula or through the heart of the Kii Mountains, the Kumano Kodo is so sprawling that no two journeys will ever be alike, though all are formidable; its Kohechi trail, a four-day, 43-mile hike over three mountain passes, includes vertiginous ascents of more than 3,200 feet and is renowned for its difficulty. Those who make the strenuous climb will find weathered milestones, natural hot springs and a hand-operated cable car suspended over a riverbank. Visitors can seek shelter for the night at designated campsites or at minshuku, guesthouses scattered along the route. Further on, at the Kumano Nachi Taisha shrine, a stately three-tiered pagoda overlooks the 436-foot Nachi no Taki, Japan’s tallest single-drop waterfall, long considered a sacred entity, which has enveloped generations of travelers in its awesome roar. — D.P.

  1. Spend the Day in the Womblike Emptiness of the Teshima Art Museum in Japan
Credit: Iwan Baan

Before the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of travellers visited the art islands of Japan, a collection of some 20 former fishing and industry isles turned art havens scattered across the Seto Inland Sea, just over an hourlong flight from Tokyo. They made the trek via a combination of train, ferry, car, bus and bicycle, some with visions of Yayoi Kusama’s “Pumpkin” (1994), a polka-dot yellow fiberglass pumpkin positioned at the end of a pier, in their heads. That sculpture was responsible for much of the foot traffic at the Benesse Art Site on Naoshima, a small island with several museums designed by Tadao Ando, until it was swept out to sea during a typhoon in 2021. (The work was eventually recovered, restored and, last month, put back on display.) As Japan slowly reopens, the Art Islands continue to attract pilgrims. Inujima, Shodoshima and Megijima host installations and art fairs in once-abandoned buildings, but it’s Teshima Island, home of the Teshima Art Museum, that travelers most need to experience. Designed by the Tokyo-based architect Ryue Nishizawa, the museum’s low-lying concrete shell is a feat of engineering and a work of art in itself. Inspired by the bulbous curve of a water droplet resting on a sheet of glass, it appears to emerge organically from a forested hillside overlooking the sea. Inside, two open-air oculi frame shifting scenes of water, sky and sunlight alongside the museum’s single permanent installation, 2010’s “Bokei” (Matrix), by the Hiroshima-based artist Rei Naito. The contemplative work features beads of water that emerge from, the pool atop and are reabsorbed into pinholes perforating the floor. To enjoy a few hours in its engulfing silence, watching the light change with each passing hour, is to surrender to time itself. — A.K.

THE AMERICAS

  1. Take the Ultimate Road Trip: Drive the Pan-American Highway from Argentina to Alaska

 

Credit: Michael Turek

Roughly tracing the path that early man followed after crossing the land bridge over the Bering Strait, the Pan-American Highway runs at least 19,000 miles from Prudhoe Bay in Alaska to Ushuaia at the edge of Tierra del Fuego, a subantarctic territory split between Chile and Argentina. Crossing 14 countries and interrupted only by the ecologically fragile forests of the Darién Gap between Panama and Colombia, the highway — really a collection of interconnected freeways splintered across various routes — traverses the tundra of western Canada and the peaks of the Rockies, the deserts of northern Mexico and the pampas of Patagonia. Options for detours along the way are almost endless. You might weave through the national parks of the American West. In Mexico, depending on which route you take, you might feast on roasted goats in Monterrey or raw seafood in coastal Mazatlán. You could wander colonial cities like Antigua, Guatemala, or Granada, Nicaragua, and bird-watch in the rainforests of Costa Rica. In the valleys between Colombia’s triplicate Cordilleras, you could sip coffee among green hills in the department of Quindío and salsa dance in the lowland city of Cali. Following the Andes south, you’ll gaze upon the gilded extravagance of Ecuador’s whitewashed capital, Quito, or hike in the highland planes below the snow-dusted dome of Cotopaxi, that country’s highest active volcano. You could deviate from the main road to lose yourself in the endless white expanse of Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni, then follow the spine of South America through regions of Argentina and Chile punctuated by vineyards and lakes. To drive the Pan-American Highway is to glimpse the immensity of the Americas and the unthinkable marvels of a world both ancient and irrepressibly new. — M.S.

  1. Behold the Natural Wonders of Chile’s Atacama Desert
Credit: Nick Ballón

Ranging from the Pacific Coast to the Andean Altiplano and locked in the rain shadow of the world’s longest mountain range, the Atacama Desert, located mostly within northern Chile, is among the most alien landscapes on the planet. Pink flamingos gather at the edges of salt lakes the colour of lapis or topaz or garnet. Perfectly conical volcanoes loom over salt flats and desolate plains where guanacos, elegantly proportioned cousins of llamas, and viscachas, which resemble long-tailed rabbits, drift through prickly wisps of ground-hugging vegetation. Jets of steam slip through the arid turf in some of the highest geyser fields, and rocky hills drop into the frigid blue waters of the Pacific. Uncontaminated by light or clouds or moisture, the night sky explodes with stars, recorded and studied by some of the most advanced telescopes on Earth. Covering a swath of 70,000 square miles and contiguous with similar biomes in neighbouring corners of Argentina, Peru and Bolivia, the Atacama is so extreme in its atmospheric conditions that NASA used it as a test site for its Mars rovers in 2017. Until civilian space travel becomes a reality, the Atacama, with its spectral beauty, will remain perhaps the closest one can get to an extraplanetary experience. — M.S.

  1. Feast on the Cuisines of Oaxaca City, Mexico
Credit: James Thompson

The state of Oaxaca has long been a focal point of Mexican culinary identity. But in the past few years, the namesake capital’s limestone buildings and dazzling evening light have attracted unprecedented numbers of visitors, upending the equilibrium between its Indigenous identity and the constant demands of tourists for elegant restaurants and luxury hotels. Yet growing awareness of Oaxaca’s cultural wealth and diversity has also made it possible for chefs with local roots to open revelatory new businesses in spaces as simple as they are unforgettable. At Levadura de Olla, for instance, the chef Thalía Barrios García prepares food straight out of the remote hill country south of the city where she grew up. Bowls of black beans fragrant with wood smoke or, in season, tacos made with the brilliant crimson flowers of the pipe tree are the closest thing to country cooking you’re likely to find in any major city. Outside the centre, the chef Jorge León has turned the tranquil garden of his family home into a restaurant called Alfonsina, where he serves an ambitious, adventurous tasting menu that draws on his experience as a cook at Pujol, the high-concept gastronomic temple in Mexico City, while his mother and aunts turn out a parallel menu of traditional dishes like a meticulously prepared hoja santa-scented mole Amarillo. Every corner of this wondrous city and its surrounding countryside contains its own culinary jewels — from market stalls selling steamed tamales swaddled in banana leaves and crisp corn tlayudas folded like envelopes around sheets of chile-rubbed beef, to relaxed mezcalerías and market halls redolent of barbacoa cooked overnight in underground pits. The newer restaurants aim neither to replicate nor supplant these spaces but, rather, to honour them and, in their down-to-earth manner, expand their reach. — M.S.

  1. Dance Until You Drop at Carnival in Cuba
Credit: Salvatore Di Gregorio

Cuba’s massive Carnival celebrations have been held in some form or another since the 17th century. As a series of winter events tied to the Catholic Church’s calendar, Carnival was largely reserved for Cubans of mostly Spanish ancestry, while its summer counterpart, the Mamarrachos, allowed labourers and the lower classes (mostly enslaved Africans and their descendants) a period of riotous release after the sugar cane harvest. Many other Carnivals across the Caribbean are still observed in February, before Lent, but Cuba’s Carnival has evolved into an exuberant summer event that is celebrated across the country. The most famous parties, held in Havana in August and in Santiago del Cuba at the end of July, have preserved the vibrant spirit and Afro-Caribbean influences of the original Mamarrachos. Spangled and feathered groups of dancers called comparsas to perform in the streets between giant effigies of religious figures and celebrities, decorated floats and conga performers. The mainstreaming of festivals that originated from marginalized communities hasn’t been entirely seamless, with periodic attempts by conservative Cubans to sanitize them, but the omnipresent rhythm of the Carnival drums is a permanent reminder of their roots in resilience, triumph and pure joy. — A.C.

  1. Take In the Magnificent Scale and Immutable Geology of the Colorado Plateau
Credit: Nick Bondarev

The high desert of the Colorado Plateau covers 150,000 square miles, stretching across the Four Corners region in an arid, empyrean expanse including not only its namesake state but parts of Utah, Arizona and New Mexico, as well as the whole of the Navajo Nation. From its massive sedimentary rocks rise gnarled, sweeping geological marvels that seem to defy gravity and dwarf the human concept of space: Here are the mesas, petrified forests, monoliths, pinnacles and hoodoos that define the rugged archetype of the American West. The Ancestral Pueblo people, who lived on the plateau until around A.D. 1300, left ruins in the form of kivas — circular subterranean chambers often used for ceremonies — adobe pueblos and intricate dwellings built into the sides of cliffs. These are enshrined among the plateau’s eight national parks and 18 national monuments, which together constitute some of the greatest, most diverse terrain in the United States. In addition to the Grand Canyon, there’s Bears Ears, a pair of burnt-sienna buttes revered by Indigenous groups; and Grand Staircase-Escalante, an imbricated series of ascending rock layers punctuated with canyons and cliffs. The plateau, in its vastness, offers many opportunities for hiking, cycling, rafting and birding, but the best way to experience it is to camp there, watching as its endless horizons become a vault of stars. — D.P.

  1. Witness a Solar Eclipse in a Sleepy Fishing Village in Newfoundland, Canada
Credit: Grant Harder

The next total solar eclipse in North America will occur on April 8, 2024. Among the many scenic vantage points on its path of totality is Bonavista, a town of some 3,000 people on a bucolic peninsula in Newfoundland. There are plenty of remote places here from which to take in the atavistic spectacle: a sublime, disquieting experience, full of renewal and destruction, that shatters one’s sense of magnitude. When you’re not watching the moon engulf the sun in a rite of astronomical passage, you can enjoy more earthly pleasures at the Bonavista lighthouse, which looks out onto a seascape of unsurpassed beauty, featuring calving icebergs, breaching humpback whales and ambling colonies of puffins. Nearby are the Dungeon, a collapsed sea cave warped by erosion into a natural archway, and the Ryan Premises, a set of white clapboard buildings from the 19th century, striking in their simplicity, and once the locus of the town’s thriving cod-fishing industry. (Their slogan: “Where cod is culture.”) Bonavista takes its name from the Italian explorer Giovanni Caboto, often Anglicized as John Cabot, who is said to have exclaimed, “O buona vista!” upon glimpsing its shores in 1497. A full-scale replica of Cabot’s ship, the Matthew, floats in a harbour near the village centre, where visitors can rent kayaks for whale-watching excursions. — D.P.

OCEANIA

  1. Labour on an Organic Farm in New Zealand
Credit: Camilla Rutherford

Travel can be alienating, expensive and bad for the environment. WWOOF, or World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, was started in England in 1971 by Susan Coppard as “a way of getting back into the countryside.” The first weekend she spent on a biodynamic farm spawned a global movement with a simple premise: Volunteers lend a hand on organic farms in exchange for food, lodging and an introduction to agriculture. WWOOFing in New Zealand, particularly in Northland, the milder, less-urbanized agrarian hub that spans much of the North Auckland Peninsula and is renowned for its white-sand beaches and giant Kauri forests, pairs this enterprise with a fairy-tale atmosphere. More than 100 farms here accept volunteer workers throughout the year, letting you experience nature and tend to it at the same time, living alongside New Zealanders, learning firsthand about their way of life and finding a way to give back to the picturesque landscape. Farm life often requires rising with the sun, but chores, whether pulling redroot weeds or tending sheep, usually conclude by lunch. Afterwards, grander adventures can be had as well: backpacking Northland’s Great Walks, where you can rove through remote subtropical forests, or canoeing down the Whanganui River. But the most rewarding and memorable aspect of the trip comes from forging a bond with the earth and the resilient people who work it. — M.M.

ANTARCTICA

  1. Float in a Zodiac to the Edge of Human Experience
Credit: Stefan Ruiz

The only continent with no permanent residents, Antarctica is synonymous with isolation. A two-day cruise through the notoriously rough Drake Passage (or a two-hour flight over it) from the tip of either Argentina or Chile brings you to the planet’s southernmost landmass. Once you’re there, the sights are simultaneously imposing and palpably ephemeral; the grandeur of miles-high glaciers in an exquisite spectrum of blues and greens is only heightened by the fragility of the climate that supports them. Antarctic sea ice is melting less quickly than that of the North Pole, but the vulnerability of the frozen sheet that contains more than half of the Earth’s freshwater supply has never been more difficult to ignore. Earlier this year, Antarctic ice was measured as at a record low (though it fluctuates from year to year, in contrast to Arctic ice, which has been consistently shrinking for decades). If the world’s governments fail to limit warming in the coming years to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, as seems increasingly likely, ice sheet collapses in the Antarctic could cause a catastrophic rise in sea levels over the next several centuries. Still, Antarctica’s sublime beauty persists. In addition to its penguin colonies, best encountered from November till January, the whale watching is revelatory. Go in February or March, when receding ice allows the dozen or so passengers in the inflatable Zodiac rafts of expedition cruises to get up-close views of blue whales, orcas, humpback whales and other cetaceans. Travel to Antarctica remains heavily regulated: Unguided landings are forbidden, and the Protocol on Environmental Protection to the Antarctic Treaty, signed in 1991, instituted “leave no trace” guidelines designed to limit the human impact of tourism and scientific exploration alike. Before you go, do some research to identify the most sustainable way to explore. — A.C.

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Source: NY Times

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