Note from Doug Gollan: If you are getting tired of jetting between your homes, and are ready to think about a more traditional travel adventure, this week’s issue is made for you.
I’ve tapped into the expertise of Michael Holtz at SmartFlyer and his top advisors to give you their top picks for Bucket List vacations. Even if you aren’t ready to make plans for next year, I can assure you it’s never too early to start thinking about it, so please read on and check out their personal recommendations for you below.
1. Gorilla Trekking in Rwanda
We often hear safari referred to as “once in a lifetime.” And while the opportunity to visit Africa is sure to create lifelong memories, our team consistently fields feedback from safari-goers that they are ready to plan their next Africa adventure immediately upon returning home from their first!
As journalist Brian Jackman was quoted as saying, “Everything in Africa bites, but the safari bug is worst of all.” With that in mind, one of the most unique itineraries we craft for clients – particularly one we gravitate towards after they’ve experienced a more traditional safari in South Africa or perhaps Kenya and Tanzania – is a journey to Rwanda for the chance to see gorillas, up close and personal.
With only an estimated 880 of these largest living primates remaining in the entire world, there are extensive regulations around how many visitors can enter their natural habitat and for how long; the process of obtaining limited gorilla permits to abide by these stipulations requires a great deal of logistical assistance. Naturally, this is where we come in.
By working on trips to Rwanda with ample lead time, we’re able to secure our client’s space in the top lodges and ensure they will be working with the most reputable guides during their trip through “The Land of a Thousand Hills.”
Upon landing in Kigali, our partners on the ground will greet you for your transfer to One&Only Nyungwe House, a stunning property located within the lush expanse of a working tea plantation. Immersed in wild beauty surrounded by awe-inspiring jungle views, every element of the resort has been carefully considered with inspired farm-to-table dining, spa and wellness offerings that embrace nature and local traditions, and curated, authentic experiences to discover.
Then, after relocating to One&Only Gorilla’s Nest or Singita Kwitonda Lodge, where you’ll base yourself for your hike through Volcanoes National Park to visit some of the twelve gorilla families living in the park. Upon your departure back out of Kigali, a visit to The Kigali Genocide Memorial commemorating the 1994 Rwandan genocide is sure to be emotionally-fueled, but will only further secure the imprint left on your heart by this extraordinary destination.
2. Antarctica by Private Jet from Cape Town
If you were to Google “travel to Antarctica,” the vast majority of your search results will yield recommendations for cruises departing from regions like Argentinian Patagonia. These expeditions last anywhere from 14 to 35 days; and while there are undoubtedly lifelong memories to be made on these comprehensive adventures, we recognize that not all of our clients can dedicate to two, three, or even four weeks to their Antarctic expedition.
So, what if we told you it’s possible to reach the world’s remote continent and return in a matter of days (even without an overnight, if you wanted)? That’s right, you read that correctly. It’s possible to charter a private Gulfstream jet from Cape Town, South Africa straight to Antarctica.
Your flight will have you floating over icebergs en route to the Polar Circle in the utmost luxury. After about five hours, you’ll land in one of the planet’s least inhabited regions where (fun fact!) the sun never sets. As soon as you touch down, you’ll be whisked to camp in vehicles specially adapted to traverse these icy plains.
Your state-of-the-art sleeping pods await as you escape from the barren, unforgiving terrain. From gentle treks and picnics overlooking the ice waves, to more adrenaline-fueled activities like kite-skating and ice climbing, Antarctica offers activities like no other destination. Explore ancient ice caves and reach the pinnacle of your voyage, the South Pole – the lowest point on Earth and the holy grail of early explorers. Naturally, you’ll be sure to make friends with the endangered emperor penguins and receive the rarest passport stamp in the world before departure back to Cape Town!
3. A Spiritual Experience in Bhutan
A journey to Bhutan is about looking inward as you honor the intersection of mind, body, and soul. This landlocked nation in the eastern Himalayas finds itself in between India and China and, despite outside influences, remains culturally unique as the last stronghold of Mahayana Buddhism. While there is no longer a limit on the number of tourists allowed to visit the country in a year as there once used to be, the government requirements around a unique visa (consult with your SmartFlyer travel advisor to learn more) were created to protect their traditions and natural environment.
The Bhutan Tourism Council aligns its mission with the country’s widely celebrated Gross National Happiness (GNH) index, which guides the nation’s progress through non-materialistic Buddhist ideals, including cultural resilience, psychological well-being, and ecological harmony. With that in mind, planning well in advance is the best way to align with this policy of “High Value, Low Impact” travel.
If we haven’t lost you yet, we’re sure you’re up for a journey to this exceptional place. With several distinct regions, many travelers opt to split their stay across several properties. The recent opening of Six Senses Bhutan – a network of five luxury lodges – allows for ultimate customization.
These accommodations are thoughtfully located across the Kingdom’s mountains and valleys, each designed to reflect their unique surroundings. Because Bhutan is no place to rush, it’s recommended to take approximately two weeks to travel between the five lodges.
But, if time is limited, travelers can choose amongst a handful of the properties best suited to their interests. Amankora offers another fabulous option, particularly for our Aman junkies out there! The lodges are simply stepping stones; you get to chart your own path here with hiking, mindful eating, self-discovery, spa and sleep at the forefront to ensure you’re immersed in the spirituality, heritage, and hospitality this place embodies.
4. Australia New and Old
For so many Americans, the thought of going Down Under has long remained a travel bucket list item. When we work with clients on custom itineraries covering this vast continent, we commonly hear interest around soaking up a performance at the famed Sydney Opera House, sunning at Bondi Beach, or spending time exploring the world’s largest reef.
But, one of the most sacred Aboriginal sites, Uluru, is often overlooked as the ideal stop in between despite offering the chance to connect clients to the spirit of Australia truly. “The Red Centre” is an extraordinary landscape of desert plains, weathered mountain ranges, and rocky gorges offering history lovers and nature-seekers the opportunity to revel in moments like rock formations changing color at dusk and dining under stary skies while being serenaded by the didgeridoo.
In the Red Centre, you’ll also be deeply connected to Australia’s ancient tradition of storytelling. Wake for a stunning sunrise and experience the Field of Light exhibition, aptly named Tili Wiru Tjuta Nyakutjaku or ‘looking at lots of beautiful lights’ in local Pitjantjatjara, which is artist Bruce Munro’s most extensive work to date.
Listen to local Indigenous people speak about Uluru’s cultural and spiritual significance before taking the road 50 kilometers west to reach Kata Tjuta, a natural wonder of 36 domes covering more than 7.7 miles. You can walk among the domes on the easy Walpa Gorge Walk or tackle the four-hour Valley of the Winds Walk right into the heart of the landscape. After a long day, tuck into an early dinner at the laidback Pioneer BBQ and Bar. Here you can cook your Aussie meat on the grill – think emu sausages and kangaroo steaks!
5. The Northern Lights in Finland
If you’ve ever dreamt of dozing off under the Northern Lights amidst a true winter wonderland, Finish Lapland’s sculptured, snowy-white birch trees and frozen, glistening lakes are the movie set you’ve envisioned brought to life. The Aurora Borealis is visible from late August to April when nights get dark enough to see this majestic dance in the sky.
With clear skies, a bit of luck, and a home base far enough north, you’re sure to experience memories of a lifetime. Aurora spotting will be the most fun for the truly adventurous when accompanied by snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, or sled dog touring. Or, if you’re looking for a more relaxing viewing experience, it’s breathtaking to spot them right from the comfort of your very own glass-roofed igloo or suite.
When it comes to customizing your perfectly tailored Finish experience, your SmartFlyer travel advisor will be sure to work with one of our on-the-ground partners to identify the right mix of nature and city for you.
Finland is a country of contrasts, from the cold high north to the sparkline coastal regions in the south, not to mention the dark winter to the midnight sun, but no matter where you go, the charismatic Sami people are sure to leave their mark. As you visit their cutting edge-shops, studios, art galleries, and a thriving restaurant and bar scene in Helsinki, you’ll wonder why you didn’t come sooner!
6. The Amazon
If you’ve read up to this point, you may have gotten the idea that we’re anti-cruise; the ironic thing is, that couldn’t be further from the truth! But we do have a lot of feelings about what makes a cruising experience truly exceptional; particularly in this new era of travel, limiting exposure to fellow passengers is critical, and that’s where our friends at Aqua Expeditions come in.
The Aria Amazon is their river cruise ship that’s custom-built to explore the Peruvian Amazon and the famed Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve in absolute comfort and luxury in an intimate setting, all with minimal impact on the delicate Amazon ecosystem. The best part? You can opt to completely buy out the 16 spacious suites so that it’s just you and your crew on board (well, in addition to the actual squad, that is!).
Once onboard, you’ll enjoy amenities like a jacuzzi, indoor lounge, dining room, bar, and outdoor observation deck to call your own when you’re not out exploring. As you make your way through the Earth’s largest rainforest on your 7-day itinerary, get up close and person with this ecosystem, which accounts for more than one-third of all recorded animal species in the world, including 20% of all bird species as you navigate life-enriching wildlife encounters in the Amazon rainforest.
Aqua Expeditions’ custom-designed ergonomic fleet of private boats manned skillfully by their captain and crew adds to every wild exploration’s comfort. And for the foodies in your group, rest assured that when you turn in for the night, you’ll dine on the best of Peruvian cuisine with a comprehensive menu crafted by one of the country’s most accomplished chefs.
Contact a SmartFlyer advisor here.