Top 10 Sightseeing Vacations
From historic train journeys to isolated islands
1. The Orient Express
Agatha Christie’s famous literary whodunit has given the Orient Express luxury train service a sense of mystery that has intrigued travellers for decades. Sadly, the original service closed in 2009 after 126 years. Nowadays, a new version runs from London to Venice and to other destinations in Europe, including the original route from Paris to Istanbul. The use of original carriages from the 1920s and 1930s adds to the sense of nostalgia and authenticity.
2. Antarctic Cruise
It’s about -25° in Antarctica right now, which is why most cruises to the forgotten continent take place between November and March, when they are more manageable, though the warmest month is January, when -3° is the average daily temperature. Antarctica isn’t just inhospitable; it’s also rather difficult to get to. Last season, there were about 34,000 visitors, a drop of 3,000 on the previous season. Going to Antarctica is a luxury few can afford: cruise prices vary depending on month and type of cabin but a five-figure sum is the norm. However, the chance to see penguins, seals, whales, glaciers, icebergs, and some of the most spectacular scenery known to man makes it worth every cent.
3. On Top of The World
The Amankora resort in the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is rather unusual: it is dotted around the country. There are five locations and the company has come up with a fascinating way to stay in all of them: a 10-day cycling tour. The trip is arduous enough; the resort is stretched out along a route of more than 300km, which makes it about two Tour de France stages. In recognition of the gruelling nature of this vacation, two complimentary sports massages are offered. Few luxury vacations can match this one for hardship.
4. The Silk Road
Keeping the theme eastern is the ancient Silk Road, which is the route that was used by traders traversing Asia from the Far East to Europe. It took Marco Polo 24 years to make the return trip. These days, a large section of it can be done in 21 days aboard the luxury Golden Eagle and Shangri-La Express trains, which take you from Moscow to Beijing, passing through and stopping at, among other places, the Karakum Desert, Bukhara, Samarkand and the Terracotta Warriors of Xian.
5. Year of The Maya
According to some sages, the Mayan calendar predicted the end of the world on the 21st of December 2012. They are wrong, we hope. Historically, the Maya lived in what are now Guatemala and Belize as well as parts of Mexico, El Salvador and Honduras. The remains of ancient pyramids are to be found in all of them, though Guatemala is home to the fascinating city of Antigua, which, thanks to a series of natural disasters, has many ruins from the Spanish colonial period that were swallowed up by the jungle.
6. The Great Barrier Reef
The jury is out as to whether the Great Barrier Reef is best seen by plane or scuba diving, which seems a bit trifling – surely any way is the best way. This remarkable ecosystem stretches for more than 2,500km and covers about 900 islands and almost 3,000 individual reefs. As a base from which to explore the Great Barrier Reef, the Qualia luxury resort in Hamilton Island, which is part of the Whitsundays archipelago, is hard to beat.
7. Ubud Hanging Gardens
The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Their present-day namesakes in Ubud, Bali, on the other side of Asia, could be a wonder of the modern world. There are thousands of wonderful resorts out there but few have a feature as jaw-droppingly dramatic as this one. The resort has an incredible infinity pool on two levels overlooking the jungle – and so do many of the villas. There’s no doubt about it, the Ubud Hanging Gardens have the wow factor.
8. Canadian Rocky Mountaineer
The Canadian Rocky Mountaineer, a luxury train service that cuts through some of the most breathtaking landscapes in the world. There is a wide variety of routes such as the epic ‘Journey through the Clouds’, which passes the highest mountain in the Canadian Rockies as well as Pyramid Falls, or for sheer scale, the 17-day ‘Coast to Coast’, which traverses Canada from Halifax on the Atlantic to Vancouver on the Pacific. The GoldLeaf Service offers travel in double-decker, glass-domed coaches.
9. Safari Expedition
Safari means ‘long journey’ in the Swahili language of east Africa, which some operators in the area claim makes their offer more ‘authentic’. There’s no doubt that Tanzania boasts four of the best reserves in the Selous Camp on the banks of the Rufiji River, the Jongomero Camp in the Ruaha National Park, the Ngorongoro Crater and the Serengeti National Park. The best time to visit Tanzania for safari is between June and October, when it is generally mild and dry. After the exertions of a safari, decamp to Ras Kutani, a luxury resort on the Indian Ocean coast.
10. A Private Island
Its beauty was such that Luciano Pavarotti almost cried when he first set eyes on Pangkor Laut – and he had seen most of what the world has to offer. Yes, this private island in the Strait of Malacca off the west coast of Malaysia really is that special. The luxury resort covers only a fraction of the island’s 120 hectares and some of its villas are on stilts over the sea. A highlight is the hike through the jungle to reach Emerald Bay, a fabulous crescent-shaped beach hemmed in by tropical vegetation.