Challenge Yourself in These 8 Bucket List DestinationsBy Valerie Conners
Your travel bucket list just got a whole lot longer. From dancing the samba in Rio de Janeiro, to trekking mountains in Rwanda and paying tribute to fish balls in Taipei, Marriott Bonvoy Traveler has gathered some of our favorite unexpected escapes across the globe which challenge and transform us.
As always, before any trip check for any travel restrictions or closures before planning your vacation.
Anchorage, Alaska, was born as a railroad tent city on the shores of Ship Creek. Today, Alaska’s biggest city holds about half the state’s entire population, but it still feels like an outpost in the middle of a vast wilderness — and that is part of its charm.
Here, it’s not unusual to see a moose wandering down the city streets, and a trip here is filled with must-do sights allowing you to explore, and learn about Anchorage and its place in Alaska and in the world.
Outdoor adventurers will be thrilled: A stay in Anchorage lets you enjoy all the amenities of big city life, but still vault into the Alaska wilderness within about a half-hour drive. You’ll also be within easy striking distance of one of Alaska’s most spectacular destinations, the more than 2.4 million hectares that make up Denali National Park.
Foodies will not be disappointed, either. While in Anchorage skip the supercharged, antlers-everywhere restaurants in favor of smaller — and sometimes more unusual — servings of Alaska decor while also getting a taste of some of the region’s best local ingredients at locals’ favorite restaurants.
Rio de Janeiro
Flanked by green mountains, surrounded by the crashing blue waves of the Atlantic Ocean, and dotted with bright white buildings, Rio de Janeiro lays claim to one of the world’s most gorgeous urban settings, lined with epic stretches of sand.
To the east and west of Rio de Janeiro’s famous Copacabana and Ipanema beaches lie little hideaway coves, secret surfer hangouts and nearly deserted stretches of silken sand — all of them a beach lover’s dream.
Wonder why locals call this the “Marvelous City”? When you’re not gaping at the beauty before you, explore the city’s famed neighborhoods and feel Rio’s unique–and passionate–pulse.
One must-see spot to visit is the Port Zone, Rio’s newest waterfront hot spot and a good alternative if you want to spend the day outdoors without fighting crowds at the city’s beaches.
Vietnam is filled with travel wonders. Da Nang and Nha Trang can feel a world away from Vietnam’s well-trodden destinations like Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City. Though both towns have been mainstays on the backpacker circuit in the past, today they’re making a broader name among all kinds of travelers as two of the country’s up-and-coming destinations.
In Vietnam, food plays a major role in the lives of locals, and noodles are the thread of daily life. But how they’re prepared and what they’re paired with varies greatly, and often depends on what’s available within the various regions of the S-shaped country.
In fact, when someone in Vietnam tells you that you are a good person, they don’t say—as they might in the West—that you have a good soul. Instead, they say that you have a good stomach. This idiom is a small testament to the deep and abiding love of food in Vietnam.
Rwanda is home to some of the most precious wildlife and ecosystems the world has ever seen. The country’s government, along with its local communities, doesn’t take this gift lightly.
From the banning of plastic bags to many conservation projects and even mandatory cleaning days known as “umuganda” in the local language of Kinyarwanda, the small but mighty East African nation does everything to protect its environment and the animals living in it.
The good thing is the rise of tourism hasn’t negatively affected the country’s green initiatives. If anything, it has pushed the nation to enact and meet high-quality sustainable standards — and that leaves visitors with a chance to discover ample eco-friendly experiences.
The nation has also taken great strides in educating and empowering women in its local communities to help bolster their employment rates and opportunities for growth.
Historic traditions, grand architecture and inspiring landscapes make the Omani capital a traveler’s dream, but prices are known for being eye-wateringly expensive. Some of the most popular attractions in Oman, and some lesser-known ones that should be popular, do not have to cost a dime (or baisa, in Omani money).
Muscat, the capital of the Sultanate of Oman, is in many ways like nearby Gulf capitals, and noted for its understated luxury scene. A strong currency and smaller tourist market ensure that you get more for your rial here than anywhere else in the region, so if money is no object, Muscat has plenty to offer luxury travelers.
Gorgeous beaches, crystalline waters, fertile valleys and traditional villages; visitors to Crete can look forward to a slower pace of life.
Locals cannot wait to share their Cretan hospitality, with their renowned olive oil, wine and rich produce, among the best in Greece. But with its dramatic landscape – mountains, deep gorges and caves – Crete is a playground for adventure seekers.
Locally sourced ingredients, unfussy cooking and generations of culinary traditions help make Cretan cuisine the healthiest of all the Mediterranean diets. A vast coastline, largely untouched mountain ranges and fertile plains are the backdrop for Crete’s agricultural bounty, of which olive oil has played a central role stretching back 3,500 years.
And if you’re up for a side trip, the island fortress of Spinalonga off the northeastern coast of Crete has a past that makes it worthy of a visit by any photographer. But first, a brief history lesson is in order to understand why the island is so unique.
If hygge (say “hoo-ga”) could be bottled and sold, Copenhagen would be even wealthier than it already is. The distinctly Danish concept, loosely translated as “coziness,” really must be experienced to be understood. And when you steal away for a weekend in Copenhagen, there’s hygge on every corner.
Is it a cozy feeling in your soul, a glowing candle on a tabletop dinner for two, a convivial moment between friends, or just a general feeling of contentment in a setting of simple pleasures? Hygge can be all that and more.
What better way to learn about hygge than from the masters themselves? Copenhagen residents are your hosts during the Dine with the Danes program, which sees you heading to a Danish home for a cozy home-cooked dinner.
Prefer to be more active? Cicycling is one of the most quintessentially Danish things you can do, and Copenhagen’s flat terrain coupled with dedicated bike lanes on nearly every street make it a pedaling paradise.
There’s no doubt that Sydney is Australia’s most geographically blessed city. The city’s greatest asset, its harbor, acts like an aquatic lung breathing life throughout the city. Add to that pristine beaches, world-class architecture and to-die-for rock pools carved from cliffs beside the ocean, and you have a city that is made for Instagram.
Regardless of season, the city’s stunning outdoor hot spots offer a breath of fresh air—right in the heart of town, and there’s no shortage of places to go for a run, or unwind and experience Sydney’s chilled-out side. Plus, you’ll find seemingly endless opportunities to snap photos of iconic Sydney sights for the ‘Gram.
Foodies, take note! The city’s food scene is notoriously epic: To walk down the street here is to experience a world of food in a single block—delicate parcels of dim sum stuffed with local seafood, towering burgers stacked with beetroot and egg, steaming bowls of pho, gelato sundaes, za’atar-dusted flatbreads rolled around juicy lamb.