7 once-in-a-lifetime travel experiences

Amelia Duggan

Travel Writer

From zip-lining through Costa Rica to dining on sushi in Tokyo, travel writer Amelia Duggan rounds up seven of the most iconic travel experiences you'll never forget

Once-in-a-lifetime travels are made up of unforgettable moments. It’s the new dish that electrifies your palate, the unspoilt scenery that touches your soul or the activity that coaxes you out of your comfort zone. You might know that New Orleans is the birthplace of jazz, but do you know which bar is best to experience live music? Read on to discover seven of the best experiences in some of the world’s most iconic destinations. These memories, after all, are the best kind of souvenir — and they’ll remain long after that novelty magnet has fallen off the fridge.

Greek island-hopping by boat

Aerial shot of beautiful blue lagoon at hot summer day with sailing boat Top view of people are swimming around the boat

Greet your captain, choose your cabin and leave your cares on the dock: a sun-soaked, island-hopping adventure in Greece aboard a private vessel is the finest way to experience the blissful scenery and laid-back lifestyle of the Mediterranean. Dive from the deck into turquoise water, dock in secret coves, and drop anchor to drink and dine in quaint ouzeries. While Greece has some 6,000 islands, the most beautiful and diverse cluster is considered to be the Cyclades. Visit the postcard-perfect, honeymoon hotspot of Santorini, with its volcanic beaches and iconic blue-domed churches, and sleepy Sifnos, with its lush terraces and rich tradition of pottery. Both fan out from the ruggedly beautiful, uninhabited Delos, the island deemed to be the birthplace of Apollo in Greek mythology and home to some of the country’s most important archeological ruins.

The Cyclades can be reached via 50-minute domestic flight from Athens to Santorini.

Hot-air ballooning over Cappadocia

Colorful hot air balloons before launch at Cappadocia Turkey Volcanic mountains in Goreme national park

Half of the world’s hot air balloon rides happen in this region of Turkey for good reason: Cappadocia’s surreal geology lends itself to unparalleled aerial viewing. A trip starts at the crack of dawn in an arid valley, typically outside the charming tourist town of Göreme. In every direction, pilots and crew inflate balloons with bright bursts of orange fire. Then, clamber into your wicker basket and it’s up, up and away, rising with one hundred other colourful crafts over other-worldly rock formations — including Cappadocia’s famous rock spires, known as ‘fairy chimneys’. Spot the honeycomb of Bronze Age cave dwellings carved into the mountains and vineyards unfurling on the slopes of extinct volcanoes.

Arrive in Cappadocia via Kayseri Airport, a 1hr 15min domestic flight from Istanbul. The airport is an 1hr drive from Göreme.

Listen to live jazz in New Orleans

Jazz band performing at The Spotted Cat New Orleans Louisana USA

Jazz wasn’t just born in New Orleans — in the century or so since it took root in the city’s bars and theatres, it’s continued to develop right here. The Big Easy is the home of jazz. It’s said the genre evolved from the Voodoo ceremonies and drumming of African slaves who gathered regularly in Congo Square before the Civil War. Today, visitors can slip into nearly any venue in the French Quarter, the Marigny or the Treme, order up a po’boy or some chargrilled oysters, and sit back and soak up the wild, jubilant jams of live bands. Check out the lively, beloved institution of The Spotted Cat (pictured) on Frenchmen Street, or the historic Preservation Hall, founded in 1961 and said to be Louis Armstrong’s favourite joint.

Fly into New Orleans’s international airport, just half an hour’s drive from the French Quarter.

Find and eat the best sushi in Tokyo

Chef preparing Ebi shrimp sushi at an omakase sushi restaurant

Chopsticks at the ready! Sushi has been elevated to an artform in Japan and eating in the right place can be a transcendental experience. There are some 4,000 sushi restaurants in Japan’s quirky capital, ranging from traditional Edomae eateries to futuristic, and often cheaper, kaitenzushi where you can pluck dishes from a conveyor belt. While the famous Tsukiji fish market closed in 2018 (relocating to Toyosu), many of the eateries that make up Tsukiji’s outer market are still open  — and are still an affordable spot to get a high-quality, fresh sushi breakfast. At the other end of the price spectrum sit restaurants like the Michelin-starred Masuda, named for its head chef who trained under the legendary sushi craftsman, Jiro, for nine years. The secret to good sushi, both men claim, is not the fish but the rice, known as shari. The waiting list for Masuda may be long, but it’s worth it.

Fly into either Narita Airport in the city’s east or Haneda to the south.

Zipline tour through Costa Rica's cloud forest

Man ziplining in Costa Rica

The emerald-green canopies of Costa Rica’s cloud forests are some of the richest habitats on Earth, home to rare species including the resplendent quetzal bird, considered sacred by the Mayan and Aztec civilisations. They’re also playgrounds in the sky. The central highlands of Costa Rica are famous for zip line tours (pictured) that whizz thrill-seekers into the tree line to experience the ecosystem in a low-impact way. For the best cloud-forest adventure, head to Monteverde, a verdant paradise of flowering orchids and trailing vines. As well as zip lines, you’ll find canopy bridges, a sky tram and Tarzan swings. It’s great for all ages and levels of fitness as guides and gravity do most of the work.

The main port of entry to Costa Rica is its international airport in the capital, San José.

Hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu Lost City of Incas Peru

The fabled four-day hike to the Lost City of the Incas is the most challenging — and rewarding — way to see the unspoilt landscapes of the Sacred Valley and get to the 15th-century marvel of Machu Picchu. It’s an exclusive club to join, too: only 500 hikers are allowed to set off per day and permits are often snapped up six months in advance. Begin your trek in the charming, colonial city of Cusco, then wind along ancient stone paths through terraced valleys, cloud forest and tumbledown Incan ruins, and over three dizzying peaks — including the 13,769ft Dead Woman’s Pass. Spend your nights in pitched camps, marvelling at the stars. Some 26 miles later, at dawn, before the tourists turn up, your trek ends at the Sun Gate, looking down upon the citadel of Machu Picchu (pictured). It’s a sight you’ll never forget.

Cusco is easily reached via a 1hr 20min domestic transfer from Lima.

Scuba diving the Great Barrier Reef

Diver looking at red soft coral

From space, the Great Barrier Reef appears as a vivid tapestry of gold and green cradling the northeastern shore of Australia. Its scale is mind-blowing (at 1,400 miles long, it’s the largest living thing on Earth), as is the diversity of its ecosystem. You’ll spot starfish, turtles, fish, dolphins, stingrays, sharks, countless tropical fish and even whales, all drawn to the clear, warm waters of the kaleidoscopic reef — making this the Holy Grail of scuba-diving sites. Stay in Cairns, a popular gateway to the wonders of the Outer Reef where you’ll find countless day trips and liveaboard tours with reputable diving companies. As you’ll learn from the guides, there’s trouble in paradise: global warming kills more of the reef every year. Do your bit by ditching polluting sunscreens and being extra mindful not to touch the coral.

Fly into Cairns, a laid-back, tropical city in Australia’s northeastern state of Queensland.

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