Introducing Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travel List

We’ve all got a list of places that we want to see for ourselves: places friends have enthused about, places we’ve read about, dreamed about. This is our list. It’s the 500 most thrilling, memorable, downright interesting places on this planet ranked in order of their brilliance. COVID-19 has resulted in travel restrictions that may have clipped your wings through 2020, but now is the perfect time to plan ahead so you’re ready for your next adventure when it’s safe to hit the road again. These are the places we think you should experience; there are sights that will humble you, amaze you and surprise you. They’ll provoke thoughts, emotions or just an urgent need to tell someone about them.

Here are the top 10 travel experiences from Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travel List. We hope this will inspire many more travel wish lists of your own. 

Explore the enigmatic ‘lost city’ of Petra

The treasured Unesco Heritage Site of Petra is the must-see ultimate experience on our list. Once nearly lost to the outside world, the sandstone city is now one of the most loved places on the planet, voted in as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World by popular ballot in 2007. Spread over some 102 sq miles (264 sq km), Petra was constructed by the ancient Nabataeans, a civilisation of crafters and merchants, and made for a grand trade route stop-off between Arabian oases. But generations later, after the city was abandoned, it was known only to the Bedouin who made the caves their home. The iconic Treasury, looming 128ft (39m) high is most visitors’ first sight of the city, reached after a winding journey through a narrow water-etched slot canyon. Rediscover the city’s eternal air of mystery in the early morning or the hours before closing when it’s at its most atmospheric.

For most visitors, the Treasury is their first glimpse of Petra © kyolshin / Getty Images

Take some life lessons from the Aṉangu at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park

At sunset, when its wavy walls blaze gold, Uluru looks like a ship on fire in a desert sea. Rising to 1142ft (348m), the sandstone monolith seizes your eyes from miles away. It’s easy to see why it’s a sacred site. The Aṉangu people, the area’s original inhabitants, believe it’s still home to spirit ancestors like the python woman Kuniya and the hare-wallaby people, the Mala. But it’s become an icon to all Australians, a symbolic heart beating in the country’s Red Centre. Until 2017, visitors were allowed to summit Uluru, which went against the wishes of the Aṉangu, who worried about degradation and climber injuries. There are dozens of far more rewarding things to do – join a ranger-guided walk past sacred waterholes; spot kangaroos hopping through the spinifex; and learn about the Aṉangu at the cultural center, where there is a fantastic display on tjukurpa, the creation period.

Uluru is home to the spirit ancestors of the Aṉangu © eo Tang / Shutterstock

Experience life in the slow lane on the Okavango Delta

This beautiful wilderness is one of Africa’s most compelling safari destinations. Each year, the floodwaters of the Okavango River arrive from the Angolan highlands and expand this unique ecosystem to almost 7722 sq miles (20,000 sq km), sustaining vast quantities of wildlife. Along with 4WD safaris, visitors can explore by powerboat and traditional mokoro (dugout canoe). As the mokoro is poled silently through the shallow reed-lined channels you are immersed in the environment, hearing every bird and animal call, witnessing the mightiest of elephants crossing your path and the smallest of frogs clinging to the grass. With development and visitor numbers in the delta strictly regulated to protect the environment, the Okavango is one of the most exclusive destinations on the planet. But for adventurous souls who can handle a 4WD and don’t mind camping, there are affordable options within the delta’s Moremi Game Reserve.

The Okavango Delta expands with floodwaters, and attracts famed African species © Vadim Petrakov / Shutterstock

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