There’s no time like resolution time to create a bucket list. Wanderer or dreamer, you are likely to have a place or two in mind on your to-do list. A recent survey conducted by AARP revealed that travel is the top aspiration for Americans of all ages. According to the research, Baby Boomers are expected to take four to five leisure trips in 2019 and spend more than $6,600, Gen Xers to spend $5,400, and Millennials, $4,440. With a strong U.S. economy in motion and favorable currency exchanges afoot, 2019 may be a bucket list year for many. For those in need of inspiration or timely recommendations, here’s a starter list.
Africa: Great Plains Conservation Safaris
Why go: Seeing Africa is a journey that can reward the soul seeker in unexpected ways. Africa’s tough climates, tough economic conditions and rapidly expanding populations mean diminishing numbers for wildlife species that once ruled these plains. A trip through Great Plains Conservation Safaris means not only seeing Africa, but saving it, too, via people-to-people and natural sciences programs.
What to do: Great Plains takes those who want to experience Africa’s great nature before it disappears into the wilds of Kenya and Botswana on immersive “glamping” trips that leave barely a footprint. Guests are as much a natural part of the landscape as the animals and local people. Recommended is a trip to Duba Plains Camp in the heart of the Okavango Delta of Botswana, described as Africa’s Garden of Eden with palm-dotted islands, flood plains and woodlands. Duba Plains Camp offers five bespoke tents as well as a separate two-bedroom suite, all calling up the romantic safari style of the 1920s.
Expert tip: Photography is in focus. While high-powered cameras are available at some camps for guests’ use (and all camps rent professional camera equipment), specialist photographer-guides are available, with advance notice, to help visitors work the equipment and improve photography skills.
Bahamas: David Copperfield’s Musha Cay
Why go: Musha Cay, the private island resort in the Bahamas’ Exuma isles, is a true life work of master magician David Copperfield, who ensures every guest gets all the privacy possible as well as an ongoing show in entertainment, food, sublime surroundings and exquisite attention to detail. Only 24 guests can stay here and they have the natural, and preternatural, settings all to themselves. Strange magical display, sleight of hand and elements that spark childlike wonder are put in motion.
What to do: Go on a treasure hunt, watch movies by the waves, explore outer islands and have a picnic on a deserted beach.
Expert tip: Be like Oprah, Sergey Brin, Bill Gates and other titans by having a private celebration there with two dozen best friends.
Colombia: Casa San Augustin in Cartagena
Why go: Stay in a revamped 17th century mansion in the middle of Old Town Cartagena, a town that is, in itself, a UNESCO World Heritage living museum. Casa San Agustin, a member of Leading Hotels of the World, offers 30 suites and rooms in three restored manors surrounding a stunning brick courtyard and pool. Each accommodation opens to a view of the street or garden. Guests become part of the 15th century colonial settlement and can still experience the confluence of European, South American, African and Caribbean cultures that created it.
What to do: Enjoy the mixture of cultures found in the foods, architecture, traditions and music of this great city. The hotel is in the middle of town, close to restaurants, museums and ramparts that protected the port for centuries.
Expert tip: Try the Cartagena-style seafood chowder at Casa San Agustin’s Alma Restaurant; it’s a deliciously soft medley of lobster, shrimp, octopus, prawns and mussels, coconut milk and fluffy rice.
Costa Rica: Villa Manzu Mansion on the Pacific
Why go: Costa Rica is easy to get to, easy to navigate and replete with adventurous, eco-focused experiences while not forgoing luxury. Whether it’s hosting a wedding, celebration or a getaway with buddies, Villa Manzu is a private mansion on the water with eight master suites, private chef and dedicated staff within a complex of top resorts close to Liberia International Airport.
What to do: The villa comes with comfortable jeeps and SUVs and private drivers. Zip line through the Witch’s RockCanopy Tour nearby.
Expert tips: Relaxing on the sands of the villa’s private beach cove is one time when doing less pays off. Have a private yoga session on a patio over the beach.
Ecuador: Pikaia Lodge on Santa Cruz Island, Galapagos
Why go: Visiting the Galapagos Islands is a huge bucket list prize, mostly because getting there requires a good deal of flying and often involves a cruise. An alternative to ships and crowds is the peace at Pikaia Lodge, where Galapagos turtles, blue-footed boobies, Galapagos penguins, imposing iguanas and sea lions that play with swimmers are in abundance and enjoyed on terms guests set themselves. Luxury yachts take small parties to the best coves in the archipelago for experiencing rare wildlife. Nights are spent listening to waves and peering at the stars. Accommodations are large, luxurious stand-alone spaces with private terraces.
What to do: Guests can bike around the island and commune with enormous tortoises or go into town for culinary adventures. They can board the lodge’s private yacht for a day of island and cove hopping, or can nap in the yacht’s private cabins.
Expert tips: Pikaia Lodge’s private yacht “M/Y Pikaia I” is like having your own private vacation where you can observe wildlife, go hiking, swimming, sea kayaking, snorkeling and return late in the afternoon to rest at the lodge before dinner. Scuba diving, fishing and mountain biking also can be arranged.
Granada: Silversands Resort
Why go: The super luxurious Silversands Resort on Grenada’s Great Anse Beach is the Caribbean island’s newest resort with 40 decked-out suites and nine stunning residences. The tiny island nation is perhaps best known for its medical school and its sizable export of nutmeg, known as “black gold” and giving Grenada the moniker “the spice island,” but now adds a few more notables to its list. Silversands shows the deft talent of Paris-based architects AW2, that lists Six Senses Con Dao, Phum Baitang in Siem Reap, the Amanjena in Marrakech and the Patek Philippe store on London’s Bond Street among its noteworthy projects. Silversand’s open-plan suites range in size from 580 to 1,647 square feet in one- to three-bedroom configurations each offering a view of the beach or the hillside.
What to do: Climb to Fort Frederick at the top of Richmond Hill to experience sweeping views and preserved relics of the island’s colonial past. Check out the waterfront promenade at Carenage and stop for crab soufflé or pan-fried barracuda wrapped in bacon, with a sauce mixed from crab and lobster meats. Most places in Grenada are reachable within an hour by car.
Expert tip: Explore more than 10 waterfalls hidden in the island’s amazing rainforests.
Jamaica: Half Moon Resort Montego Bay
Why go: Half Moon in Jamaica’s Montego Bay opened in 1954, around the time the first “Tonight Show” aired (with Steve Allen) and the packaged TV dinner debuted. The legendary beachfront resort is still going strong, especially as it debuts a new look. The resort that hosted the British royal family and presidents John F. Kennedy and George H. W. Bush is relaunching following a $75 million renovation. The re-imagined property has a new entry and Great House, 57 new rooms, expanded beach areas, an adults- only swimming pool, two restaurants and a vegan cafe, among other additions.
What to do: Explore the circa 1770 Rose Great House to get an idea of the island’s storied past and possibly catch the ghostly sighting of Annie Palmer, better known as the White Witch of Rose Hall. Take a rafting trip down the Rio Grande or try a championship game at Half Moon Golf Course, among the Caribbean’s top courses.
Expert tip: Try authentic jerk chicken in Boston Bay, where it was created by escaped slaves who needed to cook their food without making telltale smoke.
Mongolia: Nomadic Expeditions to Roam Far
Why go: Few places are as remote and pure as the 604,000 square miles of grassy plains, desert pans and mountains of Mongolia, where the horse and camel remain the main modes of transport, the canvas yurt is the shelter of choice and the way of the warrior is still the mantra in a land lodged in the days of Genghis Khan. For bucket list questers, Mongolia will prove a star conquest, full of unusual experiences. Nomadic Expeditions, based in New Jersey, is the expert for travel to Mongolia, whether group, party of individual. Guests stay in a luxurious yurt at Three Camel Lodge and are treated to feasts fit for a 14th century empire builder under endless windswept stars. Nomadic Expeditions also runs unusual historical adventure explorations into Nepal, Siberia and Tibet.
What to do: Hunt for dinosaur eggs in the Gobi Desert, ride with horsemen on the steppes of Mongolia, ride the Silk Road by train from Moscow to Almaty crossing once treacherous no-man’s lands and visiting 6th century outposts that eventually opened up this world to Western civilization; follow your path to Tibet to meditate at the roof of the world.
Expert tip: The Gobi Camel Festival is an unusual take-in. It happens during the winter fest in March. The gathering near Dalanzadgad is quite a colorful spectacle and celebrates everything Bactrian.
Singapore: Six Senses Duxton and Six Senses Maxwell
Why go: Singapore’s tantalizing mix of European, Chinese, Malay, Indian and other ethnic influences plays out in the arts, shopping, architecture and design and, of course, exquisite culinary adventures. Recently, Six Senses Hotels, typically focused on stunning remote settings along ocean shores or mountain meadows, opened its first urban signatures in Singapore: The Duxton and The Maxwell in Singapore’s vibrant Chinatown district. Both properties, easy ambles from one another, are impressive remakes of preserved 19-century heritage buildings, and each reflects the signature of an internationally renowned designer.
What to do: The Singapore Flyer, with 28 air-conditioned pods that can each accommodate up to 28 passengers, is a must. At 541 feet, it had the title for tallest until the 550-foot High Roller opened in Las Vegas. It remains the best place to get a bird’s eye view of the Lion City and beyond. Then visit the National Gallery of Singapore, a crown jewel in the art world. Housed in early 20th-century Supreme Court and City Hall buildings supported by Corinthian columns and accented with glass, it houses the largest public collection (8,000-plus works) of modern art in Southeast Asia, from the 19th century to present.
Expert tip: Singapore Airlines started nonstop service from SFO to Singapore in November. The new flights have no economy seating, just 67 seats in business class and 94 in premium economy. The Singapore-bound flight that recently launched from Newark, at 18 hours, 45 minutes, is the world’s longest non-stop. Flights from San Francisco run around 17.5 hours, long enough to watch six movies and read a good thriller.
Sweden: At Home at Ett Hem, Stockholm
Why go: This is a home, not a hotel, and gives guests the true feeling of warmth and belonging and all that goes with being welcomed into somebody’s home. At Ett Hem, 12 rooms and suites in the cozy mansion are a mere three-minute walk from Tekniska Högskolan metro station, and easy walking distance of the Stureplan shopping, museum and dining district.
What to do: Stockholm is stacked with museums, experiences and activities: try Gamla Stan, the Old Town, the Royal Palace and the Vasa Museum for starters.
Expert tips: Eat in the kitchen or perhaps a bit more formally in the library, or enjoy the garden in the cooler months. The kitchen is a favorite, though, with a grand family style table that invites conversations and treats that fill the counters and shelves.
United Kingdom: The Beaumont in Mayfair
Why go: If you were playing Monopoly in London, Mayfair would be Park Place. And if you were to put a hotel on that square, it would undoubtedly be The Beaumont. The hotel opened in 2014 following an extensive redo that turned the former 1926 car park into one of London’s most fashionable addresses. The property, with 73 rooms and suites, offers a post-modernist imprint amid the precious Georgian residents of Mayfair, just a few minutes’ walk away from Selfridges and overlooking Brown Hart Gardens. As an unusual take-in amid the mostly art deco themes at the Beaumont, British artist Antony Gormley, whose haunting sculptures grace parks and popular public galleries and buildings all over the U.K., Europe and the U.S., was invited to use The Beaumont as a canvas to create a living work, called ROOM. A veritable cathedral in a cubist block design, it pushes out from the face of the Beaumont’s exterior to become a room of its own. Inside, it is a stunning suite that can be booked by the night.
What to do: Find iconic Hyde Park to the west and the ultra-trendy West End to the east. More energetic walks might mean Kensington Gardens, adjacent to Hyde
Park, or the trendy center of Piccadilly, perhaps a 20-minute walk away.
Expert tip: Head to Selfridges for a session with Jayne Wallace, leading member of the Psychic Sisters, an attraction in Selfridges, London for more than 13 years and a favorite with celebrities (Kate Hudson, Kylie Jenner, Janice Dickinson, Kim Kardashian and Diana Madison among them).
United States: Wintering at Twin Farms, Barnard, Vermont
Why go: Twin Farms may be Vermont’s best kept secret. The Relais & Chateaux property is the latest iteration of an estate once owned by author Sinclair Lewis and journalist Dorothy Thompson, now reimagined with original works by David Hockney, Frank Stella, Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein. Winter is an especially wondrous experience at Twin Farms, with its endless cross-country ski trails, snowshoeing, ice skating and brag-worthy dinner and weekend programs — all within four hours from New York City. Privacy is at a premium at this fully inclusive resort. Twenty cottages and rooms sleep a maximum of 40 guests.
What to do: Have a private gourmet picnic on a mountain or lake on the property’s 300 acres. Head to Killington Ski Area, 45 minutes away. Explore quaint New England villages for antique stores and maple products.
Expert tips: Explore in the forest on cross country skis or snow shoes, try a little cognac by the fire, then head to the Bridge House Spa for a soak in the Japanese furo surrounded by cathedral windows looking over the frozen meadows.
Note: Various vendors included in this article hosted the writer; however this content was not reviewed by them prior to publication and is solely the opinion of the writer.
Veteran travel writer Lark Gould covers destinations near and far, mostly from the window seat. Check out eTravel.news for updates.