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An expert's guide to the 50 best holidays in the world for 2021

Nicola Shepherd By Nicola Shepherd
19 Nov 2020
Kenya heli safaris in Chalbi desert - Ol Malo.jpg

In 2021, more than ever, let us ensure we maximise our precious time with family and friends, where we can explore the magical and wild parts of the world and experience new wonders.

The world is still out there to explore and we are renewed with enthusiasm for the great outdoors, magical wilderness places and to connect with other cultures with whom we differ so greatly and yet share so much.

Why is it so important to continue making travel plans for 2021?

Now more than ever, the people who live in the countries we travel to need our support. Sustainable and responsible tourism, (as well as charitable donations from guests), form a large part of many economies and furthermore it is a powerful positive driver for environmental and community change. Without this income, many charities sadly will not be able to continue operation.

 


But we can continue to support charities, conservation and communities by planning our future journeys now. Therefore I urge you to look ahead and think about your next unique, life-changing, extraordinary journey. I have included my top travel inspirations below. These cater for a wide variety of interests. The choices are endless and Africa, Asia and Latin America offer so many fantastic experiences that there truly is a unique and personalised experience for everyone.

My top 50 bucket list travel experiences for 2021

Here are some of the most exciting, worthwhile and life-changing experiences that can be found: these are the things you should be thinking of ticking off your bucket list, starting in 2021…

 

AFRICA

1. Participatory conservation safaris

The joy of making a meaningful and lasting difference as part of your safari is immeasurable. Take part in and fund a conservation activity. Tanzania, Namibia and Kenya are wonderful locations for this, an experience that the family can all share.

2. The Masai Mara, Kenya

View the Great Migration from the Kenya side, exploring the legendary Masai Mara (from horseback, is my favourite!). The wildlife viewing is spectacular here, especially for predators. This is also a wonderful family safari destination.

 


3. Selous Game Reserve, southern Tanzania

The Selous is one of the last and largest regions of Africa that is almost entirely untouched by humans, spanning nearly the size of Ireland. This is a privileged and humbling place, where you can view wildlife on foot and  by boat, as well as conventional 4x4. 

4. The Serengeti, Tanzania

Witness the Great Migration of wildebeest, Africa’s greatest wildlife spectacle, staying in a luxury private mobile camp set up in the best wildlife areas. Followed by a stay in Mahale Mountains National Park where you can track the greatest concentration of habituated chimps.

 


5. Ruaha National Park, southern Tanzania

Ruaha is a vast and unspoilt wilderness very seldom visited by safari-goers, with one of the largest populations of lion of anywhere in Africa. For added exclusivity, embark upon a private mobile walking safari with one of the top walking guides in the country, immersing yourself in African wilderness on your journey.

6. Busanga Plains, Zambia

A unique habitat in Zambia’s Kafue National park, the Busanga Plains are one of the best places to see black-maned lions and crowned cranes. This wilderness is waterlogged most of the year, supporting high populations of water birds. My top tip – arrange a dawn hot-air balloon flight drifting silently over the grasslands, watching the hues change as the sun rises.

 

7. Okavango Delta, Botswana

One of the most unique ecosystems in the world, the Okavango Delta should be on everyone’s lifetime travel bucket list. Come here to watch incredible birdlife and wildlife from canoes, boat safaris, walking safaris and game drive vehicles. It is also the only place where you can go on safari walking with a matriarchal herd of elephant! For an elevated experience, take a luxury camp exclusively.

8. Laikipia, Kenya

Take a private walking safari with local Maasai or Samburu guides, assisted by camels or mules. You walk each day and learn about the Maasai way of life as you go, and you can ride the camels when you get tired. Children love the novelty of this type of holiday!

 


9. The Limpopo Region, South Africa

South Africa’s best-kept secret! This region has extraordinary wildlife and is little-visited by tourists. The best walking safaris are conducted from here. Located in a triangle between the Limpopo river and the Luvuvhu in the northern-most section of the Kruger National Park, the bird watching and diversity of safari wildlife is astounding.

10. Mana Pools, Zimbabwe

Legendary wilderness at the top of most wildlife enthusiasts lists, Mana has it all. There is stunning scenery with a backdrop of the wide blue magnificent Zambezi River with pods of hippo and huge crocodile, the purple haze of the Zambezi Escarpment on the horizon and the Albida forest and its pastel colours. Walking safaris, canoeing on the Zambezi and game drives, there is a wealth of animals – elephant, lion and wild dog and more.

11. Virunga Mountains, Rwanda

This is my favourite place to track mountain gorillas. There is nothing quite like the feeling of being in the presence of our primate cousins, watching these gentle primates as they graze, play and interact.

 


12. Bale Mountains, Ethiopia

Vast and incredible, the Bale Mountains are the home of the last Ethiopian wolves, and one of the best birding areas in the country. Diverse topography and vegetation make for fascinating wildlife viewing, and even better, this Park is so little-visited that you will have it almost to yourself!

13. Ennedi, Sahara Desert, Chad

With some of the most dramatic and dazzling desert scenery anywhere in the world, a holiday to Ennedi is an experience you’ll never forget! Explore by helicopter to take in the Ennedi Massif, the Tibeste Mountains and spend time with Bedouin tribes, witnessing their nomadic culture.

 


14. Zakouma National Park, Chad

Zakouma has been painstakingly restored by the hard work of African Parks and is now home to the most amazing birdlife and wildlife. Here I have heard lions roaring nearby every single night and witnessed elephants come up to the ranger station to drink water directly from the hosepipe, their trust in humans newly regained.

15. Liuwa Plains, Zambia

A park the size of Wales with only a few small camps and one luxury lodge, the exquisite Time + Time King Lewanika. This is the ultimate in exclusivity and wilderness! The Liuwa Plains are breathtakingly beautiful and you can see wonderful bird life here, as well as their spotted hyena population.

 


16. Nyungwe Forest National Park, Rwanda

In this vast mountain rainforest you can track chimpanzees in the wild, the finest wild chimpanzee experience in Africa. You can also see 12 other species of primate including the endemic L’Hoest’s monkey. This is an extraordinary wildlife experience.

17. Madagascar

With a vast diversity of habitat, Madagascar is a thrilling destination for a wildlife safari. There are over 70 different species of lemur, as well as unique endemic trees and vegetation. The culture is fabulous too, and of course, you should spend a few days on a paradise beach (or yachting around pristine islands) before you leave!

 

18. The Zambezi Region (formerly the Caprivi Strip), Namibia

Over 500 kilometres framed by Botswana, Angola and Zambia, is a lush area with game parks, floodplains and savannahs, mopane woodlands and a wealth of animals. From crocodiles to sable antelope, the Zambezi is a contrast to the Namib’s deserts. The Mahango Park has superb birdlife and Popa Falls, Bwabwata National Park, and Nkasa Lupala National Park are also worth a visit.

19. The Kalahari Desert, Botswana

The Kalahari Desert is the best location to watch desert-dwelling animals including a habituated colony of meerkats. You can also interact with the San people and learn how they have lived in this harsh environment for millennia. You could also embark upon a fabulous horse riding safari or take a quad bike across the Makgadikgadi pans to Kubu Island.

 


20. Cape Town, South Africa

Cape Town is simply an amazing city! The best city for art, music and wine with a host of active adventures for families. Elevate your experience by staying in a beautiful private villa for a few nights whilst you explore.

21. The Omo Region, Ethiopia

The Omo Valley is home to some of the most unique tribes in Africa, who have remained untouched by modernisation (for now). Spend time with these tribes and experience their cultures and traditions. Extend your holiday to see the rest of Ethiopia, including the incredible Coptic churches of Lalibela.

 


22. Luangwa National Park, Zambia

The legendary home of the walking safari. Travel on foot between luxury camps, take day walks returning to the same camp each night, or travel for a few days on foot staying in a private mobile camp set up just for you. You can find the highest concentration of leopard here, as well as wonderful birding.

23. Mozambique coast sailing and yacthing

Mozambique is the best coastal region for diving and holidays by yacht and dhow. Set sail in a privately chartered yacht or dhow and sail around the islands, snorkelling and diving the pristine coral reefs along the way. Interact with local people and catch fish for your dinner, which are cooked over an open fire before camping on the beach for the night!

 


24. Dzanga-Sangha National Park, Central African Republic

Dzanga Bai is entirely off the beaten track, deep in the Congo rainforest. The clearings (bais) in the forest are a gathering point for huge herds of forest elephants, and lowland gorillas often come down to the fringes, as well as chimpanzees and other forest wildlife. Pangolin are also found here and you could support the local Pangolin rescue rehabilitation centre at Sangha Lodge.

25. Odzala National Park, Republic of Congo

A totally different wildlife experience to anywhere else in Africa! Trek in the pristine Congo rainforest to see the western lowland gorilla and walk through the bais wildlife viewing. One of the most fantastic and adventurous safaris one can have.

 


26. The Skeleton Coast, Namibia

Take to the skies with your private pilot-guide to see the dramatic Skeleton Coast from the air. 500 kilometres of beach and sand dunes that fall into the sea, presumably desolate? It’s certainly not - home to desert lions, Cape fur seals, jackals and sea birds. A vast wilderness waits to be explored with expert and specialist guides that bring the desert to life before you.

27. The Namib Desert, Namibia

The world’s oldest desert is breath-taking. Float over the incredible sand dunes in a hot air balloon at sunrise and search for desert-adapted wildlife in this dramatic landscape.

 


28. Gorongosa National Park, Mozambique

Fauna and flora abound in this 42000km sq National Park, one of the last primeval wildernesses. Once decimated, it is now on the road to full recovery, and a haven to wild dog and elephants who roam freely. A vast diversity of wildlife lives in five different vegetation zones which include miombo woodland, fever tree forests, sand forests, riverine terrain plus Borassus and Ilala Palm forests as well as floodplains.

29. North Sudan

For the intrepid traveller, witness Sudan's incredible culture and untouched pyramids – they have twice as many as Egypt!

 


ASIA

30. Champagne breakfast on Everest by private helicopter, Kathmandu, Nepal

I just stood there, completely awestruck and speechless, before the most iconic and majestic mountain on Earth, taking a moment to fully grasp and appreciate the significance of the moment.

Viewing Mount Everest is an incredibly spiritual experience and other than summiting it on a gruelling mountaineering expedition, there isn’t a better and more special way of getting up close to it than by private helicopter. Fly around the most iconic peaks with an expert Sherpa guide, listening to his incredible expedition anecdotes. Top this with a champagne breakfast at the highest mountain lodge in the world and you will return with memories to cherish forever.

 


31. Stay at 360° Leti, Kumaon, India

Located deep in the Indian Himalaya, Shakti 360° Leti represents the epitome of exclusive, high-end mountain lodges with breath-taking views and access to completely untouched Kumaon villages. It’s a dream come true for those who enjoy nature, tranquillity and trekking.

32. Ananda in the Himalaya, India

Rated one of the finest destination spas in the world, Ananda in the Himalaya is located on the grounds of a historic palace in the Himalayan foothills and specialises in the ancient Indian wellness sciences of Yoga and Ayurveda.

 


33. Hornbill Festival, Nagaland, India

An awe-inspiring spectacle of ancient sports, traditional crafts, culinary flair as well as folk dance and music, India’s Hornbill Festival is arguably the finest showcase of the legendary head-hunting tribes of Nagaland. Kohima Camp offers a stylish and comfortable base to enjoy the festivities from in this remarkably remote corner of India.

34. Phobjikha Valley, Bhutan

Home to the graceful black-necked cranes during winter, idyllic nature trails and villages and one of the finest monasteries in the country. Phobjikha Valley is adorned with stunning landscapes that showcase the Bhutan of your imagination. Its blissful environment and views are best enjoyed at Gangtey Lodge with its gorgeous accommodation, breath-taking views and impeccable service and food.

 


35. Giant pandas at Qingcheng Mountain, China

Spending time with incredibly endearing Giant Pandas is a rare privilege. The Dujiangyan Panda Base in China’s sacred Qingcheng Mountains offers a unique opportunity to visitors to become a panda keeper for a day. One can also follow in the footsteps of Marco Polo by exploring the areas in and around the ancient city of Dujiangyan, and visit the oldest and largest extant irrigation system in the world, which was built in 256 BC.

Just an hour away lies Chengdu, Asia’s first UNESCO City of Gastronomy, home to sizzling hotpots, ancient temples and mansions as well as the unique Sichuan Face-changing Opera. Six Senses’ luxuriant resort offers the most charming accommodation in this area.

 


36. Xian and Beijing, China

Marvel at the army of Terracotta Warriors, enjoy a champagne sundowner on the Great Wall, stroll through the vast grounds of the Summer Palace and enjoy an exclusive access to the Forbidden City. China’s ancient wonders will leave you utterly mesmerised! Learning the art of Tai Chi in the serene gardens of the Temple of Heaven remains one of my most memorable experiences in China.

37. Shangri-La, Yunnan Province, China

A mystical land of centuries-old villages, pristine countryside, snow-capped mountains and the awe-inspiring Tiger Leaping Gorge, Shangri-La lies in the heart of China’s forgotten Himalaya and offers a peek into the ancient Tibetan culture. Banyan Tree’s Ringha resort beautifully showcases the area’s rich Tibetan heritage.

 


38. Discovering Indonesia’s rich marine life on a private cruise

Picture crystal clear azure waters brimming with astoundingly colourful corals and an incredibly diverse marine life, Indonesia is one of the finest diving and snorkelling destinations in the world.

Imagine walking with the fabled Komodo Dragons and swimming with manta rays and whale sharks. The Indonesian archipelago is best explored on a private yacht. Alexa as well as Amanikan and Amandira offer the most luxurious sailing explorations with state-of-the-art equipment for underwater adventures.

 


39. Singapore

There are just a handful of cities around the globe that can match Singapore’s culinary prowess and diversity. From street side hawkers to world-class restaurants, Singapore’s food scene is sophisticated and iconic. Sipping a Singapore Sling at the legendary Long Bar in the Raffles Hotel has become one of the most quintessential Singapore experiences.

40. Staying in a traditional Japanese ryokan

Bubbling hot springs, traditional kaiseki cuisine and traditional hospitality are masterfully combined in Japan's famous ryokans where, for centuries, weary travellers have rejuvenated their senses and rediscovered harmony with nature. Experience this age-old tradition for yourself in two of the finest ryokans in the country: Gora Kadan in Hakone and Beniya Mukayu outside the city of Kanazawa.

 


41. Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

Think wildlife and it’s hard not to think of the ancient Bornean rainforests that are teeming with an astounding array of flora and fauna, including highly endangered species such as the orangutans, pygmy elephants and proboscis monkeys. Danum Valley Conservation Area located in Sabah in Malaysian Borneo remains the finest region in the world where one could view orangutans in the wild.

42. Yakushima Island, Japan

This magical island is home to the oldest cedar forest in the country and is a hiker’s dream come true. Some of the older trees on the island are believed to be between 2,100 and 7,200 years old. Admire a carpet of rhododendrons on the mountain slopes in spring, witness hundreds of loggerhead turtles that come to the island to lay their eggs in summer, go hiking in the hills and kayaking on the river in autumn. Witness unique local events including cycling tournament, trail runs as well as harvesting of tankan and lemons during winter; Yakushima can be enjoyed all year around.

 


43. Sunrise over Borobudur, Java, Indonesia

Few places in the world offer such mesmerising views. From atop the world’s grandest Buddhist monument of Borobudur, you are sure to be rewarded with one of the most magical sunrises anywhere in the world.

Amanjiwo, Aman’s spiritual luxury retreat, reflects Borobudur’s minimalistic and intricate architecture and offers the most impressive views of the monument and its surrounding countryside. Being able to visit the 8th century Mendut Temple after it closes and listening to the evening Buddhist chants at the local monastery are some of the rare privileges that are available only to Amanjiwo’s guests.

 


44. Mongolia

There are just a handful of places around the globe where one can enjoy pure wilderness, far away from any signs of modern civilisation. Glamping in Mongolia is surreal, riding horses across the vast plains and sipping Suutei tsai with rustic nomadic tribes during the day and gazing into astoundingly beautiful night skies after dark.

45. Searching for snow leopards in Ladakh

For those who love wildlife, tracking snow leopards in the rugged snow-capped Himalaya is the ultimate safari experience. Ulley Valley offers an ideal base to take out the most specialist and low-impact excursions focusing on sustainable wildlife tourism.

 


46. Udaipur, India

Perhaps the most romantic city in India, staying in Taj Lake Palace Hotel located in the middle of Lake Pichola offers the most regal experience that epitomises India’s rich royal heritage. Explore wider Rajasthan too, walking in the countryside, trekking up to hill forts, exploring historic palaces and stumbling across art and architecture aplenty. 

 

LATIN AMERICA


47. Hiram Bingham and Machu Picchu, Peru

Enigmatic. Secretive. Outstanding. These are just a few of the superlatives used to describe the astounding Machu Picchu, which was discovered by Hiram Bingham about 110 years ago. Hike the iconic Inca Trail or arrive by the luxurious train bearing the explorer’s name and begin to discover this mystical citadel for yourself.

 


48. Galápagos Islands

Like nowhere else on earth, cruise around the incredible Galápagos Islands aboard an intimate 10 berth boat with expert guides. Here, wildlife rules supreme. From giant tortoises to blue-footed boobies, you can snorkel amongst sea turtles and rays, or hike amongst incredible nesting birds - every day a different experience.

49. Costa Rica

Surrounded by two oceans, protected rain forests, magical waterfalls and packing punches way above its size, experience ‘pura vida’ and fun-filled adventures in Costa Rica – the happiest and most sustainable corner on earth.

 


50. Cartagena, Colombia

The perfect antidote to the gloom of this past year, head for Cartagena to put some va-va-voom back into your life! The city of Cartagena is thriving with old-world hints intertwined with buzzing modern experiences. Amble around the magical old Spanish colonial streets, sip their famous coffee in quiet shady courtyards, and for dinner try the classic ceviche and mero, before heading out to the numerous jazz bars. For the energetic, salsa with the exuberant Colombians!

End your trip by spending a few days relaxing on fantastic Caribbean beaches, or island hopping in your own private yacht. From the white sandy beaches and romantic Caribbean vibe to the eclectic restaurants and bars and more, Cartagena is the perfect location to awaken your senses.

Finally, remember that my top tip for 2021 travel, wherever you go, is to travel privately; taking private flights or even a private executive jet, travelling within the regions by private helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft, staying in private camps or villas, and taking to the seas in private yachts or staying on private islands. Please do feel free to contact us for more information, or if you would just like to dream, for now, you can do so at our video library.

 

 

Images and video used by kind courtesy of:

Seba Camp Botswana, Singinta Tanzania, Cactus Tours Madagascar, Odzala Discovery Camps Republic of Congo, Natural Selection Botswana, Brian Meier, Shakti Himalaya India, Ananda in the Himalayas India, Amandira AMAN, Karisia Safaris Kenya, Ol Malo Kenya, Dennis Stogsdill, Sand Rivers Nomad Tanzania, ITAL Tourism Sudan, Kichaka Expeditions Tanzania, Time + Tide King Lewanika Lodge Zambia, The Ultimate Travelling Camps India.

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