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Natural wonders and cultural sites top travel bucket list

| Wednesday, Jan. 17, 2018, 11:15 a.m.
For its natural wonders, Antarctica is a good choice to top a travel bucket list.
Tribune News Service
For its natural wonders, Antarctica is a good choice to top a travel bucket list.

Question: I recently retired. My wife and I have traveled throughout Europe but want to visit more far-flung destinations now that we have time and are still healthy. Cost is not a primary concern. I'm more interested in nature than my wife; comfort is definitely a criteria. What are your top suggestions?

— Doug H., Miami

Answer: What suits you and your wife best may be very different from anyone else. Start your list with the places you've always wanted to see. Then consider a few that don't necessary hit your "must" list but would be convenient to some place else you're going. (Some of my most memorable trips have been to places I never knew I wanted to go.)

Definitely use a knowledgeable travel agent. Take the time to be sure the agent you are using knows about the specific destination or travel style you want; the same agent may not be best for every trip.

Natural wonders

These would be on my must-see list of natural wonders:

Antarctica: This still rates as my No. 1 nature experience. Go via a cruise with a strong reputation for first-rate lecturers and naturalists.

African safari: No one place will do it all. In South Africa, you can sip top-drawer wines, visit luxury safari camps and learn about the apartheid struggle. But if you're keen to seen the Great Migration and wide plains filled with great herds of wildebeests, zebras and Cape buffalo, you'll need to head to the East African nations of Kenya and Tanzania. (Tanzania's Ngorogoro Crater is a personal fave.)

Galapagos Islands: This was nowhere on my own list — until I went there. Even if you're not a nature fan, the animal life here is fascinating. The ecosystem is a living testament to both sides of the nature v. nurture debate. Definitely choose a cruise that emphasizes its naturalist staff.

Great Barrier Reef: Even if you've snorkeled a thousand times, Australia's Great Barrier Reef is an underwater marvel; fly out to Lizard Island for a stay far from the crowds and close to the best the sea has to offer. (Don't miss the Barosso Valley's delectable wines and Uluru (otherwise known as Ayer's Rock) for the dessert and the aboriginal cultures.

Cultural sites

My cultural sites bucket list is too long for any column, but here are some highlights:

Easter Island: In it's own way, Easter Island is also a testament to evolution — of human culture. If you allot enough time, you can combine it with a Galapagos visit or a trip to one of the most staggeringly beautiful places on the planet: Chile's Torre del Paine National Park.

India: India can be both glorious — many of the former palaces are now luxury hotels — and maddening (the drivers make Miami look tame.) The Taj Mahal alone is worth the visit. And don't miss the holy city of Varanasi — not always easy, but thought provoking — and the luxuries of Jaipur and Udaipur. Several river cruise lines now offer India options that could work well.

Jerusalem, Petra and Egypt: Given world events, this may not be the time to go. But keep each of these on your list. Visiting them will deliver an understanding of both the ancient and modern worlds that you can't quite get from books.

East Asia: I leave my favorite to last, only because this is a vast place, and just scratching the surface requires multiple visits. Hong Kong, Shanghai and Beijing offer glimpses of a world changing at hyperspeed. The temples of Bagan in Myanmar, Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Java's Borobodur offer Buddhist riches far different from that in the Himalayan regions of Bhutan and Tibet; all deliver memorable experiences. Japan brings the contrasts of ultra-modern Tokyo and the ancient grace of Kyoto (be sure to stay in a traditional ryokan.)

Jane Wooldridge is a Tribune News Service writer.

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