12 Truly Extraordinary Travel Experiences

The experts at cazenove+loyd understand exactly what it takes to deliver a journey beyond expectations. Using their unrivaled knowledge, they create the most exciting and thrilling experiences accompanied by the world’s best guides. 

From riding with Mongolian eagle hunters to walking with emperor penguins in Antarctica, below are 12 extraordinary travel experiences, which will allow you to explore some of the world’s most exciting destinations in the best way possible.

Walking among emperor penguins in Antarctica 

Imagine standing on a seemingly endless icy plain among more than 6,000 emperor penguins and their fluffy, young chicks, surrounded by Antarctica’s stark and otherworldly scenery. Here, the landscape is white as far as the eye can see. These surprisingly tall penguins – up to 4ft high – are totally unafraid of humans and come within a few metres of you, immersing you in the noise, commotion and the sheer beauty of it all. Nearby, elephant seals and fur seals laze, Antarctic skuas scavenge and southern giant petrels fly overhead. Due to the penguins’ remote habitat, this is one of the greatest and least-seen wildlife events on the planet. At night, you can camp nearby and wake up to the sounds of these incredible animals chattering away. For keen wildlife photographers, this may be the ultimate experience.

Staying in an airstream camper van on Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni salt flats

Spend two blissful nights in an airstream camper van on Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni salt flats, with no phone signal and only your travel companions for company. Nothing beats the unique and breathtaking sunset you will witness here and your guide will take you to some areas of water for incredible reflection shots. This is very special as the wind carries the rainwater over the flats, particularly at night, so water can be tricky to find. There is always a fully stocked bar in your camper and your amazing chef will cook up some seriously tasty meals using local quinoa. You won’t see anyone else for two days.

Climbing to sacred heights in Ethiopia 

Ethiopia is like no other country on the African continent. The layers of history and religion shared by our local guides are phenomenal. One of the most memorable experiences here is climbing up to Abuna Yemata Guh, a small rock-hewn church at 2,580m in the Gheralta Mountains of the Tigray region, which can only be reached on foot. Part of the way up the sandstone pinnacle – vertical in places – must be ascended barefoot, with amazing local guides showing you where to put your hands and feet. Women make this treacherous climb with babies on their backs but to the amateur it is challenging and exhilarating. Halfway up the cliff, you walk along a narrow ledge with a sheer drop on one side to reach the church. It is certainly heart-pounding, but the views are awe-inspiring and it is breathtaking to see the wall paintings, dating back to the 5th century, hidden inside this little church known as Ethiopia’s ‘chapel in the sky’.

A private exploration of Mehrangarh Fort in Rajasthan

Jodhpur’s Mehrangarh Fort, with its unique and impressive setting, closes to members of the public and tourists at 5pm. However, it’s possible to enjoy exclusive access to the fort if you know the right people. Having driven up to the majestic fort, whose sheer size is jaw-dropping, you are met with a glass of champagne and views over the whole Blue City. It is a real privilege to be greeted and shown around by the head curator, who has worked all over the world. After a brief introduction, he will guide you through the fort’s beautiful, intricate rooms, giving you special access to the historical royal bedrooms and private rooms normally closed to the public. It is an unforgettable experience to be able to wander around after hours with this fascinating man.

Flying to Everest in Nepal

Flying by helicopter to Kalapatthar, one of the best spots for views of Everest, is perhaps the most memorable travel experience in Nepal. As you soar over huge lakes and ice falls still dwarfed by the surrounding mountains on your way to Kalapatthar by helicopter, your pilot guide points out the skyline and the infamous Khumbu Pass. The views are staggering. You may spot a handful of people climbing – just tiny dots, their minute size demonstrating the magnitude and greatness of these magnificent peaks. Descending to 5,300m, you land and leap down onto the snow. The air is so thin here that you can only stay for five to 10 minutes at this incredible spot. The clock ticks and the helicopter blades keep spinning, their noise adding to the dramatic effect of the scene. Standing under the strong sun, you may feel slightly giddy from the altitude as you look up at Everest standing defiantly before you. These mountains are enchanting and powerful and being in their presence is an adrenaline-fuelled experience. You cannot fail to be moved by the sheer scale of these peaks and by the stories of those who have reached their summits.

Experiencing history unfolding in Israel

Travel north in Israel to the Golan Heights and Mount Bental, from where you will admire stunning views as far as Syria. Sadly, this is an area that has been repeatedly battered by conflict throughout history. From here, set off on an exhilarating experience: a two-hour jeep ride through an agricultural kibbutz and then off-road into the demilitarised zone along the Syrian border to see Israeli army bunkers. Your very experienced guide here is ex-military and it is only through his connections that it’s possible to cross into this area. His guiding and knowledge are second to none and he will enlighten you on Israel’s culture and its relations with its neighbours. Abandoned Syrian villages are visible not too far in the distance during this fascinating and sobering experience that really brings this terrible conflict to life.

Meeting the Māori in New Zealand

It is a great privilege to experience Māori culture and its practices on Mount Titiraupenga, in the Waikato region of New Zealand’s North Island. You are met by Delani, who will walk with you through this protected private land owned by his tribe, the local Ngāti Tūwharetoa. As you stroll, you are likely to hear the booming call of the rare, native Kokako bird who loyally made this hallowed area its breeding ground. A highlight of your time here is the pōwhiri, a traditional Māori welcome. It is best not to say too much about this incredible experience, but it goes deep into the spirituality of the Māori and is something you will never forget. Spend the day in these mystical forests with members of the tribe, learning about this very special and distinct culture, connected so deeply with the rhythms of the natural world.

Riding with Mongolian eagle hunters

It is a once-in-a-lifetime experience to travel to Bayan-Ölgii, a small aimag in western Mongolia, during the Sagsai Eagle Festival. The excitement starts in the early morning as you ride the five kilometres from your camp to Eagle Hill. In the chilly dawn, plumes of dust rise from galloping horses, all converging on the same point. Through the haze, a mass of vehicles, people, camels and horses looms into view. The atmosphere is bustling. Despite it being a hobby for most of the year, eagle hunters take great pride in their birds and the annual festival is taken very seriously. While the eagles are, without a doubt, the main event, the festival also allows a chance for the skill of riders to be tested. By far the most exciting and unusual competition is known as bushkashi (the less exotic-sounding translation being ‘tug of war with a goat’). ‘Kiss and Catch’ is another favourite, involving a husband-and-wife team galloping down the track, the former attempting to dodge the latter’s enthusiastic whipping. Besides copious quantities of Mongolian vodka, Kazakhs celebrate with music afterwards, and when the games are over, you are treated to hours of Mongolian folk songs about blue skies and the homeland. This festival stands out for its raw authenticity: it is an unrehearsed, unchoreographed chaos of competition and celebration. If you’re looking to get off the beaten track and do something really different, nothing compares.

Swimming with manta rays in Indonesia’s Raja Ampat Islands

Scuba-diving with mantas in Raja Ampat, one of the most sought-after places to dive on the planet, has to be up there at the top of most diving enthusiasts’ wish lists. Glide effortlessly between glorious reefs that are alive with fish until the waters darken with shadows. As you rotate towards the surface, you are awestruck by the giant manta rays soaring above your head within touching distance and dancing in the streaming frames of light. Take the time to rest on the soft, sandy ocean floor and watch them gracefully swoop around you like birds of the sea. Being in the company of these safe, curious and inquisitive creatures is an incredibly humbling experience, and one you will remember forever.

Sleeping under the stars in the African bush

Spend a night high on a ridge of the Zambezi Escarpment in Lower Zambezi National Park. It is a matchless and nerve-tingling experience to snuggle down on a comfortable mattress suspended a metre above the ground, with nothing but a mosquito net between you and the carpet of stars overhead. This contraption, known as a Tentsile Tree Tent, takes the ‘sleepout experience’ one step further. The sounds of the night ring loud in your ears as you try to fall asleep: lions call, hyenas laugh and the soporific humming orchestra of the nightjars, cicadas and tree frogs reverberate in the night. The rosy glow of dawn gently wakes you, as the golden orb rises above the rugged horizon and the African bush begins to stir, with white-browed robin chats, tropical boubous and other birds beginning their morning chorus in the nearby miombo woodland, dotted with amarula, tamarind and rain trees. The spectacular view of the valley below is breathtakingly beautiful. On a clear day after the rains, you may see herds of elephant, buffalo, zebra and antelope in the lush valley below, with the Zambezi River and Zimbabwe beyond.

Exploring Osaka, Japan’s Kitchen

From family-run ramen bars to tiny sushi counters tucked away in basement mazes, the gastronomic choices in Japan are endless. Osaka, the city known as ‘Japan’s Kitchen’, is no exception. Your guide will lead you down a dimly lit alleyway lined with little cafes and unassuming, narrow doorways and into a small shop where a husband and wife are making taiyaki, a fish-shaped sandwich with red-bean paste inside. Next is Kuromon Market, where you can try endless strange morsels, including miniature octopus skewers stuffed with a quail’s eggs. Interesting to say the least! You must also try momiji tempura, which are deep-fried maple leaves. Tasty, light and very moreish. Your final stop will be Kuromon Ichiba, a food market that serves up some of the freshest fish in Japan. Your local guide will almost certainly wish to dispel the myth that the best sushi is always found in Tokyo, leading you straight to Maguroya Kurogin. This is the first shop in the Kansai region to sell Pacific tuna, and a great place to just sit at the bar and watch the fish being sliced and served in bright-pink blocks to a never-ending queue of eager diners.

Learning from a Head Lama in Bhutan

Meeting one of the Head Lamas in Bhutan is a mind-expanding and enlightening experience. As you walk among the forest of fluttering prayer flags, you see the snow-clad mountain peaks of the Himalayas laid out before you with the country’s highest peak, Mt. Masanggang, in all its glory. Upon entering the temple, you are guided into a small room, where a bright-eyed and smiling monk stands to greet you, and you sit together on his blanketed floor. The room is covered with colourful tapestries, books, presents from guests, holy offerings, prayer beads and photographs of his pilgrimages. This is his place for prayer and rest, and you can’t help but feel at home but also very privileged to be there. The Lama will tell you about his life and answer your questions graciously over milk tea and kabzey and zow (Bhutanese snacks of biscuits and roasted rice sweetened with butter and sugar). It is incredibly inspirational to learn about the philosophies at the heart of Buddhism from such a holy man.

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