Juliet Twena: The ‘must see’ sights on my bucket list - part one

WITH 2021 just around the corner, I have come up with a top-ten bucket list of destinations, experiences and encounters that everyone should be considering for their travels next year. The contenders are a combination of some from my own list and those that caught my eye, whether it be for rating highly among my clients or by emerging as the place to holiday.

This list reflects the feelings most have towards travel right now. Many of us see the new year as an opportunity to throw ourselves into new experiences. It’s just the excuse we need to start ticking off some of those bucket-list trips.

In this two-part series I will uncover island hideaways miles from civilisation, world-renowned beachside locations with an air of elegance and private-pool villas that I feel deserve recognition, along with the most incredible animal encounters and once-in-a-lifetime expeditions.

Gorillas in the mist

This is the ultimate wildlife encounter and has topped my list for as long as I can remember. Mesmerising scenes play out before you, with mothers nurturing tiny babies, toddlers somersaulting through bushes and brambles, youngsters posing, flirting or stuffing their faces with bamboo while big daddy silverbacks watch over them all. While a permit only allows you one precious hour with these majestic animals – and it is quite an expensive hour – it is worth every penny of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Money from the permit also helps fund the survival of around 880 of our critically endangered mountain cousins. Win-win in my view.

Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is dense, steep and is home to some 400 mountain gorillas, including 11 groups habituated for tracking. While in neighbouring Rwanda 480 mountain gorillas roam the Virunga Mountains of Volcanoes National Park. Some, such as the Susa group studied by famous primatologist Dian Fossey, live at an altitude of over 3,000m. In July, the annual naming ceremony of baby gorillas – Kwita Izina – attracts thousands, but it’s great for gorilla-spotting year-round.

Encounter elephants

Elephant Hills brings a fresh approach to the animal-spotting holiday by combining luxurious accommodation with the stunning natural scenery of Thailand’s tropical forest and a firm commitment to animal welfare. The resort invites you to explore all the natural wonders of Khao Sok National Park, including the unforgettable experience of interacting with the resident herd of Asian elephants.

Each of the park’s two-to-four day tours brings you on a journey through this untouched wilderness with the help of an insightful English-speaking local tour guide, and includes the award-winning ‘elephant experience’, allowing you to get up close and personal with nature’s gentle giants in a responsible way. Watch the elephants bathe in mud pools before giving them a scrub with coconut fibres and feeding them their daily meals. Despite its remote location, you won’t be expected to give up your creature comforts during your time at Elephant Hills. Instead, you’ll be staying in one of the tailor-made luxury tents either at the Elephant Camp or at the floating Rainforest Camp, which sits on the emerald waters of Cheow Larn Lake – a popular choice for couples, honeymooners and families alike.

African safari

A huge favourite among my clients and frequently requested by families, couples and honeymooners is ‘a safari’. While I have been lucky enough to overland all the way from the Cape to Kenya, I wanted to focus on one of South Africa’s foremost game reserves, and the malaria-free region of South Africa’s eastern cape.

Shamwari Private Game Reserve is a luxury safari and game lodge in South Africa’s ecologically and culturally significant Eastern Cape Province. One of South Africa’s foremost game reserves, this is where you’ll see the coveted ‘big five’ roaming the landscape, alongside flora and fauna native only to the Cape.

Staying at Shamwari (‘my friend’ in Shona) means you are participating in an immensely successful conservation project, which returned the land to the rich biodiversity for which it was once renowned. Shamwari partners with Virginia McKenna’s Born Free Foundation to provide rescued lions and leopards with refuge and a safe environment to live. Shamwari is dedicated to preserving the surrounding savanna ecosystem and welcomes families to come and learn about the importance of conservation practices together in a luxurious setting.

Barefoot luxury in the Maldives

How does your own private oasis sound? A place to escape from the heat of a tropical island or a vantage point to take in the views of the vast ocean before you. Sheltered by sculpted gardens or unobscured space? Well look no further as I introduce the Maldives.

These Paradise Islands are another from my own list. For many years I had planned a 40th birthday trip to this heaven-on-earth destination. I dreamt of diving in crystal-clear waters and swimming with the rays. But it wasn’t meant to be, as I gave birth to my son just four days before my birthday – and so it remains on the list.

There are private-pool villas with pristine white sands, magical Maldivian sunset views, over-water retreats and an ocean home to 250 species of coral teeming with over 1,000 species of fish to enjoy. The Maldives has one of the most delicate environments anywhere on the planet. Coral reefs are the foundation of the islands and the reefs offer protection as a natural defence.

I always say to clients, ‘one island, one resort’, meaning the Maldives offers that true private-island experience. Reached by either sea plane or speed boat, each resort offers something different, from adult-only boutique collections to an assortment of larger family-friendly resorts; there is something for everyone.

Route 66

Last on this week’s list but by no means least is the iconic Route 66. Running from Chicago on America’s east coast over 2,400 miles to Los Angeles on the west coast, The Mother Road (as it is also known) has inspired movies, songs and great memoirs.

But why does this old road remain so popular? For many is evokes images of simpler times, mom-and-pop businesses, and the icons of a mobile nation on the road. It offers an authentic USA that perhaps is hard to find in the big cities or see past the bright lights. It can be hard to look past the plastic fantastic and the bling that is now so synonymous thanks to the likes of the Kardashians and Trump. But dig a little deeper and discover a shared heritage through the historic places that recall those images and experiences that are reminders of the past and evidence of a once great nation.

lFor more details on these or any trips on your bucket list, please to get in touch and I can arrange an appointment to chat and talk all things travel.

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