World Wonders, Ancient Sites

Machu Picchu aerial photo, Peru World Wonders

Machu Picchu, Peru. Photo by Martin St Amant.

World Wonders by Month

Best World Wonders in Modern Times

These places become overpriced and wildly overcrowded during the Christmas holidays (December 20th-Jan 5th), Easter holidays (one or two weeks on either side of Easter day), and, unless the weather’s unbearable at this time, also during the summer holidays of late July/Aug.

Sightseeing Tips

When you visit any of these sites, avoid tour packages, get up really early or plan to stay until sunset if you can (if you can afford to stay in a hotel that’s in/beside the site, all the better). Not only will the light be great for photos (think rich colours and long shadows), the temperature cooler and the locals more relaxed, but the humongous package tours will have gone, leaving you in cool, wonderful tranquility (albeit with a few other independent travellers). p. s. don’t forget the mosquito repellent and possibly a flashlight!

Machu Picchu, Peru: ‘Lost’ Inca city

This stupendously beautiful ancient wonder (photo at top) was built by the Incas on a hilltop surrounded by virgin mountains. No roads go there so it’s a hike or train ride (or both) only.

Machu Pichu (also occasionally spelt as Matchu Pitchu! ) is built on very loose, ex-landslide soil, currently slipping off the hilltop at the rate of 5 inches per year and is in great danger of suddenly tobogganing all

Hike the incredible Inca Trail if you can, 3 days, 22km over the mountains. Porters are a necessary option these days.

Otherwise the train from Cusco  means arriving late and leaving early and you’ll always be embedded in a crowd, so stay one night if possible. There is one expensive hotel, the Sanctuary Lodge, next to the site, giving excellent and less crowded early morning access to the site, which opens at 6. am, first train tourists arrive at 9. 30am.

Guest houses, restaurants and hot springs are about four miles (six kms) from the rail station at Aguas Calientes.

Best: April-June, September-November. OK July, Aug (winter). Avoid: December-March (rain).

Bagan (aka Pagan), Myanmar (Burma)

Bagan temples hot air balloon view, Myanmar, Burma World Wonders

Bagan, Myanmar (Burma). Photo by Christopher Michel.

2, 500 17thC pointy buildings – temples, pagodas and stupas – in 16 sq. miles of dry, flat rural landscape. Incredibly beautiful, world-beating 360 degree views from some structures, with zero high rises, apartment blocks or even hotels in view.

Try to stay in smaller Burma hotels, eat in local restaurants and pay money directly to local people – as opposed to fattening up the appalling military junta that controls the country.

Best time for Burma Tourism: November-Feb. Avoid May-June (extreme heat). Bagan deserves at least 3 days. Use bicycles or horse carts for the full flavour.

Fly from Yangon (Rangoon), home of the amazing Shwedagon Pagoda, or take a ferry down the Irrawaddy river from Mandalay – also worth two or three days. Lake Inle‘s floating gardens and leg rowers are interesting, too. Take $US! Preferably new $100 bills and many small ones.

Giza Pyramids and camel, Egypt World Wonders

Giza pyramids, Egypt, the only actual Ancient Wonder still standing. Photo by Mstyslav Chernov.

‘Man fears time, yet time fears the Pyramids’ (Arab proverb) The Great Pyramid is the oldest and only wonder of the seven wonders of the ancient world still standing.

In the desert beside Cairo and a few metres from the Sphinx, the three Giza pyramids are much bigger and older than Mexico’s Chichen Itza, though less shapely and without the jungle city ambience.

The Giza pyramid area is open only 8am-4pm. Rent-a-camel/horse. Go inside a pyramid. There’s lots to do in Cairo, especially the magnificent Egyptian Museum, excellent shopping at Khan el Khalili market, more older pyramids a short drive down the Nile at Saquara and a ton of mosques.

Best weather: October-May. Otherwise it’s seriously hot. Then head for Luxor for more and varied amazing sights or the Red Sea for a dip!

Petra, Jordan

The Urn Tomb, the Royal Tombs in Petra, Jordan

The Treasury in Petra, Jordan

‘A rose-red city half as old as time. ‘
This massive complex of temples and monuments sensationally carved out of solid multicoloured rock is unlike anything else in the world. A trip would be wasted with less then 2 days walking inside magical Petra, though early starts and late finishes are the way to get best views and space away from tourist herds.

Driving there from Israel or Egypt’s Sinai/Red Sea resorts is convenient and usually without problems.

Also, visit Lawrence of Arabia’s Wadi Rum (south of Petra), a Dead Sea spa or the Roman ruins of Jerash (north of Amman) while you’re there?

Best weather: March-June, September-November. Avoid: winter (cold) & summer (hot).

Angkor, Cambodia

Angkor Wat monks, Cambodia.

Dressed to kill in Ta Prohm,  Angkor,  Cambodia.

This Khmer temple/urban complex was one of the most capital capitals in Asia in the 9th-14th centuries, 400 sq kms of stunningly carved, world beating wonders, including Angkor Wat.

Exploring this requires several days; see Angkor Wat and pinky Banteay Srei (25km away) for awesome carvings, Angkor Thom for huge style and imposing faces, Ta Prohm for jungle tangled temples; another 40 great ruins await your time but don’t stray off regular tracks, there are still land mines around.

The local town of Siem Reap is a pretty cool place, quite relaxed, not too much traffic and colourful streets in the evening when tourists are back from Angkor. ‘Pub Street’ and surrounds near the Old Market are lively and buzzing with an interesting variety of bars and restaurants.

Take $US!

Phnom Penh is just about worth a couple of days, while some beaches accessible via  Sihanoukville (which is overbuilt, overcrowded and understyled) are beautiful and/or dippy hippy retreats such as Otres 1. Otres 2 is the place for grown ups while Ko Rong and Ko Rong Sanloem an hour offshore may offer your idea of paradise. Cambodia Beaches

The Ream National Park has lots of activities options.

Best weather: December- February. Avoid: April (extreme heat), September, October (heavy rains, impassable roads).

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