We live in excitingly cosmopolitan times. Our local cities are melting pots of cultures, different languages are spoken, and you can get curries from around the corner that taste (almost) as good as where they originated. Globalisation and the internet mean you don’t have to travel to a country to buy something exotic or locally produced — you can have an African carving or an Indian trinket delivered to your home within days if you want to. Or you can travel by sofa to fabulous destinations simply by switching on the TV.
Yet some cultural experiences can’t be replicated authentically without travelling. Nothing compares to the hubbub or the hush, scents of spice or freshness, the thrill of spotting animals in the wild, or a true cultural immersion, so here are five cultural adventures that are entirely unparalleled unless you’re right there in person.
1. Shop the souks of Marrakesh
The vivid colours of Moroccan lanterns and the intoxicating aroma of spices are a couple of the things that might strike your senses first as you venture into the labyrinthine souks of Marrakech. The narrow alleyways often belie the year, even the century, in some of these markets, and it can feel like you’ve stepped back in time as you peruse the hawkers’ wares beneath palm-roofed stalls.
It’s not about what you’re buying as much as the sensory sensations of the souk experience itself. But the bartering is part of the fun and shouldn’t be missed. However tempting it is to buy an enormous and beautiful rug (and boy, will the sellers try and tempt you), it’s not the most practical item to bring home in your luggage. Instead, shop for babouche, colourful Moroccan slippers or buy a traditional Moroccan teapot to make pots of fresh mint tea to reminisce over when you return from your travels.
Visit Morocco and explore the souks of Marrakesh on Highlights of Morocco, a 15-day trip where not only will you experience the souks for yourself, but you’ll see imperial cities, the Atlas Mountains, the Sahara Desert and the Atlantic coast.
2. Sip tea in a traditional Japanese ritual
A traditional Japanese tea ceremony is a hushed affair rooted in Chinese Zen philosophy. Dressed in kimonos, guests are served meticulously prepared green tea served in beautiful ceramics. It’s considered a sacred ritual that demands respect and careful consideration of the rules. Remove your shoes, wait to be invited inside and focus on the ceremony rather than making idle chit-chat to show your respect for the ritual.
You can participate in a traditional Japanese tea ritual (and take other opportunities to sip traditional green tea) during a two-week exploration of Ancient & Modern Japan. It’s a trip that compares centuries-old traditions that have shaped this fascinating land with visits to historic shrines with a total immersion in the Japan of today, where the stark modernity of Tokyo and the bullet train network juxtapose Japan’s cherished heritage.
3. Scan the terrain for Lions in Botswana
It’s a simple fact that an authentic safari cannot be replicated. And another that few nature experiences across the world can rival the thrill of seeing Lions in the wild. Roam across Botswana on foot, safari jeep, and by boat to see the breadth of wildlife that live here, from the giraffes and elephants to lesser-known species. The Savuti Marsh is home to plenty of game, including Elephants and Cheetahs, and is also one of the best locations for seeing Lions.
While nothing is guaranteed on safari, our Wildlife & Wilderness of Botswana trip has a wide variety of game drives and wildlife spotting opportunities to maximise your chances of spotting Lions. As well as the Savuti Marsh, you’ll have the opportunity to see Lions in the Moremi Game Reserve. A safari in Botswana is an experience that will stay with you long after you return, not only for the incredible wildlife you’ll see along the way but for the people you’ll meet and the stories you’ll hear.
4. Let your imagination run wild in Mexico
The intriguing ancient Maya civilisation is an incomplete chapter of history that only started to be uncovered by explorers in the early 1840s. The use of its pyramid temples and grand buildings is still shrouded in mystery, with mostly only speculation and opinion to rely on, leaving tantalising holes to fill in with your imagination as you visit places like Chichén Itza.
Delve deeper into the Mayan civilisation on a 14-night trip to Mexico: Mayans, Aztecs & Conquistadors and visit the structures of Chichén Itza, marvelling at the 365-step pyramid that’s said to demonstrate the importance of astrology to the Mayans, who developed a 365-day calendar, and a ball court where games were played.
5. Follow in the footsteps of adventurers along the Silk Road
The Silk Road is a network of ancient trade routes. For over 1,500 years, merchant caravans travelled across deserts and over mountains on this vital trade network between the great civilisations of the Mediterranean and China. Art, religion, and ideas permeated eastwards and westwards, and cities with impressive architecture were built alongside nomadic communities.
For some journeys, no number of words, images, or videos can do the experience justice. And the parts of the Silk Road that wind through Central Asia are one such example. Instead, follow in the footsteps of Italian explorer Marco Polo and retrace the part of the Silk Road that winds its way across Central Asia on a two-week trip, The Silk Road, from Bukhara and Samarkand to the Tien Shan mountains. Only when you’re there in person can you truly imagine the lives of the traders, see the same unchanged views that were witnessed by the travellers, and experience life on the Silk Road.
If you want to immerse yourself in a new culture, you can browse more of our cultural adventures here.