An important Buddhist site on the island of Java, Borobudur is a massive monument in a picturesque Indonesian setting. It details a myriad of scenes from the life of the Buddha, portrayed to the visitor as they walk the entire site. To make the most of Borobudur, plan to spend a large portion of the day there. The carvings are so diverse, and rushing to the top of the monument completely misses the point. Travelers who actually practice the Buddhist faith will appreciate the meditative exercise and reflective time during the slow journey to the top. The grounds are large enough to picnic on, so this is another way you can enjoy this pilgrimage site to its fullest potential.
While most would not call Jerusalem a particularly pretty city, it made my cut for this list for a variety of reasons. First of all, it’s a fantastic place to people watch, and those are some of my favorite travel photo opportunities. With the three main faiths of the Abrahamic tradition having important structures and sites in the old city of Jerusalem, pilgrims come here from all over the world. The religious garb and enthusiasm combined with the unique heritage sites throughout this small area will provide you with memories that will last a lifetime. Additionally, Jerusalem is home to the Israeli National Museum, which is one of the finest in the world. To make the most of your time, stay in the old city to save commute time every day. It feels amazing to step outside onto the ancient streets, and the lodging options there provide a sense of antiquity as well, since many of the buildings are as old as Jerusalem itself.
3. Machu Picchu
While technically an ancient city, Peru’s Machu Picchu is also popular with the New Age crowd for the various temples at the site, including the Temple of the Sun. It’s also considered a sought-after notch in the travel belt of most backpackers. To make the most of Machu Picchu, it helps to arrive the day before you actually want to tour. The entry ticket is pricey and only allows one entry, even if you arrive late in the day. Since it takes quite a while to arrive from Cuzco, you’ll be short on time if you try to do the entire excursion in one shot. Arrive whenever your train gets to Aguas Calientes, check into your hotel and relax. Stroll the streets, souvenir shop, hit the hot springs and have a nice meal. Then head up to the site as early as possible the next morning. This way you’ll have the full day to experience this pilgrimage site at your own pace.
Home of the Vatican, which is certainly picturesque enough in its own right, Rome offers spectacular sights and experiences throughout the whole city. From phenomenal food and museums, to additional archaeological attractions and world-famous works of art around practically every street corner, Rome is tough to beat when it comes to great pilgrimage destinations. To make the most of your trip, there are two things to keep in mind. Book guided tours for the more elaborate sites like the Vatican, and don’t shortchange yourself on time. Attractions with as many points of interest as the Vatican has to offer can be overwhelming, and having a knowledgeable guide can mean the difference between understanding what you see and being completely overwhelmed. On the other hand, suggested city walking routes with famous fountains and smaller churches are best experienced at your own pace. This is where making sure you have enough time comes into play. In short, balance is key. There’s much to take in here, and you want to remember it all after your trip.
1. Angkor Wat
While it has evolved into a Buddhist destination, Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia, was originally a Hindu religious complex. It’s a massive archaeological site and in order to make the most of it, you’ll want to purchase the extended pass and stay as long as possible. Seven to ten days isn’t unreasonable if you really want to see the entire thing. Plenty of people fly into Siem Reap for two days and fly back out to other parts of Asia. In my opinion, this is really unfortunate. Rushing the experience really sets you up to miss out on some of the more in-depth cultural experiences you can have, such as dinner at the home of a local family. Also, if you prefer photos for your travel souvenirs as much as I do, then you’ll need time to determine where the best opportunities are, and what the best times of day will be to shoot those scenes. If you have even more time to spend, try to arrive by riverboat from Battambang. It’s a great cultural experience that gives you an inside peek at the way people live in rural Cambodia.
One More: Haifa
Home to the Baha’i faith and a major port city in Israel, the city of Haifa hugs the side of Mount Carmel in photogenic style. The Baha’i Gardens draws visitors from around the world, and the nearby national park and modern art museum only enhance the appeal. Day trips to nearby scenic Akko are popular, and nonmembers are allowed to schedule guided tours of the sculptured gardens around the Baha’i Shrine of the Bab. To make the most of your time in Haifa, it pays to schedule your days to include stops that are a bit more relaxed. There are many things to do, and scheduling museum after museum followed by a walking tour can be a bit much. As far as price goes, the tour of the Baha’i Gardens is free, you just have to arrive at the scheduled times. Try to book at least one nature venue each day to break things up, especially if you’re traveling with children.