Mega-trips are bigger than ever for 2019 and it doesn’t get more epic than this grand tour of the new seven wonders of the world. Here’s our insider’s guide to the perfect route, where to stay, and what to pack. A month is all you need but if that’s not feasible, tick off the ultimate bucket list one by one – with flights from as little as £16.
First stop: Petra, Amman before carrying on around the globe to take in the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China, Chichen Itza, Machu Picchu, Christ the Redeemer and finally the Colosseum. One-way flights from the UK to Amman cost from around £119.
It doesn’t matter how many photos you’ve seen. Following the dramatic winding gorge that leads into Petra and coming face to face with the extraordinary façade of the Treasury, carved directly into the rose-red sandstone cliffs, is always going to be a pinch-me moment. You can see exactly why it was picked for a starring role as the home of the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – and it’s just one of many impressive sights in this ancient Nabatean city. Wear an Indy-style hat (the sun can be fierce), sturdy shoes (there’s lots of rocky ground to cover) and try to go either early morning or late afternoon to miss the searing midday heat and catch the best light for photos.
Where to stay: Run by an Anglo-Jordanian couple, the Rocky Mountain Hotel is a backpacker favourite, with a free shuttle service to the Petra Visitor Centre, a rooftop terrace with a far-reaching view, and clean basic rooms from around £35 a night.
Next stop: India
One way flights from Amman to New Delhi (220km north of Agra), via one of the Middle East hubs, cost from around £160.
Agra itself isn’t the loveliest of cities but it’s undeniably home to one of the loveliest of monuments. It doesn’t really matter when or how you visit the Taj Mahal – Shah Jahan’s beautiful memorial to his wife, built in the 1630s, never fails to impress. Your chances of having it to yourself, a la Princess Di? Nil. But to see it as crowd-free as possible, get there really early (it opens at 6am) and once you’ve entered the site itself, walk swiftly along to the first pool. Everyone else automatically stops and starts taking pictures the minute they’re in, so if you keep moving you’ll be ahead of the crowds.
Where to stay: A five-star hotel without the usual five-star price tag, the ITC Mughal pays design tribute to the Mughal builders and won the Aga Khan Award for Architecture. It has attractive landscaped gardens, a large spa and spacious rooms that start from £49 a night.
Next stop: China
The thing that always surprises visitors to the Great Wall is not merely the length of it, snaking away across the hills as far as the eye can see, but also just how incredibly steep it is in places. It’s easily visited on a day trip from Beijing but before you book anything, do your research and work out which section is going to suit you best. Some parts of the wall, such as Badaling and Mutianyu, are fully restored, easily accessible and consequently busy, busy, busy; some, such as Jinshanling, are further afield and only partly restored, which makes them more challenging to walk but less crowded; and others (Jiankou, for example) are wild, crumbling and downright dangerous in parts. In theory, you can visit most of these sections by public transport and save yourself some money; in practice, it’s such a hassle you might prefer to save your sanity instead and opt for an organised tour.
Where to stay: Just south of Houhai Lake in Beijing, Shichahai Shadow Art Performance Hotel has a programme of free activities (including shadow puppet performances and dumpling-making classes) and small, clean rooms (from about £46 a night) set around a central courtyard.
Next stop: Mexico
One-way flights from Beijing to Cancun, via a US hub, cost from around £345.
Whenever you read anything about Chichen Itza, it’s invariably accompanied by a picture of the central pyramid, El Castillo. And very impressive it is too – but it so dominates the Chichen Itza image that it comes as a surprise to find that this Mayan site has plenty of other attractions as well, including the ancient Observatory, Sacred Cenote and the Great Ball Court Ring. Most visitors come on coach trips from tourist resorts on the coast, a couple of hours’ drive away, arriving from 9 or 10 o’clock onwards, so you can give yourself a head start by staying on or near the site the night before (the nearby town of Valladolid makes a good base) and getting to the entrance the minute it opens at 8am.
Next stop: Peru
The quickest one-way flights from Cancun to Cuzco go via Lima and cost from around £341. If you don’t mind adding in a second layover you can knock around £100 off the fare.
5. Machu Picchu, Peru – fly from £229
Gone are the days when you could just rock up to Machu Picchu whenever you fancied and wander at will among the ruins. As tourist numbers have rocketed, the Peruvian government has introduced visitor restrictions in a bid to protect the Incan citadel so you now have to book an entry ticket in advance for a specific day and time, and there’s a maximum stay of four hours. Conventional wisdom has it that you should get there first thing in the morning to catch the sunrise and beat the day-tripping crowds but for that very reason the 6am time slot is the most in demand among the selfie brigade and there are long queues for the first buses up, so you might actually find it more peaceful to book the last slot of the day (2pm) instead.
Where to stay: On the banks of the Urubamba river in Aguas Calientes (the small town in the valley below the ruins) is Tierra Viva Machu Picchu, with 43 light and contemporary bedrooms and a panoramic sun terrace. From £93 a night.
Next stop: Brazil
One-way flights from Cuzco, via Lima, to Rio de Janeiro cost from around £420 but if you don’t mind adding another 12 hours or so on to the journey time and building in a couple more stops en route, you can find fares for below £200.
Even if you don’t have a religious bone in your body and aren’t that bothered about getting up close to the statue itself, there’s one very good reason to visit the 30m-tall Christ the Redeemer in Rio – the absolutely belting view down over the city and bay below from the top of Corcovado mountain. The cheapest way to get there is by hiking the jungly, rocky trail to the top of the hill, which, depending on how fit you are, will take two to three hours or more. Alternatively, you can take a van all the way to the top or jump on the cog train from Cosme Velho, taking a seat on the right hand side of the train to enjoy the best views.
Where to stay:In the lush and leafy neighbourhood of Cosme Velho (handily placed for visiting Christ the Redeemer), Les Jardins de Rio is a peaceful spot with cool white rooms, an outdoor pool and great views from the rooftop terrace. The eight bedrooms cost from £55 a night.
Next stop: ItalyFly from Rio de Janeiro to Rome from £204
It blows the mind ever so slightly to stand in the Colosseum and realise that this vast gladiatorial arena was built the best part of two millennia ago. Today it attracts more than seven million visitors a year so long queues at the ticket window are inevitable. Give them a miss by booking tickets or a guided tour in advance or, best of all, travel between November and February, when visitor numbers drop sharply from the high season peak. There’s no skipping the security queues but you can help them move more speedily by travelling light (backpacks and big bags aren’t allowed in). If money is tighter than time, visit on the first Sunday of the month, when entrance is free – but be prepared to share nicely. If you’re into those freebies, and let’s face it, who isn’t, check out the free things to do in the world’s most expensive cities.
Where to stay: On the edge of the trendy Monti district and a five-minute stroll from the Colosseum, the three-star Nerva Boutique Hotel has 19 smart bedrooms (from around £69 a night) and a reputation for serving excellent breakfasts.
Next stop: Home! A one-way flight from Rome to the UK costs from £16.Fly from Rome to the UK from £16
Want to book it all in one go? Here’s everything you need to know about booking a round the world ticket.
All flight and prices mentioned in this article are estimates of the cheapest prices based on Skyscanner’s flight search tools. These are subject to change and were correct at time of writing on 19 March 2019.