The Seven Wonders of the World

November 20, 2017

Taj Mahal. Great Wall of China. Colosseum. Machu Picchu. Chichen Itza. Petra. Christ the Redeemer.

 

The Seven Wonders of the World are definitely at the top of many peoples’ bucket list items and were always high on my list. After all, these are some of the most incredible destinations in the world! Geographically they span four continents and each wonder is tied to fascinating history and culture. After I visited my first three, I decided that I absolutely needed to try to see all seven before I turned 25 (mostly to stave off an early mid-life crisis). Along the way, I ended up collecting much more than just stamps in my passport and checking off a bucket list item. So here are a few of my notes and helpful tips from each, including some mistakes I made along the way. If you have additional insights or comments about any of these marvels, please share them in the comments section at the bottom!

 

 Taj Mahal

 

The beauty and expansiveness of the Taj Mahal is hard to capture in a simple photo despite the seven million visitors that try each year.  Located in Agra, India, this eternal monument of love is not the easiest to visit since it is located several hours from the closest international airport in Delhi.  However, the influx of tourism has simplified the inland trek as well as the visa process. 

 

On this particular trip to India, I was traveling with one of my girlfriends.  We decided to hire a private car to drive us around for three days instead of dealing with public transit; trying to catch a train from Delhi to Agra can be difficult.  This was much cheaper than we anticipated (about $40 a day) and our driver was extremely helpful in finding places to eat, shortcutting entrance lines, and providing a detailed history about each place we visited.  Although we experienced first-hand the chaotic Indian traffic, we did so from the comfort of an air conditioned car and made it to Agra in about 3 and a half hours.  There is a Delhi to Agra express train that is supposed to take only 2 hours, but the reviews of the stagnant heat and pungent odors on the train dissuaded us from using public transit.  When all was said and done, the added convenience of having door to door delivery with the car instead of searching for a rickshaw to take us to and from the train stations was well worth the relatively low added cost of the car.  

 

Our driver Rahul was a wealth of knowledge and told us the wonderful story about how the Taj Mahal was built by Emperor Shah Jahan in the 17th century as a memorial for his favorite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.  He also filled the role of photographer, effectively allowing us to avoid awkward selfies as he moved us to the best locations and shooed away the other groups of tourists to capture the best shots. Rahul also insisted that we stop at the Lotus Temple on the way out of Delhi, which is a Bahá'í House of Worship that encourages people of all religions to worship their god there.  Although the Lotus Temple fulfills its name and is architecturally beautiful, we were hesitant to stop because of the long queue of tourists waiting outside the gates.  Not to be impeded, Rahul came through again for the win, telling the guards at the entrance we were someone important and on a tight schedule so they let us cut the entire line.

 

We were able to do our trip to India rather inexpensively, which helped to balance out the cost of somewhat expensive flights since we were traveling on a budget.  There are a variety of public transit and hostel options available in both major cities and plenty of tour group options that can be done very cheaply.  Hostels in Delhi with ratings of ‘Superb’ and ‘Fabulous’, (which usually indicate a relatively clean facility or central location but were definitely ranked relative to the city) can be found for about $6 a night. That fact should not really have been a surprise, but after wandering through windy streets filled with chickens searching for our hostel and then sharing a twin size bed with sheets that looked (and smelled) like they had not been washed in weeks, we decided we were going to indulge a little and upgrade accommodations.  When we arrived in Agra, we opted for a lovely hotel called the Orient Taj Hotel.  Even with the expansive gardens and the maze of pools in the courtyard, the Orient Taj only cost us about $45 a night, a bargain for clean sheets, a Queen size bed, and wifi.  It is amazing to me how easy it is to find affordable yet gorgeous hotels in other countries.  Staying at the Orient Taj was worth every penny, as we arrived the next morning to our Taj visit well rested and well fed! 

 

The Taj Mahal sits on sprawling grounds and we spent well over an hour walking around the neatly kempt gardens and reflecting pools. For a few extra dollars we went inside the Taj, where we could see the intricate details of the inlaid marble with delicate designs and flowers covering the exterior and interior of this massive monument.  Shoes are not allowed to be worn in several areas inside the Taj so Rahul recommended that we wear sandals, but cloth coverings are also available for purchase for those who do not want to remove their shoes. It was hard to leave such a beautiful place, but I was able to eventually pull myself away and we continued on to visit the Red Fort in Agra before beginning the return to Delhi.

 

Must do: Wake up early to watch the sunrise at the far end of the reflecting pool.  Not only does this help avoid the flocks of tourists and the heat of the day, but watching the morning light gleam off the white inlaid marble makes one of the most incredible sunrises in the world.

 

Avoid: The Delhi Belly from hot sauce.  As a connoisseur of all things spicy, I met my match with India’s hot sauce varieties.  Blazing Challenge at BW3? Crushed it.  Habaneros on the side of the trail in Peru? No worries. Drenching the Indian cuisine in hot sauce? Good luck!

 

 

The Great Wall of China

 

There are some amazing trips where you do not need to have everything planned out. Trips where having more flexibility allows you to meet extraordinary new people who may have just discovered a mysterious hidden temple in the jungle and they invite you to trek  to it with them for a once in a lifetime adventure.  China is not that trip.

 

When I discovered that China offers a 72-hour transit visa to encourage tourism during long layovers, I jumped on the opportunity. By design, this was to be a quick stop that would allow me to avoid visa hassles, efficiently visit all the major tourist spots, and make it back to the airport in the strict 72-hour limit.  Since the primary purpose of my visit to China was just to hit the iconic sites for this trip, so the transit visa was an excellent option.  Since it was still a fairly new choice when I visited in 2014, the border entry guards were very unfamiliar with the regulations which meant that I spent several hours stuck in the border entry line arguing with the officials in the airport.  Eventually, after sufficiently demonstrating that I had departure tickets and met all of the requirements listed directly on their official website, the guards stamped my passport and let me through.  Unfortunately, since the entry process took several hours, I had missed the final train going into town and had difficulty finding anyone to help me locate a different method of transit. 

 

As I struggled to find a bus or taxi, I quickly realized just how restricted the internet was in China as the searches on my iphone came back blocked or were not translated into English.  Eventually, I found a bus sign that listed the same name as the train stop I was supposed to get off at.  I crossed my fingers and bought a ticket.   Turns out it was the same stop and finally I made it all the way into downtown Beijing.  However, I misread the sign and got off the bus a stop too early.  Luckily a kind local man saw me wandering around muttering unintelligibly at my map and gave me directions to my hostel. 

 

Due to the visa entrance issues, I ended up missing the first afternoon and evening on my itinerary, further limiting the condensed plan.  That being said I found that it was still possible to visit Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the Silk Market, try roasted duck and lots of food cart delicacies, as well as spending a full day on the Great Wall of China.  Starting at 5 am the first day, I did an early morning visit of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City which were right beside the hostel.  At that early hour both were nearly empty of the tourists’ crowds.  Almost all of the main tourist spots are within walking distance of each other with the assistance of a clear map!  For the sake of saving time and ensuring I caught my flight the next evening, I opted to hire a driver for the day ($100) when going out to the Great Wall in order to maximize the time I could spend actually exploring on it.   While it is possible to use public buses to get out to sections of the Great Wall, they are notoriously slow and difficult to get a seat on and with the language barrier I wanted to avoid the hassle all together. 

 

While there are hordes of tourists visiting each day, the Great Wall is so massive that it is still possible at certain points I still found myself completely alone and had several moments to soak in this mammoth landmark.  There are numerous sections that are open to visitors but based on photographs I had seen and articles I had read before going, I selected the Mutianyu area because it is less touristy. It did not disappoint!  Mutianyu received excellent reviews for being mostly restored, with frequent towers, great vantage points, and easy access from Beijing with only a 1 ½ to 2-hour drive.   Upon arriving, I was happy to see that the ticket counter and the whole entrance area were clearly marked in English making it easy to navigate. There were several options offered for accessing the Wall including hiking, cable cars, or a toboggan, as well as an abundance of restaurants, bathrooms, and souvenir shops at the bottom. 

 

After taking the cable car up, I hiked up the seemingly endless stairs towards the Dajiao Building.  While I would never recommend breaking the rules, there is a non-tourist area leading off from the tower, so if following trail signs is not a strong suit of yours, this off-limits area offers the advantage of complete silence and an unbelievable view of the mountains and Wall.  It is a bit cumbersome to climb the stairs because none of them are the same height or width, but the frequent towers in this section make for excellent rest stops.  I visited in late October and would certainly recommend going in the autumn because it was comfortably cool weather and not overrun with tourists.

 

Must do: Ride the luge down the mountain after walking the Great Wall.  When the ticket lady offered the luge as a return option I immediately scoffed, writing it off as a tourist trap.  But my friend was so excited about it that I felt obligated and reluctantly agreed.  It was marvelous.  Sometimes I forget how exciting (read unsafe) that dull activities are in other countries which do not have the same safety precautions and restrictions.  We careened down the mountain on the luge, with only one man monitoring our speed about halfway down who only managed to yell an admonishment as we sped past.  We crossed a high bridge with remarkable view of the valley below, flew around some hairpin turns, and found the experience to be much more amusing than it looked from the chair lift above. The entrance fee is 45 RMB (about $6.50) and the chair lift/luge is separate at 60 RMB (about $9.50) each.

 

Avoid: Hassle in the airport.  The transit visa is a great way to avoid the cost and difficulty of getting a visa, but it can be quite problematic to get through customs lines upon arrival since there is no physical visa in your passport.  Be sure to have printed documents proving proof of time of arrival and onward travel within the 72-hour mark, as well as the information about the transit visa.  Even with all of the paperwork it was difficult to get through, so be prepared for long lines.  For specific information concerning the caveats of the transit visa, check out:

https://www.travelchinaguide.com/embassy/visa/free-72hour/

 

Colosseum

 

Rome is a city full of momentous history, quite literally around every corner, and should not be a quick stop.  Even though I lived there for a semester in college and explored non-stop from the Spanish Steps, to photographing St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican through the Aventine keyhole, and testing my luck with the Bocca Della Verita, there is still a list of places I would love to go back to visit.  Even though I recommend taking several days to explore Rome, if time is a constraint the Colosseum is a relatively easy destination to visit on a long layover as it is approximately 45 min from the airport.

 

The Colosseum is centrally located and very easy to access using the public buses or metro, which are fairly reliable during the daytime hours (much less so during the evening hours).  Tickets are about $15 and can be purchased online to avoid the long queue, which can grow quickly especially during the summer.  It is located adjacent to the Roman Forum and is easy to incorporate in to a full day of walking around the Eternal city.  While there are numerous hop on and off tour buses, Rome is most definitely a city worth exploring on foot as you are much more likely to discover hole in the wall restaurants with mouthwatering pasta, street cafes in a beautiful piazza for a rich espresso, or a rooftop bar to enjoy a glass of Dolcetto.

 

History buffs and fans of the movie “Gladiator” will love seeing in person the impressive labyrinth of tunnels that animals were released through in the floor of the Colosseum and where vicious fighters came up through small passageways to fight.  Tour guides will also explain how the stadium used to be flooded in order to host epic water battles inside of the arena.  Even though this massive structure that was built in 70 A.D. is partially ruined from earthquakes and parts of the walls being quarried over the centuries to support the construction of other structures, it is still an amazing piece of history to visit.  It is easy to imagine the battles that were once fought here after the gladiators shouted out “We who are about to die, salute you” before fighting to the death for the public’s entertainment.  When I visited, it was a part of an Ancient Roman Archeology course that I was taking for school (which was slightly less Indiana Jones-esque than I had hoped), so I got a very in-depth lecture about the history and construction.  Even though my class was still not permitted to explore all areas of the Colosseum, we explored all of the grounds that were open to the public.  Finding an experienced tour guide that is able to talk knowledgably about the history as you are witnessing it in person on a tour is worth the extra time it takes.

 

Out of the seven wonders, the Colosseum is probably the easiest to visit due to its close proximity to the airport and how well organized tourism is established in Rome.  The Colosseum was my first of the seven wonders that I visited, which may be partially due to my obsession with “Gladiator” or my dream of someday becoming Lara Croft.  To this day it is still one of my favorites.   Also a huge perk to visiting this wonder is that it provides an excuse to stop over in one of the most amazing cities in Europe and the opportunity to indulge in every form of carbs, wine, and heavenly gelato!

 

 Must do:  Directly across the street from the Colosseum there is another archaeological site called the Ludus Magnus.  This is where the Great Gladiator Training Center was located for those who fought in the Colosseum.  Unfortunately, it is frowned upon to climb down into the ruins and explore the grounds, but it offers another piece of fascinating history about this era.

 

Avoid: Outside the entrance to the Colosseum, there were a lot of peddlers and people dressed in full costume trying to tempt tourists to take photos with them.  Now, if a photo with a full-plumed gladiator is your ideal profile picture, then make sure you negotiate a price before you take a photo.  Otherwise they will loudly demand an absurd amount of euro for taking photos with or around them. 

 

 

Machu Picchu

 

As my first trip to South America, Peru was a great introduction to all of the untouched natural beauty on the continent.  I will make note that I went on this trip immediately following EDC (Electronic Daisy Carnival) a three-day music festival in Las Vegas where I slept a total of perhaps 7 hours and while admittedly, that was poor planning on my part, nothing could damper the excitement for this trip! This was also my first time using Viator to book a multi-day trip, but since it saved me the headache of navigating the internet and trying to find where to do a variety of activities and locate the proper trails, it was worth a try.  Although two of my friends accompanied me, we joined a larger group that turned out to be an outstanding hodge-podge of travelers who we became quick friends with while traipsing along the Inca trail. 

 

On the first day of the trip we picked up gear from the shadiest looking warehouse possible on the abandoned edge of a random town to go white water rafting.  It felt like the opening scene of a thriller where you are questioning if anyone is actually stupid enough to go into such a run-down building, but after an hour of anxious waiting, a bus actually picked us up and took us to a river.  After rafting until the sunset, we hiked an hour up the mountain to our first nights’ accommodation in the dark, straining to keep our guide in sight since our flashlights were buried in our packs.  When he warned us to keep an eye out for Anacondas on the trail and to watch the cliff edges as we climbed higher, we decided to go ahead and use the remaining battery on our iphones to have some light.   We spent the next four days hiking on the Inca trail with intermittent stops to go zip lining, soak in natural springs, cross swinging wooden bridges, and did I mention hiking? Again, the level of entertainment provided by each of the activities was elevated by the sheer lack of regulations, even if we did knock a few people over coming in hot on the zip lines. 

 

Despite our best efforts to try the local cuisine of deep fried cuy- aka guinea pig, we only found other local eats such as ceviche and anticuchos (skewers of meat), but no restaurant advertised cuy even though it is a staple of the Peruvian diet.  However, the first night after our long night climb, we were served dinner in a kitchen with about a hundred of the little guys cruising the room so I am not convinced of our guides reassurance that chicken was served.  One of the highlights came a bit later on the tour, when we were given generous samples of the local tequila.  It was so smooth that it was a bit of a surprise in the morning when everyone woke up on time and were ready to continue the trek.

 

Several days and many rounds of pisco sours later, our troupe made it to the little town of Aguas Calientes at the base of Machu Picchu, which looks like it is straight out of a novel with a picturesque stream flowing down the middle of a quaint town that is tucked away between two mountains.  We prepped all our gear the night before because seeing the sunrise at the top was highly recommended by our guide.  There is a bridge that serves as a gate to the bottom of the mountain that opens at 5 am, but the queue started forming around 4:30 am, so he told us that it was important to get there early.  After the bridge opened, it was literally a mad dash up the mountain for about 45min as the other climbers were also competing for a clear shot of Machu Picchu without tourists.  While it is a simple climb with relatively even stairs, it is narrow and a quick climb straight up.  Although we went in June, our group still packed light jackets and warming layers for the top.  Even though we started in tank tops and light hiking pants, by the time that we had finished the race to the top we were cold, sweaty, and very thankful for warm clothes.  Shortly after arriving and getting tickets at the entrance, we watched the stunning sunrise at the top in the quiet morning which was worth every sweaty step.  Afterwards we spent the morning exploring inside the walls of the ruins and trying to take selfies with the llamas that covered the local mountainside.  The group split up to climb the higher mountains in the area before beginning the return trek.  Once inside the area though, tourists are free to explore to their hearts content the truly breathtaking Machu Picchu!

 

Note: If the early morning mad-dash climb does not pique your interest, there is also a bus that starts running around 5 am which takes visitors directly to the entrance.

 

Must do: There are two additional mountains inside Macchu Pichu, Huayna Picchu and Machu Picchu Mountain that are possible to climb, but should be booked in advance.  The first is the smaller mountain of the two but has a more difficult trail while the second is significantly higher and takes nearly twice the time.  Since I was climbing with two other Marines (effectively turning it into a race up the mountain) we completed the estimated two-hour climb in just under an hour.  Even though I was drenched in sweat and out of breath, it was worth every strenuous second.  The outlook from the peak offered a stunning vantage point of the sprawling ruins below.  Thankfully the three of us amigos had planned ahead for this portion and hiked up Cusquenas, one of the local cervezas, to enjoy a cold one with a view!

 

Avoid: Zika.  Bring the highest concentrate DEET that is available and then apply early and often. Although I used bug spray frequently, it was not strong enough concentration and was not effective. By the last night in Peru I had so many bites from the mosquitos and biting flies that it looked like I was patient X for some new horrific skin disease. 

 

Chichen Itza

 

After getting the thumbs up from my boss to jump down to Cancun for a long holiday weekend, I met up with two amigos down in Mexico.  We spent the first day scuba diving the Underwater Museum located about 30 min off the coast, which were shallow dives but the eerie statues were quite fascinating to explore.  That night we decided to go out and experience some of the local nightlife since we were not getting picked up until 7 am the next morning.  Even though tequila is generally not my adult beverage of choice, we crushed several rounds in quick secession in addition to our numerous dollar cervezas.  Although the next morning was significantly rougher than anticipated, we still managed to make it on to the bus and were on our merry way to visit Chichen Itza.

 

The massive Mayan pyramid, El Castillo, sits in the middle of a beautiful open field on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico at the center of the Chichen Itza complex of ruins.  The complex is located only two hours outside of Cancun making it one of the easier wonders to visit as a popular tourist destination and there are a multitude of companies offering their services to take visitors there on an afternoon tour.  Most tours include a few other stops along the way to share other local highlights.  This was another trip that I opted for a Viator tour for the convenience of having a direct pick-up (encouraging our tequila run-in), meals were provided, and a tour guide was included.  Prices for tours generally range from $50-$90 and usually last a full day.

 

 Upon arrival, we were immediately welcomed with a grand view of the El Castillo, the focal point of the complex.  Our guide spent about 30 minutes talking about the history of the Mayans migration to the area and the construction of the Kukulcán pyramid, El Castillo, before releasing everyone to roam about the area.  There are numerous impressive architectural nuances that the Mayans built into Chichen Itza that our tour guide explained and demonstrated for the group.  The crowd favorite was definitely the echo clapping on El Castillo where he stood directly in front of the staircase of the large pyramid and clapped, and then the sound unmistakably echoed back in the same pattern. 

 

There were plenty of brochures about the history of the different ruins within the complex were freely available as well as several large maps located throughout the 740 acre spread of ruins.  We were free to explore the various sites at our leisure, but unfortunately guests are no longer permitted to climb the pyramid or any of the other ruins.  The Great Ball Court and the Temple of Warriors were my two favorites of the ruins and both are located directly adjacent to El Castillo.  Although there is still much debate amongst historians as to the exact rules of the game that used to be held in the Great Ball Court, it is commonly agreed that at the conclusion of the match, the winner would be decapitated before the Mayan king that was presiding over the game as a demonstration of ultimate victory and his transition to glory in the afterlife.  It was still possible to see depictions of the games in the carvings that lined the Court.  The Temple of Warriors was my other favorite with columns stretching from the open field far back into the jungle. While the human sacrifices at the Temple of Warriors may not have been as gory as the scene in “Apocalypto” in reality, it was chilling to stand in the precise spot where the executions took place.  

 

Must do: While not technically a part of Chichen Itza there are numerous Cenotes that are located along the drive that are well worth a road side stop for a quick dip.   Cenotes are underground caverns that are part of a massive network of rivers and caves and there are numerous ones are available to take a quick plunge.  My group stopped at Ik kil Cenote which had stairs leading down to it which made is easily accessible and even had a ledge to jump off into the seemingly bottomless pool of water.

 

Avoid: Dodgy dinner.  Tacos comprise the most essential food group (based on science) and there are plenty of incredible spots to satisfy even the pickiest of eaters.  But while making dinner selections, we made a key mistake and did not Yelp wisely.  My amigos and I ate dinner at our hostel the final night of the trip and each had stories of desperate scrambles to the bathrooms on our plane rides home.  Although it is amusing to reminisce about our food poisoning stomach Armageddon now, the plane ride home was anything but entertaining at the time.  However, if you are looking to get that summer beach body and drop ten pounds overnight, I have a proven technique just for you.

 

Petra

 

For anyone else who grew up idolizing Indiana Jones, you are already aware that this lost city holds the secrets for finding the one true Grail.  If the wind sculpted cliffs leading you into the valley does not impress you, the Treasury that is tucked away back inside will certainly do the trick.  Due to its location between mountains where most of the elements are blocked and have been prevented from weathering it, this famous carved front has remained incredibly well preserved.

 

Getting out to Petra from Amman was a few hour car trip heading south along scenic curvy highways.  After getting tickets at the visitor center, we headed out towards Al-siq, the natural windy passage through red rock cliffs leading out to this forgotten city. The further we hiked into the passage, the more that my excitement continued to build until finally I got my first glimpses of the Treasury.  Despite the rain, this intricate yet impressive carved mammoth exceeded my high expectations.  While the Treasury is the most iconic portion, there are numerous other ruins from this ancient trading city that have also been discovered.  There are several tombs, a temple, and another almost identical carving as the Treasury on the mountain. 

 

We had not planned to spend a full day walking around at Petra, but it would have been easy to do so.  Instead we decided to hike to the top of the mountain overlooking the valley.  Even though it was still drizzling strongly, from the top it was possible to see the entire valley below and the desert stretching out in all directions.  I was sweaty from the climb and drenched from the rain, but could not have been happier overlooking such a spectacular corner of the world.

 

After exploring around Petra for several hours, we continued on to the next portion of the adventure staying with a local Bedouin family in the adjacent desert.   After a bumpy ride through Wadi Rum in a small pick-up truck, we reached the Bedouin camp which was hidden around the corner of a mountain until we were right beside it.  Surprisingly there were several other adventurers passing through the area that had also opted for this non-traditional accommodation.  Everyone exchanged the basics of where they were from and what they did before settling into a comfortable silence as we all watched the sun set.  The temperature quickly dropped and soon our hosts picked up shovels and begun digging up a mound of sand beside us.  After a few minutes they called the group over to watch the final recovery of what they had buried earlier in the day, several racks of steaming food!  They brought us into a communal dining tent and told us to dig in to the piles of vegetables and meat on the platters, which we needed little encouragement to acquiesce.

 

We spent the rest of the trip climbing, tearing up dunes on four-wheelers, and floating in the Dead Sea. This trip was done in about 3 days, but it would have been worth adding an extra day to jump across the border and visit Jerusalem.  Oh well, there is always next time! 

 

Must do: Inside of Petra plan for tourist prices on food and drinks. However, in the nearby city there are several phenomenal shawarma spots that are extremely tasty and dirt cheap.  That does not mean that you have to eat two or three of them, but for a few dollars, you might as well indulge!

 

Avoid: Avoid buying souvenirs from the local children selling postcards and trinkets around Petra, because they should be in school and by buying from the regular vendors discourages their families from have them skip classes.  

 

 

Christ the Redeemer

 

My first attempt to make it to Rio for Carnival ended with a passport stuck in Washington DC at an embassy waiting for a visa that got held up due to a snow storm.  After cancelling all of my reservations, I was extremely disappointed and frustrated and put Brazil on the backburner of trips.  Fast forward several months and I had finished all of the other wonders so it was time to regroup and try again to make it down.  The perfect opportunity came during the summer Olympics in 2016 when there was a temporary lift on the visa requirement and I quickly requested the time off, re-booked the same places as before, and caught a plane to Brazil.

 

This destination, famous for its stunning beaches and gorgeous women, did not disappoint.  Shortly after landing in Rio and changing into swimsuits, my boyfriend and I were soaking up rays of sunshine and drinking our fill of Caipirinhas (local drinks consisting of primarily sugar, limes, and cachaça) on Ipanema Beach.   

 

The next morning, we were off to see the landmark statue and final wonder, Christ the Redeemer. Unfortunately, the park does not open before sunrise, but we took the early morning tour which was advertised as the best way to avoid most tourists.  There were still other buses of tour groups arriving for the opening, nevertheless going earlier did help to get photos of the landscape without a hundred people wearing giant hats in the way.  Standing directly under the statue, it did not seem that Christ the Redeemer was the full 40m high, but it was still impressive and the 360 view of Rio from the platform are unrivaled in the city and that alone made it worth going up for.  Afterwards we learned that there is a hiking route from Parque Lage at the base of the hill, which is an easily accessible trail and would have been a fantastic climb.

 

Again, as another major tourist destination there is a multitude of groups available to choose from for doing any activities in the city.  Alternatively, it was easy for us to use public transit to visit Sugar Loaf Mountain, the botanical gardens, Parque Lage, and all of the famous beaches from Copacabana to Ipanema.  Delicious food and live music is easy to find in any of the neighborhoods or districts.  Although I did have a male companion for this trip, I never felt unsafe in the city walking around even at night and would be completely comfortable returning on a solo trip.  This is a city I look forward to returning to at some point whenever I finally make it to Carnival.  

 

Must do: Rio has tons to offer any type of traveler.  Hang gliding, the glass gondola ride to Sugar Loaf Mountain, fresh acai, Ipanema Beach.. the list of things I loved about Rio goes on and on.  Hang gliding over the iconic scenery was definitely one of the most memorable experiences.  The final morning in Rio, we went to the one platform in the city authorized for hang gliding, strapped on to a professional, and ‘ran until the wind caught us.’ 

 

Avoid: Be careful of where you swim.  A day after I was blissfully splashing around in the water, numerous articles were published leading up to the Olympics warning of the flesh-eating bacteria’s that were apparently abundant in their waters due to the sewage content.  While I did immediately proceed to an aggressive shower with my loofa, I never had any issues and may have still gone back in the water for a quick dip or two later in the week.

 

 

 

Final comments-  A non-profit organization called New7Wonders conducted a poll with approximately 100 million voters to determine what landmarks earned the honor of officially being on this list.  In 2007, the current list was announced but there is some confusion due to the various “Seven Wonders” lists.  However, there are several different lists for the natural wonders, ancient wonders, etc.

 

After visiting all seven, I agree that they are each magnificent in their own way, but two that should make it on the next iteration of the infamous list are Angkor Wat in Cambodia and the Great Pyramids in Egypt.  Do you agree with the current list or what else should be added?

 

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