By Robert Schrader | Published on December 13, 2021
You could spend a lifetime trying to see the 7 wonders of the world. From ancient pyramids built by man to towering statues, these stunning sites embody the history of our world. The good news is that if you're ambitious and have lots of time on your hands, you could theoretically visit all of these places on a single, epic cruise around the world.
As a determined independent traveler, it's taken me over a decade to tick all 7 world wonders off my list. Many are in far-flung corners of their respective countries and continents, but the journey there is as beautiful as the destination as you wander through big cities and tiny villages, meeting incredible people along the way.
As is the case when traveling to any of the world wonders, it's difficult to describe the sense of awe you'll feel when arriving at Chichen Itza for the first time. Although it's been centuries (specifically around 15 of them) since this towering pyramid sat at the center of Mayan civilization, an atmosphere of majesty and glory pervades. This is particularly the case if you happen to visit on either the first day of spring or autumn, around March 21 and September 21, respectively. The Mayans were gifted astronomers and built the pyramids so they would cast snake-like shadows during these equinoxes.
After you finish exploring El Castillo (meaning "the castle," which locals refer to the main pyramid as), you can visit Cenote Ik Kil, an underground swimming hole filled with cold, clear water. Walking through the thick humidity of the Chichen Itza jungles left me delirious; I was feeling like I had stepped back into the fourth or fifth century. Taking a dip in the icy cenote shocked me right back to the modern-day! If you intend to do this yourself, make sure to wear a swimsuit under your clothes (there's nowhere discreet to change).
Unlike some of the other 7 wonders of the world, Christ the Redeemer literally looms over you the moment you arrive in Rio de Janeiro. Whether you're sunning yourself on Ipanema Beach or exploring the lush Rio de Janeiro Botanical Gardens, you can't avoid the gaze of this majestic, iconic symbol. As far as what precisely it symbolizes? Brazilians I spoke with varied in their impressions. Some saw the statue's arms to embody a welcoming to all, while others saw it as a reminder of Brazil's strong Catholic beliefs. However, you can draw your own conclusions as you make the journey to the top of Corcovado to see Cristo Redentor up-close and personal — trust me, it's worth it.
In addition to getting your classic arms-out selfie in front of the statue, which was built in the 1920s as a timeless totem of the Art Deco movement, this will allow you to take in one of the best city panoramas in the world. Speaking of amazing city panoramas, I also stood at the top of Sugarloaf Mountain and peered out over the city and spotted all of the places I've been in Ipanema, Copacabana, Leblon and beyond. This city is so wild and exciting, and this bird's eye view was a way to make sense of it all.
Some tourists reach the summit of Machu Picchu via a grueling four to five-day hike along the infamous Inca Trail; others take a short bus ride up from the hot springs town of Aguas Calientes. I, on the other hand, took a middle path, trekking three hours (half of them in the dark) up a rocky trail from town, arriving at the ancient Inca capital right as the sun was rising over the Andes.
Machu Picchu was the dominant power in western South America between the 15th and 16th centuries. Once the hub of Inca civilization, this glorious city is now "lost." No matter how you get to Machu Picchu, and whether or not you get in early enough to ascend the even higher Huayna Picchu viewpoint, you'll be overcome with a rush of emotions (and a rush of altitude sickness — have some coca leaves at the ready!) when you set foot here and feel the energy of these ancient ruins.
Llamas roaming about and the enchanting songs of indigenous pan-flute players make the experience all the more surreal. The llamas live inside the protected historic and natural Sanctuary of Machu Picchu where they have become accustomed to human interactions; they will even join you on your hike. I was truly surprised by how friendly the experience was when hiking Machu Picchu with llamas. As I slowly approached them, they warmed right up to me and let me pose for selfies with them! After this expedition, I wandered the streets of the small town of Aguas Calientes, where I relaxed in one of their many soothing thermal baths. It was a perfect end to an adventurous day.
I was surprised to find that visiting the Great Wall of China is so convenient. The popular Badaling, Mutianyu and Simatai sections are just over an hour away from Beijing by taxi, which means you can visit them on a day trip from the Chinese capital. I recommend going as early as possible so you can beat the crowds. Although no number of people can detract from the majesty of history's greatest defense project, silence will allow you to connect better with the voices of history.
There's an energy that courses through the stones of the wall, harkening back to ancient China. "This wall is important," I overheard a guide tell a neighboring group of tourists. "But ironic. Although the first emperor of unified China built it to keep out Mongol invaders, Chinggis Khan was sitting in Beijing's Forbidden City 1,000 years later, signifying Mongolian control of China."
If you do decide to visit Simatai, which is my favorite of the easily accessible sections of the wall, consider riding the cable car on the way down. This allows you to gain another perspective on the wall, and also saves your knees the stress of making your way down the stone steps, which were definitely not built with modern travelers in mind!
The Taj Mahal isn't just postcard-perfect — it actually looks like a postcard (or a painting, more accurately), even when you're standing right in front of it. It's just too massive and ornate to grasp that it's real. The story of the mausoleum, built in the mid-17th century by then Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, makes the experience of being here even more emotional.
What sets the Taj Mahal apart from the other ten wonders of the world you can cruise to is that it's literally a monument to love. Jahan had it built over a period of 22 years to commemorate the death of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died during childbirth. The sense of sadness really came over me once I walked inside the mausoleum, which is just as gorgeous inside as it is out. If you're mourning your own loss — as I was— be sure to bring some tissues with you! Also, note that in the "tombs" there are cenotaphs. They represent the bodies of Mumtaz Mahal and Shaj Jahan, but their bodies are not held inside them.
The Taj Mahal in India is a Muslim site, it is important to be respectful inside the mausoleum. Women must cover their legs, shoulders and hair. If you forget a shawl or headscarf, you can find vendors outside selling them.
If you've never visited Petra, you might not have heard about the Nabataean civilization, which built the not-so-lost-anymore city in modern-day Jordan, around 400 years before Christ. Even once you do visit, and look upon the rock-hewn Al Khazneh "Treasury" with your own eyes, you may be too distracted by the majesty of the red-rose sandstone to think much about specific historical details.
When I got up to the main Petra viewpoint, my mind's eye went even further back than the Nabataeans — 7,000 years back — when the very first humans are said to have settled here. The entire scene was all the more astonishing, given the harsh, hot climate in which it exists. Only a truly tough and exceptional culture could've carved out a city here, let alone left a legacy that lasts to this day. Petra is hot and almost always sunny, so make sure to wear plenty of sunscreen and wear loose-fitting, light-colored clothing to protect your skin from the blazing sun. Drink plenty of water and don't hesitate to take a break if you feel exhausted. Instead, take it slow and soak in the incredible history you're standing before.
Some places live up to the hype — and some places go way beyond the hype. Every time I step into the Roman Colosseum, no matter how many other tourists there are there with me, I hear the echoes of cheers and screams and feel the thrills and terrors of a time long since passed as if it's happening again.
No matter how many times I return — and I have returned nearly a dozen times over two decades — the thrill of looking upon the Colosseum or setting foot into it never dissipates. This sensation pervades as I walk westward along the Via dei Fori Imperiali toward the Tiber River. I pass fallen Roman columns, medieval Christian churches, and the tombs of heroes and martyrs and everymen. It's impossible not to feel the "eternity" that courses through Italy's Eternal City. For a stunning panorama of the Colosseum surrounded by the ancient Roman cityscape, head to the viewpoint just behind Campidoglio — a hilltop piazza designed by Michaelangelo.
What was the best part about traveling the world to visit all 7 wonders of the world? All the possibility that fills the spaces between these important entries on your itinerary. When you plan to see the wonders, you know you'll get postcard-perfect shots of Chichen Itza, the Great Wall of China and all of the other world wonders. However, you'll also meet fascinating people, enjoy incredible foods, discover new cultures, and take selfies with llamas along the way. Feel the magic that can only happen once you take the leap and begin your journey.