Whether you love Alicia Vikander or prefer the original flicks with Angelina Jolie, every girl (and boy) has fantasized about visiting the mystical and magical locations that Lara Croft explores in Tomb Raider. Spend your days adventuring and fighting (imaginary) bad guys, then at night, unwind and relax at your luxurious vacation rental. You can’t go wrong with any of these 10 amazing destinations.
1. Angkor, Cambodia
This ancient city has the epic proportions of the Great Wall of China, the detail and intricacy of the Taj Mahal, and the symbolism and symmetry of the pyramids, all rolled into one. One of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent remains of the different capitals of the Khmer Empire, from the 9th to the 15th century. UNESCO has set up a wide-ranging program to safeguard this symbolic site and its surroundings, including the famous Temple of Angkor Wat and, at Angkor Thom, the Bayon Temple with its countless sculptural decorations. Look for a vacation rental just four miles south in the modern town of Siemreab.
2. The Cradle of Humankind, South Africa
This World Heritage site may not look like much. In fact, when you drive by, all you’ll see is 180 square miles of open grasslands and scattered trees. What makes this site unique is what lies underground. Scientists have found the fossil bones of an ancient species called Homo Naledi in the fossil-rich labyrinth of caves and sinkholes that riddle the limestone bedrock. H. Naledi may be one of the earliest members of our genus which is why this site is known as The Cradle of Humankind. During your visit, you can take a guided walking tour of Sterkfontein and see a replica of “Little Foot,” a specimen recovered in 1997 that is among the most complete Australopithecus skeletons ever found. If you want to see an active excavation site, you can arrange a private tour of Swartkrans, a cave that’s home to stone and bone tools dating back almost two million years and some 270 burned bones estimated to be over one million years old!
3. Karnak Temple Complex, Egypt
Made up of a mixture of decayed temples, chapels, pylons, and other buildings, the Karnak Temple Complex was built during the reign of Senusret I in the Middle Kingdom. It continued into the Ptolemaic period, although most of the extant buildings date from the New Kingdom. Covering about 200 acres, it’s the largest religious building ever made, and was a place of pilgrimage for nearly 2000 years. The Great Temple of Amun is the temple’s main building, but plenty of scattered temple remnants surround it. Be aware that the buildings in the Northern Temple Precinct, Southern Temple Precinct, and Eastern Temple Precinct are closed to visitors.
4. Guge Kingdom, Tibet
The grand palace ruins of Guge Kingdom stand nearly 1,000 feet high on a yellow earth hill on the banks of the Xiangguang River. The region had a glorious past. At its peak, the regime covered not only the entire Ngari, but also extended to Kashmir and today’s Pakistan. There are many opinions on how the Guge Kingdom disappeared, but the most commonly accepted view is that soldiers from the Ladakh Regime finally conquered the Guge Palace in 1635. The ruins take up an area of 720,000 square meters, consisting of 445 rooms, 879 caves, 58 pillboxes, 4 secret tunnels and 28 Buddhist pagodas. There are accommodations in Zada County, but you can also camp in the area for an amazing night view of Guge. Another tip: bring a flashlight to see the frescoes, but no pictures are allowed!
5. Roman Forum, Italy
Spread out in the valley between the Palatine and Capitoline Hills, the Roman Forum was the center of the Roman Empire from about 500 B.C. to 400 A.D. All aspects of public life took place here including triumphal processions, elections, public speeches, criminal trials, gladiatorial matches, and commercial affairs. Learn all about the significance of the ruins and hear fascinating stories of Imperial Rome by taking a guided tour. If you don’t go with a tour, be sure to grab a guidebook, because the sprawling ruins can be slightly confusing. Make the most of your Roman vacation by also visiting the Colosseum!
6. Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
Tomb Raider is all about raiding tombs, right? So why not visit some famous Egyptian tombs in the desert south of Cairo. These three enormous pyramids testify to the legacy of the pharaohs of Ancient Egypt, and the largest of the three known as the Pyramid of Khufu or the Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The Great Sphinx stands guard at the entrance of the complex, which includes smaller pyramids belonging to female members of the dynasty and tombs for their relatives and courtiers. Start at the ticket office to take a tram to the site and explore on foot. Access to the interior of the pyramids is on a rotating basis so make sure you’ll leave plenty of time to wait your turn.
7. Acropolis, Greece
Built from 461–429 B.C., this “High City” crowns the city of Athens. The site comprises the Parthenon, the Temple of Athena Nike, and is the most important surviving example of Classical Greece. Enter through the Beule Gate (named for the French archaeologist who discovered it in 1852) and make sure you have several hours to explore. It can get very hot, so if you’re visiting during the summer, try to go early or late in the day. Visiting before 8 a.m. and after 5 p.m. will also help you avoid the crowds from cruise ships stopping in Athens for the day. Depending on what time you go, you could also have a great view of the sunset over Athens.
8. Pompeii, Italy
The eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D. buried the town of Pompeii underneath molten lava and therefore preserving it in a petrified state. This site features the ruins of a meat and fish market, a bakery, the baths, Temple of Jupiter, the Basilica law courts, amphitheater, and several villas. While Pompeii is world famous, there are actually four other connected archaeological sites in the area. You can buy combination tickets or buy tickets for an individual site. The most popular ‘other’ site is Ercolano, which is just a few train stops down the railway line towards Naples. Many people enjoy Ercolana more than Pompeii because the site is more compact and more comprehensively excavated. It’s also a lot less crowded!
9. Ephesus, Turkey
Ephesus was once the most important Greco-Roman city in the Eastern Mediterranean, and today, it’s one of the best-preserved ancient sites in the world. What was originally a powerful trading port and sacred settlement to the cult of Artemis was later conquered by the Romans and became an important Christian site. Eventually, it was conquered by the Byzantines and incorporated into the Ottoman Empire. During your visit, you can see the Church of St. Mary, the Temple of Hadrian, Roman harbor baths, the Theater Gymnasium, amphitheater, and the incredible Library of Celsus.
10. Machu Picchu, Peru
Built in the 1400s, the “Lost City of Incas” is the most famous site of the Inca Civilization. What was built as the estate of the Incan emperor Pachucuti was thankfully untouched during the Spanish conquest of South America. Today, tourists from all over the world travel here to climb up the summit for breathtaking views of the entire complex. Be sure to take your time exploring these incredible stone structures! There are no signs explaining the different structures, so we recommend going with a guide.
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