The notion of luxury travel has traditionally been associated and synonymous with decadent indulgence and wanton extravagance. In a post pandemic era, there has been accentuated emphasis and accelerated growth towards environmental sustainability, eco tourism and responsible travel amongst the savvy, highly educated and upwardly mobile jetsetters who are increasingly knowledgeable, mindful, and aware of the impact of the carbon footprint left behind by their choice of travels.
The quest for transcendent and ephemeral once in a lifetime experiences no longer necessary have to be on mega yachts, or inclusive of Michelin-starred fine-dining. Market trends reveal that luxury travellers have been intentionally seeking out exotic, non-generic, and off the beaten track adventures that are less crowded, and accords them more opportunities to be in touch with nature. The focus is now more on bespoke customisation, exclusivity, solitude, and quality, instead of mere quantity or needless excess. This article highlights some of the exclusive and perhaps even elusive luxury travel options with their approximate associated costs.
The Last Shangri-La
Photo Credit: COMO Uma Paro Bhutan
Sandwiched and land locked in between India and Tibet, the tiny Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan is perched high up at the rooftop of the world. This pristine and isolated jewel of the Himalayas, which is famed for its unique “Gross National Happiness” policy and philosophy, is regarded as one of the premier and most exclusive tourist destinations in the world. Thanks in part to a hefty “sustainable development fee” and tourist tariff of US$250 per person per day during the peak season periods of spring and autumn, and US$200 per person per day during the less popular off-peak summer and winter seasons. At present, citizens hailing from India, Bangladesh and the Maldives pay only 1200 Bhutanese ngultrum per person per day to visit Bhutan regardless of season. Come December 2023 however, the Bhutanese government is likely to pass through a bill to impose a daily sustainable development fee of US$65 plus a US$40 permit processing fee for all Indian, Bangladesh and Maldives nationals in order for them to enter Bhutan.
Additionally, solo travellers are made to pay an extra surcharge of US$40 per day while couples or groups of two have to pay an extra US$30 per person per day. Families and larger groups are surprisingly being exempt from this extra surcharge, which seemingly makes little sense if the main purpose is to lessen the number of visitors and decrease the carbon footprint of tourism. All these charges are on top of hotel accommodations, tour guides, transportations, food, and other travel expenses. Thereby, making Bhutan a travel destination not at all intended for the penny pinching, budget conscious solo backpacker.
Photo Credit: Amankora Bhutan
The hugely debated and highly criticised tourist tax allows the world’s first carbon negative country to attract “high value and low impact” mindful travellers who are requested to be respectful of Bhutanese cultural traditions and the natural surroundings. The tourist tariffs enable Bhutan to not only offset the carbon footprint of tourism, but also to support the country’s post pandemic economical recovery. The good news is that visitors to Bhutan are no longer require to go through an official tour operator and can now book directly with their chosen accommodations. Luxury hotel chain options in Bhutan include the Aman, Como, Le Méridien, Dusit Thani, and the Six Senses. Each of these hotel chains operating between 2 to 4 resort properties in different parts of the country.
Call of the Wild
Photo Credit: Singita
Many people are animal lovers and as such an African safari adventure holiday is high up on the bucket wish lists of those hoping to live out their Lion King childhood fantasy and catch sight of the “Big Five” – comprising of lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards and cape buffalos roaming and basking together in their natural habitats.
The Motherland and birthplace of humanity is a huge continent to explore. Take your pick from Botswana, Namibia, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda, Zambia, etc. Most novice and first time safari adventurers start with Tanzania as it offers a handful of UNESCO World Heritage wonders such as the Serengeti National Park, Ngorongoro crater conservation area, and the picturesque snow-capped Mount Kilimanjaro, which is the highest peak on the African continent.
Every year between the hottest summer months of as early as June through to as late as October, the iconic “Great Migration” is a visual spectacle and huge tourism draw card as it looks like something out of Animal Planet or National Geographic. Safari animal enthusiasts armed with state-of-the-art camera equipment and expensive giant zoom lenses pay through their teeth for the opportunity to witness the live action in real time as millions of herded wildebeests, zebras, gazelles, antelopes, and other herbivores convene and migrate together northwards from the dried up southern plains of the vast African savannah all the way across expansive rivers over to the lush green pastures of the Masai Mara National Reserve. Ravenous hyenas, lions, and crocodiles take this precious chance to prey upon the old, young, ill and handicapped animals that all end up as tasty meals for the carnivores. The ensuing carnage, chaos and mayhem of the circle of life makes for dramatic photographic and epic videographic footage, as well as memories to last a lifetime.
Photo Credit: andBeyond
Various luxury African safari lodges and wildlife reserve tented camp accommodations include those operated by the ecotourism brand Singita, as well as the award winning andBeyond, but they certainly do not come cheap. One can expect to pay approximately US$7,000 to US$15,000 for a week’s stay at one of these upscale safari lodges depending on the season. Based on the location and the respective countries’ policies, various tourist visas charges often apply, and the safari national park entrance fees can range from an average of about US$30-70 per person per day for international visitors. These park fees typically go into environmental conservation efforts and hiring armed law enforcers to protect the wildlife against animal poachers. Mandatory travel vaccination certification requirements for yellow fever, as well as antimalarial prophylaxis medications further add onto costs.
Conquering Mount Everest
At times, we just have to ponder and fathom with amazement on what drives some men and women to be willing to fearlessly push themselves to the limits of human endurance in order to conquer Mount Everest. In spite of the occasional ponderance, most people have not done the research, and do not have a clue how much it really costs to climb up what has been nicknamed by local Nepalese & Tibetan Sherpas as the “Goddess of the Sky”.
A life risking trek all the way to the pinnacle of Mount Everest can easily cost in excess of US$50,000 on the lowest end, and soar up to over US$200,000 on the high end due to equipment, life sustaining supplies such as food and oxygen tanks, Sherpa guides, insurance and permits. Just the official climbing permit alone costs a deliberately prohibitive US$11,000 per person for a team of 4 or more climbers from the Nepalese side which is probably set to soon increase to be on par with the Chinese side that charges as much as over US$18,000 per climber depending on how many teammates you have in your group. Every year, these rates seem to keep soaring and spiralling ever upwards like the spire of Everest. A standard rubbish collection fee of US$1,500 per climber also applies. Not forgetting as well the extra unseen add-ons that are often overlooked in budgeting such as insurance coverage and immunisations.
In spite of the inordinate expense, many adventurers are not the least bit deterred or perturbed, and are still willing to fork up the massive price for an opportunity to conquer nature and themselves; as well as for the bragging rights. Some have even paid the ultimate price with their lives, while others have permanently lost their fingers and toes to painfully blistering frostbitten gangrene. To date, over 314 climbers have died attempting to scale the world’s highest peak. Two thirds of those that perished have their frozen corpses forever preserved and immortalised on the mountain as it is virtually impossible and impractical to retrieve their bodies due to the harsh terrains and weather conditions. Even for the cases where it is more feasible, an expedition to retrieve a dead body from Everest costs in excess of US$70,000, excluding repatriation charges. Everest’s infamous and unfortunate victims even receive affectionate nicknames such as “Green Boots’ and “Sleeping Beauty”, and their final resting spots serve as macabre markers and guideposts.
Climbers who ascend higher than 8,000 metres enter the “death zone” where the risk of developing sudden heart attacks, strokes, pulmonary edema, hallucinations, and altitude sickness increases sharply. Vision becomes hazy from dizziness, breathing becomes extremely challenging and cognitive acuity is impaired. Oxygen levels become so scarce and limited even with the aid of oxygen tanks that the cells of the body start to die off.
According to American mountaineer and filmmaker David Breashears, who is the author of “High Exposure”, says that even with the assistance of supplementary oxygen tanks, that the experience feels very much like, “running on a treadmill and breathing through a straw.” A far safer, easier and less reckless alternative is to trek up to the Everest base camp, or simply view the summit from the relative safety and comfort of a helicopter ride up to the base camp. That way, you do not have to risk life and limb for the chance at a similar and arguably better experience.
While ascending to the summit of Mount Everest is a serious feat of physical endurance and hefty monetary expenditure, non-professional climbers with little hiking experience, average fitness levels and a smaller budget can still trek up to Everest base camp with relative ease and affordability. Regardless, it is still best practice to modestly prepare oneself mentally and physically for the experience. With proper guidance, preparation and some determination, it is even possible for courageous kids even as young as 3 or 4 years old to trek up to the base camp, which is at an elevation of 5,364 metres above sea level. This makes an Everest base camp trek to be simultaneously an educational as well as a family-friendly activity.
Photo Credit: Air Dynasty
To attempt to climb to Everest base camp requires the acquisition of at least three permits; namely the Sagarmatha National Park entry permit priced at 3,000 Nepalese rupees, the Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Rural Municipality tourism fee of 2,000 Nepalese rupees, and finally the Trekking Information Management System (TIMS) which costs 2,000 Nepalese rupees. For those beginning their trek from either Jiri or Salleri, an additional Gaurishankar conservation area permit of 3,000 Nepalese rupees is also required. These national park permits and tourist fees help fund environmental preservation efforts, and help support the local communities.
A helicopter tour usually does not require those aforementioned permits thereby allowing you to skip all the hassle and the mountain of administrative formalities. The average costs of an Everest base camp trek ranges between US$2,000 – US$5,000 per trekker depending on the package offerings. Some of the more highly rated companies that offer these packages include Himalayan Glacier Trekking, Nepal Gateway Trekking, Mosaic Adventure and Nepal Trekking Experts. Everest helicopter tour operators include Air Dynasty, Nepal Helicopter Service and Himalaya Holiday Service. The helicopter tours costs around US$1,000 – US $5,000 per person depending on the type of charter and package, and takes an average of just 4-5 hours compared to 10 to 18 days for a round trip trek to the base camp, depending on whether you start from Lukla or Kathmandu.
Four Season Private Jet Experiences
Photo Credit: Four Seasons
The Four Seasons Private Jet concept celebrates the glamour of a bygone era of the early days of luxury travel, while being packed with modern day amenities and bespoke luxury. Fully tailored to Four Seasons’ legendary standards and exacting specifications, the Four Seasons Private Jet, features a 48-seat luxury interior configured for the greatest comfort possible in the skies, and yet with sustainability in mind. On board the custom-designed Airbus A321neo-LR aircraft that leaves no detail unchecked, an experienced flight crew is joined by a dedicated hospitality staff team consisting of a concierge, butler, executive chef and medical physician that offer personalised service at your beck and call for all of your needs, desires and whims.
Upon arrival at the various destinations, guests will disembark the Four Seasons private jet and stay overnight at the corresponding Four Seasons hotel accommodations such as in alluring far flung places that are not easily accessible, such as Bora Bora, Jordan, Machu Picchu, Seychelles, Rwanda, Marrakech, Taormina and the Galapagos. In 2023, the Four Seasons added 10 new destinations to the program, including Antarctica with the debut of the Uncharted Discovery itinerary, as well as Easter Island as part of the Ancient Explorer itinerary.
Photo Credit: Four Seasons
Mr Marc Spiechert who is the Executive Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer at Four Seasons says, “Since launching the Four Seasons Private Jet Experience eight years ago back in 2015, we have taken guests on 20 journeys through 35 countries, often including remote destinations rarely visited by tourists, and showcasing the very best of great cities, important landmarks and nearly untouched wilderness locations in ways that only Four Seasons can.”
Imagine the Four Seasons Private Jet vacation experience to be like a palatial aerial cruise ship of sorts. Instead of sailing across the sea, you glamorously fly in the air in absolute comfort and lavish style to get from one destination to the next. Prices start from US$135,000 for African Wonders or Asian Unveiled, to US$215,000 for World of Wonders. Prices quoted are per person and based on double occupancy. For more information, go to https://www.fourseasons.com/privatejet
Aman Private Jet Expeditions
Photo Credit: Aman
The Aman Private Jet Expeditions is a special long-standing collaboration between the high-end resort brand and luxury travel specialists “Remote Lands”. Accommodating an exclusively limited number of just 16-18 available seats per trip in a luxuriously custom fitted Airbus ACJ 319, the lavish expedition itineraries are designed for the wealthy for whom money is no object, and who would much rather splurge on comforts, than mingle with crowds. Guests get to stay at selected Aman properties along the way, and get wine and dine to their heart’s content while on board the jet.
Photo Credit: Aman
The acclaimed “Grandest Tour” is an ultimate 21 nights culturally immersive adventure spanning seven countries that commences at the extraordinary Aman Tokyo and ends at the mystical Amanzoe in Peloponnese, Greece. For foodies and connoisseurs of all things Japanese, there is even a specially curated 9 nights “Aman Japan Culinary Journey” that celebrates the rich cultural heritage of Japan’s beloved and multi-faceted cuisine from start till end.
Photo Credit: Aman
Other Aman private jet expeditions include the 10 nights “Southeast Asia Expedition”, as well as the 14 nights “Mindful & Cultural Journey” that spans the lofty Himalayan Aman properties located in Nepal and Bhutan, before heading down south to the idyllic Aman resorts in both India and Sri Lanka. Expect to pay approximately US$100,000 to US$160,000 per person for the exclusive privilege to indulge and feast in these top-notch luxury private jet expeditions. For more information, email all enquiries to [email protected] .
The Final Frontier
Photo Credit: Virgin Galactic
What if you have already circumvented the globe multiple times and been to every available country there is to see on this planet? If Earth is too tiny and limiting, and money is no object, then you can now have the golden opportunity to hop on a trip to explore outer space.
Innovations and advancements in aerospace technologies have now made it feasible, albeit not yet economically to traverse the space above our planet as the next frontier. Private companies such as Space Perspectives, World View, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s Space X have been quick to bank in and permeate this burgeoning market space specifically catering to the ultra rich who are willing to pay top dollar for the distinctive privilege to fly beyond the internationally agreed upon Kármán line of 100 kilometres above sea level in order to experience zero gravity, and even live on board the International Space Station.
Photo Credit: Virgin Galactic
Needless to say, as you might imagine, visiting space places an immense physical toll on our bodies, and is also psychologically demanding and mentally strenuous. Our bodies become exposed to ten times more harmful radiation than on the Earth’s surface, and that makes us susceptible to a higher risk of developing cancers. Space travel can also cause rapid bone and muscle atrophy, and the deterioration becomes significant the longer you stay. If you stay too long in space, your muscles and bones will inevitably weaken and shrink, especially in your legs and lower back due to the lack of gravitational exertion. Immune dysfunctions and cardiovascular problems such as the stiffening of arteries are also core issues. Essentially, spending prolonged periods of time in such an inhospitable environment inadvertently wears out our bodies more rapidly than on Earth. Our scientists estimate that the environmental pressures of space wears our hearts, blood vessels, muscles and bones deteriorate about ten times faster than the natural aging process experienced on the surface of our planet.
By and large, at the present moment, space tourism remains exorbitant, astronomically out of reach, and a mere pipedream for the vast majority of Earthlings, with the exception of the mega billionaires amongst us. Prices start from US$250,000 – US$500,000 for suborbital flights to experience zero gravity to $50 million for full orbital experiences. In spite of the gargantuan price tags, the waiting list for these space adventures can be a couple of years long. Hopefully in a few more decades to come, these sojourns to space can become more commercially viable and within the financial ability for the bourgeoisie middle class to be able to also enjoy the entitlement that is currently reserved for the uber elite.
Header Image: Six Senses Thimphu