A Grounded Traveler's List of the Top 10 Most Beautiful Destinations in the World
For me, 2020 started out with a blank slate tinged with hope. I had a wonderful combination of no set travel plans, along with enough mileage points for two tickets practically anywhere. Enter the Coronavirus and ensuing pandemic and I have found myself ensconced in my home without the hope of safely traveling anywhere for the foreseeable future. As disappointing as that may be, this hiatus has allowed me time to reflect on how fortunate I've been to this point to enjoy so many incredible natural wonders, and rank them in my mind in order of their mind-blowing effect. Below is my list of the Top 10 natural destinations I've personally visited and would recommend to any aspiring traveler if/when we're once again free to travel about the globe.
1) Milford Sound, New Zealand
In my opinion, New Zealand as a whole is simply the most beautiful place on Earth. But even in this land of superlatives, Milford Sound, tucked in the southwest corner of the South Island's Fiordland National Park, is a cut above the rest. This tiny outpost is the starting point for boat tours through breathtaking sheer-faced walls of rock ringed by temperate rain forest, topped by magnificent glaciers, and liberally spouting impressive waterfalls. The waters are home to playful dolphins, while lazy seals lounge on the rocks. My jaw hurt from repetitive dropping and I must admit that this location more than any other has set the bar for what I consider to be the definition of natural beauty.
2) Geiranger, Norway
Yes, my second choice is yet another fjord and it's not without good reason. Deep green mountains topped with snow offer a stunning backdrop to a placid waterway cutting through the surrounding giants. Feeling small never felt so good, and the quaint town lining the mountainsides with turf-covered roofs completes the picture of a quintessential natural/rural experience.
3) Titou Gorge, Dominica
Alas, my visit to this dreamlike channel of greenery came well before the advent of Go-Pro type cameras, otherwise I would have documented much more of the challenging descent of this natural wonder of the Caribbean. Deliciously chilled water gushes through the mountains or spills into the gorge via innumerable waterfalls while dense foliage covers the entire panorama in shades of green. This locale is an ideal blend of rain forest, waterfalls and lush tropical flora.
4) Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe/Zambia
As one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World, it's no surprise that Victoria Falls would make my list too. Straddling the Zambezi River as it takes a sudden plunge into the Batoka Gorge below, the immense face - which can't be completely seen from any one point on either shore - is almost too majestic to comprehend. Add the crisp rainbows that move in harmony with the position of the sun, and it's hard to image a more impressive site anywhere. It also doesn't hurt that both in the parks that contain the falls and the nearby national parks in the Caprivi Strip - such as Chobe River National Park in Botswana - there are exhilarating wildlife viewing possibilities, from big cats, to giraffe, to mighty herds of elephant.
5) Anse Source D'Argent, Seychelles
The limpid, crystal clear water framed by oversize, sculpted boulders give the impression that you've walked right into a screensaver. Located on the tiny, pedestrian-friendly island of La Digue, this dreamy beach features a unique landscape in which to contemplate paradise. Getting to and staying in the Seychelles is quite an investment in terms of budget, but the payoff is tropical beach beauty at its best.
6) Costa Verde, Brazil
Stretching from the western outskirts of Rio de Janeiro all the way down to the border with the state of Sao Paulo, Brazil's Costa Verde (or Green Coast) is a meandering coastline of tranquil bays, jeweled islands and rain forest covered mountains. In particular, my favorites were car-free Ilha Grande, home of the gorgeous Lopes Mendes Beach and a wonderful place to just relax, and historic Paraty. At the latter, not only can you enjoy a wonderfully preserved colonial town, but you can also take schooner trips to lush, uninhabited islands with appealing beaches, as you watch pods of dolphins play in the emerald-green water. Every direction is a post-card view, which makes this region an easy entry on my Top 10 list.
7) Grand Canyon, USA
The Grand Canyon - another member of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World list - is the kind of place that will take your breath away the first time you see it in person, even if you've seen it a million times on TV or in movies. It's hard to fathom the enormity of the panorama as you look down at the deceptively distant Colorado River snaking its way through a sea of multi-hued rock whose color changes several times a day. And with most visitors (reportedly some 85%) incredibly never venturing into the canyon at all, it's not hard to find a lookout point where you can enjoy a few minutes of majestic solitude to contemplate this marvel of Creation. Plus, you're also practically at the doorstep of some of the U.S. Southwest's most iconic and impressive landscapes besides the canyon.
8) Lagoon of Bora Bora, French Polynesia
While just hearing the name Bora Bora will likely conjure up images of a tropical paradise, in reality this outlying island in the Society Island chain has one advantage that sets it apart from those other jungle-clad, emerald green jewels in the Pacific - its incredible lagoon. Surrounded by a series of barrier islets, or motus, Bora Bora's lagoon sparkles in a million hues of the color blue. Seen from above it's practically opalescent, and at sea level it's a diver's and snorkeler's dream with clouds of colorful fish, friendly stingrays, and a collection of rather harmless reef sharks. So while there's little to see or do apart from water-based activities, fans of turquoise waters will be hard-pressed to find a more blessed specimen than Bora Bora's lagoon.
9) Amalfi Coast/Pontine Islands, Italy
Even though a huge factor in this region's charm is the boxy, Mediterranean architecture that clings to an almost impossibly steep mountainous coastline, the Amalfi Coast, along with the Gulf of Naples and enchanting Pontine Islands a little further north, is a gorgeous land and seascape of craggy sea stacks, turquoise coves and semi-arid hillsides. Even outside the major tourist towns of Sorrento and Positano there are hidden beaches, private bays and uninhabited islands that showcase the best the Mediterranean has to offer. My personal favorites are Praiano, with its view of vertical Positano, and the island of Ponza, which encapsulates the essence of a quintessential Italian island.
10) Ring of Kerry, Ireland
This frequently-visited route in the Southwest corner of Ireland is not popular without reason. Much like the rest of Ireland, its beauty is not due to one particular location (Cliffs of Moher notwithstanding) but the cumulative effect of one of the most pleasing pastoral landscapes I've ever seen. The Ring of Kerry offers peaceful glades, dramatic cliffs and sheep covered hillsides reminiscent of simpler times. At the west end of the Ring is the shorter Skellig Ring, which I feel showcases the most dramatic coastal scenery and is a great vantage point to contemplate the rugged islands just offshore. If ever there was a place that exemplified the term 'bucolic' it would be Ireland. And in Ireland, I think the Ring of Kerry, along with the adjacent Dingle Peninsula, has the best Ireland has on offer.
It was more difficult than I thought to pare down this list to just ten locations. Some honorable mentions would be the fascinating landscape of Cappadocia, Turkey; the monumental glaciers of both the Beagle Channel, Chile and those of interior Alaska; the blindingly green terraced rice paddies of Bali, Indonesia; and of course, the underwater wonderland of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. I suppose that after all, that's the best part about making lists like these - the never-ending quest of seeing which future destinations might take their place on them.
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