We all have our own reasons for setting off to see the world, but there are few of us whose travel plans don’t include the occasional trip just to gaze upon the beauties of the planet we live on. The earth is a wonderful place, like a jewel with a thousand facets, and you can spend a lifetime seeing each one.
Of course, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and everyone has his or her own idea of what’s the most beautiful place. But there are some places on earth that seem to captivate everyone who looks at them. I’ve been lucky enough to travel to a few of those places, and the pictures still live on in my mind, as well as my photo albums.
Here are my choices for the five most beautiful places I’ve seen on my way around the earth.
If you held a contest for the most beautiful place in the world, Tahiti would likely win first prize. Eve since the days of Captain Cook, foreigners have been drawn to these green islands in the Pacific in order to see if there really is such a thing as a South Sea paradise.
The answer is yes, and it’s much the way you pictured it, with palm trees swaying on the shores of impossibly blue lagoons and dramatic mountains rising in the background. I spent a few days here (that’s all I could afford) on a circle Pacific trip long ago, including a stay on the “garden island” of Moorea, and I’ve always wanted to go back. For this kind of beauty you can brave even Tahiti prices.
North America has no shortage of natural beauty, including Canada’s Prince Edward Island and British Columbia. But to me, the place with the most awe-inspiring collection of landscapes is Arizona. From the Grand Canyon and the petrified forest in the north to the red rock canyons of Sedona and the forests of saguaro cacti in the south, the state has an amazing variety of postcard-worthy settings.
On a trip a few years ago, I drove Arizona from top to bottom, stopping constantly to pop my head up and take yet another picture. The deserts have a beauty of their own, and mountain ranges rise up to surprise you, offering even more dramatic vistas. I remember climbing a mountain rise outside Phoenix to find a whole group of people gathered just to watch the sunset. As i joined the crowd, I envied them for living among these landscapes.
This small island in the tail of the Indonesian dragon is as much a stereotype as Tahiti, with its green rice terraces and beautiful maidens doing exotic dances. And again, the reality lives up to the hype. The island is a magical place, with a countryside that looks like a picture from a fantasy book, filled with rice terraces, splashing streams and beautiful temples.
Bali’s appeal is more than just the scenery, as well. The culture, a mixture of Indonesian and ancient Indian influences, is one of the most exotic on earth, with music and dance that could come from another world. And the people are both beautiful and amazingly friendly: this is one of the few places where local people will actually talk to you even if they’re not trying to sell you something.
It’s an odd choice, especially since Antarctica is a place that can go from blue skies to a driving blizzard in minutes, and a misty gloom can descent at any moment. But the southern end of the world has its own unique beauty, often stark but still compelling. In places, just the elemental nature of the landscapes themselves adds to the effect, making you feel as if the rest of the world is just a rumour.
It’s a place where huge mountains rise up from dark bays where whales and seals play, and massive icebergs sail by, glowing an ethereal blue and sometimes decorated with a colony of penguins. Even the rocky coasts have their own beauty.
Fate may have put it at the bottom of the earth, but the gods made up for it by making New Zealand one of the most dramatically beautiful countries in the world. Its two main islands can be driven in a couple of days, but along the way you’ll see an astonishing variety of landscapes, and most of them are suitable for framing, like this photo of Lake Tekapo, and the one at top.
The north island boasts the subtropical Bay of Islands and the rugged landscapes of the Coromandel Peninsula. And on the south island you can choose the lush vistas of wine country, the soaring Southern Alps, or the magical rainforests and brooding waters of Milford Sound. And like the people of Bali, New Zealanders are have a genuine friendliness that is almost startling to the rest of us — must be about living with all that natural beauty.
Those are my choices, drawn from the places I’ve been so far. I know there are other spectacular parts of the world, and with a little luck, I’ll get to see them and share them here one day. Meanwhile, if you have any places you’d like to nominate, feel free to add them in the comments box below.