Veteran travel writers cringe at the use of the word breathtaking: It’s too cliché, overused or as far as they are concerned, if something doesn’t literally take the air out of your lungs a writer shouldn’t use it. While I agree it’s a tad played out, it conveys exactly what it’s meant to. If someone tells me they’ve seen a breathtaking view, I know it’s special.
So, for purposes of this post, I celebrate “breathtaking” with 21 photos from some of my favorite places around the world. Places, I know you’re going to want to visit too.
Machu Picchu, Peru
On its own, the 500-year-old Incan city of Machu Picchu with its restored architecture and stonework, wandering llamas, and grass as green as a neon sign is a heady scene. But the unveiling of the ruins under a sunrise mist is, well, a breathtaking view. But be aware, sunrise is a popular time for tourists and also the coolest part of the day. Do yourself a favor and buy your tickets well beforehand. The number of visitors is limited and ticketed by the hour.
Wayna Picchu, Peru
If you make it to Machu Picchu, for an additional $50.00 a ticket, consider climbing Wayna Picchu, the mist covered mountain in the photo above. Availability is extremely limited (even more than the main city) and takes 2-3 hour depending on your pace. If you’re afraid of heights you may want to pass, but if you do, you’ll miss a spectacular perspective of the Inca ruins below.
Altai Mountains, Western Mongolia
Deep in the Altai Mountains of western Mongolia are an unending number of beautiful panoramas, not to mention Kazakh nomads who still move up to six times a year. They migrate on seasonal treks to various altitudes conducive to raising their goats, sheep, and horses. You’ll be hardpressed to find a more hospitable people nor Mongolians more eager to dance. I went to Mongolia on a photographic tour led by renowned photographer Tim Allen. If a photo trip isn’t your cup of tea, talk to Agii Makhsum who founded Kobesh Travel a lovely man who started his business as a guide for National Geographic. When I go back, he’ll be the first person I’ll call.
Amboseli Nationa Park in southern Kenya is known for its large herds of elephants. They frequent the swamps fed by underground rivers running off Mount Kilimanjaro across the border in Tanzania. While on my Amboseli safari, one of my favorite morning rituals was exploring the prehistoric-looking acacia forests. Inevitably we’d see pachyderms that spent the night eating leaves, in single file heading for the swamps for their daylight dining. It’s one of those sights you never get enough of. For information on how you can see these beautiful animals in person, look at my post A Comprehensive Guide to Planning Your Kenya Wildlife Safari.
The rock formations in Cappadocia, a dry region of central Turkey renowned for its sandstone rock formations whittled by the winds of time. In Göreme where this photo was taken, morning hot air balloon flights lift off by the dozens and float over the countryside. Beyond the incredible views of the meringue-like stone below, the serenity of silent flight has a restorative zen quality all its own. The morning starts before sunrise where you’ll see the balloons beings filled with hot air, afterward, you’ll glide for an hour and after you land, if you are so inclined, some outfitters include a champagne breakfast.
Bennet Lake, Yukon
In the early days of the Yukon Gold Rush near the end of the nineteenth century, thousands of hopefuls made their way to Dawson City, Yukon, hoping to strike it rich. The journey was an arduous one. Prospectors hiked for many miles along the Chilkoot or White Pass trails carrying all of their belongings to Bennet Lake where they waited out the winter in tent cities, stripping the land of wood for fuel and the timber to make boats that would take them the rest of the way. Today, Bennett Lake is a gorgeous, natural monument to those original dreamers. The lake is a 45-minute stop along the White Pass & Yukon Route historic railroad from Skagway, Alaska to Carcross, Yukon (round trips and other excursions are also available). The four-hour ride includes a boxed lunch and narration throughout the route.
Skeleton Coast, Northern Namibia
The Namib Desert is the oldest in the world and a striking mix of endless sand, jagged mountains, and rolling hills. Every day, you’ll be captivated by the designs the wind, insects, and reptiles etch into the dunes, artistry conceived by Mother Nature. Serra Cafema is a camp nearest to where this photo was taken. A luxury respite situated along the Kunene River across from the Angolan border. Surrounded by trees you make think yourself in a tropical location, yet only a few minutes walk from camp you’re back in the wilds of the desert.
Perched on the edge of a cliff in Paro, Bhutan, The Tiger’s Nest is an ancient Buddhist temple originally built in the late 1600s. In 1998, the sanctuary was destroyed by fire but traditionally rebuilt to its former glory. Straight out of a scene from a fairytale, the elaborately carved wooden facade is only reached by a dirt path nearly 2,000 vertical feet and hundreds of steps above the city streets. While there are many stunning scenic spots near the top, some of the most impressive perspectives are through the pine forest on the way up.
Imagine millions of terracotta bricks scattered across the horizon. Mountains in hues of purple and pink looming in the distance. Spiny green euphorbia plants six feet high and wide dot the rugged terrain. It’s a vast, otherworldly landscape that’s different than anything you’ve experienced before. This is Damaraland in Namibia’s northwest. Here, a stay at Desert Rhino Camp in cooperation with Save the Rhino Trust, guests have the opportunity to track black rhinos on foot, one of the few places in Africa you can. Damaraland is home to the world’s largest free-roaming population (sadly less than 20). A donation to the trust’s rhino conservation program is included in the camp’s room rate.
Sea of Cortez, Mexico
One breathtaking view in the Sea of Cortez comes in the shape of the world’s largest fish known as the whale shark. You’ll find juveniles (some as long as 25 feet) in the Bay of La Paz between October and March. Swimming with these enormous, benevolent creatures is an extraordinary experience and can be arranged independently with a few licensed outfitters found in the city or, like my aquatic communion, you can do it as part of an UnCruise Adventure.
Old Bagan, Myanmar
In the ancient city of Old Bagan, there are more than 2,000 temples in varying shades of splendor and decay spread across a carpet of green. Situated along the Ayeyarwady River in Myanmar, Old Bagan is best seen from above. A hot air balloon ride at sunrise over the stupas large and small is touristy, yes, but this utterly breathtaking view is worth the early wake-up call and extra expense.
Penobscot Bay, Maine
Sailing Penobscot Bay you’ll sail past iconic New England made up of small, picturesque fishing villages and quaint cliffside lighthouses. Boats abound but it’s the landmark schooners that will catch your eye. Maine windjammers ( historical merchant ships refitted to carry passengers) appear as if out of a time machine, sails blowing in the wind, no growling of motors just the splash of the water as the hulls slice through the waves,
Masai Mara, Kenya
The Masai Mara’s vast plains and huge skies stretch to the horizon and a sight to behold, especially after a rain as in this image. The sky turns a dusty grey-blue and when the sun manages to shine from behind the clouds the shafts of light turn the grass gold. Add in the Great Wildebeest Migration and you have a landscape you could stare at for hours.
There’s nothing like a sunrise in the mountains when the first rays of light start to wake up the sky. In Darby, Montana, nestled in the Bitterroot Mountain Range, the dawn at Triple Creek Ranch is especially lovely. Rolling hills give way to paddocks of horses or the odd herd of elk. The air is clear and fresh and the stars are astonishing.
Kluane National Park, Yukon
Did you know a glacier is only a glacier if it’s moving through a valley, otherwise, it’s an ice field? Whatever they’re called, flying over Kluane National Park and the Kaskawulsh glacier/ice field, you’ll see both. The textures and colors are magnificent, especially the tell-tale turquoise water you’ll see glisten here and there. There’s only a small window between June and September to enjoy this awe-inspiring view, afterward, the weather is too unpredictable to fly or land safely.
Osa Peninsula, Costa Rica
In the southern Pacific coast of Costa Rica, you’ll find the Osa Peninsula one of the premier destinations for rainforest adventures, abundant wildlife, and first-growth vegetation. Lapa Rios, an eco-lodge built upon a mountain ridge and part of a 1000-acre rainforest preserve, features 17 bungalows. The island, as seen here from one of the private balconies, can be explored by way of the resort’s network of trails (a few with waterfalls), as well as from romantic secluded beaches below or on a variety of fascinating guided tours.
A half-hour flight north of Churchill, Manitoba along the Hudson Bay is a polar bear migration route frequented between July – November. Along the coastline, the bears roam for months in a state of walking hibernation waiting for the ice to thicken so they can hunt seals miles offshore. You’ll find Hudson Bay to be ever-changing. One day it’s an expanse of jagged ice and snow, the next a blanket of rolling waves. Join other intrepid travelers enticed by the region’s dramatic landscapes and arctic wildlife, during a week-long polar bear walking safari at the renowned Seal River Heritage Lodge.
On the steeps slope of Mount Sutton, a few miles from the small town of the same name in southern Québec is Diable Vert, a park slash campground slash activity haven for year-round fun. Campers wanting to commune with nature can book small tree-houses, pod shelters, airstreams or a lodge apartment to stay in. In the midst of these accommodations is a plateau replete with a herd of adorable highland cows. In the early morning, the fog burns off quickly with the rising sun revealing a countryside of rolling hills, thick pine forests, and picturesque homes.
Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska
Glacier Bay National Park is famous for its pristine waters, gargantuan glaciers, mountain forests, and snow-capped peaks. Most will enjoy the natural beauty from the comfort of a ship’s deck during an Alaska cruise but there are more ways to get your park on. Glacier Bay Sea Kayaks can arrange 5 – 10-day trips as well as one-day jaunts. And while trails are limited, there’s a one-mile beach trail from nearby Gustavus and a few other longer hikes circling Bartlett Cove. Remember: You’re in moose and bear country, make sure to take the appropriate precautions and keep your eyes peeled.
Timbavati Game Reserve, South Africa
Where the Masai Mara is about open spaces, the Timbavati Game Reserve is dense and rugged with a feral quality that goes beyond its natural setting. Wildlife encounters are plentiful, especially sightings of leopards and lions which are frequent here.
Sahara Desert, Morocco
It will come to no surprise that the Sahara Desert offers phenomenal views, what you may not realize is that no matter what you’ve seen in films or in a documentary, it’s ten times better in person.
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