“The world is a book, those who do not travel read only a page.” – St Augustine
I admit I’m well travelled. Not because I’m rich, but because my wife Caz and I have always prioritized travel over investments and savings. We’ll be poor when we’re old, but we’ll have amazing photos and incredible memories. As the old saying goes, “Collect moments, not things.”
As a result, I’m often asked what are the most beautiful places I’ve seen, so I’ve put together a list and uploaded a bunch of my own photos to prove it. Here are some of the most stunning places I’ve visited.
1. Dolomites, Italy
The Dolomites are utterly stunning! And surprising. Not knowing exactly what to expect, I was completely bowled over by their strange beauty.
This northern Italian mountain range comprises a number of impressive peaks, eighteen of which rise to more than 10,000 feet (3,050 metres). Geologically, the mountains are formed of light-coloured dolomitic limestone, which erosion has carved into grotesque shapes. The resulting landforms include jagged, saw-edged ridges, rocky pinnacles, screes (pebble deposits) of limestone debris, deep gorges, and numerous steep rock faces at relatively low levels.
It is literally the most breathtaking thing I think I have ever seen.
The photos above are of Sassolunga, the highest mountain in the range. The name translates to “long peak” or “long rock,” and as you can see it’s like an enormous jagged limestone blade slicing out of the earth. You can’t fail to be impressed by it when you see it.
Also, in a quaint valley dotted with small farms near Ranui, you’ll find the stunning Chiesetta di San Giovanni (chapel of St Giovanni). It is one of the most photographed churches in the world. The pretty little building is dwarfed by the stunning Dolomitic mountain landscape, making it one of the must-see sites of South Tyrol.
The Dolomites are around 100 miles (170 km) due north from Venice and after all the tourist hubbub of the City of Canals, the serenity of the mountains is a blessed relief.
2. Okavango Delta, Botswana
The Okavango Delta is the terminus point for the Okavango River, the fourth longest river system in southern Africa. It flows from central Angola (where it is called the Kubango River) to the Kalahari desert in northern Botswana, where the river spills into the immense inland swamp. This delta region is around 6,500 square miles (16,800 square km), much of it barely unnavigable, and it teems with wildlife including lions, buffalo, wildebeests, zebras, wild dogs, crocodiles, leopards (like the one I photographed above), and hippos like the one below.
Scooting through the delta in a small craft you can suddenly come upon a grazing elephant or a tiptoeing jacana bird, known by locals as a “jesus bird” for it’s ability to walk on lilypads and water grasses which makes it look like it’s walking on water. You’ll see painted reed frogs and nesting waterbirds, barred owlets and fishing owls as well as herds of elephants and lone leopards. There’s a strange serenity in Okavango, considering there are so many creatures here that can kill you!
The famous African missionary-explorer David Livingstone was the first European to reach the delta in 1851. He was tracing the flow of the Okavango in the hope that it might be a watery super-highway across the continent. When he reached the enormous swamp he realised he had reached the river’s end, writing in his journal, “Water cannot flow backward, or uphill!” As disappointed as he was, he’d nonetheless found Africa’s greatest oasis.
3. Yosemite National Park, California
Yosemite is amazing! The park is situated in a deep, U-shaped valley of the Merced River which curves in a gentle arc about 7 miles (11 km) long and features a number of sheer rock walls, waterfalls, and huge domes and peaks. The greatest of these domes is El Capitan (below), a granite buttress near the western end of the valley that rises to 7,569 feet (2,307 metres) above sea level and towers some 3,600 feet (1,100 metres) above the valley.
Overlooking the head of the valley is Half Dome, which reaches an elevation of 8,836 feet (2,693 metres) and provides a commanding view from its top. The renowned Yosemite Falls consists of Upper Yosemite Fall, Lower Yosemite Fall, and the cascades between them; their combined drop of 2,425 feet (740 metres) is one of the highest cataracts in the world. That’s the lower falls in the picture on the right below.
The photo on the left above is Bridalveil Fall which plunges 620 feet (189 meters) into the Yosemite Valley. It’s the first waterfall you’ll see when entering the park, and in spring when we visited, it thunders. During the rest of the year it has a lighter, swaying flow.
Of all the national parks in the US, I think Yosemite is my favorite. It is certainly the most contained park, with all its natural beauty packed into a small(ish) valley. As Ibn Battuta wrote, “Traveling – it leaves you speechless, then turns you into a storyteller.”
4. Inca Trail, Peru
Located in the Andes mountain range in Peru, the famed Inca Trail rises up through cloud forest and alpine tundra, winding its way through small settlements, tunnels, and Incan ruins, ascending to beyond 4,200 metres (13,800 ft) above sea level (which can result in altitude sickness). Travelers are motivated to keep going, however, knowing the trail ends at the stunning Sun Gate on Machu Picchu mountain.
I took this hike with two of my daughters and I confess it was tough. But the majesty and beauty of the Andes more than makes up for it. We climbed mountainous tracks through coca plantations, crossed rivers on rope bridges (and a punt), and crept along paths carved into cliff faces. At certain points, we trod the original stone paths and steps built by the Incans.
Mountains like the Andes make me think of that Gustave Flaubert saying, “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world.”
5. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, Australia
Uluru is a massive sandstone monolith in the heart of Australia’s arid “outback”. It stands proudly in a desert landscape, far from so-called civilisation. The nearest town is Alice Springs, 280 miles (450km) away. It is located within Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which also includes the 36 red-rock domes of the Kata Tjuta (colloquially “The Olgas”) formation.
The traditional owners of the park are the Yankunytjatjara and Pitjantjatjara people, to whom Uluru is considered sacred. But even non-Indigenous Australians have a strange connection to the rock. We see it as the anchoring point of our continent. This gigantic rock is thought to have started forming around 550 million years ago and seems to be the permanent center of our nation.
I have walked the circumference of Uluru (nearly 6 miles or 9.4 km) and trekked through the imposing domes of Kata Tjuta and found both experiences strangely spiritual. I can’t imagine what my Indigenous sisters and brothers must feel when they’re on this country.
6. Florida Keys
Some of the most gorgeous sunsets I’ve ever seen happened over the Florida towns of Key Largo, Key West and Islamorada. The Florida Keys are a string of tropical islands stretching about 120 miles (190 km) off the southern tip of the U.S. state of Florida, between the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. Americans flock there for fishing, boating, snorkeling and scuba diving.
Key West, the southernmost city of the US, is famous for Duval Street’s many bars, Mallory Square’s nightly Sunset Celebration, and the Ernest Hemingway Home and Museum. It’s pretty touristy but fun.
But the laidback town of Islamorada is also a great relaxing place to drink margaritas, listen to Jimmy Buffett and watch the sun go down.
7. Lake Wakatipu, New Zealand
Let’s face it, the whole of New Zealand is beautiful. I could have chosen Milford Sound, or the Bay of Islands, or the Coramandel Peninsula. But I’ve chosen the lightning-bolt-shaped lake against which the small city of Queenstown nestles. Queenstown is an alpine village that fills up every winter with tourists wanting to ski the nearby Remarkables mountain range. In summer it is an adventure tourism capital, offering bungie jumping, paragliding, rafting, waterskiing, hiking, and the famous Shotover jetboat trips.
Lake Wakatipu is a really deep inland finger lake. Its floor is below sea level, with a maximum depth of 1,250 feet (380 metres). At its northern tip lies the quaint township of Glenorchy. Just look at the stunning shoreline below.
Glenorchy not only sit on the lakeshore, but also nestles under the imposing presence of Mt Earnslaw which rises over 9,000 feet (2,819 metres).
I visited Glenorchy on a picture-perfect day and the presence of that black swan in the frame capped it off very nicely.
8. Menindee Lakes, Australia
Maybe it’s because you’ve got to drive through some of the hottest, driest country in the world to get there. Maybe it’s because they’re not always there. Or at least not always full of water. But when you finally see Menindee Lakes, they seem like a glorious mirage.
We had trouble finding them, in fact. We took a few wrong turns and ended up driving past the dusty outback town of Menindee and had to double back, eager to arrive by sundown. But when we found them, we were astonished by all that water teeming with noisy birdlife in the middle of a silent desert.
Sixty-eight miles (110 km) south-east of Broken Hill, the Menindee Lakes are a series of shallow natural ephemeral lakes dotted along and fed by the Darling River. When the Darling dries up, which happens regularly, so do most of the lakes. When we visited in 2021, the lakes were filled to capacity and looking spectacular. We wished we’d come ready to camp by the shore and soak in more of their stunning beauty.
The first people living around the Menindee Lakes area are known as the Barkindji and although they gained Native Title over the area in 2015, it didn’t include the control of the use of water from the Darling River, which is a hotly contested political issue in the state.
9. Bernese Alps, Switzerland
I don’t need to convince anyone that the Swiss Alps are among the most beautiful places in the world. Anyone who’s seen them immediately adds them to their favorite destination list. Whether it’s the stunning majesty of Mt Eiger or Jungfrau (above) or the many waterfalls around the picturesque town of Lauterbrunnen (below) every turn you take is another breathtaking one.
The mountainous region around the city of Bern is noted for its great scenic beauty. The Midlands (Mittelland) consists of the Aare valley below Thun (pictured below), the Emme River valley, and the foothills of the high Alps.
At Grindenwald, rolling green hillsides dotted with grazing sheep are dwarfed by gigantic mountainsides rising up ominously behind them.
And in the midst of it all is the beautiful city of Bern. I know I’m not writing about my favorite cities, but I had to share this photo (below) of the sunset lighting up the alps behind the cityscape.
The Bernese Alps are like a scene from a fairytale with its clear lakes, snowcapped mountains, lush valleys and picturesque villages.
10. Kalbarri National Park, Western Australia
What a gem Kalbarri is!
Located at the lower reaches of the Murchison River, about 300 miles (485 km) north of Perth, Kalbarri National Park contains both wild bushland and stunning coastline. The river has cut a magnificent 80km gorge through the red and white banded sandstone, including rock formations like Natures Window (above).
As a result, Kalbarri National Park comprises sights as varied as rolling sandplains, deep river gorges and rocky plateaus. The coastal section is fantastic with great vistas and beautiful but rugged beaches hidden in the caves. The coastal cliffs have evocative names like Red Bluff, Pot Alley, Eagle Gorge, Shellhouse and Island Rock. These limestone and sandstone outcrops are slowly yielding to the unrelenting Indian Ocean.
A veritable feast for the eyes, Kalbarri is huge! The whole park, including the gorges and the coastline, is over 450,000 acres (186,000 hectares) so prepare to stay at least a few days to see it all.
In my next post I want to share some pictures from my favorite cities in the world.
[Cover image: Badlands National Park, South Dakota]