10 places to visit before you die
“Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all of one’s lifetime” – Mark Twain
Traveling doesn’t require venturing far from home (necessarily). But to have a broad view of the world, to see men and things and open your mind and heart to new and different landscapes and cultures does require stepping out of our little corner of the earth – and thankfully so because there are some incredible places to see in the world.
Here’s a list of my top 10 places to visit before you die. Why these 10 out of all places? Each of them represents a special experience you can’t get elsewhere. It’s a mix of “ticking it off a list” of cool things to say you’ve seen, breathtaking nature, irreplaceable history and one of a kind landscapes. For other ideas of things to do and places to see check out my article on 16 Things to do Before you Die.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu is an Incan walled city high up in the Andes mountains of Peru. Built in the 15th century, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the most breathtakingly beautiful locations on earth. Peeking through the foggy air, you’ll see bright green grass and stone structures. You can hike the Inca trail, through the Sacred Valley, over a period of a few days to reach the peak, or take a train to Urubamba from Cusco and then a bus up the mountain. There is nothing like it in the world and an absolute must-see. (I’ve written more on Macchu Pichcu and other travel destinations in my eBook about How to Live Your Life to the Fullest).
Jerusalem is arguably the most special city in the world. It is a walled city steeped in history and contains sites important to all of the major religions of the world. Make sure to walk through the Souk in the old city. Don’t miss the Western Wall and make sure to do a tour of the tunnel system dating back to the time of King David. Walk Via Dolorosa and see the stations of Jesus’s cross. Visit the Church of the Holy Sepulcher to see Jesus’s Tomb. Don’t miss Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum. It’s a somber awakening but an important and touching depiction of the fate of the Jews of Eastern Europe and houses testimonials and pictures that will provide a personal touch to what you’ve read in History books.
Pyramids of Giza, Egypt
One of the seven wonders of the world, this is definitely a “tick of my list” destination. But really, it’s much more. From afar the pyramids look as you would expect. But stand next to them with the sand dunes, palm trees and Nile River flowing in the distance and you are taken back in time. With each giant stone laid one atop the next that tower over you you’ll wonder how each was carried out of a quarry and to this very spot with rudimentary transport technology and brute force. Inside the chambers of the pyramids (you’ll walk a narrow and stifling hallway to get to it) you’ll see an open room thought to be the burial location of King Khufu and another two with a sacred sarcophagus.
The natural landscapes of this southern region of Argentina are among the most beautiful in the world. Painted with mountains, glaciers, lakes and green grass you can ski in the winter and enjoy the splendor of the scenery in the summer. You can climb a glacier, go whale watching and see penguins and alpacas all while enjoying some of the most luxurious hotels in the world. Stay in the boutique Relais Chateau Las Balsas for the ultimate retreat.
A kingdom of stability and just a 7 hour flight from the East Coast of the United States, this is the ideal place to visit and soak in the vibrant colors, authentic cuisine and bustling souk markets. Stay in boutique hotels that were once mansions of a bygone era and feel the mix of colonial influence weaved with local architecture.
You’ll feel at once thrown into a Hemingway novel and be amazed by the contrast between lavish décor and hospitality and local simplicity. Be sure to plan a desert oasis overnight in a tent for a night of Moroccan tea and glamping.
Seeing the Northern Lights of the North Pole is a once in a lifetime experience. It’s the stuff of fairytales really. You probably imagine Santa Klaus sledding away with his reindeer in tow (and so do I). When you see the sky light up in painted brushstrokes of neon green among the snowy surroundings, you know you’ve pretty much reached another planet. If you’re the adventurous type, you can book a room in one of the ice hotels. If not, opt for a chalet type hotel with organized outings to see the lights. Statistically, the best months to view the lights are March and September/October.
If you want to combine pristine beaches with ultimate relaxation for the perfect (and when I say perfect I mean, perfect) vacation this is the place to go. It is not steeped in culture or history but it’s on this list because you’ll get to enjoy among the most beautiful beaches in the world. You can dive or snorkel to see technicolored coral reefs, swim with dolphins and sea turtles and get lost gazing out into the endless turquoise waters.
Located in the Northern city of Agra, India, the Taj Mahal is a majestic palace you’ve all heard of. I would say this is half “tick it off your list” territory and half beautiful and majestic and really worth seeing. It was built at the request of Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his favorite wife. To think that a man would build a masterpiece for a woman certainly qualifies as a romantic gesture. It’s a UNESCO preserved site with exquisite workmanship and architectural merit.
Formerly the imperial capital of Japan, it’s a city filled with mystery and history. With over 1000 Buddhist temples, you could spend your entire stay reveling over architectural masterpieces. And then you could dedicate an entire trip to the incredible gardens and bamboo forests designed as Zen masterpieces. But you won’t. Because what you’ll find just as enthralling (if not more) is the old Japanese ways of life still practiced there today, as you stroll through the old market street and pop into the specialty shops of tea merchants, handmade paper and matcha. See geisha tiptoeing off to their next secret meeting and travel in March to tee the cherry blossoms come to life.
The temples of Bagan rival in architectural splendor and beauty Machu Picchu or Kyoto. Historically it has been a country closed off to visitors and so you’ll see fewer tourists, all the more adding to the feeling of authenticity. Amidst the canopy of trees and framed by the mountains in the distance are hundreds of Buddhist temples perfectly preserved and restored by UNESCO.
If you’re a world traveler, you’ve already developed the right habits to purposefully remove yourself from your comfortable corner as often as you can afford to or have the time to which is the biggest challenge. In that case, I hope that you use this list to inspire your next adventure. If you’ve often thought about changing the road you walk on, with every good intention of following through with it, but haven’t found the way to break through the theory and step into the world of practice, I hope this list will remind you that there’s a world to see and one life to see it in. If your travel adventures are going to be select and few in nature, well go big or go home. And this list is definitely about going big.
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