10 Sights That Will Remind You How Incredible Earth Is

Temples are OK, but they're truly amazing when they tower out of a jungle cloaked in mist.
Spotting a lion is great, but even greater are the millions of wildebeest trekking across the African plains on an annual migration.
There are some things you can see around the world that have the potential to give you photo-showing rights for decades.
We haven't got them all -- in fact we barely scratched the surface. But we have picked out a few of the scenes that, if you're lucky enough to witness them, will invariably leave you spellbound. 

1. Borobudur at sunrise, Java, Indonesia

 

Watching the sun rise over the hundreds of stupas and Buddhas before the public descends in droves to disturb the peace is one of the world’s most rarefied experiences.
Guests staying within the village compound are allowed to enter this 9th century monument, hidden beneath volcanic ash for centuries, before opening time.
Black Tomato offers three nights bed and breakfast with private sunrise tour at lavish Amanjiwo, decorated with its own Buddhas and stupas, from US$1,195 per person.
 

2. Starling murmuration, Brighton Pier, England

 

They’re not exotic and in the European case they’re not even that pretty, but when you have thousands of starlings swooping and wheeling like some kind of hypnotic cloud, they become one of the most mesmerizing sights in nature.
See a stunning video of the phenomenon on Vimeo.
These murmurations happen just before the birds roost down for the night, and while starling numbers have crashed in the UK, you can still see up to a million birds coming together in these huge swarms in England’s nature reserves or at certain piers such as Brighton Pier, just an hour’s train journey from London.
The murmurations are most common in winter, November being the best month.

 3. Northern Lights, Scandinavia

 

This astronomical phenomenon is best seen in winter from northern Scandinavia -- but there are never any guarantees, which makes the magic moments when they do appear all the more special.
A great place to keep watch is from the sheltered coastal waters of western Norway, whose coves are free of artificial light.
Travel there on Hurtigruten, the country’s national coastal steamer, and enjoy inspirational fjord views by daylight.

4. The great migration, East Africa

 

No sight in the world replicates the timeless drama of tens of thousands of wild beasts charging across the African plains in search of food and water while pursued by their predators.
The best way to experience the migration is via a mobile camp which ups sticks and follows the animals every day.
A four-night safari combining two nights in Singita’s Explore mobile camp and two in a fixed location in the Serengeti costs from US$5,110, including internal flights, full board and safari activities; www.aardvarksafaris.com

5. Star-filled sky, MacKenzie Basin, New Zealand

 

Picking out Orion’s Belt and The Big Dipper is even more impressive if there are a million other stars distracting you from the task.
A 1,600-square-mile area in New Zealand’s South Island comprising Aoraki/Mt. Cook National Park and the Mackenzie Basin has just been designated the world’s fourth International Dark Sky Reserve, making it “one of the best stargazing sites on Earth” according to IDSA’s executive director Bob Parks.
Nature’s Highway arranges three-night/four-day cycling tours to MacKenzie Basin from US$995 per person. Includes accommodation, bike hire, and luggage transport; natureshighway.co.nz/tour-dates-and-prices

6. Torres del Paine, Chile

 

In the heart of Patagonia, glaciers rise in the midst of mountainscapes and alpine meadows, close enough to hike right up to and touch. They make Torres del Paine one of the most special national parks in the world -- you’ll never forget your first sight of ice on the beach.
Explora offers a four-night package including transfers from Punta Arenas, full board and excursions from US$2,780; www.lastfrontiers.com

7. Djmaa el Fna, Marrakech, Morocco

 

If any city has a vast expanse of street theater at its beating heart, it’s this Moroccan metropolis where Moorish influences give way to a throbbing African pulse.
This huge empty space over which the sun rises comes to life from mid-afternoon as the local characters creep in -- storytellers, snake charmers, musicians, Berber apothecaries, henna-painters and lady-boy dancers.
First-floor cafes are the best places to overlook the action as the scene unfolds, but when night closes in and smoke starts rising from the food stalls, it’s time to join the crowds at trestle tables for a UD$5 feast of grilled meats and flatbread.
Stay in a riad –- a traditional townhouse hotel -- within the Medina, for maximum impact. Riad Farnatchi sets out a great little handbook for guests of what not to miss, including the best food stalls on the square. Rooms from US$360 per night; www.riadfarnatchi.com

8. Yosemite peaks, California, United States

 

Not just any old mountains, Half Dome, Sentinel and El Capitan have been immortalized by landscape photographer Ansel Adams. The view catches in the throat of first-time visitors who trace the route taken by the Gold Rush settlers who discovered this breathtaking land of pine forests and soaring granite peaks around 1850.
It’s mandatory to stay within the National Park boundaries to breathe the pine-scented air, absorb the grandeur and hike in peace after the day-trippers have left. While simple lodge cabins are good value, the magnificent 1920’s Ahwahnee Hotel overlooking Half Dome is worth the splurge (rooms around US$450 per night).

9. Santa Maria Salute, Venice, Italy

 

Because they’ve been the subject of so many Renaissance paintings, the iconic landmarks of Venice stop the heart when you see them for the first time.
The Rialto, the Bridge of Sighs, the vast expanse of San Marco look much as they did 400 years ago, but nothing evokes the mystery of La Serenissima quite like Santa Maria Salute looming out of the mist at the entrance to the Grand Canal.
The perfect place to catch this view is from a vaporetto approaching Venice from the lagoon -- the most magical way to arrive from the airport.

10. Jungle pyramids, Palenque, Mexico

 

Mayan pyramids pervade the eastern side of Mexico, but none are more breathtaking than those of Palenque in the far south. The jungle temple of this site inspired “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and it has a lost world, Indiana Jones kind of feeling other ruins lack.
This is the year to hit the Mayan ruins -- the ancient tribe believed the world would end in 2012.
Tucan Travel’s 22-day End of the World tour hits Palenque on New Year’s Eve and takes in other Mayan sites; $2,240; www.tucantravel.com/tour

 

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