There are never-ending reasons to travel, but many go to seek those awe-inspiring moments that stop them in their tracks, searching for the sights that will stay with them forever. Every day, travellers find those experiences among the ruins of Machu Picchu or at the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro.
From sky-blue lakes in Canada to sandstone beaches in Seychelles, beauty abounds in every corner of the Earth. Focusing largely on national parks, mountains, beaches, deserts, and other natural wonders, we’ve compiled the world’s most beautiful places to inspire your next dream destination.
Join us for a journey to some of the most beautiful places in the world, like the red rocks of the Grand Canyon and the abundantly colourful Great Barrier Reef.
The 55 most beautiful places in the world
Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
There’s no better way to experience Patagonia’s rugged natural beauty than in Torres del Paine National Park. The UNESCO Biosphere Reserve is home to its namesake granite towers (the park’s name is an amalgam of the Spanish word for “towers” and the Tehuelche word for “blue”), as well as sparkling lagoons and otherworldly glaciers.
It’s hard to truly grasp the magnitude of the Bagan Archaeological Zone, dominated by thousands of temples, pagodas, and stupas. Explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site on a bike (or e-bike to cover even more ground). For an eagle’s-eye view, take a hot-air balloon ride at sunrise to see the temples scattered across the lush landscape.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, Costa Rica
One of the most beautiful places in the world, this magical, misty, and well-preserved cloud forest in northwestern Costa Rica is the ultimate template for sustainable ecotourism. Along with its sister cloud forest, Santa Elena Reserve, Monteverde is a practically untouched paradise home to thousands of plant, animal, and bird species (including the radiant quetzal), visible from jungle paths and nail-biting steel bridges hanging over the canopy.
Anse Source d’Argent, Seychelles
Pinpointing the most beautiful Seychellois beach is like splitting hairs, but Anse Source d’Argent gets extremely high marks for its sugar-white sand framed by dramatic granite boulders and sparkling aquamarine water. The sweet shoreline is relatively secluded from the resort crowds on La Digue Island.
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Offering some of the most spectacular scenery on the planet, the Grand Canyon truly merits the term “breathtaking.” The vast geologic wonderland, one mile (1.6 km) deep and up to 18 miles (28.96 km) across, displays countless layers of colourful rock and practically hypnotic vistas.
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and Zambia
One of the seven natural wonders of the world, Victoria Falls spans the Zimbabwe and Zambia borders. “The smoke that thunders,” as it is known to locals, and its surroundings, are hubs for white-water rafting, helicopter rides, big-game safaris, and other thrilling adventures.
Whitehaven Beach, Australia
Whitehaven Beach is arguably one of the loveliest shores in the world. Part of Australia’s Whitsunday Coast, the star attraction is remarkable for its amazing combination of pure silica sands and vivid blue-green waters.
Avenue of the Baobabs, Madagascar
On a dirt road near Madagascar’s west coast is a stretch of enormous baobab trees, all that remains of a once-dense forest. The centuries-old giants are especially magnificent cast in the light of a sunrise and sunset.
Uyuni Salt Flat, Bolivia
The world’s largest salt flat covers 4,000 square miles (10,359.95 square kilometres) of the Bolivian Altiplano. In the dry season, it’s an endless white sheet of salt tiles made all the more dazzling by clear, sunny skies. From December to April, however, regular rains create a mirror effect that merges the lake and sky. No matter when you see it, Salar de Uyuni is one of the most captivating sights on earth.
Hạ Long Bay, Vietnam
With hundreds of jungle-covered karsts springing out of emerald green waters, Hạ Long Bay is a photographer’s dream. Hop on a boat or kayak to explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site’s beautiful islands and surreal cave systems.
Lake Atitlán, Guatemala
Lake Atitlán in the Sierra Madres offers a combination of Indigenous culture, waterside serenity, and yoga bliss. Cross the gorgeous crater lake by boat and explore various pueblos, shop local markets for Mayan crafts, and sleep in treehouse accommodations.
Le Morne Brabant, Mauritius
A freestanding basaltic mountain hulking over a bright blue-green Indian Ocean lagoon certainly makes spectacular scenery. When viewed from above, the surrounding sand and silt form an optical illusion that appears to be a massive underwater waterfall at this mythic place. Thanks to its isolation and near-inaccessibility, Le Morne sheltered people who escaped enslavement during the 18th and early 19th centuries.
Acadia National Park, Maine
From rocky shorelines shrouded in mist to conifer-cloaked mountainsides, Acadia is a wild place of sea, stone, and forest. Visitors flock here to hike, fish, climb, camp, and experience the end-of-the-world feel in New England’s only national park.
Okavango Delta, Botswana
The mighty Okavango, the largest inland delta in the world, is a vast network of winding waterways and animal-attracting lagoons. Navigating through reed-studded channels in a mokoro (traditional canoe) and spotting hippos, leopards, and elephants is one of the world’s great travel experiences for nature lovers.
Railay West Beach, Thailand
On the Railay peninsula’s west side, Krabi’s famous karsts meet a simply stunning jade-green lagoon. The vertical cliffs block access from the Krabi mainland, making Railay reachable only by boat, adding to its incredible appeal.
Maasai Mara, Kenya
This famed wildlife preserve (next door neighbour to the Serengeti) is one of the world’s most enchanting ecosystems. The Mara’s golden grasslands stretch to the horizon, interrupted by graceful acacia trees and rumbling throngs of wildebeest and zebra — and their stalking predators.
Cat Island, The Bahamas
Cat Island is a secret nirvana hiding in plain sight in the Bahamas. Sparsely developed and off the main tourist track, Cat Island is resplendent in miles of nature trails and wondrous pink sands sprawling under the Caribbean sun.
Zhangye National Geopark, China
Distinct rolling bands of orange, cream, yellow, brown, and russet against jagged mountain peaks make this geological anomaly in Gansu, China look like a psychedelic scene on Mars.
The Scottish Highlands are filled with astonishingly scenic glens, but Glencoe is perhaps the most famous (and infamous, due to a brutal 17th-century massacre). Today the valley is a haven for hikers, mountaineers, and whiskey lovers — the 19th-century Ben Nevis Distillery is a short drive away.
Mount Kōya, Japan
The Buddhist monk Kobo Daishi founded this mountaintop temple town in 819. Today, the sacred and serene place is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and contains more than 100 temples, including the head temple Kongobuji, featuring gorgeous gilded sliding doors and ceilings carved with flowers. Within the ancient complex is a mausoleum and cemetery surrounded by a cedar forest with old-growth trees up to 600 years old.
Dead Sea, Jordan, Palestine, and Israel
Name aside, the Dead Sea is a lake and one of the world’s saltiest, at that (in fact, the saline water has such a high density that it keeps bathers afloat). Set between Jordan, Palestine, and Israel at the Earth’s lowest elevation, it’s known for its beautifully clear and tranquil waters (nearly 10 times more saline than the ocean) and surrounding mineral formations, sandy beaches, nature preserves, natural pools, and waterfalls.
Zion National Park, Utah
Glorious Navajo Sandstone cliffs, rainbow-coloured canyons, and incredible biodiversity make Zion one of the most popular (and most scenic) national parks in the US.
Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland
Dominated by a 3,000-square-mile (7,769.96 square kilometres) ice cap of the same name, Vatnajökull is a chilly, Icelandic wonderland of caves, craters, glacier-filled calderas, and waterfalls. Perhaps the most famous falls is Svartifoss, surging over hexagonal lava-rock columns.
Pamukkale’s electric-blue thermal pools and white travertine formations, naturally formed by slowly crystallizing calcium carbonate, make for gorgeous vacation photos.
Nā Pali Coast State Wilderness Park, Hawaii
Nā Pali translates to “the cliffs” in Hawaiian, a deceptively simple name that might not fully prepare travellers for the epic glory on view. The staggering coastline is too rugged and vertical for road access, so the only way to see it is by boat, air, or seriously intense hiking trails.
Table Mountain, Cape Town
Ascending iconic Table Mountain tops the list for most travellers in Cape Town. Adventurous hikers can go on foot, but there’s also an aerial cableway that gently sweeps up to the 3,563-foot summit. Either way, the top offers insane panoramic views of the South African capital and the Atlantic.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Built nearly 8,000 feet above sea level, Machu Picchu is a 15th-century Incan citadel whose engineering ingenuity and head-spinning views rival the extraordinary beauty of its Sacred Valley setting.
Picture a serene alpine lake fringed with soaring Alps. Now add in a walkable medieval town and you’ve got the setting for this long-popular Swiss destination. Don’t miss Mount Pilatus (via the world’s steepest cogwheel railway) and the Rigi for nature trails and a famous viewpoint overlooking three lakes.
Blue Ridge Parkway, North Carolina and Virginia
The Blue Ridge Parkway may lack Highway 101’s ocean scenery, but it trades Pacific views for peaceful Appalachian beauty. Stretching 469 miles (754.78 km) from Great Smoky Mountains National Park to Shenandoah National Park, the 45 MPH (72.42 kmph), no-trucks route winds past overlook after overlook, letting road-trippers marvel at the mountains’ dreamy blue hue.
Pulau Tioman, Malaysia
This isn’t a tropical island getaway with a wild party scene or a string of upscale resorts. Pulau Tioman is more of a floating nature preserve, with local character and a strong sense of environmental conservation (coral rehab and sea turtle preservation are major focuses for the island’s Juara Turtle Project). The island, off the east coast of Peninsular Malaysia in the South China Sea, is popular for its dive sites, shipwrecks, and tropical rainforest.
Damaraland region is an almost-mystical vision of red-earth desert plains, flat-topped mountains, petrified forests, and well-preserved ancient Bushmen rock paintings. Though it looks like a scene from Mars, Damaraland is rich in wildlife, home to lions, elephants, zebras, giraffes, and the critically-endangered black rhino.
Iguazu Falls, Argentina and Brazil
Altogether, the 275 cascades on the Argentina-Brazil border form a mind-blowing, panoramic waterfall. The overwhelming sight, combined with the sound and energy of water rushing at up to 450,000 cubic feet per second in the rainy season, is pure magnificence.
Matira Beach, French Polynesia
The South Pacific calls up many visions of spectacular beaches. Bora Bora’s Matira Beach gets singled out for its miles of pearly white, flour-fine sand and breathtaking bright turquoise lagoon.
Cirque de Gavarnie, France
Cirque de Gavarnie is a popular hiking destination in the Pyrenees and one of its most beautiful. Called “the Colosseum of Nature” by Victor Hugo, the Cirque is a ring of sheer granite mountain walls enclosing a picture-perfect green valley. It’s astounding even before you add in three-tier Gavarnie Falls pouring over a 922-foot drop.
Shark Bay, Australia
Shark Bay: where the red earth of Australia’s westernmost point meets the teal waters of the Indian Ocean. The bay is home to one of the largest and richest beds of seagrass in the world, as well as stromatolites — rocky-looking, cauliflower-shaped microbial reefs and some of the oldest life forms on Earth.
Lofoten Islands, Norway
The Lofoten archipelago bursts dramatically out of the Norwegian Sea. Between the jagged peaks and steep slopes are quaint fishing villages, secluded coves, scenic backpacking and biking trails, and dreamy white-sand beaches.
Los Cabos, Mexico
Flanked by the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California, Los Cabos’ symphony of natural features — desert, mountains, sea, and plenty of sunshine — and yes, raucous party scene, have made it one of the most popular vacation destinations in North America. Its cobalt-blue waters are a hub for diving, snorkelling, kayaking, fishing, and whale watching.
Taormina has all the elements for a gorgeous Mediterranean destination: ancient ruins, a charming old town, and a setting backed by Mount Etna, an active volcano you can summit by foot.
Dal Lake, India
The snow-capped Zabarwan Range rises above Kashmir’s romantic Dal Lake, a long-time Himalayan escape for Indians fleeing the south’s heat. During the summer, veranda-clad cedar houseboats bob along the lake’s western edge while floating markets and brightly-painted taxi boats drift by.
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
The world’s largest barrier reef is an unrivalled experience for snorkelers and divers. The sensational underwater world is made up of 2,900 individual reefs, 900 islands, and a mind-boggling diversity of marine life, making it one of the most underwater exotic places in the world.
Fairy Meadows National Park, Pakistan
Near the foot of the world’s ninth-highest mountain (Nanga Parbat), Fairy Meadows offers sublime mountain scenery and wildlife, including brown bears, markhor, and Himalayan ibex. Be forewarned: The road to get there has been dubbed the second deadliest road on the planet by the World Health Organisation. To get to Fairy Meadows, you’ll have to be escorted by locals, in groups of six people at a time.
Wulingyuan Scenic Area, China
Thousands of tapering quartz sandstone formations spiral skyward in this 100-square-mile (258.99 square kilometres) stretch of karst terrain. Beneath the towers lie valleys, streams, waterfalls, caves, natural bridges, and dense green forests.
Banff National Park, Canada
Canada’s oldest national park showcases the majesty of the Canadian Rockies in Alberta. Banff is known for its staggering peaks, dense pine forests, hot springs, animals (grizzlies, bighorn sheep, and moose all call the park home), and almost eerily azure glacier-fed lakes, such as the postcard-perfect Peyto Lake.
Wadi Rum Reserve, Jordan
Wadi Rum is a stunning red-desert landscape filled with canyons, dunes, mountains, springs, archaeological sites, and stone archways (brave hikers can cross the largest, Burdah Rock Bridge, which is more than 200 feet above the ground).
Milford Sound/Piopiotahi, New Zealand
Glaciers carved this awe-inspiring valley, leaving behind craggy peaks with sheer drops into glistening waters. Part of UNESCO World Heritage Site Te Wahipounamu, Milford Sound is blessed with waterfalls, rainbows, rainforests, and a diversity of wildlife — everything from black coral to bottlenose dolphins, with seals and even penguins in between.
Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
Blissfully isolated 217 miles (349.22 km) off the Brazilian mainland, this lovingly-preserved archipelago offers pristine beaches and clear waters abundant in marine life perfect for world-class snorkelling.
The Algarve, Portugal
Surrounded by the Atlantic to the south and west, Portugal’s Algarve region looks and feels like a wild respite. Wind-sculpted cliffs and headlands frame big, sandy beaches popular with surfers and dotted with secret coves and grottoes.
Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
Solitary Mount Kilimanjaro is one of Africa’s most stunning icons, rising more than 19,000 feet from coffee and banana farms up to snowy volcanic peaks. Along the way, hikers trek through distinct climate zones, from rainforest to high-altitude desert to the arctic-like summit (aka “the roof of Africa”).
Mount Fuji, Japan
Both an active volcano and an icon of serenity, Mount Fuji is one of the most magnificent places in the world. You can hike to the sacred landmark’s summit for sweeping views or simply gape at it from Lake Kawaguchi and elsewhere in the beautiful Five Lakes region. Head to the spa town of Hakone in winter to pair crisp Fuji views with steaming hot springs.
Li River, China
The Li River carves through the lowland farms and jagged karst terrain of northwestern Guangxi, creating some of China’s most picturesque scenery (the area is so pretty, it appears on the 20 yuan banknote). A four- to five-hour river cruise from Guilin to Yangshuo is the most popular way to experience Li River, though travellers wanting more autonomy can rent bamboo rafts or hike — the natural moon-shaped arch of Moon Hill makes a glorious lookout.
Lake Como, Italy
Lake Como has been one of Italy’s most popular vacation spots since the time of the Roman emperors. This unabashedly high-rolling resort area still attracts a posh crowd with its lush gardens, cinematic palaces and villas, and sun-soaked alpine shores. Take the funicular to the tiny village of Brunate for an amazing panorama.
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Like so many of Earth’s most stunning sights, Crater Lake is the result of earth-altering, volcanic forces. Its 1,943-foot depth makes it the deepest lake in the US, filled with mesmerisingly deep blue waters fed by rain and snow. View its perfection from hiking trails, boat tours, and the 33-mile (53.10 km) Rim Drive around the caldera. (Keep in mind, some attractions like boat tours and the scenic Rim Drive close for the winter season.)
Big Sur, California
Even considering California’s 840 miles (1,351.85 km) of monumental coastline, it’s hard to rival the beauty of Big Sur. Thick redwood forest, foggy canyons, and rocky cliffs tumbling into the Pacific define this area (the name refers to both the town and the coastal region), made all the more famous for its freewheeling NorCal vibes and Old Hollywood history.
Great Smoky Mountains, North Carolina and Tennessee
With half a million acres split by Tennessee and North Carolina, this famous park’s wondrous mountain scenery encompasses hardwood forests, steep-sided ravines cut through by rivers and streams, and brilliant wildflowers in bloom from spring to fall. Hikers have 150 trails available to them, from the Appalachian Trail’s Charlies Bunion hike to the more challenging Rainbow Falls route.
Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
The scenery alone — waterfalls, calderas, misty bamboo forests — makes Volcanoes National Park a worthy contender for any travel list. The mystical setting is all the more special for hosting buffaloes, birds, golden monkeys, and the elusive mountain gorilla.
(Hero image credit: ANTON PETRUS/GETTY IMAGES, Feature image credit: ROBERTO MOIOLA/GETTY IMAGES)
This story first appeared on travelandleisure.com