This article was extremely hard to write. Every place in the world has something beautiful about it, so how do you choose a few places for an article? I decided to focus on places that presented me with views that took my breath away.
What I love about each of these locations is how nature has created beauty that seems impossible — whether that’s with vivid colors, the way the land aligns with flora, fauna, and water, how the land comes together at fascinating angles, or through landscapes that transport me to other worlds so different from my own.
The Cairngorms, The Isle Of Muck, The Isle Of Skye
I frequently felt that if God had a paintbrush, his canvas would have turned out like the rolling fields and mountains of Scotland, colored with grass or heather. I love how this small country has lochs, mountains, and islands, all of which present such a diverse group of views. I felt like Celtic tales came to life while walking along mountain paths, and, of course, the highland cows grazing peacefully. Scotland is a place that may be even more beautiful in rain and clouds than in blue skies and sunshine, which is a good thing since it rains a lot!
The Cairngorms offer a hike over hills coated with heather plants and rolling hills that seem to go on forever. I hiked them on a day that the clouds and mist were so low it seemed almost hauntingly beautiful.
The Isle of Muck, reached by ferry from Mallaig, was my favorite; there are only 40 people that live there and more cows than people. You can walk much of the island in an afternoon and witness both rolling hills and a view of the sea in every direction. The people that live there are extremely friendly, and it’s worth a conversation about daily life.
The Isle of Skye has fairy pools, classic Scottish hills to hike on, and the town of Portree is quaint and has some of the best mussels I’ve ever tasted. You can also get boats from the Isle Of Skye to see puffins in the early spring.
2. Reykjavík, Iceland
The first time I went to Iceland, I felt like I had landed on the moon. At the time, I’d been all over Europe and was stunned at the magnificent landscapes created by volcano eruptions and tectonic plate movements. Add in the northern lights, and it feels like a glimpse of heaven dancing above. For me, it’s the incredible variety of land textures, waterfalls, and mountains that exist in such a small country, and that you can enjoy a geothermal bath with a drink to take in the beautiful views that make this one of my favorite places on earth.
3. Cape Town, South Africa
I’ve heard from other travelers that I’m not the only one to have a profound connection with Africa. Table Mountain felt like a protector, and a familiar presence every day. It was beautiful to see the mountain peak from the town center, and equally stunning to climb it and view all of Cape Town.
The botanical gardens in Cape Town offer another stunning landscape upon which you’ll find all kinds of beautiful flowers and trees.
The small area of Bo Kaap with its colorful houses offers another landscape in itself. It may just be a cluster of homes, but it’s also a bright and joyful community.
Pro Tip: Take the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway to the top of Table Mountain for some of the most stunning views in Cape Town. Make sure to pay attention to the weather which impacts the availability of this ride, as does annual maintenance, during which the cableway is closed.
4. Devil’s Throat, Iguazu, Argentina
Though the town of Iguazu is nothing exciting, the Devil’s Throat waterfall in Iguazu National Park is one of the most breathtaking waterfalls I’ve ever seen. I was in awe that nature could create such a convergence of water. Water rushes in from multiple directions and drops off into a giant hole and then back up as the different streams collide.
Pro Tip: If you’re lucky to be in Iguazu during a full moon, make sure to see this natural phenomenon both at night and by day. The full moon walk fills up quickly, and inclement weather will mean the walk is canceled. It’s a risk worth taking.
SaPa, Ninh Binh, Bana Hills
Halong Bay is definitely a place you must see, but SaPa offers some of the most wonderful scenery I’ve seen. If you do a homestay and trek, you’ll walk through rice fields, and be surrounded by green fields, water buffalo, and guides dressed in beautiful clothing from their hill tribe. I found the combination of scenery and customs enchanting.
I thought just about everywhere in Vietnam offered beautiful scenes, but another surprise was Ninh Binh. Between the tranquil images where peace was the star of the scene, and climbing 500 steps to see the Mua caves, I couldn’t put my camera down.
Finally, though touristy, the cable car ride up Ba Na Hills is so long that it brings you through different weather conditions. Seeing the Golden Bridge with the hands is spectacular.
Pro Tips: The SaPa trek has some difficult sections, especially if it’s rained recently. There is an option to drive to the homestay if you can’t make the long walk. The guides will expect you to buy handmade crafts from them at the end, in exchange for their guiding services.
6. New Zealand
Picton, Queenstown, Bay Of Islands, Great Coast Road
The entire country of New Zealand has some of the most beautiful scenery you’ll ever see, so you can’t go wrong anyplace you visit. These were a few highlights for me.
In Queenstown, you can’t miss out on the cable car to the highest point where you’ll find one of the most exceptional views New Zealand has to offer. It was here that the legends of Maui fishing the islands of New Zealand out of the water came to life for me.
Picton, at the north of the south island, is more overlooked. It’s considered by some as a mere transfer point to the ferry bringing you to the north island. In fact, you’ll find some of the most wonderful views of land and sea converging. It’s worth spending a few days there to take it in.
Bay of Islands, located in the northern part of the north island, has stunning scenery, including the Hole in the Rock and Urupukapuka Island, which, with the sheep grazing on the hill of the walking track, gives you a chance for one of the most quintessential photos of New Zealand you can get.
The Great Coast Road on New Zealand’s south island is one of the world’s most beautiful, connecting Greymouth to Nelson. If you can have someone else do the driving, you’ll be glued to your camera the entire ride.
El Calafate, El Chaltén, Bariloche
These are three diverse areas of Patagonia you must see if you go to Argentina. El Calafate offers spectacular views of several glaciers, and a chance to hike on the Perito Moreno, complete with a vodka toast at the end.
El Chalten, while a very touristy town, has some of the most spectacular walking trails in the country, including a view of Mount Fitz Roy.
Bariloche is where the 7 lakes are. I thought it would be just another tourist location, but, in fact, this area turned out to have some of the most gorgeous water views I’ve ever seen.
Pro Tip: Carefully study the difficulty levels of each trail at El Chalten and their lengths. Everything from easy to difficult is offered, and there are some walking tracks you can’t do in a day.
Machu Picchu, Cusco
Machu Picchu is one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever been to. It’s not just for the photo, it’s understanding the ingenuity of people, hundreds of years ago, to build something that has, for centuries, survived earthquakes and is still standing today.
The town of Cusco is also something to see. The main street is impressive and welcoming. Once you’ve acclimated to the high altitude, the walk through Cusco is full of beautiful shops and houses, but the best view is all the way at the top, from the local church, looking down at the city.
9. Rio De Janeiro, Brazil
I was so captivated by this city that I plan to return. The impossibleness of its existence is what caught me off guard. The city is built into a rock mountain. I still can’t believe anyone would build a city into pure rock. When you first see the Christ The Redeemer statue from a distance, you’ll understand it looks impossible to reach. On the drive up, I couldn’t fathom how it was created in the first place — the very miracle of getting all the parts up that mountain is part of what will leave you in awe. The other way this city captured me is with the stunning views of water surrounding the city, and the long beach walks. It’s so diverse and offers so much beauty in one city.
Pro Tip: Make sure to do a local city tour so you get an idea of all the different neighborhoods which, between beaches and mountain views, will steal your heart.
10. Islas Del Rosario, Colombia
Cartagena is such a magical city, and full of colors and dancing, and it’s where you get a boat out to the Islas del Rosario. You’ll sit on an island surrounded by some of the most perfect, clear water you’ll ever see, and you can order lunch freshly fished out of the ocean. You may never want to leave as you stare out at the perfect scenery.
Easter Island, San Pedro De Atacama
I loved Easter Island and recommend at least a week there so you can see the Moai in different weather. Learning how hard they are to build, and move, all while warring with tribes trying to destroy each other’s Moai, was a fascinating discovery.
The island is beautiful in itself and has some beautiful beaches, but the Moai add a feeling of protection and beauty as you gaze out to sea for some of the most magnificent sunsets you’ll ever witness.
On the mainland, north, you’ll find San Pedro de Atacama, the gateway to the Atacama Desert. Though this town is touristy, it’s how you get to see all the amazing rock formations and sand dunes this area is famous for.
Pro Tip: Pay attention to the altitude here, and how you adapt to it. Some sites are higher than others, and a couple of the tours start the day by ascending to the highest point relatively quickly.
12. La Fortuna, Costa Rica
The entire country is filled with lush scenery but La Fortuna, though touristy, was one of my favorite places in Costa Rica. There are tours that take you to nearby views of La Fortuna, and beautiful hikes, as well as coffee plantations set into mountains where you’ll be jealous that the coffee plants get to experience that view every day.
Pro Tip: Don’t go hiking alone on La Fortuna in the afternoon. There’s a search and rescue team that spends too much time trying to find tourists that lose their way when the sun goes down and those that can’t find their way back to the parking lot.
13. Haleakelā, Hawaii
This may be the best sunrise I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen a lot of them around the world! Driving up to the top of a volcano and standing above the clouds (and not feeling altitude sick) to witness the sun waking up to warm the earth is still one of the most fulfilling things I’ve ever done.
Pro Tip: They’re not kidding that it’s freezing cold before the sun rises. Even though you’re in Hawaii and know it will get hot, make sure to bring your warmest coat or the duvet off your bed to stay warm on the way up. Wear gloves if you plan to use your camera to take photos.
Other rare and beautiful sights to consider: