There are some places in the world that no picture can live up to. The Taj Mahal is one such place. We all know what it looks like but it’s not until you see it in person that you realise how big it really is. It’s majestic! Built in the 17th century as a mausoleum for the wife of a Mughal ruler, it has since become an iconic landmark – easily one of the most (if not the most) recognised in India.
Due to its deserved popularity it sees a lot of visitors daily, which is why visiting early in the morning offers a better chance of avoiding the huge crowds that flock to Agra to see this beautiful tomb. The interior is nowhere near as spectacular (it’s actually pretty underwhelming) as the exterior but the views from just about anywhere in the gardens make a trip to see this wonder of the world absolutely worth it.
Widely recognised as one of the most picturesque treks in the world, the Annapurna Circuit in Nepal is unlikely to leave anyone indifferent. I mean, it’s not every day that you get to be surrounded by some of the tallest peaks on the planet – some reaching heights of 8,000 metres or more! The classic trek starts in Besisahar (760 m) and progressively climbs to Manang (3,519 m) on the way to Thorung La Pass, which sits at 5,416 metres. It’s a strenuous endeavour, to put it mildly.
While I did have several favourite days on the trail, one the most special was definitely the acclimatisation trek to Ice Lake (4,620 m) from Manang. It’s a demanding hike that sees trekkers gain over 1,000 metres in altitude in just a few hours. The Ice Lake itself isn’t all that impressive (it’s a lake, after all) but the spectacular views on the way down make the effort absolutely worth it. The view you get of the Annapurna range is nothing short of breathtaking.
When people think of Gibraltar, the small British enclave in southern Spain, they usually think of the famous wild monkeys that roam around freely. While I don’t mind monkeys per se (you won’t find me playing with them, though) my interest revolved more around experiencing British culture in the Mediterranean and, especially, hiking. Namely, hiking up the widely recognised Rock – as Gibraltar is also known as.
There are a few easy ways to reach the top but I had my eyes set on a steep hike called the Mediterranean Steps. Living true to its name, it has no shortage of steps and climbing them can be a pretty gruelling endeavour on a hot day. Once you reach the ridge of the 426-metre peak you get a stunning view of both the Mediterranean Sea and the Rock itself, which immediately makes the effort more than worth it.
Myanmar is a beautiful country with plenty of spectacular attractions to discover, natural and man-made. One of them is the Gokteik viaduct, a place not many tourists make a point of visiting due to its rather remote location. Well, not remote per se but certainly not on the tourist trail! I love railway bridges and this one seemed far too good to even contemplate skipping so I had to add it to the itinerary.
Built by the British in 1901, it stands at over 100 metres high over a deep gorge. To reach it you need to take the Lashio-bound morning train from a small town called Pyin U Lwin. The ride is quite uneventful until you get to the viaduct and the train slows down for the crossing, making the experience even more exhilarating – or terrifying, depending on how you look at it. Needless to say this one is best avoided by vertigo sufferers!
One of my biggest fears before travelling to China was that I’d have a horrible time at the Great Wall. Most of the pictures I’d seen seemed to have a lot of people in them and that was definitely not the experience I was after. Thankfully, my hostel in Beijing had a ‘Secret Wall Tour’ and I just went for it. To say it was one of the best decisions I ever made is an understatement.
The Wall (which can’t be seen from space, by the way – that’s a myth) extends for more than 20,000 kilometres and was built over several centuries and dynasties. Not all sections are open to tourists so we really struck gold with this tour. I was the only one who climbed to this tower and the reward was a view that left me absolutely speechless. It really is great.
Despite the small size, Lebanon is a beautiful country with plenty of things to see and do. One clear advantage of its reduced dimensions is that you can base yourself in Beirut, the vibrant capital, and explore the rest of the country from there. Baalbek, easily reached by shared van in a couple of hours, is the one destination (aside from Beirut, of course) I’d say is absolutely unmissable.
Its biggest attraction is the archeological site that bears the town’s name. The ruins date back to Roman times and are some of the best-preserved in existence. The whole place is spectacular and lots of fun to explore, but it’s the Temple of Bacchus – its crown jewel – that makes jaws drop. The lookout within the temple grounds gives a good idea of how massive it is. A stunner, inside and out!
One of the biggest mistakes I see people making when they visit Sri Lanka is going to Sigiriya and skipping Pidurangala at sunset. Located practically in the middle of nowhere, Sigiriya is one of the most spectacular destinations in the country and one that features on most itineraries. Its biggest attraction is Lion Rock, a massive rock that sort of looks like a lion. You can climb to the top and explore the ruins of a former royal palace, which is pretty cool.
While Lion Rock is a stunner and well worth a visit despite the excessive admission fee, the outstanding view you get from Pidurangala – a nearby rock – doesn’t lag far behind. Better yet, it’s free. You can easily reach the entrance on foot or by tuk-tuk. The climb up can be challenging at times but the reward awaiting at the top is more than worth it. As beautiful as Lion Rock may be from the ground, this view is very hard to beat. Especially at sunset.
Despite being one of the most visited destinations in Morocco, Marrakesh is far from being its most exciting. Very far, actually. In my opinion it lacks the traditional charm of places like Chefchaouen, Fes, or Essaouira. It’s still worth a visit, of course, but I find that one of its major highlights is being relatively close to places like Imlil (for Mt Toubkal), the ancient fortress of Ait Ben Haddou, or the stunning Ouzoud Falls.
When I decided to visit the falls my expectations were little to none, it simply seemed like something cool to do. But when I got there my jaw dropped immediately. Measuring over 100 metres in height, the falls are a sight to behold. What’s best is you can actually explore the area via a path that takes you to the bottom of the dramatic cliff. It can get busy and feel a bit too commercial at times, but one quick look at this natural beauty will quickly make anyone forget that.
If I were to make a list of my favourite landmarks across the world, the Sydney Opera House would definitely be somewhere near the top. It’s one of those buildings that have always fascinated me, probably because of its uniqueness. Sydney was the last stop on my short Australia adventure and to say I was excited to finally see the Opera House in person is a wild understatement. It’s one of the most iconic buildings in the world for a reason.
Opened in 1973, its odd shape was actually inspired by a peeled orange! It is much bigger than people imagine and a lot of fun to explore. The whole area surrounding the Opera House is perfect for hanging out on a sunny day enjoying excellent views of the imposing Sydney Harbour Bridge and the harbour itself. Sadly, it was winter when I visited so I had to enjoy it in the company of a few raindrops. I look forward to going back one day, this time around in summer!
When people think of Indonesia the first thing that usually pops into their minds is Bali. Can’t blame them, really. And even though I’m not a big fan of the island, I can appreciate why people would be attracted to the lush greenery, temples, and white sandy beaches with crystal clear water on offer. Me? I’m more of a Java man. Indonesia’s main island has a tremendous amount of things to explore and getting to them tends to involve a fair bit of adventure, which is just the type of thing I love.
While not my favourite (or most adventurous) of the lot, Borobudur – an 8th century Buddhist temple, the largest in the world – offers a sunrise that rivals many of the best I’ve had a chance to experience across the world. Once you make it inside the complex you rush to the top of the temple to get a jaw-dropping view of these gorgeous bell-domed stupas (of which there are over 70, most of them with a Buddha statue inside) overlooking a misty Mount Merapi. It’s magical, there’s no other way to describe it.