So... summer is back and we're all making heist plans for our holidays. In case you still have no idea where to go and which destination to pick, we created this list with National Geography pictures for you to hopefully help you decide. Just pick some place, pack your bags and hit the airport. It's that easy!
Mythological birthplace of the omnipotent sun god, Inti, Isla del Sol is the largest island in Lake Titicaca (pictured here near the town of Copacabana), one of the world’s highest navigable lakes at 12,500 feet. Rocky trails shared by hikers, the local Aymara community, and pack donkeys and llamas (no cars allowed) link dozens of pre-Inca and Inca ruins.
A few hours’ train ride west from Glasgow lies an edge-of-the-world landscape—the loch-raked Argyll coastal region and its brooding, windswept Western Isles. From the gateway port city Oban, it’s a 45-minute ferry ride to the Isle of Mull. From here, island hop around the Inner Hebrides archipelago to stroll the quartz singing (or squeaking) sands on Eigg, view Jura’s resident red deer herd, and windsurf the Gulf Stream-warmed waves off Tiree.
Charm City welcomes the world to its Inner Harbor June 13 to 19 for Star-Spangled Sailabration 2012.
To the south and east, Barcelona’s fanciful cityscape—from playful Joan Miró sculptures to Antoni Gaudí’s fantastical architectural swirls—meets the Mediterranean Sea.
North America’s boneyard, located about three hours southeast of Calgary in the wind-and-water-carved Canadian Badlands, was and is home to dinosaurs.
Peter the Great’s stately Baltic city built on 42 Neva Delta islands celebrates “White Nights” (near-round-the-clock summer light) with joyful abandon. Late May to mid-July the skies above St. Petersburg’s Peter and Paul Fortress (resting place of the tsars, pictured here during White Nights) and Nevsky Prospekt (the city’s main thoroughfare) glow pale blue, pink, and peach well after midnight.
Traverse City is the biggest little beach town on the “Third Coast”—the U.S. shores of the eight-state Great Lakes coastline. The region’s 180 miles of Lake Michigan shoreline basically trace the upper left edge of Michigan’s “mitten.”
Spencer Glacier is easy to see from the Glacier Discovery Train that winds through Chugach National Forest south of the Portage Valley, but it’s a bit harder to reach.
Southern California’s Channel Islands National Park and surrounding National Marine Sanctuary (extending for six nautical miles around each island) harbor rich biological diversity, including more than 150 endemic species and a vast, undersea kelp “forest.”
White sand, weathered cottages, and low-tech diversions like crabbing and cornhole (bean bag toss) have made “arrogantly shabby” Pawleys a favorite family beach destination since the 1800s.
Dusk falls on a primeval landscape on the Snæfellsnes Peninsula. A final relic from the world’s last ice age, this North Atlantic island nation is a world of knife-cut valleys, gargantuan fjords, monumental cliffs, black-sand beaches, thundering waterfalls, and silent white glaciers. Recent volcanic eruptions remind us that Iceland is still a country in the making, with changed landscapes that even Icelanders continue to discover.
Thailand's sun-drenched jewel in the South Andaman Sea, Koh Lipe has recently risen to the top of intrepid beach lovers’ A-list of island paradises. Considered an alternative to the overexploited Koh Phi Phi (which gained fame as the setting for the film The Beach), Koh Lipe is accessible only by boat, with departure ports that include Krabi and the nearby Malaysian island of Langkawi.
Dresden shone brightest in the 1700s, when the kings of Saxony spent their wealth to turn their capital into “Florence on the Elbe.” But in February 1945, two days of British and American bombing destroyed much of Dresden’s center and killed tens of thousands of civilians
Think Tuscany, but with a Habsburg past. The shady, rolling hills of Istria—Croatia’s northernmost peninsula—are becoming widely known for their truffles, Malvazija white wines, olive oil stancijas (estates), and crumbling hill towns. Cyclists can spin their spokes over some 2,000 miles of extensively maintained bike trails. Along the coast, sunny ocean views and impromptu opportunities for swimming and snorkeling abound.
Tayrona National Park's gorgeous beaches are a highlight of northern Colombia, home also to the famed Ciudad Perdida. The cleared mountaintop terraces of the "lost city" shine like a green grassy beacon declaring the country’s rebirth as a travel destination at the crossroads of the Caribbean and South America.
Perhaps nowhere on Earth is the dual creative and destructive nature of volcanoes more evident than in central Africa’s Virunga Volcanoes Massif. Straddling the borders between Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the eight-volcano chain is one of Earth’s most active volcanic regions and a veritable salad bowl for mountain gorillas, chimpanzees, elephants, and other wildlife. Landscapes in all three countries conjure visions of both Eden and hell.
The boats painted in yellow, crimson, and white that bob in the water could belong to any scraggy Mediterranean coast. The polar bear that guards them, however, means only one thing: Salvador Dalí’s home in Costa Brava. Dalí, one of art’s greatest eccentrics, came from this part of Catalonia, in northeastern Spain. His giant eggs, swan fountains, and melting clocks drew inspiration from this sunshine-laced wilderness.
“I’ve been to Napa and Sonoma,” you hear people say, as if they were one and the same. Sure, Sonoma’s 300-plus wineries, like those of vine-centric Napa, offer peak wine tasting, from Ravenswood’s deep Zinfandels to Gloria Ferrer’s sophisticated sparklers. But if you’ve visited only the county’s wineries, come back to sample the astounding diversity that makes Sonoma one of America’s travel treasures.
Just two hours by car—but a world away—from powerhouse Toronto beats the heart of Ontario’s cottage country, Muskoka. Families have gathered here for generations to revel in true wilderness. The 2,500-square-mile area includes 8,699 miles of shoreline, 17 historic towns and villages, and innumerable waterfalls and lakes (like Kahshe Lake, above) framed by the peaks of Algonquin Provincial Park to the east and the isles of Georgian Bay Islands National Park to the west.
While neighboring oil-rich countries on the Arabian Peninsula are building skyscrapers and convention centers, Oman is erecting an opera house and planting desert gardens amid capital city Muscat’s white stone buildings. Sultan Qaboos sparked the country’s modern renaissance with his rise to power in 1970—adding scores of new schools and hospitals and increasing the miles of paved road from six to over 3,700.
In Olympic-ready London, a new landmark (City Hall) meets old (Tower Bridge) along the Thames. The last time London hosted the Olympics, in 1948, locals subsisted on rations, there was no budget for new sports venues, and many competitors slept in military huts in Richmond Park. Britain may be entering another age of austerity, but nearly $15 billion has been spent on sprucing up the capital for the 2012 Olympics.
Every year countless travelers visit the ruins of once great Maya cities: Chichén Itzá (Mexico), Tikal (Guatemala), Caracol (Belize), and Copán (Honduras). The pyramids and stelae are well worth seeing, especially at jungle-shrouded Tikal (above), but here’s the thing: Maya civilization isn’t long gone. Its apogee may have passed, but millions of Maya people and their culture remain alive and well, most vibrantly in Guatemala’s Western Highlands.
The first thing that strikes you is the climate. Damp and bracingly cool, this place doesn’t fit your image of Sri Lanka, the lush island nation—formerly known as Ceylon—that hangs like a teardrop off the tip of southern India.
Patrick Leigh Fermor, the dashing philhellene who died last June, knew that to get under Greece’s skin you must stray from the instant gratifications of its seaside resorts. Traveling on foot across the gorges of Roumeli and mountains of Mani, Leigh Fermor discovered a land of fierce beauty where traditions run deep. Eventually, he settled in Kardamíli, a sleepy hamlet in the southern Peloponnese, which he hoped was “too inaccessible, with too little to do, for it ever to be seriously endangered by tourism.”
Finding yourself in the company of a chef from the R.M.S. Titanic is just one of the surprises that Belfast has to offer.
A violent struggle created this world, according to Maori mythology: Indigenous New Zealanders say Sky Father and Earth Mother were ripped from each other’s arms to make room for mountains, forests, and oceans. Around Rotorua, a Maori heartland and home of the mineral-rimmed Champagne Pool (above), it’s easy to believe the struggle continues, as the eerie landscape bubbles and churns like some primordial stew. Geysers erupt, mud boils, and steam seeps from cliffs and sidewalks, leaving a sulfurous scent in the air.
In Panama, nature and indigenous culture are abundant. The canal-bordering tropical lowlands of Soberanía National Park ring with the cries of howler monkeys and the chatter of toucans. The cool, flower-filled highland town of Boquete sits in the shadow of the country’s tallest volcano. Embera women paint their bodies and create elaborate neckpieces (above). At the offshore Coiba National Park, where a maximum of only 40 overnight visitors are allowed, divers share the pristine waters with scientific researchers and whale sharks
There are plenty of reasons to visit Peru: to explore ancient ruins at Machu Picchu, spot some of the world’s rarest birds, or trek some of Earth’s deepest canyons. Yet, once you’re on the ground and hungry, you may find those experiences mere appetizers to the main event: food. From the rain forests of the northeast to the arid high plateau that runs like a spine through the south, Peru is blessed with incredible biodiversity—a bounty that is clearly reflected on its plates.
If you yearn for a connection to the wild, you will find it here. Hovsgol is the northernmost of Mongolia’s 21 provinces, shadowing Russia’s border and sharing the great Siberian taiga (subarctic coniferous forest). Lichens in bright greens and oranges color 10,000-foot passes, while sacred rivers, rumored to never freeze, feed lakes framed by snow-tipped mountains.
Nearly half of Mongolia’s three million residents are nomads, and most of the rest live in Ulaanbaatar—the country's capital and largest city. The cultural, economic, and transportation hub on the Tuul River is the starting point for two-humped Bactrian camel treks and other exotic Gobi desert expeditions, but its ten museums, close proximity to national parks, and collection of imperial palaces and Buddhist monasteries qualify Ulaanbaatar as a destination rather than way station.
Croatia's 1,104-mile (1,776-kilometer) island-speckled Adriatic coast is a popular playground for sea kayakers, sailors, kite surfers, and divers. Additional water wonders await those willing to travel inland (a four-hour bus ride from the coast) to the mountainous, eastern Plitvice Lakes region, site of Croatia’s first and largest national park.
Glitterati flock by the yachtful to Sardinia’s serpentine northern Gallura coast, where exclusive Porto Cervo and Costa Smeralda are two favorite summer playgrounds. While a winding coastal drive—perfect for a red Ferrari roadster—offers dramatic Mediterranean views and a powerful adrenaline rush, the real rock stars of Italy’s second-largest island are the actual rocks, or more precisely, the prehistoric stone dwellings found in the mountainous interior.
In Australia’s smallest state, remote rain forests, secluded beaches, and more than 200 vineyards are accessible by foot. Tasmania’s mild, maritime climate and compact size (comparable to West Virginia) make this heart-shaped island 150 miles (240 kilometers) off the Australian mainland a year-round destination for walkers and hikers of all ages, interests, and fitness levels.
Western Norway, known as Fjord Norway, is home to the world’s largest concentration of the saltwater-filled, glaciated valleys. The iconic destination encompasses 1,646 miles (2,650 kilometers) of pristine coastline, glaciers, mountains, and cascading waterfalls, including the 2,148-foot (655-meter) Mardalsfossen, the world’s fourth highest. The region’s six National Tourist Routes offer easy driving access to bouldering, ice climbing, glacier walking, base jumping, caving, and year-round skiing.
A laid-back vibe, day trip-friendly dimensions (only 68,036 square miles/176,215 square kilometers), and lively beach scene make Uruguay a favorite getaway for the South American jet set.
Visiting Shimla is equal parts journey and destination. For optimal snow-clad Himalayan views, chug back in time on the narrow-gauge Kalka Shimla Railway (above), one of three Indian lines on the World Heritage List. It passes through 102 tunnels, across 864 bridges, and up 4,659 feet (1,420 meters) to the Shimla Hill station in northern Himachal Pradesh. Colonialists built the engineering marvel in the late 19th century to service the Shimla Highlands, an escape for the British from the summer heat.
Widely known for its Kalamata olives—Messinia produces about 55,000 tons of mainly cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil annually—this road-less-trampled region on the southwest Peloponnesian coast features numerous World Heritage List archaeological sites, including Olympia, Mystras, and the Temple of Apollo Epicurius at Bassae.
A lack of white sandy beaches and an overabundance of rainfall keep this mountainous island of tropical rain forests off typical Caribbean vacation itineraries—a plus for adventure seekers.
Southern Africa’s youngest nation is well known for its vast windswept deserts—the inland Kalahari and the coastal Namib—so it’s no wonder that the country’s first conservation area (established in 1907) is named for the “place of dry water.”
Laos is the only landlocked Southeast Asian country, yet water—more than 50 inches (130 centimeters) of rain falls annually in the northern provinces and the Mekong River flows through nearly 1,140 miles (1,835 kilometers) of Lao territory—shapes the borders, crops, culture, and daily life in this emerging ecotourism destination.
Alaska’s Emerald Island is the nation’s second largest after Hawaii, but its landscape—a Last Frontier in microcosm—and accessible location (about an hour from Anchorage by air) make it a manageable destination for wading boot-first into the state’s natural and cultural wonders.
Fierce Bronze Age warriors, Vikings, and Gaelic-speaking clans all have called the rugged Highlands home. Today, the primeval landscape north and west of the Highland Boundary Fault attracts outdoor enthusiasts drawn to the mist-shrouded mountains, shimmering lochs, sheer cliffs, and sandy beaches.
With 713 miles (1,148 kilometers) of gentle Mediterranean coastline, Roman ruins and fortified casbahs, and glowing ribbons of Saharan dunes, Africa’s northernmost country offers adventure for all ages. Pictured here is a Roman ampitheater in El Jem, Mahdia, Tunisia.
Palawan’s limestone karst cliffs, coral atolls, mangrove forests, sugar-white sandy beaches, and extensive fringing reefs create one of the Philippines' most biodiverse terrestrial and marine environments.
The Black Sea coast of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula remains a mystery to most North American travelers. Beyond the stress-reducing mineral spas, palm trees, vineyards, bike trails, and secluded beaches, the coast is a significant cultural crossroads blending ancient Greek and Roman, Byzantine, Russian, Tatar, and modern Crimean history and architecture.
The 11,714-square-mile (30,340-square-kilometer) Gaspé (Gaspésie) Peninsula is Quebec’s wind-and-sea-sculpted continuation of the Appalachian range.
Mountain-ringed Shikoku—the smallest and least visited of Japan’s four main islands—is best known for its "walk of life," the 88-Buddhist-temple pilgrimage retracing the footsteps of the eighth-century monk and scholar KÅÂbÅÂ Daishi.
Papua New Guinea’s rugged mountain terrain and remote island location (east of Indonesia and north of Australia) have created a protective cultural and ecological buffer of sorts against the outside world. More than 800 languages, 1,000 distinct cultures, and an unparalleled range of biodiversity are represented in this tropical archipelago where seashells were currency until 1933.
Considered an oasis of peace and stability in a historically volatile region, the semi-autonomous Kurdistan region in northeastern Iraq is drawing a growing stream of curious Western visitors to its ancient cities, snowcapped mountains, and bustling bazaars.