My Top Ten Places I want to Visit
I’ve travelled widely around Europe, and I’ve lived and worked in parts of Asia, but there’s still a lot of the world left for me to explore. Unfortunately with the current crisis, it’s going to be a long time before I make it to any of these places. So it’s time for a virtual world tour to the ten places I most want to visit.
I came up with a couple of rules for my list. First I had to choose specific places, rather than an entire country. It’s hard to compare countries with smaller locations like cities or historic sites, and I wanted to keep the list focused. I also wanted to choose places in countries I’ve never been to and only one place per country. This is why Europe and China won’t feature very much on this list. But none of those rules are 100% unbreakable as you will see. Let’s start the countdown!
This was the hardest list I’ve ever created for this blog, because there are so many amazing places that couldn’t fit on the list. The Great Wall of China and the Terracotta Army both fell foul of my self-imposed restriction to include more countries I haven’t been to. I would however definitely like to return to China as a tourist to see all the things I missed when I lived there. The Pyramids of Giza and Machu-Picchu could have also made the list, and quite understandably they are on many people’s bucket list. I wanted to leave room for more personal and unusual choices but they were definitely close to making the list.
10. Contra Dam Bungee Jump – Switzerland
The first entry on my list is not something I want to see, but something I want to jump off! I’ve done a bungee jump once before (from the Middlesbrough Transporter Bridge) but the Contra Dam bungee jump is four times higher at 220m. Featured at the beginning of the Bond film Goldeneye, this Dam was cast as a Soviet chemical weapons facility. Recorded in one-take and done for real, this was a remarkable stunt.
Rather than Russia, the Contra Dam sits on the Verzasca river in a very scenic part of Switzerland. The Dam is not as tall as others, but the narrow nature of the valley makes it look even taller. This bungee jump is not the tallest in the world, but it’s probably the most famous, and one I would love to do one day.
9. The Volcanoes of Kamchatka – Russia
The majority of my list covers countries I’ve never been to, but number nine is the one exception. Kamchatka is a world away from Moscow and St Petersburg however. I love volcanoes and want to see an active volcano close up. The Kamchatka peninsula is a wild and remote place, and is home to bears, volcanoes and more volcanoes. Until the 1990’s it was closed to everyone except the Russian military, and even today it’s a very challenging place to visit.
This is a landscape dominated by active smoking volcanoes. Of the 160 volcanoes of the peninsula, 29 are active. Volcanic activity, earthquakes and tsunamis are all fairly common. There is a surprisingly diverse range of climates, plants and animals here. You can find permafrost, tundra, forests, meadows, rivers and oceans. This means you can see lots of bears, whales, wolves and reindeer.
The wildlife is great, but the volcanoes are the stars of the show. At 4,750 metres, Klyuchevskaya Sopka is the largest active volcano in the northern hemisphere and Kronotsky is famous for it’s cone shape which is almost perfectly symmetrical. I hope to visit a volcano one day, and I will surely choose somewhere easier and cheaper, but Kamchatka is the place for the ultimate volcano adventure.
8. The Great Barrier Reef – Australia
Made up of billions of tiny organisms yet visible from space, the Great Barrier Reef is incredibly special. The diversity here is spectacular. 400 species of coral, 1500 species of fish, 215 bird species and home to many larger animals like whales, dolphins, dugongs and turtles. I would love to go snorkelling in the warm, crystal-clear waters and see as many of these species as I can. I’ve only been snorkelling once before, and I loved it. I only saw a few fish but it was a fantastic way to view the beautiful world that lives just a few metres below the sea. I can only imagine how amazing snorkelling in a coral reef teeming with life would be.
Sadly the reef is facing serious threats. Since 1985 the reef has lost half of its corals. The biggest threats include climate change, pollution and over-fishing. Being millions of years old, I hope the reef will be better protected in the future and that damaged areas will be able to recover.
7. Iguazu Falls – Argentina & Brazil
Straddling the border between Brazil and Argentina, the Iguazu falls are a true natural wonder. There are 275 separate falls and together they are around 2,700 meters wide, making it one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world. The huge clouds of spray and mist add to the dramatic effect. The falls are buried in a subtropical rainforest that supports many different kinds of wildlife. Species recorded here include otters, jaguars, eagles and tapirs. In fact both sides of the river are protected by national parks in their respective countries.
You get a different experience on each side of the border. About 80% of the falls are on the Argentinian side, where there are a variety of trails to explore. The trail that grabs my attention is the one that takes you to the top of the Devil’s throat, a spectacular section of the waterfall, where you can look down as the river goes over the edge. Alternatively on the Brazilian side you can walk into the Devil’s throat where you can get close to the full fury of the river.
6. Kathmandu – Nepal
Kathmandu is famous for the multitude of historic temples, shrines, stupas and palaces. It would be impossible to list them all. Boudhanath Stupa can be seen from miles away, and is one of the largest stupas in Asia. Swayambhunath is known for its monkeys and panoramic views of Kathmandu Valley. Some temples are so old, no-one knows who they were originally built to honour. There is more to Kathmandu than just ancient buildings though. The streets and bazaars are colourful, vibrant and full of energy. From spice markets, street vendors and holy men, there is always more to see.
The city of Kathmandu is also an excellent base for exploring the Kathmandu Valley, home to many more important temples, palaces and other sites. Sitting on the ancient trade route between Tibet and India, the art and architecture of Kathmandu Valley combines both Buddhism and Hinduism and the valley remains an important place of pilgrimage for both religions.
5. The Sahara desert – Africa
By far the biggest thing on my list, covering nearly a third of the African landmass, the Sahara is a place of great extremes. For example it’s one of the hottest places on Earth, where the sand can reach temperatures of over 80 °C. It’s so dry that some regions can go years without any rain. Despite being so huge, only around 2.5 million people live there. These hardy people have adapted to the Sahara in different ways. Some live near oases and wells whilst others are permanent nomads that follow the traditional trade routes. Spanning eleven countries, there many diverse cultures thriving in such an challenging environment.
The geography is also more diverse than you might think. We all picture never-ending sand dunes when we think of the Sahara, but there are other kinds of landscape to be found here. There are rocky mountain ranges, salt flats and ancient lava flows too. Having said that, the thing I most want to see are the huge sand dunes. They might only cover a fraction of the whole desert but they are so iconic and hardly resemble the small sand dunes I’m used to at the beach. Constantly sculpted and shaped by the wind, if you are extremely lucky you might hear them sing when they sand is vibrating at the right frequency.
4. Kyoto – Japan
Kyoto was the imperial capital of Japan for over a thousand years, and fortunately it escaped bombing in World War Two. Today it’s the cultural capital of Japan and home to a multitude of temples, shrines, palaces and gardens, many of which are UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Highlights include the five storied pagoda at Tō-ji which is the tallest wooden building in Japan. Founded in 796, Tō-ji is the oldest Buddhist temple in Kyoto. The Zen garden at Ryōan-ji is another must-see. Simple, but full of deeper meanings, the garden is thought to date to the late 15th century. My favourite fact is that you can never stand in one spot and see all fifteen rocks at the same time. It’s said that you can only see all fifteen simultaneously if you achieve enlightenment.
There also many other aspects of Japanese culture that I would love to explore more. Sushi, anime and manga, tea ceremonies, origami, pokémon, karaoke and much more. Perhaps my favourite is Hanami, the traditional custom of having picnics and parties under cherry trees covered in beautiful pink blossom. The festivities include traditional food, paper lanterns and sake. I love that Japanese culture is so distinctive, and it manages to combine both traditional and modern ideas.
3. Bukhara – Uzbekistan
The historic cities of the silk road really capture my imagination. I never made it to western China and the centres of ancient trade like Kashgar. But even more exciting wonders lie in wait in Uzbekistan. I could have chosen Samarkand which was one of the greatest cities of central Asia. Known as a crossroads of cultures, Samarkand is one of the oldest cities in Central Asia. Conquered by both Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan, Samarkand was a very important silk road city and full of history.
However Bukhara is the city that makes my ultimate travel wish-list. The sheer number of well-preserved ancient buildings makes Bukhara feel like a trip back in time to the glory days of the silk road. Bukhara looks like an incredible place to explore. Exquisite architecture, brilliant blue domes and beautiful mosaics are all there waiting to be found. The Numerous mosques, madrassas and minarets show that Bukhara was more than a important trading post. It was also a great centre for study and learning. Other landmarks include the many domes of the old Bazaar and the mighty walls of the citadel.
2. Northern Lights – Arctic Circle
This is another rule-breaker on the list. Visible from many countries, The northern lights have been something I’ve dreamt about since I was a child. I read the fantasy novel “The Redemption of Althalus” by David and Leigh Eddings many times as a teenager, in which the northern lights were seen as heavenly fires at the very edge of the earth.
The northern lights can appear in many different colours and forms. It can look like a ribbon waving in the night, rays of light shining across the sky or a curtain of fireworks. There’s lot’s of interesting science behind the aurora and they can even be predicted more accurately than the weather.
This is also the one entry on my list that I’ve tried to see before and failed. On my travels around Scandinavia, I took a train to Bodø which is just inside the arctic circle. Unfortunately Bodø was carpeted in dark grey clouds and it was obvious the northern lights would be impossible to see for some time. Given how expensive Norway is, I decided to give up on the northern lights and headed on to Helsinki. If I get the chance to try again, I would head for Abisko Mountain Station in the very far north of Sweden. The surrounding mountains attract the rain clouds, so Abisko enjoys uninterrupted views of the night sky on a regular basis.
1. Marrakesh – Morocco
The country I most want to visit in the world is Morocco. The diversity on offer is absurd. From deserts, beaches, mountains and ancient cities, Morocco has everything. The culture and architecture reflects a mixture of Arabian, Berber and European influences. The cities all offer different things. Chefchaouen is a picturesque mountain city famous for its sky-blue buildings and its relaxed vibe. Fez is home to fantastic Moroccan and Moorish architecture and is one of the world’s largest pedestrian areas.
But Marrakesh is the city that tops my list. I love exploring far away places through books, photos and maps, but nothing beats exploring for yourself and getting completely lost in the process. You never know what you are going to find next. I’ve never been to Africa, and what better place to begin than Marrakesh. The city is one of the most important trading posts in Africa and this is reflected in it’s fantastic markets and souks. The souks sell almost everything you could ever want, if you can find it in the labyrinth of shops and alleyways. Haggling is also very important here, being almost an artform.
Another landmark is Jemaa el-Fnaa which is the busiest square in Africa, and one of the most famous in the world. During the day snake-charmers, musicians and magicians entertain the tourists. In the evening story tellers and dancers appear and at night an array of food stalls appear to keep you well fed. It’s incredible how much there is to see and do in one place.