By Anne Olivia Bauso
Jan 3, 2022
WHAT IS THE MOST BEAUTIFUL PLACE in the world? To compile the world’s most beautiful places is an inherently subjective and impossible task, but we’d like to think that this list at least scratches the surface of some of the extraordinary beauty the world has to offer. Focusing largely on national parks, mountains, beaches, deserts, and other natural wonders, our list is sure to inspire your next dream destination. Join us for a journey to some of the most beautiful places in the world, from temple ruins on the slopes of the Andes to mountains with dizzying colorful layers to glorious coral reefs.
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 as well as sparkling lagoons and otherworldly glaciers — the park’s Perito Moreno Glacier is part of the third-largest ice cap in the world.
It’s hard to truly grasp the magnitude of 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
This magical, misty, and devotedly 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 the 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
Among all the places in the Seychelles, pinpointing the most beautiful beach is like splitting hairs, as this island nation boasts some of the most sparkling seas in the world. But Anse Source d’Argent gets extremely high marks for its silvery-white sand framed by dramatic granite boulders and sparkling aquamarine water.
Grand Canyon, Arizona
Offering some of the most spectacular scenery in the world, the eternally beautiful Grand Canyon truly merits the term “breathtaking” and is one of those places you’ll find yourself dumbstruck. The vast geologic wonderland, 2 kilometers deep and up to 12 kilometers across, displays countless layers of colorful rock and practically hypnotic vistas.
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe and Zambia
One of the seven natural wonders of the world, thrillingly beautiful Victoria Falls spans the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia, places for some of the most high-octane adventures imaginable. “The smoke that thunders,” as it is known to locals, and its surroundings are hubs for white-water rafting, helicopter rides, and big-game safaris.
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 immense baobab trees, all that remains of a once-dense forest. The centuries-old giants are especially magnificent at sunrise and sunset.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
The world’s largest salt flat covers 4,000 square miles of Bolivian altiplano. In the dry season, it’s an endless white sheet of salt tiles made all the more dazzling by clear, sunny skies. November through March, regular rains create a mirror effect that merges lake and sky. No matter when you see it, Salar de Uyuni is one of the most captivating sights on earth.
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
With hundreds of jungle-covered karsts springing out of emerald green waters, Ha 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 Atitlan, Guatemala
Lake Atitlan in the Sierra Madres offers a combination of Indigenous culture, waterside serenity, and yoga bliss. Cross the gorgeous crater lake by boat to explore the various pueblos, shop local markets for Mayan crafts, and sleep in treehouse-like accommodations.
Le Morne Brabant, Mauritius
A freestanding mountain hulking over a blue-green Indian Ocean lagoon certainly makes spectacular scenery. Thanks to its isolation and near-inaccessibility, Le Morne sheltered escaped enslaved people 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, salt islands, 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, 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 and adding to its incredible appeal.
Maasai Mara, Kenya
This famed wildlife preserve (next door neighbor 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, Bahamas
Cat Island is a secret nirvana hiding in plain sight in the Bahamas. Sparsely developed and off the main tourist track radar, Cat Island appeals with its miles of nature trails and wondrous pink-sand beaches sprawling under the Caribbean sun.
Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park, China
Distinct rolling bands of orange, cream, yellow, brown, and russet against jagged mountains make this geological anomaly 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 and mountaineers, whiskey lovers (the 19th-century Ben Nevis Distillery is a short drive away), and Harry Potter fans (time it right and catch the steam train crossing nearby Glenfinnan Viaduct, used in four of the films).
The Buddhist monk Kobo Daishi founded this mountaintop temple town in 816. Today, the sacred and serene UNESCO World Heritage Site contains more than 100 temples, including head temple Kongobuji, featuring gorgeous gold-leaf interiors depicting the seasons. Within the ancient complex is a mausoleum and cemetery surrounded by cedar forest, with solemn giants up to 600 years old.
The Dead Sea
Name aside, the Dead Sea is a saltwater lake, and one of the world’s saltiest, at that. Set between Jordan, Palestine, and Israel on the Earth’s lowest point, it’s known for its beautiful 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-colored canyons, and incredible biodiversity make Zion one of the most popular national parks in the U.S.
Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland
Dominated by a 3,000-square-mile ice cap of the same name, Vatnajökull is a chilly wonderland of caves, craters, glacier-capped volcanoes, 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, are a sight to behold.
Nā Pali Coast Wilderness State Park, Hawaii
Nā Pali translates to “the cliffs” in Hawaiian, a deceptively simple name that might not fully prepare travelers 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 travelers in Cape Town. Intrepid 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 old town and you’ve got the setting for this long-popular Swiss destination. Don’t miss the Mt. Pilatus (via a nerve-racking aerial tramway) 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 adjacency, but it trades Pacific views for peaceful Appalachian beauty. Stretching 469 miles from the Great Smokies to Shenandoah, the 45 MPH, no-trucks route winds past overlook after overlook, letting road-trippers marvel at the mountains’ dreamy blue hue.
Pulau Tioman, Malaysia
This isn’t the tropical island 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).
Damaraland region is an almost-mystical vision of red-earth desert plains, flat-topped mountains, petrified forest, and well-preserved ancient Bushmen rock paintings. Though it looks like a scene from Mars, Damaraland is rich in wildlife, roamed by 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 the world’s largest waterfall. The overwhelming sight, combined with the sound and energy of water rushing at up to 450,000 cubic feet per second, 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 one Victor Hugo, the Cirque is a ring of sheer granite mountain walls enclosing a picture-perfect green valley. It’s astounding before you add in three-tier Gavarnie Falls pouring over a 922-foot drop.
Shark Bay, Western 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 the largest and richest meadows of seagrass in the world and 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 — despite the Arctic Circle latitude — dreamy white-sand beaches.
Los Cabos, Mexico
Flanked by the Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of California, a symphony of natural features — desert, mountains, sea, and plenty of sunshine — and yes, raucous party scene, have made Los Cabos one of the most popular vacation destinations in North America. Its cobalt blue waters are a hub for diving, snorkeling, kayaking, fishing, and whale watching.
One of the most culturally influential places in Italy is also one of the most beautiful in the world. Taormina has all the elements for a gorgeous Mediterranean destination: ancient ruins, a charming and strollable old town, and a setting perched between sea and sky.
Dal Lake, India
The snow-capped Zabarwan Mountains rise 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 and floating markets and brightly-painted taxi boats drift by.
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
The world’s largest barrier reef — and its largest living thing, period — is an unrivaled experience for snorkelers and divers. The sensational underwater world is made up of vast coral formations and a mind-boggling diversity of marine life.
Fairy Meadows National Park, Pakistan
Near the foot of one of the world’s highest mountains (Nanga Parbat), Fairy Meadows offers sublime mountain scenery and wildlife, including brown bears, markhor, and Himalayan ibex.
Wulingyuan Scenic Area, China
Talk about Narnia — this is one of the most magical places in the world. Thousands of tapering quartz sandstone formations spiral skyward in this 25,900 hectare stretch of karst terrain. Beneath the towers lie valleys, streams, waterfalls, caves, natural bridges, and dense green forest.
Banff National Park, Alberta
Canada’s oldest national park showcases the majesty of the Canadian Rockies. The park 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 Moraine Lake, set in a bowl amid the Valley of the Ten Peaks.
Wadi Rum, Jordan
Jordan is on our list of places we most want to visit not only because it’s beautiful but also for the amazing history that influenced all the world. Wadi Rum is a stunning red-desert landscape filled with canyons, dunes, mountains, springs, archeological sites, and stone archways (brave hikers can cross the largest, Burdah Rock Bridge, more than 30 meters 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, rainforest, and a diversity of wildlife — everything from black coral to humpback whales, with bottlenose dolphins, seals, and even penguins, in between.
Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
With its enormous, diverse geography, Brazil could be a contender for many of the most beautiful places (and people!) in the world. Blissfully isolated 375 kilometers off the Brazilian mainland, this lovingly preserved archipelago offers secluded beaches and clear waters abundant in marine life.
Coastal Algarve, Portugal
Surrounded by the Atlantic to the south and west, Portugal’s Algarve region feels very much like the end of a continent that it is. Beautiful wind-sculpted cliffs and headlands frame big, sandy, surfers’-dream beaches and secret coves and grottoes, making it one of the most romantic places in the world.
Solitary Mount Kilimanjaro is one of Africa’s most stunning icons, rising some 5,800 meters from coffee and banana farms up to snowy volcanic peaks. Along the way, hikers trek through distinct climate zones, from tropical 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 planet’s most magnificent sights. You can hike to the sacred landmark’s summit for sunrise or simply gape at it from Lake Kawaguchi and elsewhere in the beautiful Five Lakes region. Head to the spa town Hakone in winter to pair crisp Fuji views with steaming hot springs.
Li River, China
The Li River carves through lowland farms and jagged karst terrain, 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 travelers 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, Bond-worthy palaces and villas, and sun-soaked alpine shores — making it one of the most beautiful places in the world for your IG feed as well. Take the funicular to the tiny village of Brunate for an amazing panorama.
Crater Lake National Park, Oregon
Like so many of most beautiful places in the world, Crater Lake is the result of earth-altering volcanic force. Its 600-meter depth makes it the deepest lake in the U.S., filled with mesmerizingly deep blue waters fed by rain and snow. View its perfection from hiking trails, boat tours, and the 53-kilometer Rim Drive around the caldera.
Big Sur, California
Even considering California’s 1350 kilometers of monumental coastline, it is hard to rival the beauty of Big Sur. Thick redwood forest, foggy canyons, and rocky cliffs tumbling 365 meters down to the Pacific epitomize 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, USA
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 to choose from, from the family-friendly Porters Creek near Gatlinburg to the more challenging Rainbow Falls route.
Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda
A generation ago, no one would have expected Rwanda to land on a list of not only the most beautiful places in the world but also a tourism hot list. The scenery alone — waterfalls, calderas, misty bamboo forest — makes Volcanoes National Park a worthy contender of any travel list. The mystical setting is all the more special for hosting buffaloes, birds, endangered golden monkeys, and the elusive mountain gorilla.