Top-10 places that I must see before I die
With over 140 countries still to go, I believe setting priorities straight is pretty important. How else will I decide on where to travel next time? Over the past few years, I have compiled a list of 10 places that I absolutely must visit before I die, including one destination saved for a special occasion (roll over pins on the map to find out).
1. EASTER ISLAND/RAPA NUI (Chile)
The Dutch discovered the island on Easter Sunday in 1773, when nearly a thousand of those giant stone statues (called moai) had already been there for a few centuries. Existing evidence has suggested that groups of people deliberately settled here over time which is a significant achievement given the distance from any other land in the Pacific Ocean and South America. Back then, this place must have been a paradise: lavish vegetation, plenty of seafood, and a mild climate were suitable for a prosperous life. Eventually, population outgrew the island and its resources so much that by the last century, only a few hundred native Rapa Nui were around. So we think. But what did actually happen? We don't know for sure. Today's Easter Island, a treeless place with 3 extinct volcanoes, is an open-air museum of a fascinating and mysterious, but unfortunately lost culture.
2. PATAGONIA (Argentina & Chile)
Who wouldn't enjoy a landscape dominated by the jagged Andes, glaciers, lakes, and coastal fjords? Patagonia is often called one of the most scenic places for a reason, but it does not always make for a comfortable living. When I was around 13, I read Bruce Chatwin's In Patagonia and got stirred by his descriptions of the area as an exile for some, and wandering for others. I'm not sure whether he was writing about Patagonia per se, but if it as amazing as it sounds, send me on the first flight out.
3. GALÁPAGOS ISLANDS (Ecuador)
Home to many one-of-a-kind species, the islands are a unique living museum. No wonder that it was the Galápagos that inspired Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection when he visited in 1835. In 2007, UNESCO added the Islands to the List of World Heritage in Danger due to threats posed by non-native, invasive species, uncontrolled tourism, and overfishing. Even though they were removed from the list 3 years later because of the significant improvement of the situation, the Galápagos' biodiversity and sanctuary are still under threat from the growing population, alien species, and environmental issues.
4. SOUTHERN AFRICA (Namibia, South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe)
Gorgeous vistas, rich wildlife, ancient history - this region has it all. Fancy a safari to watch lions, zebras, elephants, giraffes, to name a few, in their natural habitat? Check. A bungee jump into the largest waterfall on earth? No problem. A trip to a fine new world winery? Why not. Southern Africa is an all-around gem. And since it is also very diverse culture-wise it really makes for a unique trip.
I'm saving this one for my honeymoon (provided I have one someday) because Greenland is the ideal destination for someone like me: far away, nordic, and underpopulated. What's there not to like? Apart from that, the island with the least apt name possible barely gets any cellular coverage too. There are better things to do there anyway: watch the aurora borealis in winter (300 nights a year!) while on a dogsled, sail with whales or climb icebergs. Any takers?
6. FAROE ISLANDS
These 18 rocky islands offer a stunning scenery: when hiking these rugged, green mountains you are never more than 5km (3 miles) away from the ocean. You are also never too far from one of their 70,000 sheep. These nordic landscapes combined with colourful wooden cottages, grass-roofed churches and houses would make a great backdrop for some fairytale!
7. SVALBARD (Norway)
Arctic Norway is already one of my favourite regions of the world, yet it is difficult to find a place as remote as Svalbard. Located about halfway between continental Norway and the North Pole, this is the northernmost settlement on the planet with a permanent civilian population (2,600 people). This archipelago is some 60% pure Artic glacier as well as icebergs, mountains, and fjords, so the tiny town of Longyearbyen is hardly a representation of what is there to see.
8. KAMCHATKA, SAKHALIN, COMMANDER ISLANDS (Russia)
The Russian Far East is an ultimate destination for an adventurous traveller with a taste for unbeaten tracks. This beautiful region is packed with volcanoes (over 150, 29 of them active), hot springs, and geysers in Kamchatka, low range mountains and taiga forests full of wildlife in Sakhalin. The Commanders, on the other hand, are treeless islands with folded-block mountains, volcanic plateaus, plains, and low mountains hidden behind the fog and a great abundance of marine life all around it. Here, you are just around the corner from Alaska: the rest of the Aleutian island chain, which belongs to the US, is only 333 km (207 miles) away.
There is simply no other place like Japan. I mean, where else could you try jellyfish ice cream, purple sweet potato Kit Kat or canned bread from a vending machine? Jokes aside, this country leaves no visitor indifferent. It's been on bucket list ever since Lost in Translation, where the futuristic-looking Tokyo and the shrines and temples of Kyoto are as much a part of the story. When the traditional culture is so intertwined with the modern life it can be a really mind-boggling, otherworldly experience for a foreigner, and that is one of the things that makes Japan so appealing. Not to mention the beautiful nature, of course.
10. TASMANIA (Australia)
The Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area, a network of parks and pristine nature reserves, makes up almost a quarter of the island and promises a lovely drive around one of the world's most remote islands. Among your hosts are Tasmanian devils and little penguins; a couple ghosts of from the former colonial prison Port Arthur might come say hi too.