Planet Earth, BBC's award-winning documentary brought together some of the most stunning nature footage from over 200 locations in 62 countries. The Traveller's Guide to Planet Earth, Lonely Planet's photo-filled companion to the series, tells you how to visit 50 of the documentary's most memorable destinations.
We asked Lonely Planet founder Tony Wheeler and Planet Earth producer Mark Brownlow to do the impossible: select their three favourite spots around the world that best encapsulate the beauty and wonder that is Planet Earth.
Tony Wheeler's picks
One lap of Mt Kailash and all the sins of my lifetime are washed away. Well, this lifetime; it would take another 107 circuits to clean up all my lifetimes.
Those sin-cleaning capabilities are just a sample of the magic of western Tibet. It’s a place of endless vistas, forgotten cities and people whose beliefs seem to merge with the landscape. The final magic comes when my travels end and I turn east for the drive to Lhasa. How many places in the world can you end up a solid week’s drive from the nearest airport?
It’s the sheer simplicity of Antarctica that is so amazing. There is no rainbow spectrum of colours, everything is either blue (the sky, the sea), white (the snow, the ice and half of every penguin) or black (the rocks, the whales and the other half of those penguins). The wildlife is equally simple, equally dramatic – you don’t get hundreds of different animals or birds, but the lack of variety is easily overwhelmed by sheer numbers. One penguin is a delight, 10,000 are mind blowing. It’s hardly surprising that far from being a one-off experience of a lifetime, a visit to Antarctica seems to inspire return trips.
The cities are beautiful, the Barrier Reef is a wonder, but it’s the Outback – the deserts – that really brings Australia home. I’ve never done an Australian Outback trip that wasn’t a great experience – whether it’s roller-coasting in a 4WD up and down the thousand sand dunes across the Simpson Desert or trekking on foot along the rocky spine of the Larapinta Trail. Yet, that Australian love affair always carries a hint of danger: the Outback can be that edgily dangerous lover who just might pull out the knife hidden under the bed one night.
Mark Brownlow's picks
1. Angel Falls
If you suffer from vertigo this is not the place for you. With no safety rail to steady you, peering over the near-1000m drop of the world’s tallest waterfall is a heart-in-the-mouth experience. Such is the height of these falls, that long before the water can reach Devil’s Canyon below, it is blown away as a fine mist. Away in the distance lies the inspiration for Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World: a prehistoric land of impenetrable jungle and isolated mountain plateaus. Is that a pterodactyl I can see in the distance?
2. Lake Baikal
The booms of fracturing ice echo all around you as the planet’s largest freshwater lake begins to melt. The harsh Siberian winter is finally retreating under the radiant spring sunshine and the lake’s metre-thick icy crust is breaking up. This is not exactly what you want to hear when crossing the world’s deepest lake by campervan. But it’s only during this three week window in March, when conditions are just right, that you can squeeze through an ice hole into the freshwater wonderland below. Dramatic ice sculptures and green forests of living sponge provide the backdrop for the lake’s unique population of bizarre creatures – from giant amphipods to the comical Baikal seal.
3. Great whites and fur seals, off South Africa
Few things prepare you for such a display of raw brutality, a sobering reminder that for many animals life is still a battle for survival. The war zone is Seal Island, 12 miles off Simon’s Town, a sleepy coastal resort in the Eastern Cape. The victim, a doe-eyed Cape fur seal pup, is on its daily trek out to its fishing grounds. The enemy, every swimmer’s worst nightmare, is a one-ton great white shark. At dawn it is possible to take a ring-side view onboard one of a handful of charter boats and bear witness to jaw-dropping attacks as these terrifyingly huge sharks torpedo out of the water. It’s voyeuristic and bloody, but mesmerising. On returning to shore you may think twice about jumping on that surf board. Ignorance is bliss.