There’s no two ways about it; 2020 has dealt an unexpected blow to the travel industry. And while our dreams of jetting off for adventure or reconnecting with loved ones in another country may have been dashed, we have to remember that things won’t always be like this – there’s still an array of unique and compelling places around the world waiting to be experienced and appreciated.
Now is the perfect time to start planning for when it's safe to travel again, and to inspire those once-in-a-lifetime adventures, Lonely Planet is proud to present Ultimate Travel List, the second edition of our bestseller that offers a brand new ranking of the greatest places on Earth.
Travel can be a force for good, allowing us to connect with other cultures and communities, educate ourselves and experience how others live. For this edition, extra marks have been awarded to destinations that manage tourism sustainably. From the marvels of human invention to the raw beauty of nature, this inspiring list of 500 places has been put together by our most knowledgeable experts. Here’s the top 10 from the new book.
This Unesco World Heritage Site has long mystified travellers with its stunning sandstone construction and history. Over 3000 years old, it was originally capital of the Nabataeans, a nomadic people from Arabia who were merchants and craftspeople. The city was eventually abandoned, only to be embraced by the Bedouin who began living in the caves up until the 1980s. In 2007 the enigmatic city was voted in as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, and any visitor who ventures there can see why. From the Siq, the winding narrow canyon that was once a trade route and a focal point for religious processions, to the iconic 128-ft-high Treasury building, visitors to the sprawling 102-sq mile site are overtaken by the wonder of it. Historic and intriguing, Jordan enjoys a reputation as one of the safest and most welcoming countries in the Middle East.
A literal wonderland of science, the Galápagos hold secrets of nature not seen anywhere else in the world. Famed as the place where Charles Darwin’s ideas on evolution by natural selection were shaped, the islands inspire thought and wonderment. Many of the native creatures are unique to the stretch of islands off the coast of Ecuador, with 200-hundred-year-old tortoises, large land iguanas of pink and yellow, and flightless cormorants. Located at the meeting of three separate ocean currents, the Galápagos also hold a bounty of marine species. Ecotourism has become a booming industry in the last few years, with the airport being built from mostly sustainable and recycled materials, and running on solar and wind power.
3. Learn from the Aṉangu at Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park
Blushing like an epiphanic, sun-baked chunk of coal on the shimmering horizon, there’s something haunting about witnessing the golden and umber hues of Uluru at sunset. Standing proud at 348m tall and stretching nearly 4km wide, the sandstone leviathan is not only an impressive spectacle and popular tourism spot, it’s a sacred site. The area’s native inhabitants, the Aṉangu people, hold the belief that spiritual ancestors reside here. An icon to Australia, the site has long been a draw. Up until 2017 it was possible (against the wishes of the Aṉangu) to ascend the summit, but there are still rich and rewarding experiences open to travelers. The Aṉangu cultural center is a highlight where there is a display on tjukurpa, the creation period.
A marshland that is home to some of the world’s most endangered animals, this beautiful wilderness is a compelling destination for an African safari. Expanding up to 7722 sq miles (20,000 sq km), this is one of the world’s largest inland deltas and an important lifeforce for huge numbers of wildlife. The area can be appreciated in a number of different ways, including by powerboat, mokoro (a traditional canoe), and via 4WD safaris. You'll spot wildlife big and small – the most thrilling sight is no doubt the proud African elephants that can be spotted bathing and drinking. In order to protect the environment, visitor numbers are regulated, making it an exclusive but truly rewarding experience.
Home to 60% of the world’s geysers, (including Old Faithful – the park’s most famous one) Yellowstone offers a full an assault of the senses. From eggy whiffs of roaring, hot springs that explode over a searing landscape to the exciting sight of bison, elk, bears and wolves running past, there is always something to thrill. On March 1, 1872, Yellowstone became the first national park in the US, and today welcomes an impressive 4 million people every year. It also boasts rugged canyons, mountains and forests perfect for hiking, walking, climbing, trail running, and other outdoor activities.
With its white bell-towered church atop an island on a glassy lake, and a medieval castle that clings to the side of a green precipice, Lake Bled is picture-perfect. The eye-catching beauty of the Slovenian retreat has always made it a draw, from early pilgrims to 19th-century royalty. Backed by the Julian Alps and the Karavanke, the route around the lake makes for an easy and enjoyable walk or cycle, while swimming in or diving beneath the stunning waters is also popular with the throngs of visitors who venture here. A jewel of the Alps and a symbol of the country’s beauty, Lake Bled continues to be a popular choice for those who enjoy inspiring surroundings.
Easily reached from both Brazil and Argentina, the furious Iguazú Falls are an awe-inspiring demonstration of the power of nature. The cascades are formed by a chain of hundreds of waterfalls nearly 2 miles (3km) in extension that join forces to create something magnificent. The expanse of the surrounding national park, a protected area over 67,720 hectares (the majority of which is a rainforest with unique plant and animal life) adds extra value to a visit. Multiple rainbows can be spotted when the spray and falling water is backlit against the sun as Garganta del Diablo (Devil’s Throat) thunders over the rocks.
A symbol of ingenious resourcefulness and religious dedication, Angkor’s temples encourage admiration in anyone who sees them. The most famous of the sites – Angkor Wat – represents Mt Meru, the home of the Hindu gods and the center of the universe. It is a place of pilgrimage for all Cambodians, and the largest religious building in the world. Angkor includes over 1000 shrines and temples, including Ta Prohm, with its large, jungle-engrossed towers. The sunrises here are unmissable. Avoid busier crowds by visiting in the wet season.
After rainfall, Salar de Uyuni, the biggest salt lake in the world, is transformed into an enormous mirror where the boundaries between sky and earth disappear. The flat salt surface reflects the clouds, and the horizon disappears. Measuring 4085 sq miles (10,582 sq km) and sitting at an altitude of 3653m (11,984 ft) in the Bolivian altiplano, the lake is just as compelling when dry, with the white cracked surface having the appearance of another planet. There’s even geyser fields to visit, while high-altitude lakes of aquamarine attract flocks of flamingos.
A dream destination for hikers, serious walkers and trekkers, the Annapurna region has stunning mountains and hidden hilltop villages. There are also charming lodges serving food and pots of delicious tea. Hikes here offer everything, from farmland and rice paddies, through pastures and fields to craggy summits and snowy embankments. Tilicho Lake and the village of Ngawal are highlights, with the latter offering beautiful views across the valley of snowy summits. There are experiences to suit everyone, from short treks to month-long journeys of the Annapurna Circuit and Sanctuary trails.