Be inspired anew at the world’s most intense places—and at your own strength in discovering them.
Photograph by Greg McCown, National Geographic
This list was first published in the book World's Best Travel Experiences.
A seeming paradise that claims to have 350 sunny days a year, Tucson boasts geological beauty and hiking so fantastic that visitors can be lulled into a false sense of security. Be warned: It isn’t unusual for temperatures to soar higher than 110ºF (43ºC) in summer months, when the rocks and cement can hold that heat well into the evening hours.
Photograph by API, Alamy
This popular skiing area, which has some of New England’s highest mountain terrain, goes from extreme icy, nor’easter conditions in winter to warm summer days to perfectly crisp and golden autumns.
Photograph by Jack Sullivan, Alamy
Known as the Isle of Spice for its abundance of nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves, Grenada is one of the southernmost Windward Islands in the Caribbean Sea. Its spices have been devastated by hurricanes in the last decade. The central mountainous terrain’s cooler air and waterfalls produce a near-constant cloud cover of condensation.
Photograph by Robert Haidinger, Anzenberger/Red/Redux
With flash rainstorms that instantly fill the dirt roads and humidity that makes it one of the greenest places on Earth, this Maya wonderland is home to the longest barrier reef in the Western Hemisphere and the deepest diving—the Blue Hole. But it is the back roads of the Toledo district, where rain forest meets jungle safari, that truly inspire awe.
Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada
Photograph by Christian Heeb, laif/Redux
This Canadian province, which sits at the eastern edge of North America, encroaches on the home of 22 whale species and dozens of seabirds that play among the icebergs. While the capital city of St. John’s can be quite mild, the actual island of Newfoundland has more extreme and unpredictable weather moods.
Photograph by Kevin Ebi, Alamy
This island straddling the Arctic Circle is the northernmost point of inhabitable space in Iceland. It is a small, rocky island with little vegetation, only a few hundred permanent residents, and cliffs teeming with arctic birds known as puffins, which seem oblivious to the chill as they dive-bomb from high on the rocks into the Arctic Ocean for food.
Photograph by Mauritius Images, GmbH/Alamy
Known as the walled city because of its “hanging houses” atop (or actually part of) walls carved out of a rocky hillside in the 15th century, Cuenca’s fortress-like facade sits imposingly above the Jucar River gorge. The houses, which bake in the high summer temperatures, are now home to an abstract art museum reached by crossing a wooden pedestrian swinging bridge.
Photograph by Toma Babovic, laif/Redux
From the world’s strongest tidal current at Saltstraumen to the city of Bodø, Northern Norway is especially bewitching during the winter’s northern lights (aurora borealis), which may keep you up late into the cold night. Nothing feels as warm as a hearty lunch of reindeer stew outside on benches covered in reindeer skins after hiking the peaks and valleys of the Svartisen Glacier—actually a 143-square-mile (370-square-kilometer) multiple glacier system—renowned for its deep blue ice and relatively easy accessibility.
South China Sea
Photograph by Mario Weigt, Anzenberger/Redux
Taking a day trip by boat from Hong Kong to one of the 235 outlying islands can quickly turn into a battle against the chop—and seasickness. But the sparsely inhabited destination will prove nothing short of surreal, with little to distract from the beauty of its ornate ancestor shrines and the movements of fishermen at work.
Photograph by Menno Boermans, Hollandse Hoogte/Redux
The highest mountain in the Alps lies between Italy and France, and you'll feel the altitude—15,782 feet (4,810 meters) above sea level—if you are not accustomed to it. Its location lends itself to prime skiing and snowboarding, and the blaze of ice and snow at the top is a sharp contrast to the warmth and glow coming from the shops and cafés in Chamonix, France, at its base.
2016 National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year Contest
Browse photos of nature, cities, and people and share your favorite photos.