5. Parque Cajas, Ecuador
Outside of visiting the New Zealand, Parque Cajas, Ecuador is the closest you are going to get to the Lord of the Rings. The sky seems close enough to touch and the rocky, scrubby landscape stretches to the horizon. The air is clear and thin and walking up and down the hills was exhausting even after weeks acclimatizing at Cuenca’s 950 meter (3000 feet) elevation. Our guide walked us across the park, through streams and field’s into the world’s highest deciduous forest. The ‘fairy forest’ looks like something out of the brother’s Grimm and has been the backdrop of several Hollywood films. To read more about our time in Ecuador, check here.
4. Wild Coast
If you follow the Garden Route through South Africa’s coast and keep going you reach the isolated and sparsely populated beauty of the Wild Coast. A long slow drive over rough roads led to some of the most beautiful beaches we’ve ever seen. Our time there was peaceful and quiet, listening to the ocean through tent walls and spending the day relaxing by the beach. To read more about our road trip through southern Africa, check here.
3. Machu Pichu
Machu Pichu has it all. History, physical challenge and some of the most incredible vistas I’ve ever seen. Our four day trek with Llama Path passed from sunny valley to cloud shrouded passes. We walked through streaking rain and wind on a stone path set down over 700 years ago. It was incredible to think that the same views greeted Incan nobles as the pilgrimaged to the emperors summer estates so many years ago. To read more about our experience on the Inca Trail, go here.
2. Soussusvlei, Namibia
The entire reason for visiting Namibia was to see Soussusvlei. These massive dunes get their red color from a high proportion of iron in the sand. Reaching the park meant two full days of driving over dirt and gravel roads. The dunes themselves are over 40 km from the park entrance. The final parking area is reachable only by 4X4 vehicle. We climbed the parks tallest dune “Big Daddy” 300 meters (1200 feet) high. Running down took me a full four minutes. Visiting Soussuvlei was something I had always dreamed about doing. It was amazing to be there and find that this thing I’d always fantasized about doing was actually happening. To read more about our time in Namibia, go here.
1. Salar de Uyuni
Visiting Bolivia was an after thought tacked onto the end of our time in South America so we could save 50K United miles on our Business Class Flights to Africa. I had vague recollections of there being salt flats in Bolivia worth seeing, but I had no idea where they were or how to get there. In the end, it was the prodding of two Norweigian girls we met at our Spanish school in Ecuador that convinced us to sign up for three days touring southern Bolivia.
Visiting this area of the world is like visiting a beautiful but alien planet. From the thousands of square miles of packed salt that make up the regions name sake to the volcanic pools of mud that feed thermal pools at the Chilean border, I saw more things that delighted, surprised and amazed me there than anywhere else I have ever been. For the time being, the tourist industry is only lightly developed and you can see these incredible landscapes in relative isolation. Standing alone at the top of the world as volcanic mud boils or floating in the hot springs in the pitch black as the Milky Way wheels overhead, its easy to imagine yourself that lonely explorer, the first astronaut on this strange new world.
To read more about our time in Bolivia, go here.