Today, we want to focus on a question we get asked a lot. “Where are some of the favorite places you have been?” Between Brandon and myself, we have collectively been to 39 countries and territories. Obviously, there is still a lot of world left to cover, but when compiled on our travel map, we have seen 25% of the world and visited nearly 300 cities. This has allowed us to get a good look at all the amazing sites the world has to offer, whether natural or man-made. And obviously, we have our favorites. So, we are going to break this down into categories:
- Top Five Natural Attractions
- Top Five Human-Made Attractions
- Top Five Favorite Countries
Brandon and I have hashed it out and decided together on the winners in each of these categories. It wasn’t easy, but we came to an agreement. Are you ready? Let’s dive right in!
Our Top Five Natural Attractions
We had to start with natural attractions because they are the most important, let’s be honest. We are avid nature-lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. Our travel dreams are born out of a strong desire to see the natural world and experience all that nature has to offer. Very often when people ask us some of our favorite travel memories or destinations, they are the ones that include something naturally beautiful.
When we evaluated our top five natural attractions list, we did not look at how cheap things were or what country they were in. We, quite literally, went with whatever came into our heads first and then hashed it out. We start with an easy favorite; one that would likely be at or near the top of most people’s natural sights list, an epic safari.
1. Masaai Mara, Kenya. This one wasn’t difficult: A two-day safari on the Masaai Mara, which is on a giant reserve in Kenya, in the northern tip of the Serengeti. We saw every animal we wanted to see – the big five – and then some, and stayed in a beautiful lodge just outside the Mara. Even our trip in was eventful, as the main gate was closed and we had to off-road through another way, bouncing in a mini-van across the African savannah. To see more of that amazing adventure, click or tap here. And big thanks to Harambe Humanitarian for setting up the tour for us!
2. Patagonia, Argentina. If you were to take amazing animals out of the equation, Patagonia would easily come in first place. Located in the southern tip of South America, Patagonia is much like a land from another place or time. It is a huge area geographically, and it is incredibly wild. Huge mountains, imposing glaciers, and long tracks of unadulterated forest cover a massive area. But to us, the most impressive part, was the Perito Moreno Glacier, a 90 square-kilometer glacier nearly 300 feet tall. Check out this amazing video of giant icebergs cleaving off it and falling into the lake below.
3. Iguazu Falls, Argentina/Brazil. Want to see one of the most incredible waterfall systems in the world? If so, you’ve got to pay a visit to Iguazu Falls. Straddling the borders of Argentina, Brazil, and Paraguay, Iguazu Falls consists of hundreds of waterfalls stretched over several kilometers. Imagine several Niagara Falls stretched across a giant chasm. We aren’t kidding. The system itself was born out of a huge earthquake that splintered the land under a river. Truly epic stuff! When we visited, we took a boat ride under the Iguazu River and did a hike around the perimeter. And although the falls straddle three countries, only Brazil and Argentina have good vantage points. Check out Part I of our Iguazu Falls YouTube series right here!
4. Table Mountain, South Africa. This may be a surprise to some, but there was something really beautiful about Table Mountain. Cape Town itself, the city that lies in the shadow of the mountain, is a beautiful city. Brandon and I were lucky enough to live two months there and we LOVED it. We considered moving there before we chose Costa Rica. It is a vibrant, multi-cultural, and fun city, and you cannot miss Table Mountain towering behind it. The hike up to the top of the mountain was arduous, but worth it. Absolutely stunning views of Cape Town and the Western Cape await you. The Western Cape area also boasted other beautiful natural sights, such as the Boulder Penguin Colony and Crystal Pools. Check out that video series by clicking or tapping here.
5. The Philippines. Okay, we get it, we are adding a country to the natural list, but there are just too many awesome places in the Philippines to name just one. Composed of over 7,000 islands, the Philippine archipelago is stunning no matter where you are. One of our favorites was the island of Bohol. Brandon and I rented scooters and spent two days scooting around the island. We found beautiful beaches, jungle zip-lining, waterfalls, interesting cone-shaped formations, and tiny tarsiers, the cutest little marsupials you’ve ever seen. There is a LOT to do on this island and it really is quite beautiful. But then there was one of the new Seven Natural Wonders of the World, the Puerto Princessa Underground Caves. Huge, filled with bats, dark, and really cool, this is a must see. Of course, we have to mention El Nido, with beautiful clear waters and towering limestone islands – look, The Philippine islands are just too beautiful. Period.
We have to admit, this was a tough list for us to come up with. There is just so much beauty in the world, how do you choose the best when everything is the best? Some honorable mentions would definitely be Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia, the Pacific Northwest in our homeland of the USA, and the Napo River in the deep wilds of the Amazon jungle on the border with Ecuador and Colombia. These are all beautiful places in the world, and still just a small piece of the epic beauty madre tierra has to offer!
Alright, so, we have gotten the most important out of the way, what about man-made attractions? We haven’t seen every man-made wonder of the world, but we have seen some good ones. Despite our faults, humans have built some beautiful treasures over the eons.
Our Top-Five Favorite Human-Made Attractions
It was hard to come up with natural favorites, but we found it was almost as hard to come up with human-made examples. There are so many options, from incredible temples to entire ancient cities and stunning medication globes… yes, you read that right. Number five on this list is one you might not expect. Let’s get started!
1. Valley of the Kings, Egypt. This was an easy agreement for both of us. Whether it be the Great Pyramids at Giza (which we were able to enter!), the megalithic pillars at the Temples of Luxor or Karnak or, to me, the best of the best, the Valley of the Kings – Egypt is a wonder of ancient history, architecture and artifacts. The Valley of the Kings consists of 64 known tombs, each containing some of the most well-known pharaohs, such as Amenhotep I, Rameses II, and Tutankhamen (King Tut). Some of the tombs stretch for hundreds of feet underground, with the walls containing ancient hieroglyphs dating back 4,000 years or more. It is hard to explain in writing what it felt like to be in those tombs; to look at King Tut’s mummy and gold embossed sarcophagus. Needless to say, it is why the Valley of the Kings is number one on our human-made list. Check out video from inside the tombs right here on our Egypt YouTube series.
2. Machu Picchu, Peru. Perhaps it was also the journey in getting there, which involved a lovely little town called Ollantaytambo, or the beautiful train ride through the jungle, or any number of other instances – Machu Picchu remains a top memory. After arriving by train, we got up at 5:00am and hiked up to the city itself, where we took a guided tour and then hiked further up to Huayna Picchu. Our legs were jelly by the end of the day, but it was so worth it. In all, from what we learned about the history of the place to the glory of the green, carpeted hills surrounding it, Machu Picchu is an incredible place and should be on any travel enthusiast’s must-see list.
3. Angkor Wat, Cambodia. Composed of a huge array of temples spread across 162 hectares (402 acres), Angkor Wat is the largest religious land monument in the world. And believe me, it feels like it. Expect to spend a full 8 hour day there. You will essentially rent your own tuk tuk for the day and they will bring you around to all the temples. The name, translated, means “City of Temples,” and each feels unique and unexpected in their own way. Originally constructed as a Hindu temple during the reign of the Khmer Empire in the 9th century, it was gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple towards the end of the 12th century. It is a fascinating place where interesting animals poke about both fully intact and crumbling structures. Any trip to SE Asia should have a stop at Angkor Wat on the itinerary.
4. The Acropolis, Greece. No human-made top five list would be complete without somewhere in Greece on it. Of course, the birthplace of civilization would boast some of the most impressive human-made sites in the world. Of those, the Acropolis stands out for us. There was something special about the way it towers over Athens. The city lights it up when the sun goes down and it stands, unmistakable from almost any vantage point in town. Athens itself could also be on this list. Filled with museum after museum of antiquity, and plenty of antiquity still alive and well in little shops on its hillsides, Athens is a history buff’s playground.
5. The Matrimandir, India. It is very likely you have never heard of this and were probably even struggling with the word. Pronounced mat-trim-mand-ear, it is essentially a giant meditation ball. It sits at the center of an experimental city called Auroville, which means “City of Dawn” in French. Located in Tamil Nadu, southern India, Auroville was established in the 1960s by an Indian Yogi and a French woman to be a place free of money, politics, and religion. It is a UNESCO certified experimental city, based on new age values. Since the yogi died in the 1990s, the city has changed and modernized, but the shining symbol to his ethos remains the Matramindir. It looks like a giant ball composed of golden flower petals, and at the center, is a meditation chamber that would blow your mind. People sit in a circle on pads meditating as a pinpoint of lights shines onto a crystal in the center of the room, sending beams of light between white pillars. Just incredible architecture. It is unfortunate more people do not know about this structure or get a chance to experience it, because it is a one-of-a-kind in the world.
What a list! It is so awesome to type these out and talk about them and relive the memories as we share them with you. Some honorable human-made mentions would be Stonehenge in the U.K. Miramar Castle in Italy, and the Phu Quoc cable car in Phu Quoc, Vietnam. And still, there are so many more we have yet to see. I know once we see the Taj Mahal, it is going to shoot to the top five somewhere. Alright, so, with individual sites down, let’s talk about actual countries as we round out our top five lists!
Our Top-Five Favorite Countries in the World
The favorite countries question is tough for both of us because you really have to take a holistic look when you are deciding on your favorite countries. For example, some countries may have the most amazing human-made attractions, but have not much natural beauty. Others may have both, but be really expensive. You really have to look at all the factors: attractions, safety, cost, public transportation, infrastructure, and much more. We give each place kind of a mental score, then weigh them out together. Each attribute gets its own score and when you add those up, our favorite countries are those that provide all-around good experiences. They may not be the best or the worst at a given factor, but they are doing a lot right.
1. Costa Rica. There is a reason that – after 2.5 years of traveling – we decided to stay here and call this our “for now” home. For me, an apex lover of nature and wildlife, Costa Rica is a dream. It is one of the most biodiverse countries on the planet and it goes out of its way to maintain a strong environmental record. With no standing army, the vibe here is muy tranquillo (very chill). Costa Rica has its drawbacks. Infrastructure is not as developed, for instance, and the country does not have big man-made wonders, but taken all together, we find Costa Rica to be our favorite country on the planet. We’ve got a lot of videos on our channel from Costa Rica. Check them out on our Central America playlist!
2. Croatia. There was just something special about Croatia. Brandon and I spent nearly two months there and lived in multiple cities during that time, so we got a good idea of the entire country. And let us tell you, we loved it. Croatia has an old, Eastern European feel to it, but not in a hard, rough sort of way that you find in Serbia or Bulgaria. It has a polish to it. And with gorgeous castles, stunning peninsulas, and the beautiful Adriatic coastline, this is one of the most beautiful countries in Europe. Downsides include food that is nothing to write home about and a slightly stoic culture, but those are minor compared to everything you get out of Croatia. Let’s not forget that Game of Thrones was filled there! This is medieval dream country.
3. The Philippines. Look, the Philippines again! Well, there is a reason we almost chose to spend a long period of time there. The Philippines was a country that checked a lot of boxes for us. Primarily English-speaking? Check. Inexpensive? Check. Highly developed? Check. Beautiful islands and amazing beaches? Check. Quite frankly, we had an amazing time exploring seven different Filipino islands. We met so many nice people, stayed in amazing high-rise condos on the cheap, and generally had a spectacular time.
4. South Africa. That South Africa lands on this list is a surprise because we only spent time in the Western Cape. We never saw any other part of the country. But we loved the Western Cape so much that we routinely tell people we would live in Cape Town. It is a gorgeous city filled with nice people and tons of things to do. It has a vibrant gay scene as well, which is important for us. Africa is not generally an LGBT-friendly continent, so being accepted in Cape Town was refreshing. We are very sure we would love the rest of South Africa and plan on returning, so it easily lands in the top five list for us.
5. Vietnam. Vietnam also checked a lot of boxes for us. Vietnamese food is one of our favorites and the Vietnamese people are so nice and courteous. Nightlife in Vietnam can’t be beat, but you also can find amazing man-made structures and gorgeous natural beauty. Yet, the best part about Vietnam is how cheap it is. It is a place where you can live like a kind for the price of a pauper. Whether you want to live in a posh high-rise condo or in a bungalow over the beach, you can do it for pennies on the dollar in Vietnam. Combine cost with lovely people, great food, and epic natural beauty, and you simply cannot go wrong in Vietnam.
Well, that is it! All our important top five lists. We hope you have enjoyed reading about our favorites and perhaps gained some inspiration for future adventures for yourself. Got questions about any of these destinations? Feel free to leave it in the comments and thanks for coming along, adventurers!