Prior to diving into this arbitrary yet wonderful list, I must first explain that I (naturally) have only included places that I have been to. Several natural wonders like the Himalayas and the Amazon could probably top the list overall, but I have yet to visit either. Therefore, as I go to more and more places, I will likely add to and change everything here. For now, this is just a reflection of Europe, Eurasia, Central Asia, North America, and Central America. That said, here we go.
9. Almaty Region, Kazakhstan
The vast majority of the country Kazakhstan is a wide open, fairly barren steppe… that is except for the southeast corner surrounding the city Almaty. There, you’ll find green fields, lakes, and gigantic mountains sprouting up all over the place. Outside the city, not much of the land is developed, so it still largely feels wind and untouched. It made for some of the best hiking I’ve done anywhere, and the views are incredible as far as you can see. Plus, as a side note, Almaty is known as the City of Apples, so you’ll likely find tons of apple trees everywhere you go.
8. Coast of Maine, USA
Well, I’ve never been to the Grand Canyon, and California’s beauty all too often gets ruined by Californians. Therefore, I went with a spot closer to my New England roots. And although it isn’t the most well known spot in the country, the rugged and wild coast of Maine is absolutely gorgeous. The further north you go, the further away from civilization you get as you become surrounded by the flow of deep blues, greys, and greens of the Atlantic. And while this can be quite a site in the summer, it can look even more impressive in the winter with snowy beaches and the mountains from Acadia on the horizon. Believe me, it tops the mosquito-filled shore of Florida any day of the year.
7. Volga Region, Russia
Considering Russia spans across eleven time zones and has a larger surface area than Pluto it certainly must have some ports of amazing nature. One of these I got to visit personally during the summer of 2017 as I traveled by train for two days going south along the mighty Volga. Being both the largest river in Russia and in Europe, the whole surrounding area was quite unique. Fields and forests lined either side as far as the eye could see, and at some points, the river was so wide it even had it’s own sandy beaches. It has a calming effect as it twists and turns along the landscape, taking you through a seldom visited part of the world’s largest country.
6. Slovenian Lakes
Normally, I would pick a particular region of a country for the list, but since Slovenia is really small and pretty much everything in it is lush, green, and amazing, I decided to put up the whole thing. With the Alps in the north, Balkans in the south, Mediterranean to the west and clear blue lakes in the center, you pretty much can’t go wrong. Not to mention, roughly 70% of the country is forested, making it second only to Finland among European countries. Even the capital Ljubljana can feel like one big park.
All that said, the places I would highly recommend seeing would be Lakes Bled and Bohinj. The colors you’ll see in any one of these places are unbelievable. Just try to avoid the groups of tourists that occasionally ruin the wonder of it (as they unfortunately tend to do). Everything just seemed so pristine, and animal life, from ducklings to lizards, could be found crawling and swimming every which way.
5. Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
Ok, I’ll admit it. I have not done much traveling in warm, tropical places. In fact, Guatemala is the closest I’ve ever come to such a location. Therefore, it is quite unique compared to the rest of my list. And while the country as a whole is pretty stunning, the one place that stood out most to me was Lake Atitlan.Minus the few surrounding villages, the large blue waters surrounded by numerous semi-active volcanoes seems like a place out of pre-history. Everything around you is green and alive, with wild, colorful plant-life growing every which way. Sometime at night, if you look at the right time, you’ll see mini red lava bursts spouting into the sky, which I’ll admit was awesome. Plus the late itself remains warm all year round. I, for example, visited in January and was still able to go swimming comfortably. One thing to watch out for though, a few of the town are unfortunately populated by pretentious western tourists in elephant pants who think they are above the rest of humanity. But if you can avoid them, your time there will be amazing.
4. West Coast of Ireland
Never in my life have I seen such an abundance of the color green as I did here. Every hue imaginable and more existed among massive cliffs, open fields, and the rough, blue Atlantic ocean. It was as if an impressionist painting had come to life, bearing all of its rugged textures, all the while complimented by an ever changing sky and sporadic bursts of rain. It pretty much got to the point where I kept having to remind myself that this was present day reality, and not a medieval fantasy novel. Again, part of me wants to declare this the winner, but it just doesn't quite match the wildness and tourist-free-ness of the Georgian countryside. That said, it still left an impression that will remain as long as my memory functions.
3. Western Kyrgyzstan
Instead of a region, I'm just gonna put the whole country here in this slot. I never thought I would say this, but the mountains here are just as, if not more amazing than that in Georgia. It doesn't matter where you are, whether in the capital Bishkek, along the massive lake Issyk Kol, the north or south, the entire horizon will be lined with these behemoth mounds of earth. Best of all, from a nature perspective, it's still the undeveloped, untamed wilderness in most of these regions. There are little to no paved roads and hardly any industrial development outside the cities. Instead, there are wild horses so numerous that they actually could drag Mick Jagger away alongside sheep, cows, goats and rivers.
2. Lake Baikal Region, Russia
Part of me really wanted to choose this one to be the winner. The lake seems like a clear, blue ocean and it's surrounded by rolling hills that are so vast and green they make Boston's Green Monster look like a dirty, insignificant, speck of dust. The surrounding plant and animal life is also almost entirely endemic to the region, which in my opinion at least, makes it even more amazing. This even includes fresh water seals, which live nowhere else on earth. On the shores, there are only a couple small villages scattered about, so it’s pretty easy to feel as if you’re completely removed yourself from the stresses and chaos of modern society.
Baikal is a powerfully serene and calming place. By just going on a short hike or trek, you’ll likely encounter a lifetime’s worth of unbelievable and incredible scenery. And that’s just in the summer. In the winter, the lake freezes over entirely, so much so that it’s even possible to drive a car across the entire surface. Also though, on a personal note, it was the site of my first ever solo backpacking trip, thus giving it the sentimental value.
Winner: North Caucasus/Georgia
What happens when mountains bigger than the Alps, the Black Sea coast, rolling valleys, gigantic caves, and rock formations unlike anything are all within half a day’s drive? Well, when that happens, this contest gets a winner. In Georgia, I could pretty much get lost in the wilderness for weeks on end and be perfectly content. Even a simple drive through the countryside can be a breath-taking experience. But as for my personal recommendation, make sure you get to the region Tusheti in the northeast corner of the country. This open wilderness is only accessible by a single mountainous road (3000m overpass) that’s closed off from mid-October to May every year. It’s so remote that the few houses there can only be powered by solar panels, and when there, you’re far more likely to run into a herd of sheep that another human being.
The whole area seems entirely removed from society and civilization in the best way immaginable. In Tusheti, you’re free of noise, city stress, pollution, car horns, and the chaos of the daily grind. Instead, there are trees, rivers, valleys, and rolling mountains as far as the eye can see. It may take over 6 hours to get here from the nearest town, but it is absolutely worth all that and more. And there are goats too.