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Whether you’re looking to escape the chaos of urban life, dying for a digital detox, or craving to discover some of the planet’s best kept secrets, consider letting Mother Nature be your next trip tour guide. From swimming among rainbows of coral and fish to finding serenity in some of Japan’s most lush and sacred forests, there are so many ways to explore the beauty of our natural world. In fact, spending more time soaking up the great outdoors has even been proven to offer a variety of health benefits. According to recent studies, immersing yourself in nature can not only lower blood pressure, anxiety, and stress levels, but it can even improve focus, memory and extend one’s lifespan. Up for reaping these benefits or simply in need of a nature-powered recharge? Let yourself get lost in one of these breathtaking trips.
Snorkel in Fiji’s Rainbow Reef
For dedicated divers and marine-lovers alike, a sea excursion in these bluer-than-blue waters promises some of Mother Nature’s most magical sights. Located in the narrow but nutrient-rich channel of the Somosomo Straits between Fiji’s second and third largest islands, Vanua Levu and Taveuni respectively, the Rainbow Reef is known for its incredible biodiversity with more than 1400 species of fish, coral varieties, and other marine life. One of its particularly popular diving sites is the Great White Wall, where white coral grows abundantly at varying depths. But what’s even more miraculous is the reef’s resilience, especially to the effects of climate change. While a majority of coral reefs around the world have been suffering the bleaching effects of rising ocean temperatures, the Rainbow Reef has been found to remain relatively stable. If you’re interested in learning more about conserving the corals as you dive, consider an expedition with the Oceanic Society where naturalists will share more about current restoration efforts and how you can help.
Watch the Sunrise at Hawaii's Haleakalā National Park
Otherwise known as the “house of the sun”, this scenic landmark promises one out-of-this-world way to start your day: a magnificent view of the sunrise from nearly 10,000 feet above sea level (be sure to dress warmly). While the drive up from Maui can take up to two hours, and you’ll want to arrive as early as 5 a.m. for a summer sunrise and 6:30 a.m. in the winter, the early bird trek is one you won’t regret. If you can make it to the visitor center even earlier, you’ll even be able to sneak in a bit of stargazing as well. Be aware that visitors arriving in their own cars are required to reserve a spot up to two months ahead of time; sunset viewers do not currently require a reservation. After you’ve watched the skies light up in every shade of yellow, gold, and orange imaginable, take in more of the summit, if so desired, with over 30 miles of hiking trails to explore.
Wander the Vineyards of Portugal’s Douro River Valley
Who knew one of the world’s most iconic wine regions could also be the most beautiful? Whether you spend an afternoon sipping the region’s signature sweet Port, kayaking along the Douro river, or winding through the valley’s curves by car, some of nature’s best is abound amidst this enchanting landscape. For a postcard-worthy view of the famous vineyards, and plenty of wine-tastings to savor, be sure to make your way to Quinta do Naval by the River Pinhão. Renting a bike to tour the region is another great way to take in the views while also being able to make various pit-stops in the many quaint, historical villages. Complete your visit by indulging in a stay at the luxurious Six Senses Douro Valley, an American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts property, which sits hillside along the river and features a wine library of over 750 varieties, open-air meditation, and, of course, plenty of incredible views.
See the Philippines’s Chocolate Hills
They may not be made out of any actual cocoa, but this 20-square mile stretch of greenery featuring over 1,200 hills is certainly a natural sight to behold. Located in the southern province of Bohol, this UNESCO World Heritage Site gets its name from the color the hills turn during the dry season, from late November to May. Though geologists haven’t quite determined how exactly the hills were formed (but lean towards thousands of years of weathering limestone), a visit to this site will invite a variety of legends, from a love story that ended in tears, consequently shaping the hills, to a battle between two friendly giants that left behind a mess of stones and sand. For optimal viewing, skip the crowds at the more popular lookout point in the town of Carmen and head to Sagbayan Peak instead.
Explore Malaysia’s Endangered Wildlife
Home to some of the world’s most beautiful beaches and oldest rainforests, there’s no shortage of biodiversity in this Southeast Asian country, particularly its island of Borneo. And with nearly half of this island’s wildlife currently non-existent elsewhere in the world, making a trip to see rarities like the endangered orangutans, will be well worth any traveler’s while. To see these primates in their homeland, and learn about how you can help protect them, start at the Sepilok Orangutan Rehabilitation Centre in East Sabah or the Semenggoh Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre. If you’re looking to spot more of the island’s creatures, consider a boat trip down the Kinabatangan River, Malaysia’s second longest river, where pythons and elephants live alongside each other. If you’re not afraid of heights, take a canopy walk elevated up in one of the island’s many lush rainforests to scope out rare birds and exotic plants.
Try Forest Bathing in Japan
Known as “shinrin-yoku” in Japanese, this idea of fully submerging yourself into a forest atmosphere has become a more popular wellness trend in recent years, though its roots trace back to the 1980s. Hailed for its physical, emotional, and mental health benefits—from boosting our immune system functions to improving sleep—forest bathing can be done anywhere outdoors that relaxes you (note that traditionally, it is separate from any form of exercising). But if you are able to, why not practice shinrin-yoku in its national birthplace? Consider roaming the beech trees of the Bijin Bayahski Forest in Hokuriku, submerging yourself in the century-old cedars and thick greenery of Yakushima, part of the Kirishima-Yaku National Park, or wandering Kitago Miyazaki’s visitor-friendly paths to a rejuvenating five-layer waterfall. If you’re unsure about embarking on your own, search for a local forest bathing guide to help you get started.
Go Caving in the Czech Republic
If underground wonders are what you’re after, touring the many limestone caverns of the Moravian Karst are sure to satiate your curiosities. Start your exploration with a dry, stalactite-studded walk through the Punkva caves before switching over to a boat ride along the Punkva underground river that will lead you to the mouth of the Macocha Abyss, a sinkhole that runs more than 400 feet deep—the deepest in Central Europe. While you can see the abyss from various viewing points overhead, taking the full tour through the caverns will leave you with the best experience (and an opportunity to spot its rare flowers up close). And if you’re keeping tabs on eerie cave tales, this labyrinth of natural hideaways packs plenty of haunting myths and legends to keep you on your toes while touring.
Take a Safari Trek in Tanzania
If you’re after an animal-seeking adventure, consider a safari in this East African wildlife wonderland. Beloved for some of the continent’s most wondrous natural landmarks, from the Serengeti National Park to Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania also boasts an incredible habitat of creatures. And while many visitors may head for the Ngorongoro Crater to spot lions and leopards, nature-lovers will also appreciate the equally-breathtaking and less crowded Tarangire National Park, well known for its elephant migration and birding. For optimal viewing, aim to plan your trip between July and October. Once the sun sets, keep the explorations going by booking a night drive with local camps like Little Oliver’s, an intimate accommodation featuring five private tents and an idyllic backdrop of baobab trees. And if you’re really looking to escape in nature, consider a stay in one of Lake Manyara Tree Lodge’s remote but luxurious treehouse suites.
Get Fresh Air in Canada’s Banff National Park
As one of the country’s oldest national parks, nestled in the Rocky Mountains, Banff boasts over 2,500 square miles of pristine mountains, glaciers, and forests. Boarded by three other national parks, British Columbia, and Alberta, this natural oasis is one of North America’s most visited national parks for a few good reasons. In the winter, skiers can take in numerous unbeatable slopes while non-skiers try their hand at snowshoeing, dog sledding, or skating the frozen Lake Louise; come summer, hiking the Tunnel Mountain trail, canoeing through Moraine Lake, and scuba-diving in Lake Minnewanka will be your more scenic ways to get around. With over 3 million visitors every year, most during the peak season of summer and winter, consider traveling during the off-months of spring and fall, if possible, as you’ll still be able to indulge in the park’s many seasonal activities minus crazy crowds.
Traverse Around Ireland’s Cliffs
There’s no place like The Emerald Isle to surround yourself with rolling hills for miles and overlooking cliffs of green. For a trip to remember with irresistible views of the Atlantic, head out for the Dingle Peninsula which lines the country’s southwest coast. Pack up your car, or dare to explore the peninsula by bike, and prepare to wind through spectacular lookout points like Mount Brandon, Ireland’s second tallest mountain, and the uninhabited Blasket Islands at the westernmost point in Europe. Craving to climb higher? Book a boat tour, weather permitting, to the nearby Skellig Islands, home to an abundance of adorable puffins; then, lace up your walking boots for a 600-step climb to the top of Skellig Michael. Though steep, the hike promises a final view that could only come out of a storybook (though you may also recognize the Islands from their Hollywood moment in the most recent Star Wars film). As the Islands are only open to tourists from May to September, and cap daily visitors to 180, be sure to book your boat tickets well in advance.