Honeymoon & Vacation Inspiration: Lonely Planet Ranks 500 Best Places on the Planet

Lists.  We humans like lists and Lonely Planet has created a whopper of a travel list.

They ranked the 500 Best Places on the Planet in a new hardcover book titled Lonely Planet’s Ultimate Travel: Our List of the 500 Best Places on the Planet – Ranked

The book will be released on October 6th but we’re here with a preview, covering the top 8 (plus 2 more in the top 20) places with just enough info to help you determine whether or not to dig further.

If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to planning your honeymoon or your next vacation, a list like this can  spur some fresh thoughts and get you headed toward a trip that isn’t just run-of-the-mill.

So let’s get started, and take a look at the top 8 entries (and numbers 18 and 19) on the Lonely Planet list, and include a “would this be a good choice for a honeymoon” theme?

Note: All writing below is my own.

1. Temples of Angkor (Cambodia)

Angkor Wat from le_bee_
The sun rising behind Angkor Wat paints the sky in beautiful orange and peach hues, complementing the incredible architecture of the temple built in the 12th century. (Photo courtesy of @le_bee_)

Reflecting the skyrocketing name recognition and popularity of Angkor Wat, the Temples of Angkor in Cambodia grab the top spot on Lonely Planet’s list.  In fact, the Lonely Planet crew says that the temples won the top slot in a landslide!

The most well-known of the group of 1,000 temples, shrines and tombs in the area is Angkor Wat, which translates to “Temple City.”  It is located about 3 miles north of Siem Reap, a much more modern town.  The temple itself dates back to the 12th century, founded originally as a Hindu temple but later transforming to a Buddhist site.  It is one of the 148 UNESCO World Heritage cultural sites in Asia and the Pacific.

The temple is an impressive example of engineering and construction, having more stone volume and mass than the Great Pyramid of Giza.  It is the largest religious building in the world, yet almost all of its surfaces, columns, lintels and roofs are carved.  It is an archaeologist’s and historian’s dream.  With such detail present, you’ll want to allot at least three days to visit Angkor Wat and some of the other nearby temples.

Cambodia (Southeast Asia in general) is a great vacation destination for frugal travelers as the cost of living in that area is very low.  For Americans, a visit involves quite a long flight and you’ll sometimes find that accommodations are not always up to Western standards.  So it may not be the best honeymoon destination for a lot of newlyweds.  That said (written), Patty and I included a visit to the Philippines in our around-the-world honeymoon and we were blown away by the natural beauty and also very impressed with the friendliness and service in Southeast Asia.

2. Great Barrier Reef (Australia)

The natural beauty of the Great Barrier Reef is matched perhaps only by its vastness.  The reef attracts and amazes millions of visitors annually with coral, fish, sea turtle and avian offerings galore. (Photo courtesy of Toby Hudson)

Number 2 on the list is no surprise at all.  The Great Barrier Reef, widely recognized as one of the most amazing natural sights on Earth, is vast and awe-inspiring.  This natural wonder, which may date to 20 million years ago, is located off the coast of Australia.  It is the world’s largest reef system, composed of 2,900+ individual reefs.  It is so large that it can be clearly seen from outer space.

Of course the appeal of the reef is a combination of the coral and plant life and the fish and other animals.  On a snorkeling or diving trip you’ll have a decent shot of seeing whales, dolphins, porpoises or sea turtles and fish….lots of fish.  About 10% of the world’s fish species are present within the reef.  Above the water, you can catch a glimpse of some of the 200+ species of birds that visit the reef.

With all of this to offer, it’s understandable that it attracts over two million visitors per year.  The Great Barrier Reef itself is quite the draw and with other incredible attractions on mainland Australia, it makes for a “great” centerpiece of a honeymoon.

3. Machu Picchu (Peru)

Machu Picchu, located atop a mountain ridge in Peru, is a remnant of Incan civilization. Built in the 15th century, it was abandoned during the Spanish Conquest, but has since become one of the most popular tourist attractions in all of South America. (Photo courtesy of Paul Johnson)

Machu Picchu grabs the honor of being the first South American place on Lonely Planet’s list.  Located in Peru, this remnant of Incan civilization has become one of the most popular tourist attractions on the continent.

Situated on a mountain ridge about 50 miles northwest of Cuzco, Machu Picchu was built as an estate for the Inca emperor Pachacuti (1438–1472).  Historians believe The Incas built the estate around 1450, only to abandon it about a century later during the Spanish Conquest.  It remained widely unknown to the outside world until the early 1900’s when it was publicized by the American historian Hiram Bingham.

Much of Machu Picchu has been reconstructed to reflect better the original buildings.  It was awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1983 and about 25 years later it was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

Getting to Machu Picchu is no easy task (hence the fact the outside world didn’t know about it until the 1900’s).  The least labor-intensive approach is to take a four-hour train ride from Cusco followed by a 30 minute bus ride.  For the adventurous types, multi-day hiking/camping tours exist and there are other combinations of vehicle/hiking also.  On its own, Machu Picchu isn’t necessarily a great honeymoon option but it could be a nice addition to a South American honeymoon itinerary which includes visits to modern cities such as Buenos Aires or Lima.

4. Great Wall of China (China, duh)

Great Wall of China
Stretching for thousands of kilometers, the Great Wall of China is actually a group of walls built at different times.

The Great Wall of China, fourth on Lonely Planet’s list, wasn’t built as one entity.  It was actually built in phases separated by hundreds of years, starting in the 200s BC and ending in the 17th century AD.  Much of the wall was built and remains in desert areas of the country.  The walls’ conditions currently range from near pristine to dilapidated.

Somewhat of a man-made analogue to the natural Great Barrier Reef, the Great Wall of China is geographically enormous, stretching for several thousand kilometers.  This means there are many, many places to check out the wall.

Though an incredible feat of engineering and construction, the Great Wall of China isn’t necessarily a great centerpiece of a honeymoon.  It is an attractive sight for vacationers headed to China on vacation though.

5. Taj Mahal (India)

The Taj Mahal is the most famous mausoleum in the world. It’s an impressive and beautiful structure, perhaps more appropriate as the centerpiece of a vacation rather than a honeymoon.

The Taj Mahal is no secret – it’s very well-known throughout the world.  It’s somewhat difficult to reach though, requiring a two to three hour drive from the capital city of New Delhi, followed by a long walk or a ride in a rickshaw.  For most visitors though it’s worth the journey.

Patty described visiting the beautiful structure as an emotional experience.  Your exposure to the Taj happens in two stages – your first view of it is through the archway of an adjacent structure, and after that preview, you step through to full, awesome view of the majestic, marble mausoleum.

Unfortunately, Agra, the town in which the Taj Mahal is located, is filled with touts.  So if you’re in India, it’s almost required you visit the Taj Mahal, but one day in Agra should cover it for you.

6. Grand Canyon National Park (USA)

Grand Canyon
The Grand Canyon’s name is no misnomer.  After millions of years of natural erosion by the Colorado River, the gorge stretches over a mile deep in some spots.

The first American place to show up on the list is the spectacular gorge carved into the earth by the Colorado River – the Grand Canyon.  Located in Arizona, it is often considered one of the seven wonders of the natural world.

It was the 17th national park to be established in the USA, gaining that honor in 1919.  With a depth of about 6,000 feet and a width of up to 18 miles across, it is indeed grand.  An estimated 5 million people visit it each year.

The Grand Canyon is a great vacation spot and it could be the centerpiece of a honeymoon for adventure types.  In addition to sightseeing, it is also a great spot for hiking and rafting.  With a permit, you can camp overnight in the Grand Canyon.

7. Colosseum (Rome, Italy)

The Colosseum was the sight of gory battles but the amphitheater has a beautiful aura to it nonetheless. (Photo courtesy of @alam282)

One of the most amazing aspects about European architectural sights is their location.  They are often smack dab in the middle of a metropolis.  Such is the case with the Colosseum.  I remember walking through Rome, taking in somewhat traditional city sights, only to round a corner and see the monstrous amphitheater that dates back nearly 2,000 years.

This man-made wonder covers six acres and held up to 50,000 spectators who were there to watch battles between gladiators, animal hunts, and ruthless executions. Though it was home to such violence there is an undeniable majesty about it, making it the most popular tourist attraction in Rome.

Rome is an incredible city with so much rich architecture and history.  The city alone could serve as a great honeymoon spot for 4-6 days and for longer trips it can be combined with a visit to any of the other great Italian draws, such as Venice, Milan or Cinque Terre.

8. Iguazu Falls (Brazil-Argentina)

Checking in at the eighth spot are the awe-inspiring Iguazu Falls.  If you’d like to see the power of nature on display, a visit to this collection of waterfalls should be on your destination list.  Here the water roars and roars and roars some more.

There are some pretty “ribbon” waterfalls but the main attraction is a furious waterfall known as Garganto del Diablo, translated as The Devil’s Throat.  This massive waterfall is U-shaped, plunging some 300ish feet.  Supposedly the mist that rises from  the Devil’s Throat can reach up to 490 feet at times.

Iguazu Falls has the highest annual average flow of all the waterfalls in the world, including Niagara Falls.  They are also taller than, and twice as wide as Niagara Falls.

The impressive, awe-inspiring falls have evoked a couple famous quotes:

“Poor Niagara” – Elanor Roosevelt

“Holy crap!” – The Honeymoon Guy

Visits are best in the spring and fall when water levels are high but the heat is tolerable.  The falls are located with a rain forest with approximately 2000 plant species.

Hollywood has noticed the impressiveness of Iguazu Falls, using them for movies such as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Miami Vice and many more.  UNESCO also noticed – they declared Iguazu Falls one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature on November 11, 2011 and it is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Iguazu Falls makes for a great vacation destination but the lack of luxury lodging and the somewhat remote location of the falls dissuade me from strongly recommending them as the centerpiece of a honeymoon.

18. Santorini (Greece)

Lights reflect off of the beautiful white buildings of Santorini at night. Set in the South Aegean Sea, about 120 miles from Greece, this island an excellent choice for vacationers and honeymooners alike. (Photo courtesy of Nicholas Stroh)

The 18th spot on Lonely Planet’s list goes to Santorini, the Greek island also known as Thira.  Located in the southern Aegean Sea, about 120 mi  southeast of Greece’s mainland, it is part of an archipelago that was result of an enormous volcanic eruption. Santorini has a hot desert climate, a rarity in Europe.

Santorini attracts many visitors with its impressive architecture and beautiful natural scenery.  The sunsets, especially when viewed from the town of Oia, are sometimes claimed to be the best in the world.

Visits to Santorini should be planned for April through November, as the off-season (December through March) is unappealing with colder temperatures, rain and winds and closed hotels and businesses.  This Greek wonderland is a great spot for vacationers and honeymooners.

19. Galapagos Islands (Ecuador)

A sea lion and its cub lounge on the rocks by the ocean. The sea lions, and other animals, in the Galapagos Islands are not scared of humans as they've never encountered significant hunting by man.
A sea lion and its pup lounge on the volcanic rock surface by the ocean. The sea lions, and other animals, in the Galapagos Islands are not scared of humans as they’ve never encountered significant hunting by man.

The Galapagos Islands may be the most special place I’ve ever visited.  I’m surprised they weren’t higher on this list as they are the epitome of a natural wonderland.

Situated about 600 miles west of mainline Ecuador, the archipelago is replete with beautiful animals, sea life, birds, insects and scenery.  Seriously, even the grasshoppers were stunning!  Choosing one picture for this entry was extremely difficult because we absolutely love dozens of pictures from our trip to the Galapagos.

The wildlife here has not encountered human hunting in any significant way so the animals usually go on about their day even with people nearby.  We had sea lions come right up to us to play and the world-famous Galapagos tortoises meander about as if we didn’t exist (not that they could outrun us anyway!).

Ever since we visited I’ve thought that the Galapagos Islands are a treasure that should be experienced by friends and family.  I think they would make an incredible honeymoon spot, especially in conjunction with a visit to a mainland South American city like Buenos Aires.

The Rest of the Top 20

9. Alhambra (Spain)

10. Aya Sofya (Turkey)

11. Fez Medina (Morocco)

12. Twelve Apostles (Australia)

13. Petra (Jordan)

14. Tikal (Guatemala)

15. British Museum (England)

16. Sagrada Familia (Spain)

17. Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

20. Museum of Old & New Art (Australia)

Europe Dominates the Top 20

Six of the top 20 entries on Lonely Planet’s list are on the European continent, with architectural wonders leading the way.  Asia and Australia/Zealandia have four each.  South America checks in with three attractions – one architectural and two natural – in the top 20 of the list and North America has two.  Africa has just one entry in the top 20 of Lonely Planet’s list.

Have you been to any of the places on the list?  What do you think of the rankings?  Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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