8 amazing locations, 8 stunning photos
Some years ago I traveled widely researching a book for the BBC called "Unforgettable Places to See Before You Die."
A couple of years later I flew the equivalent of seven times around the world photographing another book -- "Unforgettable Islands to Escape Before You Die."
I went to all of the most well known tourist sites, and also to a whole lot of more eclectic places.
There are many travel bucket lists out there, and rather than just reiterate the same old best-ofs, this is my list of places that you really should get to see once you have done the more usual suspects.
Dead Vlei, Namibia
Walking across the parched, cracked clay surface of the pan of Dead Vlei, in the Namib Nakluft National Park in Namibia, it's hard to comprehend distance and scale.
Formed by historic rainfall, at one end there is a collection of ancient and desiccated camelthorn trees, that are reputed to be 900 years old. On the other, the pan is dominated by the looming bulk of Big Daddy -- one of the tallest sand dunes in the world.
As I walk toward the dune it seems to grow bigger until, confused by scale, I finally reach the hard edge where the red sand forms an emphatic line on the white clay of the pan.
The views from Big Daddy down on to the pan are spectacular, although it is a grinding walk to get to the top.
The most adventurous way to get down is straight over the steep side facing the pan. Almost sheer, I struggle to maintain my balance and end up falling and tumbling my way to the bottom, covered in sand but exhilarated and breathless.
Dead Vlei is accessible by private vehicle or light aircraft from the capital Windhoek; www.namibiatourism.org
Iguassu Falls, Brazil/Argentina
The Iguassu Falls are without doubt, the most spectacular waterfalls I have ever seen. A series of atmospheric cataracts, Iguassu feels like it has been ordered from a catalogue, where all of the optional extras have been added and blended together in perfect harmony.
Try to spend some time here and view the falls from both the Brazilian and Argentinian sides. There are a series of walks through verdant rainforest, where semi-tame Caotis scuttle up to me, and beg for scraps like squirrels in a London park.
The most spectacular cataract is the horseshoe-shaped Garganta del Diablo, or Mouth of the Devil.
On the Argentine side there is a concrete walkway right to the very edge where I stand, buffeted and deafened by the roaring wind that is caused by an inconceivable amount of water cascading into the chasm below.
Iguassu Falls can be approached from either Brazil or Argentina. There are flights from Rio or Buenos Aires; www.hoteldascataratas.com
This small town in the remote Thar Desert of Rajasthan is dominated by one of the most complete and atmospheric forts I have seen.
Jaisalmer fort consists of three layers of walls and 99 bastions. Built of yellow sandstone it sits on a large bluff that squats over the jumble of buildings in the old town.
Dating to 1156, the fort has fallen twice in the battles between the city states of Rajasthan.
Walking through the ancient warren of streets it's easy to get lost, as buildings rise steeply on either side, making it all but impossible for me to see the direction of the sun.
This is a living fort and locals still go about their day to day lives inside the walls. I turn a corner and see a cow blocking the path. Made indolent by generations of adulation, it is not going to move and I have to give way to get past it.
Jaisalmer can be reached by night train from Delhi or Jodhpur. Flights are available from many cities to Jodhpur; www.incredibleindia.org
Remote Pentecost Island in the archipelago of Vanuatu in the South Pacific is home to one of the most bizarre traditions in the world: the nagol or land-diving.
In this ancient ceremony villagers throw themselves from giant wooden towers, secured only by vines fixed around their ankles. The whole village turns out to see the jumping, all in traditional dress which includes penis sheaths for the men.
They sing and chant to build up the confidence of the jumpers, who throw themselves off successively higher platforms.
The jumpers hit the ground hard, although the vines do break their fall. This is not some sanitized ritual. People are injured, and recently one of the jumpers was killed.
Pentecost is a short flight from Port Vila, which is reachable from Sydney or Auckland; www.vanuatu.travel
In Ethiopia, Christianity dates to the first century AD and has developed in a way that is uniquely Ethiopian. There are ancient churches all over the country, but those in the remote town of Lalibela are carved from solid rock.
The most spectacular is Beta Giyorgis, the Church of St George, that dates to the 12th Century.
The exterior was created by digging a courtyard out of a solid plateau of rock, then the interior was hollowed out, creating an ornate building in the shape of an Ethiopian cross in a single solid piece of rock.
Walking inside during one of the many religious services I see priests reading from an illustrated bible, created hundreds of years ago in ancient Amharic on goatskin pages, as pilgrims clamor to kiss a cross.
Ethiopian Airways has a wide variety of flights to Addis Ababa from all over the world. There are internal flights from Addis Ababa to Lalibela; www.selamta.net
The waterfront of the island of Lamu on the northern coast of Kenya appears to have changed little for generations, and conjures up images of Arab traders and Victorian explorers heading into the interior.
Ancient wooden dhows bob gently and the maze of tiny alleyways still ring with the echoing clip-clop of donkeys.
In the center of town, I sit in the shady square at the foot of the old fort, watching locals meet and gossip. The fort is almost 200 years old and was funded by the Sultan of Oman who formed an alliance with the local Swahili state to secure the trade with Africa.
Lamu has a bizarrely eclectic feel.
Although an important Islamic pilgrimage site, it also attracts a smattering of European royalty and international superstars. At the local Peponi Hotel -- an old colonial classic -- I drink in the bar that once famously ejected Mick Jagger for smoking a 'dodgy' cigarette.
Lamu is a short flight from the capital Nairobi; www.peponi-lamu.com
Rapa Nui, Chile
Rapa Nui -- the island formerly known as Easter -- is a strangely haunting place. Hailed as the most remote inhabited island in the World, Rapa Nui is most well known for the enigmatic carved Moai.
These ancient stone statues litter the island. In places they are collected together into rows called Ahu.
The most famous of these is Ahu Tongariki, where 15 moai stand sentinel in a line. Inside the nearby Rano Raraku volcano I come across a number of unfinished moai still lying where they have been carved, sticking up at strange angles like broken teeth.
The people who constructed the moai came by small boats from Polynesia and have all but disappeared through internal strife and subsequent conquests of the island.
Little is known for certain about their culture and how the moai were transported to the various locations around the island.
Rapa Nui can be reached by LAN Chile flight from Santiago or from Tahiti; www.chile.travel
The Svalbard Archipelago is the perfect response to anyone who thinks that traveling in Europe is boring.
Flying into the frontier town of Longyearbyen on the main island of Spitsbergen, it doesn't take long for me to be reminded that you are in polar bear country.
A giant stuffed bear squats in the middle of the baggage reclaim, and even on the outskirts of town you are advised to have an armed guard in case you encounter this apex predator.
This is the base for summer cruises into the high Arctic, but I head out by snowmobile to explore the stunning scenery and stay at the Ship in the Ice.
This 100-year-old wooden Dutch schooner is frozen into the ice of a remote fjord -- one of the most bizarre hotels in the world.
Svalbard is accessible by plane from Oslo; consider the weather and arrange accommodation before arrival; www.basecampspitsbergen.com