Bagan, Myanmar's ancient capital enchants. This vast stretch of land is peppered with over two thousand Buddhist structures, which interrupt the vegetation and dusty plain with their gold-topped spires and sculpted pagodas. At dawn the views are even more mesmerising. Hot-air balloons sweep over the landscape, while the low-slung mist below gradually lifts to reveal countless ornate structures set against a hazy, orange sky.
Glide along the Ganges as Varanasi, India's holiest city, enters a new day. From a boat you can watch as the stone ghats that line the riverbanks flood with colour. Pilgrims and residents gather here first thing to perform puja ('respect') to the rising sun, do laundry or take a morning dip in the waters.
Boasting perfectly distilled Wild West scenery – an expanse of red sands broken only by sandstone buttes and rocky pinnacles – Monument Valley has long been the go-to location for Hollywood films. Its harsh beauty is breathtaking, but if after all the movies it seems a bit too familiar then a trip at dawn can recapture the magic of the place. As the sun rises, the sky is washed with crimson, creating a dramatic backdrop for the 400m-high turrets, stark buttes and brooding mesas.
Cappadocia is quite simply one of the most bizarre places on earth. This land of strange formations has everything from age-old underground cities to 30m-high rocky spires nicknamed “fairy chimneys”. And at first light it feel even more unreal. As the sun rises this vast, lunar landscape is slowly unveiled against a crimson-stained sky – best viewed from a hot-air balloon.
Accompanied by a mesmerising call to prayer, hot-air balloons sweep over Cappadocia's plunging canyons, high plateaus and underground dwellings.
Waking up early for a pitch-black, sticky hike through mountain forests to reach Machu Picchu may not sound tempting. But arriving there before the hoards of tourists is well worth the effort. Once at the top you can watch as the sun's rays spread across the ancient site, revealing stone-carved buildings, steep pathways and sculpted terraces, all set against a backdrop of deep valleys and the the distant snow-capped peaks of Salcantay.
Getting close to a mountain gorilla in Rwanda’s Volcanoes National Park is one of Africa's most unforgettable experiences. The strenuous, guided trek sets off at dawn and takes you high into the Virunga Volcanoes, home to more than half of the world's remaining nine hundred mountain gorillas. It may be hard work, but it's all worth it when you finally get face-to-face with one of these magnificent, surprisingly well-tempered beasts.
Forming a bridge between the Alps and the rest of the country, Lake Garda is Italy's largest lake. To the north it's hemmed in by village-freckled mountains, while at its southern end the lake spreads out. One of the most scenic spots to stay is Sirmione. Only accessed through ancient castle walls, the village squeezes along a narrow promontory out into the waters. Climb the castle turrets to witness the views out over the tiled rooftops, turquoise waters, and distant cypress-clad slopes.
Rent a boat and explore the lake yourself – a small island with a lone palace atop is within easy reach.
Ponce holds Puerto Rico’s oldest and most dazzling Carnaval, opening with a procession led by King Momo (the traditional “King of Carnivals”) and figures known as vejigantes, mostly local boys whose ornate masks are embellished with vivid colours and devilish horns. The festivities come to an end on Shrove Tuesday, culminating with the Entierro de la Sardina (Burial of the Sardine), a bizarre mock funeral procession where a fish is burnt to signify the purging of sins before the beginning of Lent.
From hawkers with cauldrons of soup hanging from shoulder poles, to pushcarts, market stalls and makeshift “kitchens”, Vietnam’s street-food scene is unsurpassed. One of the best places to snack to your heart’s content is Hué, which boasts an array of speciality foods. Favourites include: banh khoai, a fried pancake with pork, shrimp and bean sprouts, served with a sesame and peanut sauce; bun bo, a deliciously spicy noodle soup; and chè, a drink made from fruit, lotus seed or a blend of green bean and coconut.
A small country with an incredibly diverse ecosystem, Guatemala is a must-visit destination for wildlife-lovers. One of the best areas to explore are the dramatic lowlands of the northern department of Petén. This vast area covers around a third of the country, yet only holds just over three percent of Guatemala's population. Here ancient mahogany trees stretch 50m skyward, sheltering a rich variety of wildlife that ranges from lumbering tapir to ocelots, and colourful birds of paradise to jaguars.
This expanse of tropical rainforest, swamp and savannah stretches into southern Mexico and across the Maya Mountains to Belize, and huge tracts remain virtually untouched.
From the Brick Lane's vintage stores to the floral abundance of Columbia Road, London’s East End markets could fill a weekend of browsing and bargain hunting. But for the best foodie shopping, head to Borough Market, which is tucked under the railway arches between Borough High Street and Southwark Cathedral. There's still an early-morning wholesale fruit and vegetable market, but these days Borough Market is best known for its specialist food, with stalls selling high-end produce from around the world.
Once a sleepy fishing village, over the last 25 years Hurghada has become a tourist destination. And it was diving – some of the best in Egypt – that put it on the map. Coral islands and reefs are only a few hours away by boat, while a clutch of further-flung sites can be visited on dive safaris and live-aboards. In the shallows there's an abundance of marine life, while the deeper waters are home to lurker sharks, giant moray eels and manta rays.
From the magnificent pyramidal temples of Angkor Wat and Pre Rup to the maze-like monasteries of Banteay Kdei and Ta Prohm, the temples of Angkor are one of the greatest architectural showpieces on earth. Seemingly sprinkled across a vast area of countryside, the temples were once at the centre of villages, towns and cities. Time has taken its toll; the surrounding houses and buildings have vanished and many of the monuments themselves have been smothered by the ever-encroaching jungle.
Standing at a skyscraping crossroads – the Himalaya, Karakorum, Hindu Kush and Tien Shan ranges meet here – the magnificent Pamirs remain one of the most unexplored places on the planet. Known as Bam-i-Dunya (“Roof of the World”), this vast, rugged stretch of Central Asia boasts astounding crested peaks and stretches of undulating fields. While many of Tajikistan’s hundred-odd mountains have never been scaled, you can climb Peak Lenin, which at 7134m is the country's second-highest mountain.
The unique landscape gives awesome opportunities for hiking and climbing, and visitors can even try camping with nomads or bareback riding.
Daring but pricy, heliskiing is endlessly exhilarating. One of the best places to give it a go is in British Columbia, Canada. Cornices and drop-offs that seemed forbidding from the helicopter will be enticingly adventurous; trees that from a distance looked impossibly dense reveal tempting paths; and you’ll drop into inclines that would have been unthinkable on harder snow, plunging in and out of chest-deep powder again and again.
Sitting pretty on the shores of near-landlocked Guanabara Bay, no other city in the world can compete with Rio de Janeiro’s sensational combination of raw urban sprawl, sweeping sandy shoreline and lush jungle-clad mountains. Even the city's skyscrapers manage to look magnificent against their verdant backdrop. At sunset it’s easy to see why Rio’s citizens call it the Cidade Marvil: as dusk falls, look down on sparkling Rio, its city lights slowly gathering against the silky waters of the ocean.
The huge, elegant, and much-photographed Chinese fishing nets lining the northern shore of Fort Cochin are probably the single most familiar image of Kerala. The nets are said to have been introduced to the Malabar region by traders from the court of Kublai Khan. They're best seen at sunset, when the glowing, reddish orb of the sun hovers behind the mesh, and fishermen dart about in the foreground, preparing to head out for a long night on the water.
The Bristol Bay fishing village of Naknek in Alaska is the scene of the world’s largest sockeye run, with over twenty million fish passing between mid-June and the end of July. Around seventy percent of the world’s red salmon is caught in Bristol Bay, and three-quarters of those are fished out of the river in and around Naknek. Once the season starts, fishing boats are gunwhale to gunwhale, vying to be the first to get their nets in the water.
Such is the remoteness, there’s no reason to come here – except, perhaps, for some solitary sunset fishing.
On pink-hued summer evenings, crowds of locals and tourists alike gather at Zadar's harbour to view its famous sunset. Adding to the magical experience is architect Nikola Bašic's Sea Organ, which emits an otherworldly melody from the sea rushing through its underwater pipes. Once the sun has almost disappeared on the horizon, Bašic's Monument to the Sun comes alive, its dancing coloured lights enchanting both young and old.
Five million people visit the Grand Canyon every year, and it's no wonder why; the distinctive burnt orange stripes of the immense rock formation, its swooping bends and craggy heights, are nothing short of awe-inspiring. Helicopter tours will give you a sense of the enormous scale of the canyon - a mind-boggling 277 miles long and one mile deep - but nothing beats the on-top-of-the-world feeling of standing at the top of the canyon's plateau.
With rugged rocks below and an almost flat landscape above, the Grand Canyon is like a mountain range turned on its head.
One of the holiest places in Myanmar, Kyaiktiyo is a major draw for Buddhist pilgrims, with thousands visiting every day during the pilgrimage season. The site also pulls substantial numbers of non-believers, attracted by the pagoda's spectacular location rising out of the huge Golden Rock, high up in the Eastern Yoma Mountains. Pilgrims throng Kyaiktiyo both day and night, but activity is greatest early in the morning and at dusk, with people praying, lighting candles and making offerings.
Nowhere encapsulates colourful, fast-moving Marrakesh more than Jemaa El Fna. The huge square is lined with street vendors and performers throughout the day and as the sun goes down, it fills with people, the aroma of traditional Moroccan dishes steaming on food stands intensifies and the stalls' lights are illuminated, washing the packed market place in a dusty glow. As the world goes to sleep, the heart of Marrakesh is only just getting started.
There's a tantalising range of food and drink on offer, with everything from freshly squeezed orange juice, couscous and tajine to sheep's head and stewed snails.
Bangkok's heady mix of bustling urban streets, cultural sites and lively nightlife contribute to make it the most-visited city in the world. After a day exploring the city's rich offerings, head to the Lebua Hotel, whose majestic golden dome towers over the city. Stop for a drink at its sleek bar and, jutting out over the rooftops of Bangkok's skyscrapers, you'll have the best seat in the city to take in magnificent panoramic views of Thailand's sprawling capital.
Head out into the frozen darkness of Swedish Lapland's winter to catch the breathtaking but elusive spectacle of the Northern Lights. Caused by solar particles hitting the earth’s atmosphere, each hue – from pale green to dark pink – is produced by a different element. Give yourself a week or two for the best chance of seeing them; pitch a tent, bring a sturdy tripod and keep your fingers crossed (inside a good pair of mittens) for cloudless skies.
Banish any thoughts of glow-paint ravers, as Vietnam’s Full-Moon Festival in Hoi An is a much more sophisticated affair. As dusk encroaches on the fourteenth day of every month, the city is transformed into a magical scene with hundreds of glowing silk lanterns lighting its narrow alleys and lining the banks of the Thu Bon River. By nightfall, crowds of people have gathered along the riverbank to set tiny flickering candles adrift on the lazy waters.