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Reconnecting with nature has been shown to offer a wealth of mental and physical benefits, not to mention the sheer enjoyment being surrounded by beautiful scenery can bring. If you hope to experience a vacation that offers the chance to immerse yourself in nature, these destinations are ideal.
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In Lapland, in northern Finland, there are igloos, hotel rooms, and other accommodation options that were specially designed for enjoying the spectacular colorful natural light show known as the Aurora Borealis. Oulanka National Park is just one great spot in this region for viewing the dancing lights during the aurora sighting season, which falls in October and November as well as March and April. This magnificent park in the far north sits among a breathtaking rugged landscape of snow-covered forests with candle spruces standing frozen before a backdrop of the brilliant aurora. During the day, enjoy cross-country skiing, snow-shoeing, or even igloo building. Cozy log cabins located right in the park are ideal for laying your head down at night and make a great base to combine a vacation of winter sports with the chance to watch one of the greatest wonders of nature after dark.
Known as “The Nature Island of the Caribbean,” Dominica is an obvious choice for those who want to get back to nature. It has an incredibly lush landscape that includes volcanic hot springs, natural mud baths, countless rivers and waterfalls, unspoiled rain forest, and refreshing natural swimming holes. On Black Sand Beach, you can even visit a leatherback, hawksbill, and green turtle sanctuary. Dominica is also renowned for its whale watching opportunities, with a resident population of sperm whales that live just off the coast and are often visible from shore. The sheer underwater drop-offs around Dominica create deep, sheltered bays along the western coastline, making the perfect haven for divers to explore, and the sperm whale to breed and calve.
With a long list of outdoor adventures, Gros Morne offers striking natural beauty in western Newfoundland. This national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site stretches across nearly 700 square miles as part of the Long Range Mountains. Encircled by tiny seaside communities, it features dense forests, freshwater fjords, dramatic cliffs, and picturesque shorelines as well as barren lowlands, bogs and moose. It’s also known for its unique and complex geology, including the Tablelands, a mountain of flat-topped rock – a type of which is usually found only deep in the earth’s mantle, and truly an awe-inspiring sight. Hiking, camping, canoeing and kayaking are all popular here. If camping is a bit too “back to nature” for you, you’ll find plenty of cabin and cottage rentals that will put you right in the heart of it all.
Virgin Gorda offers everything you could ever want in a tropical, getting back to nature retreat. Famous for The Baths, a geological wonder on the north shore made up of giant granite boulders that form sheltered sea pools on the beach’s edge, it seems as if it was perfectly made for a relaxing splash in the water. The protected area also includes Devil’s Bay, ideal for swimming and snorkeling. The North Sound, on the northeast shore of Virgin Gorda, is a major water sports center in the British Virgin Islands, while Gorda Peak National Park offers fabulous hiking opportunities and the chance to view Christmas orchids, bromeliads, and hummingbirds.
The Swiss Alps offer some of Europe’s most dramatic natural scenery, with lush, green valleys dotted with colorful wildflowers that give way to spectacular snow-covered rocky peaks. Of course, the Matterhorn is its most famous peak, jutting into the sky like a 15,000-foot tall pyramid. The “Mountain of Mountains,” as it’s sometimes called, straddles the Swiss-Italian border, though its highest summit stands in Switzerland. It towers over the picturesque, car-free village of Zermatt, and if you aren’t up for climbing it, you can get to the top by riding a cable car that leads all the way to the summit, the highest scenic outlook platform in Europe.
This national park that covers the Durmitor Mountain Range and a narrow branch heading east along the Tara River offers absolutely jaw-dropping scenic beauty. The dramatic landscape, carved from limestone with ice and water over time, is home to nearly 50 peaks that tower over 6,500 feet in altitude. Three magnificent canyons can also be found here, including the wild Tara River, home to the deepest gorge in all of Europe, and rivers even flow under the park as well. Reach the high plateau by taking one of the numerous trails, three shelters are available for those who’d like to overnight: a hut, a refuge, and a bivouac. Be sure to visit the ice cave, filled with icy stalactites and stalagmites all year round – a perfect place for hikers to cool off, even in the middle of July, with cold water dripping from the ceiling.
This small collection of islands in the western Pacific Ocean boasts some of the best diving and snorkeling sites in the world. In 2005, the president declared the conservation of one-third of near-shore coastal waters and 20 percent of forest land by 2020. One of the best Pacific Islands to visit, these islands are also home to the first shark sanctuary in the world, a massive more than 231,661-square-kilometer area of protected space. The Rock Islands, which many became familiar with after watching “Survivor Palau,” are ancient relics of coral reefs that make up 300 islands in the Southern Lagoon of Palau. Most are uninhabited and are renowned for their unusual shape and fine, powdery sand beaches, but even more so for their azure-hued lagoons. The islands are also home to famed Jellyfish Lake, where millions of golden jellyfish live, harmless to humans, and a number of other surprises, like the Milky Way which is a bay filled with white limestone known for rejuvenating the skin.
Last but certainly not least, Iceland is filled with spectacular natural attractions that make it one of the best places in the world for reconnecting with nature. There are countless waterfalls to gaze at, hot springs to soak in and caves to explore. Be sure to check out Seljalandsfoss, one of the nation’s most photographed falls. Located near the southern coast, it plummets nearly 200 feet into a pool below, and if you walk around to the back of the cascade, you can feel the spray of the water on your skin while enjoying a unique perspective that few others get to experience. Horseback riding, mountain biking, whale watching, sea kayaking and snorkeling are just a few of the other great ways to experience it.
Surrounded by three majestic volcanoes, German explorer and naturalist Alexander von Humboldt called this breathtaking lake “the most beautiful lake in the world.” Situated in the Guatemalan Highlands of the Sierra Madre mountain range, it’s defined by tranquility and calm, providing an especially inspiring backdrop for meditation, yoga and contemplation. From the brilliant colors to the crisp mountain air, here it’s easy to become one with nature again. Enjoy soaking up the scenery while hiking, kayaking or biking, and immerse yourself in Mayan culture, after all, this culture didn’t totally disappear. Residents even wear a signature style of clothing that reveals the town in which they live.
The chance to disconnect with the chaos of the modern world and reconnect with nature is just one of the reasons McLean’s Tsylos Park Lodge so special. You’ll also have the opportunity to reconnect with yourself, your loved ones, and maybe even one of your true passions. Forget about text messaging and computers, here you can truly soak in the peace and tranquility of nature. The lodge offers a perfect gathering place, along with delicious meals, for conversations around the table and sitting around the cozy fire. During the day there are a variety of activities to choose from, including world-class fly fishing and canoeing on the Chilko River as well as horseback riding and hiking among spectacular mountain views.
It seems just about every visitor to Slovenia heads to the famous Lake Bled, but Lake Bohinj, just 40 minutes away, offers a more tranquil wilderness experience and dazzling shades of green in every direction. Just northeast near the town of Stara Fuzina is the turquoise Mostnica River, which runs through a spectacular gorge with waterfalls, and at the south side of the lake, Mount Vogel offers stunning hikes that lead to views over the lake.
Located in the middle of the Atlantic, some 850 miles off mainland Portugal’s coast, the stunning colors of The Azores are filled with natural wonders that can inspire wanderlust with just one photo. The archipelago is renowned for its lush green valleys, waterfalls, dramatic cliffs and beautiful blue hydrangeas. Look forward to soaking in natural hot springs surrounded by dazzling scenery, hiking, whale watching, and fueling your appetite with delicious cuisine that attracts foodies from across the globe. Sample everything from exotic fruits and fresh seafood to a pork, beef and veggie stew that’s steamed underground, thanks to the volcanic geothermal features in the islands.
The Aran Islands lie off Ireland’s Galway coast, accessed by ferry from Rossaveal or Doolin. The three islands, Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer, collectively have a population of only 1,200 year-round residents – there are more sheep than humans found here. Look forward to dreamy landscapes, including beaches that look as if they were stolen from the Caribbean, a maze of stone walls, archaeological sites, and rare wildflowers in late spring and early summer. The most peaceful of all is tiny Inisheer, just two-square miles in size, providing the perfect spot for immersing yourself in nature and quiet contemplation.
Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula is filled with striking natural beauty that includes breathtaking waterfalls that spill into emerald pools, like the 89-foot-high Sopot near the village of Floricici, along with dense forests, caves, rich flora and fauna. A bird watcher’s paradise, there are some 220 bird species at Palm cove, its first ornithological park, located southwest of beautiful Rovinj. Visit Sacred Rock on Verudela in Pula for a magnificent sea view, and in north-west Istria, from the picturesque town of Oprtalj which sits on a hill near Motovun, you’ll get a panoramic view of olive groves, vineyards and forest – a vista often compared to Tuscany without the crowds.
There aren’t many outside of Spain who are familiar with Asturias in the country’s northwest region, but it offers incredible mountain peaks, alpine lakes, waterfalls, crowd-free beaches, and much more. The Covadonga Lakes is a must-visit, as is the Picos de Europas, with miles and miles of incredibly scenic hikes. When it comes to beaches, be sure to check out Playa del Toro near the village of Llanes with its unique rock formations. Playa de las Catedrales boasts natural stone arches that form a “cathedral” one can walk through at low tide.
Greenland is one of the world’s most mysterious destinations, with Disko Bay perfectly illustrating its untouched allure, complete with massive icebergs, charming coastal towns and abundant wildlife like humpback whales and multiple seal species. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is where one can often hear the thunder sounds of glaciers’ calving, or breaking off from the glaciers, floating out into the coastal waters. The immense Sermeq Kujalleq glacier has calved icebergs as large as 1.5 cubic kilometers of ice, the equivalent of 30 football fields covered by a layer of ice as high as Mount Everest.
The Faroe Islands are renowned for their wild coastlines, puffins and grass-roofed homes, although Mulafossur Waterfall may be its most famous image. It spills over Vagar Island’s rocky cliffs near the tiny village of Gásadalur, providing one of the most awe-inspiring views in the archipelago. Nature enthusiasts will find lots to love throughout the islands, from sea stacks and other waterfalls to dramatic gorges and cliffs. Of course, puffin-watching is a popular pursuit here too.
Located in the Andes Mountains of Bolivia, Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat. It covers 3,860 square miles, creating what appears to be an unending landscape of white during the dry season. It may be even more impressive in the rainy season when it is covered in water, resembling a massive mirror with the blue sky adding to make an even more surreal landscape. Natural hot springs, geysers, rock formations and colorful lakes attracting hundreds of pink flamingos can all be found in this region too.