A quick reality check: Life is short and you’re not getting any younger.
You may be a yuppie exhausted with the fast-paced, stress-filled city life, or you may be a retiree struggling with boredom in some sleepy town. You may be single and soulmate-searching, divorced and soul-searching, or perhaps a new couple celebrating young love. Whatever situation you’re in, you can break the monotony of life by adding an exciting hobby or activity to look forward to. And what better way to get that elusive Zen and zest in life than traveling?
A change in scenery, learning different cultures, connecting with people from across the globe, discovering new tastes and flavors, and reconnecting with your spiritual roots—these may help you reset.
A relaxing stroll down a peaceful beach or a more challenging nature walk up a serene mountain may help you unwind and de-stress, reflect and introspect. You don’t need to give up your job or home and become a hobo. All you need is a little saving up and planning to make a yearly trip abroad possible.
Here are 20 destinations in the world to eat, pray and rediscover love – love for humanity, love for nature, love for peace and harmony, and perhaps even love for God.
20 Nuuk, Greenland
Greenland’s capital city, Nuuk, is one of the smallest in the world with a population of around 17,000 people. Nuuk is a still and silent place with an almost otherworldly ice landscape largely untarnished by human influence.
Its majestic fjords, incredibly stunning northern lights, and breathtaking sunrises and sunsets (which by the way are only four meager hours apart come December!) will take your appreciation of Nature and the Maker who designed it to a whole new level. If you’re lucky enough, you may even get invited to a warm and jolly kaffemik, a celebration of sorts open to family, friends and strangers alike.
19 Faroe Islands, Denmark
Located in the North Atlantic Ocean and tucked somewhere between Norway and Iceland, Faroe Islands is another otherworldly escape for tourists seeking peace and tranquility.
Its 18 volcanic islands boast of mountains and valleys perfect for an exhilarating hiking adventure. The islands also have grassy heathlands, striking sea stacks as well as cozy cosmopolitan cities that offer great Nordic cuisine.
Island-hopping is made more exciting by marvelous infrastructure that includes bridges, road or undersea tunnels, causeways, ferries and even helicopter transport. Visit its capital city, Tórshavn (the smallest in the world), and enjoy its colorful houses, fascinating museums, its cozy Old Town and eighteenth-century churches.
18 Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque is among the largest mosques in the world. Surrounded by reflective pools to amplify its splendor, it highlights 82 domes, more than 1,000 columns, chandeliers gilded with 24-carat gold, as well as the biggest hand-knotted carpet on the planet.
The mosque’s elegant gold and white shades look stunning under the sun and are made even more mesmerizing at night owing to its skillfully installed lighting system that mirrors the different phases of the moon.
On Eid celebrations, this majestic place of prayer can accommodate an astounding 40,000 worshippers from around the world. Don’t worry; outside prayer schedules, non-Muslims are also offered guided tours for free.
17 Luang Prabang City, Laos
Luang Prabang has been flooded with investment in the past two decades, with a drastic increase in migration (including some great chefs of awesome but affordable Southeast Asian cuisine). Somehow, the ancient capital remains unchanged and is still as friendly and sleepy as a cozy French hamlet.
Located in a valley where the Nam Khan and Mekong rivers meet, this several-thousand-year-old city was once the country’s royal capital until 1975. More than just aquamarine waterfalls, lush green mountains, biking and hiking trails, river cruises and kayaking escapades, Luang Prabang is best known for various Buddhist temples such as Wat Xieng Thong and Wat Xieng Mouane.
16 Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Dubbed as heaven on earth, Angkor Wat is among many temples in Angkor that feature incredible detail and grandeur that represent the Hindu faith. This ancient temple complex, which is around 900 years old, is comparable to the Great Wall of China in magnitude, to the Pyramids of Egypt in symmetry and symbolism, and to Taj Mahal in intricacy and detail.
Remarkably, ancient inscriptions reveal that Angkor Wat was constructed with the aid of 6,000 elephants and 300,000 workers under King Suryavarman II during the 12th century. Sign up for a bike tour and marvel at this beautifully constructed and tranquil temple.
15 Kathmandu, Nepal
Kathmandu rests in a valley of fascinating villages, ancient shrines and temples, gold-colored pagodas and other historic sites. You can find hotels and restaurants catering to various budgets, as well as taxi, bus and bicycle services for your comfort and convenience.
Take an invigorating hike to see the ancient Monkey Temple atop a hill. Locally called Swayambhunath, this sacred temple is the emblem of religious harmony since both Buddhists and Hindus visit the place throughout the day. Or visit the Garden of Dreams, locally known as Swapna Bagaicha, which is among the most visually stunning and tranquil places in Kathmandu perfect for reflection and meditation.
14 Little Corn Islands, Nicaragua
Although going to Little Corn Island is not exactly easy, the journey is definitely worth it. Having no airport, you’ll reach its white-sand beaches and clear waters via a 30-minute boat ride from Managua.
This is the perfect place to soak up the sun with privacy and comfort, without having to deal with crowds of strangers common in easy-to-reach beaches. This beautiful and secluded escape from the hustle and bustle of city life does not allow cars, so you can enjoy walking under breadfruit and mango trees from beach to beach or sit and watch the beautiful sunset while introspecting on life and its purpose.
13 Khor Virap Monastery, Armenia
In Armenian language, Khor Virap means “deep dungeon.” This site is considered holy by the Armenian Apostolic Church owing to its being built upon the cell in which Grigor Lusavorich (who would later on become Saint Gregory the Illuminator) was held prisoner for 13 long years. He survived captivity and seclusion in the merely 14-foot wide prison thanks to being fed in secret by local women of Christ.
You can visit the actual dungeon through a small passage beside the altar in St. Gregory Chapel. The walled monastery also provides an impressive view of the snowcapped borders of the neighboring Mount Ararat.
12 Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar
Elegance and sacredness best describe the most distinguished landmark in Yangon City, Myanmar. This gold-plated pagoda, a towering 99-meter high complex with a diamond-studded spire, is also called the Golden Pagoda. Resting atop a small hill, it is visibly dominant from pretty much any part of the city. Try viewing at night as strategically placed spotlights make the experience an even more enchanting and mystical one.
Dating way back to the 6th century, the pagoda is the oldest and most essential pilgrimage site for Buddhists in Myanmar. The main prayer shrine or stupa holds sacrosanct relics of the great sage Gautama Buddha, who founded Buddhism.
11 Sagada, Philippines
While the Philippines is better known for its gorgeous beach resorts and lucid waters (the archipelago is made up of 7,641 islands), it also has a good number of mountainous regions worth exploring. If trekking to Mt. Apo (the highest mountain in the country) is a bit too daring for you, Sagada is worth considering.
Sagada is a sleepy town high up in the Cordillera Mountains. It offers a serene escape from city life or overcrowded beaches below. Savor the relaxing scent of pine trees in the air as you enjoy a picturesque view of lush mountains, cool waterfalls, and scenic rice terraces. You can also find various cafeterias that serve first-class Filipino food and local Arabica coffee.
10 Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu lies on the east slope of Vilcanota mountain range, at an altitude of 2,350 meters. This holy site is best known for the Main Temple, the Temple of the Sun, the Temple of Three Windows, the Sacred Rock and sacred tombs crafted by ancient Peruvians.
Aside from its wonderful architecture, you can also enjoy Machu Picchu’s hot springs and exotic flora that includes q'eofias, pisonayes, ferns, puya palm trees, alisos, over 90 orchid species, plus unique insects and spectacular butterfly varieties distinctive in the region.
This wonderful work of architecture and its fascinating harmony with nature make it a perfect place conducive to prayer and meditation.
9 Mount Koya, Japan
Mount Koya is considered the heart of Shingon Buddhism, a sect introduced by Kobo Daishi to 9th century Japan. Daishi built the sect’s headquarters atop the forested Koyasan Mountain. This site holds Daishi’s mausoleum and also marks the beginning and end points of the Shikoku 88-Temple Pilgrimage.
The 1200-year-old Koyasan Temple warmly welcomes both tourists and pilgrims for an overnight stay in some of its 52 temples. You can experience sleeping on the floor of ancient rooms, eating shojin ryori (or vegan cuisine), joining the monks in their morning chants and witnessing early morning fire rituals as you soak up the musky aroma of the cedar trees around.
8 Puglia, Italy
Puglia’s underrated status in tourism is slowly wearing off as more and more people from around the world are beginning to discover its peaceful and authentic charm, as well as its slow-paced and laidback vibe.
Farmlands in the region are centuries old and highlight a superb coastline whitewashed by the sun. Some of the exquisite beaches to visit in Puglia are Gallipoli, Torre Canne and Polignano a Mare.
After taking a relaxing stroll in one of its beautiful sun-bleached beaches, enjoy a plate of authentic homemade orecchiette pasta popular in Southern Italy. A glass of local wine wouldn’t hurt either.
7 Seoul, South Korea
The food in Seoul is worth traveling for. But not only does this bustling capital city offer wonderful diversity when it comes to Korean cuisine, the hospitality of the locals is noteworthy as well.
While you may enjoy restaurant-hopping to try out various Korean food such as Kimbap (Korean Sushi Roll), Bibimbap (Korean Mixed Rice), Injeolmi (Rice Cake) Sandwich Toast and Spicy Kimchi, you may soon get tired of the overwhelming city sounds and sights. To restore your calm and balance, simply visit the Namsan Arboretum that features 13 botonical gardens, the peaceful Hangang River or Seoul Forest (the counterpart of Central Park in New York).
6 Montreal, Quebec in Canada
The biggest city in Quebec, French-speaking Montreal is also considered as Canada’s cultural capital. Experience a taste of Europe by riding a horse-drawn coach around the city’s cobblestone streets. Take in the majestic architectures of Vieux-Montréal, the oldest region in Montreal.
When you need some quiet time, take a long, meditative walk along the Montreal Botanical Garden, which has 75 hectares of greenhouses and thematic gardens. Drop by the impressively grand and magical Notre-Dame Basilica, and indulge in the delightful cafes and charming boutiques at the Plateau Mont-Royal district. Feast on a huge bowl of savory Poutine (French fries topped with brown gravy and fresh cheese curds) before touring the vast Olympic Park.
5 Drepung Monastery in Lhasa, Tibet
Drepung means “Collecting Rice” in Tibetan. The Drepung Monastery looks like a mound of rice when viewed from a distance, hence its name.
Among Tibetan Buddhists, it is considered the biggest and most vital among the many Gelugpa monasteries. During its heyday, Drepung Monastery once possessed 540 pastures and 141 plantations. This overwhelmingly vast complex has a dwarfing 250,000 square-meter area that can house 7,700 monks.
This majestic Buddhist monastery lies on the foothills of Gambo Utse Mountain, which is approximately 3 miles away from suburban Lhasa. So if you’re looking to find a place of solace and tranquility away from exhausting city life, Drepung Monastery should be on your bucket list.
Located in the Horn of Africa, beautiful Ethiopia has a rich ancient culture preserved to this date due to never being colonized.
If you’re lucky enough to get invited to an Ethiopian coffee ceremony, witness how meticulously the ladies in the household work in roasting, grinding and boiling the coffee beans. Expect to be offered three aromatic cups in a row of exceptionally prepared coffee. This traditional ceremony (which will last for hours) is a significant sign of friendship.
Aside from the people’s warmth, you can enjoy peace and tranquility in Aksum, Our Lady Mary of Zion Church, or in Lalibela’s monolithic rock-carved churches dating back to the 12th and 13th centuries.
3 Saint Lucia
Saint Lucia is a small island nation in Eastern Caribbean. What its lacks in size, it makes up for in cultural and geographic riches. Its magnificent mountains, lush rainforests and beautiful resorts that promise relaxation, seclusion and adventure make Saint Lucia ideal for soloist yogis and honeymooners alike.
If you’re looking for a challenge, trek the incredibly photogenic Piton Mountains, go scuba diving in the crystal clear waters of Anse Chastanet, or explore southern Soufrière for hidden beaches and old plantations.
When tired, chillax in one of many cafes in the northern Rodney Bay and enjoy callaloo, pepper pots, green fig salad, float bakes and cocoa tea.
2 Davao City, Philippines
The largest city in the Philippines, Davao is also among the safest in the world. Tourists need not be afraid of walking alone or getting ripped off because the locals are remarkably honest, warm, friendly, hospitable and courteous.
Muslims, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and other religious groups remarkably co-exist in harmony. Respect, humanity and unity are cornerstones of the Davao culture, making this city a great destination for finding peace and spirituality, and experiencing a sense of genuine love and brotherhood in the truest sense.
As a bonus, you can enjoy local fruits like Mangosteen, Pomelo, Guyabano, and the exotic Durian (which tastes heavenly but smells like the complete opposite).
1 Vrindavan, India
The holy city lies on the banks of the sacred Yamuna River and is among the most significant pilgrimage points for Hindus. Ancient Sastras or Vedic Scriptures reveal that Vrindavan is where God’s incarnation descended and lived as the playful and endearing boy, Krishna.
Be introduced to the enlightening Vaishnava philosophy of ‘Simple living and high thinking’ and learn more about the charming history of Lord Krishna from patient, accommodating and wise spiritual teachers in any of Vrindavan’s more than 5,000 temples.
Anyone is welcome to enter the temples. After worship, partake of nourishing vegetarian food (like chapati, vegetable masala, sweet rice halva and lassi) that monks serve guests for free.