Searching for unique, off the beaten path experiences seems to be the mantra of many travelers these days. Uniqueness in travel is very personal and it may mean adrenaline rushing adventure, pristine and remote places or a deeply local immersive experience. But when looking for a deep magical and spiritual experience, there are places in the world that are connected to ancient people or incredible events that just by being there wash over you a sense of awe.
Visit one of these places, soak in their history and their beauty and let their stories enrich your soul.
Canyon de Chelly – USA
The Navajo Nation, covering parts of Arizona, Utah and Colorado in the Southwestern US, isn’t short on awe inspiring places, places so majestic they have names like Monument Valley, Rainbow Bridge, Shiprock, Grand Canyon. Arizona. For a deeply moving experience, pay a visit to Canyon de Chelly, with its Anasazi and Navajo towns, immortalized in many Ansel Adams classic photographs. The Canyon feels sacred but also exudes sadness, a reminder of the struggles of people forced to leave their ancestral land. Wandering through the ruins of the White House complex, it is easy to feel the pride of place and connection to the land that drove the Navajo and Pueblo peoples to fight to come back and live once more in the land they’ve called home for hundreds of years.
You can let the mythology of the Navajo wash over you while staring at Spider Rock and trying to see if Spider Grandmother, who spun her web, laced it with dew and threw it in the sky forming all the stars, is still living there. A trip through the Navajo Nation leaves your eyes so full of color, your head so full of magical stories and you feel this land embraces you and forms a cocoon around you, that you know you will always have it with you.
The Aurora Borealis – Around the Arctic
That whistling cracking sound you hear surprises you as you watch the dancing sky moving in the horizon, after hours of anticipation waiting in the cold it is the sound what’s most unexpected about the hypnotizing display of colors and movement. For the ancient northern people that have witnessed the aurora borealis for thousands of years, the lights were the dancing spirits of people following the path to heaven and the sounds were their whispers as they let us know they were doing ok.
And today, as we see the northern lights knowing what they are and what they mean, we can’t help but suspend belief and still feel the spirit of the Earth is passing back and forth through an invisible passage giving us the best show on the planet and making our skin tingle with amazement.
Uluru Rock, Australia
Uluru changes colors throughout the day and at sunrise and sunset it glows a deep shade of red. Just for these changes it would be a magnificent sight to see. But Uluru is so much more than a photogenic monolith, it is a sacred place to the aboriginals which has a place is many of their dreamtime stories, it plays a role in their creation stories and the survival of men in a tough, unforgiving landscape as the one found in the Northern Territories in Australia.
The dreamtime stories carrying the knowledge of all their ancestors traverse Uluru and are a source of pride to the local Anangu people, they have reclaimed their language, their culture and their symbols, bringing magic and ancient wisdom to the modern lives they lead in today’s Australia. Watch Uluru respectfully from afar, take in the color changes and listen to the songlines, they can make you feel one with the desert.
Ta Phrom – Angkor , Cambodia
The temples at Angkor in Cambodia are the biggest religious structure in the world and one of the most visited. And among them, Ta Phrom manages to shine alone. Largely left as it was rediscovered dozens of years back, with the jungle taking control of the structures without quite destroying them, it is an amazing sight. Build a thousand years ago, it was abandoned around the end of the 17th century, and since then the silk cotton and fig trees have made their mark slowly enveloping the buildings, creating their own special brand of architecture.
For the lucky ones exploring it without the crowds, it can be a magical experience showing the almost restrain of nature to adorn the temples instead of crushing them. The giant meditating faces surrounded by a strangling fig tree roots invite you to sit and contemplate.
The legend says when the last known people who lived in Tikal arrived to this sacred and secret jungle city, the buildings were already ancient, their builders already gone and shrouded in mystery. They said it was the gods who built Tikal, the site of their powerful rule on earth, and one day decided to leave everything behind and allow the jungle to take it back.
Tikal has been reclaimed by the jungle several times through its history, but the stories about the amazing cities, buildings and riches, have always stayed alive motivating explorers, adventurers and now tourists to discover it once again. A trip to Tikal is a trip to an enchanted place, to pyramids peeking through the tree canopy as far as the eye can see, and with most of the cities still disguised as little hills and mounds waiting to be excavated once more.
And the Maya are alive and well in Guatemala, to hear this ancient language spoken at the markets in Antigua, at the restaurants in Flores and all around makes for an unforgettable experience linking you back to the time when the gods ruled the jungle.