Salt flats of Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
The Rough Guide has put together a list of what they believe to be 25 of the coolest places on earth. How many have you been to? (Pics)
1. Salt flats of Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
2. Uluru or Ayers Rock, Australia
3. Pyramids at Giza, Egypt
4. Drifting down the Amazon
5. “Fairy chimneys” and caves of Cappadocia, Turkey
6. Grand Canyon, Arizona, USA
7. Petra, the city carved from stone in the Jordanian desert
8. Machu Picchu, Peru
9. Sagrada Familia, Gaudí’s masterpiece in Barcelona
10. Perito Moreno glacier, Patagonia
11. Sistine Chapel, Rome
12. Trekking in the Himalayas
13. Angkor Wat, Cambodia
14. The canals and palaces of Venice
15. Taking a camel train across the Sahara
16. Great Wall of China
17. Victoria Falls, Zambia and Zimbabwe
18. Paddling in the Barrier Reef, Belize
19. Taj Mahal, India
20. Maya ruins of Mexico and Guatemala
21. Stone giants of Easter Island
22. Grand Mosque, Djenné, Mali
23. The temptations of Las Vegas
24. Forbidden City, China
25. Itaipú, the world’s biggest dam, Paraguay and Brazil
“Fairy chimneys” and caves of Cappadocia, Turkey
There would have been an outcry if the Rough Guide had not included in its 25 Wonders of the World the only one of the original Seven Wonders of the World still left standing. So, yes, obviously the Pyramids of Giza – and if the Hanging Gardens of Babylon (south of Baghdad) were here today . . . well, if they were here today they would be gone tomorrow, but an earthquake got there about 2,000 years before the bomb-makers of the al-Mahdi Army.
And, yes, obviously, the Taj Mahal. And I suppose any attempt at speed-dating with the Wonders of the World would have to include the Great Wall of China. And I agree about Machu Picchu, although visitors to that magical place may agree that the magic lies more in the situation than in the ruins themselves.
And I agree about Arizona’s Grand Canyon (nice canyon – shame about the state). Like the truly awesome Victoria Falls, also on the list, there are must-see places that really aren’t a disappointment when you do see them. My family lived in what is now Zimbabwe for eight years without bothering to visit the Victoria Falls, mostly because everyone else did and it seemed a bit touristy, like the Tower of London. But when we did go – wow! The Tower of London’s not bad, either. Have you been? Most Londoners haven’t.
Petra? Yes, the Rough Guide must be right, because everyone I’ve ever met who’s been there says this city carved from a red rock cliff-face is spellbinding. Venice, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Easter Island statues . . . these are not sights from which people return saying the reality was a bit of a let-down.
But the authors of this little booklet have faced a dilemma: the same dilemma they face throughout this series. It is this. In a high-speed gallop around the world’s best countries, experiences and places, do you go for the obvious, or do you take a walk on the wild (or at least quirky) side and suggest journeys your readers might never have thought of?
I’ve always been ambivalent about the Rough Guide take on things. At its best it cuts the crap, spares readers the worthy guff about dates and dynasties, and primes travellers with some smart ideas for doing things differently. At its worst it can be self-consciously alternative – the guidebook for people who think themselves too cool for guidebooks. I really don’t want to be advised to sink a Guinness in Dublin, for instance (yawn), in the booklet on the British Isles.
And in 25 Wonders of the World we could have been spared the Sagrada Familia, GaudÍ’s fantasy pro-to-cathedral in Barcelona. Best viewed as an elaborate architectural joke, the Sagrada Familia would not be out of place in Disney World in Florida, where cool people do not go. If they did, and found “Gaudi’s modernist masterpiece” there, they would call it naff. OK, cool people, go to Barcelona. But don’t expect a wonder of the world.
And Las Vegas? Please. What next? Dollywood? Are we talking ironic here, or could we just have some practical advice?
What else might I have left out? Some of this guide’s determined attempt to suggest more than the obvious looks interesting. The world’s biggest dam, Itaipú, in Paraguay, for instance; and I was about to say that Uluru in Australia, which I’ve never heard of, sounds fantastic – until I discovered that they mean Ayers Rock. Oh, spare us this PC stuff, Mr, Mrs (or Ms) Rough Guide.
I agree that whole-landscape experiences are valid wonders, sometimes more wondrous than jolly-interesting-thing experiences, and I heartily approve of this list’s inclusion of the entire Amazon, and the Sahara. If we’re ticking boxes then there’s a good glacier, too, a questionable mosque – but no cathedral (not cool) – a majestic mountain range, and a real find for wonder-seekers: the vast and other-planet Uyuni salt-pan in Bolivia, where you must go at once if you haven’t been yet.
But there’s no volcano. A life that has not included peering into an active volcano cannot be called a life. And there’s no sea – how about a night in the Roaring Forties on the Southern Ocean? And no cave – so how about the Mulu national park, easily reached, in Borneo, where you will find a cave’s mouth higher than St Paul’s, from which at dusk, every dusk, three million bats emerge in hissing black writing across the sky. And . . .
Enough. The Rough Guide gets us going, and that’s the point