World Wonders 3

Easter Island moai on Ahu Tongariki at sunrise, Chile

Easter Island, Chile

Ancient Wonders in the Modern World 3

Rapa Nui (Easter Island), Chile

Rapa Nui, also known as Easter Island, is a distant, little developed South Pacific island containing a couple of thousand inhabitants and hundreds of enigmatic stone statues known as moai.

Although owned by Chile – 2, 300 miles away – most of the people are of Polynesian extraction. This is a bleak, bizarre, stunning experience, and there’s a great beach too. 3 or 4 days is probably enough for this world wonder though clouds and rain are common any time of year so if pictures are your thing give yourself time to get sunny shots from the right angle.

Best weather: September – April (summertime) but OK most of the year. Avoid: May (wettest month) and June-August (crowds), if possible.

Kyoto and Nara, Japan

Kyoto's Kinkakuji, Golden Temple, Japan

Kyoto’s Kinkakuji (Golden Temple), Japan. Photo by Keith Pomakis.

Kyoto is Japan’s old capital and Nara – 40 kms (25 miles) away – is an even older capital. Nara is much smaller and quieter than Kyoto and embraces some lovely temples, but arguably the most famous structures are in the Kyoto suburbs, along with lively festivals, geishas, Zen gardens and ancient tea houses, but be warned, there are plenty of hideous buildings and traffic jams in Kyoto, so wear your culture-only blinkers.

Best weather: March – May, October – November. Avoid: June-August (rains, heat, humidity).

Palmyra, Syria

Temple of Bel, Palmyra, Syria

Temple of Bel, Palmyra, Syria. Photo by Bernard Gagnon.

Palmyra is a spacious and spectacular 1, 800 year old ruined city in the middle of nowhere, though sadly everywhere is now ruined and unvisitable thanks to ISIL/ISIS destructive insanity.

Best weather: March-May, September-November. Avoid winter (cold and wet) and mid-summer (extreme heat).

Persepolis and Isfahan, Iran

Iran, Persepolis

Persepolis, Iran. Photo by David Holt.

Persepolis – commenced on the command of Darius in 512 BC and finished by Xerxes – is a huge and well ruined place, but still packed with stupendous tombs, palaces, sculptures and fascinating, detailed frescoes – a pictorial inventory of the Persian Empire over 2, 000 years ago. All in an arid but picturesque location near Shiraz.

Isfahan, about 300km (200m) north of Shiraz, is a relaxed and friendly city, contains a marvellous collection of grand and colourful architecture from the last 1, 000 years, mostly mosques, but also gardens, a cathedral, a palace and more.

Now that Iran and the west have come to some sort of entente cordial travel in Iran is on the up and there are masses of well-preserved sights awaiting visitors.

Best weather: April-June, September, October. Avoid: winter (very cold), and maybe Ramadan (see above, Syria).

Cappadocia, Turkey

Cappadocia fairy chimneys, Turkey

Cappadocia, Turkey

This wacky landscape pimpled with fairy chimneys is more of a geological wonder than a man made one, although men – mostly persecuted Christians – ingeniously tunneled homes into these rocky erections for hundreds of years.

The region is quiet, the ambience fantastic, local wines are tasty, walks or bike rides unearthly and then there are the hot air balloons; if you can afford it, an air trip is well worth the crack.

Cappadocia is on UNESCO’s list of Natural World Heritage Properties, and Goreme town is the hub of the action.

Getting there: Fly from Istanbul to Kayseri, then it’s about 45 minutes’ drive to Cappadocia. Neither buses nor dolmus (Turkish minibuses) are very convenient and mostly go to Nevsehir. Cappadocia is 2 hours from Kayseri, 6 hours from Ankara, 12 hours from Istanbul. If you can stump up for a hire car or scooter that is definitely the best plan.

Best: May-September. Avoid: November-March (cold and damp).

Borobudur, Java, Indonesia

Borobudur buddhist stupa, Java island, Indonesia.

Borobudur buddhist stupa, Java island, Indonesia. Photo by Uwe Aranas.

A massive, pyramid shaped Buddhist temple from the 9th century, with a thousand Buddhas surveying the surrounding greenery and superb carvings around many walls, surpassingly intact. Not far away is Prambanan, another impressive religious complex, but this one is Hindu.

Nearby is Yogyakarta, a calm and moderately attractive town specialising in batik, unlike Jakarta which is a crowded, sweaty and unpleasant megatropolis. Even better, head for the beaches of Bali afterwards!

Best weather: April-June, September, October. Avoid: December and January (wet); July, August. (crowded, expensive, & possible smoke/haze problem.

Stonehenge, England, UK

Stonehenge, south England, photo by Garten.

A group of enormous megaliths (shaped stones) dating from 2, 950 BC, Stonehenge was possibly a calendar and centre for religious rituals, or a royal family burial tomb, or something else entirely.

Physical access to the stones is not permitted (i. e. they’re roped off, so no touching) except on midsummer night (the Summer Solstice, June 20-21) or by permission from the English Heritage organisation.

Stonehenge is couple of hours south west of London by car, near Salisbury, and near some other prehistoric sites, e. g. the Avebury Stone Circle (better in some ways because you can touch the stones), Old Sarum neolithic fort, Silbury Hill and many giant White Horses cut into the turf of various chalk hillsides. All this and crop circles too in the summer time

Also, not far away in the adjacent county of Dorset is the magnificent iron-age fort Maiden Castle, and the naughty but nice Cerne Giant.

Best weather: May-September. Avoid October – February (grey, damp and short days).

For more World Wonders…

The Best World Wonders by month