You often hear about the grandeur of Angkor Wat, but nothing can quite prepare you for that special morning when you watch the saffron sun peek over the world's most audacious religious beacon and bathe the surrounding countryside in its sizzling glow. Spiraling out from Angkor Wat are as many as 200 other equally imposing temples constructed between the 9th and 15th centuries, which collectively comprise the largest-known pre-industrial settlement complex in the world. You'll need at least one battery-operated fan, two memory chips and three days to navigate the 1,000 square kilometers (386 square miles) of the former Khmer Empire, and though it may be the most hyped set of ruins in the world, it wasn’t built to disappoint.
If ever there was a more beautiful monument to love than India’s Taj Mahal, it has long since faded to dust. Mughal emperor Shah Jahan commissioned this immense marble-white mausoleum in memory of his beloved third wife, Mumtaz Mahal, in 1632. The resulting structure, designed by Afghan Ustad-Ahmad Lahori, has been called the jewel of Muslim art in India, an architectural masterpiece and one of the most romantic buildings in the world.
It has been some five centuries since the fall of the Inca Empire and one century since U.S. historian Hiram Bingham “rediscovered” the civilization's most famous citadel, Machu Picchu, and history has come full circle.
The once bustling Inca estate, abandoned and forgotten, is now busier than it’s ever been, with as many as 2,500 visitors a day.
The hike up to these pre-Columbian ruins (which lie at 2,430 meters, or nearly 8,000 feet above sea) is, quite literally, breathtaking. And what you’ll see from the top is a serene spot that’s frequently shrouded in an ethereal fog and perpetually blanketed in emerald green grass. It’s a place fit for a king, which of course is exactly why it was built in the first place.
The Great Wall of China is so grand in its scale that it snakes its way through the People’s Republic, in various tangents, for more than 20,000 kilometers (12,425 miles).
more than 20,000 kilometers
As UNESCO notes, “its historic and strategic importance is matched only by its architectural significance.” Construction began around 220 B.C. under Qin Shi Huang and continued all the way up to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), reflecting the military might and political strength of the central empires in ancient China. Though you’ll have to cast your preconceived notions of a single wall aside, each of the many barricades that make up The Great Wall of China have their own stories to tell, and each offer a fascinating look at dynastic China.
At one time, it was the largest metropolis in the pre-Columbian Americas and had significant cultural influence on surrounding areas. The Aztecs named the region Teotihuacan ("the place where gods were created") when they arrived centuries after its fall. Here, you can walk along the Avenue of the Dead, Teotihuacan's main road. The broad, central thoroughfare dissects the city and is surrounded by mounds that resemble large tombs. Tourists can view a number of well-preserved murals, as well as the Pyramid of the Moon and the Pyramid of the Sun. The latter is the third largest pyramid in the world. Teotihuacan became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.