The 12 Most Peaceful Places on Earth
Want to unplug, avoid the crowds, and find a few moments of Zen? These destinations are sure to soothe your soul.
Finding your bliss
While there’s certainly a time and a place for adventure- and adrenaline-filled vacations, sometimes you just need to relax and recharge. When you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, or burned out, it’s time to hit pause and reconnect with nature. Instead of signing up for a pricey retreat that claims to rejuvenate your body, mind, and soul, take matters into your own hands—and head to one of these peaceful places for your next escape from reality. And no matter which destination you choose, make sure to avoid these 10 little travel mistakes that make your vacation unnecessarily stressful.
The Tracy Arm Fjord, Alaska
The Tracy Arm Fjord, about 45 miles south of Juneau, is 30 miles long and surrounded by glacially carved granite mountains that rise as much as 4,000 feet from the sea. If you’re cruising Alaska, choose a kayaking expedition for a more intimate experience. One great option: Windstar Cruise’s Signature Expeditions, which are led by naturalists, marine biologists, and glaciologists to help safely navigate paddling through the labyrinth of glacial ice. The only sounds you’ll hear are the thunderous booms of large chunks of ice breaking off Sawyer Glacier (a phenomenon called ice calving) and falling to the sea below, the conversations of hundreds of harbor seals chatting on icebergs, and the flapping wings of Arctic terns and pigeon guillemots. But the most eye-catching sight is the azure ice of these glaciers, which feels otherworldly. For planning purposes, an Alaskan cruise is one of 15 summer experiences you need to book in the winter.
Wailua Falls, Kauai
Of course, a place known as the “Garden Island” would offer some of the most peaceful views on earth—from the Waimea Canyon, which is known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, to the iconic Napali coast. But one of Kauai’s crowning achievements is Wailua Falls, the 173-foot waterfall prominently featured in the opening credits of the 1970s TV show Fantasy Island. You don’t even need to exert yourself to enjoy it, as it can be viewed from an overlook on the road. Despite its easy access, it’s an enchanting spot that perfectly showcases the island’s lush beauty. Plus, on a sunny day, you’ll often find a rainbow in the mist, and what’s more peaceful than a rainbow? Before you go, discover the true meanings behind these 9 popular Hawaiian phrases that hold the secret to Zen.
White Sands National Park, New Mexico
There’s a reason Zen gardens are so popular: Playing with the sand encourages meditation and relieves stress. So head to the world’s largest gypsum dune field, White Sands National Park—which was just upgraded from the status of monument on December 20, 2019—and recapture the incredibly peaceful feeling of playing in a sandbox as a child. These Chihuahuan Desert dunes are positively dazzling, thanks to the reflective quality of gypsum, and incredibly soft due to its fine texture. On most days, you can have entire dunes all to yourself, so have fun making sand angels, pondering how the shrubs survive those harsh conditions, and gazing at the dreamy terrain. Sunset is a particularly magical time, with the soft light and stunning colors sweeping across the sky, and full-moon hikes are also popular.
Wondering where to stay? Make the small mountain town of Ruidoso, New Mexico, your base camp since it’s only an hour’s drive away. Check out these other practically secret national parks you’ll want to visit this spring.
Uyuni Salt Flat, Bolivia
Picture an entirely flat topography with uninterrupted 360-degree views of the horizon, filled with bright-white salt, rock formations, and little islands covered in cacti. That’s the Uyuni Salt Flat in Bolivia, the largest salt flat in the world and one of 15 natural wonders you’ve probably never heard of. Unlike most trips, you actually want to schedule your visit during the rainy season. A thin layer of rain on top of the sand creates a stunning mirror-like effect as it reflects the sky, people, and any props you use for photos.
Plus, the entire place looks like it’s floating above the clouds. “Visiting Uyuni made me feel as though I was some place on the moon,” says Taryn White, who has visited more than 75 countries on six continents. “There is very little vegetation and water, lots of sunlight, and virtually no sound, which makes it such a serene place to be. It’s also a fantastic place for photography lovers, and the sunsets are epic!”
Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica
Considering Costa Rica’s national motto is pura vida, which translates to “pure life,” it’s no wonder the whole country exudes a wholesome, peaceful ethos. While Manuel Antonio is a national park spanning just 4,900 acres, it offers a diverse experience of breathtaking, unspoiled nature. Here’s the lowdown from a team member at Anywhere vacation planners: “Dense mangroves and stunning beaches nestle alongside abundant rainforests, all easily navigable via a web of hiking trails. Bordered by the azure waters of the Pacific and the lush, tropical rainforests of the park, Manuel Antonio’s pristine white-sand beaches are a haven away from the world. The sounds of the sea gently lapping the shores mingle with the musical cries of the rainforest’s native fauna, including squirrel monkeys, gorgeous toucans, and vibrant parrots.” If you want to avoid the crowds and make it even more peaceful, visit midweek and early in the morning.
Voyageurs National Park, Minnesota
You might assume the 12 best places to see the northern lights, aka the aurora borealis, are all in Scandinavia. Nope! Voyageurs National Park, which straddles the Minnesota-Canada border, gives you front-row seats. Located two-and-a-half hours north of Duluth, this 218,000-acre wonderland is the largest freshwater-based national park in the country—and it offers sprawling views of unpolluted skies from its waterways, where visitors can take in extraordinary meteor showers and northern-lights shows. For full immersion into this peaceful experience, camp on an island or stay on a houseboat and enjoy swimming, fishing, hiking, or cross-country skiing, depending on the time of year. Voyageurs National Park is working toward an International Dark Sky Park designation, which they hope to earn in 2020, to highlight and preserve the vast views.
Mount Bromo, Indonesia
The early bird gets the worm, and the early riser in East Java, Indonesia, gets to enjoy the most spectacular sunrise of their life: Mount Bromo, an active volcano that last erupted in 2015. “I have seen a lot of sunrises around the world, but the one over Mount Bromo was the most special I have come across,” says Charles Breitbart, founder of the TripTins travel blog. “The day starts out at 3 a.m., as you make your way through the town of Cemoro Lawang and up the King Kong Hill. The hike takes about 1.5 hours, but your reward is sitting down and taking in the view. Down below, you will see the vast crater filled with several different volcanoes, including Mount Bromo, which you can hike the same day. If you are lucky enough, you will even have a cloud base, which will make it seem like the volcanoes and smaller craters are just floating in the air.”
The Icefields Parkway, Alberta, Canada
The road to tranquility awaits at the Icefields Parkway in Alberta. This 144-mile stretch of double-lane highway links Lake Louise with Jasper, Alberta, as it winds along the Continental Divide. Nestled in between jaw-dropping cliffsides and snowcapped mountaintops are the crystal-blue waters of Lake Louise. These glacier-fed waters can perfectly reflect the beautiful mountainscape on a calm morning. Stop and rent a boat or canoe to tour the lake and soak up the turquoise waters, or ascend the 6,850-foot gondola to one of Banff National Park’s most incredible views overlooking the lake.
The best months to see the vibrant colors of Lake Louise are July and August when the flow of meltwater is at its highest. However, Banff is also one of the summer destinations that are surprisingly gorgeous in the winter. This spot turns into a winter wonderland as the lake freezes over and becomes a natural ice-skating rink.
Baa Atoll, Maldives
What could be more peaceful than spending time underwater? In 2011, the Baa Atoll was designated a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve as a marker of its incredible biological diversity and because it supports one of the largest groups of coral reefs in the Indian Ocean. There are 75 islands in the atoll, 13 of which are inhabited. Since 99 percent of its territory is water, marine life is what’s most exciting about this area of the Maldives. From clownfish to giant Humphead wrasse, there are more than 1,100 species of fish beneath the surface. Plus, you’ll find several varieties of turtles and 21 species of whales and dolphins floating around, too. The wildlife-to-human ratio certainly makes this spot one of the most peaceful places on the planet.
Orcas Island, Washington
The San Juan archipelago is nestled between three great cities—Seattle, Vancouver, and Victoria—and surrounded by the Salish Sea (which encompasses Puget Sound). Orcas Island, in particular, serves up the lush forests the Pacific Northwest is famous for, as well as an array of wildlife, from blacktail deer and river otters to mink and bald eagles. Moran State Park, spread over the eastern side of the island, offers more than 5,000 acres of wilderness, with five freshwater lakes and nearly 40 miles of hiking trails. Mountain Lake lies within this park and is circled by soft, wide trails bordered by native salal and salmonberry, red-barked Pacific Madrona trees, and heaven-scented Nootka rose. Listen for the gentle lap of the water and a chorus of birds. The climate is temperate year-round, but if you visit during the shoulder seasons, the trails will belong only to you. If you want to be one with nature a little closer to home, check out the best state park in your state.
If traveling to a very remote corner of the planet will bring you peace, then Svalbard, Norway, is the destination for you. Located close to the North Pole in the Arctic Ocean, this Norwegian territory has a population of less than 3,000. In fact, Longyearbyen, the largest settlement on the archipelago, is the northernmost-inhabited settlement in the world. “It’s a remote land awash with glaciers, snow-draped mountains, and icy seas, and one of the last pristine wildernesses on our planet,” says Emma Gillies of Nordic Visitor.
Polar bears reign supreme here, with a few thousand roaming the land. While these 12 polar bear pictures will melt your heart, just know that they can be aggressive, and precautions to thwart attacks must be taken in this region. Be sure to go reindeer sledding (it’s the oldest form of transportation in the north) and dog sledding, and visit the ice caves, too. Another Zen-like experience is enjoying a vivid northern-lights display in the middle of the day from October through February, a period of time known as the “Polar Night” because it’s pitch-dark 24/7. “You can see the moon throughout the whole day,” says Gillies, “and with snow covering the entire land, it makes the days brighter.”
Namuamua Waterfall, Fiji
A few years ago, Gallup International conducted an opinion poll on “Happiness, Hope and Economic Optimism” and found that Fiji is the happiest country in the world. While there’s no shortage of Zen-like locations on this archipelago of more than 330 islands in the South Pacific, one especially blissful experience is a boat ride to Namuamua Waterfall. Because it’s so remote, you’re unlikely to find this spot on your own—but for guests staying at Nanuku, Auberge Resorts Collection, this afternoon excursion is a glimpse into a truly untouched part of Fiji’s southern coast.
You’ll board a traditional wooden longboat and relax as your captain navigates through rapids, past rainforests, and through remote farms and villages along the Navua River. Once docked near the small village of Namuamua (which translates to “where two rivers meet” and has fewer than 300 inhabitants), you’ll hike over rocks and through lush scenery for about 15 minutes until you reach the cascading waterfall. Enjoy a dip in the freshwater pools, swim up to the waterfall, and dry off like a mermaid on the half-submerged rocks on the water’s edge. No wonder Fiji is one of 20 places you need to go in 2020, according to travel experts!