Notice that the title of this piece is not “seven fantastic places to see a sunrise and sunset.” That’s because you can see the sun rise and set in countless beautiful locations around the globe, from a faraway tropical island to a small lake near your hometown. But while you can see the sun in a lot of magnificent settings, where is it that you can have the most extraordinary experiences with a sunset or sunrise? Here are seven places in the world where you will not only marvel at the vivid colors streaked across the horizon but also have an unforgettable travel encounter.
Mt. Sinai, Egypt
The experience of watching the sunrise on Mt. Sinai is remarkable. Travelers first climb a rocky trail from about 2:30 to 5 a.m., alongside Bedouin tribesmen and their camels. Then they sit and await the dawn, which arrives when celestial rays pierce the darkness and illuminate a jagged, lunar-like landscape. The sensation of being atop Mt. Sinai as the sun appears in the morning sky will be etched in your mind forever. Even if you’re not religious, you can envision Moses having a divine experience there. After trekking back downhill, you’ll also want to stop at St. Catherine’s Monastery to see the bush that claims to be descended from the burning bush of the Bible.
Ganges River, Varanasi, India
It’s amazing to trudge the narrow, dirty streets of Varanasi in the predawn hours and then emerge atop the ghats that line the sacred Ganges River. There, you’ll be treated to the sight of a vibrant sunrise, as well as Hindu pilgrims bathing and praying at the water’s edge. Varanasi is one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in the world, with a past that stretches back 3,000 years, and thousands of Hindus still make their way each morning to one of the city’s 100 or so ghats to bathe in the river at dawn. The best way to take in the scene is on one of the rowboats that ferry visitors up and down the Ganges.
Masai Mara National Reserve, Kenya
You could just as easily mark this down as Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, as the wildebeest don’t distinguish between national boundaries as they make their annual migration here from July to October. Regardless of the country, however, the scenery is fabulous and you can combine sunset viewing with a safari experience. Imagine spending late afternoon on a game drive, watching elephants, gazelles, lions and wildebeest, and then topping off the day by soaking in a purple and orange sunset as a giraffe meanders past an acacia tree.
Oia, on the island of Santorini, Greece
Every day, in late afternoon, travelers wind their way to the western edge of the Greek island of Santorini. There, in the small town of Oia, amidst whitewashed homes that are impossibly perched on the edge of a stunning caldera, they stand along the road and sit with legs dangling from walls, waiting for the sun to disappear beneath the waves of the Aegean Sea. The intense light of the Aegean manages to produce a particularly dramatic sunset. So dramatic, in fact, that the gathered crowd invariably breaks out in applause. If you want to experience a sublime sunset with a group of cheering travelers, Santorini should be near the top of your list.
Haleakala Volcano on the island of Maui, Hawaii
On the island of Maui, you can drive 38 miles from sea level up to 10,000-feet in about two hours and end your journey near the peak of the Haleakala volcano. More than one million people make this journey annually, many of them in the predawn hours so they can watch the sunrise in Haleakala National Park. Once the sun is up, you can hike into Haleakala Crater. Or, if you’re more adventurous, you can take a van up to the peak and then enjoy an exhilarating ride back down on a rented mountain bike.
Phnom Bakheng temple, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Phnom Bakheng is a Buddhist temple that was built in the late 9th century on a hillside outside of what is now Siem Reap, Cambodia. Visitors to the Angkor Archaeological Park are enticed to the ruins of Phnom Bakheng for its sunset views. The top of the temple is only accessible via a steep staircase, but from there one can look down on the sacred site of Angkor Wat and out across the forested expanse of northern Cambodia. It’s not a bad day: begin by visiting the majestic ruins of Angkor Wat and end by watching the sun set in a splash of color over the edges of another ancient Buddhist temple.
Cape Town, South Africa
There are only a few other places on Earth where you’re closer to the bottom of the planet than you are in Cape Town. Often hailed as one of the world’s most beautiful cities, Cape Town is on the southwestern edge of the African continent and has as its backdrop the flat-topped, 3,500-foot peak of Table Mountain. For an extraordinary sunset experience, book a ride with one of the local boat companies that offer late afternoon cruises. You’ll ply the waters near where the Atlantic and Indian Oceans meet, look back at the majestic sight of Table Mountain, and perhaps sip a glass of wine as the sun dips below the African horizon.
Photo credits: Bob Riel
Note: This list is adapted from a previous article of mine that was published by Matador Trips.