Many vacation goers like to look at and experience what exists today. Popular spots include places to soak in the sun, hit the slopes, or enjoy fun experiences.
But if you don’t feel like hitting the beach, going skiing, or taking pictures with oversized cartoon characters (not that it isn’t fun) you may want to add an educational dimension to your trip.
If you’re a globetrotter who loves history, architecture, and maybe even the idea of aliens landing from another planet (we jest…sort of) check out these 7 awesome ruins around the world.
Everyone thinks of heading to Rome, Greece or Egypt, but here are a few eye-popping sites off the beaten path…that are still surprisingly accessible to the modern traveler.
#1: Machu Picchu, Peru
This Inca city high in the clouds was spared from the Spanish conquests. Built for the Inca emperor Pachacuti, it’s a great place to marvel at one of most complex civilizations to ever transform a mountainous landscape into a habitable terrain. Though the Inca did not have a written language, they operated a complex system of roads and messengers that stretched through the Andes mountains. Today you can take a train from Cusco up to this ancient metropolis of incredible views—the line is named after historian Hiram Bingham who discovered this “lost city” in 1911. You won’t need to hack through any jungles to get there today…though you may feel like Indiana Jones.
#2: Stonehenge, England
No one is really sure how this monolithic arrangement of stones came to be. Was it placed as by Aliens? Were the stones magically transported by Merlin? However they got there, these large stones—some weighing as much as 45 tons—arrived long distance before the invention of FedEx, UPS, or even the wheel. Construction dates to 3,000 BC, and it was used as a religious site for the next millennium and a half. Visitors say the man-made geological formation is most awe-inspiring at sunrise or sunset, when its alignment with the cosmic luminaries can become most apparent.
#3: Easter Island, South Pacific
The set of enormous, stoic-faced figures have become frequently referenced in pop art and culture, from mass produced lawn ornaments to Spongebob Squarepants (Squidward lives in a totemic-like stone home). Like its stone cousin across the world, the method by which these huge figurines were raised to stand like a line of soldiers has eluded archeologists—though local islanders may try to convince you that they walked. You may think that arriving at this tiny island in the middle of the ocean is only for the bucket list of the rich and famous, but you can catch a LAN flight from Santiago, Chile every day.
#4: Petra, Jordan
If you remember the last scenes from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade , you’ll recognize “the Treasury” building from the ancient city of Petra, carved from solid desert rock. Imagine the wonder of Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig when he discovered it in 1812—and it’s easy for you to recapture that wonder, because one of Petra’s selling points is the way that the narrow sandstone valleys and wadis open up into incredible scenery of ancient buildings and complexes. Although only a small 15% of the city has been unearthed, you can see over 800 tombs, temples, and churches hewn out of stone by the Nabatean people…although it will be unlikely to find the Holy Grail inside the Treasury.
#5: Carthage, Tunisia
Everybody knows about the Roman Forum (and it’s definitely worth a visit) but the ancient city of Carthage often gets overlooked. Carthage was the center of the Phoenician empire, a nation that ruled the Mediterranean before Rome, ultimately losing claim to hegemony to young Roman Republic in the Punic Wars. If you’re a history buff who enjoys a layered text, Carthage won’t disappoint: Romans, early Christians, Vandals, and Arabs have all left their mark on the region. From the shipbuilding ports of the Phoenicians to Roman baths, theatres, stadiums, and basilicas, you’ll be able to explore a wide range of historical buildings while enjoying the temperate Mediterranean weather.
#6: Angkor Wat, Cambodia
This is one of the largest and most impressive temple complexes in the world, and one of the best preserved, despite the humidity and encroaching southeast Asian jungle that surrounds it. Tall conical towers ornamented with thousands of bas-relief figures are arranged in the formation of a lotus bud. The stonework depicts scenes from history and Hindu mythology, blending all of them together in an incredible three-dimensional case of artistic storytelling. Note that you will need a passport to visit the site. Many people hire a car and driver, but your could also enjoy the open-air excitement of a tuk-tuk (motorized rickshaw).
#7: Great Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe
Africa is well known for its incredible natural scenery, but lovers of history and culture will find an enriching experience at Great Zimbabwe, the ancient African city of the Bantu and Shona civilizations. Though the city was abandoned in 1450 (just four decades before Columbus sailed to America) it had previously been a thriving center of the gold trade while Europe was in the height of the Middle Ages. Far from an isolated local stronghold, Great Zimbabwe was a true player in a globalized culture; Arab coins and porcelain from China and Persia have been discovered by archaeologists reconstructing our understanding of this ancient home of African Kings.