People talk about taking in ‘the sights’ when they travel, but the sounds of the world’s most remarkable places are often just as inspiring. It is both a calming and a learning experience to close your eyes, open your ears and sense the hidden life of a city, forest or ocean.
Here’s a look and a listen to the sound signatures of some of Earth’s most incredible destinations.
Sahara Desert (Algeria)
When you look out at the largest hot desert in the world, you might expect the most noticeable features to be the endless dunes and the absence of a convenient 7-Eleven. The sounds that these dunes make as the sand shifts, however, shape the desert’s identity in a manner that is both beautiful and haunting.
New York City (USA)
New York is the city-dweller’s city. Its soundscape is familiar to us all, even if we’ve never visited. Everybody’s seen movies set in those mean streets – but have you ever blocked out the dialogue to listen to the symphony of cars, trucks and taxis that pass by the foot of New York’s iconic skyscrapers?
Amazon Rainforest (Brazil)
In the most biologically diverse place on Earth, we don’t even know the names of all the creatures that form the morning choir. Millions of species in the Amazon remain undescribed – although you’ll likely recognize some familiar bird and frog calls among this rude (yet beautiful) awakening.
Kruger National Park (South Africa)
Kruger is home to a huge variety of species, including 507 birds, 336 trees, 147 mammals, 114 reptiles, 49 fish and 34 amphibians. But one poor sound guy was sent out to get a sound recording of the king: the mighty lion!
Yellowstone National Park (USA)
The world’s first national park is home to forests, lakes, mountains, wildlife… and the famous Yellowstone geysers. The geysers and hot springs are known for their sensory complexity, but dare you close your eyes and listen to them popping up from the ground below?
Galapagos Islands (Ecuador)
The Galapagos Islands and the waters around them are a living testament to evolution. Few animals flag up the weirdness of development of our natural history like the sea lion. This family’s cries and groans rightfully belong in the background noise of a grimy bar in an episode of Star Wars.
Cape Tribulation (Australia)
Cape Tribulation is the village where the bountiful Daintree Rainforest and spectacular Great Barrier Reef meet. The soundscape here has probably changed very little in millions of years.
Bwindi National Park (Uganda)
The mountain gorilla may be an endangered species, but she still holds an impressive presence in Uganda’s mountain-side national park. Birds and bees flutter around the gentle giant as she takes in a healthy meal of roots, shoots and tree bark.
The Algarve is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Europe, and few sounds can inspire calmness and reflection as instantly as the waves lapping at the shore. Wander inland to the charming old streets and houses, where the buzz of daily life offers a curious counterpoint to the softness of the sea.
Parts of this volcanic island can seem remote and inhospitable, yet with a sturdy spirit and careful preparation, a photo-and-field-recordings expedition is an inspiring adventure. Listen, for example, to the whimbrell’s call echoing around the glaciers.
Chiang Mai (Thailand)
We may sometimes resist the thought, but humans are part of nature, too. If you’re not from the east, hearing the monks of the old moat town of Chiang Mai can be every bit as exotic and mystifying as the singing sand dunes of the Sahara or the chatter and rustle of Cape Tribulation.
How about the sounds in your home town? How would they sound (or look) to someone who’s never visited?
WWF. (2017). Amazon. worldwildlife.org
Live Science Staff (2012). For Tune-Carrying Sand Dunes, the Key Lies in the Grains. livescience.com
South African National Parks (2017). Kruger National Park. sanparks.org
National Park Service. (2017). Yellowstone: Marvel. Explore. Discover. nps.gov
UNESCO World Heritage Centre. (2017). Galápagos Islands. whc.unesco.org
Tourism Port Douglas Daintree. (2017). Cape Tribulation. pddt.com.au
UNESCO World Heritage Centre. (2017). Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. whc.unesco.org
The Rough Guides. (2017). The Algarve. roughguides.com
Míla. (2017). Iceland info: Geography of Iceland, climate & history of Iceland. livefromiceland.is
Hubbell, D. (2016). Chiang Mai, Thailand, guide: what to do, plus the best hotels and restaurants. theguardian.com