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The Sounds of our Planet

It’s not unusual to hear it said that we’ve become a visually-oriented culture to the detriment of our other senses. For the ardent explorer, this phenomenon poses its own problem: what is there left to see in the age of Instagram, Flickr, and the dreaded Facebook holiday album?

By: G. John Cole + Save to a List

The people at Expedia have countered this concern with a double-whammy. Their latest graphic focuses on the unique and often over-“looked” sound life of some of the most incredible destinations on the planet, visualizing the waveforms of particularly notable sounds as mash-ups of the colors and atmospheres we associate with those places.

In doing so, they offer a fresh challenge to the traveler who’s seen it all: have you ever really seen a place until you’ve closed your eyes and listened?

Sahara Desert

The ‘singing sands’ of the Algerian Sahara offer the perfect riposte to the tone-deaf camera-jockey. Caused by the vibration of the sand grains as they cascade down the dunes, these humming sounds – however eerie – let you feel like you’re never quite alone in the desert.

New York City

Subtract the wisecracks and the Scorsesean soundtrack from your favorite New York shows and movies, and you won’t be too surprised to discover that the silence underneath is nothing like silence at all. As city symphonies go, none have quite the volume, diversity and drama of New York’s metropolitan soundscape. Who needs another selfie with the Statue of Liberty? Take out your handheld audio recorder and get that street ambience in stereo, baby!

Amazon Rainforest

From the concrete jungle of NYC to the jungle-jungle of the Brazilian rainforests. We don’t even know the names of all the creatures in the Amazon yet, let alone have a comprehensive audio guide to the sounds they make. Environmentalists say you should leave nothing and take nothing when you visit the jungle – but nobody’ll object to you stealing the songs of the birds and insects.

Kruger National Park

Shooting lions is bad (and nature may well catch up with you in the end). Taping them is cool, although you might not want to get close enough to apply a lapel mic. Nevermind, because South Africa’s Kruger Park is one of the most diverse places on earth – so you’ll always have a new voice to record.

Yellowstone National Park

If you’re the type of person that loves singing in the shower as much as you love visiting wild places, you definitely need to put ‘duetting with the Yellowstone springs’ on your bucket list. Yellowstone is the geyser capital of the world, and you’ll be astonished by the complexity of the sounds that water makes when you listen closely.

The Galapagos Islands

An alien is really just a critter you haven’t yet met – which may be why the Galapagos Islands have the sound of a distant planet to them. If the sound of squirrels (and the occasional urban parakeet) outside your apartment window no longer stirs wonder at the diverse voices of nature, you’re sure to get your curiosity topped-up with an aural tour of Charles Darwin’s back yard.

Cape Tribulation

An audio recording of Cape Trib is a kind of time machine – because it sounds much the same today as it probably did millions of years ago. You might have heard a bit more cursing around the year 1770, though, when James Cook and his crew showed up and encountered the nautical setbacks that earned the headland its name.

Bwindi National Park

This sound recording might trick you into believing Uganda’s mountain gorillas have it easy. All that Garden of Eden birdsong, buzzing bees, and fresh, juicy leaves to eat. Sadly, war and poaching have brought the mighty beast to the brink of extinction.


Soundwaves meet ocean waves as you listen to the warm waters of the Mediterranean splash against the sand. If ambient soundtracks are your thing, you have the perfect excuse to mix business with pleasure on your field recording trip to Portugal’s stunning coast. Another glass of ginjinha?


That handy recorder of yours is lava-proof, right? If you’re not quite ready to lower it, Jules Verne-style, into the surface of this volcanic Icelandic outpost, you can always concentrate on hoovering up the calls of the region’s rather chilled avian community.

Chiang Mai

Human culture has plenty of strange and wonderful field recordings to grab, too. You’ll have to be up early in the morning to catch the isolated sounds of this Thai moat town’s Buddhist monks performing their morning chants.

Has all that got your tympanic membrane quivering? Pick yourself up some recording gear and head for the great outdoors!

We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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