Like trying to retell a dream, recounting a beautiful sunset is a futile enterprise. The colors, the scale–the true nature of a sunset is ineffable. What’s more, such beauty is ultimately subjective in the first place. While one traveler weeps at the fading orange glow over the Mediterranean, another sits rapt at the smoggy kaleidoscope over a bustling cityscape.
Where, then, does anyone get off trying to name the World’s Most Beautiful Sunsets?
Naturally, we turned to the experts: World travelers, artists and adventurers who have not only bid farewell to the sun on every corner of the globe, but have appreciated the metaphorical, spiritual and, yes, visual beauty of nature’s original fireworks display. We asked them to describe the most beautiful sunset they’ve ever seen.
First–what makes a beautiful sunset? For many people, including the Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern, the beach is usually involved. “Top sunsets on my list would have to include the beach in Seminyak, Bali, and sitting in sand on the Mahoe Bay on Virgin Gorda in the BVI, sharing the event with my wife and son–and not a person in sight.”
Zimmern has also seen some beautiful sunsets in Africa, Scotland and Canada, but his most memorable sundown occurred in Sicily, Italy. “We stopped for the night in Noto, in Siracusa, on our way to Marzamemi,” he says. “Ten kilometers from the hotel, the entire countryside is dominated by waving fields of wheat [with] ancient palazzo and villas and the ocean ringing the horizon. The view and the sunset were so dramatic we stopped the car and walked to a hilltop to watch it. The setting sun that night cast the most beautiful light I have ever seen in my life. Nothing has ever matched it.”
Julia Dimon, travel journalist and cohost of Word Travels on the National Geographic Adventure channel, saw the most beautiful sunset over the Valley of the Moon in Chile’s Atacama Desert. “In the winter, at around 6:30 p.m., the sky gives rise to a rainbow of watercolor reds, oranges and purples. A warm hue illuminates million-year-old mountain ranges. They jet out from sand dunes like the spine of some prehistoric reptile. Millennia of desert winds have sculpted stones and sand formations and the colors dance in the early evening light. Jupiter beams brightly in the sky, as a patchwork of celestial stars start to sparkle.”
As every amateur shutterbug has learned the hard way, it’s nigh on impossible to capture the beauty of the setting sun. Unless you’re Lora Drasner, who spent years perfecting the art of sunset photography. In her book, Sunsets, the Washington native presents dozens of beautifully captured sundowns, most taken during a three-year yachting trip around the world.
What’s the secret to photographing the sun’s last daily moments? Start with a good camera and a powerful lens that’s focused on something other than the sun. “Even if it’s a cloud or the red sky,” says Drasner. “This allows you to get a beautiful photo without sun spots.”
And what’s Drasner own choice for the world’s most beautiful sunset?
Tahiti, where she witnessed her first green flash, a rare meteorological phenomenon that occurs when the sun’s blue and green rays remain in the atmosphere longer than the yellow. “It was not only a flash,” says Drasner, “but it glowed green for several seconds, and I felt euphoric afterwards.”
One needn’t be sitting on the beach or floating in the South Pacific to behold a beautiful sunset. Cities, too, can serve as backdrops for breathtaking moments. At least according to Tony Wheeler. The founder of Lonely Planet didn’t name an exotic beach or a faraway mountaintop. Rather, Wheeler appreciates what’s close to home.
“I’ve had great desert sunsets and great beach sunsets,” he says, “but one of my favorites is regular and mundane: from the roof of my office in the industrial Melbourne suburb of Footscray. The cranes and containers of Docklands can look like a Jeffrey Smart painting on acid while the setting sun fast-forwards a kaleidoscope of mirrored reflections off the city skyscrapers.”
The sun’s nightly retreat has long stood for the peaceful end of a long life. (Just ask anyone who’s watched a new bride dance with her father to the tune of “Sunrise, Sunset.”) But our thoughts needn’t turn somber as the day’s last rays give way to night. For Peter Greenberg, CBS News’ travel editor and a reporter for The Early Show, sunset is a “celebration of things to come.” Specifically, he points to the beautiful sunset over Fire Island, a narrow patch of highly valued land off the coast of Long Island, N.Y.
“No matter where you are on the island,” says Greenberg, “you’re in for a special treat. When the sun sets, you are bathed in a magic, almost reflective light–reflective not just in a scientific way, but in deep emotional one.” After all, just as the sun sets every night, so it will rise–“allowing you once again to relive your innocence, your youth and your freedom.”
And that, after all, may be the true definition of beauty.