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Surround sound...the world's best soundscapes

Sometimes it strikes me as odd that we should always talk about ‘seeing the sights’ when it comes to travel. All our senses are involved, not just our eyes, and a huge part of the experience comes down to sound.

Whether it’s a subtle background hum, an ear-splitting roar or even a deafening silence, our travels would be totally different without the varying reverberations that surround us.  I asked our team of Cox & Kings experts what noises had struck them the most on their globe-trotting adventures. The result is the following hit compilation of extraordinary sounds.

The sight of a glacier is awesome in itself but the ill-tempered noises of these immense rivers of ancient ice as they slowly move, crumble and fragment is something else. The eerie creaks and groans can sometimes be heard but if you happen to be at the terminus you won’t fail to miss the sound of a section of ice breaking loose. There’s a shotgun crack or thundering boom as a chunk falls away, followed by a roar and crash as it hits the meltwater lake or ocean and triggers a ripple of immense surf. The result is a brand new iceberg, unique in shape and size. Board an expedition ship to the Arctic or Antarctica for a chance to see and hear a calving glacier for yourself. Cruises around Glacier Bay in Alaska also provide an excellent opportunity to experience this spectacular natural phenomenon, as does a boat trip across the lake to the towering ice wall of Perito Moreno glacier in Patagonia, Argentina.

The Cuban beat

Music is part and parcel of Cuba’s character. It spills out of open windows, echoes forth from bars and clubs, and starts up spontaneously in the streets. Son Cubano is one of the main genres, a giddy mix of Spanish guitar and African bongos and maracas that eventually evolved into Cuban salsa. There are plenty of places to go to see live music performances. Most cities have a casa de la trova where travelling musicians play. Small bands can also move between bars and plazas, playing just a few songs before they move on somewhere else.  And where there is music there is usually dancing! Any holiday to Cuba will be filled with the sound of son.

Echoes from the deep

From the gentle hiss of surf over sandy shores to the persistent rumble of stormy seas, waves have to be one of the most soothing of natural sounds. A clever bit of architecture in the quirky coastal city of Zadar in Croatia has harnessed this energy to create an even more hypnotic hymn. Known as the Sea Organ, this set of inviting, terraced steps leading down to the water’s edge hides a complicated array of pipes and cavities beneath that emit an ever-changing melody, dependent on the movement of air and water created by the waves.

A cacophony of seals

The sounds of nature aren’t always soothing. The noise (and pong) emanating from the Cape Cross fur seal colony in Namibia is quite the opposite but worth experiencing. Every spare inch of this small headland on the Skeleton Coast is covered by a floundering, frolicking mass of fat fur seals, all honking, bellowing and barking together, although not necessarily in unison. Stop here on a tour of Namibia’s wild coastline for a truly sensory wildlife experience!

Crackling coral reefs

Coral reefs are a vision of serenity: colourful fish silently darting between swaying weeds and barnacle-encrusted corals. The reality is quite different. A happy, healthy reef in fact releases a noise something like the sound of a bowl of Kellogg’s Rice Krispies – snap, crackle and pop! Tiny shrimps and crabs snap to communicate with each other, barnacles crackle as they open and close and thousands of fish scratch, grunt and sing as they hunt, mate and mark their territory. You need a hydrophone to hear these noises but once you do, the sheer number of living organisms supported by the reef becomes truly apparent. Join snorkelling excursions amid the tropical islands and cayes of the Great Barrier Reef in Australia to experience the remarkable sounds of a busy world beneath the waves.

Spiritual harmonies

The mystical sound of people in prayer adds an indescribable atmosphere to a place. Take, for example, the early morning Hindu Aarti ceremony performed on the banks of the sacred Ganges river in Varanasi, India. The rhythmical toll of bells and chiming music accompanied by the rising sun and an awakening city cannot fail to stir your soul, whether you are spiritual or not. On the opposite end of the scale is the Islamic call to prayer. Depending upon your proximity to a mosque, this can be quite a deafening cry but it can also be an enthralling echo. To hear it ringing out across the waters as you cruise down the Nile past Egypt’s ancient monuments adds an intense and unforgettable spirituality. For a truly immersive experience, head to Taiwan’s enormous Fo Guang Shan monastery. You can actually stay at the monastery guesthouse here and even take part in morning prayers. To see in the day in quiet contemplation, surrounded by the soothing incantations of the Buddhist monks, is sure to clear your mind.

The sound of silence

All this talk of sound yet sometimes it’s the very absence of it that makes a place so special. To find a spot on this planet so empty that it is devoid of any noise can be both enthralling and eerie. Leap off the beaten track in Bolivia’s altiplano to the Laguna Colorada, a mineral-rich, rusty red lake surrounded by the ethereal landscape of the salt flats. Flamingos, llamas and alpacas are your only company here but the space is so vast that it’s easy to find yourself surrounded by complete silence.

The perfect paradox has to be Doubtful Sound on New Zealand’s South Island which truly lives up to the nickname ‘The Sound of Silence’. The deepest fiord on the island, it feels much more isolated than the popular Milford Sound. Glide along its serene waters, encased like a precious jewel by untouched mountainsides.

A number of our group tours and private itineraries include the above experiences, or we can put together a tailor-made tour just for you to include any of the above. For more information, please either call one of our specialist travel consultants or complete our tailor-made request form and one of our experts will get back to you to help you plan an itinerary.