On July 1, National Geographic announced the winners of its 2016 Travel Photographer of the Year Contest — and we came down with a serious case of wanderlust.
The 12 winning photos, which fall under the contest's three categories of People, Nature and Cities, give an intimate look at a number of dreamy travel destinations, including Ben Youssef in Morocco, the Lagunas Baltinache in Chile's Atacama Desert and George Town in Malaysia. The grand prize winner, Anthony Lau, photographed a horseman in Inner Mongolia — and has been awarded a seven-day Polar Bear Photo Safari for two at Churchill Wild–Seal River Heritage Lodge, a National Geographic Unique Lodge of the World, for his work.
Scroll down to see Lau's stunning photo and the other winners in each of the three categories. We promise you'll be blown away by the beauty these photographers were able to capture.
The photographer says: "The winter in Inner Mongolia is very unforgiving. At a freezing temperature of minus 20 and lower with a constant breeze of snow from all direction, it was pretty hard to convince myself to get out of the car and take photos. [That was] until I saw Inner Mongolia horsemen showing off their skills in commanding the steed from a distance — I quickly grab my telephoto lens and captured the moment when one of the horseman charged out from morning mist."
Photo and caption by Anthony Lau
The photographer says: "Romance is in the air. It was the time of day immediately following sunset. I heard a voice. 'Wherever you go, I will follow you,' the voice says."
Photo and caption by Hiroki Inoue
The photographer says: "Even though there were a lot of people in Ben Youssef, still here was more quiet and rela compare to the street outside in Marrakesh. I was waiting for the perfect timing to photograph for long time."
Photo and caption by Takashi Nakagawa
The photographer says: "Picture taken in the Brazilian Pantanal... when I downloaded the CF (company flash), [I] did not want to believe it... The nature knows we always give magnificent events but sometimes extraordinary."
Photo and caption by Massimiliano Bencivenni
The photographer says: "I arrived at my guest house in Varanasi at 5:30 a.m., I instinctively climbed the seven sets of stairs to the rooftop (which happened to be the highest in the vicinity) to see the sunrise over the famous Ganges River. As the sun was rising, I looked over the right hand side of the balcony and my jaw dropped with disbelief. Below were families — mothers, fathers, children, brothers, sister and dogs all sleeping on the top of their houses. It was mid-summer in Varanasi and sleeping sans AC was difficult."
Photo and caption by Yasmin Mund
The photographer says: "This photo was taken on my last trip to GuangZhou, China. This place is a school dormitories of South China Normal University. When I was hanging around, most of them were taking a break. After the lunch time, they need to go back to study. The dormitories were smelly and messy."
Photo and caption by Wing Ka H.
The photographer says: "The Baltinache Ponds, also called Hidden Ponds, are a set of seven salt ponds located in the area of the Salt Cordillera, near San Pedro de Atacama, in the second region of northern Chile, in the Atacama Desert. After much research, I [am] believed to be the first photographer to publish night photos of this place, but it is still necessary to confirm this information. Tech details: Photography done in one shot. Foreground was illuminated by the moonlight."
Photo and caption by Victor Lima
The photographer says: "Kinnaura tribal old women in remote village in Himachal. Pradesh carrying big log back home to warm up her house."
Photo and caption by Mattia Passarini
The photographer says: "Lightning seemingly strikes Komtar Tower, the most iconic landmark of George Town, capital of Penang state in Malaysia. It is symbolic of the rejuvenation that the city, famous for a unique blend of centuries-old buildings and modern structures, has enjoyed in recent years. While many of its old neighborhoods fell into neglect in the 1990s and early 2000s, UNESCO World Heritage listing in 2008 sparked a transformation, and today, they are all part of a vibrant tourist destination."
Photo and caption by Jeremy Tan
The photographer says: "A weightlifter lifts a barbell loaded with heavy plates while a bodybuilder performs an aerial handstand at the Muscle Beach Gym in Venice Beach, CA."
Photo and caption by Dotan Saguy
The photographer says: "In the helicopter looking south on Central Park West — dividing the architecture and Central Park, on November 5, 2014, a day before my 27th birthday. The flight was my birthday gift."
Photo and caption by Kathleen Dolmatch
The photographer says: "This photo was taken far out on the sea ice in the Davis Straight off the coast of Baffin Island. This mother polar bear and her yearling are perched atop a huge snow covered iceberg that got 'socked in' when the ocean froze over for the winter. To me, the relative 'smallness' of these large creatures when compared to the immensity of the iceberg in the photo represents the precariousness of the polar bear's reliance on the sea and sea ice for its existence."
Photo and caption by John Rollins