Beginning a few months ago in March, photographers all over the world entered the 2014 National Geographic Traveler Photo Contest . They submitted travel portraits, outdoor scenes, photos that captured a sense of places, and ones that represented spontaneous moments. Judges received more than 18,000 entries and sifted through images of stunning ice caves, desert views, and scenes from cultures far, far away. Here are the winning images, just as stunning as you'd imagine, accompanied by captions written by the photographers themselves. Hope you enjoy them as much as we have.
Source: Marc Henauer 
Grand Prize — The Independence Day
Location: Julesburg, Colorado, USA
"While on storm chasing expeditions in the Tornado Alley in USA, I have encountered many photogenic supercell storms. This photograph was taken while we were approaching the storm near Julesburg, Colorado, on May 28th, 2013. The storm was tornado warned for more than one hour, but stayed an LP storm through all its cycles and never produced a tornado, just occasional brief funnels, large hail, and some rain."
— Marko Korošec 
Second Place — First Time
Location: Mea Shearim, Jerusalem, Israel
"Mea Shearim, ultra Orthodox district of Jerusalem. Newly married, Aaron and Rivkeh after the wedding  ceremony are to stay together for the very first time, alone. Their marriage was arranged by families. 18 years old candidates confirmed the choice in result of the one meeting only. Since then until the wedding day they were prohibited to meet or even talk."
— Agnieszka Traczewska 
Third Place — Diver in Magic Kingdom
Location: Grüner See at Tragöss, Austria
"Green Lake (Grüner See) is located Tragöss Austria. In spring snowmelt raises the lake level about 10 meters. This phenomenon, which lasts only a few weeks covering the hiking trails, meadows, trees. The result is magical to watch diving landscapes."
— Marc Henauer 
Merit Winner — Khotso Peace at Devil's Knuckles
Location: Jonathans Lodge, Qachas Nek, Sehlabathebe National Park, Lesotho
"On arrival at Jonathan's Lodge our horses took to celebrating liberation from their heavy burdens. With the backdrop of 'The Devil's Knuckles' and the afternoons glow how could I not take advantage of these magnificent creatures rejoicing in the afternoons glow. This was the end of the first of a three day horse back ride through Bushman's Nek, up the Drakensberg escarpment and into Lesothos' Sehlabathebe National Park."
— Byron Inggs 
Merit Winner — Divine Makeover
Location: Kaveripattinam, Tamilnadu, India
"Taken during 'The Mayana Soora Thiruvizha' festival takes place every March in the small village of Kaveripattinam, the day after Mahashivarathiri (The great night of Shiva). The festival is devoted to Angalamman, a fierce guardian deity worshipped widely in Southern India."
— Mahesh Balasubramanian 
Merit Winner — End of the World
Location: Banos, Ecuador
"This photo, taken at the 'end of the world' swing in Banos, Ecuador, captures a man on the swing overlooking an erupting Mt. Tungurahua. The eruption took place on February 1st, 2014. Minutes after the photo was taken, we had to evacuate the area because of an incoming ash cloud."
— Sean Hacker Teper 
Merit Winner — Foggy Small Town
Location: Český Krumlov, South Bohemian, Czech Republic
"This photo was captured at noon, December 25, 2013, from the castle which is located on the edge of the small town  and is the perfect viewpoint for the panorama of the almost intact historical town. The fog and mist suffused and gave the town a sense of mystery."
— Duowen Chen 
Merit Winner — A Well Earned Rest in the Sahara
Location: Summit of Tin-Merzouga, Tadrat, Tassili N'Ajjer National Park, Algeria
"This photo, of Moussa Macher, our Touareg guide, was taken at the summit of Tin-Merzouga, the largest dune (or erg) in the Tadrat region of the Sahara desert in southern Algeria. Moussa rested while waiting for us to finish our 45 minute struggle to the top. It only took 10 minutes of rolling, running, and jumping to get to get back down. The Tadrat is part of the Tassili N'Ajjer National Park World Heritage Area, famous for its red sand, and engravings and rock paintings of cattle, elephants, giraffes, and rhinos that lived there when the climate was milder."
— Evan Cole 
Merit Winner — Ladies in Waiting
Location: Burough Market, London, England
"While exploring Burough Market in London, I was delighted to come across four lovely young women dressed in vintage white dresses, eating ice cream as the local shopkeeper looked on. Are they brides? Or bridesmaids. I don't know, but they are obviously enjoying a very special day."
— Susie Stern 
Merit Winner — LightSource
Location: Old Bagan, Burma
"Young Monk finds a perfect light source to read his book inside of his pagoda."
— Marcelo Castro