Massive glaciers, staggering mountains, plains dotted with wild animals: We sure live in a big, beautiful world. And while pinpointing all of Mother Nature’s most significant hits could take a lifetime, we think these out-of-this-world landscapes and awe-inspiring wonders, from Arizona to Antarctica, need to move to the very top of your travel list.
Angel Falls. The tallest waterfall in the world, Angel Falls in Venezuela certainly makes for one of the most spectacular sights imaginable. Shooting off the summit of a tabletop mountain, the fall plunges 807 meters uninterrupted to the jungle below, with much of the water turning to mist before it reaches the ground. Adding in its other cascades and rapids and Angel Falls’ total height is a whopping 979 meters. Due to its remote location in Canaima National Park, Angel Falls is quite hard to visit, though its stunning setting and awe-inspiring scenery certainly make it well worth the effort.
Giant’s Causeway Situated at the base of steep cliffs on the northeast coast of Ireland, the Giant’s Causeway is a natural rock formation that does indeed look as if giants fashioned it. The honeycomb formation of hexagon-shaped basalt columns appears too geometrically perfect to have been shaped by nature. It actually took 60 million years of tectonic plate movement, lava flows, and erosion to fashion the stepping-stone columns into their present shape. Cliff-top trails offer great views of the rocks, and a flight of steps leads down to sea level.
Nā Pali Coast. Dominating and defining the northwest of Kaua’i, the Na Pali Coast is one of Hawaii’s most famous and photographed sights. Its gigantic jagged cliffs rise to 1,200 meters above the sparkling waters of the Pacific Ocean, with scenic beaches and coves hidden below. As the rugged terrain is so inaccessible, the only way to visit is by hiking, kayaking, or helicopter, with phenomenal panoramas wherever you look. While it is famed for having featured in Jurassic Park, the grand and gorgeous stretch of coastline has appeared in numerous films and TV shows over the years.
Mount Everest. As the highest mountain in the world, Mount Everest attracts climbers of all levels, from well-experienced mountaineers to novice climbers willing to pay substantial sums to professional mountain guides to complete a successful climb. Although other eight-thousanders such as K2 are much more difficult to climb, Mount Everest still has many inherent dangers such as altitude sickness, weather, and wind. At the base of Everest, Sherpas and mountaineers work overtime to prepare for their trip to the summit.
Pulpit Rock. One of the most famous and phenomenal sights in Norway, the prominent Pulpit Rock lies in the southwest of the country, overlooking the lovely Lysefjorden. Formed during the last ice age, the sheer cliff towers 604 meters above its surroundings, with staggering views of the deep, dark waters and dramatic landscapes below. Due to its outstanding beauty, Pulpit Rock attracts hordes of tourists every year.
Wadi Rum. In Southern, Jordan is Wadi Rum, a desert valley known for its breathtaking scenery. There are no permanent settlements in this secluded desert region, but nomadic tribes do occasionally pass through. Although deserts are often imagined as dunes, Wadi Rum boasts sandstone mountains and towering granite cliffs. The distinctive reddish-orange colors that lend the area an otherworldly quality has brought several science-fiction films here to replicate the Red Planet. Visitors can ride a camel across the amazing desert and camp out under the clear, star-filled sky.
Lake Baikal. The deepest and oldest lake on Earth, Lake Baikal is reputed to boast some of the clearest and cleanest waters around. To top it all off, the enormous freshwater lake contains more water than all the Great Lakes in North America combined. With so many accolades to its name, it’s no wonder that Lake Baikal is nicknamed the ‘Pearl of Siberia.’ While the lake makes for fabulous viewing when the summer sun glints off its dark waters, it is no less impressive in winter when it freezes up two meters deep in parts. Whether it’s ice skating across the surface or hiking along the scenic shoreline, Lake Baikal is a nature lover’s dream.
The Maldives Located in the middle of the Indian Ocean, the idyllic Maldives archipelago is spellbindingly beautiful. Close to the equator, the Maldives has a warm and tropical climate that’s perfect for lazy beach days all year round. This low-lying island group is celebrated for its high level of luxury and emphasis on the slow life. Perfect for honeymooners, the Maldives’ designer accommodation is out of this world – take your pick of underwater villas, over-water villas, and everything in between. There’s even an underwater restaurant for those looking to dine surrounded by schools of tropical fish. As relaxation is key in the Maldives, you can spend your days sipping on cocktails and sunbathing, interspersed with a diving excursion to keep things interesting.
Banff National Park. Canada’s oldest national park, Banff, is chock full of awesome scenery. Set amongst the beauty of the Canadian Rockies, the park contains several beautiful lakes, including Lake Louise, the gem of the park, and the much-photographed Moraine Lake. It’s also a good place to see glaciers, ice fields, and wildlife, including elk, deer, moose, and bears. As a year-round tourism destination, the park draws three million visitors annually; they come for winter sports, and summer hiking and camping.
Salar de Uyuni. Located in the Andes Mountains, Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat in the world. The expanse of salt creates an unending white landscape during the dry season, but the area is most breathtaking in the rainy season when it is covered in water. The reflection of the blue sky creates a spectacular and surreal landscape, though some tourists insist on seeing the salt. One of the most unusual places to visit in South America, it’s also a major breeding ground for flamingoes.
Yellowstone. The granddaddy of American national parks, Yellowstone is the oldest in the United States and the world, having been founded in 1872. When it was first discovered, stories of the magnificence of the area were passed off as lies and tall tales. You can see why: erupting geysers here belch steam and water, such as the clockwork Old Faithful. There are boiling hot springs, like the Grand Prismatic Spring; thanks to differing temperatures and minerals as the waters spread out, this is a veritable rainbow of unbelievable colors. There’s even the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone – a natural wonder in granite. This place is a true icon of must-see nature.
Iguazu Falls. Made up of some 275 different cascades, falls, and drops, Iguazu Falls on the Argentine-Brazilian border is the world’s largest waterfall system. As such, it is the only waterfall that can rival or possibly even surpass Victoria Falls. For almost three kilometers in total, gorgeous falls course over the Parana Plateau, with the undoubted highlight being Devil’s Throat Canyon. This is best witnessed from the Brazilian side’s viewing platform, where you are greeted with teeming sheets of water, a deafening roar, and a fine spray. With lush rainforest lying around it, the falls are a treat to visit. Visitors can take boat trips along the Iguazu River or explore the nearby paths and trails.
The Sahara Desert. The Sahara is the world’s largest hot desert covering most of Northern Africa, making it almost as large as the United States. Contrary to popular belief, large sand dunes form only a minor part of the Sahara. Most of the desert consists of largely barren, rocky plateaus, with very little sand. The Sahara receives less than three inches of rain a year on average. Even in the Sahara’s wettest areas, it may rain only once or twice a week and not rain again for years.
Galapagos Islands.If you want to get a glimpse of what prehistoric animals may have looked like, head to the Galapagos Islands. The animals are like no other place on earth and include giant tortoises and scary-looking iguanas. They were the impetus for Charles Darwin’s controversial 19th-century book, On the Origin of Species. This archipelago of 18 major islands, about 550 miles off the coast of Ecuador, was formed – and is still being formed – by volcanic action.
Pamukkale. Pamukkale, meaning “cotton castle” in Turkish, is an unreal landscape in western Turkey, famous for its white terraces. The terraces are made of travertine, a sedimentary rock deposited by water with a very high mineral content from the hot springs. People have bathed in its pools for thousands of years. The ancient Greek city of Hierapolis was built on top of the hot springs by the kings of Pergamon. The ruins of the baths and other Greek monuments can still be seen at the site.
Zhangjiajie National Forest. Located in northwest Hunan Province, Zhangjiajie National Forest boasts some of the most impressive and spectacular landscapes in China. Part of the Wuling Mountain Range, the scenic area is particularly famous for the thousands of pillars and peaks that punctuate the park. Often shrouded in mist, these karst formations look incredible, and many of them tower over two hundred meters high. Covered in sub-tropical rainforests, they rise above plunging ravines and deep gorges, with sparkling rivers, lakes, and waterfalls found here and there.
The Northern Lights. An incredible natural phenomenon, the polar lights, and their captivating colors, shapes, and swirls appear when there is solar activity. The best chance to spot them will be in the winter when the nights are longer. The further north you go, and the further you travel away from cities, the better your view will be. Besides watching them out of your window, you can also take tours into the wilderness to see the shimmering lights from secluded, light-free spots and stay at cozy cabins and campgrounds.
Great Barrier Reef. The largest coral reef system on the face of the earth, the Great Barrier Reef is simply colossal. Stretching for over 1,400 miles, it is remarkably visible from space, with 900 islands dotting this enormous ecosystem. Snorkeling and scuba diving are the best ways to experience the joys of the rich underwater world, while boat trips, kayaking, and even helicopter rides offer another view of the reef’s gargantuan proportions. Gently sailing through the perfect turquoise waters, dolphins, sea turtles and the reef itself are visible below the waves, is an unforgettable experience.
Antarctica. Antarctica, on average, is the coldest, driest, and windiest continent on the planet, and has the highest average elevation of all the continents. Although about 98% of Antarctica is covered by ice, it is technically a desert with very little precipitation. Antarctica is colder than the Arctic because much of the continent is more than 2 miles above sea level, and because the Arctic Ocean covers the north polar zone transferring the ocean’s relative warmth through the icepack. Sea life in Antarctica includes penguins, blue whales, orcas, and seals.
Mount Bromo Mount Bromo is an active volcano and part of the Tengger massif, in East Java. At 2,329 meters it is not the highest peak of the massif, but it is the most well-known. The area is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Java. The top of the volcano has been blown off and the crater inside constantly belches white smoke. It is surrounded by the Sea of Sand of fine volcanic sand. The overall effect is unsettlingly unearthly.
Victoria Falls. If you thought that Niagara Falls was large, well, Victoria Falls dwarfs it with its colossal curtain of water that stretches for 1,708 meters, reaching 108 meters in height. It is these epic proportions that make Victoria Falls the largest waterfall in the world. Breathtaking to behold, the endless flow of water that tumbles over the cliff almost defies belief. Fittingly, the cacophonous roar that rises from the gorge below and the fine spray that hangs in the air saw the falls named ‘The Smoke That Thunders’ in the local Lozi language. Nestled on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls truly needs to be seen to be believed.
Grand Canyon. Renowned the world over, the Grand Canyon needs no introduction. One of the largest canyons in the world really has to be seen to be properly appreciated. Whether you visit the North, South, East, or West Rim areas, it’s always a giant sculpture of light and shadow that barrels its way across an awesome landscape. Around the national park that encompasses it, there are a whole host of trails and viewpoints; Cape Royal on the North Rim is a top vista of many major parts of the Grand Canyon. You can even reach down to the canyon floor, over a mile down in some places, via steep, meandering trails.
Ha Long Bay. Located in northeastern Vietnam, Ha Long Bay resembles a scene from a fantasy story with its thousands of limestone karst islands of different shapes and sizes. Halong means descending dragons, which is indicative of the silhouette of the limestone outcrops that poke out from the water. Some of the islands contain lakes while some are hollow, with a colorful fairyland of grottoes inside. An overnight boat trip is a spectacular way to experience the beauty of the bay and to see as many of the islands as possible.
Amazon Rainforest. If you lived long enough to count that high, you could count 390 billion trees in the Amazon rainforest. This statistic is mind-boggling, to be sure, but then the Amazon rainforest is one awesome piece of nature, covering about ¾ of the Amazon River basin. It is the world’s largest tropical rainforest. Sixty percent of the rainforest is located in Brazil with sizeable chunks in Peru and Columbia; bordering countries have small shares. For sure, the rainforest is loaded with unique flora and fauna.
Serengeti Migration. The Serengeti ecosystem is located in northwestern Tanzania and extends to southwestern Kenya. The region hosts the largest mass movement of land mammals on the planet and one of the most breathtaking events in the animal kingdom. Every year, one million wildebeest and 200,000 zebra make a 300-mile round trip from the Southern Serengeti in Tanzania to the northern edge of the Masai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. The Great Migration is probably Africa’s greatest safari spectacle and the most exceptional natural wonder of the world.