There are some destinations that call to us for their rich history and ancient landmarks, others that beckon with the promise of delicious food and easygoing café culture, and others still so enticing for their mountains, lakes, and other adventure-ridden natural backdrops but these destinations are best known for their wow factors. Natural phenomena around the world draw visitors from far and wide, itching to catch a glimpse of something so rare and mysterious that even if there is an explanation, it’s hard to fathom nature can work such wondrous sights.
8. Hierapolis‑Pamukkale, Turkey
Pamukkale city is also called Cotton Castle, a perfect name for the magnificent site in southwestern Turkey. Terraces, travertine, and hot springs were created by carbonate minerals over centuries, leftover by streaming, calcite-weighty waters derived from a nearly 700-foot cliff overlooking the plain. The landscape is unreal, almost unfathomable in its purity and intense whiteness. Terraced basins, mineral forests, and a collection of petrified waterfalls blanket the terrain, creating the look that spawned its name. The Hierapolis thermal spas, part of this natural phenomenon, were created when the 2nd century BC came to a close during the Attalids dynasty. The Byzantine and Roman spa city, Hieropolis is one of the most fascinating ruins in Turkey, well protected and preserved by its UNESCO status. The ruins of the Greek monuments, baths, and temples are located at the UNESCO World Heritage Sight. Though visitors cannot walk directly on terraces, the small, cerulean pools are open for dips. Dodge the crowds, stay overnight, and visit at sunset for an exceptional experience.
7. Glowworm Caves, New Zealand
Guided tours have been happening at the Glowworm Caves in New Zealand’s Waitomo region since the 1800s and there’s little wonder why. Within the caves, the magical spot known as the Glowworm Grotto has received attention from around the world and is an iconic attraction in New Zealand. Across the walls and ceilings of the caves, a starry glow is ignited by innumerable glowworms, a species exclusive to New Zealand and measuring the size of a regular mosquito. Over 30 millions years ago, the Waitomo legend started with the formation of limestone in the ocean’s deepest reaches. Now, these limestone creations have become known as one of the most inspirational and incredible natural wonders on the planet. Professional guides lead trips through the cave, where visitors are guided silently across cave waters where the sight comes into full view. The glowworms dot the caves while their silks hang down from the ceilings like stringy luminous decorations.
6. Avenue of the Baobabs, Madagascar
One of the world’s most famous outdoor alleys, the Avenue of the Baobabs is Madagascar’s most prevailing natural wonder. The fairytale trees are found in the Menabe region, lining an old dirt road, and are one of the continent’s most impressive sights. Madagascar, one of Africa’s island countries, place laden with rainforest and featuring deserts, beaches, and fantastic wildlife–getting there is half the fun. Best known as the “upside down tree,” baobabs are also called bottle trees, boab trees, and boaboa trees, some of which are more than 800 years old. The circumference of the baobab can reach around 160 feet and the diameter of larger specimens near 40 feet, making them some of the biggest in Africa. Though most of the largest baobabs are located in Madagascar, they can also be found in other parts of the continent though Madagascar’s are the remarkable.
5. Wisteria Tunnel, Japan
Just six hours travel from Tokyo is the city of Kitakyushu where the Kawachi Fuji Garden wows visitors. Swaths of gorgeous Wisteria, spanning more than 20 unique species, flower here between April and May. This is one of the only places you can stroll through fabulous gardens and then move on to stroll through a tunnel of variegated purples, plums, whites, and lilacs, all vibrantly bursting with colour, creating a spectacular natural setting. The dreamlike setting hits its peak in April, the best time to go, but it’s still extraordinary anytime during season (the garden itself is private and does require a fee for entry). The tunnel is blanketed in the different Wisteria species, which are trained over a large, arching trellis while underneath the grass is a lush emerald, creating a passage completely enveloped in flora. I this doesn’t feel like a fairytale setting, nothing will.
4. Angel Falls, Venezuela
Most would gawk at the size of Niagara Falls on either the Canadian or American side of the cascading giant but there’s a waterfall even more immense than Niagara–Angel Falls in Venezuela located in Canaima National Park. At more than 14 times the size of Niagara Falls, it comes thundering off of Auyantepui, a tabletop mountain. The falls commemorate the first person to fly over them, U.S. aviator Jimmy Angel. The falls take the record as the world’s highest continual waterfall, cascading without one single interruption. Stretching skyward more than 3,200 feet, the total measured height consists mainly of the main plunge but also includes sloping cascades, the whitewater rapids found below, and an almost 100-foot plunge ensuing at the talus rapids. Getting there is feat: ride the Rio Churun and El Rio Carrao (rivers) for four hours, cross a broad stream, and take a 90-minute climb to the vantage point. The journey is a bonafide Venezuelan adventure and well worth any struggle.
3. Cave of the Crystals, Mexico
Located 980 feet below the Chihuahua Desert, the enormous Cave of Crystals is home to the largest formations discovered on Earth, formed over millennia, and the biggest being 39 feet long and 55 tons in weight. Massive beams of selenite dwarf human explorers in Mexico’s Cave of Crystals, deep below the Chihuahuan Desert. In 2000, two brothers were drilling deep in the mines of Naica, one of the country’s most profitable mines yielding tons of silver and lead each year. They happened upon the Cave of Crystals. At first glimpse, it was nothing they had never seen before as the silver and lead present the raw materials necessary to form crystals and several smaller crystals had previously been discovered throughout the mines. Upon closer inspection, drilling farther and farther, the brothers unearthed the geological wonder and cracked one of Mexico’s largest attractions wide open-quite literally. The 20-minute approach via a meandering mine shaft in the heat and darkness is worth every minute.
2. Sea of Stars -Vaadhoo Island, Maldives
The Maldives is home to one of the most jaw-droppingly beautiful islands known in the world, Vaadhoo Island. Located on the Raa Atoll, this natural phenomena is known to the world as the Sea of Stars because of the way the luminescent blue waves drift across the water. The natural phenomenon originates from bioluminescence, a naturally occurring chemical reaction which happens when oxygen disturbs a microorganism in the water. Phytoplankton is what these marine microbes are called and they live all around the world–Vaadhoo Island is not the only place you’ll catch the vibrant show. Bioluminescence occurs in many other places (but not nearly as intensely) including Australia, Jamaica, and parts of the United States. Within the Maldives, bioluminescence also happens in Rangali and Mudhdhoo. Seeing the radiant occurrence ablaze under a sea of stars might just be one of the best ways in the world to spend an evening.
1. Dark Hedges, Ireland
If you’ve ever seen a Tim Burton movie, you might just feel like you stepped right inside one of his marvels when walking through the Dark Hedges in Armoy, Ireland. The twisted, gnarled, and massive row of beeches lining Armoy’s Bregagh Road, with their incredibly thick, barked-caked trunks create one of the most bizarre and eerie sights in the country. The Dark Hedges were planted in the 1900s by a family named Stuart as an impressive vision along the road to their estate, Gracehill House (now a golf club), up the road. Rumors of the Grey Lady, a ghost that presumably haunts the road, are ripe and word is she frequently travels the road after dusk. Ghost stories aside, 300 years after the planting of the beech trees, they have gown so much they’ve reached several hundred feet up and crossed the road, growing into each other creating an intertwined and unearthly tunnel where lights and shadows play through entangled branches. This is Northern Ireland’s most photographed site and one to have appeared in movies and TV series including Game of Thrones.