14 Breathtaking Places You Probably Didn’t Know Existed

Are you tired of visiting the same locations as millions of other tourists each year? Have you visited places like the Grand Canyon in the USA, Machu Picchu in Peru, and the Coliseum in Italy, but now feel yourself longing for something less ‘typical’? Our Earth is filled with an excess of far-fetched places, some we have all heard of, and some we haven’t.  While locations like the Grand Canyon, Machu Picchu, and the Coliseum are all spectacular sites to visit, they are overrun by tourists each year, littering the beauty of their location. Maybe it’s time to start discovering destinations that are not on most people’s radar, but equally as stunning- if not more. Traveling somewhere beautiful and undiscovered makes for a special trip. There’s just something charming about going to a place that isn’t as well known. Here are 14 Breathtaking Places You Probably Didn’t Know Existed to add to your travel bucket list.

14. Quiraing

To visit the Isle of Skye in Scotland without experiencing the Quiraing seems entirely unthinkable. Part of the Trotternish Ridge, which was formed by a great series of landslips, the massive landslip in the Quiraing has created tall cliffs, hidden plateaus and peaks of rock.  The Quiraing is the only part of the slip that is still moving and requires repairs each year. Parts of the distinctive landscape have earned particular names, such as the Needle, which is a jagged 120-foot high landmark pinnacle, a remnant of land slipping. Northwest of it is the Table, a flat grassy area from the summit plateau, with views of the marvelous Torridon Hills and the mountains of Wester Ross. Southwest is the Prison, a pyramidal rocky peak that can look like a medieval keep when viewed from a proper angle.

If you are fit enough, walk the narrow path and journey up and down the vertical slopes. Classed as medium in length, and hard in difficulty, it covers a distance of 4.2 miles, with the average time to complete the walk being roughly 2 hours with no stops. You are guaranteed wonder and amazement with some of the most incredible landscapes and beautiful sunsets found in Scotland- so don’t forget to bring your camera!

Quiraing

13. Hvítserkur

Hvítserkur is a rock that rises 50 feet from the sea, found on the eastern shore of the Vatnsnes Peninsula, in the northwest of Iceland.  Hvítserkur, which means “white shirt” in Icelandic, comes from the color of the sea-bird excrement deposited on the rock from the several species of birds that reside on it. This unusual rock formation was once the plug of a volcano, but over the years the craters surrounding the rock plug gave way to the pounding Atlantic Ocean, leaving only the bizarre outcropping of Hvítserkur behind. To protect the rock’s foundations, the base of the rock has been reinforced with concrete, helping it stay in its place. At low tides it is possible to walk out beyond the protruded rock.

In 1990, the geological oddity was even commemorated on an Icelandic stamp. Since the rock has two holes at its base, some say it looks like a thirsty dragon drinking from the Atlantic Ocean. Icelandic legend says that the rock used to be a troll that forgot to retreat itself from the light and as a consequence was turned to stone during sunrise.

Hvítserkur

12. Hamilton’s Pool Preserve

Located about 23 miles west of Austin, Texas, this unique natural pool has been a popular summer destination for Austin visitors and its residents since the 1960’s. Hamilton’s Pool Preserve is a natural pool that was created when the dome of an underground river collapsed due to thousands of years of massive water erosion. Cultural remains date this site back over 8,000 years.

The Preserve consists of 232 acres of protected natural habitat containing a beautiful jade green pool into which a 50-foot waterfall drops into the canyon adding to a pool of water that never entirely dries up. The pool is surrounded by large chunks of limestone that rest by the water’s edge and large stalactites that grow from the ceiling above. Hamilton’s Pool Preserve contains lush plant communities and a plethora of wildlife species. Flora ranges from semi-arid species in the uplands to riparian species in the canyon. In the uplands of the preserve you can find juniper and oak savannah with a variety of native grasses and wildflowers. In the canyon, you can see several rare plant species including canyon mock-orange, red bay, and chatter box orchid. Fauna include a variety of birds such as the endangered golden-cheeked warbler and cliff swallows.

Hamilton’s Pool Preserve

11. Namaqualand

Namaqualand is an arid region of Namibia and South Africa, extending over 600 miles along the west coast. Namaqualand becomes a popular destination in early spring, for both local and international tourists; when for a short period of time, this typically arid area becomes covered with a kaleidoscope of color during the flowering season (early August to late September). This area receives very little rain throughout the year, however after the winter rains of May through July, the normally barren landscape becomes a canvas of a variety of different wild flowers with vibrant colors.

The wide variety of wild flowers is largely due to the varied topography in this region. For example, many fertile valleys contrast with the high mountains, the semi-desert plains of the north contrast with the unique sandveld region near the coast with its wetter areas. Certain flora is found nowhere else in the world except in this area. Some years are better than others, all depending on the winter and spring seasons. Countless paintings, poems, novels, and prose have been dedicated to this annual spectacle of color, and rightfully so.

Namaqualand

10. Dean’s Blue Hole

While most other known blue holes only reach maximum depths of 360 feet, Dean’s Blue Hole, found in a bay west of Clarence Town on Long Island in the Bahamas, plunges a whopping 663 feet down below, making it the deepest known salt water blue hole. It is still unknown exactly how Dean’s Blue Hole was formed since it’s much deeper than most blue holes, but one hypothesis is that a much deeper cave slowed and moved upward as its ceiling eroded away.

The coral caves and sand banks on the side of the entrance are home to all kinds of tropical reef life, like shrimps, snappers, and groupers. Friendly sea turtles can sometimes be found in the hole taking a break from the ocean currents, and schools of tarpon fish hang in the hole’s shadows. In April 2010, professional and courageous diver William Trubridge broke a free-diving world record in the blue hole by reaching a depth of 302 feet without the use of fins. He decided to take it a step further in December of 2010, when he swam to a depth of 331 feet on a single breath while using only his hands and feet for propulsion!

Photo by: Alexandre Durocher
Photo by: Alexandre Durocher

9. The Flatirons

The Flatirons are rock formations near Boulder, Colorado, and is the perfect place for hikers and climbers. Although the Flatirons are made up of several small formations, there are five large, numbered Flatirons, from north to south, along the east slope of the Green Mountain, that are the most popular. Climbing options in the Flatirons can vary between obscure boulders and chunks scattered through the woods to technical summits and chillingly exposed towers. Climbing history dates back over a hundred years, and generations of the world’s best climbers have developed their skills on these Flatirons.

Accessible via trailheads in Chautauqua Park, there are dozens of named formations and established routes numbered in the hundreds to the thousands. A significant number of the routes finish on high summits and should not be missed if you enjoy climbing long and reasonable routes with worthwhile finishes. Certain climbs, the First and Third Flatirons for example, can be very crowded on weekends, but it’s easy to find solitude in the multitude of other less visited cliffs. Noteworthy summits in the Flatirons, aside from the numbered Flatirons themselves, include: the Devil’s Thumb, the Maiden, the Matron, Seal Rock and the Amphitheater towers.

The Flatirons

8. Benagil

The bluer-than-blue waters of this small Portuguese town are home to a mind-blowing sea grotto. This grotto, or algar in Portuguese, is found on the Algarve coast of Portugal –the country’s most southern coast. The grotto is located 500 feet to the east of the small beach and little fishing village of Benagil. The sea cave has two magnificent entrances, a huge collapsed roof, a secluded beach of sand and a circular inner grotto.

Access to this beautiful place is only by water. The first, easiest and most comfortable, is by commercial boat. Tours leave from several beaches nearby and some include this and other caves around the area as well. If you do take the tour however, you are not allowed off the boat. Another great option is renting a kayak. Many of the same companies that provide the boat tours also rent the kayak equipment. This option is recommended for those that want to go more inside the grotto and take some breathtaking pictures.

Benagil

7. Whitehaven Beach

A postcard perfect beach, Whitehaven Beach is a 4.3 mile stretch along Whitsunday Island, Australia and is the largest of the 74 islands in the Whitsundays. The turquoise, blue and green water, and the fact that the sand is 98% pure white silica give this place a brilliant, near luminescent color. The crystal clear aqua waters and pristine silica sand make it the most photographed beach in Australia. At the northern end of Whitehaven Beach is Hill Inlet, a stunning cove where the tide shifts the sand and water to create a beautiful fusion of colors.  As the tide shifts, the white silica sand and shades of turquoise blend flawlessly to create a breathtaking view of swirling Whitsunday colors.  It definitely defines nature at its best and provides the greatest sense of relaxation and escape for tourists from all over the world.

Whitehaven Beach is just a thirty-minute trip on a high-speed catamaran, and Hamilton Island offers several Whitehaven Beach day trips and Whitehaven Beach tours. Visitors can also choose to take a scenic helicopter tour and seaplane flights over Hill Inlet to give visitors an amazing aerial view of the magical water and sand dance below them.

Whitehaven Beach

6. Vatnajokull Ice Caves

Quiet a mesmerizing wonder of nature; the Vatnajokull ice caves are located inside an Icelandic glacier. Located on the south-east of the island, Vatnajokull itself is the largest and most voluminous Icelandic ice cap, and without a doubt one of the largest in area in Europe, so it’s no wonder visitors want to enter this massive glacier and explore its ice caves with their blue color and intriguing light. Created by the forces of the Vatnajvkull ice cap, the ice caves emerged as a result of its glacier meeting the Icelandic coastline. The cave’s ice dates back centuries, and its weight has pressed out all remnant air, so the resultant formation’s texture and colors are both brilliant and out of this world. The jewel-like interior of the ice caves makes adventure seekers feel as though they are in some sort of fairy tale world.

During the winter months is the best time to visit this attractive phenomenon, in terms of accessibility and also in terms of safety. However, it is always a risk to enter an ice cave and that risk increases late in the winter. Extreme caution is advised when visiting these caves and visitors should be accompanied by a tour guide and proper safety equipment. Conditions can also be different between caves and further safety equipment might be required.

Vatnajokull

5. Lake Natron

Dry, desolate and hauntingly beautiful; wild and remote Lake Natron lies in the northeast of Tanzania in between the Ngorongoro Highlands and Serengeti plains. Situated at the base of Africa’s only active volcano Oldonyo Lengai, meaning Mountain of God, Lake Natron is one of the most alkaline lakes in the world. The alkaline water in Lake Natron can reach a pH as high as 10.5 and is so alkaline in fact, it can burn the skin and eyes of animals that aren’t adapted to it. The water’s alkalinity comes from the sodium carbonate and other minerals that flow into the lake from the surrounding hills, hot springs, and small rivers. Since it is a shallow lake in a hot climate, its water temperature can reach as high as 106 degrees Fahrenheit.

Many rumors surround Tanzania’s Lake Natron, claiming the lake turns animals to stone. While the temperature and pH do indeed make it a dangerous place for a lot of creatures, the myths are only partly true. In fact, the lake is home to millions of tiny crustaceans, and during breeding season, the lake attracts more than 2 million lesser flamingos that use the shallow lake as their primary breeding ground in Africa, making it one of the most important flamingo breeding grounds on Earth.

Lake Natron

4. Kelimutu

Mount Kelimutu, located on the island of Flores, is an Indonesian volcano and home to three summit crater lakes. Kelimutu itself means Boiling Lake and often visitors can see wreathes of steam rise from the surface of the lakes. The summit can be accessed via trek by those adventurous enough to hike to the crest of Kelimutu. Although they are all located on the same volcanic peak, each lake is distinctly a different color and fluctuates between shades as well. Although no extensive scientific evidence has been done, it’s assumed that the color variations are due to underwater fumaroles. These are openings in the planet’s surface which let out gas and steam that creates an upwelling and constantly change its appearance. As a result, the visitor is never quite sure what color the lakes will be when they reach the top.

The three crater lakes all have different names and for centuries the locals have believed that the lakes are the spiritual resting place of their ancestors. It is said the lakes change color according to the mood of the spirits. The Lake of Old People is where it is said the spirits of the old who have led honorable lives go to rest. The Lake of Old People is typically blue. The Lake of Young Men and Maidens is characteristically green. The third, the Enchanted Lake can often be seen as blood red or even olive green. Supposedly, this is the lake where the evil people go, regardless of age or sex.

Kelimutu

3. Lake Resia

Bordering Austria and Switzerland, Lake Resia holds Italy’s most famous drowned town. The 3.7 mile long Lake Resia, with its majestic background of the Vallelunga Valley, looks something like out of a postcard, but the history behind it is far less pleasant. More than 60 years ago, after the end of World War II, the city of Curon was flooded by a power company’s plan to join two natural lakes to create a giant dam. Now, the only visible remnant of the sunken town is the Romanesque bell tower of a submerged 14th-century church. Below the waters of Lake Resia, the remains of over 163 buildings are now home to fish and other creatures, rather than people.

Nowadays, visitors and tourists can hike or bike along the stunning mountain path surrounding the lake (which is also known as Reschensee or Lago di Resia). During the winter months, the waters above this sunken town freeze, allowing visitors to walk on water and to access the only visible relic of Curon. Prior to demolition and creation of the lake, the bells of the church were removed, but rumor has it that during the winter months the church bells still sound. Spooky!

Lake Resia

2. Gullfoss

Gullfoss, translated to “Golden Falls”, is one the most visited tourist attractions in Iceland, and by  far Europe’s most powerful waterfall. Part of The Golden Circle tourist route in Southern Iceland, the three primary stops of the route are Thingvellir National Park, Gullfoss Waterfall, and the geysers Geysir and Strokkur. Gullfoss is situated in the upper part of the River Hvita (White River); the water cascades down two distinct drops in succession at right angles of each other, one 36 feet high, and the other 72 feet high, into a 1.5 mile long canyon below. The rock of the river bed was formed during an interglacial period. On a sunny day, the mist clouds surrounding the thrashing falls are filled with tons of rainbows, providing a marvelous display of color and motion.

Gullfoss almost disappeared due to the desire for hydroelectricity by various foreign enterprises at the beginning of the 20th century. The daughter of the farmer who owned the land opposed this and even threatened to throw herself into the falls. She fought bravely against the use of the falls for hydroelectricity for decades, and thanks to her extreme efforts, The Ministry of Culture and Education finally signed an agreement creating a nature reserve around Gullfoss in 1979. There is even a memorial near the falls commemorating the farmer’s daughter.

Gullfoss

1. Melissani Cave

Located on the Greek island of Kefalonia in the Ionian Sea, in Greek mythology, the site is also known as the Cave of the Nymphs. The cave has a lake inside of it, and on the outside, the cave is surrounded by lush green vegetation. The cave itself is B-shaped with dual chambers, which are separated by an island in the center. The roof of one of the chambers is caved in, allowing sunlight to enter the sky-blue colored lake, creating a magical illusion that the whole cave of Melissani is lit with blue light and that boats are floating through the air. The cave is 11.5 feet long, 118 feet high, and 131 feet wide. A balcony was built on top of the cave for tourists to get a spectacular view of the inside from the top.

Legend has is that the nymph Melissani committed suicide in the lake because Pan, god of the wild, shepherds, and flocks, and companion of the nymphs, would not reciprocate Melissani’s love. Dolphins are also associated with this myth, having been used by the nymph to carry messages to her beloved Pan. After her death the dolphins turned into stone in the cave, and you can quite clearly see the shapes of dolphins in the stalactites within the cave.

Melissani Cave

The World’s 12 Most Beautiful Rainforests

Rainforests have been called our planet’s lungs. Although the official definition of rainforest is still debated, most of us will agree that these fragile and endangered ecosystems are treasure troves of natural diversity and beauty. Rainforests are home to some of the world’s most breathtaking natural panoramas and some of its strangest creatures. You don’t need to be a biologist or a botanist to appreciate the rainforests though, and some of us might be surprised to learn that rainforest ecosystems are closer than we think—some of them might even be in our own backyards. From the tropical rainforests of the Southern hemisphere to the temperate rainforests along continental coasts in the Northern hemisphere, and everything in between, here are 12 beautiful rainforests that prove just how stunning planet Earth really is. Even if you don’t consider yourself an eco-tourist now, this might just convince you to add some of these destinations to your bucket list.

12. Yanoda (China)

Endless luck / Shutterstock

The Yanoda Rainforest is located in Hainan island province, near the city of Sanya on the south coast of the island. Sanya is a well-known tourist destination as the southern-most city on the island. Part of the area’s popularity is thanks to the stunning sights of the Yanoda Rainforest, which is a popular tourist attraction itself. Of 123 square kilometers, 45 square kilometers have been set aside as the Yanoda Rainforest Cultural Tourism Zone, which has been rated by the Chinese government as an AAAAA scenic site, the highest possible rank. The government plans to invest almost 4 billion renminbi; to date, around 2 billion RMB has been invested in the development of the Rainforest Valley and the Dreamworld Valley, which allow visitors to travel 18 kilometers into the park on ring roads. Stairs, suspension bridges, and plank roads lead adventurers to giant boulders, a variety of flora and fauna, and waterfalls.

A shuttle runs between Yanoda and Sanya and visitors can purchase tickets for various activities within the park or choose from packages that include lunch and a variety of activities. Admission prices begin at 170 yuan.

11. Sinharaja (Sri Lanka)

David Cayless / Getty Images

Sinharaja is a large park in Sri Lanka. It was saved from most logging activities due to its inaccessibility and in 1978, UNESCO created it as a World Biodiversity Reserve and later designated it a World Heritage Site. Today, the hilly virgin rainforest is a treasure trove of native Sri Lankan flora and fauna, some of them endemic to the island.

Sinharaja is only 13 miles east-to-west, and less than 5 miles from north to south. Nonetheless, it represents some of the best-preserved lowland tropical rainforests on the island. Although wildlife isn’t as easy to see as at parks like Yala, there are some 15 Sri Lankan leopards living in the park, along with stripe-necked mongoose, golden palm civets, purple-faced langur monkeys, green pit vipers, and a multitude of birds and other creatures. Keep an eye out for the whistling lizard, which is best known for its alarm call. The forest itself is dense with flora typical of a humid, tropical forest. Trees are packed around 45 to 55 individuals per hectare and the average height tends to be around 40 meters, with some specimens reaching up to 50 meters!

10. Hawaii (United States)

Howard Kingsnorth / Getty Images

Most of us think of tropical rainforests as some kind of other world, places that exist in lands “far, far away.” They’re certainly not American, at least. But contrary to popular belief, there’s at least one place in the U.S. that you can find a tropical rainforest: the state of Hawaii. Tropical rainforests extend over each of the Hawaiian islands, encompassing some 2,600 square miles. Since the islands have been isolated by the Pacific Ocean for millions of years, the plant and animal species that inhabit these forests are unique; you won’t find creatures like this anywhere else under the sun!

The Hawaiian rainforests contain coastal mesic forests, mixed mesic forests, and “wet” forests. All of these subtypes have a typical rainforest structure and include both native species like koa and naturalized Polynesian plant species, such as kukui and milo. From 4,100 feet, forests receive 118 inches of rain or more each year. Many native species of birds and animals live here, but the forests are threatened by non-native species such as feral pigs. Travelers should consider a visit to these forests—before they disappear forever.

9. Daintree Rainforest (Australia)

John Crux Photography / Getty Images

Along the northeast coast of Australia, on the banks of the Daintree River, lies a dense rainforest. The forest, known as the Daintree Rainforest, is one of the most complex ecosystems in Australia and indeed, anywhere on Earth. Despite covering less than 1 percent of the Australian landmass, the forest contains 3 percent of frog, reptile, and marsupial species, 7 percent of bird species, and 90 percent of bat and butterfly species in Australia. It is also home to many primitive and ancient species, estimated to date back some 110 million years. The Idiot Fruit (idiospermum australiense) is one of these primitive species, one of the most ancient and rare flowering plants on earth.

The landscape offers nature-lovers deep gorges, swift-flowing streams and waterfalls, dense forest, and soaring peaks in ancient mountain ranges. The forest’s position along the coast allows for the tropical rainforest to be captured in the same image with white sand beaches and coastal reefs, an extremely rare combination difficult to replicate anywhere else on the planet. Art lovers will appreciate the Daintree Forest as much as scientific minds!

8. Appalachian Rainforest (United States)

Mark Baldwin / Shutterstock

While there may not be many “tropical” rainforests that are close at hand for most North Americans, there are rainforests on the North American continent. In fact, most people probably don’t realize that much of the Appalachian mountain range in the eastern U.S. is designated as a temperate rainforest biome. The area has a cool and mild climate and receives over 60 inches of rainfall per year. The forest is home to more than 30 species of salamanders. Mammals include squirrels, black bears, and white-tailed deer. Fir, spruce, beech, and birch trees are common.

Humans have inhabited the forest for around 10,000 years. The Cherokee Nation was forced to relocate to Oklahoma between 1838 and 1839. The Appalachian Trail, which spans more than 2,000 miles, was completed in 1937. Hikers can follow the route from Georgia to Maine. There are also several parks, including the Nantahala National Forest, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and the Cherokee National Forest, in the area. The Cherokee National Forest reports millions of visitors each year.

7. Harapan (Indonesia)

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On the island of Sumatra, in the South Pacific, a 98,555-hectare swath of land makes up the Harapan rainforest in Jambi province. The forest is about 20 percent of the island’s remaining forestation, despite having been selectively logged since the 1970s. It is also extremely biodiverse, sheltering some 300 different species of birds, the endangered Sumatran tiger, and the Sumatran rhinoceros. Since the forest is vulnerable to logging, the British Royal Society for the Protection of Birds has been campaigning to plant 1 million new trees in the area. The forest is currently managed by the society, along with Burung Indonesia and Birdlife International, under a 95-year license. A proposed highway through the forest is a current threat.

The Harapan Rainforest has a program that allows eco-tourists to travel through the area on a number of different adventures. For those interested in hiking, there are 4 different treks that can be undertaken, each offering a different level of challenge. Other popular guided tours include the river safari and the night safari. For those adventurous enough, camping overnight is an option, and for anyone who wants to leave a (green) mark on the forest, tree-planting is encouraged.

6. North Western Ghats (India)

Instants / Getty Images

The Western Ghat Mountains in India are home to not 1, not 2, but 4 distinct tropical rainforest ecoregions. The North Western Ghats rainforest is in southwestern India, in the northern portion of the Ghats range. The forest extends from Gujarat in the southeast to Karnataka, where the Joga Falls, the second-highest of India’s waterfalls, is a major tourist attraction. The forest covers nearly 19,000 square miles and extends to 1,000 meters up into the mountains.

The World Wildlife Fund designated 13 protected areas within the forest. Together, these areas cover about 5 percent of the forest area. Of these, Anshi National Park, in Karnataka, is one of the best to visit. The park is open between 6 am and 6 pm and offers camping, boating, rafting, canoeing, and trekking. One of the most popular attractions is the spectacular Dudhsagar waterfall, which can be reached on a 20-kilometer trek. Black panthers, Asian elephants, and tigers are known to live in the park but are rarely seen. Many species of birds and reptiles also inhabit the park. Peak tourist season is between October and May, which are considered the best months to visit, although the climate is humid year-round.

5. Vancouver Island (Canada)

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The word “rainforest” tends to evoke images of tropical regions and deep, dense jungles. In reality, there are many different types of rainforests scattered around the world, including the temperate rainforests of coastal British Columbia, Canada, which covers Vancouver Island. Part of the larger Pacific Coast temperate rainforest, the island’s rainforest flora tends to mirror that of the mainland, including the famous “big” trees of BC: western hemlock, yellow cedar, Douglas-fir, and western white pine. Some of the tallest Douglas fir specimens ever recorded were found on Vancouver Island. To the south and the east of the island, vegetation is more varied, including madrone, Oregon-grape, and red cedar. Maple and red alder trees can also be found.

The animals that inhabit this forest include black bears, cougars, Roosevelt elk, Vancouver Island marmot, and Vancouver Island wolf. The southern portion of the island is heavily populated and numerous opportunities for recreation are available. Hiking is one of the most popular pastimes on the island, as it is also home to a number of peaks, including the Golden Hinde. Lakes and rivers are plentiful, as are fjords along the western coast.

4. Primorsky Krai (Siberia, Russia)

Alexandr Sherstobitov / Getty Images

Most of us think of Siberia as an empty tundra with fields of snow stretching across vast expanses. In truth, Siberia is such a huge swath of land, accounting for as much as 10 percent of Earth’s landmass, that it inevitably has many different types of biomes and ecosystems. From the tundra in the north to steppes and plains, the Siberian landscape is rich and varied.

Perhaps the most “shocking” biome is a rainforest in Primorsky Krai, a region in southeast Siberia that borders on the Pacific Ocean and China. Primorsky Krai is almost 80 percent forested and most of that forest is a temperate rainforest. The forest is unlike any other on Earth in that it remains mostly intact, although it is threatened by illegal logging and poaching. It is one of the last refuges for the Siberian tiger and the Amur leopard, among other endangered species. The area is temperate, with the average temperature hovering around 1 degree Celsius in the north and 5 degrees in the south. Precipitation is estimated between 600 and 850 millimeters each year.

3. Monteverde (Costa Rica)

Matteo Colombo / Getty Images

A peculiar and specialized type of rainforest is known as a “cloud forest.” These forests typically appear at higher elevations, usually in mountainous regions. Like their tropical counterparts, they experience high rainfall amounts, which make them wet, but they’re often a little bit cooler. The forests develop in the saddle area of mountainous ranges, where clouds will gather, shrouding the forest in almost omnipresent fog. The fog condenses around tree leaves, which then drips down to the forest floor.

Cloud forests are important and delicate ecosystems that support a smorgasbord of life. Monteverde in Costa Rica is one such cloud forest. Perhaps the most famous of the few cloud forests around the globe, Monteverde was only “discovered” in the 1950s by some American Quakers who moved to the area. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve was founded in 1972. Around 70,000 tourists visit the reserve each year, traversing well-maintained trails and discovering the area’s wealth of flora and fauna, including over 500 species of orchids and 161 species of reptiles and amphibians. The area includes a mix of North and South American species.

2. Amazon Rainforest (South America)

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Also known as the Amazon jungle and Amazonia, this tropical rainforest covers most of the Amazon River basin in South America. The forest stretches some 2.1 million square miles, through 9 of 14 South American states. Brazil contains up to 60 percent of the forest, the most of any nation. Representing over half of the world’s remaining rainforests, the Amazon is easily the best-known rainforest on Earth. It is also the largest, with an estimated 390 billion trees encompassed in its borders.

The Amazon has unparalleled biodiversity: of every 10 species known to us, at least 1 of them lives in the Amazon. Flora are also diverse; the forest has up to 16,000 different species of trees. An examination of 62 acres in Ecuador was found to have 1,100 different types of trees! This dense forest also has a considerable impact on Earth’s climate. Deforestation has become a major concern in light of this. Despite this, the Amazon has remained largely impenetrable and many Native tribes still live deep in the forest. It was discovered that much of the lush vegetation found in the forest is the result of careful human management to create richer soils over 11,000 years.

1. Tongass National Forest (United States)

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The largest national forest in the U.S., Tongass consists of 17 million acres of temperate rainforest in the southeast of Alaska. While Alaska might be one of the last places we’d expect to find a rainforest, Tongass is part of the larger Pacific temperate rainforest, which the rainforests on the Canadian West coast mentioned earlier also belong to. Tongass is remote and relatively undisturbed, so it serves as an important refuge for many endangered animal species and rare plants. Much of the old-growth forest is now protected from logging and will never be harvested. The 75,000 people who inhabit the forest are Alaskan Native peoples who depend on the land for their livelihood.

Tongass is Earth’s largest remaining temperate rainforest, although much of the area includes wetlands, snow, ice, and rock. Close to 1 million people visit the forest every year. Approximately 150 cabins are available for rent and there are several areas that are designated bear-viewing areas. There are also 15 campgrounds scattered through the forest, many with backdrops against the magnificent Alaskan wilderness and glaciers. Kayaking and canoeing through fjords is a popular activity.

10 Things to See and Do in Bali

Bali is known for silky white sand beaches, open air restaurants, towering volcanic mountains and a backdrop that is worth a thousand words. Besides the breathtaking scenery of this provincial jewel of Indonesia, Bali offers over 20,000 temples to explore, lush rolling hills of rice fields and local cuisine that will have you begging for more. With abundant marine life, cheeky monkeys and playful dolphins; Bali offers all visitors the chance to get closer to nature. Discover the extraordinary friendliness that the local Balinese people portray and dive into a world where relaxations, meditation and tranquility make for a beautiful way of life. Here are ten things EscapeHere recommends not missing out on while in Bali.

10. Jatiluwih Rice Fields

Escape the heat of Bali and head to the breathtaking land known as Jatiluwih Rice Fields. Dug deep into the hillside, the ribbons of green are surrounded by coconut trees. Watch the local Balinese hard at work in the fields and make conversation with them to learn more about the process. You will find yourself running out of words for the color green as the brilliant shades seem to go on forever. Getting to the rice fields takes a couple hours but once you arrive; it is all worth it.

Choose to drive through them, hike amongst them, take a horseback ride or even scooter around the fields. Come in the morning and stay for lunch in one of many traditional restaurants that overlook the fields. This breathtaking scenery is not only a part of life for the locals but also a testament to how Bali is more than just beach. Step off the beaten path, escape the throngs of tourists and find peace in the spectacular Jatiluwih rice fields.

Rice Fields Bali

9. Try your Hand at Organic Cooking

With eye opening flavors, delicious local cuisine and the freshest of ingredients; eating is something everyone will enjoy in Bali. From hundreds of open air restaurants serving exotic creations to the freshest seafood one can get; the opportunities are endless. We encourage you to take a day away from these ever popular spots and try something new. Head to the organic farm in Sidemen for a truly unique and authentic experience.

A family member will pick you up from your hotel and first take you to the Klungkung Market where you will sample local food and drink. Once you have explored the market you will head to the Organic Farm and discover the local villages and learn more about the houses, traditions and rice farming. Don a rice farming hat and head to the rice paddies where you will pick the vegetables you will use in the cooking class. An open-air kitchen sets the mood and your guide will take you through the act of preparing an amazing meal with fresh local ingredients. After indulging in your feast take a dip in the nearby river before returning back to your hotel with full bellies and amazing memories. Step out of the ordinary and experience a once in a lifetime Balinese cooking experience.

Indonesian cooking

8. Snorkel or Dive the Reefs

There is so much above ground to explore in Bali that we cannot forget about what is under the ground. Discover a tropical paradise packed with colorful fish, sea turtles, Manta Rays and teeming with beautiful coral reefs. Manta Point is where you will want to head to see the incredible Manta Rays that inhibit the water but weaker swimmers beware; the swells are rough and the water is sometimes murky.

For a different kind of snorkeling grab a boat ride out to the eastern coast of Nusa Penida and experience drift snorkeling. The boat drops you off on one end of the current and picks you up at the end. As you drift along discover the huge schools of fish, in the hundreds with brilliant blue, red and orange hues. The enormous amount of fish and the variety that is offered is enough to make you want to do this snorkel over and over again. If diving is more your forte you won’t want to miss out on diving the Liberty Wreck in Tulamben. An underwater maze of hidden rooms housing incredible corrals and fish is a unique diving experience found nowhere else. From snorkeling to scuba diving to free diving; take some time in Bali to go underwater.

tropical fish Bali

7. Climb Mount Batur

A visit to Bali isn’t complete without a trip up the volcanic mountain that rises high above a picturesque lake. It is recommended to hike in the wee hours of the morning as the sun rising into the fresh air is a sight you will never forget. Starting as early as 4am you will hike the straightforward path around black sand and lava deposits under the twinkling stars. An experienced guide will lead you up the mountain arriving at the summit in time to see the glorious sun rise over Bali’s largest crater lake with the mist filling the void around the mountain.

Enjoy a volcanic breakfast of banana and eggs that are cooked using the volcanic steam either by your guide or by you participating in this unique cooking technique. Bask in the warm glow of the sun while you explore the other caves, peaks, craters and valleys that Mount Batur offers before descending down the mountain. Because you have left so early, prepare to be down the mountain by 11am and have the whole day to keep enjoying this beautiful place.

Mount Batur Bali

6. Visit Rock Bar

You may have to wait in line for this bar but if there is one bar to visit in Bali it’s the Ayana Resort and Spa’s Rock Bar. Just as the name states this bar is perched high on the edge of the cliff overlooking the sea that crashes onto the rocks below. Grab a seat and indulge in a few exceptional cocktails while listening to the powerful sounds of Mother Nature.

Make sure to reserve seats and be on time as the cable car will whisk you down from the hotel grounds to the cliffs. If you do have to wait in line, just head to the hotel grounds where you can get your night started. Dancing, drinking, eating and great company awaits you all night long. If you are feeling up to it at the end of the night, tackle the steep steps back up the hotel grounds instead of the cable car. With tasty food, a laid back atmosphere and one of the best places to watch the sunset in Bali; dance and drink the night away at Rock Bar .

Photo by: Ayana Resort and Spa
Photo by: Ayana Resort and Spa

5. See the Dolphins

Explore the brilliant blue Indian Ocean while aboard a boat crashing through the waves while playful dolphins jump and splash beside you. Dolphins are majestic creatures that offer visitors plenty of fun and laughs. There are a lot of opportunities in Bali to see the dolphins whether you want to see them in the wild or whether you want to go to the infamous Dolphin Lodge.

The Dolphin Lodge consists of a sea pen where rescued dolphins are housed and visitors have the opportunity to interact in the water with them. A boat will take you just a short trip off shore to the dolphins where hugs, pets and games with the dolphins are encouraged. Enjoy an hour in the water with them and discover how playful and intelligent these creatures really are. Or choose to take a trip out into the ocean where an experienced captain will take you to spots where pods of dolphins live. Watch as they play in the waves from the boat and follow you around for hours. You haven’t seen dolphins in action until you have seen them in Bali.

jumping dolphins

4. Ubud Monkey Forest

A visit to the nature reserve and temple complex is a must when you are in Bali. Housing 605 Crab-eating Macaque monkeys that are separated in four different groups over different territories in the park; a walk through this park is unforgettable. Along with the hundreds of monkeys there are three holy temples situated here. Walking through this park won’t take you all day but prepare to spend an hour or two and don’t forget your camera to capture some great shots!

This sanctuary has an ‘Indiana Jones’ feel to it and is not for the faint of heart. Since these monkeys see a lot of visitors, they’re not of the shy variety, so we have a couple tips to make your trip more enjoyable: Be aware that the monkeys will grab anything they can off of you, this includes jewelry, glasses, earrings, hair clips and anything else that looks interesting and easy to snatch. There are sellers with bananas as you enter the park but know that once you have those bananas in hand, the monkeys will do anything to get them from you. Be quiet, calm and playful as you take in these incredible creatures and you will thoroughly enjoy this experience.

Ubud Monkey Forest

3. Visit the Beach

From sleepy beaches with sunbathers stretched across the sand to the bustling 12 km’s of beach known as Kuta; there is no shortage of choice when it comes to sand, surf and sun in Bali. If you are looking for a laid back beach where gentle water laps the sand and tranquility is what you seek; hop on a short boat ride to Nusa Lembongan. Soak up the views of Mount Agung while indulging in a foot massage or try your hand at stand up paddle boarding.

If you are looking for a fun and lively atmosphere the beach choices are almost endless. Head to Kuta Beach where the sweeping arc of the sand sets the atmosphere for a day of fun in the sun. Visit any one of the many surf shops that line the beach and hop on a board out to one of many hot surfing spots in the area. Or head to the rolling area of Balian Beach with sand dunes and knolls overlook the pounding surf. Whatever beach you choose to visit, whether you go to one or five; Bali’s beaches are some of the best in the world and beg to be discovered.

Dreamland Beach Bali

2. Visit a Temple

With over 20,000 temples scattered throughout Bali, the choices are truly endless as to which ones you should explore. First, make a visit to perhaps the most famous temple in Bali; Pura Besakih. Known as the holiest temple in Bali it is located 3000 feet up Gunung Agung and contains 23 temples in total. A major stop for tourists and devout followers of the Hindu faith; this site is the perfect place to start your temple journey. The next must visit temple is Goa Gajah which translates into Elephant Cave. Although you won’t find any elephants here, you will find a fascinating entrance to the cave where the rock is carved into a face with the mouth agape. Inside you’ll find statues of Hindu deities and a Hindu worship area.

For a completely different temple experience head to Tirta Empul where a sacred spring feeds the temple and provides holy water for priests and bathing for the Balinese. A dip into these waters is believed to bring good health and fortune. Make sure to make an offering at the temple before you head into these waters to bathe and meditate. The temples throughout Bali are breathtaking and beautiful so make time to visit not only the above mentioned sites but many more as well.

Pura Besakih Temple Bali

1. Experience the Kecak and Fire Dance

Balinese dance and music is unlike any other and is something you will want to experience while in Bali. Head to the temple of Uluwatu for a night of incredible dancing, performance and an unparalleled sunset view. The traditional Balinese Kecak involves a large group of men wearing checkered cloth around their waists chanting and waving their arms in the air. In the open air theater set on the cliffs beside the Uluwatu Temple you will witness three incredible dances; the trance, monkey and fire dance.

Head to the theater half an hour before the show starts to grab your seat that faces the beautiful sunset, the best seat in the house. Be prepared for incredible dances, chants and the occasional monkey running around trying to steal your belongings. Make sure to stay around after the performance as the performers will be happy to take photos with you. The Balinese truly have a unique dance style and the best place to see this is overlooking the crashing sea high on the cliffs beside the Uluwatu Temple.

Kecak Bali