8 Destinations with Surprising Natural Phenomena

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.

Pamukkale Travertines Turkey

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.

Photo by: Huff Post/Reddit
Photo by: Huff Post/Reddit

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.

Avenue of the Baobabs, Madagascar

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.

Wisteria Tunnel, Japan

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.

Angel Falls, Venezuela

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.

"Cristales cueva de Naica" by Alexander Van Driessche - Gaianauta received this from Alexander Van Driessche via Email.. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons.
Cristales cueva de Naica” by Alexander Van Driessche – Gaianauta received this from Alexander Van Driessche via Email.. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons.

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.

Sea of Stars, Vaadhoo Island, Maldives

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.

Dark Hedges Ireland

The 15 Best New Hotels on the Planet

Travel + Leisure searched thousands of hotels all over the world in order to find the best game changer hotels that are new for 2015. The hotels were then tested out by staying a night in each and with a combination of elegance, innovation, personality of the owners and more; Travel + Leisure named their top 43 new hotels on the planet. We have gone one step further and explored these hotels picking our 15 favorites! From Israel to London to Botswana, here are our top 15 picks for the best new hotels on the planet:

15. Pikaia Lodge, Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

Boasted as the most luxurious and sustainable eco-lodge in the Galapagos; the Pikaia Lodge is designed for the environmentally conscious traveler who is looking for adventure in this remote area. Forget being stuck on a yacht, this lodge is land-based and offers land and water based activities through the day in small groups; allowing visitors get as close to nature as possible. With an infinity pool, spacious rooms, amazing restaurants and a spa, guests won’t have to sacrifice any amenities here. Did we mention that the lodge is perched on a small plateau on top of two extinct volcanic craters and offers some of the most spectacular viewpoints in all of the Galapagos?

Photo by: Pikaia Lodge
Photo by: Pikaia Lodge

14. Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge, Okavango Delta, Botswana

Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge was actually re-built from an existing lodge and offers one of the most architecturally stunning safari camps. It blends seamlessly into its surroundings, the forest canopy of wild palms and fig trees with an abundance of wildlife nearby. 12 Cocoon like suites complete with wood burning fireplaces, private plunge pools and solar-power air conditioning hover on stilts above the floodplain reserve. World-class dining, breathtaking furnishings and an open-air dining room that is absolutely breathtaking set the mood for the ultimate safari adventure.

Photo by: Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge
Photo by: Sandibe Okavango Safari Lodge

13. Viña Vik, Millahue, Chile

It looks more like a spaceship that touched down in the lush hills of Chilean wine country than a winery complete with a retreat recently added on the hillside above it. Viña Vik is home to only 22 rooms, each one designed by a different artist, adding to the allure of the place. Activities here are endless from taking a private guided tour through the winery, taking a dip in the stone infinity pool or eating the delicious food at the Pavilion Café.

Photo by: Viña Vik Hotel
Photo by: Viña Vik Hotel

12. The Norman, Tel Aviv, Israel

This boutique hotel blends 1920’s elegance with luxury services and facilities including a rooftop pool, wellness center and first-class dining. The Norman spans across two historic buildings that have been restored to their unique architectural heritage and furnished with a combination of classic and modern furnishings and fixtures. With 30 individually designed guestrooms and 20 one-of-a-kind suites the choice is endless as to where you can lay your head down at night.

Photo by: The Norman
Photo by: The Norman

11. Shangri-La Hotel at the Shard, London

This hotel isn’t just attracting tourists but locals themselves as they come to gawk at the Shangri-La Hotel located on floors 34-52 of the tallest building in Western Europe. Floor to ceiling windows in your room give you a breathtaking view of the vibrant city of London and the River Thames. The infinity pool, the incredible suites, the intimate bars and the amazing dining options are just a slice of the many luxuries offered here.

Photo by: Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard, London
Photo by: Shangri-La Hotel, At The Shard, London

10. Four Seasons Resort Orlando, FL

It is Disney’s first five-star resort and it manages to incorporate enough trademark Disney traditions such as character breakfasts without sacrificing any of the luxury one would expect from a five-star resort. With a total of 443 rooms, there are options for both families and grownups including huge balconies, pullout sofas and oversized closets; all done in neutral colors to please anyone. Luxury amenities include the 13,000 square foot spa, the championship golf course and the adults-only pool. Count on dining on the roof top restaurant which features incredible views of the nightly fireworks.

Photo by: Four Seasons Resort Orlando
Photo by: Four Seasons Resort Orlando

9. Adler Mountain Lodge, Dolomites, Italy

Located in a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Adler Mountain Lodge is truly a wood-built hideaway at the heart of nature. This lodge promises breathtaking views across the mountain meadows and soaring peaks, as well as an innovative guest experience and superior holiday experience. From the heated outdoor pool to the alpine spa to the sauna with incredible views, this lodge is like no other and creates the perfect base for exploring nature.

Photo by: Carlos Muela
Photo by: ADLER Mountain Lodge

8. Belle Mont Farm, St. Kitts

The passion for sustainable living is at the forefront of Belle Mont Farm hotel, along with making sure luxury amenities are still available to guests. Accommodations have been designed to fit in with nature and feature spectacular views of the ocean and forest. The guesthouses are loaded with amenities including rainwater showers, film-stocked iPad, projector screens and fresh fruit crates that get delivered daily. The personalized attention from the owners and the farm-to-table approach is what really wins guests over here.

Photo by: Belle Mont Farm
Photo by: Belle Mont Farm

7. Maalifushi by Como, Maldives

It’s not over the top luxury that got this hotel on our list, as the Maldives are packed full of that. It’s actually the family-friendly vibe that caught our attention. Maalifushi by COMO offers every choice of accommodation from two-bedroom suites to private pools to direct beach access to private butlers; giving families a wide range of options. Amenities such as a kid-friendly lagoon, kid’s club with outdoor cinema and babysitting services complete the experience. Don’t forget about the spa suites over the water, surfing lessons on nearby legendary breaks and amazing dining options for the grownups.

Photo by: Maalifushi by Como
Photo by: Maalifushi by Como

6. Raffles, Istanbul

This 21-storey hotel houses 181 guest rooms that are elegantly designed with Turkish influences and feature fine details you won’t find elsewhere. Floor to ceiling windows fill the rooms with light, private terraces, spa-like bathrooms and walk-in closets are just a few examples of these. The hotel is decked out with over 200 pieces of contemporary art that create a refined, modern sense of style. Whether you are enjoying the 33,000 square foot spa, dining in one of the seven on-site restaurants or sipping on Turkish coffee in the lounge, this hotel proves to be unforgettable.

Photo by: Raffles Istanbul
Photo by: Raffles Istanbul

5. Hotel Sahrai, Fez, Morocco

Gone is the notion that one must hole up in a budget hotel when visiting the medieval city of Fez with the introduction of this hotel. Loaded with terraces, outdoor bars, dining areas and an infinity pool; Hotel Sahrai embraces the notion of open space and natural light. The 50 guest rooms feature glass walls, soothing colors, exclusive furnishings and elegant details. Delicious food in an elegant setting tops off this hot new hotel of 2015.

Photo by: Hotel Sahrai
Photo by: Hotel Sahrai

4. Vines Resort & Spa, Mendoza, Argentina

Vines Resort is set amongst 1,500 acres of private vineyards and offers 22 private villas ranging from one to two bedrooms units. The huge windows allow for visitors to watch the incredible sunrises and sunsets that take place in the Uco Valley. Outdoor hot tubs, luxury linens, gas fireplaces, rooftop terraces and spa-inspired bathrooms complete the villas. Guests here can choose to dine inside, outside or in front of the open kitchen where they can watch skilled chefs cook with locally sourced ingredients to create five star dishes. Paired with award-winning boutique wines; this is one experience you won’t forget.

Photo by:The Vines Resort & Spa
Photo by:The Vines Resort & Spa

3. 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin

25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin is certainly one of the most unique hotels on this list as designers have created a hotel that blends nature with culture in one of the most interesting designs we have seen. Think 10-speed bikes dangling from the hallway ceilings and hammocks lining the third floor lobby. The location cannot be beat and if you feel like watching the apes play in the city zoo all day, why not book a room overlooking it or head to the rooftop bar. Rooms are playful with their polished concrete floors, black-tiled showers and colorful fabrics throughout and this will truly be one unique hotel stay.

Photo by: 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin
Photo by: 25hours Hotel Bikini Berlin

2. Namiri Plains, Tanzania

The eastern edge of the Serengeti has been off-limits to visitors for over 20 years, as its status as a wildlife refuge took precedence. The game-rich region is full of big cats including the ever elusive cheetah. Namiri Plains was created to cater to the wildlife enthusiast that was seeking a deeper experience, secluded surroundings and excellent wildlife experiences. This camp was created to minimize the impact on the environment and comprises of only eight tents that are perched in the shade of the giant acadias. Daily game drives, sunset picnics and the annual migration of the wildebeest and zebra make this an unforgettable vacation destination.

Photo by: Namiri Plains
Photo by: Namiri Plains

1. The Brando, Tetiaroa, French Polynesia

The Brando is made up of 35 ultra-private villas, each constructed with sustainable local wood and cooled by seawater-powered air conditioning. They face their own secluded private beach complete with visits from sea turtles and exotic birds. If you are looking to escape reality for a week, this is the hottest new hotel to visit this year. Two restaurants, a luxurious spa and wellness center, an organic garden, lily pad pond and two bars make up the rest of the property. Don’t forget about the tennis court, infinity pool and cultural center. Guests can expect to snorkel or dive with the tropical fish, take a sail into the lagoon, kayak above coral gardens, paddle board out to a nearby island or just relax on the breathtaking white sand beaches.

Photo by: The Brando
Photo by: The Brando

11 Amazing Islands Every Traveler Should Visit!

What could be more relaxing than enjoying the slower place on a tropical island? While famous islands like Hawaii and Puerto Rico may come to mind, the fact is that they aren’t the only island destinations out there. They should certainly be on your list, but there are a few others you’ll want to consider. Consider adding these top 11 islands to your list of dream vacations and top places to visit in the coming years.

11. Prince Edward Island

Located off the coast of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island has a great deal to offer. The views are incredible, and the beaches are outstanding. The island has a pristine air about it that visitors love, and there’s plenty to do with more than 150 festivals, events and activities throughout the year.

Prince Edward Island

10. Palau

With more than 200 lush limestone inlets and incredible seas, the landscape of Palau is well known for its beauty. Top activities include kayaking, but the island is perhaps best known for the sub-aqua action recorded by Jacques Cousteau. Visit Jellyfish Lake to watch the underwater ballet of zooplankton that have the lost the ability to sting.

Palau

9. Hilton Head

Located off South Carolina, this American treasure is still a top place to visit. It has pristine beaches and an incredible range of shops and restaurants. The sound of the ocean helps visitors relax, and the incredible bike trails provide extra entertainment for everyone who loves the great outdoors.

Hilton Head

8. Sao Tome & Principe

The smallest state of Africa, this little region is part of a chain of extinct volcanoes. It’s off the beaten path and most tourists don’t even know it exists. Those who do visit are awed by the incredible beaches, impressive jungle interior and hotels nestled in crumbling colonial plantation homes. The dry season is June to September, and you can enjoy the views of visiting humpback whales if you visit between July and October.

Sao Tome

7. Cook Islands

This chain of 15 islands is known for having some of the finest beaches in the South Pacific. The local airport in Butmany Oz makes it more convenient for visitors, and people who stop in for hiking or kayaking don’t usually want to leave. Modern hotels provide you with most modern amenities, and the incredible shoreline ensures that you’ll leave with memories that will last a lifetime.

Cook Islands

6. Lanai

If you do travel to Hawaii, be sure to plan a few days on the island of Lanai. This hidden gem offers visitors secluded luxury and is a great representation of traditional Hawaii. Enjoy snorkeling in Manele Bay where you can swim with spinner dolphins, or sit back and enjoy the incredible beaches or rugged island interior.

Lanai

5. Tasmania

One of the little jewels of Australia, Tasmania has a rich cultural history that perfectly complements the incredible beaches and hiking trains. The scenery provides visitors with a peek at the Australia of yesterday, and visitors say that the locals are very friendly and welcoming.

Tasmania

4. Great Barrier Reef Islands

No visit to Australia would be complete without a trip to these individual reef systems. The reefs are filled with life, and the mainland offers countless excursions. You can choose the adventure level that best suits your personality and needs. Be sure to head out to the islands prepared with a snorkel so that you can get a unique glimpse of life below the surface.

Great Barrier Reef

3. Sea Island

Nestled along Georgia, Sea Island is one of the best kept secrets of the American East Coast. It features worldly elegance in the friendly setting of the deep south. The hospitality is amazing, and the scenery is impressive with Spanish moss, amazing views and welcome sunshine. It’s described by some as Heaven on Earth, and it has a reputation for being a world of its own.

Sea Island

2. Bora Bora

When relaxation is at the top of your list, Bora Bora in the French Polynesian is the place to go. The ocean scenery is incredible, and the above-water bungalows provide you with the privacy you crave. The people are friendly, and the incredible tropical beauty is hard to resist.

Bora Bora

1. Maldives

This island in the Indian Ocean combines the best of everything with incredible views, stunning beaches, great service, and gorgeous resorts. From the sunsets to the white sands, pictures don’t do this island justice. The memories will last a lifetime, but it just may become your favorite vacation spot when you need to decompress.

Maldives