Everyone’s heard of the Grand Canyon, Niagara Falls, and the Great Barrier Reef. But on a planet this big and beautiful, there’s a whole lot more out there to see. And some of the natural wonders that don’t make headlines or the cover of postcards are just as mesmerizing and unforgettable as those that do (maybe even moreso since they’re less likely to be choked with tourists). So get ready to explore – these are ten of the most amazing places in nature that you’ve probably never heard of.
10. Chocolate Hills
Imagine standing amidst over 1,000 symmetrical, cone-shaped hills that transform into a mesmerizing shade of chocolate brown during the dry season. Nestled in Bohol, Philippines, and aptly named for its resemblance to chocolate kisses, the Chocolate Hills are one of the most strangely beautiful, and unique, sights on earth.
While the legend of the hills being the tears of a giant lovelorn suitor is a captivating tale, the real origin is rooted in geology. Eons of coral reef and marine deposits were shaped by the forces of nature, leaving behind anywhere from 1,200 to more than 1,700 limestone deposits we now know as the Chocolate Hills.
Sadly, you won’t be able to climb the hills – local law forbids it. But you’re more than welcome to hop on a ferry from Cebu to Bohol’s capital, Tagbilaran, and climb 214 steps to an observation platform offering an incredible view. Still worth it, we’d say.
9. Zhangjiajie National Park
Nestled in China’s Hunan Province, Zhangjiajie National Park is a mesmerizing world of towering sandstone pillars, dense vegetation, and awe-inspiring landscapes ripped out of a science fiction movie. Not convinced? This breathtaking UNESCO World Heritage Site is renowned for its unique rock formations that served as the inspiration for the floating mountains in James Cameron’s Avatar. And it’s not hard to see why. Some of these strange, surreal quartzite pillars, rise over 600 meters, create an alien landscape unlike anywhere else on earth.
As you can imagine, it’s not the easiest feat to get around these weird landscape and take in the beauty of the pillars, Tianmen Mountain, or Golden Whip Stream. But it is possible. You can traverse the park’s extensive network of trails, or take the Bailong Elevator – the tallest outdoor elevator in the world. Or, if you’re brave enough, check out the Zhangjiajie Grand Canyon Glass Bridge, which offers transparent views of the ground 270 meters beneath your feet. Please try not to pee in terror right on the glass. Other people have to walk there before freaking out and running back.
8. Salar de Uyuni
Nestled in the high-altitude plains of Bolivia, the expansive salt flats of Salar de Uyuni produce breathtaking, dreamlike sights after a rainfall. During the rainy season, a thin layer of water coats the salt crust, transforming the flat into a giant mirror, reflecting the sky above almost perfectly and thus creating an extraordinary illusion of walking amidst the clouds. As you can imagine, this makes it a favorite destination for photographers seeking to capture the surreal beauty of this unique geological wonder.
The sheer vastness of Salar de Uyuni provides a sense of tranquility and solitude, drawing visitors into an almost meditative state. With no visible horizon to mark the boundary between the ground and the sky, one can’t help but feel a profound connection with nature’s grandeur. Whether it’s marveling at the mirror-like reflections during the rainy season or exploring the seemingly endless salt crust, Salar de Uyuni’s sheer beauty and sheer immensity leave an indelible impression, making it an unforgettable destination for those seeking to immerse themselves in the raw, untamed beauty of the natural world.
7. Waitomo Glowworm Caves
When you think of unexplored caves, you probably think of a lot of darkness, scary animals, and places to get lethally stuck. After all, these places aren’t designed for humans. But there’s one cave in New Zealand’s North Island that ranks among the most beautiful places in the world. Enter the Waitomo Glowworm Caves: limestone chambers carved by underground rivers over thousands of years that are famous for their enchanting illumination created by thousands of tiny glowworms. The glowworm species, Arachnocampa luminosa, creates a mesmerizing display as they emit a bioluminescent glow to attract prey. The result is a captivating starry spectacle on the cave ceilings that seems like something out of a sci-fi movie.
Visitors can explore the caverns through guided tours, which include boat rides through the darkened passages. As you glide through the tranquil waters, the thousands of glowworms above create a breathtaking luminescent canopy, providing a magical and almost surreal experience. We all knew New Zealand could hold its own with anywhere else on earth when it comes to natural beauty (thanks Peter Jackson!). But this takes things to a whole new level.
6. Jiuzhaigou Valley
Located in the Sichuan province of China, Jiuzhaigou Valley is a picturesque wonderland that captivates visitors with its strangely colored lakes, crystal-clear waterfalls, and snow-capped peaks. Now a UNESCO World Heritage site, the valley’s pristine landscapes are a result of unique geological processes, with calcium carbonate deposits giving the lakes their vibrant hues of turquoise, green, and blue. As you can imagine, the place is also a goldmine for researchers studying alpine karst hydrology that can be found almost nowhere else.
Visitors can explore the valley through a network of well-maintained walking trails and boardwalks that carry them past everything from Nuorilang Waterfall, one of China’s largest, to the tranquil Mirror Lake reflecting the surrounding mountains. Additionally, as is the case with any place largely untouched by humans, the valley is home to diverse flora and fauna, including rare and endangered species such as giant pandas and golden snub-nosed monkeys.
Don’t just go once, either. Jiuzhaigou Valley transforms with the seasons, with colorful foliage in autumn and pristine snowy landscapes in winter.
5. The Wave
Its name suggests at least something to do with the water, but this natural wonder is actually hidden within the vast landscape of Arizona’s Vermilion Cliffs National Monument. Which is to say, deep in the sunbaked desert of the American southwest. Still – it’s more than worth a visit. Carved by millennia of wind and water erosion, the Wave is an extraordinary sandstone formation showcasing mesmerizing undulating patterns, resembling waves frozen in time. Its vibrant, swirling hues of red, orange, and yellow create a surreal, beautiful sight.
Access to The Wave is limited, however, and requires a special permit due to its delicate nature and to preserve its unique beauty for future generations. The fortunate few who obtain permits either via a lottery or an advance application, can embark on a challenging but gorgeous hike to this geological marvel. We know it’s a cliche to call nature “art,” but this thing really does look like someone painted it with a giant paintbrush. There aren’t many better spots for photographers in existence. So if you’re lucky enough to go, make the most of it.
4. Tsingy de Bemaraha
Madagascar has more than just singing lemurs. In the remote western region of the African island lies Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, a surreal landscape unlike any other. Tsingy, a Malagasy word meaning “walking on tiptoes,” perfectly describes this extraordinary UNESCO World Heritage site. The park’s defining feature is its vast expanse of limestone pinnacles, creating a maze of jagged, razor-sharp spikes that stand like an ancient stone forest.
Millions of years of erosion shaped these formations, resulting in an otherworldly terrain of deep canyons, labyrinthine caves, and narrow limestone ridges. Tsingy de Bemaraha is a challenging yet rewarding destination for intrepid adventurers who wish to explore it. To make it seem even more remote and appealing to true adventurers, the park is only accessible via wooden walkways and rope bridges dangling over vertical chasms below. If you’re brave enough to try it, it’s an unforgettable view.
The region also contains a number of unique animal and plant species. It can’t be easy literally scratching a living off rocks, but it’s easier than living in close proximity to humans.
3. Lake Hillier
Ever seen a pink lake that wasn’t just polluted? Turns out, they can form naturally. Nestled on Middle Island, off the coast of Western Australia, Lake Hillier is a captivating natural wonder that is unlike any other body of water that wasn’t an accidental dumping ground for Pepto Bismal. This stunning lake boasts a striking, bubblegum-pink hue that stands in vivid contrast to the surrounding blue ocean and lush greenery. The reason behind its unique color remains a scientific mystery, though it’s believed to be caused by the presence of specific microorganisms and high salt content.
Lake Hillier’s pink waters have made it an Instagram-worthy destination, attracting curious travelers from around the world. But not even they can ruin this place. While swimming in the lake is not permitted to protect its delicate ecosystem, visitors can still enjoy the breathtaking sight from lookout points or during scenic helicopter flights. Set against the backdrop of blue skies and green vegetation, Lake Hillier’s surreal pink hue creates a visually stunning and unforgettable sight that has earned its place as one of Australia’s most iconic natural marvels. Which, given the other natural wonders on the continent, is quite impressive.
2. Ha Long Bay
Located in northeastern Vietnam, H? Long Bay is a breathtaking coastal region renowned for its emerald-green waters, towering limestone islands, and lush jungle-covered cliffs, creating a surreal seascape that appears straight out of a fantasy novel.
Over millennia, the elements have sculpted the limestone formations in this UNESCO World Heritage site. Each island tells its own story. Cruising through the bay on traditional wooden junks offers a serene experience, allowing visitors to navigate between these karst pillars that seemingly emerge from the water like something out of Avatar.
Besides its striking landscapes, H? Long Bay is rich in biodiversity, providing a habitat for various plant and animal species. From hidden grottoes and secluded beaches to enchanting fishing villages, the bay offers an array of adventures for those seeking to explore its wonders.
As the sun sets, the limestone formations cast enchanting shadows that transform the bay into something else entirely, blanketed by unforgettable views of the night sky.
1. Mount Roraima
Towering like a fortress over the triple border point between Venezuela, Brazil, and Guyana, Mount Roraima is a geological marvel due to its curiously flat-topped summit. Its bizarre shape has long captivated explorers and adventurers alike, most famously serving as an inspiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Lost World.”
The sheer cliffs, reaching heights of over 2,800 meters, are a result of millions of years of erosion, creating an otherworldly landscape straight out of Jurassic Park. The plateau covers an impressive 30 square kilometers, offering a unique and challenging trekking experience, allowing hikers to wander through bizarre rock formations, lush valleys, and mist-shrouded cloud forests.
As you reach the top, a microcosm of extraordinary biodiversity unfolds, featuring unique and endemic plant species that have adapted to the isolated ecosystem over time. To make it more otherworldly, swirling clouds and sudden rain showers add to the ethereal nature of the mountain.