The best trips are those that are truly memorable. However, while staying in wonderful hotels, eating at top-notch restaurants, and checking off your bucket list at world-famous attractions all make for thrilling vacations, sometimes it's the planet itself that can turn your journey into a life-changing experience.
Throughout the world, you can explore mesmerizing caves, hike your way through gorgeous national parks, and hit the waves at spectacular beaches. Outdoor destinations can help you get in touch with nature, but certain spots in particularly are just downright jaw-dropping and begging for a photo-op. The planet is full of so many breathtakingly unique destinations that some may seem photoshopped or like something out of a fairy tale. You'll find, however, that they're very much real. Whether you're looking to impress your Instagram followers or simply come across something the likes of which you've never seen before, you're sure to be amazed by these strangest natural wonders of the world.
Marble Caves (Chile)
Out in the turquoise waters of General Carrera Lake in Southern Chile sits 5 billion tons of marble, elegantly shaped by nature into caves. Viewing them in person is a far more beautiful experience than looking at any photo, but getting there is more difficult than you can imagine. After a series of flights into the city of Coyhaique, you'll need to drive another 200 miles and then board a boat, which will get you to the caves.
Elephant Rock (Italy)
The large mass of trachyte stone in the shape of an elephant is located just outside Castelsardo on the island of Sardinia. The rock was originally a part of the rocky complex of Monte Casteddazzu before it broke off and rolled down the valley. The stone appears in the shape of the large animal due to erosion. The Elephant Rock is also known as Sa Pedra Pertunta ("the perforated rock") due to an appearance punctuated by openings and holes.
Pamukkale is Turkey's leading mineral-bath spa because of its natural splendor. Hot calcium-laden water flows over a cliff, and as it cools down it forms vivid travertines of hard, white calcium that form pools. Named the Cotton Fortress in Turkish, it has been a spa since the Romans built the city of Hierapolis around a sacred warm-water spring.
Eye of the Sahara (Mauritania)
The Richat Structure is also known as the Eye of the Sahara. The giant circular feature forms a conspicuous bullseye in the otherwise featureless expanse of the desert. Many people say the structure, with a diameter of about 30 miles, looks like an outsized fossil. According to a former theory, Richat was a meteorite impact structure because of its high degree of circularity. However, it is now thought to be merely a symmetrical uplift that has been laid bare by erosion.
Glow Worm Caves (New Zealand)
The caves on Lake McLaren are mysterious and magical at the same time. They were formed by underground streams pushing through soft limestone over thousands of years. Float beneath iridescent worms and then let the moonlight and stars guide you back to shore. Guided since the late 1880s, this is the original iconic New Zealand attraction, according to Tourism New Zealand. Go on a tour and explore the labyrinth of caves, sinkholes and underground rivers.
Wave Rock (Utah and Arizona)
The Wave is an enormous, rolling rock formation. It's among the most famous and surreal rocks on the Southwestern landscape. The ornamental bands of red, pink, yellow, and white Navajo sandstone look like they are arching up, down and around ancient stone chutes.
Caño Cristales River (Colombia)
Known as "The River of Five Colors" or "The Liquid Rainbow," this South American landmark shows its brilliant hues between the wet and dry seasons every year. A unique plant species on the river floor called Macarenia clavigera turns a brilliant red, and it's an incredible sight to observe against the blue water and yellow and green sand. The park reopened to tourists in 2009.
Lake Hillier (Australia)
Lake Hillier is perhaps the most spectacular pink lake in the world. While it appears bubble gum-colored from above, the water shows a less dramatic pink hue when viewed from the shore. No one is sure where the color comes from, but scientists have several good guesses. The color could originate from the organisms Dunaliella salina and Halobacteria. Alternatively, its color could be due to halophilic (salt-loving) bacteria that live in Hillier's salt crusts. Either way, the lake is safe for swimming.
Salar De Uyuni (Bolivia)
Formed as a result of transformations between many prehistoric lakes, Salar de Uyuni is the world's largest salt flat. Because of the large, flat area and clear skies, it is often used for calibrating altimeters of Earth observation satellites. It also creates a dream-like reflection off of the crust. Stay at Palacio de Sal, a hotel made of ice. Even the furniture in the hotel is made of salt. The rooms look like igloos built with salt blocks.
Some parts of Yemen are quite dangerous to travel to at the moment, but this remote island covered with unique and ancient plant species is quite safe. The island, often called "the most alien-looking place on Earth," is one of the most secluded adventure destinations on the planet. It is so isolated that more than a third of its plant life does not exist anywhere else, including the dragon trees, which feature in the most famous photos of the island.
Snow Rollers (Ohio)
Don't count on seeing this rare natural phenomenon. The formation of snow rollers depends on a specific combination of the right snow with the right wind speed and the perfect temperature. All the stars actually aligned for this to happen in Cleveland in 2014. The sight of the curled-up, bale-like snow mounds is stunning.
Vaadhoo Island (Maldives)
This is a place you should definitely add to your bucket list. The mesmerizing island is best known for the "sea of stars." At first glance, the water looks like a mirror, reflecting the glittering stars from the dark sky. The glowing waves of the surreal beach are caused by bioluminescence, a natural chemical reaction generated by phytoplankton, marine microbes disturbed by oxygen.
The Cave of Crystals (Mexico)
The cave is almost 1,000 feet below the Earth's surface. Discovered in 2000, much of the cave still hasn't been explored due to the extreme conditions. With temperatures that can reach 136 degrees and 90 to 99 percent humidity, people can only endure 10 minutes in the caves at a time without protection. The Cave of the Crystals is home to some of the largest natural crystals ever found.
Alexander Van Driessche/Wikimedia Common
Hornocal Mountains (Argentina)
All photos of this spot look like they have been photoshopped. The absolutely fascinating geology of the mountainous range shocks tourists. The incredible colors and the inverted-V-shaped formation is part of a mass of limestone called the Yacoraite formation. It extends from Peru to Salta through Bolivia and the Quebrada de Humahuaca.
Lençóis Maranhenses National Park (Brazil)
Sand dunes transform into magnificent turquoise lagoons during the rainy season. Two rivers that run through the Lençóis Maranhenses push sand from the interior of the continent to the Atlantic Ocean, depositing thousands of tons of sediment. In the park, though, the sand doesn't stay put, according to Smithsonian Magazine. During the dry season, strong winds whip the sand back inland. Water from the torrential rainstorms in the valleys between the dunes creates thousands of crystal clear lagoons.
Racetrack Playa, Death Valley (California)
Located in a remote valley between the Cottonwood and Last Chance mountain ranges, the Racetrack is a place of spectacular beauty and mystery. The Racetrack is a playa - a dry lakebed - best known for its strange moving rocks. It looks like they "sailed" through the valley. "Although no one has actually seen the rocks move, the long meandering tracks left behind in the mud surface of the playa attest to their activity," according to the NPS. The most logical explanation so far is that ice forms covering the stones, causing them to move.
Fingal's Cave (Northern Ireland)
Fingal's Cave, formed over 50 million years ago, is a natural feature located on Staffa Island, which is uninhabited. Formed by a Paleocene lava flow and sculpted from hexagonally jointed basalt pillars, the extraordinary cave appears as though it is hand-crafted, due to the unique structure of the rock column layers.
Moeraki Boulders (New Zealand)
The Moeraki Boulders are one of the most mysterious places on Earth. They originally formed in sea floor sediments about 60 million years ago. The large spherical "stones" are scattered on Koekohe Beach near Moeraki on New Zealand's Otago coast. They are actually concretions that have been exposed through shoreline erosion from coastal cliffs that back the beach. Each boulder weighs several tons and is up to 6 feet high.
Manpupuner Rock Formations (Russia)
They are also called the Seven Giants. These gigantic stone pillars are located on a flat plateau, which was a high mountain about 200 million years ago, according to Amusing Planet. Time and harsh weather such as rain, snow, wind, cold, and heat gradually destroyed the mountains, especially the weaker rock. The fairly firm sericite-quartzite schist of which the stone pillars are composed endured and survived.
Danakil Depression (Ethiopia)
This is one of the hottest places on Earth, located some 150 feet below sea level in the Afar Region of Ethiopia near the border with Eritrea. It has even been called "the gateway to Hell." Temperatures of 125 degrees F have been recorded. Rain almost never falls there. Two active volcanoes, a bubbling lava lake, geysers, acid ponds and yellow mounds of sulfur, salt, and mineral deposits are a few of the region's features.
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park (China)
Zhangjiajie, China's first national forest park, is located in the west of Hunan Province. It became famous worldwide from the movie "Avatar," in which the Hallelujah Mountains were inspired by Heavenly Pillar in Zhangjiajie. The most popular and iconic features of the park are the dangerous sandstone peaks. The huge forest park pillars sometimes look like they float in a sea of clouds, making for a super photogenic vacation spot.
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