There are countless places on Earth filled with natural wonders. Many of them you’re probably familiar with, like Iceland’s Golden Circle, the Hawaiian Island of Kauai and the entire country of New Zealand. But what about the places you haven’t thought about? There are some truly epic destinations to discover and enjoy without the tourist crowds, including these.
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Lake Bohinj, Slovenia
It seems just about every visitor to Slovenia heads to famous Lake Bled, but Lake Bohinj, just 40 minutes away, offers a more tranquil wilderness experience and dazzling shades of green in every direction. Just northeast near the town of Stara Fuzina is the turquoise Mostnica River, which runs through a spectacular gorge with waterfalls, and at the south side of the lake, Mount Vogel offers stunning hikes that lead to views over the lake.
The Azores, Portugal
Located in the middle of the Atlantic, some 850 miles off mainland Portugal’s coast, the stunning colors of The Azores are filled with natural wonders that can inspire wanderlust with just one photo. The archipelago is renowned for its lush green valleys, waterfalls, dramatic cliffs and beautiful blue hydrangeas. Look forward to soaking in natural hot springs surrounded by dazzling scenery, hiking, whale watching, and fueling your appetite with delicious cuisine that attracts foodies from across the globe. Sample everything from exotic fruits and fresh seafood to a pork, beef and veggie stew that’s steamed underground, thanks to the volcanic geothermal features in the islands.
Lake Myvatn Region, Northern Iceland
Most visitors to Iceland head to the now well-worn tourist path, the Golden Circle, or journey along the south coast, but northern Iceland offers lots for nature lovers without the crowds. Lake Myvatn is a microcosm of its natural wonders, a shallow eutrophic lake created by a large basaltic lava eruption that occurred over 2,300 years ago. Marvel at everything from geothermal caves and bizarre rock formations to bubbling mud pools and steaming vents. In the summer it’s home to more different species of duck than anywhere else on the planet. This region also boasts some of the country’s most impressive waterfalls like Godafoss, the “Waterfall of the Gods,” with turquoise horseshoe-shaped falls that are 40 feet high and 100 feet wide.
Aran Islands, Ireland
The Aran Islands lie off Ireland’s Galway coast, accessed by ferry from Rossaveal or Doolin. The three islands, Inishmore, Inishmaan and Inisheer, collectively have a population of only 1,200 year-round residents – there are more sheep than humans found here. Look forward to dreamy landscapes, including beaches that look as if they were stolen from the Caribbean, a maze of stone walls, archaeological sites, and rare wildflowers in late spring and early summer. The most peaceful of all is tiny Inisheer, just two-square miles in size, providing the perfect spot for immersing yourself in nature and quiet contemplation.
Istrian Peninsula, Croatia
Croatia’s Istrian Peninsula is filled with striking natural beauty that includes breathtaking waterfalls that spill into emerald pools, like 89-foot-high Sopot near the village of Floricici, along with dense forests, caves, rich flora and fauna. A bird watcher’s paradise, there are some 220 bird species at Palm cove, its first ornithological park, located southwest of beautiful Rovinj. Visit Sacred Rock on Verudela in Pula for a magnificent sea view, and in north-west Istria, from the picturesque town of Oprtalj which sits on a hill near Motovun, you’ll get a panoramic view of olive groves, vineyards and forest – a vista often compared to Tuscany without the crowds.
There aren’t many outside of Spain who are familiar with Asturias, in the country’s north-west region, but it offers incredible mountain peaks, alpine lakes, waterfalls, crowd-free beaches and much more. The Covadonga Lakes are a must-visit, as are the Picos de Europas, with miles and miles of incredibly scenic hikes. When it comes to beaches, be sure to check out Playa del Toro near the village of Llanes with its unique rock formations. Playa de las Catedrales boasts natural stone arches that form a “cathedral” one can walk through at low tide.
Disko Bay, Greenland
Greenland is one of the world’s most mysterious destinations, with Disko Bay perfectly illustrating its untouched allure, complete with massive icebergs, charming coastal towns and abundant wildlife like humpback whales and multiple seal species. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this is where one can often hear the thunder sounds of glaciers’ calving, or breaking off from the glaciers, floating out into the coastal waters. The immense Sermeq Kujalleq glacier has calved icebergs as large as 1.5 cubic kilometers of ice, the equivalent of 30 football fields covered by a layer of ice as high as Mount Everest.
Vagar Island, Faroe Islands
The Faroe Islands are renowned for their wild coastlines, puffins and grass-roofed homes, although Mulafossur Waterfall may be its most famous image. It spills over Vagar Island’s rocky cliffs near the tiny village of Gásadalur providing one of the most awe-inspiring views in the archipelago. Nature enthusiasts will find lots to love throughout the islands, from sea stacks and other waterfalls to dramatic gorges and cliffs. Of course, puffin watching is a popular pursuit here too.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Located in the Andes Mountains of Bolivia, Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat. It covers 3,860 square miles, creating what appears to be an unending landscape of white during the dry season. It may be even more impressive in the rainy season when it is covered in water, resembling a massive mirror with the blue sky adding to make an even more surreal landscape. Natural hot springs, geysers, rock formations and colorful lakes attracting hundreds of pink flamingos can all be found in this region too.
Puerto Río Tranquilo, Chile
Truly one of the planet’s most remarkable natural wonders, it took some 6,000 years of wave erosion to create the Marble Caves, a work of art with undulating patterns enhanced by the reflection of the turquoise and emerald waters in Carrera Lake, near the Chilean and Argentinian border. When the waters are calm, kayakers can even paddle through the caves to get a closer look.