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While some people are satisfied spending their vacation alongside a pool with a drink in hand, others prefer adventure and diverse spectacular landscapes. If that’s you, these worldwide bucket list destinations are sure to please, so surreal that you might just think you’ve landed on a whole other planet.
Zhangye Danxia Landform - Gansu, China
The Zhangye Danxia landform area is known as “the eye candy of Zhangye.” One of the most incredible national parks in Asia, it draws countless artists to admire its rainbow of colors that look as if someone painted it into the sky. The awe-inspiring landscape features precipitous red cliffs, most of which are over a thousand feet high, and multi-hed ridges of weathered strata, sometimes stretching to the horizon. some of the red rocky outcrops are strangely shaped into towers, castles, and even humans and creatures like birds. This type of geomorphology is unique to China and was formed during the Cretaceous age 66 million years ago. Geologists believe it is a result of movement in the Earth’s crust, which makes rock layers appear in different colors, sizes, and patterns.
The jaw-dropping landscape of Goreme National Park in Cappadocia is a product of both natural phenomena and human intervention. It’s renowned for its stunning “fairy chimney” rocks, with hundreds of astounding formations rising from the ground. Volcanic eruptions and erosion contributed to their development, while human hands created the network of extraordinary tunnels and caves in the rocks some 3,500 years ago. These underground settlements cover more than 100 square miles, and while most of the cave dwellings are currently unoccupied, some still serve as homes and others as unique hotels. This area is also renowned as the place to go for one of the most breathtaking hot air balloon rides in the world, where riders can take in a mesmerizing bird’s eye view of the landscape.
Antelope Canyon, Arizona
Antelope Canyon is one of the most visited and most photographed slot canyon in the American Southwest. One of Arizona’s most beautiful natural wonders located in the heart of Navajo Country just outside of Page, this incredibly mystifying place features bright red sandstone and seemingly flowing rocks that will literally take your breath away. Made up of two separate canyons, the Upper Antelope Canyon and Lower Antelope Canyon, in the upper canyon light beams appear more dramatic, practically guaranteeing breathtaking images. The canyons were formed by flash flooding and other sub-aerial processes that eroded the sandstone. As the rains continue, the canyon’s landscape slowly forges on in its topical transformation. While experts aren’t sure exactly when humans discovered the cave, local Navajos claim that it’s been part of their cultural heritage for ages.
Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland
Giant’s Causeway, located near the town of Bushmills in Northern Ireland, sits at the edge of the wild North Atlantic as a landscape of soaring cliffs and a coastal area made up of about 40,000 basalt columns. Created by a volcanic eruption that took place some 60 million years ago, this incredible site has inspired many artists, stirred scientific debate and sparked numerous myths and legends over the centuries. One legend says it was carved out by the might giant Finn McCool who left his ancient home behind to battle his foe, Benandonner, across the water in Scotland. Many of the sites throughout the area, bear testament to this fascinating myth, like The Wishing Chair, Giant’s Boot, The Camel, The Giant’s Granny and The Organ, which sits high upon the cliffs, looking almost as if it could really be played.
Socotra Island, Yemen
Described as “the most alien-looking place on earth,” the island of Socotra is part of an archipelago in the Indian Ocean. It’s so isolated that one-third of its plant life is found nowhere else on the planet, resulting in some especially bizarre flora. Most notable are its dragon’s blood trees, which look like flying saucers sitting atop trunks. The adenium socotranum trees look like elephants’ legs with pink flowers perched on them. There are also birds like the Socotra grosbeak, Socotra sunbird and the Socotra starling that are found nowhere else. The island is actually inhabited by about 40,000 residents, and while there are two roads, there is no public transport. Visitors can fly in as the island has its own airport, and vehicles can be rented if required.
Skaftafell Ice Cave - Skaftafell, Iceland
Iceland offers a long list of beautiful natural wonders, including a number of magnificent ice caves, which are temporary structures that appear at the edge of glaciers. Step inside, and they’ll immediately take your breath away. Skaftafell in particular looks like a work of art with its brilliant cathedral of dazzling translucent blue waves. It can be found on the frozen lagoon of the Svínafellsjökull glacier in Skaftafell and accessed through a 22-foot entrance on the shoreline. At the end, it tapers to a narrow squeeze no more than four feet high. It’s only safe to enter in the winter when cold temperatures have hardened the ice. If you’d like to explore it, a number of glacier tour guides offer the chance to get close to its brilliant blue frozen ceilings that are studded with stalactites that hang over icy paths and stalagmites.
Hitachi Seaside Park - Hitachinaka, Japan
Hitachi Seaside Park, located in Hitachinaka, less than two hours from Tokyo near Ibaraki Prefecture on Japan’s east coast, is an endless flower paradise, beautiful year-round, but especially magnificent in the spring when baby blue flowers known as nemophilas bloom across the landscape. During April and May, there are more than 4.5 million of these delicate flowers, resembling what some feel may be true heaven on earth. From Miharashi No Oka hill, visitors can enjoy panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean too.
Lake Natron, Tanzania
This salt and soda lake sits at the base of the active Ol Donyo Lengai volcano in the Arusha Region of northern Tanzania. It completely evaporates during the summer and leaves a strikingly blood-red lake floor that thrives with salt-loving organisms and algae. Many have described it as having an other-worldly, almost lunar type of appearance. In addition to the dramatic scenery, the dry lake is an important breeding area for more than a million flamingos. Walks around the lake and to the streams and waterfalls along the nearby escarpment make for an unforgettable, very off-the-beaten-track kind of adventure.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Situated in the Andes Mountains of Bolivia, Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat on Earth, covering 3,860 square miles. The expanse of salt creates an unending white landscape during the dry season, June and July, dazzling the eye and playing optical tricks that make it seem like you’re viewing white hexagonal tiles of salt that go on forever. Many feel the area is most stunning during the rainy season (America’s winter, Bolivia’s summer), when it’s covered in water, resembling a massive mirror. The reflection of the blue sky creates an even more surreal landscape. Up until 2011, the Uyuni airport was just a landing strip for mining companies, but now there is a terminal, an extended runway and daily flights from La Paz, making it much easier to get here. Most arrive via a multi-day 4 X 4 tour, which also brings visitors to other impressive attractions in the surrounding desert, like natural hot springs, geysers, rock formations and colorful lakes that are home to hundreds of pink flamingos.
Lençóis Maranhenses, Brazil
Every year during the rainy season, Lençóis Maranhenses National Park treats visitors to an amazing sight that’s a must to experience if you’re here between June and September. The sand dunes stretch for miles and miles – they’re so strikingly white and vast that it’s easy to see how the park got its name, which means “bedsheets of Maranhao,” the northeastern coastal state where the national park is found. At first glance, it looks like any other desert, but it’s not. The area is slammed with torrential rainstorms during the rainy season and the rain pools in the valleys between the dunes to create thousands of crystal clear lagoons. At their peak in July, some are more than 300 feet long and ten feet deep.