If you have a bucket list of places you’d like to visit, these magnificent natural wonders should be on it. In fact, they’re so spectacular, they’re worth creating an entire vacation around.
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Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia
Located in Los Glaciares National Park in the heart of Argentina’s Patagonian region, Perito Moreno is a nearly 19-mile-long glacier and a popular tourist attraction that draws travelers from across the globe. Visitors can witness massive chunks of ice breaking from the glacier, crashing into Lake Argentino, between November and early March, while the more adventurous can board a helicopter flight and go for a walk right on top of it, enjoying a bit of whiskey with natural ice cubes to warm up. It can also be viewed by taking a boat tour across the lake as well as from three on-land viewing areas.
Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, Iceland
There may be bigger and taller, but Seljalandsfoss has a special magic about it that makes it a must to see in person. Located between Skógafoss and Selfoss, it’s one of Iceland’s most photographed falls, plummeting nearly 200 feet into a pool below. You can even walk around the pool to the back of the falls for an especially unique perspective that few get to ever experience – in fact, the very fortunate have even been able to watch the northern lights from inside it.
In Iceland, waterfall enthusiasts enjoy the ultimate paradise, with a multitude of falls, including Skogafoss, just a short drive from Seljalandsfoss. It drops nearly 60 feet and has a more than 80-foot width. As the high volume of water flows, it produces a thundering sound as well as a rainbow-yielding mist that makes it a photographer’s dream on a sunny day. Gullfoss, AKA Golden Falls, which is sometimes called Iceland’s own version of Niagara Falls. This astonishing waterfall, located in the upper part of River Hvita along the renowned Golden Circle, cascades down in two steps, one 36 feet high, and the other at 72 feet high, plunging into the more than one-mile long canyon below.
Pulpit Rock, Preikestolen, Norway
Lysefjorden is a fjord in Norway that attracts some 300,000 visitors every year. While it’s smaller than many of the other country’s fjords, what makes it a standout is this awe-inspiring natural wonder: Pulpit Rock. With a 2,000-foot drop from a flat plateau, with no safety railings, standing atop it gives visitors an adrenaline rush like no other. In fact, it’s renowned as both one of the most beautiful and terrifying places on the planet. Even if you stay far from the edge you’ll still be able to soak up some of the world’s most spectacular scenery, including Kjerag peak which drops for over 3,228 feet. The mountain is another popular spot for photography, rock climbing and BASE jumping. The area also hosts a number of fascinating historic sites, like prehistoric rock carvings that date all the way back to 500 BC.
Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
Not well-known by those outside the region, Plitvice Lakes National Park is home to some of the most breathtaking waterfalls in the world, including 16 cascading lakes in crystal-clear shades of emerald and turquoise. The water that has flowed over the limestone and chalk for thousands of years has created the barriers, resulting in natural dams that form jaw-dropping waterfalls as well as rivers and caves. It’s considered to be one of the most impressive natural landmarks in all of Eastern Europe, if not the entire continent. The maze of lakes and waterfalls, lush greenery and clear cerulean waters, is so fantasy-like it seems as if it were computer generated and plopped right down in Croatia. Wooden walkways make access easy for visitors, and while swimming is forbidden inside the park, there are a number of places to take a refreshing dip on a warm summer’s day, like Korana Village.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Located 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, strikingly white landscape during the dry season, dazzling the eye and playing optical tricks that make it appear as if you’re viewing white hexagonal tiles of salt that go on forever. Still, many feel the area is most spectacular in the rainy season when it is covered in water, resembling a massive mirror, and the reflection of the blue sky creates an even more surreal landscape. Visitors often arrive by taking a multi-day 4X4 tour that includes excursions other attractions in the surrounding desert, like geysers, rock formations, natural hot springs and colorful lakes that house hundreds of pink flamingos.
Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland
A mecca for photographers and visitors of all types, this landscape of soaring cliffs and coastal area made up of some 40,000 basalt columns, is a true geological wonder. Legend has it that it was carved out by the mighty giant Finn McCool who left his ancient home behind to battle his enemy across the sea in Scotland, and many of the sites throughout the area bear testament to this myth, like The Wishing Chair, Giant’s Boot, The Camel, and The Organ, which sits high upon the cliffs looking almost as if it could really be played. If you go, be sure to venture beyond the famous “stepping stones,” and hike the trail to the top of the cliffs for an amazing bird’s-eye view of the area.
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
If you’re into underwater life, the Great Barrier Reef is one natural wonder that you really don’t want to miss. The oldest and largest living coral reef on the planet, it spans nearly 150 miles and is made up entirely of living organisms. The dizzying variety of marine life that can be found here is truly remarkable, including sea turtles, rays, dolphins, giant clams, tropical fish and much more. By heading to the Queensland coast you can hop on any number of boats that shuttle snorkelers and divers out to the reef for an experience of a lifetime. According to the Australian Conservation Foundation, a rise in ocean temperatures of just 3 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit, combined with more acidic water, may soon leave 97 percent of the Great Barrier Reef bleached and lifeless, so this is one trip you don’t want to put off.
Na Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii
Not surprisingly, some of the world’s most awe-inspiring destinations can’t be reached by car, including Kauai’s Na Pali Coast. While it may not be easy to get to, requiring an 11-mile-hike on the Kalalau trail, taking a boat or helicopter tour, the reward of being on this rugged, wild coastline is worth the effort. Located along the north shore of Kauai, it boasts lush, emerald-hued pinnacles that tower along the shoreline for 17 miles, with velvety green cliffs and cascading falls that plunge into deep, narrow valleys. Today, it appears much like it did centuries before, when Hawaiian settlements flourished in the valleys, existing on the fish they could catch and food they could grow.
Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
America’s first national park is surely one of its most magnificent. The nearly 4,000-square-mile park is home to more geothermal features, including hot springs, mud pots and geysers, than anywhere else on the planet. You can see one of the most famous, Old Faithful, which shoots steam as high as 185 feet into the sky every 90 minutes, along with many other lesser known geysers as well as brilliant multi-colored hot springs like Grand Prismatic Spring, the largest hot spring in America and a natural wonder that must be seen to be believed. It was named for its striking coloration in hues that match the rainbow dispersion of white light by an optical prism of orange, yellow, red, green and blue.
The Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are a one-of-a-kind destination located 600 miles off the coast of Ecuador. This microcosm of evolution offers some of the best up-close-and-personal wildlife encounters on Earth. As the islands were never linked to the mainland, to get there, species had to have swam, floated or flown in – and as larger mammals at the top of the food chain couldn’t make the journey, the lack of predators allow wildlife to thrive. Many of the animals have never learned to fear humans, and appear practically tame, which means you can snorkel right alongside an iguana and walk quietly among the resident sea lions and the Galapagos giant tortoise. You can also spot Galapagos penguins, blue-footed boobies and flightless cormorants.