Our wonderful planet is home to some extraordinary natural wonders, which have formed over millions and millions of years due to volcanic action, water and wind erosion, and other forces. Beyond our coastlines lie yet more offshore wonders, like the GalapagosIslands, the Great Barrier Reef, and the Great Blue Hole of Belize.
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1.Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica
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In a country that is liberally dotted with volcanoes, Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano is one of the most impressive. Arenal is a stratovolcano, meaning that it adheres to the typical symmetrical cone shape that one associates with a volcano, and at 5,437 feet it towers very impressively over the surrounding landscape. After a long dormant period, Arenal erupted violently in 1968, covering a vast area of over 15km in lava, rocks, and ash. For several years after this dramatic eruption, Arenal regularly lit up the sky with smaller eruptions and has become a popular tourist attraction. The impressive volcano is surrounded by Arenal Volcano National Park, where you can go hiking in the rainforest, enjoy canopy tours and repelling adventures, or relax in a natural geothermal hot spring.
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2.Bay of Fundy, Canada
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Considered to be one of the seven natural wonders of North America, the Bay of Fundy is located approximately halfway between the equator and the North Pole on the remarkably picturesque east coast of Canada. What makes this particular bay so special is that it is subject to the highest tides on Earth (a difference of over 50 feet between high tide and low tide), which have been responsible for carving dramatic rocky outcrops, sea caves, and towering cliffs. The area is also renowned for its Triassic-age dinosaur fossils as well as unusual minerals and gemstones. The bay attracts large numbers of rare whales (whale watching tours in the Aquarium Zone are very popular from May to October) as well as a huge number of migratory seabirds. Kayak tours are an ideal way to explore this natural wonder.
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3.Great Belize Blue Hole, Belize
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Located approximately 60 miles off the mainland of Belize, the Great Belize Blue Hole is a large underwater sinkhole near the center of Lighthouse Reef. The Blue Hole measures about 900 feet in diameter, making it the largest formation of its kind in the world. The Blue Hole (which forms part of the UNESCO World Heritage Barrier Reef Reserve System) is more than 400 feet deep and is arguably one of the best scuba diving destinations in the region. Divers can expect to see some really unique underwater landscapes and a huge variety of marine life, including many species of shark, giant groupers, and much more. Day trips usually include one dive in the Blue Hole and two other reef dives.
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4.The Galapagos Islands
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The world-renowned Galapagos archipelago is located in the Pacific Ocean, approximately 1,000 km off the coast of Ecuador. The remote islands are one of the world’s premier wildlife viewing destinations and feature on many an adventurer’s bucket list. Because the islands are home to such an exceptional diversity of wildlife, much of which is found nowhere else on earth, tourism is very carefully controlled to protect the fragile environment. The waters around the islands are home to a vast collection of marine life, which makes scuba diving in the area one of the highlights of any visit. You can either explore the islands on a live-aboard boat or choose to island-hop from one inhabited island to another and do day-trips to the more remote uninhabited islands.
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5.Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
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Located in County Antrim on the scenic north coast of Northern Island, the Giant’s Causeway is an area of over 40,000 adjacent basalt columns that were created by a series of ancient volcanic eruptions. What makes these remarkably “stepping stones” so special is that each and every one of them is symmetrical and interlocking, as though they were carefully set in place by a giant hand. You can learn more about the 60-million-year formation of the causeway at the visitor’s center, where you can view an interactive audiovisual presentation before setting off to explore the site. Thousands of years of natural erosion have polished many of the stones to a smooth finish and you are advised to wear sturdy walking shoes.
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Beautiful Glencoe is a very scenic valley in Argyllshire, Scotland, and is named for the River Coe which runs through it. Back in 1692 the valley was the site of a devastating massacre of the MacDonald clan by the Campbells and the English, but today’s visitors can expect to find a very peaceful, beautiful, and historic valley surrounded by superb mountains that are part of the Western Highlands. It is an idyllic region for mountaineering and hiking and visitors can also enjoy a wide selection of watersports on the River Etive. If you’re not up to hiking, you can visit the Glencoe Mountain Ski Resort and take a chair lift up to one of the viewpoints. Other enjoyable activities include guided walks, Segway and Land Rover tours, and a great deal more.
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7.The Great Barrier Reef, Australia
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As one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef occupies a prominent position on many people’s must-see wish lists. Just imagine – the world’s largest reef, made up of over 3,000 individual reef systems, hundreds of perfect tropical islands, and some of the best beaches in the world, all nestled in crystal-clear azure waters. The reef system is home to an exceptional diversity of marine life and attracts millions of visitors, who come to enjoy an unbeatable marine experience. Apart from scuba diving and snorkeling you can also observe the marine bounty from a glass-bottomed boat or semi-submersible or go whale watching, swimming with dolphins, sailing, and island-hopping. Most popular coastal departure points include Cairns, Port Douglas, Rockhampton, and Townsville.
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8.Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
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Beautiful Ha Long Bay (Bay of Descending Dragons) is located in northern Vietnam, approximately 100 miles east of the city of Hanoi. Nothing quite prepares you for the dramatic scenery encountered in this UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is often included as one of the natural wonders of the world. The enormous bay is liberally dotted (there are nearly 2,000) with unique limestone karsts, which rise majestically from the sea, many of them covered in dense forestation and hiding extensive sea caves. The best way to see as much of this magical bay as possible is to take a bay cruise (day trip or overnight) on a traditional “junk” boat. It is also possible to island-hop between the inhabited islands and to visit some of the remarkable caves.
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9.Iguazu Falls, Brazil-Argentina
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Iguazu Falls are without doubt one of the world’s most impressive natural wonders, located on the border between Brazil and Argentina. The impressive waterfalls span an awesome 1.7-mile width, broken up by several islands, which causes the mighty curtain of water to separate into hundreds of individual waterfalls and cataracts, which vary in height between 170 and 260 feet. The waterfalls are shared between Iguazu National Park (Argentina) and Iguacu National Park in Brazil, both of which are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. On the Argentinean side, you can access the falls using the Rainforest Ecological Train, while on the Brazilian side there is a canyon walkway and scenic helicopter flights are available for a bird’s-eye view.
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10.Jeju Island, Korea
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Jeju Island is a volcanic island located off the coast of the Korean Peninsula that has received UNESCO World Heritage Status for its outstanding natural assets, which include the finest lava tube system on the planet. In addition to the remarkable Manjanggul Lava Tube Cave, which has multi-colored carbonate roofs, floors, and lava walls, the island is home to Mount Hallasan, the tallest mountain in Korea, which boasts waterfalls, forests, and a lake-filled crater. You can learn all about the remarkable geology of the island on a guided day tour from Seoul, or spend a little longer on the island and visit Mount Halla National Park, where you can hike along a very scenic 9-mile shaded forest trail.
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11.Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania
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Towering majestically over the surrounding Tanzanian landscape, mighty Mount Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain on the African continent. The mountain is composed of three dormant volcanic peaks, the highest of which is Kibo peak, which reaches an impressive altitude of over 19,000 feet above sea level. The mountain is a renowned trekking and mountaineering destination and visitors come from all over the world to rise to the challenge of reaching Uhuru Peak, the highest summit on the rim of the Kibo Crater. The mountain is surrounded by Mount Kilimanjaro National Park and at lower altitudes trekkers may come across elephant, buffalo, and many other smaller animals. Many visitors who come to see Mount Kilimanjaro will combine their visit with a Big Five Safari in one or more of the nearby national parks and reserves.
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12.Mount Everest, Nepal
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Mount Everest is the tallest mountain in the world, currently calculated to reach an altitude of over 29,000 feet. The mountain is part of the Himalayas, and the international border between Nepal and China runs along the summit point of the mountain. Mount Everest is an irresistible lure for serious mountaineers, many of whom risk their lives to reach the snow-covered, cloud-hidden summit. The first confirmed summiting occurred in 1953 and by 2013, 4,042 successful climbers had reached the summit. Visitors can enjoy the wonderful spectacle of the mountain by visiting Everest Base Camp, the departure point for climbers. You can hike up to Base Camp or take the eco-bus and include a visit to the Rongbuk Buddhist Monastery, the highest monastery in the world.
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13.Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia
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In a world of global heating and shrinking glaciers, the Perito Moreno Glacier in Patagonia is unique in that it continues to get larger. Located in Patagonia’s Los Glacieres National Park, the stunningly beautiful Perito Moreno Glacier is currently 19 miles long, towers up to 240 feet above the water, and covers a total area in excess of 120 square miles, making it the third largest freshwater reserve on our planet. There are a few ways for visitors to enjoy the spectacle of Perito Moreno – you can take a walk along the pathway between various view points, which gives you the chance to see the glacier “calving” (when huge portions of ice break away from the main glacier). You can also go trekking on parts of the glacier or take a 45-minute boat excursion around the base.
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14.Puerto Princesa Underground River, Philippines
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One of the world’s New Seven Wonders of Nature, the Puerto Princesa Underground River is located in a protected national park in Palawan, about 50 miles north of Puerto Princesa City in the Philippines. The national park has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and contains the world’s most amazing limestone karst landscapes, which includes an 8-km underground river and cave system that opens directly into the sea. For the adventure of your life, you can go on an escorted Underground River Tour, which will take you deep inside the cave system. Some tours offer an optional zipline experience after your Underground River Tour.
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15.Cano Cristales - The River of Five Colors, Colombia
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Located in the Serrania de la Macarena mountain range in Colombia, Cano Cristales is without doubt the most interesting river you will ever see. The amazing River of Five Colors fascinates visitors with an amazing display of bright colors resulting from a unique combination of natural forces. The vibrant red color is formed by the Macarenia clavigera plant, which grows in the riverbed, while the other colors are contributed by the black rocks, green algae, brilliant blue water, and bright yellow sand. The river also features waterfalls, caverns, and pools, making it a desirable destination for all nature lovers. The best time to visit is between July and November.
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16.The Sahara Desert, North Africa
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The Sahara Desert (aka the Great Desert) is the largest desert on Earth, covering a staggeringly large area that is roughly equivalent to the size of the USA. Although this vast land mass receives almost no rain whatsoever, it is by no means devoid of life and visiting the Sahara is a wonderful experience for adventure seekers and nature lovers. Imagine a continent-sized sea of arid red sand, dotted here and there with wind-carved sand dunes and natural oases where nomadic herdsmen gather with their camel trains. You can go deep into the heart of the Sahara on a guided tour from one of many cities that lie on the periphery – Morocco, Egypt, and Tunisia are popular starting points for a Sahara adventure.
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17.Table Mountain, South Africa
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The iconic flat-topped Table Mountain stands guard over one of the most interesting and diverse landscapes in the world in Cape Town, at the southernmost tip of the African continent. Table Mountain, which was selected as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature in 2012, is surrounded by Table Mountain National Park, home to the Cape Floral Region, where many species of endemic plants, unique to the region, can be seen. Table Mountain is a very popular hiking destination and you have the option of hiking to the summit and then taking the revolving cable-car back to the base. The mountain offers wonderful 360-degree views of the beautiful Cape Peninsula.
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18.The Blue Grotto, Capri
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The Blue Grotto (Grotto Azzura) was once a marine temple during the reign of the Roman Emperor Tiberius. Located on the Island of Capri off the coast of Sorrento, the name of the sea cave derives from the unusual bright blue color of the waters, which is caused by sunlight entering the cavern through an underwater opening directly above the cave entrance. (This impressive phenomenon is best observed around noon on a sunny day). As your rowing boat drifts through the total darkness of the outer cavern, you will suddenly find yourself bathed in the brilliant blue light of the inner grotto – it is certainly a memorable experience. Weather permitting, tours operate all day, but demand is at its highest (and queues are longest) around midday.
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19.The Dolomites, Italy
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Another fascinating UNESCO World Heritage Site, Italy’s magnificent Dolomites are a must-see attraction for all nature lovers. The Dolomite Mountains are located in northeastern Italy and form part of the Southern Limestone Alps, reaching an altitude of over 10,000 feet. A large percentage of the Dolomite region is protected by various national parks and the entire area is regarded as one of the best hiking, mountaineering, and skiing regions in Europe. There is a plethora of scenic hiking and trekking routes to be explored against a backdrop of dramatic natural beauty, which includes vast forests and parkland punctuated by dramatic rock formations, massifs, and glaciers. In addition to the beautiful landscape, the area is home to several excellent museums showcasing the history, culture, and geology of the area.
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20.Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
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Located nearly 12,000 feet above sea level near the crest of the Andes Mountains, Salar de Uyuni is the largest salt flat on Earth. This remarkable nature wonder came about when a prehistoric lake ran dry and left behind an enormous landscape of salt, rock formations, and otherworldly cactus-covered islands. Under the extensive salt crust there is a saline lake, which is extremely rich in lithium and several other minerals. Although wildlife is scarce in this harsh and inhospitable landscape, the saline lake is extremely popular with flamingoes and almost 80 other species of migratory birds. This remote spectacle deserves a place on everyone’s wish-list and is most often accessed via Uyuni in Bolivia or Atacama in Chile.
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Turkey’s amazing Pamukkale (Cotton Palace) is a truly unique natural wonder that was formed by calcite-laden waters from natural springs located on a cliff face, more than 600 feet above the plains. As the waters made their way down the steep cliffs they left a series of brilliant white travertine terraces and basins filled with warm azure waters, petrified waterfalls, and unique mineral forests. Close to this amazing natural wonder you will find a brilliantly preserved man-made wonder, the ruins of the ancient Greco-Roman spa-town of Hierapolis, which include bath-houses, temples, colonnaded streets, and much more. Come and bathe in the ancient mineral-rich waters and admire the remarkable levels of sophistication that existed so long ago.
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22.Uluru (Ayers Rock), Australia
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Australia’s most iconic natural wonder, Uluru (Ayers Rock) is a massive sandstone mountain located in the country’s arid Northern Territory, close to the town of Alice Springs. The monolith is protected by Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, which includes a further 36 red rock domes which visitors can explore on foot along one of several hiking trails or on a guided tour. Uluru is sacred to native Australians and climbing on the rock is not permitted, but there are several other ways to enjoy the unique location, including getting an aerial view from a helicopter or plane. Highlights of any visit include watching a sunrise or sunset over the rock, visiting the Cultural Center, and simply enjoying the beautiful location and spiritual atmosphere of Uluru.
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23.Victoria Falls, Zambia-Zimbabwe
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The locals call Victoria Falls “Mosi oa Tunya” or “the smoke that thunders” for the spectacular spectacle provided by the world’s largest curtain of falling water, which causes a thunderous noise and a cloud of vapor which can be seen from several miles away. The falls are nearly one and a quarter miles wide and drop over 300 feet into a narrow gorge below. Victoria Falls are located on the Zambezi River on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe and can be visited from both sides of the border. The area around Victoria Falls is renowned as the Adventure Capital of Southern Africa and visitors can try their hand at everything from bungee jumping and whitewater rafting to canopy adventures, canyoning, rappelling, and much more. There are also wonderful national parks on both sides of the border, where you can go on a Big Five Safari adventure.
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Famously the inspiration for the amazing landscape in the movie Avatar, Zhangjiajie National Park is home to one of the most unique landscapes in the world and is a must-see destination for all visitors to China. The park includes over 3,000 towering tree-topped quartzite sandstone pillars reaching for the clouds (some are as tall as 2,600 feet), while at ground level you will find verdant forests and beautiful streams waiting to be discovered. The national park is home to many rare species of animals, birds, and plants, which can best be discovered on foot along a multitude of wonderful hiking trails. Adventurous visitors can also go rafting along the Mengdonghe River.
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25 Amazing Natural Wonders of the World
- Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica, Photo: Courtesy of Randy - Fotolia.com
- Bay of Fundy, Canada, Photo: Courtesy of kenmo - Fotolia.com
- Great Belize Blue Hole, Belize, Photo: Courtesy of lauraelise1301 - Fotolia.com
- The Galapagos Islands, Photo: Courtesy of jkraft5 - Fotolia.com
- Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland, Photo: Courtesy of GigiPeis - Fotolia.com
- Glencoe, Scotland, Photo: Courtesy of shaiith - Fotolia.com
- The Great Barrier Reef, Australia, Photo: Courtesy of ronnybas - Fotolia.com
- Ha Long Bay, Vietnam, Photo: Courtesy of 12ee12 - Fotolia.com
- Iguazu Falls, Brazil-Argentina, Photo: Courtesy of Jalonso - Fotolia.com
- Jeju Island, Korea, Photo: Courtesy of NATA - Fotolia.com
- Mount Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, Photo: Courtesy of byrdyak - Fotolia.com
- Mount Everest, Nepal, Photo: Courtesy of naihei - Fotolia.com
- Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia, Photo: Courtesy of Patrick Poendl - Fotolia.com
- Puerto Princesa Underground River, Philippines, Photo: Courtesy of Mirko - Fotolia.com
- Cano Cristales - The River of Five Colors, Colombia, Photo: Courtesy of leningrad1975 - Fotolia.com
- The Sahara Desert, North Africa, Photo: Courtesy of evenfh - Fotolia.com
- Table Mountain, South Africa, Photo: Courtesy of Alex - Fotolia.com
- The Blue Grotto, Capri, Photo: Courtesy of DPI studio - Fotolia.com
- The Dolomites, Italy, Photo: Courtesy of Flaviu Boerescu - Fotolia.com
- Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia, Photo: Courtesy of sara_winter - Fotolia.com
- Pamukkale-Hierapolis, Turkey, Photo: Courtesy of Kerim - Fotolia.com
- Uluru (Ayers Rock), Australia, Photo: Courtesy of ronnybas - Fotolia.com
- Victoria Falls, Zambia-Zimbabwe, Photo: Courtesy of Anna - Fotolia.com
- Zhangjiajie, China, Photo: Courtesy of vichie81 - Fotolia.com
- Cover Photo: Courtesy of Fotoimp - Fotolia.com