Valley of the Moon, Chile
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An intriguing valley in the Atacama Desert (the driest on Earth), the Valley of the Moon's barren stretches and rocky outcrops so resemble an extraterrestrial landscape that NASA tested the Mars 2020 rover there. Image credit: Delso.photo CC-BY-SA
Great Barrier Reef, Australia
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The world’s largest coral reef is home to an abundance of marine life and you can get up close and personal with it by simply going snorkelling. Among the hundreds of picture-perfect tropical islands and cays that rise above the reef, most are uninhabited while some have upmarket resorts.
Rainbow Mountains, China
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This kaleidoscope of red rock formations with arresting multicoloured ridges pops out of the green and grey backdrop of Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park in the Gansu province in north-western China. Take a sightseeing car between the four viewing platforms and marvel at your leisure.
Marble Caves, Chile
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In the centre of General Carrera Lake in Chilean Patagonia are the Marble Caves (Cavernas de Mármol), a series of caves, columns, tunnels and mazes cut into marble rock formations by the water. They can be approached by boat. Not many people come here but those who do never forget the experience. It has been calculated that the whole block of marble weighs 4.5 billion tonnes.
Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
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The world’s largest intact volcanic cauldron was formed when the volcano exploded more than two million years ago. Measuring 610 metres deep and 260 square kilometres, it is hailed as one of the world’s most unchanged wildlife sanctuaries and is home to the black rhino, lion, buffalo, zebra, hippo, wildebeest and gazelle.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
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This impressive and blindingly white salt flat is the largest in the world. At dawn and dusk, the sunlight highlights its surface with a beautiful pink-orange glow.
Grand Canyon, United States
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The jewel in Arizona’s crown has been the scene of many a dramatic movie moment but you need to stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon to fully appreciate the utter scale and sense of wonder. Carved out by the Colorado River over millions of years, the canyon is 446 kilometres long, up to 29 kilometres wide and 1850 metres deep. Yes, you read right.
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The Northern Lights are caused by collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere and charged particles released from the sun’s atmosphere – but it simply looks like magic! Green, pink and violet swathes light up the night sky in a way that makes you question what lies beyond. The phenomenon is best seen from somewhere close to the North Pole, such as northern Scandinavia or northern Canada. The Southern Lights (aurora australis) are every bit as spectacular but it’s rare to get a good view from dry land.
Mount Everest, Nepal
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Known in Nepal as Sagarmāthā and in Tibet as Chomolungma, Mount Everest is the world’s tallest and most famous mountain. It’s the holy grail of climbers and more than 250 mountaineers and porters have died attempting to scale its 8848 metres. You can appreciate its majesty, without having to conquer it, by admiring it from nearby towns or monasteries. Although it’s considered to be in Nepal, the border between Nepal and Tibet runs across Everest’s precise summit point.
Great Blue Hole, Belize
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This underwater sinkhole 70 kilometres off the coast of Belize, Central America, is the world’s biggest at more than 300 metres across and 125 metres deep. It’s a magnet for scuba divers, who come for the myriad species of tropical fish and spectacular coral formations.
Uluṟu-Kata Tjuṯa National Park, Australia
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Uluru, the sandstone monolith in the heart of the Northern Territory’s Red Centre, is believed to be about 700 million years old. Along with the red-rock domes of Kata Tjuṯa, some 35 kilometres west, it’s a sacred site for Indigenous Australians so stick to the path.
Semuc Champey, Guatemala
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The shallow turquoise waters and limestone terraces of Semuc Champey form the top of a natural, 300 metre-long bridge that stretches over the River Cahabón.
Perito Moreno Glacier, Argentina
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Visitors to this 250 square kilometre glacier are in for an awesome sight: shards of ice rising more than 70 metres into the sky from the surface of Argentino Lake.
Vaadhoo Island, Raa Atoll, Maldives
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The phytoplankton that lend the waters of this island the name “Sea of Stars” are called dinoflagellates. At night, their bioluminescence gives the shore a magical blue glow.
Angel Falls, Venezuela
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With a free drop of 979 metres, this is officially the highest waterfall in the world. Located in the three-million-hectare Canaima National Park in south-eastern Venezuela, it’s reassuringly difficult to get to – a six-hour flight from Caracas – making it all the more emotional when you do.
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
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A World Heritage site in north-western Vietnam, Ha Long Bay’s emerald waters and towering limestone pillars, arches and caves make it one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. Don’t let that put you off. It’s simply spectacular and not nearly as far from Hanoi as you might think – just a three-and-a-half-hour drive.
The Green Lagoon, Lanzarote
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The volcanic landscape and black sands of El Golfo beach on the Canary Island of Lanzarote create a spectacular backdrop for the algal green lake of Charco de los Clicos.
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Pamukkale translates as Cotton Castle, which is an apt description of the thermal waters that flow over glistening white travertine steps in western Turkey. For centuries the waters have been credited with healing powers. It’s certainly a sight that’s soothing for the soul.
Grand Prismatic Spring, United States
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The Grand Prismatic Spring is so-called for its incredible rainbow of colours, which are caused by bacteria that live in the different temperature zones. First noted by geologists in 1871, this hot spring in Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park is regarded as the third-largest in the world, after Frying Pan Lake in New Zealand and Boiling Lake in Dominica. Given the water temperature is 70°C, you can’t swim in it but you can appreciate its beauty from the walkway above.