Dragon’s blood trees, Socotra, Yemen
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Situated 400 kilometres off the coast of Yemen, Socotra is the largest island of the archipelago of the same name. Alien, prehistoric, otherworldly: the forest of dragon’s blood trees on Haghier Mountains is certainly a sight to behold. The extraordinary plants look like an open umbrella, and are so named due to their red sap. The trees have thick trunks, tangled branches and a canopy of spiky leaves and are, in fact, related to tulips and lilies. One third of the flora and fauna on the island is endemic – only Hawaii and the Galapagos Islands have more unique species.
Stone forest, Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park, Madagascar
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A massive rocky formation in a national park, the natural wonder was formed from porous limestone shaped by rainwater and streams. Some canyons are too tight for humans to squeeze through (“tsingy” is derived from a local word that means ‘the place where one cannot walk barefoot"). The largely unexplored park on the island nation off the southeast coast of Africa is home to recently discovered species such as the leaf-tailed gecko.
Starry beaches, Maldives
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On numerous beaches in the Maldives, something special happens every so often – the beach is lit up like the night sky. Although commonly misidentified as phytoplankton, these stunning, glowing creatures are in fact ostracod crustaceans, which can emit light for up to a minute. The phenomenon rarely happens close to shore, so if you catch it, know that you’ve witnessed something few people have.
Panjin Red Beach, Liaoning, China
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The largest and best-preserved wetland in the world, every autumn the seepweed that grows along the shores of Panjin Red Beach turn a bright, deep red. It spans 132 square kilometres and is home to more than 260 varieties of birds and 400 species of wildlife. A wooden jetty stretches across part of the vast plane so visitors can get up close.
Tunnel of Love, Klevan, Ukraine
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Just outside the city of Klevan, a private train track built to transport wood is shrouded in trees that stretch over the top to create a verdant tunnel, nicknamed the Tunnel of Love. Apparently, trees were built close to the track to conceal the transport of military hardware in the Soviet era. These days, couples and newlyweds visit for romantic photo shoots in spring and summer.
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A semi-arid region in central Turkey, Cappadocia is known for its ‘chimney’ rock formations. Eruptions from three volcanoes – Erciyes, Hasan and Melendiz Dağları – covered the area in tuff (compressed volcanic ash) 30 million years ago. Over the years it’s eroded to form the graceful towers, best viewed by hot air balloon.
Lake Hillier, Recherche Archipelago, Australia
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Located on Middle Island, the largest of the 11 islands that make up Recherche Archipelago, this unique Aussie lake is a bright, bubble-gum-pink hue. The colour is allegedly caused by Duinella salina, a red-pigmented algae that thrives in the highly saline water. The lake is best appreciated from a helicopter, where the contrast against the green forest and neighbouring ocean makes the pink really pop.
Upper Antelope Canyon, Arizona, United States of America
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Located on Navajo land east of Page in Arizona, Antelope Canyon is a narrow space worn down over thousands of years by water running through it, also known as a slot canyon. Upper Antelope Canyon is the most photogenic part; beams of light infiltrate the opening, lighting the curved, sheer rock face. It’s a popular destination for photographers looking for that perfect shot.
Umpherston Sinkhole, Mount Gambier, Australia
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This sinkhole in South Australia was formed through the dissolution of limestone; the top of the cave-like structure collapsed to create the sunken space. It was on the property of James Umpherston, and in the 1880s, he transformed it into a Victorian-style garden with lawned terraces, ferns and towering palms. It’s open year round for picnics, with a barbeque and sheltered area.
Wave Rock, Hyden, Australia
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Four hours east of Perth, Wave Rock is a striped granite cliff in the shape of a breaking wave that’s 15 metres high and a whopping 110 metres long. The phenomenon, called a flared slope, is caused by weathering and water erosion, which undercuts the base. In spring, orchids and other flowers decorate the base.
Reynisfjara Black Sand Beach, Iceland
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Pure white beaches are celebrated for their pristine beauty but black beaches are underrated. Reynisfjara is located on the south coast of Iceland, beside the small fishing village of Vík í Mýrdal. The sand is made up of shiny pebbles of lava, as black as the night sky. On the beach is Gardar, an enormous pyramid made of basalt columns that look like a ladder into the ether.
Darvaza gas crater, Karakum Desert, Turkmenistan
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This creepy crater lies in the middle of a desert, and although natural, was caused by human intervention. When scientists were drilling for oil in the 1970s, they instead found this natural gas pocket, which ended up collapsing under the weight of their equipment. To use up the natural gas, they set it on fire (a regular procedure) – but the fire never went out due to the unending source of gas. Now, it looks like the gateway to Satan’s place.
Huacachina, Ica Province, Peru
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The only desert oasis in South America, Huacachina is a four-and-a-half drive from Lima, a dreamy lagoon surrounded by palm trees and elegant hotels in the middle of towering sand dunes. The water is said to have therapeutic properties and the city was once a popular spa destination for Lima’s elite. These days, sand boarding and dune buggy riding are popular activities for tourists.
Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park, America
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First discovered in the 1800s, the Grand Prismatic Spring is the third largest hot spring in the world. Water travels 121 feet to reach the surface, with heat-loving bacteria cause the orange, yellow and green layers that ring its bright blue waters. For truly spectacular views of the spring, try hiking up the Midway Bluff.
Slope Point, South Island, New Zealand
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The southern-most tip of the Southern Island of New Zealand is well worth exploring, with its lush green pasturelands and dramatic rocky cliffs. But if you’re visiting, take a jacket; cold winds from the Antarctic Ocean hammer the point, so much so that a group of trees planted by farmers to give some respite to their sheep bend sideways. On a sunny day, they look like a strange but beautiful sculpture.
Playa Del Amor, Marieta Islands, Mexico
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This hidden beach in one of the Marieta Islands, off the west coast of Mexico, is only accessible via swimming or kayaking through a long water tunnel. Completely invisible from the outside, rumour has it that a test bomb from the Mexican military created it. Many years of peace has allowed the native flora and fauna to replenish and it’s now a popular snorkeling destination.
Fly Geyser, Nevada, America
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Nevada’s Fly Geyser started as a man-made well; a geothermic energy company drilled a hole to find geothermal water in the desert. They didn’t use it, but the geyser grew as minerals from the water pocket deposited on the surface. It gets its green, red and yellow colours from the thermophile algae it’s covered in. Burning Man Project (the non-profit arm of the popular Burning Man festival) recently acquired the property and will soon be hosting nature walks.
Tianzi Mountain, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, China
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Do these mountains look familiar? That’s because they were the inspiration behind the floating mountains in the mythical world of Pandora from James Cameron’s Avatar. The peaks are made from sandstone that’s been eroded over time to create the skyscraper-like structures. Take your pick from one of many stunning hikes that allow you to explore the caves or a cable car that climbs the side of one of the mountains for a truly spectacular view.
Hot springs, Saturnia, Italy
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There’s nothing quite like a spa for relaxing into holiday mode – especially when it’s chlorine-free. The naturally occurring waterfall and thermal baths in Saturnia, located in Italy’s Tuscany, are the perfect temperature of 37.5°C. The water is rich in mineral deposits and the baths, surrounded by rolling green hills, have been enjoyed since the time of the Etruscans.
Giant’s Causeway, Bushmills, Northern Ireland
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Roughly 40,000 black basalt columns stick up out of the sea at the foot of the cliffs along the coast of the Antrim plateau. They were caused by volcanic activity 60 million years ago, when lava erupted and quickly cooled and contracted into these hexagonal shapes. The area is a haven for sea birds such as shag, petrel, cormorant and razorbill. It was made a World Heritage site in 1986.
Crooked Forest, Gryfino, Poland
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In Western Poland, a totally unique forest makes for a creepy sight. Hovering inches above the ground, the trunks curve dramatically in a C-shape and then point to the sky. There is no clear answer as to what caused them – one theory is the trees were buried in a snowstorm in their infancy. Another suggests local foresters manipulated their shape to create unusual furniture