Lisa is a travel enthusiast who loves visiting other countries and learning about quirky natural landscapes from around the world.
A World of Mind-Blowing Places for Travel Junkies
Looking for a new travel spot this year? With so many different options available, it can be extremely difficult to make a decision. You might be interested in something a little more special than your previous trips — a unique place you can brag about to your friends that is unknown to countless people. If this is the case, you are in luck!
Incredible landscapes exist in every part of the world, and some are so unusual that it seems impossible they could belong to Earth. Photos of these locations are sometimes laughable and have their viewers believing that they must be fake. If you are seeking a new adventure, you can find it in a wide variety of environments, from vibrant pink lakes to cascading limestone terraces filled with turquoise-colored hot springs. Just be sure to remind yourself that you are not dreaming!
This article features the following surreal places:
- Rainbow Mountain, Peru
- Mendenhall Ice Caves, Alaska
- Patagonia's Marble Caves, Chile
- Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, Brazil
- Sea of Stars, Maldives
- Danakil Depression, Ethiopia
- Blood Falls, Antarctica
- Lake Hillier, Australia
- Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
- Pamukkale Thermal Pools, Turkey
- Crooked Forest, Poland
- Darvaza Gas Crater, Turkmenistan
Rainbow Mountain, Peru
Often called Vinicunca or Montaña de Siete Colores (Mountain of Seven Colors), Rainbow Mountain was first discovered by non locals in 2015 and did not receive its first official tour until 2016. This stunning mountain range is located in the Andes, within the Cusco region of Peru. It remained a local secret for a long time because it is hidden between the glacial mountains of the Vilcanota range. Rainbow Mountain is considered a holy site, and local Peruvians believe it to be the deity of Cusco. Locals travel to this site daily for worship, bringing offerings for the deity.
Rainbow Mountain stands over 16,000 feet (4,877 meters) above sea level and was once covered by glacier caps. Its vibrant stripes of color are the result of mineral deposits, including red clay, mud, sand, quartzose, sandstone, marl, claystone, and phyllite. The stripes were created by millions of years of weathering, uplift, and crustal shortening.
The hills and valleys surrounding Rainbow Mountain are home to wild vicuñas, alpacas, llamas, viscachas, and chinchillas. Condors can sometimes even be spotted in the skies above. Many tourists agree that the best time to visit this incredible place is during the dry season in August, when its colors are most vivid.
Mendenhall Ice Caves, Alaska
The Mendenhall Ice Caves are located inside the 12 mile (19 kilometer) long Mendenhall Glacier in southeast Alaska. They can only be accessed by kayaking to the edge of the ice and climbing over the glacier. Their gorgeous blue caverns and mini waterfalls are truly a sight to behold. One might even feel that they are in a dream while exploring these ethereal caves.
Unfortunately, Mendenhall Glacier is melting increasingly fast due to climate change, and the ice caves within it are continuously changing. Some of the caves have even melted and collapsed in a matter of days. For this reason, visiting the Mendenhall Ice Caves can be quite dangerous and should only be done with a tour guide.
Patagonia's Marble Caves, Chile
One of the most isolated natural wonders of the world, the Marble Caves (Capillas de Mármol) can be found in Patagonia, Chile. They are an arrangement of sculpted caves located in the middle of General Carrera Lake and can only be accessed by boat or kayak. The three main caverns are the Chapel, the Cathedral, and the Cave.
These caves have formed over the past 6,000 years from the water of melting glaciers in the area. The water washed up against the calcium carbonate cliffs, slowly carving out their famous tunnels and caverns. This glacial water was also quite rich in minerals, which are responsible for the mesmerizing swirls of color throughout the cave system. The caverns feature various hues of blue, turquoise, green, yellow, pink, grey, and black.
The Marble Caves can be enjoyed all year round, but some travelers recommend that they be toured in the morning when there is not much wind and the waters are fairly calm. The water that flows through these caverns varies in coloration depending on the season. It tends to be turquoise during the spring months and a deep shade of blue during the summer months when water levels are higher. Despite the water's inviting appearance, it is very cold throughout the year, so tourists must dress warmly for their visit to the caves.
Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, Brazil
Lençóis Maranhenses National Park contains 380,000 acres (154,000 hectares) of land located in Maranhão state in northeastern Brazil. It is bordered by 43 miles (69 kilometers) of beaches along the Atlantic Ocean. It is also bordered by the São José Basin and the rivers of Parnaíba, Itapecuru, Munim, and Periá.
This fascinating park is best known for its extensive coastal dune fields, which make up the majority of the park. During the dry season, the area looks much like a desert. However, during the rainy season (January to June), rainstorms fill the spaces between the dunes with fresh water. The lagoons that form are up to 330 feet (100 meters) long and 10 feet (3 meters) deep. These pools often interlock with one another and connect to the rivers. A layer of impermeable rock underneath the sand prevents them from draining. Many travelers believe that the best time to visit Lençóis Maranhenses National Park is between May and August, while these lagoons are still full. Once September arrives, the pools quickly begin to dry up.
Besides its impressive white sand dunes and beautiful greenish-blue lagoons, Lençóis Maranhenses National Park is also known for its mangrove swamps and two oases (Queimada do Britos and Baixa Grande). The park's diverse environment makes it the perfect home for a wide array of animals, including endangered species like the scarlet ibis, neotropical otter, oncilla, and West Indian manatee.
Sea of Stars, Maldives
The spectacular Sea of Stars can be observed on Vaadhoo Beach, Maldives during the late summer. Many people believe bioluminescent phytoplankton are responsible for the tiny neon blue lights that sparkle in the waves close to shore. However, these lights are actually created by ostracod crustaceans. The glow given off by phytoplankton only lasts less than a second, which would not be enough to produce the type of lighting seen on Vaadhoo Beach. Ostracod crustaceans can glow for a few seconds or even minutes when they are placed in water. It is possible that phytoplankton contribute to the shimmering display, but they are not responsible for the majority of the lights.
Vaadhoo Beach is not the only place where bioluminescent organisms are found, but it is the most well-known location. These organisms can be spotted on any of the 1,200 other islands in the Maldives if the conditions are right. They sometimes even glow on the shores of Japan, Bali, and Jamaica. Unfortunately, this is one of the rarest spectacles in nature. Some travelers recommend that people not make the Sea of Stars the focus of their trip to the Maldives, as they may not see them, even if they visit Vaadhoo Beach during the late summer.
Danakil Depression, Ethiopia
One of Earth's most alien places, the Danakil Depression is located in the northern part of Ethiopia's Afar region. It formed as a result of rifting and volcanic activity when Africa and Asia separated from one another. Erosion, flooding of ancient seas, and the rising and falling of the ground were also responsible for its development. This depression is known as one of the hottest and driest places on the planet. Temperatures regularly reach 113 °F (45 °C) and can be as high as 131°F (55 °C). It also does not receive rain for most of the year. The Danakil Depression is one of the lowest places on Earth as well, at 410 feet (125 meters) below sea level.
The depression features two active volcanoes, Mount Ayalu and Erta Ale. It also contains the Dallol sulfur springs, which are being studied in an attempt to understand how life may emerge on other planets. The main residents of the Danakil Depression are extremophilic microbes (microorganisms capable of living in environments that are too extreme for most lifeforms). Toxic chlorine and sulfur gases fill the air, and the landscape is made up of vibrantly colored pools, salt formations, sulfur deposits, and volcanic rock.
Many of the pools are quite hot, acidic, and salty. Their vibrant colors are products of rain and seawater mixing with hot magma and rising up. The sea salt reacts with the magma's volcanic minerals and creates a fascinating display. These ponds vary in coloration depending on their temperatures, acidity, and mineral contents. Gaet'ale Pond is one of the most well known lakes of the depression, but not because of its color. Rather, it is famous for being the saltiest water body on the planet, with a salinity of 43%.
Considering its hostile conditions, it comes as a surprise to most people that the Danakil Depression is referred to as "the cradle of humanity." Paleoanthropologists call it this because countless fossils of ancient hominins have been discovered at this depression. One of the best known fossils is Lucy, which is 3.2 million years old. Due to the large number of hominin fossils that have been uncovered, many paleontologists have proposed that humans first evolved in this area.
Despite its toxic air and extreme heat, the Danakil Depression has become a popular tourist attraction, drawing travelers of various ages from all over the world. Tour companies advise that the risk of heat stroke is very high, so visitors must do their best to prepare for the heat and never venture away from their tour group. Tourists must also contend with toxic gases burning their airways and a strong sulfur odor that smells like rotten eggs.
Blood Falls, Antarctica
Blood Falls is a startling red plume of salt water that flows from Taylor Glacier in Victoria Land, east Antarctica. Its strange blood red color is a result of iron in the water. The waterfall is supplied by a small ancient lake that has been sealed beneath Taylor Glacier for 2 million years. This salty, iron-rich lake pours out from a fissure in the glacier, producing Blood Falls. The lake itself is not red, and its water does not change color until it exits Taylor Glacier. This is because iron must be exposed to oxygen in order to turn the water red.
The ancient lake beneath Taylor Glacier is quite extraordinary in that it is home to a community of ancient microorganisms. These microorganisms have been able to survive trapped within the glacier for 2 million years, evolving independently of the rest of Earth's lifeforms. They exist in a place that contains no light, no free oxygen, and very little heat, yet they somehow still thrive in these extreme conditions.
Lake Hillier, Australia
Located on the edge of Middle Island, off the south coast of western Australia, Lake Hillier stands out for its unusual pink color. This color is permanent and does not change when the water is placed in a container. Scientists believe Lake Hillier's pink hue is produced by red algae (dunaliella salina) interacting with salt in the lake and causing the salt to create a red dye that helps create the color.
The only lifeforms that exist in Lake Hillier are microorganisms. This lake's high salinity prevents animals like fish from being able to survive in it. However, despite its high salt concentration, Lake Hillier is still safe for swimming. Those who wish to swim in it must first obtain permission from the Western Australia Department of Environment Conservation. The lake is fairly difficult to access, so travelers have to take a plane or cruise ship to the isolated area.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Salar de Uyuni is often considered to be one of the most incredible vistas in South America. It is the world's largest salt flat, at over 4,050 square miles (10,489 square kilometers), and is located in the Daniel Campos province of southwest Bolivia. This salt flat was left behind by the area's ancient lakes when they evaporated. Salar de Uyuni's most astonishing feature is its ability to transform into the world's largest natural mirror after periods of rainfall or flooding from nearby lakes. A thin layer of calm water will cover its flat surface and create a reflection like no other, one that stretches 80 miles (129 kilometers) across and will have you feeling that you are sandwiched between two skies!
Salar de Uyuni is part of the Altiplano, a high plateau formed during the uplift of the Andes Mountains. The plateau has both freshwater and saltwater lakes, and it is surrounded by mountains that provide no drainage outlets. The central region of Salar de Uyuni is dotted with a few islands. These islands actually are the tops of volcanoes that were submerged in one of the ancient lakes around 30,000 years ago. They contain strange coral-like structures and fossils.
This salt flat is nearly devoid of plants and animals. The dominant plant life are giant cacti, and animals like the Andean fox, horned coot, and Andean goose sometimes pass through the area. While Salar de Uyuni may not be favorable to most wildlife, it is surprisingly a popular breeding ground for several species of flamingos during the month of November. Tourists who choose to visit the salt flat in November can see the Chilean, Andean, and rare James's flamingos.
Pamukkale Thermal Pools, Turkey
Known as the "cotton castle" of Turkey, the Pamukkale thermal pools have attracted visitors since the time of Classical antiquity and were a popular destination for many ancient Greeks and Romans. These hot springs are located in Denizli Province, southwestern Turkey. They are a natural formation of mineral springs set in huge travertine (limestone) terraces. The sparkling, snow-white terraces were created by limestone deposits, which were left behind by running water thousands of years ago.
This location contains 17 hot springs, ranging in temperature from 95°F (35°C) to 212°F (100°C). They are greatly admired for their stunning turquoise color and healing properties. The Pamukkale thermal springs were so popular in ancient times that the Romans founded the spa city Hierapolis near them. The city was founded around 190 B.C. and contains some impressive ruins, including a pristine theatre and extensive necropolis. Hierapolis is also famous for its Sacred Pool (also known as Cleopatra's Pool), which is believed to have been used by this famous queen.
Crooked Forest, Poland
Quite possibly the strangest forest on Earth, the Crooked Forest is located in West Pomerania, Poland, near the town of Gryfino. It consists of 400 unusually shaped pine trees that were planted in the village of Nowe Czarnowo around 1930. These sharply curved trees have baffled people for years, and it remains uncertain whether or not humans were responsible for their bent trunks.
Some have suggested that a snowstorm caused the curvature, but there is little evidence to support this theory. Many people believe some type of human tool or technique was used to make the trees bend in this strange fashion. It is possible they were deformed in order to create naturally curved timber that could be used for boats or furniture.
Darvaza Gas Crater, Turkmenistan
The Darvaza gas crater is situated in the middle of the Karakum Desert near Darvaza, Turkmenistan. It is often called the "Door to Hell" or "Gates of Hell" due to its constant flames and boiling mud. This crater is a natural gas field that collapsed into a cavern decades ago. It has a diameter of 230 feet (70 meters) and depth of 98 feet (30 meters).
According to Turkmen geologist Anatoly Bushmakin, the site was first utilized by Soviet engineers in 1971, who believed that it would yield a substantial amount of oil. These engineers set up a drilling rig and campsite to assess the oil's quality. Not long after they found a natural gas pocket, the ground under the rig and camp collapsed, creating a large crater. The drilling rig was buried, but no one died as a result of the incident. Concerned that the cavern would release dangerous gases into nearby towns, the engineers decided it would be best to set fire to the cavern so the gas would burn off. The gas was expected to burn out within a few weeks, but it has continued to burn for decades and is likely to keep burning for many years to come.
© 2021 Lisa Pizzoferrato
Lisa Pizzoferrato (author) from Columbus, OH on June 26, 2021:
Thanks everyone for all of your sweet comments! I’m really glad you enjoyed the photos and info. I had a lot of fun writing this one and learning about these places. I especially would love to see Rainbow Mountain and the Marble Caves at some point in my life.
EK Jadoon from Abbottabad Pakistan on June 26, 2021:
This is a beautiful and well-structured article, Lisa. All the photos are fantastic and I have never seen them before. Thanks for sharing this informational and interesting piece.
Stay safe and healthy...
Bill De Giulio from Massachusetts on June 26, 2021:
Very interesting. There are certainly some strange yet beautiful places out there. I was only familiar with a few of these so thank you for the education.
Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on June 26, 2021:
Excellent article with interesting information of these beautiful locations! I am aware of most of them, but thank you for bringing all these awesome places together, with beautiful pictures!
Thanks for sharing!
Liz Westwood from UK on June 26, 2021:
This is a fascinating article with great illustrations. I had not heard of many of these before.