Still sizing up your summer travel plans? Well, if you’re looking to enjoy some of the most fascinating locations ever created by Mother Nature, then you might want to check out one of these gorgeous and strange natural landmarks.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
The title of “world’s largest salt flat” might not sound all that exciting, but when you actually see pictures of these gorgeous 4,000 miles of flatlands, you’ll immediately see why they are so special. The entire salar is covered with a salt crust that becomes a giant mirror when it gets rained on. The mirror-like planes offer such a strong reflection that satellites even use the salar to recalibrate their systems. As if that weren’t a cool enough sight, the area is also a major breeding ground for flamingos who feed on the brine shrimp and red algae that thrive in the shallow water. Vacationing in the salt flats is a unique experience, as you not only get to enjoy the beauty of the landmark, but you will most likely stay in a hotel built from the only available natural resource in the area –blocks of salt. At many of these local hotels, even the furniture is made from salt!
When you see the pictures of these natural hot springs, consisting of a multitude of natural mineral terraces, you’ll see why the ancient Turks called it “cotton castle,” and why the area was named a World Heritage Site. The terraces are made from travertine, a sedimentary rock that is created from jelly-like calcium deposits in the hot springs themselves. Of course, while people come to see the terraces, they stay for the stunning hot springs, which range in temperature from nice and warm at 95 degrees to nice and deadly at 212 degrees. While bathing in the pools has been a popular attraction for millennia, these days, it is illegal to wear shoes in the water in order to protect the mineral deposits from damage.
The salt and sulfur formations at Dallol look more like a set on a sci fi film than a real place on Earth, but these gorgeous hot springs, formed in a volcanic crater, are very real –and very dangerous. Unlike the hot springs of Pamukkale, the springs and geysers here release brine and toxic fumes, the very reason Dallol has such a fascinating color scheme. And the water’s still not safe once it’s on the surface, the pools of green water are dangerously acidic, hence the area’s name, which translates to “disintegration” in the local tongue. As if all that weren’t enough to keep you away, Dallol is one of the hottest places on earth, with an average yearly temperature of 93 degrees –keep in mind that means that it can get much, much hotter throughout the year. This is definitely one of those landmarks that is better seen in pictures than in person.
Jellyfish Lake, Palau
If someone wants you to “sleep with the fishes,” that’s a threat. On the other hand, if they say you might soon be “swimming with the jellyfishes,” they could be offering you a magical experience on the Eil Malk island in Palau. While snorkeling around a bunch of jellyfish is usually a terrible idea, this is a special circumstance because these two particular species do not have enough toxins in their bodies to hurt humans. That’s because they evolved in a lake where they have so few natural predators and their diet consists of zooplankton and algae, which do not need to be captured using the jellyfish’s stinger. Scuba diving is illegal in the lake because the bubbles may injure the jellyfish and because the bottom layer of the lake consists largely of hydrogen sulfide, which can be deadly if absorbed through the skin. Snorkeling requires the swimmer to stay somewhat near the surface and since this deadly lake layer sits 50 feet below the surface, it is safe to snorkel. In a way, swimming with jellyfish in a stratified lake that contains deadly levels of hydrogen sulfide is one of the safest (and most fun) ways to cheat death, which is probably why the lake is such a popular tourist destination.
Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
Here’s one you Led Zeppelin fans are no doubt familiar with, as it was famously featured on the cover of their Houses of the Holy album. For those that aren’t aware though, the Giant’s Causeway is a massive area of interlocking basalt columns created after an ancient volcanic eruption. The lava cooled rapidly and then contracted, leaving many deep cracks that were further deepened thanks to erosion, creating around 40,000 pillar-like structures. The World Heritage Site is now considered one of the top natural landmarks in all of the U.K. and the most popular tourist attraction in Northern Ireland. Of course, the legends surrounding the amazing landmark only add to the area’s intrigue. The most famous legend says that an Irish warrior built the causeway so he could walk to Scotland to fight his Scottish rival. Unfortunately, after seeing his enemy’s size, he fled in fear and then asked his wife to help disguise him as a baby. When the Scotsman came calling and saw the massive “infant,” he assumed the father must be a giant, so he ran back to Scotland, destroying the rest of the causeway in order to stop the giant from following him home. The legend fits in with nature as there are similar basalt formations on the isle of Staffa in Scotland that were actually created by the same ancient lava flow.
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, China
If you were one of the many people to fall into a deep depression after realizing you’d never be able to get to visit the land of Pandora featured in Avatar, then you might feel better after taking a trip to Zhangjiajie National Forest Park. After all, the stunning natural setting was one of the biggest inspirations for the floating forests of Pandora and the most famous of the mountains has even recently been renamed the “Avatar Hallelujah Mountain” in honor of the film. Even if the entire area doesn’t become a bioluminescent wonderland after dark, it is still simply gorgeous, consisting of dozens of massive, pillar-like rock formations covered in rich, natural foliage. The massive columns were created by erosion and given that the weather in the park is pretty wet all year round, it’s easy to imagine massive cliffs getting readily worn down by the constant moisture, particularly by the expanding ice that freezes the area in the winter. The area is so famous in China that it actually became the country’s first national forest park and it can be seen represented in hundreds of ancient Chinese paintings.
The White Desert, Egypt
While we tend to think of deserts all consisting of orange sand dunes, they really do come in all sorts of textures and colors. Even so, the White Sesert located in the greater Sahara Desert is still a drastic change from the usual. The gorgeous white and cream chalk formations, that look like they could fall at a moment’s notice, were created as a result of sandstorms in the area breaking down a large plateau that was created millennia ago, when the area was still under the sea. In some areas, it almost looks as though the desert recently was buried under a bizarre snow storm.
What was the weirdest landmark you ever visited? My weird vacation destinations have almost always been manmade, but I would sure love to swim with some jellyfish. What about you guys?