The world’s a stage for natural marvels. No matter the continent, climate, or culture you roam in search of natural beauty, you will likely find that Mother Nature delivers. However, occasionally, a shining star, too good to even comprehend, will alter the way you see the world.
Some of the following are tourist traps (rightfully so) but some are Earth’s hush-hush secrets that should be added to every bucket list you can scribble on. Write it down, then book the trip. These natural wonders will tickle your travel bug and hopefully encourage you to explore one (or all!) of the sites that will change your life, or at least make it that much cooler.
Pulpit Rock (Preikestolen), Norway
Norway has a way about it. Mountains the size of the Earth and fjords stretching the terrain make for a nature-seeker’s paradise. However, there is one rock that hogs the attention from any other Norwegian landscape. Pulpit Rock, or Preikestolen, mingles with the clouds. This dagger-like cliff hovers 1,982 feet over one of Norway’s signature fjords, creating both a mesmerizing experience and a daring sightseeing venture. Here, you’ll live life on the edge but please do so with caution. Fitt Tip: carve out at least half a day for your hike up to the rock and be prepared for varying conditions — the weather is ever-changing.
South Island, New Zealand
We can’t pick just one New Zealand landmark to feature on our bucket list, so we picked an entire route. If you want to match adventure to jaw-dropping scenic landscapes, then pedal your way across the South Island. The cycling route from Christchurch to Queenstown is an endless canvas of mountaintops, farmland, and turquoise waters. With a montage of insanely stunning backdrops, you will quickly get why this route made our list. You’ll want to stop at Lake Tekapo or Lake Pukaki for a day (at least!) and bask in the see-through waters that are so impossibly blue. But you don’t want to end your journey there — Queenstown is a vibrant outdoor haven where you can get out of the saddle to skydive, bungee jump, or hike.
Bryce Canyon, Utah
Utah has done it again. Bryce Canyon National Park is the Grand Canyon’s underrated little sister. The jagged topography is out of this world… as in you will literally feel like you’re on another planet. The large structures (known as hoodoos) popping up in dramatic form make up most of the eye-catching terrain — they may look extraterrestrial, but they’re all naturally-formed rock formations. Fitt Tip: aim for a September outing in the canyon, as weather is mild, skies are blue, and the air is crisp and clean.
Valle de la Luna, Chile
This natural wonder is so unique, it doesn’t even feel like Earth. The name is quite fitting — after all, it translates to Valley of the Moon. This sandy arena is transformed as the sun sets over the earthy-toned horizon, turning the typically brown view into a highlighted backdrop of pinks, oranges, purples, and blues. For those who can’t sit still, bike rentals and sandboarding will spike your adrenaline at this mystical Chilean destination.
Playa Ostional, Costa Rica
Keen on observing mobs of turtles (in the hundreds of thousands) packed onto a sandy Costa Rican backdrop? Yeah, us, too. Arribada, “arrival” in Spanish, is the mass nesting of hundreds of sea turtles, and Playa Ostional is where it all goes down. Turtles literally own the sandy dunes of Playa Ostional — it’s a protected area designed to keep this ritual safe for the once endangered Olive Ridley Turtles. However, before you book your trip, you’ll need to do some planning. Arribada occurs during the rainy season (August to December), one week shy of a new moon each month. Fitt Tip: check in at the ranger station and follow all the rules — it will keep both you and the turtles safe.
Melissani Cave, Kefalonia, Greece
The heavens have spoken, and what they have to say is stunning. On the island of Kefalonia, you will find the divine in your subterranean adventure. Paddle your way through an enchanted cave and explore the intense surroundings. The cavernous hole that allows for sunlight into this Greek grotto is massive and mysterious, mixing blues, greens, and yellows for lucky kayakers. Not keen on light? The adjacent structure is gloomy, yet dreamlike, with moss climbing up rocks — a truly unforgettable paddle.
In the mood for some mystery? 358 miles off the coast of Tokyo, the active volcano is the centerpiece of this isolated island community. Following a volcanic eruption in 1785, the island was a ghost town for years; yet, it’s not exactly clear when the island became inhabited again. The greenery covering the land is almost blinding, but it has nothing on the stargazing that residents (all 160 of them) say to be the best in the world. With the absence of light pollution and any noise, “The Coliseum of the Stars”, as it’s called by the Japanese, will make you want to jump that resident count to 161.
Sørvágsvatn, Faroe Islands, Denmark
Europeans are good secret-keepers. The Denmark territory of the Faroe Islands has gone unspoiled, and even unnoticed, for decades. We are here to spill the beans. An optical illusion awaits you in these remote islands that will have you double-checking your spectacles for any smears or cracks. Sørvágsvatn, and “infinity lake”, appears to float over the adjacent oceanic waters. It’s trippy and worth every step of the hike to get there. Expect a two-hour round-trip, mostly level hike that leads to cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean, but approach each cliffside beauty with steady footing — the winds roar just as the photo ops arise!
The Matterhorn, Switzerland and Italy
Spoiler Alert: The Matterhorn is not just a ride at Disneyland. It’s an actual mountain straddling Switzerland and Italy, and boy, does it beat out any roller coaster ride! Reaching beyond the clouds and into oblivion, your journey will be nothing short of life-changing on this iconic pyramid-like stunner. The mountain resembles the top swirl of an ice cream cone, but don’t expect the climb to be as sweet. It’s tough. The mountain is often occupied by pro climbers who train all year-round, so train like a professional — smart, hard, and with plenty of guidance. Though, don’t book your flight just yet if you’re looking to climb. You must be accepted into Alpine Ascents’ program first.
Amazon Rainforest, South America
The Amazon Rainforest is big (okay, who are we kidding… it’s GIGANTIC) in size and reputation. Covering the nine countries in South America, this natural wonder is the single largest tropical rainforest on Earth. We are talking 2.2 million square miles, to be exact. This powerhouse is home to over a million species and hundreds of indigenous tribes. Basically, it’s kind of a big deal. What’s even more head turning? Deforestation has impacted this wonder drastically, losing 17% of the forest in the last 50 years. That is one and a half acres lost per second — yikes! Add it to your bucket list before we ruin it…
Lake Hillier, Western Australia
Pink is the new blue. Lake Hillier in Western Australia is not your average body of water. This small lake is making waves not by its vastness or recreational activity but rather the intensity of its color. There’s really no hiding the fact that it’s pink! Sitting next to the Pacific Ocean (separated only by a narrow sand dune lined with trees), the color is even more prominent with the sky blues play off the pinks. Although the exact reason for the flamboyant pink lake is unknown, there is a scientific guess: high salt content and pigment of indigenous algae are the likely factors that create the beautiful, exotic pink water.
Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada
Banff is a natural wonder that offers its beauty through all the seasons. Situated in the Canadian Rockies, Banff is a mountain town that has a reputation for outdoor escapades. Of the 6,641 square kilometers, every inch of this park is covered with beauty. One of Mother Nature’s prized gems, Moraine Lake (also known as the Jewel of the Rockies) is the backdrop to perfection. Meanwhile, Lake Minnewanka creates a dreamy route with infinite mountain ridges hiding behind each other. Kayaking and camping are popular add-ons to this adventure. Fitt Tip: feeling ritzy? Stay at Chateau Lake Louise, a luxury lakeside fixture.