Think You’ve Seen Natural Beauty? These Surreal Destinations Prove You Haven’t Seen Anything Yet

Quora is the place to ask anything. The query-based wiki-community is an easy destination for unfiltered answers to whatever questions you might have on any number of topics, from animals, beaches and cars to x-ray vision, youth sports and zen buddhism.

Speaking of destinations, one user recently posed this question: “What are the most surreal places one can ever visit?”

The answers were many and varied, strewn about the world like tiny pockets of visual magic. They span all six inhabited continents of the earth in all manner of climate, hot cold, wet, dry and varying degrees in between.

Here are some of the best, in no particular order.

Be sure to comment on your favorite.

(Good luck narrowing that down, by the way)

Salar De Uyuni, Bolivia

Salar de Uyuni

When covered in but a few inches of water, the world’s largest salt flat becomes the world’s largest mirror and offers some images that defy description. Time stands still and the words of mortal men are rendered meaningless. And who could possibly find his or her breath to speak to give voice to them?

The Salar, located near the top of the Andes mountains, was formed by the over untold years of geological changes between several prehistoric lakes and is covered by several feet of salt crust. Think 4,633 square miles of salt, roughly 100 times the size of the Bonneville Salt Flats in the United States.

Vaadhoo Island, the Maldives

Vaadhoo Island

Science may not be fun, but is sure is beautiful. This glowing tide owes its allure to the bioluminescent phytoplankton in the water. Try not to over analyze it.

As for the stars, hopefully you already know enough about them.

Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park, China

Zhangye Danxia

Located in the city of Zhangye in the Gansu Province, a remote region in northern central China, this amazing landform is called a danxia is 100 real and natural. Those amazing colors are the end result of the metamorphosis of red sandstone, other minerals and plenty of time, 24 million years for anyone keeping score at home.

The danxia at Zhangye is one of the most incredible displays of Mother Nature’s palette and she did it before man was even walking upright (take that Jackson Pollock). Visitors are driven to various viewing platforms by bus. It is a favorite among scenery lovers of all stripes (get it, with all the color striations?).

Tulip Fields, the Netherlands

Tulip Fields

OK, so despite their beauty, no one can exactly claim these tulip fields to be naturally-occurring. And the tulip, a member of the lily family, is not even endemic to the Netherlands. But it’s pretty fair to say the Dutch do the tulip better than anyone else. So how is this beautiful bloom made its way there, in order to inspire such incredible fields of flowers?

According to Travelurbia, the tulip came to the Netherlands from central Asia via Turkey. In the 1500s, an Austrian envoy brought the flowers to Vienna from Constantinople, and the court botanist, Charles de l’Ecluse, became enamored with the tulip. Years later, when he went to teach in Leiden, the Netherlands, he took the tulip with him. The rest is history.

Glow Worm Caves, New Zealand

The Waitomo Glowworm Caves

“Worms” and “beauty” are not often words found in the same conversation, save for dedicated entomologists. Nevertheless, the Glowworm Caves in Waitomo are the exception to the rule. Located in the limestone caves outside Waitomo township on the North Island of New Zealand, these tiny fungus gnats recreate the most beautiful of night skies.

Arachnocampa luminosa, as the glowworms are known in the scientific community, are luminescent in both the larval and imago (mature insect) stages. According to JustTheTravel, visitors are taken on a three-tiered tour, culminating in a boat ride on the underground Waitomo River, where the glowworms provide the only illumination.

The Tunnel of Love, Ukraine

The Tunnel Of Love
The natives of Klevan, Ukraine call this rail way tunnel the Tunnel of Love, as if out of a fairy tale. The Daily Mail calls it beautiful “beyond be-leaf.” It’s easy to see how people get lost in the beauty, but don’t get too engulfed in the scenery: it’s still an active railway.

Cappadocia region in Anatolia, Turkey

Cappadocia in Anatolia, Turkey

Cappadocia is an ancient region of Anatolia (also known as Asia Minor) in Turkey, located on the same plateau as the nation’s capital of Ankara. It is a popular destination for hot-air ballooning, due in large part to its unique geological features. The rock formations have been carved into houses, churches and monasteries.

Topographically known for hoodoos (or fairy chimneys), Cappadocia was once a center of power for the Hittite Empire, passing in turn under Persian reign to become a Roman and Byzantine province, eventually paying tribute to the Turkish states forming in the east and west of the Anatolia region.

Mendenhall Glacier Caves, United States

Mendenhall Ica Caves
Located in Juneau, the capital of Alaska, Mendenhall is a glacier that stretches 12 miles from the Juneau Icefields to Mendenhall Lake. Originally named Auk Glacier by naturalist John Muir, it was renamed in 1892 after Thomas C. Mendenhall, superintendent of the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey. The unique crystalline structure of glacial ice allows it to absorb and reflect light, creating the blue coloration. According to TravelJuneau.com, commercial tours, including hiking, biking, rafting, canoe and kayak trips, and bus, van, taxi and shuttle tours, are offered in the summer.

The Great Blue Hole, Belize

The Great Blue Hole

A favorite among scuba divers, the Great Blue Hole is a national monument in Belize and became a World Heritage site in 1997. It was made famous by world-renowned explorer Jacques Cousteau, who proclaimed it one of the top 10 scuba diving sites in the world. The Hole is part of the Lighthouse Reef System and almost perfectly circular. It is almost 1,000 feet across and more than 400 feet deep..

Mount Roraima, South America

Mount Roraima

Shared among the nations of Brazil, Guyana and Venezuela, Mount Roraima is the highest plateau of the Pakaraima chain of tepui (tabletop mountains) in South America (although not the continent’s highest point). They rank among some of the oldest geological formations on the planet—think “Precambian Eon.”

Whitehaven Beach, Australia

Whitehaven Beach Australia

Located on Whitsunday Island, off the coast of the Queensland province in Australia, Whitehaven Beach is a 4-mile stretch along the eastern shore known for its brilliant white sand, which contains 98 percent silica and does not retain heat. Based on the local geology, in which the rocks do not contain silica, it is believed the sands were brought in over millions of years with the prevailing sea currents.

The Grand Canyon, United States

The Grand Canyon

OK, so perhaps it’s not as flashy or colorful as some of the other offerings from the list, but the Grand Canyon still retains incredible natural beauty with a rustic elegance. Located entirely within the state of Arizona, it was carved over nearly 2 billion years by the Colorado River, offering stunning insight into the formation of the earth’s crust.

Although not great in number, the Havasupai Indians still inhabit the Grand Canyon, residing in a remote village—only accessible by helicopter or horse and mule trails—off of Havasu Creek. They have turned to tourism as a means for survival, charging admission to their village for tourists to view the streams and waterfalls on their lands.

The Enchanted Well, Brazil

The Enchanted Well

Referred to as Brazil’s “Lost World,” the Enchanted Well is located in the Chapada Diamantina National Park in the state of Bahia in the northeast region of the country. At certain times of day between April and September, the sunlight will fall in through a crevasse to illuminate the pool with a celestial glow. Also located in the park is the Poço Azul (pictured right), equally impressive with its beauty.

Patagonian Marble Caves, South America

The Marble Chapel

Located within the General Carrera Lake in Patagonia, a region shared by Chile and Argentina, the Caves are in the center of the lake. Carved out of marble monoliths by tidal action over the last 6,200 years, the most prominent caves are known as the Chapel, the Cathedral and the Cave. It is part of a peninsula made entirely of marble. Additionally, the lake is known for its trout fishing.

Fingal’s Cave, Scotland

Fingal's CaveFingal’s Cave can be found on the uninhabited Scottish isle of Staffa. The sea cave, featuring layers upon layers of basalt—formed from a lavaflow in the Paleocene epoch, shares its name with a concert overture by Felix Mendelssohn, and holds Finn MacCoul as its namesake, the warrior hunter of Celtic mythology.

Haiku Stairs, United States

The Haiku Stairs

The Haiku Stairs, located on Oahu, the third largest of the Hawaiian islands, are not for the faint of heart. Also called the Stairway to Heaven (cue the Led Zeppelin), the Haiku Stairs is a 2-mile hiking trail that originated as a wooden ladder, spiked to the cliff on the south side of the Haiku Valley, to enable antenna cables to be strung from cliffs on one side of the valley to those on the other. Despite not being open to the public, countless adventure-seekers brave the Stairs each year; they ignore the “No Trespassing” signs, fences, locked gates and guards to experience its 3,922 steps and breathtaking views. AllTrails warns that it’s only for “very experienced outdoorsmen” (what about outdoorswomen?)

Bamboo Groves, Japan

The Bamboo Forests

Sure, perhaps that description needs a bit more specificity; the bamboo groves in question are those part of the Bamboo Forests of the Arashiyama district, located in Kyoto, Japan. It is often used for hiking or cycling, featuring breathtaking tree-lined paths with towering bamboo stalks; it especially majestic during a light breeze, as viewers will see the bamboo swaying gently.

The Cenotes, Mexico

Cenotes In Mexico

The Cenotes are natural sinkholes located in the Yucatan Peninsula, formed by the collapse of dissolved limestone bedrock to serve as surface access to the groundwater below. They were sometimes used for sacrificial offerings by the ancient Mayan civilization; despite that ominous note, they are among the most unique geological formations and offer stunning views.

Antelope Canyon, United States

Antelope Canyon

The Grand Canyon isn’t the only geological destination the state of Arizona has to offer. Antelope Canyon is the most visited slot canyon in the American Southwest, a status enjoyed by its wide publicity and accessibility. Formed by the erosion of sandstone, primarily from flash flooding, Antelope Canyon is a Navajo Tribal Park, accessible only with a permit, which contributes to the Navajo’s tourism revenue.

Trolltunga, Norway

Trolltunga

What’s not to love about a destination call the Troll’s Tongue? Naysayers will bite their own tongues when they see the breath-taking view. Those brave enough to hike out onto the jutting piece of granite will have an awesome photo op and bragging rights. Keep in mind there is no safety apparatus. Nevertheless, there have been no reported fatalities (fingers crossed).

The Swing at the End of the World, Ecuador

The Swing At The End Of The World

If you thought Trolltunga required some intestinal fortitude, get ready for that to be topped. Behold the swing at the end of the world, in Baños, Ecuador. Attached to La Casa De Arbol (“The Treehouse”)—a monitoring station built for observing the active volcano, Mt. Tungurahua—there is a swing which will take daring riders out and above the void for a breathtaking ride and view. Swing at your own risk.

The Hang Son Doong Cave, Vietnam

The Hang Son Doong Cave
The Hang Son Doong Cave, the largest known cave in the world, is located in Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park in the Bố Trạch District of Quảng Bình Province, Vietnam. Discovered in 2009, it only recently hosted its first public tourists in August, 2013. It measures 262×262 feet in most places; the previous largest caveis 300×300, but only 1 mile long, whereas the Hang Son Doong Cave spans more than 2.5 miles.

Victoria Falls, Africa

Victoria Falls

Located along the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls is a waterfall on the Zambezi River, twice the height of Niagara Falls. Called “The Smoke that Thunders” by the native population, Victoria Falls is neither the highest nor the widest waterfall in the world but is classified as the largest, based on its width of 5,604 ft and height of 354 ft, resulting in the world’s largest sheet of falling water. Daring folks may want to take a dip in the Devil’s Pool, a natural pool formed on the edge of the falls.

Hitachi Seaside Park, Japan

Hitachi Seaside Park

Spanning close to 500 acres, the amazing colors of Hitachi Seaside Park can be found in Hitachinaka, Ibaraki, Japan. Another horticultural wonder. it features blooming flowers year-round and has a small amusement park with a Ferris Wheel. It is known for its multiple hues of kochia (pictured above), members of the bassia genus in the family Amaranthaceae, as well as tulips, zinnias, narcissus, cosmos, roses and nemophilia.

To Sua Ocean Trench, Samoa

To Sua Ocean Trench

The To Sua Ocean Trench is found in the Lotofaga village on the south coast of Upolu island in Samoa. The direct interpretation for To Sua is “Big Hole,” an apt description from the look of things. The ladder was installed for tourists to access the converted swimming area, which features ocean waters nearly 100 feet deep.

Volcanoes of Kamchatka, Russia

Volcanoes of Kamchatka

Located on the Kamchatka, these fiery mountains belong to a chain of 19 active volcanoes in the easternmost part of Russia. Klyuchevskaya Sopka is the highest active volcano in the Northern Hemisphere. Sure, not everyone is a fan of lavaflows that glow bright orange, but how many other entries on this list included the potential for mortal peril along with witnessing natural beauty? It’s clocking in at about one third, by our count. And flowers can be deadly too, under the right circumstances. At least the wildlife looks friendly.

Kelimutu Crater Lakes, Indonesia

Kelimutu Crater Lakes


Which surreal destination is your favorite?

Comments