The world is full of jaw-dropping temples, towering fortresses, and other incredible man-made creations. But there’s nothing more impressive than rare natural wonders, most of which existed long before humankind ever did—and continue to endure. Here are seven ecological landmarks* that you’ll want to add to your travel bucket list.
Aurora Borealis (or the Northern Lights)
The world’s polar regions, including portions of Alaska and Scandinavia, are the best places to spot these glowing, multihued sheets of light, which often appear as if they’re dancing across the sky.
The Grand Canyon
The Colorado River has been cutting this mile-deep swath into the ground to create America’s most famous canyon for more than five million years, revealing not just steep walls but also billions of years of the earth’s history in the process.
The Great Barrier Reef
A living coral structure so big it can be seen from outer space, this Queensland, Australia, stunner comprises almost 3,000 individual reefs and 900 islands. It supports a host of marine life, including 1,500 species of tropical fish.
Rio de Janeiro’s Harbor
Brazil’s popular seaside city is set along this dramatic natural harbor, whose original name, Guanabara, translates to “bosom of the sea.” The bay is sprinkled with lush islands and rimmed by granite monolith peaks, including Rio’s iconic Sugarloaf Mountain.
Earth’s highest mountain has long captured the imagination of mountaineers who have tried to reach its summit. The 29,029-foot Nepali apex sits within a subrange of the Himalayas on the Chinese border.
Near the city of Uruapan, in central Mexico, this cinder-cone volcano, the world’s youngest, attracted international attention in 1943 when it suddenly emerged from a farmer’s cornfield, erupting for several years until going dormant in 1952. Although not currently active, the volcano is still there, and travelers can climb it then circle the crater at its top.
This 354-foot-tall waterfall on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe is recognized as the world’s largest sheet of falling water and is known in the local Tonga language as “the smoke that thunders.”
- *List originally compiled by CNN in 1997.
- NOTE: Information may have changed since publication. Please confirm key details before planning your trip.
- Published: June 2018