You know how your relatives would get back from vacation, and you’d have to sit through a slideshow of boring scenes, often with part of someone’s thumb blurring the corner? Yeah. These aren’t like that. Even if your nearsighted Uncle Elmer were taking the picture, they would still be awesome.
No matter how many pictures you‘ve seen, nothing can prepare you for seeing the Grand Canyon in person. Bryce Canyon will blow your mind with its stunning rock formations and scenic vistas. Monument Valley is guaranteed to make you feel small, in a good way. Crater Lake is home of the bluest water you may ever see, while Yosemite shows you unparalleled beauty in the form of cliffs, waterfalls, and giant sequoia. Sedona brings you amazing red rock formations, and vortexes, if you’re into that.
Rural New England in peak leaf season is crisp, cool, and colorful, with something in the air that is indefinably magical. The Everglades promise a landscape of mangroves and Spanish moss, plus alligators and the occasional panther.
Old Faithful shoots thousands of gallons of boiling water up to 185 feet into the air, every 90 minutes or so. In Canada, Lake Louise’s glacial waters will astound you with their emerald beauty. Dinosaur Provincial Park, in Alberta, is home to an incredible number of all kinds of fossils.
The Stone Forest in China has sheer, pillar-like rock towers that make it look like an imaginary landscape. Wulingyuan scenic area is equally beautiful, showing visitors swooping peaks, ravines, and pinnacles, interspersed with flowing streams and exotic wildlife. Baishui Terrace, also in China, is a naturally formed staircase of calcium carbonate that looks like it’s carved from marble, made glossy by continual spring water running down its steps. Mt. Fuji is Japan’s highest peak, serene and dramatic. Lake Baikal, Russia, is the most voluminous freshwater lake in the world, with about 20% of the world’s fresh water. Cappadocia in Turkey must be seen to be believed—its tufa landscape has been carved into amazing shapes and multilayered caves over the centuries both by the elements and by human hands. Snorkeling the Red Sea will remind you that some of our greatest natural treasures are underwater. In the Dead Sea you can float with ease and let the mineral-rich water soften your skin. Ahhhh. Nearby, you can visit Wadi Rum, Jordan’s desert extraordinaire.
Mt. Kilimanjaro, the highest peak in Africa, rises dramatically from the surrounding plains. No wonder so many have felt compelled to climb it. Dragon’s Breath Cave, Namibia, is reputed to be the largest underground lake in the world. Discovered fairly recently, not many people have seen it—only experienced cave divers can visit. Madagascar’s evolution has brought it some incredible biodiversity, while Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania, is the 12-mile remnant of a large volcano and home to many species of wildlife.
Don’t stand too close to the edge of Pulpit Rock, Lysefjord, Norway.
If giant sand dunes are your thing (and really, who doesn’t love a good sand dune?) the Dune of Pilat, France is a must-see. The Camargue, also in France, is a marshy plain between the arms of the Rhone River and the Mediterranean, home to wild white horses, flamingoes, and black bulls. On the colder end of the spectrum, the Eisriesenwelt Ice Caves in Austria are truly magical. The Giant’s Causeway in Ireland is composed of basalt “stepping stones” that are unlike anything you’ve ever seen before. The Cliffs of Moher are another Irish jawdropper.
The Moreno Glacier, Argentina, is one of just a few non-retreating glaciers. To describe the Blue Hole in Belize as an underwater cave doesn’t even begin to do it justice. Salar de Uyuni, the salt desert of Bolivia, gives new meaning to the words “desolate landscape,” yet its surreal beauty is unearthly. Angel Falls, Venezuela, is the world’s highest waterfall, with a plunge of over 2600 feet. If that’s not enough waterfall for you, Garganta del Diablo, or “Devil’s Throat” is the largest portion of Iguazu Falls in Argentina, and rightfully named—just looking at it is guaranteed to set your heart pounding. The Galapagos are renowned for their flora and fauna. The Amazon River and its surrounding rainforests are also marvels of ecology. The Andes, the world’s longest mountain chain, form the jagged, snowy spine of South America.
The Hot Water Beach in Coromandel, New Zealand, sounds like the right vacation destination for anyone who is a little stressed out. Australia is full of interesting geological sites, among them Kata Tjuta: unearthly, rounded red rock formations. As for the Great Barrier Reef…just go, already.
The Pacific ocean and its islands are home to natural wonders that include the active volcano Kilauea; Palau, known for its amazing dives; and Papua New Guinea’s “Lost world” a recently discovered region of unique wildlife and plant species.
Take a look at the polar ice caps—quick, before they melt! While you’re there, gaze upon the Aurora Borealis/Aurora Australis, the unforgettable glow in the night sky at the extreme northern and southern latitudes of the planet. The Leonid and Perseid meteor showers are your chance to “wish on a falling star” (or several) even though, technically, they aren’t stars. Swimming amidst bioluminescence is another unique experience of nature. Finally, there’s also the Marianas Trench: so deep, you can’t visit. In fact, outer space is more accessible.