Massive volcanic craters, acres of raw jungle and stretch of deserted sand dunes: the work of Mother Earth is beyond our imagination. Thanks to these natural wonders, our Earth has been blessed with gorgeous landscapes and undulating backdrops. Without environmental protection, they might be gone faster than we expect. To pay tribute to these phenomenal sites, here’s my roundup (based on readings and travels) of the world’s top natural wonders.
1. Great Barrier Reef, Australia
The world’s largest coral reef system stretches over 2,600 kilometers and can be seen from outer space. Supporting a wide diversity of marine life, the Great Barrier Reef is a World Heritage site since 1981. A large part of the reef is protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which helps to limit the impact of human use, such as overfishing and tourism. A trip to Australia would be ideal from November to May, when summer temperatures are pleasant and Queensland’s vibrant aquatic life is at its most active.
Getting there: You can take a flight to Hamilton and Prosperine Islands from some major cities (Brisbane, Cairns, Sydney, and Melbourne) on Australia’s mainland. Heron Island is where we stayed when we visited, and is a great option for easy access to the nature and wildlife of the Great Barrier Reef. There is fantastic accommodation on the island with spa and diving add-ons available. If you’re looking to stay on a different island, you can research the best one for you and book your hotels online.
Photo by Brewbooks
2. Amazon Rainforest, South America
An extensive forest covering most of the Amazon Basin of South America, is spread across 8 different countries and covers over 5.5 million km sq. Home to proliferate wildlife and nearly-extinct primitive tribes, the Amazon Rainforest is the largest and most species-rich tropical rainforest in the world.
The majority of the forest is contained within Brazil, with Rio de Janeiro as the best place to enter the jungle from. We trekked through the Ecuadorian part of the jungle, visiting tribes and exploring the forest at night.
I traveled to the Amazon from Baños, Ecuador, on a three-day trekking trip that includes nocturnal walks, boat trips on dugout canoes and visits to the Indigenous tribes. Here we learned that the Amazon offers all kinds of adventure activities, from bungee jumping to white water rafting, as well as the chance to get up close and personal with unique wildlife.
Getting there: To get to the Amazon, you can enter from any one of the following nine countries — Brazil, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana. On our trip, we entered from Ecuador and trekked into the forest with a guide.
3. Grand Canyon, USA
A steep-sided gorge carved by the Colorado River in Arizona is one of the most awe-striking natural site in the United States. The Grand Canyon is a creation formed by over two billions years of nature’s work. Aside from casual sightseeing from the South Rim, the floor of the valley is accessible by foot, mule or rafting. Other activities like whitewater rafting, hiking and running are especially popular.
Getting there: The easiest way to reach the Grand Canyon is by flying into Las Vegas, Nevada, then catching a bus, renting a car, or taking a guided tour out to the canyon. The journey takes around 4 hours each way. There are a handful of resorts to stay in at the park, or you can return to Las Vegas on the same day and spend the night there.
Photo by Andy Won
4. Sahara Desert, North Africa
The Sahara is the world’s largest hot desert covering over 9 million km sq of area. Spanning most of Northern Africa (Morocco, Egypt, Sudan, Chad and Algeria), it’s almost as large as the continent of Europe. Consisting of rocky formations and large sand dunes, a trip through the Sahara is one of mystique and desolation. Visitors can experience the various cultures around the desert through the little Saharan villages.
Getting there: The Sahara is best reached by car from entry points in Morocco, Tunisia, or Egypt. In the vast majority of the desert area, camping inside or outside of your car is your only option for accommodation.
Photo by wonker
5. Galápagos Islands, Ecuador
Over 972km west of continental Ecuador, the Galápagos Islands have been secluded from humans for thousands of years, resulting in unique and endemic species of wildlife. This volcanic archipelago of 13 islands is sprouting with marine lizards, giant land tortoises and blue-footed boobies everywhere. An opportunity to visit the islands makes one feels privileged to experience such rare sights in this modern world. Visiting the Galapagos Islands is worth the trek, and can be done even if you are on a budget.
Getting there: Flights are available from mainland Ecuador to nearby islands (Isla Baltra and Isla San Cristobal) daily, and they are the most efficient way to reach the islands. From there, you can take a boat to the island in which you are planning to stay. We stayed in the Hotel España in Puerto Ayora ($30/night for a double) on Santa Cruz Island, which is accessible by boat from Baltra.
6. Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
The crater is a sprawling conservation land in Tanzania, with one of the largest concentrations of wildlife in Africa. As a natural sanctuary to thousands of birds, lions, zebras, black rhino, it is often called Africa’s Eden.
Known as the “largest unbroken caldera in the world”, the crater is 610 meters deep and 260 sq km. Only the indigenous tribe of Maasai are allowed to live in the land. The crater is most popular for bird watching, photography, walking safaris, and game viewing.
Getting there: Fly into Kilimanjaro International Airport, then make your way to Arusha. From Arusha the crater is about a 3 hour drive.
7. Halong Bay, Vietnam
Halong Bay – meaning ‘Descending Dragon Bay’ in Vietnamese- is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It features thousands of limestone karsts and oddly-shaped islets rising from emerald green waters. The evolution of these limestone karsts has taken over 20 million years to form, under the impact of the tropical wet climate. With such biodiversity and ecologically-rich grounds, there is also a thick cultural and historical side to the country.
Getting there: To reach Halong Bay, fly into Hanoi and organize a tour to the bay. The bus takes anywhere from 3-4 hours to reach Halong Bay, and if you go with an all-inclusive tour the operators should escort you directly from the bus to your boat.
Photo by Ethan Crowley
8. Iguazu Falls, South America
Located on the Argentinean-Brazilian border, Iguazu Falls divides the countries, as if the waters were plunging off the edge of the tectonic plates. It has been compared with the Victoria Falls and Niagara Falls, but the Iguazu definitely offers better views and well-designed walkways. At the Devils’s Throat, you are standing in the midst of the torrential waters, surrounded by 360degrees of waterfalls. Visitors can see the falls from the Brazilian side (Foz de Iguacu) or the Argentinean side (Puerto Iguazu).
Getting there: It is fairly straightforward to get to the falls from both Brazil and Argentina. Buses and flights are available from most major cities to Iguazu.
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