What do whitewashed buildings, ancient trees, and an 11th-century temple have in common? They’re among the most surreal landscapes on earth, places so beautiful and breathtaking that it’s hard to believe that they truly exist. But not only are they real, they’re also open for business (for the most part).
Here are 11 astonishing sites that will have you urgently booking your next trip.
1. Torres del Paine National Park: Patagonia, Chile
Torres del Paine is the reason people fall in love with Patagonia. It’s all mountains, glaciers, lakes, and rivers. The actual Torres del Paine are the distinctive three granite peaks of the Paine mountain range. They have been beguiling visitors since 1880, when the influential early feminist Lady Florence Dixie described them as “Cleopatra’s needles.” Travelers should plan on spending at least three days in the region, or potentially much more to take in park’s spectacular hikes.
2. Boracay: Philippines
With gentle breezes, turquoise waters, and legendary sunsets, the island of Boracay is what everyone imagines when they conjure up a vision of paradise. But the constant stream of tourists in recent years has led to serious environmental damage, forcing the government to shut down visitor access for at least a six month period, making this one destination that’s best reserved for your long-term travel plans. But don’t discount it yet — a sustainable Boracay will be even more beautiful in the long run.
3. Torngat Mountains National Park: Labrador, Canada
One of Canada’s newest National Parks, this stark, tranquil corner of Labrador is remote, peaceful, and perfect for exploring by foot or paddle. Torngat also offers cultural and spiritual experiences with the local Inuit people – who also serve as the very necessary trained polar bear guards to keep visitors safe.
4. Wulingyuan Scenic Area: Zhangjiajie, China
A trip here feels like visiting a spectacular movie set — and, in a way, it is. You may recognize it from the film Avatar! Visitors tell themselves there’s no way that the incredible sandstone pillars jutting out of the earth and soaring nearly as high as the Empire State Building can be real, but they are. And they’re arguably China’s most stunning natural feature. While remote, visiting here is not only possible, it’s also one of the most affordable destinations on this list.
5. Uluru: Northern Territory, Australia
At once 600 million years old and utterly timeless, Uluru is one of Australia’s most stunning natural landscapes. It is sacred to the Aboriginal people of the area and the surrounding region is home to equally beautiful rock caves, ancient paintings, and waterholes. Climbing Uluru is greatly discouraged for both spiritual and environmental reasons, and a ban on climbing will come into effect in October 2019. But the tourism industry in the area remains alive and well and visitors are able to participate in programs ranging from classes on edible desert plants to night walks to observe the sky.
6. Redwood National Park: California
What’s 2,000 years old, 300 feet high, and loves hugs? The famous redwood trees of California! They’re among the oldest and largest living things in the world and visitors are warmly encouraged to visit this National Park to see the stunning plant life for themselves. Over 40 different species of mammals also call the area their home, along with 400 documented species of birds, making it a true nature lovers’ paradise.
7. Bagan: Myanmar
Home to the largest concentration of religious buildings on earth, Bagan is one of civilization’s most beautiful ancient cities. With its wooden homes and shops swallowed up by the centuries, all that remains are the brick temples, pagodas, and stupas. At the height of its power in the 11th to 13th century, there were some 10,000 of these structures built, of which an astonishing 2,200 remain. For the ultimate travel experience, you can book a hot air balloon ride to see the temples at sunrise.
8. Isle of Skye: Scotland
As any fan of Outlander can attest, there are few places as beautiful as the remote moors of Scotland. And the Isle of Skye, largest and northernmost of the major islands in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, may just be the most beautiful of all. It’s filled with jaw-dropping lochs, waterfalls, hills, jagged rocks, and ancient artifacts waiting to be discovered. Despite its remoteness, it’s relatively easy to explore and local residents are well-known for their hospitality.
9. Santorini: Greece
Can villages, towns, and even urban areas be classified as stunning landscapes? If they’re on Santorini they can be! Santorini’s captivating white buildings with rounded blue roofs dot the oceanside cliffs and are some of the most arresting landscapes in the world. With a thriving local wine scene, it’s the perfect place to sit on a terrace with a frosty bottle and contemplate the beauty of the sea.
10. Serengeti National Park: Tanzania
Crazy about big cats? In love with elephants? Welcome to earth’s own Eden, arguably the most spectacular spot for witnessing wildlife on earth. And with wide open plains, soaring trees, and an ever-changing landscape between the rainy and dry seasons, Serengeti National Park is a dream safari destination.
11: Vatnajökull: Iceland
Forget the Blue Lagoon and the Northern Lights. Iceland’s most striking landscape isn’t in the sky or the sea, but deep within the earth. The ice caves of Vatnajökull aren’t exactly designed for beginners, but it’s well worth the training and preparation to explore them in person. However, the rest of the glacier surrounding the ice caves are a bit more approachable when you have a guide on hand, and they really do make you feel like you’re all together on another planet.
There you have it. We hope you enjoyed learning a little more about some of the world’s more exotic landscapes. We hope you get the chance to see them for yourself.