The most famous sites in the world are jaw-dropping and unmissable. From the Machu Picchu to the Taj Mahal, they have an other-worldly grandeur and allure. However, if you like some solitude with your scenery, seek out these five lesser known natural wonders. The best travel destinations for anyone who is bowled over by the beauty of our planet, these unique spots are still under the radar (and not yet bristling with selfie sticks and souvenir sellers.) Enjoy!
Marble caves, Chile
Nature has taken a leisurely 6000 years to carve out these ethereal formations from the solid rock. Situated on a peninsula consisting of solid marble which abuts a glacial lake on the border between Chile and Argentina, the Chile Chico marble caves are a masterpiece of natural beauty. Lake General Carrera is fed by several rivers which bring meltwater down from the glaciers, raising and lowering the water level regularly which has contributed to the erosion of the marble into fantastical shapes and hollows. Huge chunks of marble teeter on skinny legs and caves are painted with stunning swirls of colour, accentuated by the electric blue of the lake water. The vivid blue is a result of glacial mineral particles in the water reflecting the blue part of sunlight.
Tsingy de Bemaraha, Madagascar
Although tricky to reach, the limestone pinnacles stretching across a plateau 100 kilometres long in central Madagascar are a unique and inhospitable landscape that defies description. The ‘Tsingy’ are thousands upon thousands of sheer karst blades shooting skywards.They were formed when 5 million years of rainwater eroded what was once a sea bed into the tortured needles of stone we see today. There are trails allowing access but the faint of heart may prefer to gaze over the spikes from a nearby viewpoint. Getting in amongst the karst entails a combination of caving, via ferrata, rope bridges and nerves of steel (not to mention all those razor sharp rocks!) Well worth the trials along the way, Tsingy de Bemaraha is a spectacular place unlike any other.
The Sundarbans, India
The world's largest mangrove forest is host to 400 species of fish, 270 species of birds, 35 species of amphibians, 42 species of mammal and 333 plant species. Covering over 10,000 square kilometres divided between India and Bangladesh, the Sundarbans is a watery paradise of swamps, forested islets and natural canals. These dense tracts of tidal jungle are the last stronghold of the endangered Bengal tiger, the king of the Sundarbans. This silty region is one of the largest areas of wilderness left in the global range of the tiger and thus home to the world’s largest remaining population.
Semuc Champey, Guatemala
Limpid turquoise pools spread across a limestone bridge in the depths of the Guatemalan jungle, surrounded by green clad hills on all sides. The fresh flowing water rushes down a series of limestone steps forming lagoons perfect for a mellow day’s bathing. It's nature's idyllic version of a waterpark without the plastic slides and hordes of shrieking children, though there are plenty of larks to be had on the rope swings and waterfalls around the edges. The trail to reach Semuc Champey is quite an adventure in itself, so sturdy footwear is a must. Don’t miss the viewpoint high above the river, where you get a great panorama of the whole valley and a bird's eye view of the vivid colours.
Musandam fjords, Oman
Cut off from the rest of Oman by a chunk of the UAE, the Musandam peninsula has always been a land apart. Tones of red and orange paint the rocky spurs which separate the inlets along this convoluted coastline, while the sea glints with blues and greens. The ‘khors’ are often compared to the Norwegian fjords, yet here the water is bordered by the barren crags of Musandam’s mountains, and much of the life here is found in the water rather than on land. Highlights of this stunning marine wilderness can be seen on a dhow cruise through the creeks, often accompanied by playful schools of dolphins.
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