40 places you won't believe are on Earth



Slide 1 of 41: From pink lakes and green beaches to rockscapes that might be better placed on Mars, the Earth is full of surprises. Here, we've scoured the globe to find the natural wonders that could be from another planet. (Remember: if you're planning on visiting any of these otherworldly spectacles, check up-to-date travel advice before you go.)
Slide 2 of 41: If the moon had sand dunes, this is what they’d look like. White Sands National Park takes up a glorious pocket of southern New Mexico, its rippling powder peaks forming the largest gypsum dunefield in the world. Vast playas like Lake Lucero are also folded within the park’s borders, and curious critters such as the bleached earless lizard skitter between the dunes too. 
Slide 3 of 41: It might look like it belongs in a Star Wars movie, but this landscape is very much on planet Earth. The craggy area makes up Dinosaur Provincial Park which (as its name suggests) is rich in fossils from numerous dinosaur species. And even without the echoes of yesteryear, the rockscapes are impressive: think dramatic badlands punctured with hoodoos and mesas, and striped with rust red.
Slide 4 of 41: There are beautiful lakes all over the world, but this one Down Under is extra special. Lake Hillier is an eye-popping expanse of fuchsia water on Middle Island, off mainland Western Australia. It’s thought that its bold pink color comes either from a type of micro-algae or from a specific type of bacteria. Its surface contrasts gloriously with the eucalyptus trees that line its banks. Take a look at more of Earth's colorful natural wonders.

Slide 5 of 41: Upwards of 1,000 neat, conical mounds spread out across the Philippines’ Bohol region. They’re gift-wrapped in lush green grass which browns in the summer, leaving the area looking a little like a box of chocolates. Unsurprisingly, the curious landscape is bound up with myths and legends, and the most famous story concerns a pair of feuding giants. Experts can’t settle on exactly how these mounds were formed either, though they agree it was at the hands of Mother Nature.
Slide 6 of 41: Giant, colorful polka dots cover the surface of this lake in Osoyoos. Although the water looks a little like a child’s painting, these mysterious spots are entirely natural. They’re made up of minerals such as calcium and sodium sulfate – colorful concentrations of which are visible as the lake water evaporates in BC’s balmier months. The dots shrink and grow, brighten and fade, with their hues of grass green, yellow and blue matching the surrounding countryside.
Slide 7 of 41: It looks as if this psychedelic geyser was plucked from an alien planet and plonked into the rugged countryside of Washoe County. But it was actually the result of human activity. A geothermal energy company drilled here in the 1960s and though the water they hit upon wasn’t hot enough for their purposes, they failed to seal the site back up again. As a result, water spurts in all directions from the hulking, rainbow mound, whose colors are the result of the algae it's covered in.
Slide 8 of 41: With their fat, smooth trunks and striking splay of branches, baobab trees look like they belong somewhere in outer space. And there’s an entire, otherworldly avenue of these alien specimens in western Madagascar. Around 50 of them line a dirt road in the country’s Menabe region and are thought to have been here for around a millennium. Check out more stunning photos of the world's most beautiful trees.
Slide 9 of 41: This arid stretch of the Atacama Desert lives up to its name. Valle de la Luna means “Valley of the Moon” and the cracked landscape is, indeed, about as lunar as you’ll find on this planet. It’s a world of jagged rocks and sand dunes giving way to broad, white salt flats, and offers some of the greatest stargazing opportunities on Earth.

Slide 10 of 41: Hawaii’s beaches span the rainbow and this one, in the south of the Big Island, is an earthy green, which is how it got its nickname "green sand beach". Only four beaches of its kind exist on this planet and the grassy hue comes from the mineral olivine, which has been deposited over millennia from the volcanic tuff that hugs the crescent. It’s a secluded spot, only accessible via a steep, downward hike.
Slide 11 of 41: This unearthly landscape in northern England looked right at home in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows – Part 1, when Harry and Hermione pitched up here on one of their magical adventures. It comprises a curving 230-foot (70m) cliff, whose craggy face was formed by sheets of ice over millions of years. The top of the formation is more otherworldly still, with deeply carved and cracked carpets of limestone rippling outwards, dotted eerily with the occasional tree.
Slide 12 of 41: Australia isn’t short of spectacular waterfalls but, from some angles, this cascade in Dorrigo National Park seems to shoot from nowhere. A craggy cave winds right behind the waterfall allowing visitors to pass beside the flow and see nothing but a glittering curtain of water falling from the sky. It’s equally as beautiful when seen rushing over rock from amid thick rainforest too.
Slide 13 of 41: Iceland makes good on its nickname, the “Land of Ice and Fire”, with this sprawling glacier, the largest not just in the country, but in Europe too. At its thickest point the icy wonder is more than 2,953 feet (900m) and it has at least 30 outlet glaciers to boot. Adding to the drama is Jökulsárlón, a jaw-dropping glacial lagoon fringing the southeastern edge of the ice cap.
Slide 14 of 41: Mountains don’t come much more colorful than this. Bright birthday-cake layers of blue, red and acid yellow come together to form Zhangye Danxia National Geopark in the northern reaches of China. The eye-popping hues are the result of millions of years of layered sandstone and mineral deposits, while wind and water erosion carved deep ridges and troughs into the psychedelic rock.

Slide 15 of 41: There’s something fairy tale-esque about these hulking rock forms in Germany’s Saxon Switzerland National Park. The Bastei – great pinnacles of gray sandstone – look almost like the turrets of a ruined stone castle, as they tower over the surrounding woodland. Adding to the drama is the Bastei Bridge, a stone structure that slices through the sandstone forest, and is usually dotted with view seekers and photographers. Discover the world's most stunning national parks.
Slide 16 of 41: You might not associate Canada with deserts, but the country – usually hailed for its impossibly blue lakes and lush forests – is actually home to the supposed smallest desert in the world. There was originally a glacial lake here, but when the glaciers retreated the lake was lost, leaving behind only the sandy bed. The little desert is a strange, otherworldly sight with snow-capped peaks rising from the edge of the sand and trees springing up all around.
Slide 17 of 41: Horsetail Fall – a seasonal cascade rushing over the eastern side of El Capitan – is beautiful whenever it makes an appearance. But, come late February, it’s extra special. When the conditions are just so and the falls are backlit by the setting sun, it appears as though a thick stream of lava is spilling over the side of the mountain. Unsurprisingly, the ethereal spectacle usually draws in the crowds.
Slide 18 of 41: If it wasn’t for the petrified camel-thorn trees and the burning orange dunes, this stark landscape could double for the surface of the moon. Deadvlei is folded into Namibia’s Namib-Naukluft Park and the white clay pan, likely formed more than 1,000 years ago, is fringed by some of the tallest sand mountains in the world. It’s known for its glittering night skies too.
Slide 19 of 41: Gnarled, knotted branches dripping in lichen make this one of the most haunting forests in the UK. Its mossy expanse takes up a pocket of Dartmoor National Park and it’s tipped as one of the highest and oldest oak woodlands in the country. Pathways ripple through the trees, whose knobbly arms look ready to reach out and grab you. These are the most magical places on Earth.
Slide 20 of 41: It looks as though someone has taken a paintbrush to these color-splashed hills in central Oregon. One of the ‘seven wonders’ of the state, they form part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and their rich hues – scarlet, ocher, peanut and black – are the result of a changing climate over millennia. The striking rocks still change color today and five hiking trails wiggle through the landscape. Check out America's most important National Monuments.
Slide 21 of 41: Striking stalactites and stalagmites cling to the walls and floors of these whimsical caverns in eastern Germany. The caves, notable for their colorful rock, were once mined for alum shale, but now they’re purely for show. Visitors come to pore over their rainbow-hued formations which have been tipped as the most colorful in the world by Guinness World Records.
Slide 22 of 41: This rocky pinnacle has played a starring role in plenty of fantasy movies, and it’s not hard to see why. The dramatic formation – which has appeared in Snow White and the Huntsman, The BFG and hit horror film The Wickerman – soars to 160 feet (49m), towering above the craggy countryside below. Legend has it, it’s the burial place of a giant.
Slide 23 of 41: Visitors to Salar De Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat, seem to defy the elements and walk on water in the rainy season. In actual fact only a shallow layer of water covers the plain, but its mirrored surface seems to blur all lines between the land and sky. The wonder is just as otherworldly in the dry period, when the cracked, white Earth looks almost lunar.
Slide 24 of 41: Ethiopia’s answer to Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring, Dallol volcano sits in the far northern reaches of the country. The geothermal area is a green and yellow land of sulfur ponds, geysers and salt plains, with the volcano itself only springing up in 1926. This pocket of Ethiopia is notably one of the lowest places on the planet too.
Slide 25 of 41: This is about as close to the stars as you’re likely to get. Haleakalā, the name of the dormant volcano within the park's limits, means “House of the Sun” in Hawaiian, and the location is famed for its epic views of the sunrise. Nosing right up to the clouds, the Summit Area is the most otherworldly swathe of all: it’s all rich cinder desert scattered with native shrubs, plus brighter than bright stars winking by night.
Slide 26 of 41: A saw-toothed crown of Snowdonia’s Glyderau range, Castell y Gwynt – meaning "Castle of the Wind" – soars to more than 3,000 feet (914m). Its jagged spires look a little like a brooding fairy-tale fortress, so it’s no surprise that the peak featured in Disney’s Dragonslayer, a 1980s movie with wizards, dragons and plenty of glimpses of the dramatic North Wales landscape. Discover more places you won't believe are in the UK.
Slide 27 of 41: Hundreds of “pinnacles” – natural limestone crags formed from seashells – dot the yellow desert of Nambung National Park, making the Aussie preserve look like another planet. Carved out more than 25,000 years ago, some of the forms top out at more than 11 feet (3.5m). It’s not uncommon to see kangaroos hopping or emus strutting between the rocks, either. 
Slide 28 of 41: This haunting avenue of trees is best known for its appearance in fantasy series Game of Thrones. It doubled as the Kingsroad in the cult TV show, though it was originally planted in the 1700s by the Stuart family, who wanted an imposing entryway to their mansion, Gracehill House. Today the bowing beech trees are purported haunted by a specter named the Grey Lady. These are the most mysterious places in the world. 
Slide 29 of 41: The Waitomo caves are beautiful in their own right, with their airy chambers and winding underground river. But it’s the caves’ glittering residents that make them so otherworldly. Arachnocampa luminosa glow worms – a bioluminescent species native to New Zealand – collect here in their thousands, illuminating the caverns and putting on a twinkling show for the tourists who typically take guided boat rides here.
Slide 30 of 41: Deep in the Highlands of Iceland lies Landmannalaugar, a unique, undulating landscape made up of rhyolite crags, lava fields and natural hot springs. The region is favored by hikers who come in summer to admire the colorful mountains (made bright by geological deposits over centuries), and to keep watch for the trolls and elves that purportedly lurk amid the bluffs.
Slide 31 of 41: A volcanic wonder on the Isle of Staffa, Fingal’s Cave is formed of neat, hexagonal, basalt columns that look like they’ve been carefully placed by hand. They’re actually the work of Mother Nature, and the very same lava flow that carved out the famed Giant’s Causeway across the water. Even so, plenty maintain that this striking sea cave and its Irish cousin were the work of giants.
Slide 32 of 41: It’s pretty easy to see why this crater in the desert wilds of Turkmenistan is known as the Door to Hell. It’s thought that the flame-filled chasm was formed when a Soviet oil-drilling rig hit upon a natural subterranean gas chamber. The ground collapsed leaving behind a massive crater leaking poisonous gas. The inferno was lit to prevent those harmful gases spilling out, and the flames are still burning some five decades later.
Slide 33 of 41: These rippling rocks might look more at home in Pandora (the whimsical world of movie Avatar), but they actually line the coast of the Bay of Fundy. The cliffs appear in gnarled, knotted waves and stacks protrude from the water, each the result of years of erosion. The striking formations attract kayakers and wanderers to the waters and tidal beach.
Slide 34 of 41: The grooves, peaks and bright colors of Nā Pali make it one of the most jaw-dropping stretches of Hawaii’s coastline (no small achievement given the sheer beauty of the state's shores). Nā Pali ripples out for around 17 miles (27km), beaten by the North Pacific, whose waters attract humpback whales. The challenging Kalalau Trail wriggles through the landscape too. Take a look at more otherworldly spots in the USA.
Slide 35 of 41: Given its otherworldly appearance, it’s little surprise that this natural treasure is steeped in myth and legend. So the story goes: a giant named Finn McCool created a path in order to reach and face up to his archenemy Benandonner, a Scottish giant across the water – the 40,000 neat, basalt columns are what’s left of his formation. The tallest of the columns reach about 36 feet (11m), and today they’re one of Northern Ireland’s most popular tourist attractions.
Slide 36 of 41: Greece is hardly short of good-looking beaches, but this one fringing western Crete is a little different from the rest. Here the Mediterranean’s turquoise waters lap pink-tinged sand, the result of crushed coral reef. The trim of mountains at the edge make the beach extra cinematic too. Take a look at the most wonderful views on Earth.
Slide 37 of 41: You’ll quickly see how this remote wonder earned its name. The calcium carbonate caves have been chiseled out by the sea over thousands of years, and the resulting swirls of turquoise, mint and smoky gray look just like marble. Their far-out location on the General Carrera Lake in Patagonia means they only attract a trickle of visitors.
Slide 38 of 41: You’ll not find golden sand on this expansive ‘beach’ in northeastern China. It’s actually a vast wetland area whose marshes are home to a rare form of seepweed named Suaeda – and, come fall, the plant turns a vibrant crimson, creating the blood-red carpet the site is famous for. Migratory birds including the apt (and very rare) red-crowned crane make their home here too.
Slide 39 of 41: Carved out by rivers over many thousands of years, this moon-like national park is all rugged ridges and narrow canyons, giving way to lush, prairie grasses. The rocks appear in stripy sheets – the result of years and years of layering – and are home to bighorn sheep and bison, plus human visitors exploring the many trails.
Slide 40 of 41: If they weren’t such a famous sight, you might not believe that the cloud-like travertine terraces of Pamukkale belong on Earth. Their name, in English, means “cotton castle” and that perfectly sums up the spectacle, whose brilliant white steps contain glittering pools of mineral-rich water. For a dose of earthly history, the ancient city of Hierapolis is on the doorstep too.
Slide 41 of 41: So perfect and perilous is this stone bridge, legend has it it was crafted by the devil. It was actually commissioned in the 19th century by a local knight and it’s tucked away in the real-life Kromlau Rhododendron Park in eastern Germany. The graceful arch reflects in the water below forming a faultless circle framed by saw-toothed crags and woodland. It’s currently under construction, along with other areas of the park.

Out-of-this-world wonders

White Sands National Park, New Mexico, USA

If the moon had sand dunes, this is what they’d look like. White Sands National Park takes up a glorious pocket of southern New Mexico, its rippling powder peaks forming the largest gypsum dunefield in the world. Vast playas like Lake Lucero are also folded within the park’s borders, and curious critters such as the bleached earless lizard skitter between the dunes too. 

Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada

It might look like it belongs in a Star Wars movie, but this landscape is very much on planet Earth. The craggy area makes up Dinosaur Provincial Park which (as its name suggests) is rich in fossils from numerous dinosaur species. And even without the echoes of yesteryear, the rockscapes are impressive: think dramatic badlands punctured with hoodoos and mesas, and striped with rust red.

Lake Hillier, Western Australia, Australia

There are beautiful lakes all over the world, but this one Down Under is extra special. Lake Hillier is an eye-popping expanse of fuchsia water on Middle Island, off mainland Western Australia. It’s thought that its bold pink color comes either from a type of micro-algae or from a specific type of bacteria. Its surface contrasts gloriously with the eucalyptus trees that line its banks. Take a look at more of Earth’s colorful natural wonders.

Chocolate Hills, Bohol, Philippines

Spotted Lake, British Columbia, Canada

Fly Geyser, Gerlach, Nevada, USA

Avenue of Baobabs, Madagascar

With their fat, smooth trunks and striking splay of branches, baobab trees look like they belong somewhere in outer space. And there’s an entire, otherworldly avenue of these alien specimens in western Madagascar. Around 50 of them line a dirt road in the country’s Menabe region and are thought to have been here for around a millennium. Check out more stunning photos of the world’s most beautiful trees.

Valle de la Luna, Atacama Desert, Chile

Papakōlea Beach, Hawaii Island, Hawaii

Malham Cove, Yorkshire, England, UK

This unearthly landscape in northern England looked right at home in Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows – Part 1, when Harry and Hermione pitched up here on one of their magical adventures. It comprises a curving 230-foot (70m) cliff, whose craggy face was formed by sheets of ice over millions of years. The top of the formation is more otherworldly still, with deeply carved and cracked carpets of limestone rippling outwards, dotted eerily with the occasional tree.

Crystal Shower Falls, Dorrigo National Park, New South Wales, Australia

Vatnajökull, Iceland

Zhangye Danxia National Geopark, Gansu, China

Bastei, Saxon Switzerland National Park, Germany

There’s something fairy tale-esque about these hulking rock forms in Germany’s Saxon Switzerland National Park. The Bastei – great pinnacles of gray sandstone – look almost like the turrets of a ruined stone castle, as they tower over the surrounding woodland. Adding to the drama is the Bastei Bridge, a stone structure that slices through the sandstone forest, and is usually dotted with view seekers and photographers. Discover the world’s most stunning national parks.

Carcross Desert, Yukon, Canada

Firefall, Horsetail Fall, Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Horsetail Fall – a seasonal cascade rushing over the eastern side of El Capitan – is beautiful whenever it makes an appearance. But, come late February, it’s extra special. When the conditions are just so and the falls are backlit by the setting sun, it appears as though a thick stream of lava is spilling over the side of the mountain. Unsurprisingly, the ethereal spectacle usually draws in the crowds.

Deadvlei, Namib Desert, Namibia

Wistman’s Wood, Devon, England, UK

Gnarled, knotted branches dripping in lichen make this one of the most haunting forests in the UK. Its mossy expanse takes up a pocket of Dartmoor National Park and it’s tipped as one of the highest and oldest oak woodlands in the country. Pathways ripple through the trees, whose knobbly arms look ready to reach out and grab you. These are the most magical places on Earth.

Painted Hills, Oregon, USA

It looks as though someone has taken a paintbrush to these color-splashed hills in central Oregon. One of the ‘seven wonders’ of the state, they form part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and their rich hues – scarlet, ocher, peanut and black – are the result of a changing climate over millennia. The striking rocks still change color today and five hiking trails wiggle through the landscape. Check out America’s most important National Monuments.

Saalfeld Fairy Grottoes, Thuringia, Germany

Old Man of Storr, Isle of Skye, Scotland, UK

This rocky pinnacle has played a starring role in plenty of fantasy movies, and it’s not hard to see why. The dramatic formation – which has appeared in Snow White and the Huntsman, The BFG and hit horror film The Wickerman – soars to 160 feet (49m), towering above the craggy countryside below. Legend has it, it’s the burial place of a giant.

Salar De Uyuni, Bolivia

Dallol volcano and the Danakil Depression, Ethiopia

Haleakalā National Park, Hawaii, USA

This is about as close to the stars as you’re likely to get. Haleakalā, the name of the dormant volcano within the park’s limits, means “House of the Sun” in Hawaiian, and the location is famed for its epic views of the sunrise. Nosing right up to the clouds, the Summit Area is the most otherworldly swathe of all: it’s all rich cinder desert scattered with native shrubs, plus brighter than bright stars winking by night.

Castell y Gwynt, Snowdonia, Wales

A saw-toothed crown of Snowdonia’s Glyderau range, Castell y Gwynt – meaning “Castle of the Wind” – soars to more than 3,000 feet (914m). Its jagged spires look a little like a brooding fairy-tale fortress, so it’s no surprise that the peak featured in Disney’s Dragonslayer, a 1980s movie with wizards, dragons and plenty of glimpses of the dramatic North Wales landscape. Discover more places you won’t believe are in the UK.

The Pinnacles, Western Australia, Australia

Hundreds of “pinnacles” – natural limestone crags formed from seashells – dot the yellow desert of Nambung National Park, making the Aussie preserve look like another planet. Carved out more than 25,000 years ago, some of the forms top out at more than 11 feet (3.5m). It’s not uncommon to see kangaroos hopping or emus strutting between the rocks, either. 

Dark Hedges, Ballymoney, Northern Ireland

This haunting avenue of trees is best known for its appearance in fantasy series Game of Thrones. It doubled as the Kingsroad in the cult TV show, though it was originally planted in the 1700s by the Stuart family, who wanted an imposing entryway to their mansion, Gracehill House. Today the bowing beech trees are purported haunted by a specter named the Grey Lady. These are the most mysterious places in the world. 

Waitomo Glowworm Caves, Waitomo, New Zealand

The Waitomo caves are beautiful in their own right, with their airy chambers and winding underground river. But it’s the caves’ glittering residents that make them so otherworldly. Arachnocampa luminosa glow worms – a bioluminescent species native to New Zealand – collect here in their thousands, illuminating the caverns and putting on a twinkling show for the tourists who typically take guided boat rides here.

Landmannalaugar, the Highlands, Iceland

Fingal’s Cave, Inner Hebrides, Scotland, UK

Darvaza Gas Crater, Turkmenistan

Hopewell Rocks, Bay of Fundy, New Brunswick, Canada

These rippling rocks might look more at home in Pandora (the whimsical world of movie Avatar), but they actually line the coast of the Bay of Fundy. The cliffs appear in gnarled, knotted waves and stacks protrude from the water, each the result of years of erosion. The striking formations attract kayakers and wanderers to the waters and tidal beach.

Nā Pali Coast, Kauai, Hawaii, USA

The grooves, peaks and bright colors of Nā Pali make it one of the most jaw-dropping stretches of Hawaii’s coastline (no small achievement given the sheer beauty of the state’s shores). Nā Pali ripples out for around 17 miles (27km), beaten by the North Pacific, whose waters attract humpback whales. The challenging Kalalau Trail wriggles through the landscape too. Take a look at more otherworldly spots in the USA.

Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim, Northern Ireland, UK

Elafonissi Beach, Crete, Greece

Greece is hardly short of good-looking beaches, but this one fringing western Crete is a little different from the rest. Here the Mediterranean’s turquoise waters lap pink-tinged sand, the result of crushed coral reef. The trim of mountains at the edge make the beach extra cinematic too. Take a look at the most wonderful views on Earth.

Marble Caves, Patagonia, Chile

Red Beach, Panjin, China

Badlands National Park, South Dakota, USA

Carved out by rivers over many thousands of years, this moon-like national park is all rugged ridges and narrow canyons, giving way to lush, prairie grasses. The rocks appear in stripy sheets – the result of years and years of layering – and are home to bighorn sheep and bison, plus human visitors exploring the many trails.

Pamukkale, Denizli, Turkey

Rakotzbrücke, Saxony, Germany

So perfect and perilous is this stone bridge, legend has it it was crafted by the devil. It was actually commissioned in the 19th century by a local knight and it’s tucked away in the real-life Kromlau Rhododendron Park in eastern Germany. The graceful arch reflects in the water below forming a faultless circle framed by saw-toothed crags and woodland. It’s currently under construction, along with other areas of the park.

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