As we continue to stay at home during the COVID-19 pandemic, we’re more inspired than ever to use our vacation days once it’s safe to travel again. While there are some vibrant metropolises and beach towns that often make our annual vacation list, the world is full of magical places that offer unique, jaw-dropping scenery. To help you plan your next dream getaway, or simply provide a pretty photo break, here are the 10 most striking landscapes in the world.
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A fjord is a long, narrow inlet with steep sides created by a glacier. They’re found throughout the world, including in New Zealand, Alaska, and Chile, but some of the most extensive and breathtaking are the fjords located in Norway. The Norwegian fjords are one of the country’s biggest draws, and they can be explored via hiking trails, on boat cruises, or from above in a helicopter. The Sognefjord is Norway’s longest and deepest fjord, measuring 127 miles inland and nearly 4300 feet deep, with surrounding surrounding mountains soaring 6500 feet high. The Geirangerfjord and Nærøyfjord have both been included on the UNESCO World Heritage List. While you probably can’t see all 1,190 fjords in Norway, travel companies have tours that showcase the most popular.
In the Maldives, the view of crystal-clear water filled with sea life from a luxury overwater bungalow is a knockout, but it’s not the island nation’s best vista. That superlative belongs to the stunning scene visible when travelers are in a sea plane heading to their resort, overlooking the atolls — ring-shaped coral reefs that encircle lagoons. There are 26 atolls making up the Maldives, including Ari Atoll, home to five-star resort Constance Moofushi, and North Male Atoll, where the stellar Gili Lankanfushi resort is located. Although pricier than a speedboat transfer, the view from the sea plane is worth it alone.
Uyuni Salt Flats, Bolivia
You’ve probably seen of a photo of Bolivia’s Uyuni Salt Flats on Instagram, which at certain times acts as a mirror due to nearby lakes overflowing and leaving a thin layer of water that provides a reflection of the sky. Situated in the Andes and measuring 4,086 squares miles, it’s the world’s largest salt flat, and it was created from a prehistoric lake that went dry and left behind a thick crust of salt. Although the salt flat is still a worthwhile sight when dry, it’s worth visiting in the rainy season — December through April — to secure the magical mirror effect.
Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
Situated along the north coast of Northern Ireland, Giant’s Causeway is a mesmerizing collection of 40,000 massive black basalt columns –most hexagonal-shaped — that stick out of the sea. It was created by volcanic activity some 50–60 million years ago, and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986. However, legend has it that it was actually formed when there was a fight between Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill (Finn McCool) and Scottish giant Benandonner — hence the landmark’s name. Regardless, it’s a gorgeous sight that can be climbed.
Ha Long Bay, Vietnam
This Southeast Asia destination is a stunner. Ha Long Bay is located off the coast of northern Vietnam, near its border with China. An extremely popular tourist attraction, the bay is made up of over 1600 thousands of limestone karsts and isles in various shapes and sizes, which many travelers liken to the landscape of “Avatar.” The greenery-covered karsts set in emerald waters makes for a beautiful scene that’s best experienced on a group boat tour or via a sea plane excursion.
Read before you go: 10 Rookie Mistakes to Avoid in Vietnam
Located in central Turkey, Cappadocia is a region known for its “fairy chimneys,” which are towering rock formations created by volcanic eruptions and erosion. During the Roman period, persecuted Christians fled to Cappadocia and began building a network of housing and public spaces like churches into the soft rock. Today, visitors often take advantage of the region in two ways: by spending a night in one of the many cave hotels, and by taking a sunrise hot air balloon ride over the dreamy landscape.
Northern Lights, Iceland
While the Blue Lagoon and numerous waterfalls are a major lure to Iceland, it’s the country’s designation as one of the top places in the world to see the Northern Lights that earns it a spot on this list. The Northern Lights (aurora borealis) are bright dancing lights created from collisions between gaseous particles in the Earth’s atmosphere and charged particles released from the sun’s atmosphere. Iceland’s high latitude allows for stellar views of the lights, primarily between the months of September through March, when night’s are longest.
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Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, China
Located in southeastern China, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is also reminiscent of the movie “Avatar,” due to its quartz-sandstone formations that jut into the air — made even more ethereal when fog rolls through the pillars. More than 3000 quartzite-sandstone pillars and peaks dominate the landscape, and the park was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1992. One of the pillars, the 3,540-foot Southern Sky Column, was officially renamed “Avatar Hallelujah Mountain,” and it’s reportedly the most popular sight within the park.
Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
The 73,000-acre Plitvice Lakes National Park is a well-known park in Croatia, located close to the country’s border with Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s most famous for its 16 lakes — some with beautiful emerald-green and turquoise waters — that are interconnected by a series of waterfalls. Swimming is not permitted in the lakes, but visitors can hike, walk along the boardwalks, or take a boat between sections. Don’t miss the Veliki Slap, which at 256 feet, is the tallest waterfall in Croatia.
Related reading: 7 Rookie Mistakes to Avoid on Your Croatia Vacation
Waimea Canyon, Hawaii
Known as the Grand Canyon of the Pacific, Waimea Canyon is a large canyon located on the western side of the island of Kauai in Hawaii. The canyon is a whopping 10 miles long, one mile wide, and 3,600 feet deep. Visitors can opt to do a strenuous hike down into the canyon, or make their way to several lookout points dotted around the rim of the canyon for pretty views. Travelers looking to see this Jurassic Park-like landscape from above can also book a helicopter tour that combines Waimea Canyon and the Napali Coast.
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