There are so many beautiful places scattered across the Earth, so how do you choose which to visit? Crowd favorites like the Eiffel Tower and Grand Canyon certainly have their merits, but the planet has so many less-traveled and far stranger sites to offer.
These spectacular locations might just be the most breathtaking sights anywhere, plus there are no other spots that can match their splendor. Just looking at these pictures will make you feel like you’ve left Earth for some alien world!
1. Hand in the Desert: This titanic limb shoots out of nowhere in the salt flats of Chile’s Atacama Desert. Ever since Mario Irarrázabal sculpted it in the early 1980s, many adventurers have trekked out to glimpse the otherworldly monument for themselves.
2. Cat Island: There’s nothing inherently special about this isle off the east coast of Japan, but its inhabitants are another matter. Hundreds of stray cats overtook the small community years ago, and they now outnumber the human population 6 to 1!
3. Socotra Island: You’re not looking at some alien planet. Socotra, just off the coast of Yemen, hosts all kinds of plant species found nowhere else on Earth. Dragon blood trees, seen below, might just take the cake as the weirdest flora on the island.
Flickr / Vytautas Leonavicius
4. Sagrada Familia: This Antoni Gaudí cathedral in Barcelona might be the strangest place of worship anywhere. Its outside is a mishmash of architectural styles, while the interior resembles a heavenly kaleidoscope. Plus, it’s still under construction, so it’ll only get even more out there!
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5. Nazca Lines: Historians are baffled about how exactly these Peruvian carvings came about. Spreading hundreds of yards across the ground, these ancient lines depict various creatures — including a monkey and spider — but they are only fully visible from the sky.
6. Lake Hillier: Looks like someone spilled a ton of Pepto-Bismol! But in reality, this pink lake is completely natural. Its distinct color comes from its high salt content and the presence of particular strains of algae and bacteria.
7. Spotted Lake: During the summer, much of this lake in British Columbia, Canada, evaporates. A multitude of mineral pools emerges, leaving a captivating pattern on the surface. However, you can’t get too close: native tribes own the land around the lake.
8. Tianzi Mountains: Avatar fans will recognize these dagger-like mountains. James Cameron took inspiration from these natural wonders in China’s Hunan Province. The highest peaks surpass 4,000 feet, and an eerie curtain of fog almost always covers the region.
9. Pamukkale: These swimmers look like they’re taking a polar plunge, but they’re actually quite warm! Pamukkale — Turkish for “Cotton Palace” — has gained fame for its hot springs and terraced white rocks, made of the mineral travertine.
10. Bermuda Triangle: Stretching from Florida to Puerto Rico to Bermuda, this region has become infamous for a number of ship and plane disappearances. Wild conspiracy theories blame a strong magnetic field or even alien abduction, but there’s no proof.
11. Fly Geyser: Should you visit the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, it would be difficult to miss this tie-dye landmark. The buildup of algae and minerals are responsible for the neon layer.
12. Glass Beach: You can find smoothed-over glass fragments on many shores, but none of them have as much as California’s Glass Beach. While the coast used to be filled with litter in the mid-1900s, the ocean transformed it into colorful pebbles.
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13. Grand Prismatic Spring: Yellowstone National park has a lot more to offer than just Old Faithful. It also has this largest hot spring in the United States. Under certain conditions, its rim divides light into a rainbow prism.
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14. Giant’s Causeway: According to legend, an ancient giant built this coastal stretch to escape a larger foe. Human-sized folks enjoy it, too, however, as the thousands of hexagonal pillars — likely from a volcanic eruption — make for an unusual vista.
15. Buzludzha: Anyone who enters this dome would be forgiven for thinking they wandered into an alien abduction. However, Buzludzha is just a dilapidated Communist monument in Bulgaria. In its prime, the government decorated it with banners featuring Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin.
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16. Zhangye Danxia Landform: Did Candyland come to life? Millions of years of unique mineral deposits across these Chinese mountains created the hard-to-believe stripe effect. In fact, it topped a poll about the most beautiful location in China.
Flickr / Sergio Lub
17. Red Beach: Speaking of China, it’s also home to these distinctly colored waters. Each fall, a type of seaweed called Sueda turns dark red and covers the water all around the Red Beach. You can’t go swimming in it, but there is an extended platform to admire the vibrant coast.
18. Thor’s Well: You don’t want to get too close to this sinkhole on the Oregon coast. After it fills up with a large amount of seawater, it spews it straight up into the air. When that happens, it’s as loud as the God of Thunder himself!
19. Goblin Alley State Park: Don’t worry, this site is much safer than it sounds. The park features thousands of rock spires – called goblins or hoodoos — that resemble monsters ready to pounce on any hikers below.
20. Badab-e-Surt: Think of this wonder as Iran’s answer to Turkey’s Cotton Palace. Badab-e-Surt also offers many tiers of natural hot springs, except it’s dyed red. You can thank the high presence of iron oxide, the chemical that causes rust, for that.
Flickr / Ari Mehrpour