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.
Conde Nast Traveler
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
If flying isn’t for you, or maybe just not in your budget, a convenient way to travel and not miss out is to take a road trip. The United States features a number of panoramic roads, however, these 20 routes stand out as the very best!
1. Going-to-the-Sun Road: The higher up, the better the view, right? That’s the case for this road in Montana’s Glacier National Park. With hairpin turns 7,000 feet above sea level, just make sure you drive safely!
National Park Service / Jacob W. Frank
2. Great River Road: Though it runs along almost the entire Mississippi, Louisiana’s stretch of the Great River Road takes the cake. Locals say the crown jewel of the road is Oak Alley, a plantation home surrounded by mighty old trees.
3. Pacific Coast Highway: These 659 miles might just make up the most famous road in the United States. With sights including redwood trees, Monterey Bay, and the Golden Gate Bridge, this road trip is hard to beat!
4. North Shore Drive: For the best views of Lake Superior, follow this road from Duluth, Minnesota all the way up to Thunder Bay, Ontario. Be sure to build in time to stop at the Split Rock Lighthouse and the many national parks you’ll pass on the way.
5. Route 66: Once called the Main Street of America, this highway connects Chicago to Santa Monica, California. Many of its charming roadside towns faded away when more modern freeways replaced 66, but it still provides a blast from the past for adventurers.
6. Overseas Highway: Originally envisioned as a railroad across the Florida Keys, the state government bought the crumbling structure in 1935 after a massive hurricane. Florida has since turned it into a 113-mile highway that shows off beautiful water and wildlife.
7. Trail Ridge Road: Talk about a rocky road! This scenic drive courses through Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park. Before visiting, remember that Trail Ridge is closed during the winter — the extreme snowfall often makes it impassable.
8. Patchwork Parkway: Named for the quilts used by early settlers in this Utah region, this route boasts some truly unique rock formations. The brick-red spires came about as a result of volcanic activity millions of years ago.
9. Beartooth Highway: After a trip to Yellowstone National Park, you’re best off continuing your sightseeing along Beartooth. The roads zig-zag through a steep mountain pass, which is only open in the warmer months.
10. Brandywine Valley: For a shorter jaunt, you can cover the main stretch of the Brandywine River between Pennsylvania and Delaware in just 20 minutes! Its elegant homes and lush greenery will make you feel like you’ve entered a fantasy novel.
Hagley Museum and Library
11. Oregon Coast Highway 101: With all due respect to the Pacific Coast Highway, some claim that 101 makes for an even better trip along the ocean. Each bend reveals some of the best beaches, forests, and cultural sites that Oregon has to offer.
Kafoury & McDougal
12. Seward Highway: If you’re in a mood to take a break from the continental United States, check out this Alaskan freeway. Running from Anchorage to Seward, this route weaves past snow-capped mountains and towering glaciers. Keep an eye out for moose and bears, too!
Ping & Wenji / Flickr
13. Park Loop Road: Visit Acadia National Park in Maine to enjoy this scenic byway. Frederick Law Olmsted — the architect of Central Park — designed this loop, which shows off the best of the New England seaside with its many observation points.
Bangor Daily News / Bill Trotter
14. Sleeping Bear Dunes and Glen Lake: Ancient glaciers formed these geographical treasures in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Good Morning America called Sleeping Bear the most beautiful place in the country; the nearby Glen Lake’s crystal-clear water shines brightly on the charming villages surrounding it.
15. Bluebonnet Trail: Ennis, Texas lies 35 miles south of Dallas, and every spring it becomes one of the most breathtaking places on Earth. Bluebonnet blossoms spring up all over the meadows, allowing motorists to zip through an ocean of flowers.
16. Skyline Drive: Atop Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Skyline Drive presents both sweeping vistas of the state and an up-close look at nature’s beauty. The route is so picturesque, it’s easy to forget it’s only a little over an hour away from Washington, D.C.
17. Lemhi Pass: To follow in the steps of Lewis and Clark, you can navigate through the rolling hills of this mountain pass. Because it’s right on the border of Idaho and Montana, you can also park your car between two states at once!
Kent / Flickr
18. Ruta Panoramica: Jumping over to the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, this 167-mile roadway matches anything you’ll see in the mainland. Prepare for the best of San Juan, the island’s vibrant rainforests, and everything in between.
19. Hawaii Belt: Routes 11, 19, and 190 make up the Hawaii Belt on the Big Island, as the locals call it. Travelers can choose from a number of variations, but they all offer spectacular Polynesian views. Naturally, this drive is best taken when there are not any active volcanic eruptions.
20. Highway 12: Running from Bryce Canyon National Park to Capitol Reef, the Utah road sports an incredible range of landscape diversity. Visitors will encounter deserts, canyons, and forests — all in the course of a few hours!
Bryce Canyon Country