1 . Superlative spots
Across the roughly 60 million square miles of land covering this breathtaking planet, there are a lot of exceedingly beautiful places. From serene and stirring to surreal and sublime, trying to list them all would be an impossible task; and of course beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But that doesn t mean we can t do our best to give a shout out to some of the places that showcase the amazing accomplishments that Mother Nature sometimes with an assist from her inhabitants has achieved. Here are 30 of our favorites to get the conversation started.
2 . The Maldives
Like one of Mother Nature s emoticons, this lovable heart shaped island can be found in the Republic of the Maldives, a country that is spread out over 35,000 square miles in the Indian Ocean, 250 miles southwest of India. The nation is comprised of 1,190 coral islands formed around 26 natural atolls, each of which is made of a coral reef circling a lagoon. While the Maldives is one the world s most geographically dispersed countries, it is the smallest Asian country in both land area and population; only 200 of those islands are populated. Hello, deserted island paradise.
3 . Rice terraces of Vietnam
While the terraces pictured here are located in Lao Cai province of Vietnam, equally mesmerizing scenes can be found throughout Southeast Asia where people have been doing the seemingly impossible for millennia: growing rice which requires a flat surface and a lot of water in mountainous areas. The trick? Terraced paddy fields that not only yield substantial crops of the widely consumed staple, but are also a gorgeous sight to behold. Agriculture at its best … and most beautiful!
4 . Hampi
Located in the northern state of Karnataka in India, the ruins of Hampi represent the former capital of the Vijayanagara Empire, which was in power for several hundred years starting in the 14th century. The bewitching, crumbling remnants of temples, palaces, aquatic structures, ancient market streets, royal pavilions, military forts and municipal buildings are among the more than 500 monuments scattered amid a wild landscape of giant boulders, palm groves, banana plantations and paddy fields. The hauntingly beautiful ruins spread out over an area of nearly 10 square miles, like an offbeat amusement park paying homage to antiquities and the ghosts of empires past.
5 . Salar de Uyuni
At 4,086 square miles, Salar de Uyuni in southwest Bolivia holds the record for the largest salt flats in the world. In fact, so flat are the flats that the U.S. Geological Survey found that elevation variations across the entire area were less than one meter. It is the flattest place on the planet, and it is so stunningly featureless that you can see the curvature of the Earth there. Needless to say, this provides an opportunity to create what might be considered the planet s largest mirror, a place for the sky and earth to collide in dizzying illusions. (We wonder if the moon catches glimpses of her own reflection there.)
6 . Los Glaciares
Located in southwest Argentina along the border of Chile, Los Glaciares National Park offers 2,807 square miles of rugged mountains, large lakes and a lot of you guessed it ice; the Patagonia ice field occupies nearly half of the park and represents the largest ice mantle outside of Antarctica. It contains 47 glaciers, along with another 200 smaller glaciers not included in the main field. Mount Fitz Roy (pictured here) is in the northern part of the park. Its 11,168 feet of sheer granite makes it one of the most challenging mountains to climb in the world, but hikers can enjoy the less arduous routes around it, not to mention the incredible play of colors that reflect off the face of the mountain each morning with the sunrise.
7 . Blue Lagoon
Iceland is a place of stunning wonders, like glaciers, volcanoes, geysers, fjords and beautiful lagoons filled with healing geothermal seawater not to mention the 13 different kinds of elves that inhabit the country, according to Icelandic folklore. (And given the enchanted beauty of the country, is it any wonder that people believe it s rife with sprites?) The Blue Lagoon falls under the healing geothermal seawater category; its namesake, blue hued waters are not only gorgeous to look at, but they are praised by many for their deeply salubrious nature.
8 . Pamukkale
The 17 hot water springs that fill the travertine terraces of Pamukkale in southwestern Turkey have been providing soothing mineral soaks to bathers for thousands of years. But beyond the health benefits, the area is a geologic wonder that occurs when calcite is deposited by the water as it pours over the edges of the pools. The result is an expansive cliff covered in white sparkling cascades of stone; petrified waterfalls that look like the work of fairy magic frozen in time. The location was the home of the ancient Greco Roman city of Hierapolis, which was built on top of the cotton castle and that is what Pamukkale means in Turkish.
9 . Antelope Canyon
Located just outside of Page, Arizona, the dreamlike landscape of Antelope Canyon is one of the most bizarre and beautiful in the country. The Navajo name for Upper Antelope Canyon is Tse bighanilini, which means the place where water runs through rocks. And indeed, Antelope Creek, which flows into nearby Lake Powell, forms two sections of slot canyons, the diligent work of water and time carving otherworldly formations into stone that never fail to inspire involuntary gasps of ooh and aah. Add to that the play of desert light and the result is downright breathtaking.
10 . Cave of the Crystals
Hidden nearly 1,000 feet beneath the ground in Naica, Mexico, is an implausible scene, one that could serve as the natural world s testament to the adage that truth is stranger than fiction. Most of us have held crystals in our hands, but here in the subterranean Sistine Chapel of crystals, the translucent selenite specimens measure up to 36 feet in length and weigh up to 55 tons, making them some of the largest crystals known to man. The magical Cave of the Crystals is about 30 feet wide and 90 feet long, with a floor tiled in perfectly faceted crystalline blocks from which the giant mineral beams emerge. Clearly, this is where they ve been hiding all the unicorns.