Sites such as India’s Taj Mahal or Ayers Rock in Australia draw millions of visitors each year because of their beauty or their iconic status. Then there are the following destinations, which draw visitors because they are so amazingly surreal. Some, in fact, are so odd looking that it’s hard to believe they actually exist on this planet. But exist they do, and all are worth at least a quick visit if you happen to be traveling in their vicinity.
1. Chocolate Hills
Located on the island of Bohol in the Philippines, these unusual conical and gumdrop-shaped hills seem to spring up out of the landscape as if planted by some unknown giant. In fact, one local legend claims that these hills, which number somewhere between 1250 and 1776, are the tears of a giant. These surreal mounds are called the Chocolate Hills because during the dry season, the grass that covers them turns a rich chocolate-brown. During the rest of the year, they may be covered in a verdant green or a combination of greens and browns.
2. Giant’s Causeway
The Giant’s Causeway consists of polygonal columns that are made of layered basalt. Some columns are tall, while others are relatively flat, but together they create one of the most unusual sights on earth. Although legend claims that an Irish giant built the causeway so he could cross the sea to fight a Scottish giant, these symmetrical rock formations are actually the result of a volcanic eruption that occurred between 50 and 60 million years ago. This stunning site can be found on the Northern Island’s scenic Antrim coastline.
3. Grand Prismatic Spring
The colors of this hot spring, the largest in the United States, are so vivid that they almost look as if they were created artificially. Called the Grand Prismatic Spring, this body of water boasts deep stunning blues, vivid reds and fiery oranges. At the center of the spring where the water is at its hottest, the waters appear blue, but as the water cools, its hues change. You can find this gorgeous hot spring in another natural wonder, Yellowstone National Park.
4. Lake Natron
There are three reasons that make Tanzania’s Lake Natron truly unique. First, it is the only breeding ground in East Africa for more than two million lesser flamingos. Second, this lake is also famous for its blood-red and vivid orange coloring, which is caused by micro-organisms that live in the 80-degree, highly alkaline waters. Then there are the mummified animal that can be found on the edges of the water. When birds or small animals die and end up in the water, they become encrusted in salt and petrified. Lake Natron is truly one of the oddest and most macabre sites on this planet.
5. Tadrart Acacus
The forces of nature have carved some very strange rock formations in Libya’s Tadrart Acacus, also known as the Acacus Mountains, including unworldly monoliths, beautiful arches and bizarre stone mushrooms. There is even one large formation that bears a surprisingly strong resemblance to a hedgehog. Tadrart Acacus is also known for the thousands of prehistoric rock paintings and hundreds of etchings that can be found in an area that is located north of the city of Ghat. The ancient artwork, which was created between 12,000 BC and 100 AD, includes depictions of humans, the wildlife that lived in the area during this time period, domesticated horses and camels.
6. Salar de Uyuni
Venture to Salar de Uyani, the largest salt flat in the world, during Bolivia’s dry season and bright blinding white is what you’ll see in all directions. But during the rainy season, Salar de Uyuni’s landscape becomes even more surreal. That is when the flat, endless landscape will play tremendous tricks on your eyes. Water pooled on the flat, vast salt plains reflect the sky in such a manner that you might have trouble judging where one begins and one ends.
Pamukkale is known for its dazzling white travertine terraces, hot water springs and petrified waterfalls. This surreal landscape was created when calcium-rich waters flowed over the edge of a cliff and then hardened as they cooled. The resulting formations have a cotton-like appearance, which is what gives this site its name, Pamukkale, which means cotton castle. Visitors to Pamukkale are allowed to walk barefoot among the terraces and to splash around in the water.
8. Socotra Island
This small island, which is located approximately 250 miles from Yemen in the Arabian Sea, has a primeval appearance, thanks in part to the bizarre-looking dragon’s blood trees that dot its landscape. These strange trees are shaped like inside-out umbrella, have spiky green leaves and contain red sap. Some of the island’s other plants, including the bulbous desert rose trees, are also very unusual looking and only add to the unworldly appearance of Socotra.
9. Jiuzhaigou Valley
This national park in China is famous for its vivid blue and green lakes and beautiful waterfalls. Some of the lakes are so clear that you can see their bottoms even at great depths. Other lakes contain calcium carbonate deposits that have taken on interesting shapes. The deposits at the bottom of one lake, for example, are said to resemble a sleeping dragon. These gorgeous lakes, according to a local legend, were created when a goddess dropped her mirror and it shattered into the valley’s 114 turquoise-blue lakes. This area is also home to some amazing wild creatures, including the giant panda.
Dallol is like a visit to another planet — a very hot, colorful planet. The landscape here is a riot of yellows, purples, reds and greens, the result of the many different minerals that can be found in the geysers and hot springs found in this area. Visitors to Dallol say that in some places, you can even hear the bubbling of the hot water coming from under the area’s thin crust. Located in northern Ethiopia, Dallol has also earned the distinction of having the highest average annual temperature ever recorded, so be prepared to feel the extreme heat from above and below.