The world's highest waterfall, an endless salt plain, miles upon miles of bright orange sand dunes... In this excerpt from Lonely Planet's 1000 Ultimate Experiences, we've gathered together 10 of nature's most unimaginable wonders.
The startling white salt plain of Salar de Uyuni in southwest Bolivia is the world's largest – containing an estimated 10 billion tonnes of salt and covering an area of 12,000 sq km. Located near the crest of the Andes, where the surrounding Altiplano burbles away with thermal activity and Ojos del Salar (Salt Eyes) leak upward-flowing tears from underground pools. This is mirage territory, where squinting into the shimmering distance merges the illusory soft edges.
Take a train or a bus to the nearby village of Uyuni. Excursions to the flats run frequently; three-day tours cost around US$130, excluding guide tips and park fees.
The world's largest marine park stretches more than 2300km along the clear, shallow waters off the northeast coast of Australia. An extraordinary variety of species thrive in its tropical waters, including 400 types of coral, 1500 species of fi sh and 400 types of mollusc. An armada of tour boats shuttles snorkellers and divers to and from shore, providing myriad services and tours. Witness whales on their annual migration, car-sized cod fish and eerie shipwrecks at this Unesco World Heritage site.
Live-aboard boat the Spirit of Freedom offers divers three-, four- and seven-day itineraries. At Cairns you'll find lots of other options to explore the reef.
3. Atacama Desert & El Tatio Geysers, Chile
It's believed that parts of Chile's Atacama Desert have never been touched by rain. The desert's barren landscape is made up of a series of salt basins supporting virtually no vegetation. This dramatic landscape is also where you'll find extinct volcanoes standing over an Inca village, a stunning flurry of flamingos in Laguna Chaxa and the highest geyser field in the world. Sitting 4267m above sea level, the El Tatio geysers are continually blowing off steam.
Accommodate yourself in desert luxury at Awasi Hotel; a two-night all-inclusive package costs from US$1000 per person.
Straddling the British Colombia and Alberta state borders in the country's west, the humongous Rockies region (about the size of England) comprises a string of four national parks: Banff , Jasper, Kooteney and Yoho. Nature started moulding the mountains, rivers, lakes, waterfalls and glaciers a mere 75 million years ago, but boy did she let it rip. Outdoorsy types can hike, bike, paddle, ride and climb among the stunning Unesco World Heritage–listed scenery, which is home to a glut of great wildlife, from moose and marmots to bears and birds.
Echoes of Maori legend ricochet around the steep cliffs that rise sharply out of the seas of New Zealand's South Island. According to legend, the sheer valleys were cut by Tute Rakiwhanoa, who used a magical adze. In fact carved by rivers of ice, the sound – within Fiordland National Park – is indisputably enchanting, and forms part of the Unesco World Heritage list. Located at the end of the famed 53.5km Milford Track, the fjord makes a fitting finale for hikers, who are met by the towering Mitre Peak (1695m).
The Colorado River has been conscientiously carving out this world-famous landmark for around 6 million years. Located in the USA's arid state of Arizona, the grand old dame stretches 446km long, cutting more than 1500m deep into ancient layers of rock and gaping up to 29km wide in parts. Go hiking among humbling red-rock spires, perch at a majestic lookout and search the skies for the endangered California condor, or roar along the Colorado River rapids that keep this impressive canyon company.
Toroweap Overlook is one of the most dramatic points in the Grand Canyon National Park; it's in the undeveloped Tuweep section, where camping is free.
The world's highest waterfall, Salto Ángel (Angel Falls), crashes into a nameless tributary of the Río Caroni in Venezuela's Parque Nacional Canaima. Falling from a great height of 978m, the fi ckle falls are best seen on a cloudless day (as a fl ight is involved) and in summer when the water is most voluminous. Known locally as Kerepakupai-meru, Salto Ángel was named after Jimmy Angel – a gold-hunting aviator who spotted them in the 1930s.
A chopper ride here is beyond words. Tariff s start at around US$600; check your flight options at www.salto-angel.com.
Croatia's precious network of 16 lakes interlinked with waterfalls is acknowledged on the Unesco World Heritage list. The Plitvice Lakes are also known as the Devil's Garden, which refers to the associated tale of the area being flooded by the Black Queen after a long drought and countless prayers. Limestone and travertine caves pock the surrounding landscape, with dense forests crowding around the rims of the upper lakes.
Snow lovers should visit any time from November to March; in December and January the lakes are frozen. The lakes are open daily all year from about 8am–7pm.
It's no surprise that the northwest corner of England, called the Lake District, comprises multitudinous lakes. Add luxuriant green dales and bald modest mountains and you have some pleasant countryside indeed. The inspiration for Wordsworth's worthy words in the 17th century, the region's middle name is 'romance'. Be prepared to hike into the hills and head closer to the clouds for some quiet time away from the visiting hordes.
The easiest access from London is by train. Handy information centres are located in Keswick, Ullswater and Bowness Bay; before you arrive check out www.lake-district.gov.uk.
In the heart of Namibia's Namib Desert, soaring sandscapes are continuously rearranged by the wind. The world's highest sand hills, up to 300m, are stacked here within the vast boundaries of the Namib-Naukluft Park – stretching 480km along the coast and deep inland. Presenting every shade of orange and umber, older dunes are saturated orange through years of iron oxidisation. A sea mist moistens the marshland to sustain the resident lizards and beetles.
The nearest place to stay is Sesriem camp site; an hour's drive (60km) brings you to Sossuvlei. Visiting is only permitted between sunrise and sunset.
This article was refreshed in June 2012
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