It's easy to laugh at our ancestors for thinking the world was flat. But looking at these places, you can see why. The horizon goes on and on, endlessly. The vast, empty spaces have been known to make otherwise stable human beings go mad, even believe they’re not moving at all. Others have used them to drive, well, flat-out. We straightened some of the flattest regions of planet earth and listed them below.
Schleswig-Holstein mudflats, Germany
The mudflats in northern Germany’s Schleswig-Holstein Wadden Sea National Park are the largest continuous mudflats on the planet and therefore pretty darn flat. They stretch from the North Sea coast all the way to Denmark, but only part is periodically dry, the rest is under water. Hardly the tropics, North Sea beaches still attract large numbers of sun-starved Germans.
Salar de Uyuni
At 10,582sq km in size and about 100km across, Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia – the world’s largest salt flat – is roughly the size of Jamaica. The salt crust ranges from three to 10m thick, amounting to about 10 billion tons of salt – more than enough to cover the world’s French fries.
In fact, there’s so much salt there are even hotels built of it. But what lies beneath is worth the big money – that magic mineral on which mobile phones and laptops depend; lithium. Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest lithium reserve.
Called the “Gateway to Hell” by locals, the Danakil Desert in north-east Ethiopia is definitely not a place to go to get a tan. Daytime temperatures surpass 50°C, enough to give you more problems than a badass bikini line.
The desert is not only the hottest, but also one of the lowest places on Earth and has a full range of unfriendly features such as regular earthquakes, volcanoes, geysers, salt canyons – and hostile tribes.
Native Americans called it the “grassy waters”, others the “River of Grass”, which describes the Everglades located in southern Florida, one of the flattest parts of America.
Mosquito repellant is a must when visiting. The tiny winged bloodsuckers are a crucial part of the food chain, providing food for fish, which feed alligators, which feed giant pythons and so on. Want to get around easily here? You’ll need one of those cool airboats.
Welcome to the flattest country on Earth. The island chain in the Indian Ocean is so flat – between one and 1.5m above sea level – that only the occasional 2m high sand dune punctuates the otherwise table top surface. The rising sea level, though, threatens the existence of the 1,192 coral islands that make up the Maldives.
Lake Baikal, Siberia
Lake Baikal in the south of Siberia is not only the oldest and deepest lake in the world, but during colder months it freezes and forms one of the flattest surfaces on Earth. During the Russian Civil War in 1920, the White Russian Army fled the pursuing Red Army by crossing the frozen lake southward to China.
The outback in Australia is famous for its vast, almost unending flat plains. Getting across them requires driving along strips of tarmac in a seemingly endless stretch of sameness that can make some drivers go bananas and question whether they are really getting any closer to their destination.
Bonneville Salt Flats
If you want to drive really fast, and we mean really fast, say 900kph for example, then this is the place to do it. Located in north-western Utah, the 121sq km flats are famous for the Bonneville Speedway where various daredevils since 1912 have strapped themselves into speed machines – some jet-propelled – and blasted themselves across the vast flats and into the halls of speed fame. In 1965, professional racecar driver Craig Breedlove topped 966kph in his jet-propelled machine.
Makgadikgadi Salt Pans, Botswana
The 16,000sq km Makgadikgadi Salt Pans in north-eastern Botswana flood seasonally and are not a single pan, but consist of many saltpans divided by sandy desert. Idiot drivers are discouraged, as it’s easy to become bogged or lost and with little hope of rescue.
Wadi Rum, Jordan
If you woke up tomorrow and found yourself in Wadi Rum, you might guess you had astral travelled to Mars. Also called the Valley of the Moon for similar reasons, the 720sq km desert valley is walled by sheer sided sandstone and granite mountains.