12 incredible places to set your travel compass

The ancient Greeks believed there were just 7 wonders of the world. They were wrong – here are 12.
By Marc Schwarz

There are so many wonders all over the world. From the Amazon to Antarctica, from famous landmarks to giant waterfalls, we all know the usual suspects you have to add to your bucketlist.

In this new series, we seek out some of the lesser known gems of planet earth. It could be curious looking natural phenomenon like Northern Ireland's Giants Causeway or a man-made curiosity like Mexico's underwater sculpture park. Here are 12 incredible places to fire your wandering urges!

Don't miss: Even more of the world's most unusual places

Socotra dragon tree, Yemen

 

A man sitting in the shadow below a Socotra Dragon Tree in Yemen.
The Socotra Dragon Tree, Yemen. © De Agostini/Getty Images

It is normally the huge vistas that capture the human imagination. Think of the Grand Canyon or the mammoth wonder that is Victorial Falls in southern Africa. But sometimes it's the little things that capture the eye. Yemen's Socotra Dragon tree is one such example. The detail of its branches is equisite, as if designed by an artist. It takes its name from its crimson resin, said to be dragon's blood, that was used in ancient medecines and curiously, in toothpaste. 

Mir diamond mine, Russia

Snow covering the giant excavated hole left by the Mir mine in Mirny, Russia.
A former open pit diamond mine, Siberia. © Bloomberg via Getty Images

Some places you stop and gaze in wonder and awe; for others it's more in shock. The Mir diamond mine in Russia falls into the latter category. One of man's own creations, the former diamond mine in Russia has a diameter of over 1km, making it the second largest excavated hole in the world. 

But with a fresh covering of snow, it's hard not to be impressed also by this feature, which is located in Mirny, Eastern Siberia. It has been inactive for 10 years.

Ta Prohm temple, Cambodia

The trees growing out of the ruins of Ta Prohm.
Nature reclaims the Ta Prohm temple, Cambodia © LightRocket via Getty Images

Man has made his mark all over the world. So it's always satisfying to see when Nature strikes back and says: you're not taming me. But in the case of the ancient Cambodian temple of Ta Prohm, the presence of an old tree growing through the ruins is more an example of the passage of time.

Built in in the late 12th and early 13th centuries and originally called Rajavihara, Ta Prohm was once home to 18 high priests and 615 dancers but was abandoned nearly 400 years ago. It's a popular place to visit, but one that will still leave you in awe.

Death Valley, USA

A stone throwing a shadow to the desert ground of the Death Valley.
Death Valley: one for the bucketlist © De Agostini/Getty Images

If there's a place that screams bragging rights, it's California's Death Valley. It got its name for a reason – humans are not meant to go here. Planet earth's hottest temperature was recorded in the desert in 1913, a staggering 56.7º C (134º F). It's so hot your shoes will melt on the asphalt. To survive, you need to constantly be taking on electrolyte fluids to replace essential minerals lost through sweat. Wearing sunscreen is probably a good idea too.

Underwater sculpture park, Mexico

A diver exploring the underwater Sculpture Park at Cancun in Mexico.
A diver explores an underwater sculpture park © Barcroft Media via Getty Images

For centuries explorers have searched for the lost city of Atlantis. Anyone stumbling afresh on this site might be forgiven for thinking they had found an ancient citadel lost to the seas.

Alas, the story is a bit more more mundane – an artificial reef decorated with man made sculptures. Still, it's a pretty cool place to go diving and makes a change from watching tropical fish darting away from you.

Slot canyons, Arizona

Antelope Canyon showing its beautiful colours in the sunlight.
Antelope Canyon, Arizona © UIG via Getty Images

Slot canyons are beautiful places: capturing the colours and light of Antelope Canyon in Arizona is on the wishlist of many a photographer. Formed through many years of flash flooding slot canyons also offer their fair share of hazards, as Aron Ralston discovered to his cost in Utah in 2003. The hiker got his arm trapped by a boulder and eventually escaped only by sawing it off with a blunt knife. HIs ordeal was later turned into the movie 127 Hours, starring James Franco.

Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland 

 

Visitors enjoying the view over the Basalt rock formations on the coast of Northern Island.
Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland. © De Agostini/Getty Images

Northern Ireland: let's be honest, it's probably not number one on your holiday destination wishlist. If you want the UK's dramatic coastline and wilderness, you're going to be pulled by the romantic allure of the Scottish Highlands. And if you're going to the Irish mainland, you want to hear that famous accent of theirs while being served the black stuff in a pub frequented by some long-dead famous poet.

But Northern Ireland has its wonders too, and Giant's Causeway is one of them. It's the result of an ancient volcanic eruption and features some 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns.

Easter Island, Polynesia 

Sunset at Easter island looking at the stone statues of the Rapa Nui culture.
Stone statues of Easter Island © AFP/Getty Images

The statues of Easter Island famously perplexed explorers for decades. How did they get there? Who built them? It took a while to piece to together the jigsaw, but eventually it was discovered that Easter Island was once a thriving civilisation in the first millennium.

But due to deforestation, overpopulation and disease the community of Polynesians, the early Rapa Nui people, eventually died out, leaving behind these 887 remarkable statues – now a UNESCO world heritage site.

Salt flats, Bolivia

Salar de Uyuni showings its beautiful face during a sunny day.
The salt flats of Bolivia © AFP/Getty Images

There are some places on this planet that seem to belong to other galaxies. Inhospitable and surreal in equal measure, the salt flats of Boliva are one of those places you have to see with your own eyes.

During the rainy season, the fresh water creates a mirror like effect on the flats, giving the appearance that you're driving across a lake. Don't forget your warm clothes though. Situated at an altitude of almost 4,000m it frequently snows with temperatures regularly dipping below zero.

Cappadocia, Turkey

The Convent monastery glowing in the sunlight.
Kizlar Monastery is built into the rock. © De Agostini/Getty Images

We know what you're thinking. This is just a pile of rocks, move over to the next place. But wait a second here because these are no ordinary formations. Home to labyrinth-like caves, this is a place where man's presence has litterally blended with the environment with homes, hotels and buildings built into the cave system. Here you're looking at the Kizlar monastery. You need to pay homage.

Nazca Lines, Peru

Nazca Lines aerial landscape.
Nazca Lines: the work of aliens or higher culture? © UIG via Getty Images

The Nazca lines are the original conspiracy theory. Who created these anomatically perfect drawings that can only be appreciated from the sky. Evidence of a higher culture or the work of an extraterrestrial visit?

Situated in southern Peru, they have also offered the perfect backdrop for some serious flying adventures. In 2013 wingsuit flyers Cedric Dumont and Jhonathan Florez flew for more than two minutes over the Nazca desert, reaching speeds of 190 kph. Check out the clip here.

Majlis al Jinn, Oman

 

Sunbeams spouting into the Cave Majlis Al Jinn in Oman.
Sunbeams dart into the Majlis al Jinn cave © Klaus Fengler/Red Bull Content Pool

The cave of Majlis al Jinn is one of the largest cave chambers in the world. Literally 'cave of spirits' the unusual wonder in the Omani desert has been the scene for many adventures.

In 2007 Felix Baumgartner famously BASE jumped the 120m drop inside. And in 2014 Chris Sharma and Stefan Glowacz became the first climbers to scale its mammoth 13 pitch overhanging roof.

See also: 2nd part of our Serie dedicated to the most mysterious and incredible places in the world
 

 

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