50 awe-inspiring natural wonders for your bucket list

CNN  — 

Water, fire and ice have combined to make some of the most spectacular scenery in the world – from giant crystal caves to mud volcanoes and rock formations that look like works of art.

If your office and daily commute aren’t a fitting reminder of the extraordinary natural diversity of planet earth, get some inspiration from these incredible scenes.

1. Pulpit Rock, Preikestolen, Norway

If there are any preachers here, they'll be telling you to get back.

With a 604-meter drop from a flat plateau down to Lysefjord with no safety railings, this is not a place for vertigo sufferers. Keep well back from the edge and you can still enjoy the fantastic scenery over Kjerag peak, which itself drops 984 meters. Preikestolen is south of Jorpeland. From the designated car park it’s a 90-minute hike to the viewpoint.

2. Gran Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

The Gran Salar de Uyuni in southern Bolivia takes in more than 10 square kilometers of salt. It feels more like a desert than a lake. The flat, white landscape causes optical illusions and reflects colors. There’s even a hotel made almost entirely of salt and an island where giant cacti grow in the middle of the salt lake. Gran Salar de Uyuni is 533 kilometers south of La Paz and 200 kilometers southwest of Potosi.

3. Ngorogoro Crater, Tanzania

More than enough room to swing a very big cat.

The Ngorogoro Crater is Africa’s Eden. Created when a huge volcano exploded 2-3 million years ago, the 300 square kilometer caldera now offers the best chances of seeing Africa’s wild animals. Lions, rhino, leopards, elephant and buffalo are the “big five” present among around 25,000 animals, and nearly every species present in East Africa, which call the area home.

Besides that, the crater itself offers dramatic vistas, especially at sunrise. From Kilimanjaro International Airport you can fly or drive the 55 kilometers to Arusha, from where you can organize tours and accommodation inside and outside the crater.

4. Paria Canyon, Arizona, United States

Not all great waves can be surfed.

The Paria River in northern Arizona carved its own smaller version of the Grand Canyon. Some of the rock formations, including The Wave, are just as spectacular. Visitors need a permit from the Bureau of Land Management – the permit for an overnight trek comes with a “human waste bag,” so if you want to visit this natural wonder, you’ll have to prepare to pack your waste. The Paria Contact Station is 69 kilometers east of Kanab. You can hire a guide through the Bureau of Land Management.

5. Volcanic eruptions, Stromboli, Italy

A fireworks show millions of years in the making.

Part of the Aeolian Islands off the coast of Sicily, Stromboli is a small volcanic island with several hundred brave inhabitants. Unlike most volcanoes, Stromboli’s is constantly spewing lava fountains, gas and ash. Fascinating for volcanologists, but also great for day-trippers who fancy seeing live lava action.

For natural fireworks, take a boat trip around the island at night. Arrange boat tours from harbors on the north coast of Sicily (Messina, Cefalu, Palermo).

6. Mud volcanoes, Gobustan, Azerbaijan

One of the few places you can bathe in a volcanic eruption.

Mud lovers trek to Gobustan’s strangely Martian landscape, 65 kilometers south of Azerbaijan’s capital Baku, where thick gray mud regularly spews from small volcanoes. The mud is thought to have medicinal qualities, so don’t be surprised if you see people stripping down and lathering themselves in the goo. Look out for the area’s Roman inscriptions and the petroglyphic rock art. About 70 kilometers west of Baku.

7. Jeita Grotto, Nahr al-Kalb Valley, Lebanon

Eighteen kilometers northeast of Beirut, Jeita Grotto is comprised of underground limestone caves were inhabited in prehistoric times and continue to attract human visitors with their vivid colors and stalactite formations. The biggest stalactite in the world is here. The caves consist of a network of chambers – with an upper and a lower gallery – stretching out for nine kilometers and accessible by an underground river. The nearest town is Juniyah, just a few kilometers away. Cave tours last two hours.

8. Pembrokeshire Coast Path National Trail, Wales

You can almost hear the male choirs in the distance.

This path twists 300 kilometers from St. Dogmaels to Amroth in southwest Wales. It’s often wet and windy, but if you strike lucky on a sunny day this is one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Scented gorse and crimson heather brighten the way. Look for seals in the waters below. Paths are signposted – join the path on the coast between St. Dogmaels and Amroth. Details on guided walks and activities can be found on the National Trails website – including self-guided walks with baggage transfer.

9. Pangong Tso Lake, India-China

Beautiful to look at. But swimming here is only for masochists.

This saltwater lake deep in the Himalayas at an altitude of 4,350 meters lies astride a disputed border area between India and China-governed Tibet. Don’t let that put you off – the rarefied air make the colors and clarity of the lake intense.

Pangong Tso is reached by a mountain road from the Indian town of Leh, but you’ll need to get a permit via a registered tour guide. Get to Leh by road from Jammu, or by plane from Delhi. At Leh arrange a permit and travel by road four to five hours to the lake. Permits and tour guides can be arranged through reputable travel agents such as Kuoni

10. Geirangerfjord and Naeroyfjord, Norway

Not a Norwegian motor car.

If you only have time to visit two fjords in your lifetime, make it the Geirangerfjord and Naeroyfjord in southwest Norway. These are among the world’s longest and deepest fjords, with high vertical cliffs, deep waters and giddy waterfalls. Both are on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Trips can be arranged from Bergen and Alesund.

11. South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon, Arizona, United States

"Ooh Ah Point" awaits the adventurous.

Most visitors view the canyon from South Rim viewing stations. Considering that it has taken the Colorado River the past 17 million years to carve this wonder out of rock, it seems only fair to take a closer look. Built by the National Park Service in 1924, the South Kaibab Trail takes you to the wonderfully named “Ooh Ah Point” and, for the adventurous, further into the canyon’s depths. Plan carefully, heat stroke is no fun.

In the northwest corner of Arizona, visitors usually head to South Rim Village (120 kilometers northwest of Flagstaff on route 180) or the North Rim Village. Free shuttle buses service the South Rim in summer months. Ranger-led day hikes and walks take place throughout the year.

12. Mount Roraima, Guyana/Brazil/Venezuela

1. Climb. 2. Catch breath. 3. Stand in awe.

South America’s answer to Uluru, this impressive sandstone plateau is surrounded on all sides by 400-meter cliffs, creating an isolated and unique ecosystem. If you want to follow in David Attenborough’s footsteps (he’s filmed several times here), organize a trek from the Venezuelan side. Hiking up Mount Roraima is best done from Venezuela. The Paratepui Route is the easiest for non-technical climbers and trips can be arranged from San Francisco de Yurani.

13. Verdon Gorge, Provence, France

Up a creek without a paddle? Not so bad.

The gorgeous turquoise waters of the Verdon River flow through one of Europe’s most beautiful gorges for 25 kilometers. Swim in the translucent waters of Lac de St. Croix and stare in awe at the 700-meter walls of the Verdon Gorge in France. If you’ve got a head for heights, it’s a popular destination for rock-climbing. The Verdon Gorge is on the border of the departements of Var and the Alpes de Hautes Provence.

14. Jiuzhaigou National Park, Sichuan Province, China

All the colors of nature in one park.

The three valleys that form this biosphere reserve in China contain a network of connected lakes, waterfalls and rivers – the most spectacular of which are the Pearl Waterfalls. Spot the ancient tree trunks under the clear waters of Five Flower Lake. Wooden paths and shuttle buses help visitors get around. In the north of Sichuan, the nearest town to Jiuzhaigou National Park is Songpan.

15. Lake Nakuru, Kenya

And you thought your city was crowded.

A streak of blue (and pink) in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, Lake Nakuru is home to thousands of pink flamingoes that flock here to feed on the lake’s algae. A UNESCO Heritage Site, Lake Nakuru National Park is also home to hippos, white and black rhino, giraffe and buffalo. Take a matatu 156 kilometers northwest of Nairobi, or a plane to the Naishi airstrip.

8 things to do in Kenya beyond traditional safaris

16. Uluru/Ayers Rock, Australia

Better from afar.

Australia’s favorite giant sandstone mass is 350 meters high and more than nine kilometers in circumference. It’s a sacred and spiritual site for its custodians, the aboriginal Anangu, so climbing the rock is considered disrespectful to them. It can also be dangerous. Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park is about 440 kilometers southwest of Alice Springs. Flights are available from most major cities to Ayers Rock airport.

17. Siwa Oasis, Egypt

Yes, you can swim in the Sahara.

This isolated oasis has natural springs and fertile land, providing access to spectacular stretches of Sahara desert. It’s a great spot for star gazing from your tent in the sand, but bring your bathing suit for a dip in its hot and cold natural pools. A 10-hour drive west of Cairo. Public buses take much longer. Desert safaris can be arranged in Siwa.

18. Seljalandsfoss Waterfall, Iceland

A waterfall you can stand beneath without getting wet.

Waterfall connoisseurs agree it’s not size that counts. The biggest and the highest may be impressive, but when it comes to cascading water, Iceland’s Seljalandsfoss has style. The sight of the Seljalandsa River dropping 62 meters down the sheer cliff face has made it a must-see Iceland attraction. There’s a path that goes behind the cascade, so bring your waterproof camera. On Road 1, it’s 125 kilometers southeast of Reykjavik.

19. Perito Moreno Glacier, Patagonia, Argentina

We got ice, who brought the drinks?

This 30-kilometer glacier in Patagonia’s Los Glaciares National Park (not to be confused with the Perito Moreno National Park) grows and contracts, often forming a natural ice dam on the “elbow” of Lago Argentino. The force of the trapped water causes a spectacular rupture every four to five years. Even when the ice isn’t exploding, the sight of the glacier’s blue peaks is a lifetime attraction. Fly from Buenos Aires to El Calafate in Patagonia. The alternative is a very long bus journey.

20. Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Alberta, Canada

How many natural features can you fit into one picture?

Deep in the Canadian Rocky Mountains, Moraine Lake – together with its sister Lake Louise – is one of the most photographed landscapes in Banff National Park. It’s known as the jewel of the Rockies for its deep crystalline waters that mirror pine forests, soaring mountains and endless sky. Drive or take a direct bus 128 kilometers west from Calgary to Banff.

21. Cascate del Mulino, Saturnia, Tuscany, Italy

Steaming hot spring water comes out of the ground at 37.5 C and cascades over a series of small waterfalls into dozens of pools on consecutive levels. Niagara Falls it ain’t, but the cascading thermal springs at Saturnia are a lot of fun. Soak in the natural sulfurous mineral water and just maybe cure ailments from rheumatism to muscle ache. About 10 kilometers north of the small Tuscan town of Manciano, northeast of Orbetello.

22. William Bay, Western Australia

Yes, these rocks do look a little like elephants. But only a little.

A five-hour drive south of Perth, William Bay in Denmark, Western Australia, has turquoise waters that lap around white sands and the Elephant Rocks, which shelter an area of rock pools and granite terraces called Green’s Pool. The calm waters are perfect for snorkeling, while the more adventurous have the Great Southern Ocean on the other side. Fifteen kilometers west of the town of Denmark.

23. Jeju Island Lava Tubes, South Korea

What Ireland and Korea have in common.

This volcanic island in South Korea – it’s on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list – has mountains, stunning coastal rock formations and the finest system of cave lava tubes in the world. The Jeju caves have towers of petrified lava, while the Cheju-do cliffs have tube-like formations similar to the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. Jeju Island is 130 kilometers off the southern coast of South Korea. It’s accessible by boat from Busan or air from Gimpo airport in Seoul.

24. Angel Falls, Venezuela

Nature 1, Extreme Kayakers 0

The highest waterfall in the world, the water at Angel Falls travels 979 meters, which includes a free fall drop of 807 meters. It cascades over one of the biggest table-top mountains in the Canaima National Park in southern Venezuela, known to the local Pemon people as Devil’s Mountain. Most of the water evaporates as mist before reaching the bottom. Angel Falls is in remote jungle near the Canaima airstrip, which can be reached by plane from Ciudad Guayana or Ciudad Bolivar. Local Pemon people work as guides.

25. Lauterbrunnen Valley, Switzerland

Stunning views of Lauterbrunnen valley.

Deep in the Swiss Alps the Lauterbrunnen Valley, or Lauterbrunnental, is a deep cleft cut in the topography running between steep limestone precipices. The waterfalls that dot the rift often disappear into wisps of spray before hitting bottom, and include Staubbach Falls, one of Europe’s highest unbroken waterfalls at 270 meters. Get to Lauterbrunnen, the village in the valley, by narrow-gauge train from Interlaken Ost station in the Bernese Highlands.

26. Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Eight kilometers of awesome.

South of the village of Doolin in County Clare, the Cliffs of Moher rise 213 meters above the Atlantic Ocean and stretch for eight kilometers. They are one of Ireland’s biggest natural tourist attractions, but they also attract Atlantic puffins, razorbills and other wild birds. Don’t miss the spectacular views of the Arran Islands, Galway Bay and the Burren. The Cliffs of Moher are an 80-kilometer drive southwest of Galway.

27. Skaftafell National Park, Iceland

Just one of Skaftafells' impressive features.

Formed over millions of years by volcanic eruptions, rivers and glaciers, the Skaftafell National Park in southern Iceland has a variety of striking landscapes. These include an overhanging wall of geometric black basalt rocks on the Svartifoss waterfall, which inspired the architecture of Reykjavik’s National Theatre, and the majestic Skaftafellsjokull glacier that seems to have frozen in mid-flow.

Drive Road 1 for 326 kilometers east of Reykjavik. Buses from Reykjavik run to the park in summer. Self-guided hikes of Skaftafell are outlined on the official website.

28. Lake Titicaca, Bolivia/Peru

The lake of a thousand legends.

At an altitude of 3,811 meters above sea level, Lake Titicaca is one of the largest lakes in South America by volume. It is also the highest commercially navigated lake in the world and is home to indigenous people including the Aymara and the Quechua. Its vast expanse of water is often cloaked in light mist and has inspired numerous local legends. Lake Titicaca can be visited from the Peruvian town of Puno or from Copacabana on the Bolivian side, 150 kilometers from La Paz.

29. Wadden Sea, Germany and the Netherlands

Not much to look at, but still spectacular.