Dreaming of ‘land, lots of land, and the starry skies above’, to borrow from Bing Crosby? Journey to one of the wildest, weirdest and most wonderful landscapes on earth – from a sea of salt to sunset-coloured mountains and from the hottest place on earth to the frozen tundra, these ten beauties should all make your bucketlist.
10 bucketlist landscapes to see before you die
1. BOLIVIA: Salar de Ayuni salt flats
Nowhere does the word ‘dreamscape’ apply as well as to Bolivia’s huge Salar de Ayuni. These pure-white salt flats stretch for miles and miles in a valley surrounded by the Andean mountains. In the rainy season the salt reflects the sky, mirror-like; in dry weather it forms a strange expanse of hexagonal craters where you’ll quickly lose your ability to judge distances. You can walk, drive or cycle across this sea of salt, and hike to little ‘islands’ of rock covered in huge cacti on its edges.
2. JORDAN: Wadi Rum desert
If you pictured the desert of adventure storybooks and Lawrence of Arabia films, it might look rather like Wadi Rum, a sprawling sand-clad wilderness in southern Jordan. It’s a more varied landscape than you think – here you’ll find rolling dunes, sandstone mountains loved by climbers and scramblers and vertigo-inducing stone arches such as the Burdah Bridge to hike across. It’s surprisingly easy to get lost in this arid wilderness, and a guide is essential, especially for scrambling. The Bedouin people who have lived here for centuries now act as walking guides and open their comfortable desert camps to visitors. You can also wild camp in the open, the perfect way to catch the fleeting hours when sunrise and sunset turn the desert fiery red and gold.
3. CORNWALL: The sea bed, Isles of Scilly
Fancy a walk on the bottom of the sea? It’s easier than you think. Head to the Isles of Scilly off the coast of Cornwall, where five subtropical islands are surrounded by clear turquoise waters home to plentiful shipwrecks. At certain times of the year, when the changing tides ebb just low enough, it’s possible to walk across the sea bed between the islands of Bryher and Tresco, and the two communities meet in the middle of the sea bed for a fleeting seafood feast. Other islets such as Gugh can be reached daily when the tides reveal sunken walkways. Four of the five islands also have lovely campsites with some of the best coastal camping views in Britain.
4. ICELAND: The Landmannalaugar valley
You can’t create a list of otherworldly hiking landscapes without including Iceland. And on this bizarrely beautiful island, home to black sand beaches, glittering glaciers and fermented shark for tea, the Laugavegur trail stands out as a feast for the eyes. This 34 mile-long route begins in Landmannalaugar, a geothermal rainbow-coloured wonderland of a valley where the mountains are striped in obsidian and rhyolite in every hue you could imagine. Hike towards the south, staying in remote mountain cabins, and you’ll end up in Thorsmork, a green valley named for the Norse god of thunder and capped by the Eyjafjallajokull glacier. It’s easiest to get to the trail head and around Iceland by renting a car – find good deals at discovercars.com, who have cars available at multiple airports and pickup spots.
5. LAPLAND, Sweden
: Sweden’s northern territory conjures up images of skiing across frozen tundra under the aurora in winter, or of berry picking and reindeer spotting in the light of the midnight sun in the summer – and Lapland is every bit as spectacular as you’d imagine. This is a true wilderness, home to elk and bears, wide rivers and swathes of untouched forest, all criss-crossed with hiking trails and dotted with traditional Sámi (the indigenous people of northern Sweden, Norway, Finland and Russia) settlements. Half the fun is getting there – Omio has up-to-date departures from Stockholm to Abisko on the Arctic Sleeper, an overnight train that lets you go to sleep in the city and wake up in the wilderness.
6. ETHIOPIA: Danakil Depression
Welcome to the hottest place on earth. Ethiopia’s vast desert plain is where three tectonic plates meet in the Horn of Africa and create a truly otherworldly landscape in technicolour hues. Make the long expedition to the Mars-like desert of the Danakil Depression, which sits at 100 metres below sea level in the well-named region of Afar, and you’ll find gurgling active volcanoes, living lava lakes, acidic pools, huge salt pans and Crayola-bright yellow, green and orange rocks tinted by iron and sulphur. Walking here is like stepping onto an alien planet.
7. USA: Monument Valley, Arizona
Drive into Monument Valley on Highway 163 and you’ll feel like someone has turned the saturation way up, so crimson-bright are the iconic mesas and rocks that rise up to 350 metres high from the red sand floor. The remote Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park, located within Arizona and Utah in the Navajo Reservation, one of the largest American Indian tribes, is home to big rocks, big sky and very little else. Hike here at dawn to see the harsh colours softened by the emerging sun in what is perhaps the grandest desert on earth.
8. TURKEY: Cappadocia
Ever seen a fairy’s chimney before? That’s the local name for the incredible natural formations of Cappadocia, an otherworldly place in the heart of the otherwise stark, semi-arid Anatolian hills. Tall cream-coloured hills and strange rock formations cluster in the valley, and beneath them are man-made caves, caverns and a grotto church – you can even stay in a cave hotel. The very best ways to see Cappadocia are by foot, hiking amongst the fairy-like hills, and by taking a dawn hot air balloon flight, joining hundreds of others suspended high above this magical landscape.
9. USA: Autumn in Vermont
Get ready to find your inner leaf peeper – that’s the name given to those who flock to New England in autumn to catch the elusive changing colours of fall. The state of Vermont is three-quarters forest and becomes ablaze with brilliant reds, oranges and golds as its native sugar maple trees turn with the season each year (usually between late September and early October). Leaf peeping is best by bike, cycling a route around the state’s famous covered bridges, or by foot, climbing up to Smuggler’s Notch, a mountain pass from which you can take in a blaze of fall colour.
10. CHINA: Zhangjiajie Mountains
Fans of fantasy film Avatar may recognise these incredible peaks – they were the inspiration behind the floating mountains of the fictional world of Pandora. The real Zhangjiajie National Park in Hunan, China is no less impressive, with soaring pillars of quartzite sandstone covered in dense foliage rising up from the valley floor, often wreathed in fog. Visitors flock to see them (there’s a cable car up to the mountains and even a huge 25 mile long glass bridge offering panoramic views) but with 3,000 pillars sprawled across the UNESCO-protected park there’s still plenty of space to hike and explore – keep an eye for the resident macaques.