Peaceful places – lesser-known natural wonders of the world

Planet Earth certainly isn’t short of awe-inspiring landscapes, from the iconic rush of Niagara Falls to the dizzy heights of Mount Everest. But go off the beaten path and there are lesser-known natural wonders to explore, from night-time rainbows to awe-inducing volcanoes.

Eight lesser-known natural wonders to add to your bucket list

Moonbows, Zimbabwe
Who needs boring old rainbows when you can have a magical moonbow?  Zimbabwe is probably best known for the iconic Victoria Falls, but while they steal the spotlight during the day, visit at night and you’ll catch something really special – the falls transform into a magical canvas as the moon’s rays catch the mist rising from the rushing water, forming a celestial rainbow and casting a luminous glow over the landscape. For the best view of this nocturnal spectacle, plan your visit to Victoria Falls during a full moon and either take a self-guided moonlit stroll or join a guided night tour.

The Door to Hell, Turkmenistan
From heavenly rainbows to hellish landscapes – hidden in the heart of the Karakum Desert in Turkmenistan, is The Door to Hell. Not literally of course – it’s the name that has been given to a burning sinkhole, officially known as the Darvaza Gas Crater, that has been aflame for over four decades. The story goes that Soviet scientists accidentally ignited a natural gas field in 1971, and it has been burning ever since. Take a hike out into the remote desert landscape after dark for the best view of the glow of the crater against the night sky. 

Sort sol, Denmark
When you think of natural wonders, you probably think of landscapes – huge waterfalls or rock formations perhaps – but how about a wonder in the form of a flock of birds. Visit Denmark and you may be lucky enough to see the choreographed dance in the skies known as sort sol, or the Black Sun. This mesmerizing event occurs during the migration season of European starlings, typically in spring and autumn. As thousands of starlings gather in the marshlands, they perform an intricate aerial ballet, creating breathtaking formations that darken the sky. Wadden Sea National Park in southwestern Denmark is one of the best places to see Sort sol and dusk or dawn are the ideal times. 

Zhangjiajie Mountains, China
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. Do your research before you buy a plane ticket -for those planning a visit to the otherworldly landscapes of China, understanding the chinese visa application process is crucial.

The Enchanted River, the Philippines
Have you ever seen water this crystal clear? Tucked away in the lush jungles of Mindanao in the Philippines is the Hinatuan Enchanted River, with glassy waters as beautiful as its name, tinted with shades of blue and green. The early morning is the best time to visit, as this is when the sun shines perfectly through the trees above and casts a magical glow on the river. Imagine wild swimming here in the beautiful bluey-green waters! Legend even has it that the river is home to spirits.

The Great Blue Hole, Belize
Another sinkhole, but very different to the Door to Hell, the Great Blue Hole is a circular chasm that plunges over 400 feet into the ocean, with a gorgeous deep blue hue that makes it both a diver’s paradise and a geological wonder. Dive into the depths of the Great Blue Hole, part of the Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System, to encounter stalactites and limestone formations that tell the story of its ancient origins. The rich marine life that inhabits the surrounding reef adds to the allure of this underwater spectacle. 

The Landmannalaugar valley, Iceland
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. Extreme Iceland offer a six-day guided hike of the Laugavegur trail.

Active volcanoes, Nicaragua
This might be the closest you’ll get to trekking on the moon. Nicaragua, the ‘land of lakes and volcanoes’ is, perhaps unsurprisingly, home to incredible lava-filled volcanoes – there are 19 (a whopping nine are currently active) and each makes for a uniquely different hike. Take an overnight full-moon foray up El Hoyo, climb wildlife-rich but tough Concepcion or tackle Masaya, an active volcano in the heart of a 930 mile-long mountain range – hike up it in the day and then return on a guided tour at night to see lava glowing redly in the dark. Adrenaline lovers should trek up Cerro Negro, as you can descend again in a very exciting fashion – by volcano surfing down 1,600ft feet of black volcanic ash. Nicaragua’s volcanoes are easy to hike with an in-country guide, using the city of Leon as a base. 

Plan your bucket list trip: Make sure you get a good deal for your money when you’re planning a trip to one of these natural wonders – a great place to start is by comparing flights on Opodo using the handy tools on the page. Input your destination and dates, and you’ll get a list of all the options available – there’s also some useful advice on how to keep costs down, such as looking at off-peak times and booking on particular days of the week.