By Briana Seftel
Who needs photoshop when you can travel to these real-life natural wonders? Mountains sculpted by the wind, rocks as sharp as steel knives, and pools in deep blues and baby pinks are just a few of the world’s most stunning natural sites. Mother Nature, we surrender to your majesty.
Hornocal Mountains • Humahuaca, Argentina
You may blink a few times at the Hornocal Mountains to see if they're real - we wouldn't blame you! These candy-colored limestone mountains in northern Argentina are part of the Quebrada de Humahuaca valley, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Their brilliant shades, which look different depending on the weather, are a result of erosion over time. Visitors to Argentina can also see the Hill of Seven Colors in the same region, while travelers to Peru can get a glimpse of Rainbow Mountain, located approximately 62 miles from Cusco.
Giant's Causeway • County Antrim, Northern Ireland
One could say Giant’s Causeway is like real life Jenga. Located on the Antrim coast of Northern Ireland, Giant’s Causeway is a UNESCO-certified site composed of over 40,000 interlocking basalt columns, a result of volcanic activity more than 60 million years ago. Of course, no Irish site is without legend: some say a giant by the name of Finn McCool got angry one day with Scottish giant Benandonner and threw a bunch of rocks into the sea, and voila!
Caño Cristales • La Macarena, Colombia
Nicknamed the “Liquid Rainbow” and the “River of Five Colors” it’s hard to argue that Caño Cristales isn’t the most beautiful river in the world. From late July through November, the river becomes an explosion of berry-red, canary yellow, turquoise and kelly green, thanks in large part to a special algae called Macarenia clavigera. Once off limits to tourists, the river is now one of the most sought-after sites in all of Colombia.
Marble Caves • Lago Carrera, Chile
Carved into the Patagonian Andes in Chile, Las Cavernas de Mármol (Marble Caves) are among Patagonia’s most incredible natural wonders (hint: there are a lot). Accessible only by boat, the caves have been sculpted for centuries by the waters of the General Carrera Lake, South America’s second-largest freshwater lake. Like the brilliant blue shades of the lake, the caves are a mosaic of color and fantastical shapes.
Earth Pyramids • South Tyrol, Italy
Yes, the land of pasta and pizza is home to some truly spectacular natural beauty. Perhaps the most bizarre and otherworldy natural wonder in Italy are the Earth Pyramids, located in South Tyrol near the border of Austria. These cone-shaped pillars, which jut out from the idyllic countryside, have existed in the area since after the Ice Age, when the glaciers melted away. Left in their wake were these unusual elongated pillars formed by deposited clay, with a boulder on top. The pillars are constantly evolving, which makes this natural phenomena especially fascinating.
Lencois Maranheses National Park • Maranhão, Brazil
What do you get when you combine stark white sand dunes with pools of turquoise water? You get this dreamy national park in northeastern Brazil. Located just outside of the Amazon Basin, Lencois Maranheses (literally meaning “bedsheets of Maranhão”) would appear to be a desert, except for the fact that it gets heavy rain for about six months out of the year. The rain filters through the dunes, creating impossibly clear lagoons just begging for a dip.
Las Coloradas • Yucatan, Mexico
Located three hours outside of Cancun, Las Coloradas is an Instagrammer’s dream come true. This bubblegum-pink salt lake, hidden at the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula, is part of a protected wetlands area home to flamingos, crocodiles, turtles and a variety of birds. The lake gets its rosy hue from the red-colored algae that thrive in the salty environment. While you can only admire the lake (sorry, no swimming) it’s still quite a sight. Can’t make it to Mexico? Luckily, there are a few other pink lakes like Lake Hillier in Australia, Lake Retba in Senegal and Laguna Colorada in Bolivia.
Shilin Stone Forest • Yunnan, China
Deep in China's Yunnan Province is the Shilin Stone Forest, composed of magnificent limestone formations that are more than 270 million years old. Covering an area of about 186 miles, Shilin is divided into smaller stone forests and natural lakes, caves and waterfalls. According to legend, a beautiful Sani girl named Ashima fell in love but was forbidden to marry her chosen one, instead turning into a stone. Every year on June 24, the local Sani people celebrate the Torch Festival at Shilin.
Glow Worm Caves • North Island, New Zealand
Think of a brilliant starry night sky, but inside caves. The Waitomo Glowworm Caves on New Zealand’s North Island provide visitors with a dazzling display thanks to millions of arachnocampa luminosa, a glow worm species found only in New Zealand. In total darkness, these beautiful bioluminescent creatures light up the labyrinth of caves under the green hills of Waitomo. The carnivorous glow worms spin silk nests from the ceiling to fish for their prey.
The Wave • Marble Canyon, Arizona
Located on the border of Arizona and Utah, the Wave looks like it might a destination on Mars. Luckily for us humans, it's a totally real place that will have you saying "woah!" Over millions of years, these red sandstone formations have changed, creating completely surreal forms that look like brushstrokes. Because of its highly-prized beauty and conservation, only 20 visitors are allowed per day. If you can't snag a ticket, Marble Canyon and Antelope Canyon in Arizona are ripe with natural beauty.