A chain of 16 terraced lakes, joined by waterfalls, in Plitviče Lakes National Park, Croatia

Breathtaking natural wonders for your next vacation

Written by:
May 23, 2019
Lattasit Laohasiriwong // Shutterstock

Breathtaking natural wonders for your next vacation

From bright blue icebergs in Chile to flooded salt flats in Bolivia, the Earth is filled with awe-inspiring wonders that boggle the human mind. And as of 2024, an increasing number of travelers are setting out to explore those sites—a recent survey by American Express found that "major" trips are gaining ground this year.

That increase is driven in large part by the digital world, as 39% of travelers say they use social media to find vacation inspo. But pictures and captions can only go so far, and the most beautiful natural wonders of the world are even more impressive in person.

With the 2024 summer vacation season underway and flight prices on the decline, it's natural to feel some wanderlust at this time of year. To help inspire your next trip, Stacker utilized expert destination guides and scientific information from National Geographic, Lonely Planet, and CNN, researching 30 natural wonders that are awaiting your exploration when a break away from the office is past due.

Whether you want to stay closer to home at a destination like Zion National Park or venture further abroad to somewhere like the Galápagos Islands, these striking spots are well worth a visit. Some, like Italy's Mount Vesuvius, offer fascinating history in addition to stunning sights. Read on to broaden your travel horizons.

#30. The Whitsundays, Australia

The 74 uninhabited islands of the Whitsundays stretch from the coast of Queensland, Australia, to the heart of the Great Barrier Reef. Allures of the archipelago include swirling white silica sand beaches, an array of vibrant marine life, and miles of coral reefs. Water visibility is best between May and October when the humidity is low.

#29. Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Otherworldly Salar de Uyuni is the world's largest salt flat, stretching more than 4,050 square miles across the southern highlands of Bolivia. Thousands of flamingo flock the shallow waters of the flat's Laguna Colorada to feed on the lagoon's plankton and algae. The minerals that make the lagoon's water blood red also turn the white feathers of the flamingo pink.

#28. The Narrows, Utah

Located in Zion National Park, The Narrows is one of the most awe-inspiring canyon hikes in America. At it's narrowest part (just 20 to 30 feet across), the sandstone walls are a booming 2,000 feet above—that's 224 feet higher than New York City's One World Trade Center. The trail, in most places, is actually the Virgin River, meaning waterproof boots and backpacks come in handy.

#27. Torres del Paine National Park, Chile

Torres del Paine National Park in the southernmost part of Chile's Patagonia offers towering massifs, brilliant blue icebergs, turquoise lakes, lagoons, forests, and golden grasslands. The park's diverse landscape is home to pumas, guanacos, and Andean condors. Hardcore trailblazer can hike the park's Glacier Grey, a 104-square-mile Patagonian ice field.

#26. The Maldives

Whether on land or underwater, The Maldives in the Indian Ocean provides some the most impressive beach photographs on earth. The soft white sandy beaches, translucent turquoise waters, and coral shelves teeming with colorful marine life are positively hypnotic. Historic tidbit: The Maldives are believed to have been a trading post for the Egyptians, Romans, and several other ancient civilizations.

#25. Mount Everest of the Great Himalayas

Rising on the boundary line of Nepal and Tibet, Mount Everest soars more than 29,000 feet into the Earth's atmosphere, making it the world's highest mountain. Breathable oxygen at the summit is one-third of what it is at sea level. Exploration of Mount Everest began 1921, but the first ascent of the summit was not made until 1953

#24. Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

A mile deep, 270 miles long, and around 18 miles wide. Welcome to the Grand Canyon. During the 1880s, early pioneers began settling along the canyon to mine for copper, but they buried that idea when the realized they could make more money giving folks tours of the canyon.   

#23. Mount Roraima, Venezuela/Brazil/Guyana

Soaring out of the fog at an impressive 9,094 feet, the tabletop mesa of Mount Roraima is home to some of the world's most diverse and unique species of floras, such as the carnivorous pitcher plant. Its ecosystem of near-constant showers produces dozens of stunning cliffside waterfalls, including Roraima Falls which hails a 1,312-foot fall. Insider tip: most climbers take two days to summit, and two days to return.

#22. Jiǔzhàigōu National Park, China

What's better than a waterfall? Multiple groupings of waterfalls, of course. Jiǔzhàigōu National Park, also known as the "Land of Fairy Tale," boasts three major waterfall groups that cascade from enchanting translucent blue-green lakes. Autumn is the best time to tour the park—tourism is low, but the fall colors are in full radiance.

#21. Namib Desert, Namibia

Almost rainless, the Namib desert region of southwestern Africa is situated along the chilly coast of the Atlantic Ocean. The desert's name, derived from the Nama language, suggests "an area where there is nothing." However, that's not entirely true—the inner Namib is home to rhinos, zebras, elephants, lions, and more.

#20. Galápagos Islands

Pack a swim mask and fins—the marine life of the Galápagos Islands is not to be missed. Giant tortoises, penguins and, if you're on the islands sometime between June and November, schools of hammerhead sharks. Tip for the hungry tourist: have the ceviche at one of the restaurants on the islands at least once.

#19. Moraine Lake, Banff National Park, Canada

Immortalized on the back of the Canadian $20 note, Banff National Park's Moraine Lake is the most widely photographed lake in Canada. Light refracting off the glacial flour (fine-grained particles of rock) of the surrounding mountains causes the intense shade of turquoise that changes its intensity throughout the summer months. Word to the wise: Moraine Lake is only open mid-May to mid-October, so plan your trip accordingly.

#18. Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

Geysers and hot springs and canyons, oh my. Yellowstone National Park has nearly 3,500 square miles of diverse terrain for humans (and wildlife) to traverse. With over 67 species of mammals, the park has the largest concentration of mammals in the lower 48 states. Keep an eye out for grizzlies, wolverines, bison, bighorn sheep, moose, and more. 

#17. Amazon River, South America

At 4,345 miles, the Amazon River is the longest river in the world. It contains twice as much water as the Congo River and, regarding volume and flow, its basin is the most abundant drainage system in the world. What's even more remarkable is that the Amazon was completely bridgeless until 2011.

#16. Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

One of Ireland's most iconic natural wonders, the Cliffs of Moher have a long history of capturing the imaginations of their gazers. James Joyce couldn't keep the Cliffs of Moher from popping up in his first novel, "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," and understandably so—these seaside cliffs run along the southwestern coast of the island for 5 miles, ascending to over 700 feet.

#15. Matterhorn, Switzerland/Italy

Booming between the border of Italy and Switzerland, the Matterhorn rises 14,692 feet into the air. This iconic, jagged mountain has been unforgiving to its climbers—500 climbers have died since the Matterhorn's first successful expedition in 1865. 

#14. Mount Vesuvius, Italy

Regarded as one of the world's most dangerous volcanoes, Mount Vesuvius lies just 5.6 miles east of Naples—Italy's third largest municipality, home to nearly a million Neapolitans. Infamous for its decimation of Pompeii in 79 CE, today the mount's slopes are covered in vineyards and chestnut orchards.

#13. The Dead Sea, Jordan/Israel/Palestine

The Dead Sea, a salt lake located on the borders of Jordan, Israel, and Palestine, is eight times saltier than the ocean. At 1,378 feet below sea level, the Dead Sea's salty shores are the lowest place on earth. Its high salt concentration means that humans naturally bob along the lake's surface.

#12. Plitviče Lakes National Park, Croatia

Croatia's Plitviče Lakes National Park is comprised of 16 different terraced lakes and hundreds of trickling waterfalls. Long walkways cross over many of the uniquely turquoise lakes, making the park a hiker's paradise. Wildlife of the park's woodlands include bears, wolves, wild boars, and rare bird species.  

#11. Aurora borealis

As our planet rotates, the sun's magnetic fields knot and twist and burst into so-called sunspots, creating solar winds that reach the Earth within 40 hours. Upon reaching the Earth's atmosphere, an impressive light show occurs known as the aurora borealis (or the Northern Lights). Viewing of the lights is best from Northern Canada and Alaska during the winter, when the air is crisp and clear.

#10. Eisriesenwelt, Austria

Literally translated as "The World of the Ice Giants" in English, Eisriesenwelt is the world's largest ice cave. Before the discovery of the cave in 1879, this frigid cavern was folklore as the gateway to hell. Know before you go: Even in the summer months, Eisriesenwelt remains below freezing—pack layers. 

#9. Dolomites, Italy

Shouldered against Austria, the Dolomites mountains of Italy are slung between the Italian provinces of Trentino and Alto Adige. Nestled into the Dolomites 350,000 acres are some of the globe's most charming mountain towns. The best time to visit is winter, when the mountain's skyscraping peaks are covered in snow, and the skiing is out of this world.

#8. Jeju Island, South Korea

Home to a shield volcano, an archetypal tuff cone, and a lava tube system, South Korea's Jeju Island is a volcanologist's dream destination. And the island's landscape is hopelessly romantic—a lush coastline of waterfalls, a semi-tropical forest bursting with the most colorful floras, and butterflies galore. The lava tubes with their multicolored rimstones, stalagmites, and cave corals are equally as gorgeous.

#7. Halong Bay, Vietnam

Limestone islands in a jade-colored gulf: Northern Vietnam's Halong Bay is scattered with lush green islands that make you feel as if you've entered a magical realm. The best way to visit this emerald paradise is by a small cruise boat, which allows you access to a few of the bay's warm beaches and moonlit nights. 

#6. Victoria Falls, Africa

On the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, Victoria Falls (also known as Mosi-oa-Tunya, meaning "smoke that thunders") plunges spectacular 355 feet to the bed of the Zambezi River. What's more impressive is that the falls span the entire width of the river—more than 5,500 feet. The mighty roar of the falls can be heard from nearly 30 miles away.

#5. Paricutín Volcano, Mexico

Located 200 miles west of Mexico City, the Paricutín Volcano only stopped its erupting in 1952. Legends claim that the cinder cone volcano rose out a local farmer's cornfield, and over its nine-year eruption period from 1943 to 1952, grew to its present-day height of 10,400 feet. 

#4. Jeita Grotto, Lebanon

The Jeita Grotto in the Nahr al-Kalb valley, just 20 minutes north of Beirut, consists of two interconnected limestone caves. Its upper cavern can be traversed on foot, but to view the lower grotto, visitors must take the cave's underground river by boat. The Jeita Grotto's river provides fresh water to over a million Lebanese.

#3. Skaftafell of Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

The blue glaciers, black sands, and thundering waterfalls of the Skaftafell region in Iceland are nothing short of astonishing. Adventurers will be happy to learn that Skaftafell glacier hikes, ice climbing, and camping are offered year-round. The Skaftafell landscapes (and its surrounding scenery) is Hollywood famous, appearing in "James Bond" films, "Interstellar" and "Game of Thrones."

#2. Iguazu Falls, Argentina/Brazil

The Iguazu Falls, brushing up against the borders of Argentina and Brazil, boast the world's largest curtain waterfall—Devil's Throat, Iguazu Falls' main attraction, consists of 14 waterfalls all by itself. This natural wonder is known to overwhelm the senses.

#1. Great Barrier Reef, Australia

No list of natural wonders is complete without the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. With over 3,000 individual reef systems, the Great Barrier Reef is larger than the Great Wall of China and the only living structure on the globe visible from space

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