Travel is about experiencing new things and leaving your comfort zone.
But for me, my absolute passion is traveling to see natural areas that are unmatched in their beauty. Parts of the globe that are so transfixing, no man made element can surpass their beauty. What makes travel centered around natural phenomenon so much different is the remoteness of the trip.
Most of these places are far away from population centers, and the lack of infrastructure can be frustrating for some. At least in my mind, and quite possibly yours as well, this is one of the draws of visiting such beautiful places. The lack of crowds, the feeling of freedom, and the need to rely on personal fortitude to complete the trip.
Some natural areas are so incredibly spectacular that they have become a sort of pilgrimage in themselves. This is not necessarily a bad thing! Some areas are so amazing that no amount of crowds or people will ever detract from the inspiration they create. Do not fall into the trap of straying so far off the tourist path that you end up missing the greatest places on Earth. From my experience, a good balance is needed. I made a list of the top 10 natural phenomenon, drawing from my own experiences as well as my personal bucket list. Many of you may have heard of them, and I hope to inspire more people to take the journey and embrace these special areas.
Do not go into these places expecting comfort or a warm meal. Many of the spaces featured in this article are located in harsh environments and extreme latitudes. It is this ruggedness that has preserved them from the destruction of our consumerist society. Go into them with the mindset that you are only a visitor. Sleep in a tent, and walk for many days before coming across your ultimate destination. The journey and hardship is just as much part of the experience as the destination is.
1. Lake Baikal
The world’s largest freshwater lake, Lake Baikal is a true spectacle. The volume of this lake is more than all of the Great Lakes combined. Lake Baikal is also the world’s deepest lake, with a maximum depth of 5,387 feet. This lake is “self-cleaning” thanks to tiny endemic filter feeding copepods. This miniscule creature actually filters the water and in some areas, you can peer over 131 feet (40 meters) down.
Lake Baikal is also so deep that it features its own currents and commercial fisheries are abundant. There is even an endemic freshwater seal that lives in the lake! And in the winter, the lake freezes over, creating some of the world’s most beautiful ice formations.
It is not all sunshine and roses.The more developed end of the lake has made the water too dirty to drink, and algae blooms are slowly increasing across her surface. This lake needs to be on everybody’s bucket list to see.
2. Atacama Desert
The driest desert in the world, some areas have never experienced precipitation, as far as we know. Located in Northern Chile, Bolivia, and Peru, this region is one of the most spectacular on Planet Earth. The Andes Mountains block all moisture from the Pacific Ocean, making this a very unique desert. Found in the desert is the Altiplano, the world’s second highest plateau.It is here that saltwater pools coalesce and Flamingos breed.
The colors and rock formations are famous for inspiring the work of Salvador Dali, and the natural colors resemble his paintings. This desert is also home to the greatest night sky viewing in the world. The thin atmosphere, lacking any moisture, makes the night sky vivid. Shooting stars, twinkling planets, and easy to distinguish satellites make sleeping almost impossible.
3. Serengeti Plain
The Serengeti Plain, located mostly in Tanzania, is truly a wonder of the world. The world’s largest terrestrial migration of mammals occur here, over 1.7 million wildebeests, and thousands of Zebras, Gazelle, Giraffe, and other mammals are a part of it.
Not just home to herbivores, predators such as Lions, Cheetahs, Leopards, and hyenas are abundant in the ecosystem. This wonder of Africa is home to ample amounts of safari companies and has become an ecotourist destination.
4. Aurora Borealis
The Aurora Borealis, and Aurora Australis in the Southern Hemisphere, are a unique phenomenon of light that takes place most commonly towards the poles. Green, blue, and sometimes red lights dance across the night sky. When solar wind, thrown towards the planet from the sun, collides with Earth’s electromagnetic field, the Aurora Borealis occurs.
Because this phenomenon takes place in latitudinal extremes and are most common in the winter, seeing this phenomenon is sometimes an ordeal. It is best to plan a lengthier stay somewhere that is known for the light show to have the best opportunity at viewing.
5. Pacific Salmon Run
No other migration on earth brings as much biomass from the oceans into pristine inland water systems. Most prominent in Alaska and Siberia, Salmon will swim up rivers and streams to spawn in pristine headwaters. Animals such as Kodiak and Grizzly Bears feast on the fish, and many cultures regard the runs as spiritual.
6. Socotra Island
Known as the Galapagos Islands of the Middle East, this desert island features a unique ecosystem unlike any other. 80% of the plants are found nowhere else, and most resemble almost alien species. The oceans are rich with fish, and the local people rely on the ocean for their living.
Unfortunately, the conflict in the region has made visiting the island an extremely dangerous proposition, especially for westerners.
7. Arctic National Wildlife Refuge
Affectionately known as ANWR for short, this Northeastern corner of Alaska is the least developed spot on Earth. Home to the world’s largest Caribou migration, Musk Ox, Wolves, Grizzly Bears, and Polar Bears, this 19 million acre refuge is the most immaculate corner of the planet.
Even more impressive than the terrestrial features are the coastal river deltas and Sea Ice, home to migratory birds and fish that exist nowhere else. This habitat is under constant threat by the petroleum industry looking to drill in the Arctic waters.
8. Southwest Amazon Rainforest Basin
One of the most remote and hard to get to areas of the Amazon Rainforest, this region is home to more diversity in species than most other areas. Its proximity to the Eastern edge of the Andes Mountains means that the rare Cloud Forest ecosystem blends with the lowlands of the Basin.
The Tambopata river drains the area, and is a tertiary stream to the much larger Amazon River. Fish in this stretch of the river are some of the most diverse in the world, including the freshwater ray and electric eel. The forest in the region is so diverse that new species of mammals are still being discovered
9. Khumbu Region of the Himalayas
The Himalayas are the world’s largest mountains and the Khumbu region is home to the largest of mountains, sometimes referred to as the Everest region. This region is a popular destination for Everest trekkers, but there is so much more to discover.
Holy for many Buddhists, every mountain and hill has a sacred meaning, and the people who live here are among the happiest in the world. Rare species such as the Snow Leopard and Red Panda call this region home, and many locals swear that Tigers still roam the hillsides.
10. Giant Sequoia
The planet’s largest and oldest tree, by volume, it is also the largest single organism in existence. At over 2,700 years old, these giants are true ancients of Earth and deserve as much respect as every other phenomenon on this list.
Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, these mammoths are a sight to see, and everyone needs to make time to experience their existence.
What is life but a series of experiences, and what better way to spend your fleeting time on this hunk of rock floating in space than to enjoy the top natural phenomenon our planet has to offer.