The earth offers up a spectacular, jaw-dropping, eye-popping show if you care to get out and experience it. From the Aurora Borealis phenomenon in the Arctic to the Lion’s Rock in Sri Lanka and the eternal burning pit of fire in Turkmenistan, our planet is a veritable feast for the soul. Everyone is familiar with the 7 World Wonders but to whittle down the marvels of the world into a list of just 7 (natural and man-made separately), is a rather presumptuous task. For a variety of reasons certain amazing places are relatively unknown and see very few tourists; perhaps due to an unstable government, travel advisories, the expense, or the difficulty of travel many places see very little foot traffic. In this case, to narrow down a list to just 10 is rather presuming but alas here is a list of 10 World Wonders that are neglected, both natural and man made.
Like something out of a Paul Gauguin painting, the Vinales Valley is lush and colorful. A Karstic depression, this valley is an amazing spot for hiking, camping, caving, and cycling. Full of cliffs, caves, and rich vegetation including tobacco plantations, there is plenty to explore in this incredible area. The bottom area is flat making it a great place to cycle around, there are tons of caves to explore and the scenery is breathtaking with huge domed hills (mogotes) standing more than 300 metres tall, surrounding this remarkable landscape.
One does not simply visit Turkmenistan, long since closed off from the world due to its personality cult leader Turkmanbashi, the country is not the most welcoming to outsiders and you will be watched every step of the way. If you do have the inclination to visit Turkmenistan, you would be remiss not to go deep into the desert to view the burning pit of eternal hell fire, or the Derweze Crater. The popular account is that the crater has been burning for over 50 years, likely after a Soviet oil drilling mission went awry and the hell mouth opened. Another story is that the crater has indeed been open for 50 or more years but only started burning in the 80’s. Whatever the case, the enormous amount of natural methane gas that runs through Turkmenistan is the reason it has been burning for so long. The crater is generally open to the public as it is not often visited but before you decide to jump in car and drive out there, do note that the heat surrounding the crater is quite intense and it’s best to be prepared.
Leptis Magna is an ancient Roman city from the Carthaginian period in Libya, and is one of the best preserved examples of Roman architecture in the area. Dry desert climates are excellent for the preservation of ancient monuments. The city dates all the way back to the 7thCentury BCE, when The Phoenicians ruled the area. The city changed hands many times over the course of 1500 years and by 1000 AD the city was abandoned under the Arab forces who had taken over in 600 AD. Over time the city was covered in sand and completely forgotten about until the Italian occupation of Libya and efforts were made to excavate the site in the 1930’s. Later on, in 2005, German archeologists uncovered 5 colourful mosaics but because Libya has been in turmoil for many years, archeologists are unable to further excavate the area. The ruins are at risk of complete destruction due to the civil war, despite it being a UNESCO protected site. At this time it is not advisable to visit Leptis Magna.
Forest of Knives-Madagascar
The Forest of Knives or the Tsingy Forests in Madagascar are so striking, it’s a wonder this place is not on everyone’s bucket list. Out of this world stone daggers rise 70m up from the earth. The limestone knives form in clusters creating a labyrinth of razor sharp corridors. Navigating the maze can be quite onerous considering the stone is very sharp and can cause serious injury. You can easily become lost in the forest of stone so if you do want to visit, hire a guide and tread carefully.
Banaue Rice Terraces-Philippines
Over 2000 years old, these rice terraces are prime example of the coexistence between nature and man, carved out of the hillside, they work with the natural landscape not against it. The Banaue Rice Terraces are found on the side of the Ifugao mountain and were carved by hand from the mountain and the people of the time had to create a system to irrigate the terraces. The terraces rise to about 1500metres above sea level and are considered a National Treasure of the Philippines. They are a protected site and are still being used in much the same way as they were intended. If you want to to visit the terraces, you’ll have to put on your hiking boots and trek for a few hours for the most rewarding views.
The Meroe Pyramids were part of the Kingdom of Kush and are over 4600 years old. Built as tombs like the pyramids of Egypt, there are over 200 pyramids in this area built in the Nubian style. An explorer destroyed the tops of many of the pyramids in the 1880’s in search of treasure, many of them were restored but many were not and still remain derelict. Evidence of Egyptian influence on the Nubian kingdom are evident through the use of hieroglyphics and the decoration of the pyramids. It is not advisable, at this time, to travel to this region of Sudan due to political instability and possible violence.
Mount Roraima in Venezuela is a table top mountain that protrudes from the earth shrouded by clouds as if floating. The images of Mount Roraima make it seem as though it descended from another world and another time. In fact, scientists believe the mountain began forming about 2 billion years ago. Many plants and animals are endemic to the mountain and has become a source of fascination to many scientists who have just begun to tap into the mysteries of Mount Roraima. Another fascinating fact about this wildly weird table mountain is that it borders 3 countries (Venezuela, Guyana, and Brazil).
The Marble Caves of Chile are in the isolated Patagonia region so if you’re thinking about visiting, you’ll need to clear your schedule. Located on Lake General Carrera, the marble caves are visually enticing; the texture looks like artfully decorated icing on an upside cake. Like fine wine the caves have gotten better with age, taking over 6000 years to form from waves constantly washing up against the calcium marble to create the unique texture. Depending on the water level, the blue hues change from light turquoise during spring to cerulean blue in the summer. The caves are only reachable by boat and the best time of year to visit is between December and February.
Kilwa Kisiwani is a lesser known attraction in a country bursting with amazement, from Kilimanjaro, to the Serengeti, to the islands of Zanzibar; Tanzania is a country that boasts an incredible amount of biodiversity as well as historical significance. The Swahili Coast has often been a source of intrigue and while the vast majority of tourists to Tanzania, visit Stone Town in Zanzibar for a taste of that historical flavour, Kilwa Kisiwani is nearly empty of tourists but packs in an unforgettable day of touring around ruins surrounded by deserted and stunning beaches. Kilwa Kisiwani features a Great Mosque and Palace of Husuni Kubwa from the time of Omani occupation as well as a Fort built by the Portuguese. At the time of Omani occupation, Kilwa was a rich trading hub between India, China, Africa, and Arabia as they ran porcelain, ivory, quartz and other fine items through the port. The Portuguese occupation of the island in the 16thCentury, led to its decline in status but since the island features ruins from both eras it is culturally and historically meaningful. You can fly from Dar Es Salaam to Kilwa Masoko and from there your hotel can arrange a dhow (boat) to the island and possibly guides. There are also large busses and mini busses from Dar or you can hire a car.
Described as the most alien place on earth, Socotra is probably one of the most endangered wonders on this list due to the war in Yemen, the instability of their government and self-interested parties stealing the wonders from the island. Tourism is very limited these days for obvious reasons but if you do manage to make it there you’ll be delighted with a distinctive and bizarre selection of flora and fauna that have developed into unique species endemic to this incredibly bio-diverse island in Arabia. The Dragon-blood tree is the best known image of the island, but what is truly interesting is that the local population are profoundly respectful of their land, and help tourists navigate the island so as to do the least amount of harm.
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