The world is a beautiful place, and its beauty is often celebrated in famous lists like the 7 Wonders of the World or the 7 Natural Wonders of the World. UNESCO World Heritage Sites are another way to recognize and bring attention to amazing places. However, there are many other wonderful places on the globe that are sometimes missed on popular lists. Narrowing these beautiful places down to just 15 is a difficult task, but this list presents a compelling overview of awe-inspiring scenes from near and far.
15. Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
Plitvice Lakes National Park is a mountainous forest reserve and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in central Croatia that covers 113.9 square miles. The parks features several rivers, 16 turquoise lakes and spectacular waterfalls, all of which can freeze during winter. The park has crystal clear waters and a delicate ecosystem that is home to species such as brown bears, wild cats, eagles, lynxes, owls, and turtles, as well as 75 endemic plant species. From time to time, the sixteen lakes appear to change colors, ranging from blue, turquoise, green, and aquamarine. Over one million people visit the spectacular park every year.
14. Moraine Lake, Canada
Elevated at 6,183 feet, Moraine Lake is a glacial lake located in the valley of the Ten Peaks in Banff National Park. This lake is one of the most photographed and visited sites in Canada with tourists enjoying nature trails, fishing, canoeing, and even skiing near the lake. The lake covers a surface area of 120 acres and the deepest point is 46 feet. One of the wonders of the lake is that, when full, the rocks on the floor refract a shade of turquoise to the surface making it amazingly beautiful. Local wildlife species include squirrels, chipmunks, pikas, marmots, and bears.
13. Chefchaouen, Morocco
Chefchaouen, or Chaouen, is an old city in north Morocco within the Rif mountain valley near the Mediterranean Sea. What makes this city amazing is not only its rich history, but also the fact that it is almost entirely blue. Chefchaouen means “watch two horns” and, since 1471, the city has been a fortress to refugees including Jewish refugees who, in the 1930s, painted the walls and streets blue as a reminder of God’s power. With approximately 200 hotels, visitors enjoy local cuisines like the Baissara, as well as the city's beauty and history. This city is home to creative craft products like leather wallets, shoes, and satchels.
12. Lavender Fields of Provence, France
In France, the words “lavender” and “Provence” are synonymous. Provence has the largest fields of lavender flowers to an extent that, during the summer lavender season, the color and scent of the plant encapsulates most parts of Apt, Gordes, Mount Ventoux, and Sault in Provence. For tourists, the best time to maximize the experience is between June and August. In addition to the fields, there are lavender farms, distilleries, and festivals, as well as a lavender museum.
11. Yosemite National Park, United States
Yosemite National Park in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains is one of the oldest parks in the US, and covers an area of 747,956 acres with an estimated 5 million visitors annually. The park hosts 50% of California’s 7,000 plant species within its range of vegetation. Some of the attractions at this UNESCO World Heritage Site are the Half Dome and the El Capitan granite cliffs, Mirror Lake, Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Falls, as well as glaciers and crystal-clear streams.
10. Milford Sound, New Zealand
Located in New Zealand’s South Island, Milford Sound has magnificent rainforests, thousands of waterfalls, and breathtaking cliffs. The average annual 275.59 inches of rainfall across 183 days creates a 20 foot-layer of fresh water on top of the ocean, additionally, the ocean appears black because rain washes tannin from the forest into the lake. This site is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an Important Bird Area (IBA Site), and records approximately 1 million visitors yearly who have the option of engaging in canoeing, backpacking, and ocean cruising, among other activities. There are also plenty of penguins, dolphins, seals, whales, and a wide variety of birds.
9. Banaue Rice Terraces, Philippines
The 2,000-year-old Banaue, or Banawe Rice Terraces, have been called the eighth wonder of the world. The terraces were carved into the Ifugao mountains complete with an irrigation system that taps water from the adjacent forest. Though there is little rice farming on the terraces, tourism is booming as thousands of people come to see the site, as well as interact with the unique Ifugao culture.
8. Zhangjiajie Wulingyuan National Park, China
Zhangjiajie National Park is part of the Wulingyuan Scenic Area in China’s Hunan Province. The park is both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and UNESCO Global Geopark, and offers a variety of attractions including caves, cliffs, pools, waterfalls, and wildlife. Wildlife includes over 3,000 plant species, wild monkeys, and endangered species like the Chinese giant salamander, clouded leopard, and Chinese water deer among others. The park has inspired Chinese painters since ancient times.
7. Santorini, Greece
Santorini is a group of five active volcanic island. The city of Oia is famous for its white cubic buildings and blue roofs, surrounded by a backdrop of deep blue water. It is one of the world's most photographed travel destinations.
6. Patagonia, Chile/Argentina
Patagonia is a region of diverse ecosystems spanning across the borders of Chile and Argentina in the Andes Mountains. Patagonia has two coasts, the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Atlantic Ocean to the east. Some of the most visited attractions within the region include the Valdés Peninsula, Ushuaia, and the Argentine Lake District.
5. Victoria Falls, Zambia/Zimbabwe
Victoria Falls, locally called Mosi-oa-Tunya for "The Smoke that Thunders", is on River Zambezi along the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. Two national parks lie within the area around the falls. As one of the largest waterfalls in the world, the falls spray River Zambezi forest thus giving it “rainfall” 24 hours a day. During the full moon at sunset, the moon’s reflection on the water forms a rainbow (“moonbow”).
4. Fan Mountains, Tajikistan
The Fan Mountains, part of the Pamir-Alay mountain system in Tajikistan, has more than 30 beautiful lakes within them, including Kulikalon, Alaudin, Chapdara, Turbid, Piala, and Iskanderkul. These lakes differ in size, depth, purity, and accessibility as some are within narrow gorges. One of the things that make the lakes unique is that they come in varied colors, from dark purple to green.
3. Dark Hedges, Northern Ireland
The Dark Hedges is an avenue of 150 beautifully lined opposing beach trees planted on both sides of Bregagh Road in Northern Ireland making a continuous tunnel-like environment over the narrow road. The Stuart family planted the trees in the eighteenth century, and today their bent trunks and branches give the avenue an otherworldly supernatural feel to an extent that the popular TV series, The Game of Thrones, used the location for filming.
2. Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu, which means “old Mountain”, is an Inca fortress built in the 15th century in the Machupicchu District of Peru above the Sacred Valley. The fortress has three unique structures: the Temple of the Sun, the Intihuatana, and the Room of the Three Windows. During the winter solstice, the Intihuatana ritual stone points directly to the sun. One of the New Seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage site, the architecture fits seamlessly with the mountains, and has close to 200 buildings built parallel to the terraces. Being some of the best masons of their time, the Incas mostly used dry stones that weighed over 50 tons.
1. Kuang Si Falls, Laos
Kuang Si (Xi) Falls is a series of three falls running about 18 miles in Luang Prabang, Laos. The main water waterfall is 200 feet high. To access the venue, there are different trails through the evergreen vegetation and along the pure turquoise streams and pools. Tourists can also visit the nearby villages or can swim in the numerous turquoise water ponds.