If you’re like me, exploring the world and all its deepest corners is one of your biggest wishes. The only problem is where to start? There’s hundreds of stunning places calling out to the traveler in you. Here are a few ideas to get you started!
MALY SEMYACHIK, RUSSIA
Located in Eastern Russia, Maly Semyachik is a small volcano range around 2 miles in length. The name Semyachik can be translated to “stone-land” or “mountain-land” in Russian. It is best known for the blue-green lake located in one of its craters which has multi-colored rock. The descent to the bottom of Troitsky crater to get a better look at the lake is a little love 2,000 feet long and can only be attempted from the north side. The hike to the lake ends around 65 feet above the lake as it is highly acidic and around 85 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit. The lake itself is over 1,500 feet in diameter and 460 feet deep and never freezes, even when the rest of the mountains are covered with snow. Many tours, hikes and even helicopter rides are offered to visit this magnificent lake hidden in the crater of the only active volcano left in the area. Although it may sound dangerous, Maly Semyachik is a beautiful place to visit.
MAGICAL HALLE FOREST, BELGIUM
Covered with a carpet of bluebells and a hazy fog, the Halle Forest in Belgium looks like it came right out of a fairy tale. The Japanese name for this forest translates to “The Forest of Spring.” The flowers, known for their radiant blue and purple color, bloom in the spring and parts of summer and manage to change the color of the entire forest floor. This area is also home to a wide variety of wildlife, from red squirrels climbing up and down the trees to tiny tadpoles in the ponds. The forest itself is centuries old, but the trees were planted a little after World War I. Halle Forest, located near the bustling city of Brussels, attracts many photographers during the magic hour when the flowers coating the forest floor look best. While getting to this area may be hard, it is a breathtaking place for photographers and those fascinated with fairy tale views.
GRAND TSINGY, MADAGASCAR
Imagine walking into a maze of stone, surrounded by 300 foot razor-sharp walls made of limestone and beautiful greenery around you. Grand Tsingy — meaning “where one cannot walk” — is a forest made of limestone in western Madagascar. It is home to 11 different types of lemurs and hundreds of species of birds. Tsingy is extremely remote and getting to this complex tangle of rocks could take a couple of days, but the walk inside stone that has been shaped by years of rainwater and streams makes it worthwhile. The best time to visit is from April to November, during the area’s dry season. Walking this area is like trying to climb up a building on one side and down the other which makes it a very strenuous hike. However, Grand Tsingy is one of the most unique places in the world and definitely deserves a visit.
ZHANGYE DANXIA, CHINA
In the northern foothills of the Qilian Mountains in China is a range of mountains painted all the vibrant colors of a rainbow. Even looking at pictures of this place feels unreal. The mountains were formed by volcanic rock and minerals which gives them their bright color. During the summer months of June to September, the cool weather provides a great atmosphere for tourists. One of the best parts of a visit is watching the sunrise from a platform where you can see the entire park spread in front of you. During sunset, you can see a scenic spot called “the mountain of swords and the sea of flames” — called so because the levels of color in the mountains is distinctive — from certain platforms in the park. It is best to note that sunrise and sunset times change throughout the year so check before visiting. Zhangye Danxia offers views that will amaze you for the rest of your life!
PANGONG TSO LAKE, INDIA
Hidden in the folds of the Himalayan mountain range exists a place where water meets sky. Pangong Tso — which means “high grassland lake” in Chinese — is a lake that extends from India to China. As it is on the border of India and China, a permit must be obtained before visiting. It is only a seven-hour drive — along a scenic mountain road with spectacular sights of local animals, rivers and several small villages — from Leh in northern India. At night, the sky above the lake is littered with stars that can be seen from various tent-like hotels that visitors can stay in. A great time to visit would be between June and September or in winter when the lake completely freezes over. It’s prominence in “3 Idiots,” a popular Hindi movie, brings hordes of tourists and causes the lake to get a little overcrowded during popular months. However, the sight of the lake and the sounds of the water hitting the sand make it worth the long drive and the crowds. Pangong Tso Lake is a definite must see!
VAADHOO ISLAND, MALDIVES
Due to its magnificent glowing waves, the “sea of stars” surrounding Vaadhoo Island in Maldives is a unique place to visit. The beaches, which are perfect year round, begin to turn fluorescent as nightfall comes, looking like a reflection of the full sky of stars above. Its gorgeous sparkling colors makes the sight of it almost magical. Scuba divers can also experience this phenomenon from under the water. The presence of phytoplankton in the water gives it this amazing luminescence. This rare occurrence is present in other areas around the world as well, including the Lakshadweep Islands in India and Mosquito Bay in Puerto Rico.
SWING AT THE END OF THE WORLD, ECUADOR
As children, I’m sure we all enjoyed being pushed on swings in playgrounds and today, we look at them wistfully. Deep in the trees of Ecuador is a swing that gives every person the feeling that they’re going to fall off the edge of the world. It’s a simple metal plank held by two long pieces of rope hanging off a tree called Casa de Arbol, which translates to “the treehouse.” This swing is located 8,500 feet above sea level over a steep cliff and offers the most terrifying ride of your life, with no safety nets or harnesses. It is meant to be a monitoring point for the nearby active volcano, Mount Tungurahua. Although very dangerous, it beckons people who crave the adrenaline rush and amazing views. This is one ride that’s definitely meant for adults, but it’s an adventure you cannot miss out on!
THE GREAT BLUE HOLE, BELIZE
This is a sinkhole that lies near the center of Lighthouse Reef in Belize. Named as one of the top 10 places to scuba dive in the world, it’s mostly popular among divers who welcome the opportunity of diving into its clear waters to see a variety of sea creatures such as midnight parrot fish and bull sharks. The marine life alone makes this majestic natural sinkhole a worthwhile trip. The hole itself is circular in shape and is around 1,000 feet across and 400 feet deep, making it the largest natural sinkhole in the world. Another popular activity in this area for those who don’t want to snorkel or dive is to take a flying tour overhead. The inland Blue Hole in Belize, located at the very center of the country, is another option for those who want to swim without being in open waters.
SALAR DE UYUNI, BOLIVIA
Created out of prehistoric lakes, Salar de Uyuni — the world’s largest salt flat — is over 4,000 square miles. It is covered with a few layers of salt and contains over 50 percent of the world’s lithium content. This area is so popular because, in the rainy season, its flat surface transforms into the world’s largest mirror — so bright that even satellites in space have to focus on it to calibrate. This provides opportunities for some amazing pictures to take back home after your vacation. The other attraction in this area is the train graveyard that is connected to the city of Uyuni by train tracks. Trains from the end of the 19th century lie there, rusting more and more every year. This is a spectacular sight that you should definitely add to your list of places to go.
PIG BEACH, BAHAMAS
You’ve heard of swimming with the dolphins, sharks and manatees. But have you heard of swimming with the pigs? On a small uninhabited island called Exume on Big Major Cay are a family of friendly pigs that love to greet visitors. this is an incredibly unique place to visit, yet many people have never heard of Pig Beach. Theories vary on how the pigs actually got on the island, but now they love swimming with tourists and survive off the food that visitors feed them. Due to the number of people visiting these adorable creatures, it’s recommended to go with a tour to make sure that you’re going to the right island. The real island is approximately a two-hour boat ride away from the Bahamas, but many imitation “pig beaches” have popped up around the area. If you love friendly furry buddies, this is a place you have to add to your bucket list.