Hidden Man-made Wonders of the World
Not all of the world's wonders get the attention they deserve. We searched the globe to find nine marvels that are so awe-inspiring, you'll find it hard to believe that they were crafted by human hands—and so far off the beaten path, chances are you've never heard of them.
A Buddha so large it took 90 years to build: Sichuan, China
It took almost the entire 8th century to carve the 233-foot-tall Leshan Giant Buddha out of a mountainside in central China—about 1,400 miles west of Shanghai (and far out of sight and mind for most travelers)—but the result still stands as one of the world's largest Buddhas. Its ears alone are more than 23 feet in length (that’s the height of a two-story building), and even its smallest toe is large enough to sit on comfortably. But it’s not only the Buddha’s giant scale that’s impressive. On its head are 1,021 intricate, twisted hair buns hiding a complex drainage system that helps preserve the statue. The Mount Emei area itself has enormous religious significance; Buddhism was first introduced to China here. Thrill seekers can get up close to witness the Buddha’s sheer size by navigating down a steep, 250-step zigzag path along its side; those looking to take in the statue from a distance (and see additional figures carved into the cliff) can opt for a boat ride—the statue sits at the confluence of where three rivers meet.
Find your way: Take bus No. 8 from Beinjiang Lu to the north entrance of Mt. Emei Scenic Area, within which the statue is located, or a ferry from the Port of Leshan to the Scenic Area (local bus routes No. 4, 9, and 12 connect Leshan to the port). Alternatively, a bus makes the 100-mile journey from Chengdu's South Gate Bus Terminal to Leshan and local buses run every 10 minutes between Leshan and Emei. Open May–Sept. 7:30 a.m.–7:30 p.m., open Oct.–Apr. 8 a.m.–6 p.m., $12.
A Mayan complex that's still unearthing marvels: El Mirador, Guatemala
The little-known Mirador Basin, hidden among 2,000 years of jungle growth in northern Guatemala, is called the Cradle of Maya Civilization—and for good reason. Its five Preclassic Maya cities—El Mirador, Nakbe, Xulnal, Tintal, and Wakna—are each larger and older than the nearby (and far more famous) Tikal by at least 1,000 years. Among their astounding innovations are super-size temples and pyramids, including La Danta, the largest-known pyramid in the world measured by volume, and the remains of the world's first highway system. And there may be more to uncover: Just two years ago, archaeologists discovered a massive limestone frieze that dates back to 200 B.C. But illegal logging and tree clearing to make way for cash crops like corn are threatening the forests (an alarming 70 percent has been destroyed in just a decade). In an effort to preserve the region, an international effort led by the Global Heritage Fund with help from the Guatemalan and U.S. governments is underway to establish an 810,000-acre national park in the region.
Find your way: Tikal Connection Tour Operator offers a five-day trek to El Mirador from Flores in the region of Petén, Guatemala. Participants must be in good physical condition, as the trek and tour totals nearly 40 miles; 011-502/42-111-027, from $350 per person.
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