10 Amazing Places You Won't Believe Are on Earth
Obsessed with images from the Mars Rover? Turns out you don't have to go intergalactic to see extraterrestrial terrain. These 10 spots may look like they are on another planet, but they are right here on earth.
Rivers that run red. Blinding white landscapes. Cliffs that wave in swirls of orange. No, those aren't works of science fiction. They are wonders of nature that will leave you shaking your head and wondering just how that is possible. The best part? You won't need a spaceship to get there. We've outlined exactly how you can get there-which in most cases is surprisingly easy.
Salt Flats, Bolivia
The name says it all. This blindingly white landscape in central Bolivia really is salt. Also known as Salar de Uyuni, the area is said to have been created about 30,000 years ago when Lago Minchin dried up, leaving the salt behind. Today, 10 billion tons remain spread across around 4,000 square miles, where it cracks in naturally occurring hexagonal designs. Go during the rainy season (January to March) and the thin layer of water spread over the flats creates the illusion of a never-ending mirror.
See it for yourself: The salt flats are just outside the mining town of Uyuni, about an hour's flight from La Paz. Many tour companies do day trips as well as overnight trips to the flats. Natour's two-day tour includes hikes for the best views of the flats and an overnight at the Tayka Salt Hotel, which is made almost entirely of—you guessed it—salt (uyuni.com.bo, from $385 per person including hotel stay, transportation, English-speaking guide, and admission fees).
The Chocolate Hills, The Philippines
Local lore has it that the mounds on the Philippine island of Bohol were formed from the tears of a giant who fell in love with a local girl. The scientific reason behind the formation of the limestone hills is likely far less romantic (though geologists have not been able to reach a conclusion on the hills' origin). Alas, this is not a Willy Wonka paradise. The name comes from the brown color of the mounds in the winter. If you go in the summer, they will be a vibrant green. Either way, the more than 1,200 conical hills, which vary between around 100 and almost 40 feet high, are a site to behold.
See it for yourself: Bohol's main town of Tagbilaran is a little over an hour from Manila by air. Multiple companies offer daily flights, including Philippine Airlines (philippineairlines.com, from around $50 each way). There is also a ferry from the mainland town of Cebu that is two hours to Tagbilaran (supercat.com.ph, around $13 each way). Once on the island, you can take the bus to Carmen and hike up to an observation platform to see the hills. Or go farther inland to the Grand Luis Lodge on Sagbayan Peak, where the hills will be right out your window (grandluislodge.com, from $55 per night).
Rio Tinto, Spain
Rio Tinto literally translates to Red River, and it is not a misnomer. The 62-mile-long river does run red and the banks look downright lunar as well. The cause? A combination of rare bacteria, a low oxygen count, and pollution from mining for gold, silver, and copper—which has been going on since 3,000 B.C. The river and landscape in this area of southwestern Spain are so Martian that NASA scientists have studied the composition.
See it for yourself: There is daily bus service to the town of Riotinto from Seville, connecting through the town of Huelva (movelia.es, $19 each way). The trip takes about three hours, not including transfer time. Once in town, head to the Mining Museum where you can book a tour of a mine as well as a train trip along the river to see it in all its crimson glory (parquemineroderiotinto.com, $22 per person for museum admission, mine tour, and train ride).
Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland
Hike down along the coast at the northern end of Northern Ireland and you'll come across a scene that will leave you scratching your head: Hexagonal stones that stacked along the water like the world's largest Qbert set. There are almost 40,000 of the ballast columns, formed 60 million years ago by magma that spewed and cooled along the coast. Some of the columns reach almost 40 feet high, while others are short enough to walk across. One of the most striking sites is the Giant's Organ, a collection of 60 ballasts more than 39 feet high with three shorter tiers, giving the effect of an elaborate organ.