Places on Earth That Don’t Look Real
Some places you just have to see to believe. Earth is full of incredible destinations with mind-blowing and surreal landscapes, from China’s rainbow mountains to Mexico’s cave of crystals.
Your eyes will tell you the natural wonders on this list must be from sci-fi movies or paintings, but they actually exist. Check out places on Earth that don’t look real.
Tianzi Mountain, China
Skyscrapers or mountains? Millions of years of erosion created Tianzi Mountain. Most mountains are shaped like big humps, but Tianzi looks like towers from a different world. Located in the Hunan Province of China, the sandstone peaks are surrounded by flowers, vegetation and wildlife.
During the rainy season, the landscape gets covered in fog and becomes an even more impressive scene. The popular tourist attraction has even inspired mountainscapes in movies. In fact, the “Pandora” landscape in the 2009 film Avatar is based on Tianzi Mountain.
Mendenhall Caves, Alaska
Juneau, Alaska, is home to the mesmerizing Mendenhall Glacier and ice caves. Water running through and over the glacier forms the caves, producing the dream-like passageway. To access the caves, travelers can hike in or kayak to the side of the ice and climb the glacier.
Unfortunately, the glacier is melting due to rising temperatures on the planet. This means the jaw-dropping blue walls will likely disappear soon too. If you want to wander the Mendenhall ice caves, it’s best to do it sooner rather than later.
The Door to Hell, Turkmenistan
One of the spookiest destinations in the world is found in Derweze, Turkmenistan. The Darvaza gas crater, notoriously known as the “Door to Hell,” has a massive depth of 98 feet and a diameter of 226 feet. The hole was created in 1971.
Soviet engineers initially believed it was an oil site. However, after drilling the area, the ground collapsed and leaked poisonous gas. To stop the gas leak, scientists set fire to the crater and predicted the flames would only last a few weeks. They were wrong — the Door to Hell has been burning for decades.
Bioluminescent Beach, the Maldives
The shores along Vaadhoo, an island in the Maldives, shimmer at night, but it’s not due to the reflection of the moon. Thanks to phytoplankton called dinoflagellates, the water sparkles and turns a vivid blue. Dinoflagellates glow due to a chemical reaction.
Scientists discovered that the microorganisms create bioluminescence similar to that of fireflies and crystal jellyfish. The Maldives phenomenon is called the Sea of Stars. Tourists from all over the world travel to Vaadhoo to witness this unique marvel. Would you visit the island to see the shores light up?
Naica Mine, Mexico
“The Cave of the Crystals” sounds (and looks) like a place straight out of a fantasy film. However, the cave is actually located in the Naica Mine of the Mexican state of Chihuahua. The Naica Mine is owned by the world’s largest producer of silver, and lead and zinc are also commonly found in it.
The chamber is also home to enormous selenite crystals. Visitors are prohibited from entering the mine due to its deadly conditions. At 980 feet below the ground, the chamber has 99% humidity levels, which make it difficult to breathe. In fact, researchers without protection can only survive in the cave for 10 minutes.
Chocolate Hills, the Philippines
In the middle of Bohol, an island in the Philippines, there are more than 1,776 uniquely shaped hills. During the dry season, the green grass on the peaks turns brown, resembling chocolate. As a result, the extraordinary landscape earned the name “Chocolate Hills.”
The terrain resembles a field of giant Hershey’s kisses and sounds delicious — in theory. Unfortunately, it’s not made from the sweet treat. Local legend says a heartbroken giant wept in the field and the hills grew where his tears dropped. Scientists believe the hills came from the sea.
Fly Geyser, Nevada
Fly Geyser in Nevada was created by accident. In 1964, a geothermal company unsuccessfully drilled for a well. The company tried to seal the well, but the cover didn’t hold up. Water blew from the well, and minerals that also came out collected and formed the alien-like mounds.
The geothermal geyser is covered with thermophilic algae, which thrive in hot and moist climates. As a result, the algae gives the geyser a beautiful green and red appearance. The Burning Man Project owns the geyser and the surrounding Fly Ranch.
Dragon Blood Trees, Yemen
Socotra is a Yemeni island located 350 miles away from the mainland. The island is secluded and bizarre — you won’t see your average neighborhood tree here. In fact, you’ll see one of the strangest trees in the world: the dragon blood tree.
The trees look like flying saucers, but they produce a red sap that resembles blood (hence their name). The island is home to many unique plants you can’t find anywhere else on Earth, but the dragon blood trees are some of the more notable plants in the region.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
The world’s largest mirror — called Salar de Uyuni — is also the planet’s biggest salt flat. The massive expanse of salt formed after a prehistoric lake dried up. Found among the Andes in Bolivia, Salar de Uyuni covers more than a whopping 4,000 square miles.
Bright salt and rock structures spread across the landscape. Wildlife is rarely seen at the salt flat, but pink flamingos commonly visit the area. During the wet season, the salt flat becomes a shallow lake, mirroring the sky and appearing as a never-ending panorama.
Red Beach, China
Found in Panjin, Liaoning, China, Red Beach is an extraordinary beauty. It also happens to be located in the largest wetland and reed marsh on the planet. Shallow seas and tidelands make up the landscape. The red plant, Suaeda, contributes to the beach’s vibrant color.
Suaeda is one of the few plant species that flourish in highly alkaline soil. In April, the young plant is bright red. The more mature plants develop a deeper shade of red. All kinds of birds and wildlife live in the protected region. In fact, more than 260 types of birds and nearly 400 wild animals call the area home.
Dallol Volcano, Ethiopia
One of East Africa’s most notable features is the Dallol Volcano in Ethiopia. The otherworldly site is so hot that nobody lives there anymore. As a result, Dallol is often referred to as a ghost town. The average annual temperature in Dallol is 95 degrees Fahrenheit — the world record for an inhabited location.
The temperature is something you can’t ignore, but the volcano and hot springs are even more attention-grabbing. It’s hard to keep your eyes off of the striking green and yellow colors and the unique salt and sulfur formations. The water’s chemicals and minerals contribute to the vibrant colors and the structures.
Namib-Naukluft National Park, Namibia
No, you’re not looking at a painting or a picture of Mars. It’s the surreal landscape of Namib-Naukluft National Park, the largest game park in Africa. Some of the most striking elements of the area are the trees and sand dunes.
The skeletal trees and red sand dunes create illusions you won’t believe are real. Iron in the sand oxidized over time, creating the orange and red colors of the dunes. Some dunes’ heights reach up to 1,000 feet. The park is also a spot where some rhinos, giraffes and elephants live.
Glowworm Cave, New Zealand
It’s thousands of fireflies! No, it’s actually…glowworms? The Waitomo Glowworm Caves is a popular tourist attraction in the North Island of New Zealand. It’s famous for its Arachnocampa luminosa, which is a species of fungus gnat that’s native to New Zealand.
Hanging from the cave’s ceiling, the thousands of glowworms use bioluminescent silk to catch prey. Thankfully, their diet consists of only small flies and not humans. If you want to visit this visually stunning attraction, boat rides and guided tours through the magical caves are available.
Painted Dunes, CA
No, this is not an image of another world. Humans also didn’t bring their paintbrushes to create the Painted Dunes. They’re actually all natural. Thousands of years of volcanic activity produced the enchanting colors of the Painted Dunes in Lassen Volcanic National Park.
This California park is just waiting to be explored. Oxidized volcanic ash fell onto the landscape and formed different colors, particularly red and black. Travelers recommend visiting the dunes during the golden hour — the last hour of light before sunset — when the colors really come alive.
Tunnel of Love, Ukraine
One of the most magical places on Earth just might be the Tunnel of Love. Tucked away in Klevan, Ukraine, the tunnel is a 3-mile railway replete with lush greenery. The railway connects Klevan and Orzhiv, and private trains actually still use it.
Forget romantic, long walks on the beach. The Tunnel of Love is popular among couples because of its beautiful green arches and dreamy ambiance. However, visitors must proceed with caution if they plan to take a walk here due to the passing trains.
Monte Roraima, Venezuela/Brazil/Guyana
Is this real life or is this fantasy? Monte Roraima looks like a scene from a fairytale. At the border of Venezuela, Brazil and Guyana, the massive summit is 1,300 feet high. The top of the flat summit often appears as if it’s floating above the clouds.
The summit is an ideal place for extreme hikers to explore, and the easiest path is from the Venezuelan side. Flora and fauna spread across Monte Roraima, and some of the highest waterfalls on the planet flow in this area. Many reports claim Monte Roraima is the inspiration behind Paradise Falls from the Pixar film Up.
Lake Hillier, Australia
Australia is known for its weird animals, but it has unusual bodies of water too. Lake Hillier — a bubble-gum pink lake on Australia’s Middle Island — is a perfect example. The enormous, rosy lake measures 2,000 feet in length and 820 feet in width.
A small shore is the only thing separating the giant lake from the Southern Ocean. This unique body of water is full of mysteries. For instance, scientists don’t have a concrete answer on why the lake is pink, but they believe a microorganism produces the vibrant color.
Tulip Fields, Netherlands
Holland, two provinces in the Netherlands, is home to an endless field of bright tulips, better known as Tulip Fields. These rainbow tulip fields are a breathtaking sight. Some of the most famous artists in the world were inspired to paint the flowers, including Vincent van Gogh.
Tulips are serious business in the Netherlands. In the 16th century, the flowers were so valuable that people spent astonishing amounts of money on single bulbs and even stole them. Today, photographers and flower lovers flock to Tulip Fields for an unbelievable view. The best time to visit is in mid-April, when the flowers are in full bloom.
Tolantongo Hot Springs, Mexico
Tolantongo isn’t a city or a town; It’s a canyon tucked away between cliffs. Some visitors call Tolantongo “Mexico’s ultimate hot spring oasis.” The natural landscape is covered in 30 cozy mineral pools, which are located on the cliffside and in caves.
The nearby volcanic mountains warm up the mineral water. Some of the cascading pools were built by humans, while others were carved naturally by water flow and geological forces. There’s also a hot spring river, a waterfall and tunnels in the valley.
Cave Metro Stations, Sweden
The metro stations in Stockholm, Sweden, aren’t your average train stations. They’re some of the most unique stations in the country due to their exposed bedrock. Tourists often question if they’re actually in a metro station, in a cave or on a strange sci-fi movie set.
Rådhuset metro station, Stockholm’s deepest underground subway, is 67 feet below sea level and looks like a real cave. Some stations paint their organic architecture. Solna centrum metro station radiates in red, while Kungsträdgården metro station is decorated with vivid mosaics.
Horsetail Fall on Fire, CA
No, this waterfall in Yosemite National Park isn’t actually on fire. In late February every year, Horsetail Fall naturally illuminates, but only under certain conditions. When the setting sun hits Horsetail Fall in just the right spot, the waterfall glows a fiery orange.
The waterfall cascades down the El Capitan mountain, dropping 1,570 feet. Thousands of visitors come each year to witness the amazing “firefall.” However, sometimes, Horsetail Fall doesn’t have enough water flow and won’t radiate the sunlight. Fog and clouds can also prevent the spectacle from happening. Those lucky enough to see the event are rewarded with a thrilling sight.
Pamukkale, a gorgeous natural site in Turkey, means “cotton castle.” In the Menderes River valley, Pamukkale is home to shimmering, white limestone found on the frosty mountains. Its bright white colors are due to thermal springs that are rich in calcium.
The thermal paradise has rightfully earned its name. Tourists and locals alike admire the beautiful pools of Pamukkale. The enchanting, calm waters are 94 degrees Fahrenheit, attracting anyone looking to soak in peace. Even better, the region overlooks the stunning city of Denizli.
Snow Cave on the Mutnovsky Volcano, Kamchatka, Russia
Under the Mutnovsky Volcano in Kamchatka, Russia, there’s an icy wonderland. The ice caves offer unearthly views due to their unusual patterns created by volcano-fed hot springs, which flow through the glaciers. Some visitors argue that it’s the most magical cave in the world.
Photographer and local guide Denis Budkov discovered the caves purely by accident. Outside, the volcano and glacier are grey and messy, but inside, the caves are a whole new world. When sunlight shines through the thin walls of the ice caves, enchanting colors and shadows project throughout the interior.
Grand Prismatic Spring, Wyoming
With a diameter of 370 feet and a depth of 160 feet, the Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest hot spring in the U.S. Located in Wyoming, the spring was first discovered in 1839 and was simply described as a “boiling lake.”
Visitors can’t keep their eyes off of the striking colors of the spring, which includes red, orange, yellow, green and blue hues. Microbial mats around the sides of the water produce the spring’s vibrant colors. The middle of the pool is sterile because of the extreme heat, which gives it a natural blue color.
Emerald Ice on Lake Baikal, Russia
Lake Baikal of Russia is mesmerizing all year round, but during winter, it’s even more captivating. The turquoise lake has some of the clearest waters on the planet. It also happens to be the world’s deepest lake, with a depth of almost 5,400 feet.
When the snow comes and the lake freezes over, Lake Baikal resembles a field of massive emeralds. As sunlight gleams through the ice blocks, the gorgeous turquoise hues shine and create a surreal marvel. The ice blocks are formed by temperature changes, the wind and the sun.
Zhangye National Geopark, China
Mother Nature truly flaunts her beauty at Zhangye National Geopark in China. Hiking enthusiasts get an unbelievable treat at the end of the park’s trail. The landscape displays many striking colors, so it’s no surprise visitors often call the park “China’s rainbow mountains.”
The colorful landforms grew from 24 million years worth of mineral deposits and the accumulation of sandstone. Although the site looks like a painting, Earth has created it naturally. Chinese media outlets often vote Zhangye National Geopark as the most beautiful landform in the country.
Lake Natron, Tanzania
Lake Natron is a burning red color due to its alkaline water with pH levels as high as 10.5. The pH is so deadly that it can burn people’s eyes and skin. However, some animals have adapted to living near the site, including flamingoes. The alkaline water comes from the nearby hills.
Lake Natron gained more attention after photographer Nick Brandt released haunting photos of animals at the site. The photos showed animals — mostly birds and bats — that appeared to have turned into stone. However, Brandt believes the animals died in the alkaline lake.
Hang Sơn Đoòng Cave, Vietnam
Hang Sơn Đoòng cave is one of the largest natural caves on the planet. It’s 5.6 miles long and 490 feet deep. Between 2 and 5 million years old, the cave is unlike anything else in the world. It has its own river, jungle and even weather system. Hang Sơn Đoòng cave forms its own clouds.
The cave was originally discovered by a local man in 1991. However, nearby residents found it difficult to enter the site. In 2009, the cave became internationally famous after British cavers explored the entire interior. The journey wasn’t easy. In fact, it involved trekking through jungles, swimming through rivers and climbing down walls with ropes.
The Wave, Arizona
Found in Arizona, The Wave is like nowhere else on Earth. The strange sandstone rock formation looks more like the result of an enormous paintbrush sweeping over the mountains. However, differential erosion actually created the incredible ridges over time.
The Wave is gorgeous throughout the day, but many people enjoy viewing the site at dawn or dusk when the ridges’ shadows are the most dramatic. Only 20 people are allowed to visit The Wave each day because it’s so fragile that the ridges can break.
Found in Norway’s Møre og Romsdal County, Geirangerfjord is a place like no other. The underwater valley features snow-covered mountain peaks, lush vegetation and roaring waterfalls. Two waterfalls that receive a lot of attention are Seven Sisters Falls and the Suitor, which face one another in the fjord.
Travelers highly recommend visiting the UNESCO-protected site during the warmer months, when the landscape pops with color. There are many ways to sightsee the place, including hiking, kayaking, rafting and cycling.
Nā Pali Coast, Hawaii
Hawaii is a state that many people dream about visiting. Eight stunning islands make up the state. If you plan to take a trip there, add Kauai to your bucket list. Kauai is home to one of the most beautiful cliffs in the world.
The colorful Nā Pali Coast features 4,000 feet cliffs along the shoreline and unforgettable views of the blue Pacific Ocean. Travelers can hop on a boat or helicopter to admire the coast. They can even hike the high cliffs.
Spotted Lake, Canada
When you think of a lake, you probably imagine one big body of water. However, Spotted Lake is exactly what it sounds like — a lake with spots! The site features 365 separate pools, which strangely form a mosaic-like design.
Located in the eastern Similkameen Valley of British Columbia, Spotted Lake is highly concentrated with several minerals, including magnesium sulfate, calcium and sodium sulphates. During the summer, the lake evaporates and uncovers colorful residue. Visitors can also walk around to view the incredible spots.
White Sands National Monument, New Mexico
Sand comes in many different colors. In New Mexico, one of their top destinations is known for its unbelievable white sand. As the biggest gypsum deposit in the world, White Sands National Monument is a calm region in the Chihuahuan Desert.
White Sands National Monument has wave-like dunes that glisten and cover 275 square miles. The park is open to the public, but the field of dunes is protected land. Employees make sure the plants and animals that live there are also safe from harm.
The Christ of the Abyss, Several Locations
Diving in the Mediterranean Sea is a very popular activity. One of the reasons is due to a haunting sculpture called the Christ of the Abyss. Located fifty-six feet deep in the sea, the giant masterpiece is a Jesus Christ statue.
Sculptor Guido Galletti actually created more than one piece. One of the artworks is near Grenada while another rests in the waters of Key Largo, Florida. The breeding algae and corrosion gives it a creepy vibe, especially since the statue sits in the dark ocean.
Grüner See, Austria
Grüner See (Green Lake) is an underwater beauty. For most of the year, the lake is only three to seven feet deep. However, travelers say the best time to see this attraction is during spring, when the weather gets hot and the snow melts. At that time, this lake is 35 feet deep, and it’s colors really come alive.
Scuba divers often swam in the lake’s beautiful waters to see the unbelievable features, including a bridge, bench, trails, trees and flora. In other words, it was an underwater dreamland. As soon as July arrives, the water diminishes. The lake was a popular place, but overcrowding and damage have caused the area to close to water sports activities.
Iguazu Falls, Argentina and Brazil
Spreading across Argentina and Brazil, Iguazu Falls is a mega waterfall system. The site has a total of 275 waterfalls, which come from the Iguazu River. The Top 100 Birding Sites of the World calls the whole system is the largest waterfall in the world.
Legend says a deity intended to marry a woman, but she ran away with another lover in a canoe. The angry deity slashed the river, forming Iguazu Falls and sentencing the lovers to a lifetime of pain and suffering.
Giant’s Causeway, Ireland
About 40,000 interlocking basalt columns make up the amazing Giant’s Causeway. Located in Northern Ireland, the stones were formed by an ancient volcanic eruption. The odd landscape is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a National Nature Reserve.
It’s easy to why people think Giant’s Causeway is one of the United Kingdom’s greatest natural wonders. Some of the columns are as high as 40 feet while others are as thick as 92 feet. Owned and managed by the National Trust, this amazing place is free of charge to visitors.
Ruby Falls, Tennessee
Many waterfalls are located outdoors, but have you ever seen an underground waterfall? Cascading at 145 feet, this natural beauty is estimated to be at least 200 million years old. However, the journey to Ruby Falls isn’t quick and easy.
Tour guides are required to attend guests on a long elevator ride to an underground cave. After descending 1,120 feet, they wander through the cave’s famous formations. When the group reaches the waterfall, it’s illuminated with colorful hues.
Hạ Long Bay, Vietnam
Hạ Long Bay is the eye candy of northeast Vietnam. Visitors and locals admire the bay’s emerald waters and massive limestone islands covered in rainforests and wildlife. When the fog rolls in, the bay is even more enchanting. It looks like you’re entering a hidden world.
Boat tours and sea kayak journeys are the best ways to take in this dreamy marvel. Visitors also enjoy scuba diving, rock climbing and hiking around the bay. Don’t believe this picturesque beauty is real? Go see this natural wonder for yourself.
Kjeragbolten isn’t a regular boulder. The 180-cubic-foot rock is actually a glacial deposit stuck between a mountain crevice, dangling more than 3,228 feet high. It looks like it can fall down at any moment. Sounds unsafe, right?
Tourists actually flock to this destination to take a picture with the rock, especially standing on top of it. Daring photographers and Instagrammers easily get on the rock without any special equipment. It’s also a popular spot for BASE jumping.