Feature image of Yucatan Cenote; photo credit: spotmydive.com

Travel Guide: Surreal and Otherworldly Destinations that Exist on Earth

As humans, we’re curious by nature. We are constantly in search of the next extraordinary find. Therefore, we read books, watch films and play games to discover new worlds. Not only for entertainment, but in order to explore the fascinating and surreal new worlds they create.

However, you don’t need to only watch movies or read books to discover new places. Here are some incredibly surreal and otherworldly destinations you can travel to – or just simply marvel at – right here on our planet.

1. Marble Caves in Patagonia, Chile

Marble Caves; photo credit: funlifecrisis.com
Marble Caves; photo credit: funlifecrisis.com

What are the Marble Caves?

The Marble Caves – as its name suggests – are caves made of marble. It is also commonly called Capillas de Marmol. These caves are saturated with hues of blue, green, yellow, white and grey, reflecting into turquoise water.

The caves were formed over a period of 6000 years as water crashed against calcium carbonate and decomposed the walls of the caves. Consequently, it slowly formed intricate cave and tunnel systems to create the Marble Caves we know today.

The mineral-rich water is what gave the cave walls their vibrant colours. Sunny days near the Marble Caves allow for the minerals in the water to turn the water a stunning blue colour.

Where is it located?

These mesmerizing caves are situated in the middle of General Carrera Lake in Southern Chile. The caves are divided into three parts: the Marble Cave, the Cathedral, and the Chapel. These unique caves are isolated and protected in its area, permitting visitors to tour the caves via kayak or boat. This is the best way to explore the remote caves if you want to get a close view.

When is the best time to go?

Typically, the ideal time to travel to these unique caves would be in the summer – from December to March. The weather is much warmer during this time. It is also less windy, which allows for boat rides to go much smoother. Bright days also allow the sunlight that reflects onto the water to make the lake a beautiful turquoise colour.

Furthermore, visiting the lake before noon is also the best decision. Not only would you witness a beautiful sight of the sun illuminating the caves and surrounding lake – but there are fewer winds, making it a much less rocky ride and way more comfortable.

2. Fingal’s Cave in Scotland, UK

Fingal's Cave; photo credit: Joe Cornish Gallery
Fingal’s Cave; photo credit: Joe Cornish Gallery

What is Fingal’s Cave?

Fingal’s cave is an awe-inspiring natural wonder. It is a sea cave lined with basalt hexagonal columns. Six-sided pillars form the interior wall and broken columns provide a walkway into the darker corners of the grey rock cave tinged with seafoam green. The ceiling of the cave has a honeycomb structure 72 feet above the sea level, while its interior is 270 feet deep. Its arched roof allows the waves crashing into the cave to echo into hypnotic melody – much like a sound resonating through a cathedral. This melody inspired German composer, Felix Mendelssohn’s, Hebrides overture.

Many believe that the cave formed during the continental drift between Scotland and America. Huge amounts of molten magma rose through the Earth’s crust, forming this complex structure.

Where is it located?

This sea cave is located on the Isle of Staffa, an uninhabited island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. While touring the cave, you may spot many beautiful species of birds such as puffins, red guillemots, and fulmars. You may also witness sea life such as dolphins, porpoises and minke whales on the boat trip there. It’s a truly magical experience.

When is the best time to go?

If you plan to visit this cave, be sure to book a tour between April and October. The temperature is a lot more bearable during this time and fewer storms occur. Spring (April until June) has the most pleasant weather to see this attraction. September may be just as good too. July and August are a pleasurable time to visit too. Although rain occurs often during the warmer months, which makes for a rocky boat trip to the caves. Moreover, it might not be safe exploring inside the sea cave during this time when the waves are choppy and violently crashing against cave walls.

3. Darvaza Crater in Karakum Desert, Turkmenistan

Darvaza Gas Crater; photo credit: Tormod Sandtorv – Flickr
Darvaza Gas Crater; photo credit: Tormod Sandtorv – Flickr

What is the Darvaza Crater?

The Darvaza Crater is located in the Karakum Desert. This desert is filled with sun-scorched sand dunes that cover 70% of the land. Travel to the north-central plain of the desert, though, and you’ll find a truly surreal site: the Darvaza Crater. It is also commonly known as the ‘Gates of Hell’. This huge molten gas pit burns ceaselessly and has been for decades.

Originally, Soviet geologists were drilling for oil in the desert in 1971 when they accidentally hit a pocket of natural gas. The event resulted in the ground collapsing and forming three large sinkholes. Thus, in an attempt to prevent methane from leaking into the atmosphere, the geologists lit one of them on fire, believing it would burn out in weeks. However, that was not the case. The crater has not stopped burning to this day, gaining its reputation as the ‘Gates of Hell’ or ‘Door to Hell’.

This pit has a diameter of 230 feet and a depth of 98 feet – with a blistering heat of 207 degrees Fahrenheit (97.2 degrees celsius). The flames of this hellish inferno burn so hot that only one man has made it to its deepest depths to explore its inhabitants. In 2013, the Canadian explorer, George Kourounis, had to wear a custom-made fire-resistant suit with an oxygen tank. Even so, he briefly lost consciousness as his teammates roped him out of the crater. Kourounis states that just standing on the edge of the crater felt like he was being baked in an oven.

Where is it located?

The fiery crater is located in the Karakum Desert of Turkmenistan. This desert covers roughly 70% of the country. Its capital city is 170 miles away from the crater – approximately a 3-hour trip. However, some tour guides have campsites just near the crater so that you can enjoy the sight at night without having to drive back during the night.

When is the best time to go?

The best time to travel to this surreal destination is in the evening to late night when you can see the orange flames burning its brightest and lighting up the desert sky. If you’re camping near the crater, you’ll also get to see a breathtaking desert sunrise. It’s advised that you visit during the spring or autumn, as the weather isn’t too hot or cold. Visits are permitted in the summer as well, although it is extremely hot in the Karakum desert during that time.

4. Skaftafell Ice Cave, Iceland

Skaftafell Blue Ice Cave; photo credit: photos.skarpi.is
Skaftafell Blue Ice Cave; photo credit: photos.skarpi.is

What is Skaftafell Ice Cave?

Skaftafell’s Blue Ice Cave is probably one of the most beautiful sights you’ll encounter. It is a breathtakingly stunning cave with smooth crystal ice walls. Visit this naturally formed blue-black ice cave in Iceland and witness the unique glaciers and moulins in all its magnificence.

The caves of Iceland were formed as a result of glacial mill. This is when water streams (created from rain and melted water) on the surface flow into a cave’s ice crevices. Sequentially, it formed long glacial walls, glistening with deep shades of blue. However, to form the actual caves, heavy and cold winds must blow into a small hole in the center of the cave. This hole widens with time to create a hollow cave with intricate tunnel systems and watery glass walls.

While this cave is very beautiful, it is also very fragile and constantly changing due to the weather and glaciers. Some ice caves even collapse after some time. Therefore, it is important never to travel to these caves alone. Tour guides are incredibly useful as they not only can advise you on which caves are safest to visit, but they also know the safest routes to take and may provide you with protective gear to keep safe.

Where is Skaftafell Ice Cave located?

This ice cave is located in the Skaftafell nature reserve in south-east Iceland. It is atop Vatnajökull glacier, Europe’s largest glacier – which is also home to Iceland’s highest mountain range.

When is the best time to go?

The best time to visit these caves is in the winter, from mid-November to the end of March. This works best as the glaciers are below zero degrees, which makes the glaciers and ice caves much safer to explore.

5. Antelope Canyon, USA

Antelope Canyon; photo credit: Sky Sajjaphot - Shuttershock
Antelope Canyon; photo credit: Sky Sajjaphot – Shuttershock

What is Antelope Canyon?

Antelope Canyon is an almost surreal and extremely photogenic location. Its smooth orange-red walls are illuminated by sunbeams peaking through the top of the long, narrow rock pathways.

The Antelope Canyon was formed as flash-flooding eroded the sandstone, eventually creating beautiful passageways. Its smooth textures were shaped by rain and wind that passed through the narrow rock walls. Rain and floods continue to forge more pathways even today.

If you’re interested in touring this cave, you’ll need to know that the canyon is separated into two sections, namely: upper canyon and lower canyon. You also cannot explore these passageways without a guide. You could either choose to explore only one of the two sections or both. The upper canyon is a lot more picturesque. Many photographers choose to tour this section because direct sunlight radiates perfectly onto the vibrant rock walls. The lower section is just as beautiful, but with fewer sunbeams peaking through.

Where is Antelope Canyon?

This slot canyon is situated in Arizona, a few kilometers away from Page. You may even see Horseshoe Bend nearby. This is another spectacular natural wonder – a meander in the form of a horseshoe. The river’s emerald shade contrasts strikingly with the burnt orange cliffs that surround it.

When is the best time to go?

Make sure to visit this unique location between April and September as the sun is out on most days during those months. The best time of day to tour the canyon would be between 11:30 a.m and 1 p.m. This is when the sun is highest in the sky and radiates beams of light down the narrow passages. A truly surreal sight.

6. Yucatan Cenotes, Mexico

Yucatan Cenotes; photo credit: pin and travel
Yucatan Cenotes; photo credit: pin and travel

What is a Yacatan Cenote?

Cenotes are uniquely shaped holes in the earth, filled with crystal clear water and aquamarine life. The water is surrounded by earthy rock walls, greenery blooming from its cracks. At the top of these walls is a circular hole, plant life pouring down into the crater gracefully. Beams of sunlight radiate down into the hole and give it a magical glow. The sight is so magnificent, like something out of a mystical fantasy.

Yucatan cenotes are probably the most beautiful cenotes you’ll ever come across. These natural underground pools were formed over the centuries by erosion. Rain broke down the limestone bedrock and caused the ground to cave inwards, creating a hole in the earth. As a result, this hole, over time, filled with water from underground rivers or rain. While they may have been formed the same way, no two cenotes look alike. Many come in all shapes and sizes, with different underwater passages and cave systems. Some may even possess stalactites and stalagmites.

Depending on the cenote’s size and depth of its water, one may be provided with the opportunity to snorkel, swim or dive in these pools.

Where are the Yucatan Cenotes located?

This otherworldly natural wonder can be found in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. The region is home to over 6000 cenotes due to its limestone ground perfect for the creation of these mystical swimming pools.

When is the best time to go?

Cenotes are clearest between November and March, but if you’re looking to visit when prices are lower, November to early December is the best time to go. The weather is also most enjoyable during this time, considering how hot temperatures are most of the year. During the busy season from mid-December to April, the prices are noticeably higher.

Why you should visit these natural wonders

Darvaza Crater; photo credit: traveltriangle.com
Darvaza Crater; photo credit: traveltriangle.com

While seeing these surreal destinations on a screen may be satisfying, nothing compares to physically being there. Imagine feeling the wind brush your skin and tasting the salty sea air as you explore the geometric structure of Fingal’s cave. If being at sea isn’t for you, perhaps being embraced by the warm atmosphere while you watch the sun set behind ethereal sand dunes at the Darvaza Crater will offer you a sense of bliss. The sight definitely is.

There are countless more beautiful and fascinating destinations that exist on Earth. It only shows how truly phenomenal nature is. This is your sign to visit these beautiful places and create unforgettable memories.

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References

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Beyond Info. (28/06/2020) “Marble Caves in Chile (Unbelievable Caves that Actually Exists)” youtube.com

Hartrick, A. Ozynska, D. (11/06/2021) “The Darvaza Crater: The USSR’s top-secret desert mystery” bbc.com

Wilson, M. (23/01/2020) “Astonishing photos show the Gates of Hell, a fiery gas crater that’s been burning for decades in the Turkmenistan desert” insider.com

Caravanistan. (11/02/2021) “How to visit the Door to Hell in Turkmenistan” caravanistan.com

Provozin, E. (13/07/2020) “The Gates of Hell (Darvaza Gas Crater)” rove.me

Iversen, M. P. (25/09/2018) “HOW to visit ICE CAVES in ICELAND, 2019 | 4K” youtube.com

Troll Expeditions. (n.d) “Skaftafell Blue Ice Cave & Glacier Hike” troll.is

Planet Dolan. (06/05/2014) “15 Surreal & Otherwordly Places on Earth” youtube.com

Haranya, S. (28/07/2021) “Top Attractions of Ice Caves in Iceland – No.1 Guide to Ice Tour!” pickyourtrail.com

Treader Tube. (05/07/2015) “Fingal’s Cave” youtube.com

Mariani, C. (18/03/2020) “Where is Fingal’s Cave?” wildernessscotland.com

Salama, D. (07/11/2020) “Awe-Inspiring Myths And Facts About Fingal’s Cave” awe-inspiringplaces.com

besttime2travel. (n.d) “Fingal’s Cave on Isle of Staffa” besttime2travel.com

Lessard, K. (19/07/2021) “The ultimate guide to visiting Antelope Canyon (Upper & Lower)” authentikusa.com

Weather & Climate. (29/03/2021) “Cenote dive in Yucatan” weather-and-climate.com

spotmydive. (12/09/2016) “Descubre las mejores cenotes de México” spotmydive.com

Pin and Travel. (23/04/2018) “Everything you need to know about the best cenotes Mexico has to offer” barcelo.com

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