The world is full of beautiful and awe-inspiring places, and luckily for us, some of them are located on our very own shores. But of course, some landscapes and sites are more breathtaking than others – and then there are the places that are so magnificent that they’ve been ranked as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. From the imposing peak of Mount Everest to the rocky abyss of the Grand Canyon, all these places are naturally formed and formidably beautiful.
So, whether you’re dreaming of seeing all these places in real life at some point, or you just want to learn more about the world’s natural splendour, here’s your guide to the seven natural wonders of the world.
1. Mount Everest
As the tallest land mountain in the world, Mount Everest is unsurprisingly one of the world’s seven natural wonders. Located on the border of Nepal and Tibet, China, this mighty mountain goes by two other names: Chomolungma in Tibetan, which means ‘Goddess Mother of the World’, and Sagarmatha in Nepalese, which means ‘Peak of Heaven’.
Standing at 8,848.86 metres (29,031.7 feet) above sea level, Mount Everest is the highest spot on the planet, and because shifting tectonic plates continue to push it up, it’s still growing taller each year. For the local people, Mount Everest holds sacred values, and it was long thought to be the home of the gods. Today, many visitors to the Himalayas still feel a sense of spirituality in the mountains.
Because climbing Everest is so expensive (it costs between £24,000 and £120,000) – not to mention dangerous – climbing it isn’t on most people’s bucket lists. But if you’ve always dreamed of seeing the world’s highest point up close, you can always take a helicopter tour close to the peak, where the views of the jagged, looming peak will take your breath away.
Alternatively, if you fancy a challenge, you could always think about doing the Everest Base Camp trek, which is hugely popular. The trek takes you through the heartland of the Himalayas, providing stunning vistas of the surrounding mountains, including Everest itself. It takes around 12 days to complete, so it’s no mean feat, but it will certainly be an experience you remember forever.
2. The Great Barrier Reef
Located off the northeastern coast of Queensland, Australia, the Great Barrier Reef is another natural wonder of the world. Stretching 2,600 kilometres and taking up 344,000 square kilometres, the Great Barrier Reef is the largest structure ever built by living things and is so vast that it can be seen from space. For perspective, it’s about the size of the UK, Holland, and Switzerland – combined.
Made up of more than 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands, the Great Barrier Reef is home to some of the world’s most spellbinding marine life. Thanks to its size, the reef is incredibly biodiverse, and more than 1,500 species of fish, 400 species of coral, and many of the ocean’s most vulnerable and endangered species seek shelter in the reef’s protection.
This magical underwater world blazes with life and colour, and beneath clear turquoise waters are vibrant pink coral reefs and brightly coloured tropical fish. Sadly, warming seas pose an increasing threat to this vital ecosystem, and coral bleaching has already killed huge swathes of coral – estimated to be around 50%.
However, there are responsible ways to see the Great Barrier Reef, and much of the tourism now focuses on education, as well as marvelling at the beauty of the reef. You can arrange sustainable snorkel or dive trips to the reef, take a glass bottom boat tour, or even jump in a helicopter to see the incredible scale of the reef from above.
3. The Grand Canyon
The wonders of the world are meant to take your breath away – and there are few visitors to the Grand Canyon who aren’t left dumbstruck at its sheer size and beauty. Arizona’s most famous attraction draws five million visitors each year, and it’s not hard to see why: standing at the rim of this immense canyon as its vast abyss unfolds beneath you is a truly unforgettable experience.
The beauty of the Grand Canyon is hard to describe. This is a place of extremes – a place where the blazing desert sun gives way to impenetrable shadow, and where jutting sandstone peaks loom over unnervingly low chasms. The colours are just as striking too: the rugged rocks are various shades of reds, ochres, and yellows, and beneath the blue Arizona sky, it looks more like a painting than reality.
The facts of the Grand Canyon are just as impressive as the aesthetics. At around two billion years old – roughly half the age of Earth itself – the canyon is 277 miles long and one mile deep. Up to 18 miles wide at some points, it covers an area of more than 9.5 million square miles, and at the bottom of the canyon, the rushing waters of the Colorado River continue to carve away at the gorge.
If you’ve always wanted to visit the Grand Canyon, there are many ways to explore it. To appreciate its staggering size, you might want to take a helicopter ride over the canyon, or if you’re a thrillseeker you might prefer to raft through the whitewater rapids of the Colorado River. If you enjoy hiking, there are many trails that take you right into the canyon itself.
4. Aurora Borealis
Of all the natural wonders of the world, none are so mysterious as the aurora borealis. Also known as the Northern Lights, there are few other natural phenomena that seem quite so magical as aurora borealis, and witnessing this natural light display is on many people’s bucket lists. But this is much easier said than done because the Northern Lights are as elusive as they are mysterious.
Usually appearing as emerald green wisps that dance across the sky (though sometimes they can be reddish) the Northern Lights have intrigued humans for millennia. While we now know the lights are caused by ‘solar winds’ (energised particles from the sun colliding into Earth’s atmosphere) Greek, Roman, Norse, and Native American mythology all speculate on the causes of these heavenly lights.
Unfortunately for people who want to see the Northern Lights in person, they’re notoriously hard to catch, mainly because they’re so unpredictable. The chances of seeing the lights (and their intensity) increase the closer towards the North Pole you go – so Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Alaska, and Canada’s far north are your best bet. October through to March is usually the best time.
If you want to glimpse these mesmerising lights as they flicker across the sky, there are many tours you can take – though it’s important to understand that there are no guarantees of seeing the lights. However, these trips take you to such dazzling destinations, from the desolate beauty of the Arctic to the colourful city of Reykjavik, that there’s little room for disappointment if the lights do elude you.
5. Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls might not be the highest waterfall in the world. Neither is it the widest. But as anyone who’s witnessed the colossal power and awesome beauty of these falls can attest, it’s undeniably the most spectacular. Located on the borders of Zimbabwe and Zambia, this one-mile curtain of water is the largest flowing sheet of water in the world when its height and width are considered together.
The local name for Victoria Falls is Mosi-oa-Tunya – which means ‘Smoke that Thunders’ – and when you bear in mind that you can hear the fierce thundering of the falls long before you see them, you realise how appropriate this name is. As the cascading waters crash into the chasm below, rainbows often arch above them, a phenomenon that can be seen at night, when they’re called moonbows.
There are many ways to appreciate the splendour of Victoria Falls, and it can be hard to choose whether to visit the Zimbabwean side or the Zambian. Zimbabwe is home to the lion’s share of the falls, including the magnificent Main Falls – but on the Zambian side, you get to admire a whole other perspective on the falls, and can also climb down to the ‘Boiling Pot’ by the river’s edge.
A great way to see the falls in all their glory is to take a helicopter ride or microlight tour – plus, from the air, you have a good chance of seeing wildlife like elephants, who live in the surrounding national parks. Or, if you like to test your limits, you can even go for a dip in the Devil’s Pool, which is located precipitously close to the edge of the Zambian falls!
6. Paricutín Volcano
At first glance, Paricutín Volcano might seem rather out of place on a list of the seven wonders of the world. After all, we’ve all heard of Mount Everest and the Grand Canyon – but there are many people who haven’t even heard of this volcano, which is located in Michoacán, Western Mexico. When you consider that this volcano has only existed since 1943, its inclusion becomes even more puzzling.
But it’s precisely the fact that Paricutín is so new that makes it one of the wonders of the world. As the youngest volcano in the world, Paricutín is also the only volcano whose birth was witnessed by humans. As a local farmer ploughed his cornfield in 1943, the ground began to shake and spray hot ash and steam, and in front of his eyes, a volcano began to emerge from the depths of the earth.
Within its first year alone, Paricutín grew hundreds of metres, and today it stands at 2,800 metres tall. Following its birth, it erupted continually for nine years before finally falling silent in 1952, and because this cinder cone volcano is also a monogenetic volcano, it can only ever erupt once. Today Paricutín is classified as a dormant volcano – which makes it much easier to explore!
If you want to explore Paricutín, the best way is to hike up it. This 14km trek isn’t short, but while the ascent is challenging at times, it’s an exhilarating hike which includes a scramble over sandy banks and lava fields. Thankfully, the descent is much easier. You can even spot the partially buried church of San Juan Parangaricutiro, which was buried by Paricutín as it emerged from the ground.
7. The Harbour of Rio de Janeiro
The Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro enjoys one of the most dramatically beautiful settings imaginable – and it’s this majestic backdrop which has earned it a place on this list. Surrounded by quartz and granite mountains that are shrouded in greenery, the Harbour of Rio de Janeiro is the largest bay in the world, and visitors to this city are frequently left speechless by its magnificence.
Another reason this harbour is so special is that depending on the angle you see it from, its looks can be deceptive. Seen from the mountains, it looks like a lake, not a bay – yet when the Portuguese first arrived in 1502, they thought the bay was a river. This is where the name comes from; Rio de Janeiro means ‘River of January’ because January is the month the explorers arrived.
Over thousands of years, the Atlantic Ocean carved out the unique shape of Rio’s harbour, and this astonishing landscape is surrounded by iconic sights like Sugar Loaf Mountain, the Tijuca hills, and Corcovado Peak. The statue of Cristo Redentor – also known as Christ the Redeemer – rises up from Corcovado and gazes out onto the bay, arms outstretched, as if admiring its jaw-dropping beauty.
The best way to see the seventh natural wonder of the world is to take the cable car up to Sugar Loaf Mountain, where dizzying views of the bay, with its azure seas, white sand beaches, and forested mountains, will unfold beneath you. You can also take the train up to Tijuca National Park, where not only can you get up close to Christo Redentor, but you can also enjoy panoramic views of the harbour.
From the tallest mountain in the world to the largest living ecosystem, and the intrigue of the Northern Lights to the volcano that rose before humanity’s eyes, it’s not hard to see why these specific places or natural phenomena are classed as world wonders.
With international travel once again a reality, experiencing the beauty and majesty of these natural wonders might be easier than you think.
Whether you’re dreaming of a road trip through the Grand Canyon National Park or a trek along the Himalayas, seeing a natural wonder in real life will definitely be an experience you won’t forget in a hurry.