The world is big, beautiful, and astonishingly diverse – but it’s also packed with natural sights and phenomena that can quite literally take your breath away. From colourful mountains to mysterious rock formations, and glittering caves to all kinds of wildlife wonders, some things just have to be seen to be believed.

So, if you’re looking to see more of our weird and wonderful world, and want to tick experiencing a few of the planet’s most impressive phenomena off your bucket list, we’ve got you covered. Here are 12 incredible natural phenomena and where to see them.

1. Bioluminescent beach, Maldives

Bioluminescent beach, Maldives

The Maldives is famous for its sweeping white sand beaches, which are among the most dazzling in the world. But, at night, many of these become even more spectacular, thanks to a phenomenon known as bioluminescence. The warm waters are home to organisms known as bioluminescent plankton, which emit light when the water is unsettled, creating a magical, ethereal effect.

As the waves break on the shore, the waters glitter with sparkling blue lights that turn the inky ocean into a sea of stars – and as you walk along the wet sand, your feet will leave glittering blue footprints, as though you’re walking through radioactive fairy dust. Both the beach and sea look like they’re lit up with millions of tiny fairy lights, making this already-romantic destination even more idyllic.

2. The Sardine Run, South Africa

The Sardine Run, South Africa

If you’re a keen diver – or just fascinated by the ocean – you might want to think about visiting South Africa between May and July. During this period, you’ll get the chance to witness what’s dubbed ‘the greatest shoal on earth’: the annual migration of billions of sardines as they swim north up the east coast of Africa. Not for nothing is this event regularly voted the world’s most epic dive event.

Whether you choose to observe this phenomenon from a boat or the water, seeing these vast, glimmering shoals as they churn beneath the waves is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But you’ll see far more than sardines; the shoals are followed by thousands of hungry sharks, dolphins, whales, and seabirds, making this an incredibly dramatic event. You’ll feel like you’re in an episode of Blue Planet!

3. Waitomo Glow Caves, New Zealand

Waitomo Glow Caves, New Zealand

New Zealand is famous for its otherworldly beauty but few places are more surreal than the North Island’s Waitomo Caves. Beneath the rolling green hills is a secret labyrinth of caves, sinkholes, and underground rivers – and this ancient subterranean world is lit up by thousands of glow-worms that cling to the ceiling, creating a dream-like environment that looks like it belongs in an old fairy book.

You can take a boat trip through these ancient caves, gliding silently over the black water and gazing up at the starry scenes around you – but there are many ways you can make your experience even more exciting. Many visitors like to abseil or zip-line through the darkness, while others prefer to try black water rafting, where they crawl, swim, and float their way through these shimmering caves.

4. Turtles nesting, Trinidad and Tobago

Turtles nesting, Trinidad and Tobago

The islands of Trinidad and Tobago have long been a popular spot for travellers looking to relax on remote beaches, trek through monkey-inhabited rainforests, and enjoy some of the most exciting and unique bird-watching in the Caribbean. But wildlife enthusiasts are in for a real treat if they visit between January and September, as it’s nesting season for three of the major species of sea turtles.

The giant leatherback, hawksbill, and green turtle are amongst the most endangered creatures in the world, so witnessing the females coming ashore to lay eggs – the only time they do so in their life – is a uniquely moving privilege. Six weeks later, visitors can witness the tiny baby turtles emerging from the sand and scurrying towards the safety of the waves, which is also an impossibly cute sight.

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5. Fairy chimneys, Cappadocia, Turkey

Fairy chimneys, Cappadocia, Turkey

The Cappadocia region of Turkey, in the Central Anatolia region, is another place that’s known for its unearthly beauty, but this astonishing part of the world is also home to some of the world’s most unique geography. The terrain here is made up of lunar-like hills, high plateaus, dramatic caverns, and rugged valleys – and some truly bizarre rock formations that are known as ‘fairy chimneys’.

These pillars were formed over millions of years by rain and wind erosion, and if these ancient spires weren’t captivating enough, many of the chimneys have entrances and rooms that have been carved into the rock. Learning about the people who once lived here is fascinating and, at sunset, the rocks change colour, from red to purple, and the whole landscape is lit up by a mesmerising rosy glow.

6. Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland

While many of the world’s most impressive natural phenomena are located in far-flung corners of the globe, you don’t have to travel far to see some incredible attractions. Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland’s County Antrim is one of the most popular attractions in the UK, and while you may have seen many images of these black hexagonal columns, nothing prepares you for seeing it in person.

This strange sea of basalt blocks was created 60 million years ago after a volcanic eruption when molten lava cooled in the sea and formed these interlocking pillars. There’s something very magical about hopscotching over these ancient stones and, as you watch the waves crash into these columns, you’ll feel a unique sense of peace and power. No wonder the place is steeped in myths and legends.

7. Vatnajökull Glacier, Iceland

Vatnajökull Glacier, Iceland

Iceland is one of the most dramatically beautiful countries in the world and it’s certainly not short of awe-inspiring natural phenomena. Home to ice-capped mountains, lava-spewing volcanoes, and deep blue lagoons, it’s not called the ‘Land of Fire and Ice’ for nothing. But the Vatnajökull Glacier – the largest glacier in Europe, taking up 14% of Iceland’s landmass – is arguably the most impressive.

It isn’t just Vatnajökull’s size that’s so unusual – because underneath this vast glacier is a network of crystal blue ice caves. The caves are created when rivers beneath the ice melt each spring, so they’re seasonal, and their ephemeral presence makes them even more special. Travelling under the ice to explore a secret world of sparkling passages and glittering caves is a truly unforgettable experience.

8. The Salmon Run, British Columbia, Canada

The Salmon Run, British Columbia, Canada

Every autumn in Canada’s British Columbia province, the annual salmon run takes place – and this natural phenomenon is definitely one of the most remarkable wildlife migrations in the world. From October to December, millions of adult salmon will swim upstream from the Pacific Ocean, travelling thousands of miles to the place of their birth, where they will spawn and then die.

Throughout this period, the rivers and creeks of British Columbia teem with salmon fighting their way upstream, sometimes even jumping out of the water to leap over obstacles. Naturally, this draws hordes of predators to the water, so you have excellent chances of spotting bears, wolves, and eagles during this period. If you’re looking to enjoy a hiking holiday in B.C., this is the time to go!

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9. Autumn colours, New England, USA

Autumn colours, New England, USA

If autumn is your favourite season and you enjoy hiking through the countryside admiring the bright seasonal foliage, then visiting New England in autumn is one for your bucket list. In the US, the end of September heralds the arrival of New England’s awesome autumn foliage, and hills, valleys, woodlands, and coastlines become cloaked in a blaze of scarlet, crimson, gold, and orange.

By mid-October, the states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont are a fiesta of colour, in tones so vibrant they need to be seen to be believed. There’s no better time to visit the northeasternmost part of the US. Hiking over blankets of crunchy leaves, breathing in crisp air, and enjoying seasonal, local produce like pumpkin pie is a truly magical experience.

10. The Great Migration, Masai Mara, Kenya

The Great Migration, Masai Mara, Kenya

A final one for wildlife enthusiasts now, and that’s the biggest, best-known migration in the world: the Great Migration. It’s difficult to convey the sheer scale of this migration. It involves over 1.2 million wildebeest, 400,000 zebras, and 300,000 gazelles. Guided by instinct, the animals will trek nearly 2,000 miles, from Tanzania’s Serengeti to Kenya’s Masai Mara, in search of food and water.

As with any type of migration, predators follow, and the herd must dodge lions, crocodiles, cheetahs, leopards, and hyenas as they go. Known as ‘the greatest show on Earth,’ no other natural spectacle better encapsulates the harmony of the circle of life; as animals are taken by predators, thousands more are born. Being able to witness this age-old migration is a real once-in-a-lifetime experience.

11. Rainbow Mountain, Peru

Rainbow Mountain, Peru

Peru boasts an incredible array of natural and ancient sights, but one of the most astounding was only ‘discovered’ in 2013. Rainbow Mountain, also known as Vinicunca, was completely covered in ice until 2013. But when the ice melted, it revealed an ancient secret: layers of red, yellow, green, and purple rocks so vibrant and pristine that they look as though the mountain has been painted.

The vivid colours are the result of layers of mineral deposits and the distinct shades are clear even when it’s overcast. Thanks to its proximity to Peru’s most popular tourist attraction – the ‘lost’ Mayan kingdom of Machu Picchu – many travellers visit on their way to or from the ruins, but you can book an independent hike too. The trek is only around five miles – but the altitude makes it a challenge!

12. The Northern Lights, Scandinavia

The Northern Lights, Scandinavia

Of all the world’s natural phenomena, none are so celebrated or magical as the aurora borealis. Witnessing this magnificent light display is an unparalleled experience – and the fact that the lights are so elusive and unpredictable just makes it special. The lights occur when solar winds enter the Earth’s atmosphere – although, understandably, many cultures believed they were sent from heaven.

You can see the Northern Lights in many different countries (including the UK!), but the closer to the North Pole you go, the better chance you have. Norway’s Tromsø is the best place to catch the lights – and, while it’s a trek, seeing these mesmerising green wisps dance across the sky is something you’ll remember forever. Exploring the desolate beauty of this part of the world is just another bonus.

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Final thoughts…

From rainbow-coloured mountains to glittering blue ice caves, and awe-inspiring mass migrations to mystifying rock formations, our world is full of natural wonders.

Travelling the world and exploring new places is always exciting but if you want to witness the true power, majesty, and diversity of Mother Nature, why not think about visiting some of its most unique and impressive natural wonders?

While some natural phenomena, like the bioluminescent beaches of the Maldives, or New Zealand’s glowing caves, are at the opposite end of the globe, others, like Northern Ireland’s Giant’s Causeway, or even Iceland’s vast glacier caves, are only a few hours away.

Whether you’re looking to tick something off your bucket list or simply be astounded by the beauty of nature, taking time to appreciate some of our planet’s natural wonders is always worth the effort.

For more inspiration for your next trip, why not visit the travel section of our website? Here, you’ll find top travel deals and plenty more articles on everything from cruises to hidden gem holiday destinations.

Have you been to any of the destinations listed here? Or are there any other destinations you feel should be included here? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.