It appears Mother Nature sometimes has a bizarre imagination, creating landscapes that look as though they were plucked from the visions of someone’s bizarre dreams. Such landscapes tend to lure adventurous travellers and simply those with a curious mind.
Australia is no stranger to unusual landscapes, with places like the Bugle Bungles, Great Ocean Road’s Twelve Apostles, Western Australia’s Wave Rock, and our famous pink lakes. However, beyond our continent, there are some even more unusual landscapes that seem like they belong on another planet.
While it’s true that words can speak a thousand words, nothing will prepare you for the feelings you’ll experience by visiting the following strange and surreal landscapes, some of which are millions of years in the making through natural processes like erosion or other powerful forces.
While the following destinations may be a bit peculiar, what isn’t strange is wanting to ensure you’re covered with travel insurance in case you‘re hit with bizarre or unexpected misfortune during your travels.
We Aussies have salt lakes right here at home, but Bolivia’s Salar de Uyuni which has been used to film scenes from Star Wars is on another level. Considered to be the largest salt flat in the world, Salar de Uyuni sits at over 3,600 metres above sea level which is quite different than Australia’s Lake Eyre which is found at 15 metres below sea level. And because of Salar de Uyuni’s high elevation, it can get quite chilly during winter.
Tours to Salar de Uyuni are readily available and last anywhere from simple day trips to 3-day adventures that explore other nearby natural wonders. You can book tours in La Paz before flying to Uyuni or simply wait until you arrive in town to join one.
You’ll drive out across this seemingly endless salt flat, capturing unique photos that allow you practice with perspective photography to create fun illusions. You can also check out the train cemetery filled with old, abandoned mining trains, and depending on the time of year, you may also see flamingos or be able to witness impressive reflections during the wet season when water covers the flats.
Unique hotels are available near the salt flats which have been constructed of salt blocks cut from the surrounding landscape. And you may end up with a piece of the Salar de Uyuni in one of your future smart phones since the Bolivian government looks to start extracting lithium from the brine beneath the salt crust layer which is used for powering tech such as our smart phones and laptops.
The world’s first national park is home to a wide range of geothermal treasures which provide for some surreal landscapes and natural features. You’ll find geysers, mud pots, hot springs, fumaroles, and travertine terraces. Famous sites within the park include the Artists’ Paintpots, Blue Star Spring, Black Opal Pool, and Mammoth Hot springs.
Most of Yellowstone’s strange landscapes can be found within the state of Wyoming, the park also being famous for its richness of wildlife. Many consider the park to be “America’s Serengeti”, where you can observe bears, bison, mountain lions, elk, moose, wolves, and more.
One of the most striking features of the park is the giant Grand Prismatic Spring, with its vivid rings of colour caused by a combination of bacteria and varying water temperatures. Looking like a portal to the underworld, visitors can safely walk around the 70 °C Grand Prismatic Spring thanks to a boardwalk.
Another famous feature of Yellowstone is the Old Faithful Geyser which erupts with a 50-metre jet of water and steam every 1-2 hours. Many of Yellowstone’s most remarkable landscapes and features are also wheelchair accessible, allowing all to enjoy this remarkable place of the world.
The Namib Desert is home to a desolate landscape that has become one of Namibia’s most iconic tourism hotspots. Found within Namib-Naukluft National Park, the white clay pan known as Deadvlei offers a simplistic yet striking landscape comprised of towering dunes and a graveyard of dead camel thorn trees.
The key to witnessing the true magic of Deadvlei is to see it at sunrise or sunset when the lighting allows for vivid colours and dramatic shadows. The best way to ensure you can be there at these times is to consider camping or staying in the single lodge that is within the park entrance gates.
Staying inside the park’s gates means you won’t have a long drive nor will you be subject to gate opening and closing times. While seeing Deadvlei is rewarding anytime, it can be hot during the midday sun when colours of the landscape tend to get washed out.
Many of Namibia’s roads are unpaved and parts of the park are strictly 4WD only, so you will want to hire an adequate vehicle if you’re planning to visit this site or go with an organised tour. There are shuttles within the park that can get you closer to Deadvlei if you are worried about getting your vehicle stuck.
If you are lucky, you may also observe animals like gemsbok or ostrich, and possibly nocturnal species such as bat-eared foxes or jackals if choosing to camp beneath Deadvlei’s clear starry skies.
You’ve likely seen the otherworldly landscapes of Cappadocia underneath a sky filled with endless hot air balloons in your Instagram feed. Situated in Turkey’s Central Anatolia Region, Cappadocia is home to Göreme National Park where unique rock formations can be found and where hot air balloon rides can be readily booked.
Most tourists access the park by staying in the village of Göreme, however you can also choose to escape the largest crowds by staying in nearby villages on the edge of the park such as Uçhisa or Avanos.
The landscape offers a mix of natural features like tent rocks, colourful cliffs, rock towers, and the famous fairy chimneys of Love Valley. There are also underground settlements and churches that have been carved out into the rock.
Whether you choose to get a bird’s eye view from a balloon or take to one of the many viewpoints, you will be awed by the scenic natural wonders of Cappadocia. And don’t restrict yourself to just seeing the main tourist sites, as the nearby villages offer incredible hiking opportunities as well as horseback riding tours to see parts of the landscape seldom seen by other travellers.
While most travellers tend to visit the park during the spring, summer, and autumn months, winter can provide some dramatic scenes of the strange rock formations beneath a blanket of snow.
Madagascar is a truly unique island which many refer to as the eighth continent. The island is not only covered with unique landscapes, but also incredible animals seen nowhere else such as their dozens of lemur species.
One of the island’s most unusual landscapes can be found in the northwest. The Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park along with nearby Tsingy de Bemaraha Strict Nature Reserve collectively make up a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Here, you will find a network of geomorphological structures that includes razor-sharp limestone pinnacles and peaks reaching hundreds of feet in height. The park is broken up into two distinct sections known as the Great Tsingy and the Little Tsingy.
Visitors can explore the park by way of several trail circuits that include aerial suspension bridges and in some cases the need for a climbing safety harness. It will challenge those with a fear of heights in some sections.
The park is only open during the dry season from April to November, with some sections only accessible from June. You will want to wear a sturdy pair of hiking boots along with long pants to avoid slipping or getting cut and scratched by the sharp rocks.
Adding to the fun of the landscape is the opportunity to spot a range of lemur species along with a possible fossa or chameleon. Hiking the multi-day Anjohimanintsy Trail will increase your chances of spotting local endemic wildlife and some organised tours include visiting the famous Avenue of the Baobabs, another incredible Madagascan landscape.
The state of Utah is home to some fascinating national and state parks with landscapes seemingly from another planet. These parks include Canyonlands NP, Capitol Reef NP, Zion NP, Goblin Valley, and Arches NP with its thousands of sandstone arches.
However, it’s Bryce Canyon National Park which truly offers a bizarre landscape of natural rock pillars known as hoodoos. These rocky features are striking with their vivid hues of orange and red, with the best place to view them being the Bryce Amphitheatre.
Said to have the highest concentration of hoodoo structures in the world, the Bryce Amphitheatre is the most popular section of the park where you can walk along the Rim Trail to view the park’s most impressive natural structures.
As with many strange landscapes, the best time to view Bryce Amphitheatre is around sunrise and sunset via lookouts like Inspiration point and Bryce Point, or the aptly named lookouts Sunrise and Sunset Points.
The park offers a free shuttle service that takes visitors to the various lookouts and trailheads that can lead you on trails that descend into the hoodoos. Trails include the Queens Garden Trail and Navajo Loop Trail where you can see notable natural features and areas that include Wall Street, Thor’s Hammer, Silent City, and the Temple of Osiris.
While not so much strange, Croatia’s Plitvice Lakes is truly surreal in terms of its natural beauty, almost seemingly like a fantasy. This Garden of Eden looks straight out of a fairy tale as if a painter tried to envision some magical natural place where fairies and elves roamed.
Made up of sixteen lakes, a number of waterfalls, and caves, Plitvice is a destination that can be experienced year-round, and each season brings a different type of magic. While most visitors come during the warmer summer months, autumn allows the opportunity to see the fiery foliage of the surrounding forests and winter turns the park into something like a scene out of Frozen.
The stunning lakes all have distinct colours ranging from hues of green to vivid blue, which are each determined by things like mineral content and sunlight.
Croatia’s largest national park has two different entrances and offers a number of different hiking trails and routes to observe all the natural beauty. With a bit of luck, you may also encounter animals such as deer, Eurasian brown bears, and even wolves.