The two German missionaries who discovered Kilimanjaro in 1848 were met with disbelief by fellow Europeans when they returned with stories about a snow-capped mountain in northwestern Tanzania, close to the Equator. Its name was enough proof, as Kilimanjaro in Swahili means White Mountain. But the story has yet another apex: about forty years after its discovery by Europeans, another German – a geologist this time – and an Austrian mountaineer made it to the top of Kibo peak, one of the three craters of this inert volcanic mountain. As it turned out, Kilimanjaro is the tallest mountain in Africa and the highest isolated landmass in the world, with an altitude of 4,600 meters. The mountain’s glaciers that feed several east African rivers, including the Nile, may be constantly shrinking but the mountain has not lost its allure, as the wonderful national park has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Jeju Island, South Korea
The 1,950 meter-high Halla Mountain, with its impressive ecological national park, towers above a tropical paradise located on this volcanic island, about 130 kilometers from the southern coast of Korea. The country’s tallest mountain is an enormous volcano surrounded by more than 350 smaller satellite volcanoes. If the island’s endless sandy beaches with palm trees, cacti and warm, inviting waters are an integral part of Jejudo’s charm, in reality they just serve to highlight the most impressive volcanic landscape in the world, boasting sheer black rocks formed of lava, rushing waterfalls, virgin forests, caves and thermal hot springs. About 2 million years after its emergence from the depths of the ocean, this exotic island remains an unspoiled work of art that has been methodically molded by the forces of nature, rightfully competing for a place in the top seven natural wonders.
Halong Bay, Vietnam
The name Ha Long (loosely translated as Descending Dragon) is worthy of the landscape that inspired great traveler Ian Fleming, author of the celebrated James Bond adventure series. It was in this beguiling gulf in Vietnam that 007 chased the evil Elliot Carver in the film “Tomorrow Never Dies”, placing the crystalline waters dotted with over 2.000 islets in the annals of film history. If you are not impressed by the hundreds of animals that populate the waters, then the islands’ 120 kilometers of coastline, idyllic lakes and alluring caves will certainly win you over. Their beauty also earned the support of Miss World 2009 Zhang Zi Lin, who cast her vote for Vietnam.
El Yunque, Puerto Rico
Derived from the name of an Indian spirit called Yuquiye, meaning Forest of Clouds, El Yunque is a mountainous, sub-tropical rainforest covering 28,000 acres of rugged topography in Puerto Rico. Α verdant paradise of diverse and abundant vegetation, it is also a protected wildlife refuge. Home to the Puerto Rican Parrot, one of the ten most endangered bird species in the world, it contains more than 50 native orchids and 240 native plants. Hike up to the peak of Mount Britton to enjoy the view– that is, for the few minutes El Yunque sheds its dense mantle of clouds. Just remember that this is one rainforest that literally lives up to its name, receiving over 100 billion gallons of rainfall annually.
Cliffs of Moher, Ireland
Surfers from Australia, America, and Britain caught one of the largest waves in the world, the celebrated Aill na Searrach, and found themselves in the presence of an astounding wave breaker. After escaping danger and taming the 35-foot waves they were finally able to admire the sprawling 8km coastline of Clare County that overlooks the Atlantic from a height of 214 meters. Moher, a linguistic corruption of Mothar castle that was demolished during the Napoleonic Wars to make way for a signal tower, became synonymous with legend once again. Moreover, the sheer cliffs rising from the ocean in a green mantle also offer sanctuary to rare species of birds, which led to the area being proclaimed a Special Protection Area for birds under the EU Birds Directive (1989), while there are traces of ancient rivers on the rocks that date 300 million years.
Galapagos Islands, Equador
Every year countless visitors disembark on the Galapagos Islands, more than 60 remote islets, to bear witness to the marvels of biodiversity that inspired the theories of Charles Darwin on natural selection and the origin of species. These islands had been discovered long before Darwin first stepped off the HMS Beagle in the autumn of 1885; he was beaten by cartographer Araham Ortelius. Very little has changed since then as the only way to discover these islands is by boat.
The Maldives, Indian Ocean
Made up of 26 ring-shaped atolls forming a chain of 1,190 coral islands, only two hundred of which are inhabited, this geological marvel boasts pristine white beaches, swaying palm trees, crystalline lagoons and azure seas with exotic marine life. Described as ‘the flower of the Indies’ by Marco Polo, these islands enjoy plenty of sun all year round – a combination that makes dreams, and postcards, come to life before your eyes. This natural paradise is under threat of being submerged if the polar ice caps melt as a result of global warming since the highest point on the islands is just 2.5 meters above sea level. But until then, nothing will disturb the secluded serenity and idyllic beauty of these natural gems scattered across the Equator.
Puerto Princesa Underground River, Philippines
Reputed to be the world’s longest navigable underground river, this amazing natural wonder is part of the larger Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that boasts lush forests, immaculate sandy beaches, unspoiled natural beauty and, the bizarrely-named, Cleopatra’s Needle mountain peak. Indulge in wildlife spotting, jungle trekking, bird watching, and beach activities before gliding along the river’s tranquil waters on a boat tour to explore its wonderous caverns. This impressive waterway stretches 8.2 km underground forming mystical limestone caves with age-old stalactites and stalagmites, before flowing directly into the welcoming embrace of the South China Sea.
Iguazu Falls, Argentina-Brazil
“Poor Niagara!” cried Eleanor Roosevelt upon seeing the 275 waterfalls of the Iguazu River for the first time, an exclamation that surmises this wonder’s grandeur. The Iguazu Falls stretch over an expanse of 2.5 kilometers, including the photogenic and impressive 80-meter high waterfall that boasts the equally impressive name “Devil’s Throat” (La Garganta del Diablo). Under normal conditions, they say more than 1 million liters of water flood past, though some claim the volume of water reaches 1.7 million liters per second. Two South American countries are squabbling over this natural wonder as it also serves as a natural border, leaving you with the dilemma – enter from the Argentinean or Brazilian side? With a name worthy of its godfathers, the river the Guarani Indians call Y Uasu, meaning “Big Water” in their local dialect, sometimes faces crises of “sadness” due to prolonged droughts that may last several weeks.
This imposing sandstone formation measuring 9,4 km overlooks the flat dry valleys on this far away continent’s northern territory from a height of 348 meters. The Aboriginal natives call it Uluru, which means sacred rock, but it is also known as Ayers rock, named after the Chief Secretary of South Australia, Sir Henry Ayers. Natives believe it to be the center of the world, but geologists have a more down to earth approach. They say it is an inselberg (mountain-island), created by perpetual geological alterations and pushed to the surface some 500 million years ago, though a large part of its bulk remains hidden underground. Elaborate ripples cover its surface as sand carried by the wind continually bombards this natural masterpiece, resulting in pattern-like erosion.