Have NASA’s space tourism posters got you dreaming of hiking the canyons of Mars and gazing at the auroras of Jupiter? Don’t get fitted for a spacesuit just yet — leisure space travel is still a long ways away from being available and affordable to the average human. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have other-worldly experiences right here on Earth. The blue planet boasts countless alien-like landscapes, from rainbow mountains to towering limestone pinnacles that look to be straight out of another galaxy. Here’s where to find the most bizarrely beautiful landscapes on Earth:
Cappadocia, TurkeyCappadocia is likely the closest you’ll get to the moon without leaving the stratosphere. Erosion has sculpted the Turkish region’s famous landscape of “fairy chimneys” — distinctive pinnacles protruding out of the ground — where people have built dwellings as far back as the 4th century. Hop on one of the hot air balloons, which take flight at dawn each day, for the best view of this lunar landscape.
Travelers who hike to Inspiration Point, the highest lookout on Mount Kelimutu in Flores, Indonesia, are treated to a one-of-a-kind vista: Three spectacularly colored lakes, each with its own distinctive hue. The turquoise lake rarely changes color, but the other two shift from olive green to brick red and even black, depending on the mineral density, which has local folklore believing it's both magical and haunted.
Marble Caves, Chile
No other caves on Earth boast the mystical beauty of the Marble Caves in Patagonia. Waves from Lake General Carrera, South America’s largest freshwater lake, have carved a peninsula of solid marble into smooth, surreal walled pattern. A reflection of the azure waters onto the cave interiors creates a visual effect of blue swirls that’s unlike anything else on this planet. See it for yourself by taking a ferry from nearby Chile Chico.
Gunung Mulu National Park, Malaysia
To see the famous jagged pinnacles at Gunung Mulu National Park on Borneo is both an awe-inspiring and intimidating experience. The 150-foot spikes jut out of Mount Api like swords, a natural phenomenon created by rain some 5 million years ago. Unfortunately, erosion threatens the longevity of this unique landscape so it's best to see it before it’s too late.
Zhangye Danxia National Geological Park, China
Earth porn is taken to a whole new level at Zhangye Daxia National Geological Park in China. You may think your eyes are playing tricks on you when you witness the kaleidoscopic palette of blues, yellows, oranges, reds, and pinks, but that's just the nature of this incredible scene as color swirl in narrow bands on the hilly sandstone of the Qilian foothills. It’s a psychedelic experience you won’t soon forget.
Richat Structure, Mauritania
If archers ever flew to outer space, their bull’s eye would be the Richat Structure, a 30-mile wide geological formation near Ouadane, Mauritania. Originally a domed landmass, the natural feature is made of a series of ringed ridges, some more than 600-feet tall. While early astronauts used the Richat Structure (also known as the “Eye of Africa”) as a navigational tool, Earthlings can see it in person on four-wheel drive tours across the Sahara desert.
Mendenhall Ice Caves, Alaska
Visiting the Mendenhall Ice Caves in Alaska is like stepping into a dream. The frozen expanse formed by melting glaciers, creates a mystical turquoise world of smooth, icy nooks and crannies you can crawl through. On warmer days, the ice begins to melt and sends rain shooting down from the ceiling to pelt your skin. The kayak trip and arduous hike to get there isn’t easy, but the one-of-a-kind experience makes it worth every treacherous step.
Jellyfish Lake, Palau
With their eerily transparent bodies and ghostly movements, jellyfish are a species that very well be an alien cousin. You can get up close to these peculiar organisms at Jellyfish Lake (Ongeim L’Tketau) in the remote country of Palau where no predators exist to threaten their makeshift home. A dip with dozens of these phantasmal creatures will transport you to another universe.
Door to Hell, Turkmenistan
The name of this burning pit in Turkmenistan could not be more appropriate. Hundreds of tourists each year travel to the natural gas field in the village of Derweze to see the astonishing 230-foot-wide crater, which once held a Soviet drilling platform. When the rig collapsed more than 40 years ago, workers set the pit on fire in hopes of avoiding a poisonous gas leak. It has been burning ever since. (If you're curious: we also discuss another place that's permanently ablaze here).
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
When the wet season hits Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world, a thin sheet of water blankets the earth, creating a mirrored surface that reflects the sky. Photographers play with perspective at this heavily Instagrammed destination in Potosi, Bolivia, creating images that look as though people are walking on clouds and floating through the air.
Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, Brazil
With blindingly white sand and picture-perfect dunes, Lençóis Maranhenses is easily mistaken for a desert. But an abundance of rain (roughly 47 inches annually) fills this natural attraction with crystal clear lagoons each wet season, creating a real-life version of a mirage. After the rains end in October, the water dries up and the area reverts back into a stunning sandscape until the cycle repeats the following year. You can book a guided tour from São Luís, Maranhão.
Giant’s Causeway, Ireland
Roughly 40,000 polygonal columns of layered black basalt bulging from the sea make the Giant’s Causeway on the coast of Northern Island look like it’s plucked straight out of a scene from “Game of Thrones.” Now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the geometric formation was created around 60 million years ago, making it one of the best places to research volcanism and the geological history of Earth. Tours depart from Belfast on a daily basis.