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Natural wonders that will blow your mind

by Sjaak Grijsen

For all our obsession with man-made wonders, technological advances and increasing urbanisation, nothing compares to the creations of Mother Nature.

Vast cave systems, wild desert landscapes and breathtaking waterfalls all remind us of our small place in earth’s story. And even with our ever-expanding knowledge of the way the world came to be, some landscapes still leave us utterly perplexed. We hope this selection from 50 Natural Wonders to Blow Your Mind will inspire you to explore a spellbinding slice of the great outdoors.

1. Hidden Beach, Marieta Islands, Mexico

Shhh, don’t tell anyone else about this place! We want it to ourselves.

The secluded setting of this gorgeous beach is the stuff of wild and romantic fantasies, which is why it has also earned itself the title of playa del amor or lovers’ beach. Lovesick dreamers the world over have longed to have these golden sands, gently lapped by crystal blue waters, all to themselves, and due to the beach’s remote and concealed location there’s a good chance these dreams could come true.

How do we get in there?

This secret swimming hole, visible from above through dense jungle and cavernous limestone, can only be accessed by swimming or kayaking through a long tunnel of water that links the beach to the Pacific Ocean.

How did this natural wonder come to be?

Mother Nature can’t take all the credit for this one. It is believed that military bomb tests conducted by the Mexican government in the 1900s created a whole series of craters, caverns and unusual rock formations throughout the Marieta Islands, one of which being the magnificent Hidden Beach.

2. Lake Baikal, Siberia, Russia

Water, as far as the eye can see.

This is one for the record books. Lake Baikal, the world’s largest freshwater lake (by volume), stretches out for hundreds and hundreds of kilometres across remote Siberian wilderness, 636km in length and 79km in width, to be exact. The lake’s statistics are extraordinary: it contains roughly 20 percent of the world’s unfrozen surface fresh water; more water than all of the Great Lakes in North America; it plunges to a world-beating depth of 1642m; and is also considered the world’s oldest lake, at around 25 million years of age.

The water looks crystal clear but a little on the chilly side.

Although winter temperatures in the lake drop to nearly -20°C and the whole thing gets covered in a thick blanket of ice, the summer sees a warmer side emerge and hordes of tourists descend to splash around in the pristine, and rumoured life-extending, water.

We still think it’s too cold to take off our clothes.

Then consider taking a hike around parts of the perimeter. A walk to the top of the Svyatov Nos peninsular gives you stunning 360° views of the lake and surrounds.

3. Lauterbrunnen Valley, Switzerland

It’s hard to believe this place hasn’t been created using CGI.

With so many jaw-dropping sights in one frame, you couldn’t make it up. We’re here to guarantee that this is just what the Lauterbrunnen Valley looks like.

Talk us through all of the magnificent natural phenomena we can see.

There are over 72 waterfalls dotted throughout the valley, including the 30m-high Staubbach Falls, one of Europe’s highest; there are also lush Alpine meadows; sheer cliff faces; dizzying mountain peaks; and several slow-moving glaciers.

It’s sounding like an extreme-sport-lover’s paradise.

It’s certainly a choose-your-own-Alpine-adventure kind of place. You’re spoilt for choice with skiing, mountaineering, rock-climbing, hiking, paragliding, mountain-biking, skydiving, or even dog-sledding all on the agenda.

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