If you are sick of standing in the long line at the Louvre for hours, only to catch glimpses of the Mona Lisa over a huddled mass, try ducking out of the cities for some unique, alternative attractions. Although frequently overlooked by most travellers, some of the world’s most surreal destinations are only a stone’s throw from major urban centres.
Here are 8 surreal destinations you can visit on a solo trip:
Swing at the end of the world, Baños, Ecuador
Tired of getting cheap thrills by launching yourself off the swing set at your local playground? Why not hurl yourself off the edge of the world instead? Ok, maybe not literally, but at Casa del Arbol, a treehouse perched above a steep drop-off overlooking Mt. Tungurahua’s cloud forests and mist-covered valleys, visitors can hop onto a rope swing extended from the top of the tree. Hanging 2600-m above sea level, the swing catapults you over the hill while the plunging mountain landscape whizzes by you in a whirlwind. With nothing but a rope holding you down to the seat, you’ll get more than your fill of adrenaline rush on this death-defying ride.
Red Beach, Panjin, China
Don’t let the name fool you, Red Beach isn’t exactly a beach. Instead, it’s the largest wetland and reed marsh in the world, located around 30-km southwest of Panjin. Every autumn, the wetland turns bright red from a natural phenomenon caused by the seaweed covering the field, called Sueda. The seaweed grows throughout spring and summer seasons and stays green until fall when it finally matures into vivid crimson. Only a small section of this protected nature reserve is open to the public, but you’ll be able to take pictures of this otherworldly, fiery vista from the wooden walkways near the visitor centre.
Plain of Jars, Xiangkhouang, Laos
Unknown in origin, thousands of megalithic jars litter the upland valleys and lower foothills of Xiangkhouang Plateau in northern Laos. Archaeologists have dated them as far back as 2,000 years ago and found them across more than 90 sites on the plain. Some come with stone lids, while others are uncovered and stand close to three metres tall. Very little is known about these jars or the civilization that made them, but researchers suspect they were used in elaborate burial ceremonies since some of them contain human bones. While they do make interesting photo ops, and you can even climb on top of the jars, only a few sites are safe enough for the public to visit. Others contain unexploded ordnance from the U.S. “Secret War” bombing raids in the 1960s and are cordoned off by the local government.
Salar de Uyuni, Daniel Campos, Bolivia
The world’s largest salt flat also happens to be the most photogenic. At 10,582 Sq. Km., Salar de Uyuni covers the Altiplano Plateau in a surreal, unblemished sea of white. Sitting on an elevation of 3,656 metres above sea level, the Salar is where you’ll find 70 percent of the world’s lithium reserves, enough to generate an entire industry devoted to extracting them. On a clear day, the salt flat resembles a white-sand desert, forming a stark contrast to the blue sky above. But when water pools on the ground, it becomes a mirror that perfectly reflects the horizon and the clouds, making the ground and the sky utterly indistinguishable.
Great Blue Hole, Belize
Declared by Jacques Cousteau as one of the top five diving sites in the world, this massive underwater cave off the coast of Belize forms a near perfect circle inside Lighthouse Reef. Measured at around 318-m wide and 124-m deep, the cave was formed by several stages of limestone karst formations, the oldest dating back to more than 150,000 years ago. High on the bucket list of many veteran divers, the Blue Hole is home to hundreds of marine wildlife species and thousands of unique stalactites and stalagmites. Descending into the dark depths of the hole, you’ll encounter many dramatic coral-lined caverns that seem like gateways into another realm.
Mendenhall Ice Caves, Alaska, USA
Over 3,000 years old, the Mendenhall Glacier covers more than 20-km of the valley in southeastern Alaska. A rapidly disappearing natural wonder, the glacier’s underbelly houses several ancient ice caves with luminous, crystal-blue ceilings. Walking beneath these frozen roofs, you can hear water running below the wavy surface, a sign that the caves are still changing and even creating new caverns. Since the 1500s the Mendenhall Glacier has been receding rapidly. When compared to its size in 1958, the ice has melted by around 4-km in length. These ethereal burrows are vanishing due to the warmer climate in the region, so try and see them up close while you still can.
Pamukkale, Denizli, Turkey
Known as the “Cotton Castle”, Pamukkale is a chalk-white travertine terrace shaped by calcium-rich thermal springs over several millennia. A UNESCO World Heritage site in southwestern Turkey, Pamukkale’s ladder-shaped cliff overflows with crystal-clear volcanic hot springs pouring from its many basins. A popular tourist destination even in the ancient world, the Romans built a spa city, Hierapolis, above the glittering travertines. Visitors can walk down to the basins for a quick dip in the mineral-rich pools that are said to cure rheumatism and other physical ailments. During sunset, you’ll find chances to take dramatic photographs of the twilight cast over the glistening slopes while the pools light up like silver panels.
Cat Island, Miyagi, Japan
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В Японии есть Остров кошек, где живут всего 100 человек и несколько сотен бродячих и диких кошек • Жители острова #Tashirojima верят в то, что кормление кошек приносит удачу, поэтому #кошки живут в тех краях привольно и беззаботно. • В начале 19-го века #остров был популярен среди рыбаков, которые и завезли на него кошек, но в наше время его население сократилось до всего сотни #человек, чего не скажешь о кошках, популяция которых растёт с огромной скоростью. Жители острова подкармливают животных рыбой и относятся к ним с симпатией, однако, как ни странно, идея держать кошек в доме не кажется им привлекательной: практически все кошки тех краёв являются дикими. #островкошек #Япония
The Japanese have long shared a special relationship with cats. And nowhere else is the country’s cat craze more rampant than on the island of Tashirojima. Here, cats vastly outnumber human residents and roam the streets like pedestrians. The locals had lived with their furry neighbours since the late Edo period when they were introduced to help the island’s textile industry hunt down mice that preyed on silkworms. While the human population on the island has dwindled over the last few decades to around 100, the cats’ numbers multiplied to more than twice that amount.
Today, the locals depend on the cats for tourism and find themselves simultaneously feeding them and shooing them away from their yards. You can reach the island by ferry from Ishinomaki City. Once here, be prepared for the feline mob to swarm around you for a treat. You’ll also find many cat-shaped buildings and several shrines dedicated to cat worship here as well.
Want to discover these surreal destinations on your own? Ask one of our Expert Travellers today about how to get there. Contact us through live chat, call 1-877-967-5302 or visit us in-store for more!