The planet we live on has existed for billions of years. The geological structures and diverse systems of biological life are a testament to the ever-changing face of the world. There are places so timeless that we cannot conceive of their formation by the standards of our tiny histories. Here is a list of ten naturally formed wonders that remind us of our scale among the many great miracles of the world.
10. Galapagos Islands
A relatively young group of land formations comprise the Galapagos Islands, an archipelago of volcanic rock in the Pacific Ocean. Made famous by the scientific theories they inspired, the islands host an immense diversity of wildlife. The tropical forests and exotic creatures that inhabit them are so valuable that in the name of preservation, travelers hoping to experience them must limit their exploration to two hour shifts.
9. Dead Sea
Located along the border of Jordan, the Dead Sea is one of the saltiest lakes in the entire world, being approximately nine times saltier than the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The name is accredited to this saltiness, as life does not flourish on the shores of this lake. Significantly featured in the Bible, the Dead Sea has attracted and enamored visitors for thousands of years.
8. Ayers Rock
This massive geological formation is also known by its local name, Uluru. Composed of sandstone, the isolated giant stands over a thousand feet tall, towering above the surrounding flatlands. What makes the formation unique is its sharply sloped sides, which prevent plant life and other debris from accumulating on its surface. Due to this baldness, it is said to change colors, glowing a vibrant red in the setting sun.
7. Norwegian Fjords
The fjords of Norway are a spectacular sight to behold. The deep inlets, bordered on their shores with towering mountains, are the result of glacial erosion. Most fjords are deeper than their most adjacent bodies of water, a testament to the massive influence of ancient glaciers. Though they are found several places across the glove, the fjords in Norway are the most densely grouped, making for beautiful scenery with a comingling of mountains and narrow channels of ice-blue water.
6. Carlsbad Caverns
Buried beneath the mountains of New Mexico, the Carlsbad Caverns hold thousands of stalactites and stalagmites. Visitors travel 750 feet underground to behold the limestone drippings that form impressive arrays of hanging rock columns. The Big Room, a vast section of the caverns, is the seventh largest chamber in the world, stretching 4,000 feet long, 625 feet wide, and 255 feet tall.
5. Amazon Rainforest
This gigantic rainforest covers a broad swath of South America, stretching for 1.7 billion acres across the continent. Fed by the world’s largest river of the same name, the Amazon rainforest still contains unexplored mysteries. Thousands of species of animals and plants populate this ecosystem, as one in ten of all discovered species lives in there. Shrinking by the day, this forest is densely packed with much of the planet’s most unique life.
4. Ngoro Ngoro Crater
Two or three million years ago, a super-volcano erupted with so much force that the entire volcano collapsed into itself. The Ngorongoro Crater was left behind. Over a hundred square miles and 2,000 feet below the level of the surrounding land, the crater hosts the quintessential collection of African wildlife: lions, zebras, wildebeest, rhinos, and more. The crater is distinguished from the many other significant ones across the planet’s surface by being un-flooded and covered with grassland and forest; it is one of the few craters capable of sustaining life.
3. Victoria Falls
Although neither the tallest nor widest waterfall in the world, the Victoria Falls in Africa are an astonishing sight. Dropping into a deep gorge, the falls are theorized to have a larger volume of water falling at any given moment than any other waterfall in the world. Its local name translates to “The Cloud that Thunders” and a birds-eye view reveals the inspiration, with a massive cloud of water vapor hanging above a chasm in the flat land around it.
2. Grand Canyon
Located in Arizona, the Grand Canyon is the result of two billion years of erosion. The Colorado River rushes through this geological formation and has carved away a significant chain of valleys and ridges. It is not the biggest canyon in the world, but located in the American Southwest, it is one of the most visually striking sights in the world. Vividly colored in bright reds, oranges, and greens, this enormous crater brings visitors from across the globe to explore its depths.
1. Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef is a massive ecosystem of aquatic life that stretches across 133,000 square miles of ocean bed near Australia in the Coral Sea. Quite fitting as the most impressive natural wonder of the world, it is the largest single structure made by any living organism. Unfortunately, the systemic changes to the oceanic ecosystems have led to a great amount of destruction of this reef. As a haven for a wealth of aquatic biodiversity, the Great Barrier Reef is a hugely significant natural phenomenon.
Taking a vacation can be more stress than its worth, with the headaches of extensive travel itineraries and the expenses of globe-trotting. Sometimes we take it for granted that we have to go far to experience something new. Here is a list of the top 15 places to visit in the U.S. for those who are interested in appreciating the massive backyard with which Americans are blessed.
15. New York City, NY
As one of the country’s biggest cities, New York City will give you an idea of a significant portion of American life. The hustling and bustling city has thousands of attractions for visitors, including museums, opera houses, and edgier scenes for the younger crowd. There is plenty of culture to absorb.
14. New Orleans, LA
Despite the horrific destruction of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans remains one of the most unique places in America. A haven for jazz and ruckus partying, this melting pot offers culture that can be found nowhere else in the world, demonstrated by their regional dialects of creole, which are combinations of deep-south American English, French, Spanish, and African-Caribbean languages.
13. Miami Beach, FL
Attracting visitors and residents from all over the world, Miami Beach offers a multi-lingual beach paradise along the shores of Florida. The club scene is extravagant, coupled with luxurious designer boutiques and other commercial spaces. For those with more modest tastes, the cuisine and architectural landscape is worth investigating for its blend of Cuban and American influences.
12. Cape Cod, MA
Cape Cod is a picturesque coastal town on the shores of the Atlantic. Tucked away from the rest of the state among inlets and bays, the small town that attracts thousands of visitors in summer still maintains its quaint charm and slower pace. As an affordable alternative to more popular spots in Massachusetts, this destination is a great summer retreat.
11. Chicago, IL
As the biggest city in the Midwestern United States, Chicago serves as a cultural middle-ground for many different regions. The bustling metropolis has thousands of attractions for visitors and offers a public transportation system rivaled by few. Taking advantage of the trains and buses will introduce you to the many interesting neighborhoods that comprise Chicago. The city is beautiful in summer and does its best to shine equally bright during its cold winters.
10. San Francisco, CA
This hilly city offers a liberal perspective on American life. A haven for bohemia and alternative lifestyles, San Francisco offers a lifestyle that is repressed in other parts of the country and the world. But liberalism aside, the coastal town has beautiful scenery, impressive views, and amazing weather.
9. Seattle, WA
Located in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle does not draw visitors based on its weather but still manages to compete with other hot tourist spots. The state of Washington offers breathtaking forestry and mountainous terrain for the avid outdoorsman. The city itself is slower paced than other American metropolises, and this may be due to their proximity to great swathes of wilderness.
8. Sedona, AZ
Hot weather and dry air can work wonders for your complexion. Located in Arizona, Sedona offers this weather along with a handful of otherworldly attractions. A spiritual hub of sorts, the city shelters artists and free-thinkers. Artistry and spirituality aside, the neighboring national parks and red rocks offer beautiful landscapes for contemplation.
7. Yosemite National Park
This beautiful park in California offers hiking trails, canoeing, and swimming. A gigantic expanse of wilderness, the park contains waterfalls, mountains, and ancient sequoia trees older than the country itself. There is little wanting for even the most hardcore wilderness buffs.
6. Las Vegas, NV
This city is notorious for its reputation as America’s playground. Gambling, partying, and live shows are just a few of the types of attractions you can expect to find in Las Vegas. Some people have the time of their lives and others wish they had never gone, but no matter the occasion, a visit to Las Vegas is guaranteed to be memorable.
5. Anchorage, AK
Located far from the mainland of the rest of the country, Alaska’s capitol, Anchorage, offers hundreds of experiences that aren’t possible anywhere else in America. Wildlife and land formations that can be found nowhere else reside in this faraway state. Whether exploring the pristine wilderness or taking in the scenes from boat and plane, visitors have so much to see in the unique landscape of Alaska.
4. Puerto Rico
This small island is a great place to take a break from the hectic lifestyle of the mainland. The prices are low and the thrills are great. Puerto Rico offers something for all visitors, and whether you are looking to party, appreciate natural beauty, or take in a new culture, there is plenty to experience despite the island’s relatively small size.
3. Yellowstone National Park
Home to hundreds of active geysers and even more species of wildlife, Yellowstone National Park is a great place for nature lovers. Hiking trails snake through the park’s massive expanse and the visitor center makes it possible to learn and experience as much as possible from a single visit, although it would take weeks to fully appreciate the park. Taking a trip to Yellowstone will give you an idea of the quintessential beauty of pristine, American wilderness.
2. Maui, HI
Sometimes considered the epitome of the American vacation, a trip to Hawaii is like stepping onto another planet. The island chains offer tropical scenery and Maui especially is a beach-goer’s dream. Whether through surfing, hiking, watersports, hot air balloons, or helicopter tours, take in all the scenery from every angle you can.
1. San Diego, CA
San Diego is known for its year-round perfect weather and extremely satisfied inhabitants. This city offers something for everyone, with sporting events, Sea World, beaches, and a bustling downtown. Near the border of Mexico, visitors in this city will experience a unique culture that integrates the best parts of America into new combinations.
Are you thinking of traveling to Europe? Not sure how to start planning your trip? There are a lot of factors that come into play when planning a European vacation, one of the most important being your trip itinerary. Once you have an itinerary, you can then start looking into accommodations, thinking about your travel clothes, fine-tuning travel arrangements, among other considerations.
When planning your European trip itinerary, you’ll first need to consider when you’ll be able to go, for how long, and approximately what type of budget you’ll have to work with. Once you know when you’ll be able to leave for Europe, the duration of your trip and your budget, you can then start working on an actual European itinerary. Although it takes time and effort to put together a trip itinerary, it is well worth it. Your trip will be much more efficient and stress-free.
Where Would You Like to Go?
Once you know how many travel days you have to work with, you can then decide whether you’d like to visit a country or region, or if you prefer, you can decide which major cities you’d like to visit. Keep in mind that the first and last day of your trip will automatically be travel days. Also, your first day there is really only a half day at best, since you’ll need to rest and recover from jet lag.
You could decide to focus on a single country, such as Spain or Germany, or you could pick a region, such as combining southern Germany with Austria, southern France with northern Spain, Austria with northern Italy, or Belgium, Luxembourg and The Netherlands. If you’ve decided to visit a relatively small area, you can choose to use a home-based approach to your trip; that is, you can fly into a major city and use it as a home base for your entire trip, or you can fly into a major city, stay there for a few days, and then move on to what will be your home base for most of your trip. The idea behind the home-based approach is that you’ll be doing a lot of day trips but not having to pack and move your luggage nearly as often. There’s no wrong or right approach – it all depends on what you want to see and do during your vacation.
Another possibility is to select the major cities that you’d like to see; for example, London, Paris, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Venice. At this point, you are still brainstorming, but it’s important to write things down so you can fine tune your plans as you go along. It’s important to do this even if you’re not planning on moving around a lot; that is, you plan on using the home-based approach.
Start with your dream itinerary, then write down how many days you’d like to stay in each city, town or region. Once you’ve done this, you can start looking at other factors to help you finalize your itinerary.
Too Hot or Too Cold??
Do you prefer cooler weather, or are you someone who doesn’t mind warm weather? It’s important that you do a bit of research on average temperatures during the time of year that you’re going to be traveling to your selected country, region, or cities.
Here’s an example of how to plan your itinerary if you prefer to avoid warmer temperatures. Let’s say that you’ve decided to travel to Italy, or you’d like to see Spain and France. If you’re traveling in the spring/late spring, then start in southern Italy and work your way north; for example, fly into Naples and fly out of Milan. You could also start in Rome, in central Italy, and work your way north. For Spain and France, you could fly into either Madrid or Malaga, and work your way north to Barcelona and then into France. You could then fly out of either Marseilles or Nice.
If you’re visiting major cities in various parts of Europe, the same principle would apply; that is, work your way up from cities in southern Europe to the more northerly destinations. For example; if you’d like to visit Paris, Rome and Munich in the late spring, then you’d start in Rome, go to Munich, and then save Paris for last.
Keeping average temperatures in mind will not only help you plan your itinerary – it will also help you plan your activities and travel wardrobe.
Some travelers may prefer to document their itinerary in a travel journal. Keep notes about your trip and any information that you may want to pass on to friends and family, such as names of restaurants or accommodations or what to stay away from. This travel journal will also be a great souvenir of your trip and can later serve as a starting point for writing travel articles.
Trains, Planes, Boats and Automobiles
Choosing your flights to and from Europe are crucial to your trip planning. If you plan on only visiting a particular area, you could fly in and out of the same city. An example of this would be if you plan on visiting southern Bavaria in Germany. In this case, you could fly in and out of Munich. Another example would be if you’re planning on visiting the Cote d’Azur area of southern France. In this case, you could fly in and out of Nice.
However, if you’re planning on visiting several areas within the same country or visiting more than one country, you’ll save both time and money if you fly into one city and out of another. You won’t have to budget time and money to travel back to your first destination.
Another critical factor is transportation between destinations in Europe. If you’re planning on visiting major urban areas in several countries, you can either look into train travel or low-cost domestic flights. Keep in mind that for both of these scenarios you’ll want to be traveling light. Depending on the distance between major cities, you could also consider bus travel, but keep in mind that buses will be slower than trains or flights, so you’ll have to budget more time.
You can also consider traveling by boat from one destination to another. For example, if you want to travel from southern to northern Italy, you could take a boat from Naples to Livorno. There are a number of port cities on the Mediterranean. Another possibility is taking a river cruise; for example, taking a boat from Budapest to Vienna along the Danube. Part of the fun is sometimes including different types of transportation during your trip.
Basically, you need to consider how much time it will take to travel from one destination to another. If the journey is fairly long, you could consider a night train (or other mode of transport). If you’re going to be renting a vehicle, then try to estimate travel times between destinations and plan for breaks and possibly a quick stop along the way to take in the scenery.
When you know the approximate travel times between destinations, you can start fine tuning your itinerary. If at all possible, don’t have more than one overnight stay, and try not to have too many two-night stays. Schedule at least one longer stay somewhere so that you’ll feel that you’ve had a chance to linger.
What to See and Do
There’s definitely no shortage of museums, cathedrals, churches and castles in Europe. You may have a few that are on your must-see list, and that’s fine. You’ll be wise to pick and choose, though, as you really don’t want to overdo it early on in your trip. You’ll need a break from museums and churches at some point during your trip. You don’t want to arrive at one of your destinations and no longer feel like visiting something you’ve always wanted to see because you feel that you’ve already seen enough museums or cathedrals.
As you build your itinerary, write down what you’d like to see and do at each destination, but don’t over schedule. Make sure that the attractions that you’d like to visit will be open on the days you’ve planned. Most museums are closed one day a week.
It’s also important to schedule a few days during your vacation where you can really relax and not have anything scheduled. This will allow you to rest and feel recharged for the remainder of your trip.
Your finalized itinerary will include your travel dates, destinations, and number of nights at each destination. It should also include addresses and contact information for your accommodations, as well as notes regarding possible places to visit and/or possible day trips.
Once you have finalized your itinerary, print off a few copies. Make sure everyone who will be traveling with you has a copy. If you’re planning on bringing your laptop, make sure your itinerary is saved on your computer or e-mail a copy to yourself. If you don’t have your computer, you can visit an Internet cafe and access your e-mail. You could also save your itinerary as an e-pub and put it on an e-reader. All of these options allow you to have a back-up in place.
Remember to leave a copy of your itinerary with a friend or family member who will not be traveling with you. This will ensure that someone outside the group has a copy and knows where the group can be reached.
Choose one of these carry-on bags or purses to keep personal items secure during your trip. You may want to keep a copy of your itinerary in your carry on, in addition to either on your person or with one of your traveling companions.
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