6 Places You Won’t Believe Exist
You don’t have to be a world traveler to lose yourself in the fantastic places that dot our planet. Here are 6 of the most unbelievable wonders around the globe.
1. NEW ZEALAND’S GLOWWORM CAVES
In 1887, Maori Chief Tane Tinorau and English surveyor Fred Mace made an astonishing discovery in New Zealand: a complex of caves illuminated by an otherworldly blue-green glow. For generations, the Maori had whispered about the caverns, but presumably no one had ventured deep inside until this pair went exploring by raft and candlelight. What they found was remarkable. The limestone ceilings of the cave system were strung with thousands of glowing creatures, the larvae of a carnivorous fungus gnat called Arachnocampa luminosa. These “glowworms” use blue bioluminescence to attract prey, which they then ensnare by dangling a gooey string of mucus. These glittering critters don’t live the high life for long—adults don’t have a digestive system and survive only a few days. Today, thousands of tourists flock to the Waitomo Glowworm Caves to catch a glimpse of their brief but stunning show.
2. CHILE’S MOST VIBRANT CITY
Hugging the Pacific coast, Valparaíso was South America’s greatest international waterway until the Panama Canal stole the spotlight. The city is home to Latin America’s first stock exchange, Chile’s first public library, and the world’s oldest continuously running Spanish-language newspaper. Colorful homes dominate, mostly perched on hillsides in a maze of cobblestone alleys. In 2003, its historic quarter was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
3. WYOMING’S PSYCHEDELIC HOT SPRINGS
Photosynthetic cyanobacteria really know how to dress up a place. Yellowstone National Park’s Grand Prismatic Spring gets its signature look as different bacteria produce color-altering carotenoids, which help the microbes survive the heat and protect themselves from sunlight. (Since it’s cooler as you move near the edges, the carotenoid colors change.) The result is a vivid prism of color surrounding the 189°F blue center.
4. INDIA’S FLORAL WONDERLAND
Trek to the Valley of Flowers, part of a national park in the west Himalayas, and you’ll understand why yogis have long meditated here and why, according to Hindu myth, it’s a place of healing. For most of the year, the site is covered in snow. But in summer, more than 600 types of flora make their entrance: Orchids, poppies, and daisies of all shades blanket emerald meadows. Situated at the core of the Nanda Devi Biosphere Reserve, it is recognized by UNESCO for having “outstanding universal value.”
5. ETHIOPIA’S VOLCANIC VENTS
With sulfur hills, boiling hot springs, and bubbling pools of green acid, the Dallol Hydrothermal Field, in the Danakil Desert, looks like something out of a Seussian nightmare. A constant flow of super-salty hydrothermal water—heated by magma and mixed with mud, iron, and algae—gives the area its fantastic colors. At nearly 400 feet below sea level, it’s the world’s lowest terrestrial volcanic vent. It’s also one of the hottest places on earth, averaging 94°F year-round.
6. A CZECH REPUBLIC BONE EMPORIUM
The Sedlec Ossuary is one of the most macabre sites in Europe, second perhaps only to the Paris Catacombs. Here, tens of thousands of bones cling to every nook and cranny—strung into garlands, piled onto pillars, and stacked into pyramids lurking in the corners. There’s even a coat of arms made entirely of bones, created for a noble family, as well as an 8-foot chandelier said to contain every bone in the human body. All told, the remains of approximately 40,000 people decorate the ossuary, which is sunk below the Church of All Saints in Sedlec, a suburb of Kutná Hora in the Czech Republic.
Legend has it that in the 13th century, Sedlec’s abbot, sent by the king of Bohemia on a diplomatic mission to Jerusalem, brought back dirt from the purported site of Golgotha (location of Jesus’s crucifixion) to sanctify the monastery’s cemetery. Soon everybody wanted to be buried there, and over centuries it expanded to hold the victims of the plague and the Hussite wars. The ossuary was constructed in the 14th century to hold extra bones; the first decorative touches may have been added in the 15th century, when a half-blind monk allegedly arranged the bones into pyramids around the room. But a Czech carpenter named František Rint made the ossuary’s real standouts—the coat of arms and bone chandelier—in the 1870s. He even left his signature, constructed from arm and hand bones, near a staircase. Just imagine the skeletons he left in the closet.