Famous landmarks such as the Grand Canyon and the Taj Mahal are truly amazing to behold, as is the size of the crowds that they attract. In 2013, venture off the beaten path to these hidden destinations that most travelers don’t even know about.
Racetrack Playa, Death Valley National Park, California
The desert of Death Valley, between the Last Chance and Cottonwood mountain ranges, is home to one of the most phenomenal mysteries of the American west. Large “sailing stones” move along the flat, dry lake bed as if propelled by an invisible force, leaving trails in the earth behind them. The National Park Service reports that some of the boulders have traveled 1500 feet, but nobody has ever actually seen them in motion.
Gruner See, Austria
Gruner See, or Green Lake, in Styria, Austria is not just worth visiting, it is worth visiting twice. In the winter, the lake is only three to six feet deep, and is surrounded by a park where visitors hike through the valley’s green meadows. In the summer, ice and snow from the surrounding mountains melts, flooding the valley with up to 30 feet of crystal clear water. Scuba divers explore paths where hikers walked just months earlier, swimming past park benches, bridges and road signs.
Ha Long Bay Floating Fishing Villages, Vietnam
Just four hours’ drive from Hanoi, where Vietnam flights arrive, 1600 residents of Ha Long Bay do not live on one of the bay’s many islands, but on the bay itself in floating homes. Fishing and aquaculture drive the local economy, while the Cua Van Floating Cultural Center displays ancient artifacts and showcases the local lifestyle.
Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Crowds of tourists visit Yellowstone to see Old Faithful, but many overlook the park’s largest hot spring, the Grand Prismatic. Roughly 120 feet deep and 370 feet wide, the world’s third largest hot spring is named for its brilliant rainbow colored waters.
Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania
Known as “Africa’s Garden of Eden,” Ngorongoro is a volcanic crater featuring one of sub- Saharan Africa’s most diverse ecosystems. 25,000 wild animals inhabit the crater, including the “big five” (lions, elephants, rhinos, buffalo and leopards). In June and December, more 1 million zebra and wildebeest migrate through the area.
Don’t let the name fool you, Newgrange dates back to the Neolithic period, about 3200 B.C., making it older than both Stonehenge and they pyramids of Egypt. For several days around the winter solstice, the rising sun shines directly through a hole in the roof of the Newgrange passage tomb. Only 20 people, chosen by lottery, are lucky enough to visit on each day of the solstice.
The stunning blue thermal pools at Pamukkale (Turkish for Cotton Castle) appear to be sitting on a mountain of cotton or snow. Actually, the terraces and pools are formed by snowy white calcite deposits. Ancient kings and emperors once bathed in the 95 degree hot springs, thought to possess powerful healing properties.
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