There are an estimated 200 billion galaxies in the universe. It’s impossible to even begin to imagine the incredible wealth of jaw-dropping, totally unique planets that are floating out in space. However, in 2018, we don’t have the technology to travel and explore these planets.
Fortunately, our home planet Earth is a pretty extraordinary place too — and you don't have to go through gruelling astronaut training to explore it. So, we’ve compiled a list of 10 alternative cool places on earth that are so out-of-this-world and outlandish that you’ll feel like you’ve travelled billions of miles through space and landed on a planet thousands of solar systems away.
Zhangjiajie National Forest Park Avatar Mountains
The first on our list of amazing places on earth is this unique natural wonder. It's famous for being the inspiration for the floating mountains seen in the blockbuster movie that revolutionised 3D cinema, Avatar (2009), visiting this forest but make no mistake, Zhangjiajie National Forest Park is a lot more incredible when you take off the polarising glasses and see it in person. The colossal forest of stone consists of around 3,000 vertical pillars — some of which tower up to heights of 650 feet! We love the Avatar mountains for its alternative display of flora and fauna. It has over 3,000 different types of unique plant and is home to endangered species such as the rare Chinese water deer and clouded leopard.
Take me to another planet: The closest airport to this unbelievable place is Zhangjiajie Hehua International Airport, also known as Dayong Airport (DYG). From there it is around an hour drive. This can be reached with airlines: China Southern Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Juneyao Airlines and Okay Airways.
Vatnajökull glacier caves
Embark on a journey to the centre of the earth when you explore Iceland's remarkable glacier caves. Completely formed within a block of ice (or glacier), this natural wonder is hidden beneath the land of ice and fire’s already breathtaking surface. The Crystal Ice Cave, in Vatnajökull glacier, is Iceland’s most famous example of this enigmatic spectacle. Here, you can marvel as light and ice come together to boast an other-worldly swirling blue glow, in a place that feels like it’s come straight out of your imagination.
Take me to another planet: To get to the Crystal Ice Cave there is an airport 10 minutes from Höfn (HFN) and a scheduled flight between Höfn and Reykjavik run by Eagle Air all year, however tours to the caves are seasonal (October - April). Plenty of airlines fly into Reykjavík (KEF), including Air Greenland, Finnair, Icelandair and United Airlines.
Stepping foot on Valle de la Luna, or Valley of the Moon, might be the closest you’ll get to walking on the moon in your lifetime (unless you’re an astronaut-in-training, of course). That’s according to Neil Armstrong, who said the surface of the Bolivian landmark was very similar to that of the actual moon when he visited both in the same year in 1969. Although this site doesn’t have any significant historical background, years of unforgiving weather has formed a labyrinth of gorges and peaks in all sorts of shapes and sizes that make it one of the most exceptional places to see on the planet. Pay a small fee to gain access to the walkways that run through Valle de la Luna and enjoy some pretty special viewpoints that are great to capture the moment.
Valle de la Luna, La Paz, Bolivia
Take me to another planet: The closest airport to Valle de la Luna is El Alto International Airport (LPB). From there it is just over an hour drive to Valle de La Luna, which is in downtown La Paz. This can be reached with airlines: American Airlines, Boliviana de Aviación, Amaszonas, EcoJet and TAM.
Indonesia is the land of volcanos, that’s for sure. There are so many steaming sulphur vents across the country that the whole archipelago feels a little bit like Jurassic Park. But if you’re looking for a little less predator and a little more alien, head to Ijen, on the east coast of Java. At the peak of this volcano complex, Gunung Merapi, or Mountain of Fire, comes alive at night. Gaze on in awe as electric blue flames leap out of cracks in the earth:
Gunung Ijen's magical blue fire comes alive at night
This blue fire is ignited sulphuric gas emerging from hellish underground temperatures of 600 degrees Celsius (1,112 Fahrenheit). However, you might lose the air of mystery at certain times of year, as more and more Javanese tourists ascend the mountain, desperate to witness the natural phenomenon as part of a midnight tour. While there, make sure you take a moment to reflect on the back-breaking conditions of the sulphur miners working around you, who haul up to 90kgs of sulphur on their unprotected shoulders for a few dollars a day in obscenely hazardous conditions:
Take me to another planet: Banyuwangi’s small domestic airport, Blimbingsari (BWX), is located around 15km south of the city centre. You can fly here from other Java destinations on Wings Air or Garuda Indonesia.
Grand Prismatic Spring, Yellowstone National Park
At 295 feet wide and 164 feet deep, the Grand Prismatic Spring is the largest and deepest hot spring in the whole of the United States. The spring was founded in the 1800s, but is thought to have been bubbling away for much longer than that. Other than being mind-blowingly huge, what really makes it stand out is the rainbow ring that surrounds the spring. The striking splash of colour is said to be caused by a band of microbes reacting in the hot waters of the spring, which we think resembles the eye of what an extraterrestrial creature might look like.
Take me to another planet: The closest airport to Grand Prismatic Spring is Yellowstone Regional Airport (COD). From there it takes around five hours to reach Yellowstone National Park, where the Grand Prismatic Spring is located. This can be reached with airline: Delta Connection
Muynak, Aral Sea, Uzbekistan. Photo Credit: Uprouted
Unlike most of the out-of-this-world destinations we’ve mentioned, the Aral Sea is not one that the planet should be proud of. The Aral Sea was once one of the largest lakes in the world. Now, it’s one of the 21st century’s biggest man-made environmental disasters. Largely due to poor agricultural irrigation systems in the 60s, The Aral Sea is now a mere sliver of water in a vast desert that spans across Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan.
You can visit the Aral Sea from the once prosperous Uzbek fishing village of Moynoq. Here, you can see eerie reminders of a town that doesn’t belong here anymore. You can also walk across what was once effectively a sea bed, the wave ripples still imprinted in the sand, amongst the skeletons of ships that died with the Aral Sea:
Take me to another planet: Uzbekistan Airways operates flights to Nukus (NCU), a nearby town, from The country’s capital, Tashkent, and Moscow, Russia. From there, it’s a couple of hours in a shared taxi, or you can pick up a desert tour.
You don’t need to be an astronaut to feel like you’re gazing up at a galaxy far far away in these caves. Glowworms can be found illuminating a dark evening across New Zealand, but witnessing the effects of these luminescent creatures inside a cave allows you to drift through a real-life enchanted grotto. Our Managing Director, Sam, had a fantastic experience tubing in the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, saying that it’s a fascinating, must-do attraction for any New Zealand trip!
Take me to another planet: The Waitomo cave’s nearest town, Hamilton, has an airport (HLZ) that services flights with Air New Zealand.
Lake Baikal, Russia
Formed 25—30 million years ago, Lake Baikal is the world’s oldest lake. In the summer, it’s an abundance of beautiful pure blue water with high mountains rising in the background. In the winter, it becomes a phenomenal ice-planet that you’d expect to find in a science-fiction novel. The lake freezes over at the beginning of the year and melts around May. But, if you travel around March — when the weather conditions begin to change — you’ll experience the gigantic slabs of crystal clear ice that form from the surface of the lake and project towards the sky. A cool place on earth if ever there was one.
Take me to another planet: The closest airport to Lake Baikal is International Airport Irkutsk (IKT). It's 15—20 minutes from the airport to Baikal. International Airport Irkutsk can be reached with airlines: S7 Airlines and Ural Airlines
Mount Nyiragongo, DRC
Get mesmerised by the world’s largest lava lake, located in the heart of the Virunga National Park, DRC. Mount Nyiragongo is known as one of the planets’s most notorious volcanoes, spewing out lava over nearby settlements every few decades. The massive molten pool, delving a staggering 600m into the earth, leaves you feeling like you’re teetering on the edge of a hellmouth. Is it a coincidence that the two most famous “Doors to Hell” in the world are situated in two of the world’s most corrupt countries, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Turkmenistan? Yes, probably, but they do both make interesting alternative holiday destinations!
Take me to another planet: Ethiopian Airlines flies direct to Goma International Airport (GOM), around 20km south of Mount Nyiragongo.
Southwest Spain might not be the first place that comes to mind when you think of unbelieveable places on earth that remind you of crazy alien planets millions of miles away. However, a look at Rio Tinto in Andalucia might change your mind. This river has been subject to over 5,000 years of mining and mineral extraction, causing a large quantity of iron to dissolve in the water and turning the river to an amazing deep red. Don’t expect to find any fish swimming in Rio Tinto, though. The only type of life you can expect to find in these acidic waters are organisms with unusual degrees of eukaryotic diversity, and chemolithotrophic organisms that feed off the iron in the river - the most crazy-alien-planet type-thing we’ve heard in a while.
Rio Tinto, Spain
Take me to another planet: The closest airport to Rio Tinto is Seville Airport (SVQ). From there it is a 1/1.5 hour drive to Rio Tinto. Seville Airport can be reached with airlines: EasyJet, Vueling, Ryanair and Volotea.
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