For people who live in most parts of the world, the chance to visit Niagara Falls is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The falls are supposed to be awe-inspiring, and every summer, the parking lots on both sides of the US-Canadian border are filled with tourists itching to get the chance to gaze at one of Earth's natural wonders. This is a pretty scene but not really an accurate one. As someone who has been to Niagara Falls several times (I grew up in upstate New York and the field trip to Niagara Falls was an annual mandatory event), what I remember is having to stand in line with dozens of other dead-faced people for the chance to look at a waterfall for about ten minutes.
It really amazes me that so many people have been to Niagara Falls when there are so many better natural wonders that go almost completely ignored every single year. As such, this list will count down 20 Natural Wonders That Are Better Than Niagara Falls. If you can think of any natural wonders that are better than Niagara Falls that did not make our list, please feel free to mention them in the comments.
20 Grand Canyon (Obviously)
I think that the Grand Canyon gets underestimated by a lot of people who live in the United States because its close proximity to us tricks our brains into thinking that it is not as exciting and exotic as some of the other natural wonders of the world (which you'll see in this list). Just because you do not have to take an eighteen-hour plane ride to get to the Grand Canyon, however, does not mean that it is not one of the most impressive natural wonders in the entire world. This geological wonder is a must-see for anyone in the states, and I would argue that even those people who do not live in North America should venture a trip to rural Arizona.
One of the best things about the canyon is that it is practically free to visit. During some points in the year, the Parks Service charges a fee for entry but most of the canyon's entry points are free to all tourists.
If you are willing to spend a little extra cash, then there are various tours available that range from walking through the breathtaking canyon to even white water rafting down the river that runs through it.
19 Komodo Island (And Not Just Because Of The Komodo Dragon)
If you asked a random person on the street what Komodo Island is, they would probably tell you that it is home to the infamous komodo dragon. But this is not all that this island has to offer. Although it is only one of thousands of islands that make up the country of Indonesia, it is the home to several rare and endangered species of animals. Because so much wildlife can only be found on Komodo Island, the federal government has created a large nature preserve, named the Komodo National Park. This natural wonder is not all about the wildlife, however, even the people who live here are noticeably distinct. A large population of Muslims live peaceably with significant Christian and Hindu congregations. In addition, many of the people living on the island are descendants of former convicts who were exiled to the island and who have mixed with Bugis from Sulawesi. Now that we have talked about all these other things, let's talk about the real reason why most people go to visit Komodo Island, the komodo dragon, of course. The largest lizard on earth, the dragon is supposed to be an awesome and terrifying sight.
18 Cliffs Of Moher - More Impressive Than You Think
When me and my girlfriend went to Ireland this past summer and she booked an entire day tour to visit the Cliffs of Moher, I have to admit that I was a little bit skeptical. I feel like attractions like this are always cool at first but how long can you really spend looking at a bunch of cliffs? I will admit, however, that I underestimated the Cliffs of Moher and that they were easily one of the coolest parts of our entire trip. For starters,
you don't only get to see the cliffs from a distance, but you can actually walk right up to the edge (there is a fence preventing you from doing this, but it is so flimsy and unguarded that I don't think even they believe it is a deterrent) and sit as you look over to the side.
Even better than the view itself, there is a castle on one of the cliffs' edges and there are gift shops and restaurants located at the bottom of the hill. Our bus was stopped at Moher for about four hours, and we had trouble seeing and doing everything that they had to offer before we ran out of time. No, this wonder is not to be taken for granted!
17 Galapagos Island - For The Wildlife (Among Other Things)
If you have heard of the Galápagos Islands, it is probably because of a high school or early college level class where you learned about Charles Darwin. Darwin famously used the islands as a case study when he was writing his book, The Origin of the Species. Darwin argued that the isolated nature of the islands created a condition where the various species there evolved differently from the way that those same species evolved on the continent. Darwin's work not only made the Galápagos Islands incredibly famous, but it also made them protected. In Origin of the Species, Darwin talked about how there were several species on the Galápagos Islands that could not be found anywhere else in the world. This made the islands a prime target for environmental groups who managed to protect the islands from the environmental destruction that has occurred essentially everywhere else.
Because the island has managed to stay mostly undeveloped, it has allowed its remains in much the same pristine shape as it was when Darwin first arrived there over a century ago. The wildlife there is obviously one of the main attractions, but the beaches and forests themselves are also worth visiting.
16 Rio De Janeiro Harbor - See The Real Thing (And Not Only The Image You See In A Movie)
Have you ever seen a movie where the characters go to South America? You know that one specific shot that every movie does where they show the giant statue of Jesus overlooking a hilly city and a pretty harbor? Well, that is Rio de Janeiro Harbor. Rio de Janeiro is the capital of Brazil (the largest country located in South America) and is one of the most naturally beautiful cities in the entire world. In the past decade, the city (with the help of the national government) has put forth a concerted effort to make the city look even more picturesque. But even before these renovations, I think it was fair to characterize the Rio harbor as a natural wonder. The land surrounding the harbor is so beautiful, in fact, that it was one of the major reasons why it was colonized and settled by Portuguese officials. Rio de Janeiro is technically on the coast of the Atlantic Ocean but they are close enough to the Caribbean Sea that they enjoy similar beautiful beaches to places like Aruba and the Bahamas. As the harbor funnels more and more tourist money into the country, expect the restoration project to receive additional funding from the Brazilian government.
15 Aurora Borealis - Because It Is A Phenomenon
I have wanted to put the Aurora Borealis as an entry on other lists that I have written for some other sites, but it is hard because the Aurora is not really a place or a destination. It is more of a phenomenon. That is why this list is perfect because something can be a natural wonder without it being fixed or tangible.
The Aurora Borealis is "a natural electrical phenomenon characterized by the appearance of streamers of reddish or greenish light in the sky, usually near the northern or southern magnetic pole."
Pretty much, it is a meteorological event where the night sky becomes filled with several different shades of colors. The borealis has been studied by scientists for centuries but there is still some debate over exactly what causes it and why it only occurs in some specific areas. Note that the aurora borealis refers to the lights that occur in the northern hemisphere while the aurora australis are similar lights that appear in the southern hemisphere. The lights can only be seen from late November to mid-March, and in the northern hemisphere, the lights can only be seen between the latitudes of 65 and 72 degrees.
14 Mount Kilimanjaro - One Of The Most Beautiful Mountains In The World
This list is about each and every one of these wonders, but it is also about Niagara Falls (and how it is not as incredible as it is made out to be). A recent study found that less than 10 thousand people a year visit Mount Kilimanjaro, a number that pales in comparison to the number of tourists that truck through upstate New York in order to get to Niagara Falls. I do not know how someone can look at a picture of Kilimanjaro and then logically make the decision to visit Niagara Falls instead. The chance to visit the African Sahara alone is incredibly enticing, but Mount Kilimanjaro is what really puts this destination over the edge. I understand that Niagara is a lot closer for tourists from the U.S. and Canada, but even tourists from places like Japan and Australia travel thousands of miles to check out the massive falls. Honestly, I think it comes back to the stereotype that African countries are known to be dangerous and that it is not worth the risk to visit them. Given the choice though, I would easily choose the chance to explore one of the most beautiful mountains in the entire world over something as mundane as Niagara Falls.
13 Acadia National Park - Escape The Hustle And Bustle Of Everyday Life... And Of The Niagara Falls
I think that one of the coolest things about the United States is our national park system. Riding the wave of progressivism during Theodore Roosevelt's presidency, the national park system encompasses thousands of acres of land in the United States. One of the best of these is Acadia National Park, found in northeastern Maine.
This park includes several islands in the Atlantic Ocean and makes up some of the most beautiful scenery in the United States. Over three million people visited the park in 2016, but most of these were in the summer months. If you go to Acadia in the fall or spring, you practically have the park to yourself (except for a handful of locals that seem to visit year-round), and the isolation can be deafening.
This can be overwhelming for some people, but if you are looking to escape the hustle and bustle of the busy city, then I do not know if there is a better place to go to on the east coast. So, if you are on the east coast of the United States and want to visit a natural wonder, maybe think twice about going to that waterfall in upstate New York.
12 Amazon Rainforest - One Of The Most Diverse Habitats In The Entire World
It is a sad fact of this list that several of these natural wonders are in danger of being permanently destroyed. There is a large percentage of people that believe the destruction of places like the Galapagos Islands is imminent, but our next entry is a perfect example of how government and international action can preserve nature's most precious gifts. There was a time in the early 1990's when it seemed like the Amazon rainforest was doomed to collapse. Decades of logging combined with climate change to seriously imperil these large tropical forests. This would have been devastating because the rainforests are one of the most diverse habitats in the entire world. These ecosystems are home to more than 2,000 known species and several of the animals found here are not found anywhere else in the world. Because the rainforests are so important to the world's ecosystem, the international community took notice. Several countries have implemented strict rules governing the use of the rainforests' natural resources, and private organizations have funnelled money into programs to promote its welfare. The Amazon rainforests still have a long way to go but they have experienced a dramatic recover in the past decade.
11 Canadian Tundra - No Other Habitat Like It
When I compiled this list of natural wonders, this is the one that I knew I would get the most flack for. I have been encouraging our readers to visit every entry on this list, but it is hard to justify asking someone to use their vacation time to visit the Canadian tundra when plane tickets to Miami beach usually cost less than about $300 per ticket. With that being said though, there is no other habitat on earth like the tundra, and unlike places such as Antarctica, northern Canada is not unbearably cold for the entire year. The most interesting thing about the Canadian tundra for me is the wildlife.
Large mammals like polar bears, wolves, and caribou are plentiful on the tundra and certain species of fox and squirrels can only survive in this frigid environment.
To be fair, though, this probably is not the place you want to visit unless you can at least tolerate the deep snow. Because the tundra is technically a desert (this classification depends on levels of precipitation, not what the temperature is), it does not get a lot of snowfall, but since it stays cold all year, the ground is pretty much just a slab of solid ice.
10 Matterhorn - All Those Legends...
Mount Everest is probably the most famous mountain in the entire world but the Matterhorn has its own place in history and legend. This mountain, situated between Italy and Switzerland, has been the focus of several books and movies. It is famous for its almost symmetrical design and the fact that it is supposedly very hard to climb. The first ascent of the Matterhorn was finally made by a party led by Edward Whymper which ended disastrously when four of its members fell to their deaths on the descent. This story has been made into several movies, including several where the deaths of the climbers are attributed to some malignant creature. Whymper's climb was made during the "golden age of alpinism." This was a time when people in European cities were obsessed with nature and isolation. As such, the alps and the Matterhorn, in particular, became very romanticized. Imagery of rugged men climbing up the supposedly impassible Matterhorn became commonplace in Paris and London. The Matterhorn does not quite live up the legend left for it, but it is certainly one of the most impressive landscapes in all of Europe. As such, it makes our list of natural wonders that are better than Niagara Falls.
9 Mount Everest - The Highest Point On Earth
If you only get to visit one natural wonder in your entire lifetime, you could do worse than visiting the highest point on the entire planet. While visiting the top of Mount Everest might be the most fulfilling entry on this list, it also happens to be the hardest to reach (but it's certainly worth it). Only a couple of dozen men have ever reached the peak of this mountain, and it is recommended that you do not even attempt to climb Everest unless you have several years of climbing experience. This has not stopped several amateurs from attempting the feat and getting themselves stuck on the mountain, though.
Mount Everest is part of the Himalayan Mountain range that stands to the south of China, dividing it from countries like India and Nepal.
I have read that the Himalayas themselves are worth visiting. With a unique culture and environment that you are unlikely to find anywhere else in the world, the crown jewel of this region, however, is still Everest. There is just something about climbing the highest point in the planet that has fascinated thrill seekers for centuries. Just because you go visit Mount Everest, however, does not mean that you have to climb the entire thing (thank God).
8 Redwood Forests - The Tree Is Something Else...
When someone talks about the west coast of the United States, most people think about California, specifically Southern California. This ignores, however, the amazing and totally unique experiences that are available in Northern California, Oregon, and Washington. A perfect example of this is our next entry, which is the redwood forest of the Pacific Northwest. I should preface this entry by admitting that I am a big fan of spending time in the forest. I have a yellow lab that absolutely loves camping and going for hikes in the woods. With that being said, I think that the redwood forests are cool enough that anyone can enjoy them, even people who normally would not enjoy even being outside. I, of course, would want to spend an overnight in the national parks if I got to come to this area, but there is no rule that you cannot simply stop, check out, and take pictures of these gigantic awe-inspiring tree and then leave. The national and state parks in the area are free to visitors for most of the year. This is just such a cool natural wonder that I think is not taken advantage of enough by the U.S. or international visitors.
7 Maldives - Need We Say More?
Our next entry isn't a single site so much as it is an entire country. Maldives is a small island nation in the Indian Ocean. The country is sparsely populated which has helped preserve Maldives' very unique ecosystem. Their series of coral atolls are especially noteworthy, as they house over a 1,000 different species of fish, 5 species of sea turtles, and 21 species of whales and dolphins. This makes Maldives not only an impressive natural wonder, but also makes it one of the most important habitats for marine wildlife in that part of the ocean. If you plan on visiting Maldives in your lifetime, then you may want to do it soon. These atolls can only survive under very specific conditions, and global climate change has seriously imperilled their existence. In fact, recent studies have shown that if sea levels rise by even a single inch more, it could have devastating effects on the Maldives ecosystem. From the pictures I have seen of the breathtaking views and plentiful wildlife there, this would no doubt be a huge tragedy. Hopefully, steps are taken (or have already been taken) to ensure that this does not happen.
6 Dead Sea - Salty And Healing
I am not sure if it is worth going all the way to the Middle East for, but the Dead Sea is one of the most unique places in the entire world and is certainly a natural wonder that is worthy of a spot on this list. Because of a series of geological events that happened millions of years ago, the Dead Sea is one of the saltiest bodies of water on the entire planet. This means that (for a variety of scientific reasons that are not worth explaining, and that maybe I do not fully understand myself) the water is dense enough that a full-grown person can float on the top of it. This also means that the water has certain healing properties. The Sea was one of the world's first health resorts (dating back all the way to the time of the Egyptians also supplied things like potash and asphalt for various kings). Another effect of the high salt content in this body of water is that no macroscopic organisms can survive in it. This has important implications for the number of bacteria that can survive within the water. Like many of the entries on this list, the Dead Sea has been a victim of climate change. According to researchers, the Sea's levels have been receding at an alarming rate.
5 Caribbean Beaches - White Sand And Clear Waters (Paradise?)
Our next entry is not so much a single place so much as it is a large body of water encompassing hundreds of leagues of the Atlantic Ocean. This planet is full of natural wonders, and dozens of scholarly works have talked about the Caribbean Sea. Its beaches were the byproduct of a specific set of geological and meteorological circumstances that only had a one-in-a-billion chance of happening. It is pretty amazing that all these circumstances would come together to give the Caribbean such beautiful beaches, a fact that I am sure locals and tourists alike can really appreciate. It is unreasonable for me to expect that all of our readers will visit all 20 natural wonders listed in this article or even one or two if them. If you are pressed for time, however, and can only visit one of these places, then I will say that I firmly believe that everyone in their lifetime should go to the Caribbean (if you haven't already). There's a reason that several authors have based their version of what heaven looks like off of the sandy beaches in places like Aruba and the Cayman Islands.
4 Great Barrier Reef - The Snorkeling Makes It All Worth It
One of my favorite parts about writing for The Travel is choosing the pictures that correspond with the various entries. Sometimes, this can be a challenge but there are more worthy things to get paid for than looking at pictures all day. My favorite picture on this list is the one of the Great Barrier Reef.
Plane tickets to Australia are outrageously expensive but it would almost be worth paying $2,000 for a round-trip ticket for a chance to go snorkeling through these amazing reefs.
I recently went snorkeling off the coast of Mexico but, as cool as it was, it was nothing in comparison to the pictures that I have seen of the Great Barrier Reef. The fish are obviously fantastic but the deep colors in the coral itself is something that I can hardly imagine. It is because the reef is so beautiful that it makes people upset how it has been impacted by climate change. Rising sea levels have changed the relationship between the Pacific wildlife and the Great Barrier Reef, and the reef itself has begun to bleach due to rising acid levels in the ocean. So, those beautiful coral colors I talked about earlier in this entry? Yeah, those are slowly draining away into the ocean.
3 Victoria Falls - WAY More Impressive Than Niagara
The poverty that is pervasive in many African countries has many roots. European colonialism ravaged many of these nations and modern racism has prevented them from escaping their third world status. Another reason which is important for our purposes, however, is that a multitude of factors have prevented these countries from realizing the full potential of their natural resources. A perfect example of this is Victoria falls, one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring national wonders in the entire world, but one that is also largely ignored by the majority of tourists. Why? Well, the negative perception of African countries (which can be fairly attributed to high rates of crime and terrorism is certain areas) has severely limited the tourism industry of the entire continent. But just because most people do not know about Victoria Falls, does not mean that it is not worth the visit. As someone who has visited Niagara Falls multiple times (as I already mentioned a few times), I can personally attest that it is vastly inferior to the pictures I have seen of the falls in Zimbabwe.
2 Puerto Princesa Underground River - Still Not Fully Explored
If you go to any country in the world, they are likely to have some large river or waterway that makes life in that particular area possible. There are, however, very few places on earth that can replicate the wonder and pure awesomeness that is found at the Puerto Princesa underground river in the Philippines. This amazing geological wonder is located on Palawan, one of the larger Philippine islands. The river starts above ground but eventually leads into a large cave. The river travels underground, although most of the island eventually empties into the sea. It was discovered in 2010 that there is a second floor of the river within the cave. This means that there are waterfalls within the cave that flow down into the lower levels of the structure. Many of these caverns have yet to be explored so there could still be amazing things here that we do not even know about. The best part about this natural wonder is how accessible it is to tourists. The island of Palawan can easily be reached by plane or boat, and once you are there, you can reserve a boat tour that actually travels through the underground cavern.
1 Ha Long Bay - A Forgotten World
I knew about most of the entries in this article before I began writing this list. This next entry is one of the few exceptions as I had never heard about Ha Long Bay before I even started doing research for this list. But just because this area in northern Vietnam is not as famous as some other entries does not mean that it is not worthy of being included and visited.
This bay is made up of aver 1,500 small islands and islets, most of which are uninhabited. This gives visitors the sense of being in a world that has long since been forgotten.
One reason for the isolation of this area is the islets themselves. They make settlement difficult, and even with the wonders of modern technology, much of the area is still unsettled. Although there are not a ton of residents around, you will probably see a fair number of tourists when you visit Ha Long. The area is a popular destination for eastern tourists who come to look at the unique limestone cliffs and visit its famous floating village. The wonders of this area were recognized in 1994 when Ha Long Bay became a World Heritage Site.