The New Natural Wonders of the
More than 250 sites are in the
running to be named among the New 7 Wonders of Nature, as part of a
three-year contest whose winners are expected to be announced in
2011. Here are some of our favorite contenders.
Galápagos Islands: This
archipelago of volcanic islands straddles the equator 650 miles
west of Ecuador. Popular with wildlife enthusiasts, it's home to
many noteworthy species of flora and fauna, including flamingos,
iguanas, blue-footed boobies and giant tortoises. Charles Darwin
observed many species here as he developed his theory of evolution
by natural selection. The Galápagos Islands have been described as
one of the most unique, scientifically important and biologically
outstanding areas on earth. Many travelers describe their time in
the islands as a life-changing experience.
Great Barrier Reef: The world's largest coral reef system, the
Great Barrier Reef is home to over 1,500 species of fish, 200
species of birds and numerous species of whales, dolphins and sea
turtles. It extends about 1,250 miles along the coast of
Queensland, Australia, and spans a total area of about 14,300
square miles. The reef has historically been a well-protected,
pristine haven for delicate coral and abundant marine life.
However, this habitat is at risk due to overfishing and pollution,
in addition to rising sea temperatures likely caused by global
The Camargue: This river
delta located in southern France is Western Europe's largest, at
360 square miles. Designated as a botanical and zoological nature
reserve, it's home to wild bulls, white horses and more than 400
species of birds. Salt marshes in the southeast corner of the
Camargue have produced salt since antiquity. Walking and cycling
paths make this park popular with bird watchers, cyclists and
outdoor enthusiasts; bring your insect repellent, however, as the
mosquitoes here can be fierce.
Erg Chebbi: This portion of
the Sahara desert is located in southeastern Morocco. Distinctive
ergs — large dunes formed by wind-blown sand — reach nearly 500
feet high. The village of Merzouga, about four hours from
Marrakesh, is located on the edge of these distinctive dunes.
Tourists flock here for the opportunity to camp, ride camels and
view the incredible sunsets and sunrises over the otherworldly
landscape. Local legend says that the dunes were formed to punish
locals for turning away a wayward traveler, and that they're a
reminder to never again dismiss weary visitors.
Mount Everest: The highest
mountain on Earth (29,035 feet) is part of the Himalaya range,
located on the border between Nepal and Tibet. Mount Everest
attracts climbers of all levels, from experienced mountaineers to
novice trekkers willing to pay substantial fees to professional
guides to help them complete a successful climb. Expeditions
sometimes end in tragedy, however, as weather conditions can
deteriorate quickly on the mountain.
Black Forest: Germany's Black
Forest (Schwarzwald) takes its name from the dark, dense stands of
spruce and fir that cover its slopes. It covers a nearly
3,000-square-mile mountainous area, bordered by the Rhine River to
the west and the Swiss border to the south. Its highest peak is the
mountain Feldberg, with an elevation of 4,898 feet. Since World War
II, air pollution, especially from automobile emissions, has done
extensive damage to the trees.
Milford Sound: This South
Island fjord, created by receding glaciers, is one of New Zealand's
best-known scenic attractions. With an annual rainfall of 270
inches, Milford Sound is also one of the wettest places in the
world. It stretches nine miles inland from the
Tasman Sea, and is most easily visited by boat tours that
last one to two hours. Visitors
can enjoy gazing up the sheer rock walls that rise 3,900 feet or
more on each side, and may catch a glimpse of the seals, penguins
and dolphins that inhabit these waters.
Okavango Delta: The world's
largest inland delta — it empties into the Kalahari Desert
— was part of an ancient lake that dried up 10,000
years ago, and is now one of Africa's top safari destinations. The
waters of the Okavango Delta in Botswana are subject to seasonal
flooding that increase its area from 3,500 to over 6,500 square
miles. With its abundance of water, it supports a large
concentration of wildlife. Visitors may glimpse crocodiles, lions,
elephants and hippos in addition to over 400 species of
Niagara Falls: Niagara Falls
was created by the same glacial activity that formed the Great
Lakes 10,000 years ago. A popular tourist destination, especially
for honeymooners, the falls are on the border of the U.S. and
Canada. Horseshoe Falls, on the Canadian side, is about 2,600 feet
wide, while the American Falls is 1,060 feet wide. Both face the
Canadian shore, so the best views are available from the Canadian
side of the Niagara River. For over a century, numerous daredevils
have attempted to challenge the falls. Tightrope walkers, jumpers
and, in 1901, the first person in a barrel — a schoolteacher from
Michigan — have all risked the plunge.
Cappadocia: This region of
Turkey features strange rock formations that some have called
"fairy chimneys." Over the last 60 million years, Cappadocia has
been shaped by geologic and volcanic events as well as weathering
and erosion, creating these monoliths. Almost 2,000 years ago,
Christians carved their first churches into these stones.
Mont Blanc: Western Europe's
highest mountain, at 15,781 feet, lies between Italy and France in
the Alps mountain range. The two countries are connected by both a
7 1/4-mile tunnel beneath the mountain, and a gondola across the
nearby 12,600-foot Aiguille du Midi Mountain. Known as "the white
lady" (La Dame Blanche in French; Monte Bianco in Italian), Mont
Blanc is popular with climbers, skiers and snowboarders. In 2007,
Europe's highest portable toilets were installed at 14,000 feet,
aiming to serve 30,000 visitors annually.
Kalahari Desert: Covering
parts of Botswana, Namibia and South Africa, the
350,000-square-mile Kalahari features a number of game preserves
that are home to hyenas, lions, meerkats and antelopes, among other
species of birds and reptiles that inhabit the region. Although
called a desert, portions of the Kalahari receive more than 9.8
inches of precipitation per year — the normal standard for
classifying a desert.
Yangtze River: At 3,900
miles, China's longest river is the third-longest in the world,
behind only the Amazon and the Nile. It flows east from its source
in Qinghai Province to the East China Sea, dividing northern and
southern China. The Yangtze River has long been a major
transportation artery, and today is one of the world's busiest
waterways. The most impressive section of the river is the three
Yangtze River gorges: Qutang Gorge, Wuxia Gorge and Xiling Gorge,
collectively known as Sanxia, or the Three Gorges.
Amazon River: The world's
largest river system is the main artery of the Amazon rain forest.
It has more than 1,000 known tributaries, and 17 of those are at
least 1,000 miles long. Spanning the borders of eight countries,
the Amazon rain forest is home to more than 350 indigenous and
ethnic groups that have lived there for thousands of years. It
contains nearly 40,000 plant species and sustains the world's
richest diversity of birds, freshwater fish and butterflies. Today,
the region is threatened by rapid deforestation.
Cliffs of Moher: One of
Ireland's top attractions, the Cliffs of Moher attracts more
than 1 million visitors a year. The cliffs extend
nearly five miles, reach a maximum height of 700 feet and are home
to colonies of cliff-nesting seabirds, including Atlantic puffins.
The new Cliffs of Moher Visitor Experience allows tourists to get a
bird's-eye view from the cliffs, as well as see the inside of
underwater caves at the base of the cliffs, all from the
comfortable interior of the visitor center.
Bikini Atoll: Part of the
Marshall Islands just north of the equator in the Pacific Ocean,
this atoll includes Bikini Island, which is famous for two reasons:
First, in the 1940s and 1950s, several nuclear bombs were tested
there, and second, the two-piece swimsuit was named after it in
1946. Prior to the first nuclear tests, the U.S. designated the
lagoon as a ship graveyard during World War II. Today, the naval
wrecks are popular with scuba divers. Though some residual
radioactivity remains, measured levels have been deemed not
Ayers Rock: The large
sandstone formation of Ayers Rock (also known as Uluru) rises 1,142
feet from the desert. Its sheer size — with a circumference of 6
miles — dwarfs everything around it. This iconic monolith of
Australia is one of the largest in the world. From dawn to dusk, it
takes on a stunning range of red to brown shades with the changing
light. Ayers Rock is sacred to the Aborigines of the area, who are
known as the Anangu. In recent years, Uluru has also become popular
with New Age practitioners.
Mount Fuji: Japan's highest
mountain, at 12,388 feet, can be seen from Tokyo, 62 miles
away, on a clear day. Its symmetrical snowcapped
cone is often the subject of Japanese art, literature and poetry.
An estimated 200,000 people climb the mountain each year. The
mountain, a dormant volcano that last erupted in
1707, is surrounded by the Aokigahara forest, a large national park
that's popular with hikers.
Loch Ness: This deep
freshwater lake is part of the Caledonian Canal system that joins
the North Sea with the Atlantic Ocean. Loch Ness is about 23 miles
long and reaches to the northern Scottish city of Inverness. Since
the early 1930s, it's been most famous for reports of a giant lake
monster, which some believe was actually just a large sturgeon.
However, the legend of the Loch Ness Monster persists today.
Bora Bora: This favorite
island of romantics covers just 15 square miles. Located in French
Polynesia in the Pacific Ocean, Bora Bora is surrounded by a lagoon
and a barrier reef. Over-the-water bungalows are an iconic image of
Bora Bora; many hotels have built structures on stilts in order to
maximize their real estate. Motu Toopua, a fragment of the volcano
that formed the island, rises nearly 3,000 feet in the center of
Grand Canyon: One of the top
tourist attractions in the U.S., this mile-deep canyon has been
carved by the Colorado River over the last 6
million years. Years of erosion have shaped the canyon's steep
walls, exposing its red-hued rocks. The 277-mile-long canyon is
visited by nearly 5 million people each year. Many
view the awe-inspiring landscape from the canyon's rim, though
hikers, mule riders and rafters can take advantage of recreational
opportunities in the inner canyon.