The Seven Natural Wonders of the World

February 16, 2024

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Aurora Borealis

Our planet is full of wonders and unanswered questions. “Was King Arthur a real person?”, “Where is Cleopatra’s tomb?”, and “How and why was Stonehenge built?” are just some of the mysteries humans have been pondering for centuries.

Some wonders can be explained by science — but that doesn’t make them any less wondrous. Take Uluru, the world’s largest single-rock monolith, for example. Scientists have explained that it was formed 550 million years ago via a combination of tectonic movement, rainwater, underwater compression, and the erosion of other rocks. Yet, seeing it up close is still an awe-inspiring experience.

To celebrate and protect the planet’s wonders, several lists have been compiled (although what should be featured on each of them is an ongoing and hotly contested topic). There’s the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, which includes monuments like the Great Pyramid of Giza and the Statue of Zeus at Olympia. Then there’s the New Seven Wonders of the World, which features more modern wonders like the Great Wall of China and the Taj Mahal. There’s also the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, which we’ll be looking at in this article.

What are the 7 Natural Wonders of the world, and where are they located?

The Seven Wonders of the World is not a universally agreed list, with many disputing which landmarks and phenomena should be included in it. This article is based on the list of natural wonders compiled by CNN in 1997. They are:

Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights)

Northern Lights in the sky above Finland
Northern Lights (Aurora Borealis) visible in Suomi, Finland

The Aurora Borealis — more commonly known as the “Northern Lights” — is a naturally occurring phenomenon whereby green, purple, pink, and white lights dance across the night sky. These lights, or “auroras” as they’re known scientifically, occur when billions of electrically charged particles collide with gases in the Earth’s atmosphere to create a striking light show along the horizon.

Countries like Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Norway, and Greenland usually have the best displays, as well as the US state of Alaska and large sections of northern Canada. The closer you are to the Arctic Circle, the more intense the Aurora Borealis will be, and you’ll have a better chance of seeing them away from built-up areas where there’s no light pollution. While they do occur throughout the year, winter is the best time to catch them, as the dark winter skies make them easier to see. Unfortunately, though, the Northern Lights appear at random, meaning you may not see them, even if you are in the right location at the right time of year.

Harbor of Rio de Janeiro

The Harbor of Rio de Janeiro as seen from a cable car
The Harbor of Rio de Janeiro, also known as Guanabara Bay

Also known as “Guanabara Bay”, the Harbor of Rio de Janeiro in southeastern Brazil, is an immense body of water surrounded by granite rock formations and quartz mountains. The harbor is considered one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World because it is the planet’s largest natural bay, based on water volume.

The iconic white stone statue of Christ the Redeemer overlooks the bay, which is surrounded by other popular tourist attractions, including Sugar Loaf Mountain and the Tijuca National Park.

Despite being a hub of human activity, the Harbor of Rio de Janeiro has managed to retain its natural beauty, which visitors can appreciate by either taking a helicopter flight, riding the Sugar Mountain cable car, or taking the Corcovado Rack Railway to Tijuca National Park.

Grand Canyon

Looking across the Grand Canyon at sunset
The Grand Canyon at sunset

The Grand Canyon, is located in the state of Arizona in the United States.

Measuring 277 miles long, up to 18 miles wide, and 1.1 miles deep, the Grand Canyon’s huge size is awe-inspiring — but it’s also impressive because of its age. The canyon was formed over millions of years with the erosion of rock by the Colorado River. The result is a vast gorge with visible layers of red and orange rock and sediment.

The Grand Canyon can be accessed from either one of its two closest cities: Las Vegas or Phoenix. Active visitors can head to the South Rim of the canyon and spend a day or two trekking one of the many hiking trails, allowing you to admire the landscape from various viewpoints. Alternatively, you can explore the Grand Canyon by rafting, kayaking, or boating along the river. Or, to get a real sense of just how immense this Wonder of the World is, you can take a helicopter tour. If you’re interested in the geology of the canyon, the Geological Museum can tell you more about its formation.

Great Barrier Reef

Aerial view of the Daintreee Rainforest and the Great Barrier Reef
The Great Barrier Reef close to the Daintree Rainforest

Located in the state of Queensland in Australia, the Great Barrier Reef is a reef system made up of more than 2,900 reefs and 900 islands. Stretching for 1,429 miles and covering an area of 214,000 square miles, it makes it onto this list because it is the largest coral reef system in the world.

A UNESCO World Heritage Site and protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, it is one of the most biologically diverse regions in the world, home to a wide variety of species, from algae and coral to worms, sea snakes, and fish to dolphins, turtles, and rays.

Along Australia’s northeastern coast, there are countless snorkeling and scuba-diving tours to the reef. Some of these are day tours, while others take place over a series of days. Cairns, the Whitsunday Islands, and Port Douglas are some of the most popular places to book tours from. If you would prefer not to be in the water, you can take a glass-bottomed boat tour or view the reef from the air via a helicopter ride. 

Mount Everest

Climbers looking at Mount Everest from base camp
The summit of Mount Everest viewed from base camp

Mount Everest is situated in the Himalayan Mountains along the Tivet-Nepal border. Most people know that at 8,848 meters tall, it is the world’s highest mountain.

Approximately 800 people attempt to climb Mount Everest each year. However, climbing the mountain is extremely difficult and expensive. If you want to be one of the few people who can say they climbed Mount Everest, you will need to hire a professional guide (which costs thousands of dollars), and you will need to prepare for months or even years to get your body used to the extreme conditions.

Just getting to base camp takes about two weeks, and if it’s snowing, getting close to the mountain is almost impossible. Again, an alternative way to see Mount Everest is via helicopter, which allows you to appreciate the sheer scale of the mountain with little to no effort. You can also get a distant view of the mountain from a hill station in Nepal.

Victoria Falls

Sun setting over Victoria Falls
Sun setting over Victoria Falls

Niagara Falls is arguably the most famous waterfall in the world, but due to its combined height and width (354 by 5,604 feet), Victoria Falls is the largest. It may not be the tallest or widest waterfall in the world, but it has the world’s largest sheet of falling water, particularly during the rainy season, from late November through early April.

Located along the Zambia-Zimbabwe border as part of the Zambezi River, Victoria Falls is accessible from Livingstone in Zambia or the town of Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. You can explore the waterfall either on foot, by boat, or by swimming up to the edge during the low season. More adventurous travelers choose to bungee jump from the Victoria Falls Bridge, while microlight and helicopter tours are available for the non-adrenaline junkies. As well as providing you with an aerial view of the spectacular waterfall, exploring by air gives you the opportunity to spot wild animals like elephants and zebras in the national park below.

Paricutín

Paricutín on a grey and cloudy day
Paricutín formed suddenly in 1943

Parícutin is a now dormant cinder cone volcano located in Michoacán in Mexico, a seven-hour drive from Mexico City.

The volcano’s appearance on this list is due to the fact that humans were able to witness and document its emergence from the ground in 1943. In its first year, Parícutin grew 1,475 feet, and it erupted for nine years before finally becoming dormant in 1952.

Today, it is a popular tourist attraction, and visitors have the choice of either hiking or horseback riding the twelve-mile round trip to the volcano’s peak. Along the way, there are lava fields, buried homes, and the encased remains of a church near the summit.

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