The Grand Canyon, Great Barrier Reef and more stunning beauty
Grand Canyon, Arizona Impressive for its scale, Arizona’s Grand Canyon, carved by the Colorado River, is also set in beautiful landscape. The gorge is a mind-blowing 445km long and 29km wide, with a depth of more than 1.8km. The best times to see it are early morning (before the coaches arrive) and at sunset. Fly to Phoenix via Chicago with Etihad and American Airlines from Dhs5,000 return. www.etihadairways.com; www.aa.com
Aurora Borealis, Alaska Aurora Borealis, aka Northern Lights, are naturally occurring illuminations that create spectacular displays in the sky; the phenomenon is caused by the interaction between the earth’s magnetic field and solar wind. The lights appear as a diffused glow, folded pages or waves of light above the horizon. Also known as polar auroras, the lights occur over northern Scandinavia too, as well as the southern tip of Greenland, northern Canada and the northern coast of Siberia; Antarctica has its own Southern Lights. For the best chance of seeing this rare phenomenon, plan your trip from March to April or September to October. Fly to Anchorage via Amsterdam and Minneapolis (via Seattle on the return) from Dhs7,500 return with KLM and Delta. www.klm.com; www.delta.com
Gunung Mulu National Park, Borneo, Malaysia This UNESCO World Heritage Site near Miri, Sarawak, in Malaysian Borneo, features incredible caves and karst formations in a mountainous rainforest setting. As well as hosting many famous geological expeditions, the park is also home to the largest-known underground chamber in the world, the Sarawak Chamber: 700m long and 400m wide, it’s big enough to accommodate St Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Fly to Banjarmasin in Indonesian Borneo via Jakarta from Dhs4,683 return with Emirates and Garuda. www.emirates.com; www.garuda-indonesia.com
Mount Everest, Himalayas The highest peak on Earth is located in the Himalayan mountain range, on the border between Nepal (where it’s called Sagamartha) and Tibet, China (where it’s called Chomolungma or Qomolangma). The summit lies at 8,948m above sea level. Everest is not technically the tallest mountain in the world, however: that honour goes to Mauna Kea in Hawaii, although most of it is under water. Fly direct to Kathmandu with Fly Dubai from Dhs1,545 return. www.flydubai.com
Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia The world’s largest coral reef encompasses more than 2,900 separate reefs, and supports one of the most diverse ecosystems in the world. It spreads over 350,000 sq km and includes more than 900 islands. Some two million visitors travel to the reef every year. A large part of it is protected from factors such as overfishing, although threats from pollution and climate change remain. Fly to Cairns via Brisbane with Emirates and Virgin Blue from Dhs8,000 return. www.emirates.com; www.virginaustralia.com
Paricutin Volcano, Michoacán, Mexico Paricutin, 424m high and 3,170m above sea level, is an active cinder cone volcano in Michoacán, Mexico, often named one of the ‘seven natural wonders of the world’ because mankind witnessed its birth during the 1940s. It’s been dormant since the last eruption in 1952. Fly to Mexico City via Paris with Alitalia from Dhs5,664 return. www.alitalia.com
Uluru, Central Australia Central Australia’s Uluru appears to rise out of nowhere, and is 450km from the closest town, Alice Springs. The large sandstone formation is 348m high with a circumference of 9.4km, and was sacred to the indigenous Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara peoples. Travellers linger here to see the changing colours as the sun strikes the rock at different times of the day; at sunset it glows deep crimson and is at its most photogenic and romantic. The area also features waterholes, springs and rock caves – ancient paintings found in the latter give the site special historical value. Fly to Uluru (Ayers Rock) via Sydney and Kuala Lumpur with Malaysian Airlines and Qantas from Dhs5,700 return. www.malaysiaairlines.com; www.qantas.com.au.
Lençóis Maranhenses National Park, Brazil This vast area of large sand dunes is reminiscent of a desert, but receives regular rainfall that causes fresh water to collect between the dunes; surprisingly, these translucent pools are home to a variety of fish (their eggs are brought from the sea by birds). The park was created in 1981 and is located in the state of Maranhão, south of the mouth of the Amazon River. Amazingly, this patch of desert dates from the period of the Gondwana supercontinent of 550 to 500 million years ago, when Brazil was connected to Africa. Fly to Sao Luiz via São Paulo and Amsterdam with KLM and TAM from Dhs7,600 return. www.klm.com; www.tam.com.br
Victoria Falls, Zambia and Zimbabwe, Africa This infamous waterfall, located in southern Africa on the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, is fed by the Zambezi River. Not the highest or widest falls in the world, their claim to fame is being the largest wall, or surface area, of falling water in the world: the falls are 1.7km wide and 108m high. They were named Victoria Falls by Scottish explorer Dr David Livingstone, but are also called Mosi-oa-Tunya, meaning ‘smoke that thunders’. Avoid visiting during the rainy season (November to April), when the additional water makes it impossible to see the base of the falls. Fly to Victoria Falls via Johannesburg with Ethiopian Airways and South African Airways from Dhs5,000 return. www.flyethiopian.com; www.flysaa.com.
Milford Sound, Fiordland, New Zealand This fjord in the south-west of New Zealand’s South Island – within Fiordland National Park and the Te Wahipounamu UNESCO World Heritage Site – is named after Milford Haven in Wales. It runs 15km inland from the Tasman Sea, surrounded by sheer rock faces that rise 1,200m on either side. Among the most photogenic peaks in the area are the Elephant, and Lion Mountain, both vaguely resembling those species. Rainforests cling to the cliffs on either side, while seals, penguins and dolphins bob in the waters below. Fly to Queenstown via Christchurch with Emirates and Air New Zealand from Dhs8,800 return. www.emirates.com; www.airnewzealand.com. For a full list of World Heritage Sites, see www.unesco.org