10 most surreal landscapes in the world

From the geysers of Dominica’s Valley of Desolation to the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia, we list 10 of the world’s most bizarre landscapes…

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Blindingly white and dizzyingly high, this vast salt flat near the crest of the Andes could easily be mistaken for a Salvador Dali painting. Eerie and otherworldly, Salar de Uyuni holds intensely blue skies, red and green lagoons, pink flamingos, smoking volcanoes, giant cacti, hot springs and spitting geysers. To access the small town of Uyuni, take a bus from the Bolivian settlements of Oruro or Potosi, or from the Argentinian town of Villazon. In Uyuni, dozens of operators run three and four day tours by jeep (for up to six people) into the vast wilderness. Pack warm clothing and sunglasses.

Purnululu National Park, Australia
Until the release of aerial photos in the early 1980s, this remote area in Western Australia was all but unknown to the outside world. Traditionally used by Kija Aborigines during the wet season, the rugged web of gullies, cliffs, gorges, domes and ridges hold aboriginal works of art and burial sites. Hiking in the National Park is popular, as are scenic flights over the orange and black domes of the Bungle Bungle Range. Tour operators can be found in the towns of Kununurra and Falls Creek. June to August is cool but busy; May is less crowded but hot.

Petrified Forest, Argentina
This flat arid land in Patagonia’s Santa Cruz province is strewn with the stumps of fossilised trees. Some 130 million years ago, during the Jurassic period, wet forests of giant araucaria trees covered the area. During the formation of the Andes, large-scale volcanic activity buried Patagonia in ash and these forests turned to stone. Day trips are easy if you have your own vehicle, but tour operators can organise travel from either Puerto Deseado (256km away) or Comodoro Rivadavia. Entrance to the park itself is free.

Wadi Rum, Jordan
The forbidding beauty of Wadi Rum was the perfect backdrop for the 1962 epic Lawrence of Arabia. This desert wilderness is certainly cinematic – sand valleys and dunes punctuated by a maze of monolithic rock, natural arches, slender canyons and fissures, beautifully moody colours at dawn and dusk, and night skies sprinkled with a multitude of stars. Tour operators run single-day and overnight trips from Aqaba and Petra. An overnight stay – or a longer trek – is recommended to see the best of the region’s beauty.

Lake Myvatn, Iceland
The Apollo 11 crew were sent here to train for their moon walks. It is lined with craters, lava pillars and mud pits, while volcanic islets are scattered across the water. If not for all the ducks roaming the sandbars, it could well be on another planet. Base yourself at Reykjahlid on the north-eastern shore or Skutustaoir on the southern side. Hardcore hikers should note that the road around the lake is 36km.

Cappadocia, Turkey
So inhospitable is the landscape here in the heart of Turkey that early dwellers went underground, building churches and houses into the soft cliffs. Above ground, honeycomb cliffs and volcanic cones – known as ‘fairy chimneys’ create dramatic landscapes. Take a balloon tour or stay in one of dozens of cave hotels, such as the Cappadocia Cave Suites.

Lake Bogoria, Kenya
So shallow is the earth’s crust in this sinister landscape that the surface looks like a giant witch’s cauldron, with scorching springs and geysers. Rich in sodium salts and minerals, the lake has no life bar the blue-green algae, eagles flying overhead and the incredible number of flamingos that feed here. Accommodation is available on site, there’s a hotel on the northern shore and several campsites to the south of the lake. Wider tours of the region are available through operators.

Halong Bay, Vietnam
This stunning landscape features some 3,000 limestone pillars rising out of the emerald waters on the northwest coast of the Gulf of Tonkin. Local legend has it that the islands were created by giant dragons, summoned by the gods to fight Chinese invaders. Countless tour operators in Hanoi organise boat trips, usually featuring exploration of the islands and their caves, plus an overnight stay on Cat Ba island.

Valley of Desolation, Dominica
This valley was a lush rainforest until a volcano erupted in 1880. Fauna is now reduced to lizards, ants and cockroaches while boiling mud and fumaroles dot the landscape. From the village of Laudat, perched 1,200 ft above sea level, there are numerous difficult trails leading to the valley: a guide is highly recommended.

Painted Desert, Arizona, USA
Vibrant reds, oranges, blues, greys and pinks decorate the sun-baked Painted Desert on a high plateau in Arizona. Home of the Hopi and the Navajo peoples, the latter known for their ceremonial sand paintings, it’s an utterly unique part of the planet. From the town of Holbrook, you can visit the desert and Arizona’s petrified forest. The Painted Desert Visitor’s Centre is just off Interstate 40.

Content sourced from The Telegraph (Jan 2010)

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