The Most Extreme Travel Destinations the World Has to Offer
Have you ever wondered which country on earth is the coldest? What about the hottest? Or how about the place that sees the most lightning strikes?
When planning vacations, it can be easy to disregard locations that offer something extreme. Why would anyone want to go somewhere where temperatures hover around minus 46 degrees Fahrenheit, or on the flipside, where it's not unusual for temps to surpass 120 degrees Fahrenheit? What appeal is there in visiting a place that experiences 1.2 million lightning strikes a year?
But while it may seem like these destinations have little to offer in terms of travel, the opposite is actually true: It’s in the most over-the-top places where you're most likely to enjoy a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
With an open mind, somewhere you've never considered before could be where your next great adventure begins.
The Coldest Inhabited Place on Earth
Tucked away in the northeastern corner of Siberia, Russia, lies the village of Oymyakon. Its nickname is the "pole of cold" — which is apt, as this is the coldest inhabited place on the planet.
During the winter months, daily temperatures hover around minus 46 degrees Fahrenheit, and they can dip much lower than that. On February 6, 1933, Oymyakon reached a low of minus 90 degrees Fahrenheit, making it nearly impossible for the village's 500 inhabitants to leave their homes.
But despite the region's frost-bite-friendly weather, one local told "60 Minutes Australia" that she has no interest in moving to a warmer locale. "Yes, there are difficulties in anyone's life, but it's good here," she explained. "If I had a choice to live anywhere in the world, it would be here."
A visit to Oymyakon during the winter, when it's blanketed in thick sheets of snow, provides a unique look into daily life well below the level of freezing.
Given that the village has no hotels or restaurants, it's best to organize your trip through a reputable agency, many of which offer travel packages that include an overnight stay with a local family in Oymyakon, plus ice fishing and excursions outside of the village to notable locations like the Siberian city of Yakutsk, the UNESCO-recognized Lena Pillars National Park, Stalin's Road of Bones and Siberia's Soviet-era gulag prisons.
The Hottest Place on Earth
This one is a little controversial.
In 1922, El Azizia, a small town in Libya, secured the record for the hottest temperature ever recorded, a blazing 136.4 degrees Fahrenheit. With this distinction, El Azizia usurped California's Death Valley, which had previously claimed the highest temperature at 134 degrees Fahrenheit in 1913.
However, in 2012, the World Meteorological Organization determined that El Azizia's measurement had been flawed, and returned the title for the hottest place on earth back to Death Valley.
Especially in the summer months, this valley sees temperatures as high as 120 degrees in the shade, with “lows” coming in at 90 degrees at night. Yet despite its sizzle, it offers plenty of reasons to visit.
Although it's called Death Valley, life abounds in this expansive national park. Here you'll find a vast array of indigenous plants and wildlife — including the desert tortoise, roadrunner and jackrabbit —biologically equipped to thrive in beyond-boiling temps.
Additionally, a visit to Death Valley will give you access to a variety of naturally occurring, heat-related phenomena, including the salt-covered Badwater Basin; the Racetrack Playa, where 700-pound rocks move at will (no one's exactly sure why); and the Eureka Sand Dunes, where the sand is said to sing.
Plus, unlike some other spots on this list, Death Valley is highly accessible, situated a couple hours from Vegas and a little over three hours from L.A.
Just don’t forget to bring plenty of water!
The World’s Most Remote Inhabited Island
The British Overseas Territory of Tristan da Cunha is an 8-mile wide volcanic island located in the South Atlantic Ocean. Its closest mainland neighbor is Cape Town, South Africa — 1,743 miles east.
This makes Tristan da Cunha the world's most remote inhabited island. The island's only settlement, called Edinburgh of the Seven Seas or simply Edinburgh, sits on the northern coast and is home to 246 permanent residents. Tristan da Cunha has no airport, restaurants or hotels and is only accessible by ship (and the occasional cruise ship) from Cape Town, a journey that takes around seven hours one-way.
There's no denying that Tristan da Cunha lacks the flash and flair of a typical island vacation, but that's precisely why it's a must-see destination.
In addition to its appealing distance from the hustle and bustle of modern life, Tristan da Cunha offers golfing, fishing and nature-based excursions like hikes up Tristan volcano to Queen Mary's Peak. The island’s remoteness also means it has some exceptional native wildlife, including several breeds of albatross and its most famous resident, the rockhopper penguin.
That said, organizing your visit will require time and some flexibility. Before you go, you'll need to secure permission for your visit from the Island Council and, through their office, arrange accommodations, excursions and guides. And given that you can only access the island from Cape Town, you'll need to familiarize yourself with the port's limited shipping schedule and plan accordingly.
The Most Electric Place on Earth
Lake Catatumbo, located in Venezuela, holds the unusual honor of being the most electrified place on the planet.
The spot where Lake Catatumbo meets Lake Maracaibo sees, on average, 1.2 million lightning strikes a year. And on any given night, the storms can last upwards of 10 hours.
To date, scientists aren't sure what causes these spectacular lightning events, but that hasn't stopped visitors from flocking to the area in the hopes of catching a glimpse of one.
Under the guidance of a specialized tour operator, it is possible to witness one of Catatumbo's lightning extravaganzas; however, it's not guaranteed.
The best time to visit the region is during October, when the wet season is at its peak and your chance of seeing Mother Nature in action is best. Storms are least prevalent in January and February.
The Driest Place on Earth
In its driest parts, northern Chile’s Atacama Desert receives less than a single millimeter of water a year.
Although the desert's boundaries are loosely defined, there's believed to be around 700 miles of terrain between its northern and southern tips. Considering that a millimeter of water equals 20 drops, or less than a teaspoon, it isn't hard to believe scientists when they say the Atacama is the driest place on earth (excluding the poles).
The Atacama is home to some of the world's most fascinating geological gems, such as the El Tatio Geyser, the color-splashed Rainbow Valley and the Salar de Atacama, the largest salt flat in Chile.
Additionally, the desert is where the oldest mummified humans on earth reside, dating back to 5,000 BC (you can thank the extreme arid conditions for that). And it’s widely considered to be one of world’s premier locations for stargazing, too.
Though this destination is extreme, its temperatures are not, ranging from 71 degrees Fahrenheit in the daytime to 28 degrees Fahrenheit at night. The main town nearby, San Pedro, is a great base camp, with hotels, hostels, campsites and a nice array of dining options available.
The Wettest Place on Earth
Sandwiched between Bhutan in the north and Bangladesh in the south sits Mawsynram, a village that — during its six-month-long monsoon season — receives 467 inches of rain, making it the wettest place on earth.
For comparison, the rainiest U.S. states, Hawaii and Louisiana, average between 60 and 70 inches of rain per year.
While many Mawsynram locals admit the endless days of rain can be depressing and at times annoying, they also agree it's the rain that gives the region its striking beauty.
Covered in miles of lush blankets of green flora, Mawsynram is rich with waterfalls, awe-inspiring cliffs, rubber tree bridges and thousands of sand and limestone caves shaped by rainwater. Must-see attractions include the Mawsynram Botanical Garden and the Mawjymbuin Cave, home to a pair of speleothems (cave formations) molded by mother nature into the shape of a Hindu linga, an object symbolizing the Shiva God.
And yes, umbrellas are sold in abundance at the local markets here — though locals prefer the knup, a hands-free rain shield.
The Snowiest City in the World
Aomori City, in northern Japan, receives an average of 26 feet of snow every winter season, more than any other city in the world. To put that into perspective, its annual snowfall is equivalent to the size of a two-story house.
From November through April, the snow becomes so intense that sections of the Hakkoda-Towada Gold Line, a national roadway, are closed down until spring. The Aomori regional airport is plowed no less than eight times a day, and for the city's 250,000-plus residents, shoveling is like brushing teeth — a ritual of everyday life.
Blessed with an endless supply of snow, Aomori offers some of Japan's best skiing, snowboarding, snow trekking and tubing, especially in the region's Hakkoda Mountains.
Off the slopes, during February, locals head to the Towada lakeside for the annual Lake Towada Winter Festival (pictured here), a veritable winter wonderland complete with fireworks, local cuisine, live performances in the snow and stunning snow sculptures.
For a one-of-a-kind Aomori snow experience, you'll want to visit when the Hakkoda-Towada Gold Line is cleared. The plowed snow is packed on either side of the highway, creating a massive snow corridor. Before the road is opened up for traffic, residents participate in a snow-walk to celebrate the passing of winter and the coming of spring.
The Flattest Place on Earth
Forty thousand years ago, the Altiplano (high plateau) of Bolivia was covered by a massive lake. When that lake dried out, it left behind a salt flat nearly the size of the state of Connecticut called Salar de Uyuni — also known as the flattest place on earth.
In total, the flat is believed to contain 10 billion tons of salt. Across its vast surface, the altitude never varies more than a meter.
The Salar de Uyuni has many natural wonders to behold. Popular tourist destinations include the Isla Incahuasi, a desert island formed from a spent volcano dating back to pre-historic times. The island is covered in wild cacti, and its base is surrounded by miles of hectagon-shaped salt tiles.
When it rains here, the water — with nowhere to go — forms a thin layer across the Salar de Uyuni, turning its surface into an outsized reflecting mirror.
The World's Most Shark-Infested Waters
Shark Alley refers to the narrow channel of water that flows between Dyer Island and Geyser Rock off the coast of Gansbaai, South Africa. From April through September, these waters become a veritable hunting ground for thousands of great white sharks who come to feast on the Cape fur seals that gather on Geyser Rock. The alley has been called the most shark-infested place on Earth.
The good news? These sharks, the largest predatory fish in the sea, don’t actually like to eat humans. The bad news? This hasn’t stopped them from biting people, just out of curiosity.
Shark Alley has become a popular destination for thrill-seekers and shark enthusiasts looking to get up close and personal with these white-bellied beasts.
The safest option for intimate viewing is through a cage-diving experience, which allows you to watch the sharks from the confines of a secure cage lowered into the sea. However, diving isn't necessary if you want to catch a glimpse of the great white; viewing from the safety of a boat is always an option.
The Cloudiest City in the World
Located in the North Atlantic Ocean, with Iceland to its west and Norway to its east, lies a little-known collection of islands known as the Faroe Islands. Faroe's capital city is Tórshavn, and it also happens to be the cloudiest city in the world.
On average, it receives less than three hours of sunlight a day, and a total of just 840 hours per year.
While most people don't dream of escaping to a destination swallowed up by clouds, there’s a lot to see and do across the Faroe Islands, from the accessible (hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking) to the adventurous (hang gliding, cliff jumping). Tórshavn itself, meanwhile, offers surprisingly great shopping and dining options, including a Michelin-starred restaurant.
And it’s relatively easy to get here, too, thanks to direct flights from major cities like Copenhagen (Denmark), Reykjavik (Iceland) and Edinburgh (Scotland).
Who needs sunshine when you can have all that?
The Sunniest City in the World
Yuma, located in the heart of Arizona's Sonoran Desert, basks in 4,000 hours of sunshine a year and an average of 11 hours of sun per day, enough to make it the sunniest city on Earth.
Not content with just this distinction, Yuma also boasts the lowest precipitation rate in the U.S., getting just over 3 inches of rain annually.
Yuma's proximity to the Colorado and Gila rivers makes it a mecca for a wide range of outdoor activities, including, fishing, kayaking, tubing and water skiing.
Once you've had your fill of water-based action, you can rent an ATV and tackle the 750-mile Arizona Peace Trail, an off-road loop that takes you along the Colorado River and through the Sonoran Desert. Along the way, you'll take in scenic landscapes and get to know the region's native wildlife, like the desert tortoise, mule deer, bobcat and coyote.
High-proof sunscreen is, it goes without saying, a must.
The Least Densely Populated Place in the World
Most of Greenland's surface is covered in thick ice sheets, making it uninhabitable. But in the island's rocky west coast, 56,671 people have made their home. When you divide the country’s size by this minimal population, the answer is clear: Greenland is the least densely populated place in the world.
Interestingly, Greenland also takes the gold for the largest island on earth, spanning a whopping 840,004 square miles.
While it isn't possible to visit all of Greenland, the west coast is ripe and ready for tourists looking to explore its many natural and cultural wonders. In the snowy winters, when there are between three to four hours of sunlight a day, Greenland is a spectacular place to go dogsledding and, of course, skiing. And if you time your visit right, you might catch a glimpse of the elusive yet awe-inspiring Northern Lights.
In the summer, when daylight is endless and the snow has thawed, Greenland becomes a haven for hiking, fishing, biking and sailing. And no visit in the summer would be complete without taking in the glory and grandeur of the famous Midnight Sun, a natural phenomenon unique to places north of the Arctic Circle in which the sun comes up at midnight.
The World's Longest Hiking Trail
Dreamt up in 1992, Canada's Great Trail took 25 years to complete and stretches 14,913 miles across the country, making it the longest hiking trail the world has ever seen. Brave souls can start in the city of St. John on the east coast and go all the way to Vancouver on the west coast, passing through Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Calgary and other standout destinations along the way.
In addition to hiking, the Great Trail offers individual paths for cycling, horseback riding, snowmobiling, kayaking and more.
With nearly 15,000 miles to consider, planning your visit can seem like an impossible task. However, there is a mobile app, aptly called The Great Trail, that's designed to help guide you.
Our recommendation? Head to the Alberta section of the trail to hike the epic Canadian Rockies, or traverse an old rail line that's been converted into a traversable path in the Kootenay region of British Columbia (pictured here).
Or you could always do as a few ambitious trekkers have done, and attempt the whole thing. Just be prepared to set aside a few years to complete the task...
The Oldest City in Europe
In Thracian times, the city was called Pulpudeva. In 341 B.C., the Macedonian Greeks renamed it Philippopolis. When the Romans assumed power in 46 A.D., they changed it to Trimontium, and the Turks in the 14th century called it Philibé.
It wasn't until after World War I that Europe's oldest city, located in southern Bulgaria, assumed its present-day name — Plovdiv.
Since 6000 B.C., every ruling power that’s passed through Plovdiv has left something behind. As a result, the city is bursting with a fantastic array of ancient ruins worth visiting, including the Nebet Tepe fortress built by Thracian tribesmen, the Roman Stadium of Philippopolis and the 600-year-old Dzhumaya Mosque, which survived the fall of the Ottoman Empire.
Fortunately, Plovdiv is still one of Europe's secret treasures, meaning you can enjoy its history without rubbing shoulders with throngs of tourists.