Amazing Facts About the Natural Wonders of the World
Whether you're catching a spectacular sunset at the Grand Canyon or seeing the northern lights dance across the sky, you'll be inspired by the beauty of nature.
It’s easy to understand why millions trek across the globe to explore mother nature’s greatest marvels, which include the Seven Natural Wonders of the World and the New Seven Wonders of Nature. We've combined both lists to give you 14 awe-inspiring sites and added astounding facts about each one.
Let’s dive into the Great Barrier Reef, go over Victoria Falls and explore Mount Everest from top to bottom to uncover what makes these sites stand out as the world’s greatest natural wonders.
The 7 Natural Wonders of the World
The most famous list of natural landmarks, the Seven Natural Wonders of the World were chosen by CNN and the Seven Natural Wonders organization in 1997.
Since then, these wonders have proudly boasted their title and people have added them as dream destinations on their bucket list.
1. The Northern Lights
Unlike other natural wonders, the aurora borealis can be seen from many parts of the world, including Alaska, Iceland and Finland. Many travelers visit these polar regions with the hopes of catching nature’s incredible (but very unpredictable) dancing light show.
Winter is prime viewing season, and the higher the latitude, the more likely you are to see them.
Earth Isn’t the Only Planet With Aurora Borealis
So, what makes the aurora borealis so special? Let’s shed some light (pun intended) on the fact that Earth isn't the only planet that has it.
The mystical phenomenon occurs throughout the solar system, appearing on Jupiter, Neptune, Saturn and Uranus.
The Northern Lights Can Fly South
In times of high solar activity, they have been spotted in places such as Oklahoma and Georgia.
In fact, they even made an appearance in Virginia during the Civil War, lighting the sky at the Battle of Fredericksburg.
2. The Great Barrier Reef
The gem of Australia, the Great Barrier Reef is both breathtakingly beautiful and ecologically important.
A delight for snorkelers, scuba divers and sunbathers, the world’s largest coral reef includes over 900 islands, 2,900 separate reefs and a plethora of diverse marine life. Covering over 133,000 square miles, the Great Barrier Reef is larger than the Great Wall of China (and, unlike the wall, it is actually visible from space).
Ready to dive deeper? Check out these amazing facts.
The Reef Contains 10 Percent of the World’s Fish Species
The reef provides a home for over 400 species of hard coral, 300 species of soft coral, 1,600 species of fish, 134 species of sharks and rays, 30 species of whales and dolphins, and six species of turtle.
This fact makes it one of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet.
The Great Barrier Reef Is the Largest Living Structure on the Planet
Each of the 3,000 reefs in this natural wonder has its own ecosystem. So, you can imagine how massive the entire reef system is.
The Great Barrier Reef is so prodigious in size that it is larger than the United Kingdom, Holland and Switzerland combined.
3. The Grand Canyon
Like apple pie and Fourth of July fireworks, the Grand Canyon is an iconic symbol of America. Every year, 5 million people visit the famed Arizona attraction to take in its magnificent landscape.
Carved by the Colorado River, the 6 million-year-old Grand Canyon stretches over 227-miles long and 18-miles wide, leaving plenty of room to hike, helicopter, take a mule ride or simply enjoy the view.
But, what exactly makes this canyon so grand?
The Grand Canyon Is Bigger Than Rhode Island
By the numbers, the Grand Canyon is 1,904 square miles, whereas the state of Rhode Island is 1,212 square miles. That's almost a 700-mile difference.
Besides its size, the canyon's geography makes it difficult to navigate. For instance, the North and South Rims are only 10 miles apart, but driving between them takes around five hours.
The Canyon Is the Second Most Visited National Park in the United States
When the Grand Canyon became a national park in 1919, it attracted fewer than 45,000 visitors. Today it welcomes 6.3 million visitors, making it the second most popular national park.
If you visit, keep an eye out for the endemic pink rattlesnake, whose unusual color helps it blend in with the rocks.
4. Mount Everest
Thrilling, awe-inspiring and unforgiving are words often used to describe incredible Mount Everest. Referred to as “Sagarmatha” in Nepal and “Chomolungma” in Tibet, this legendary site is over 29,000-feet tall — about the size of 20 Empire State Buildings!
For decades, the tallest mountain in the world has been a site for triumphs and tragedies, its mysterious aura attracting dreamers, thrill-seekers and everyone in between.
Conquering Mount Everest remains one of the world’s greatest feats, but you don’t have to climb all the way to the summit to learn more about this mysterious mountain.
Approximately 3,000 People Have Successfully Climbed Mount Everest
Despite a steep price of about $75,000, hundreds of people attempt to climb to the summit of Mount Everest every year. Of these, only around 3,000 have succeeded, whereas over 297 people have died trying to climb it, mostly due to avalanches.
The first recorded people to reach the summit were New Zealand climber Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, who completed the feat in 1952.
Just as impressively, the oldest people to have climbed the mountain are Yuichiro Miura and Jordan Watanabe, Japanese citizens who were 80 and 73 years old respectively at the time of the climb.
Mount Everest's Summit Is Just Below the Cruising Height of a Jet
At around 31,000 feet, this is truly the highest you'll be without getting on a flying machine. At this extreme height, winds can reach a bruising 175 miles per hour and temperatures can drop as low as -60 degrees Fahrenheit.
Even so, while Mount Everest is the highest mountain above sea level, Hawaii's Mauna Kea is the tallest mountain from base to peak. It measures 33,500 feet, but only about 14,000 feet is above sea level.
5. Victoria Falls
Powered by Zambia’s Zambezi River, Victoria Falls is a massive natural wonder that stretches across over 5,600 feet and reaches heights of 354 feet. This makes it one of the biggest waterfalls in the world. The falls provide a natural border between the countries of Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Though named by Scottish explorer Dr. David Livingstone in honor of Queen Victoria, locals often refer to the falls as Mosi-oa-Tunya, which means “smoke that thunders.”
Let’s take a look at some of the other amazing surprises flowing through these mighty waters.
It Rains Every Day in the Victoria Falls Rainforest
Located on the Zimbabwean side of the falls, the Victoria Falls Rainforest is the only place on earth that experiences 365 days of rain.
During full flood season (February-March), as much as 540 million cubic meters flow over the edge of the falls every minute. This explains how the falls are powerful enough to sweep away elephants, an unfortunate incident that occurred in 2013.
You Can See Lunar Rainbows at Victoria Falls
While many waterfalls create rainbows, Victoria Falls is one of the few places in the world where it's possible to see a lunar rainbow (or moonbow, as some call it), which is produced by moonlight instead of sunlight.
This rare phenomenon is best viewed between April and July.
Another North American natural wonder, Paricutin is a volcano located in Michoacán, Mexico, 200 miles west of Mexico City.
Though not the largest or most active volcano, Paricutin is special because it was the first volcano whose birth was witnessed and recorded by humankind. It also happens to be one of the world's youngest volcanos.
In 1943, Paricutin emerged from a cornfield owned by local farmer Dionisio Pulido, growing to nearly 500 feet in just over a week. Scientists, tourists and the media quickly flocked to see this natural wonder, which erupted for 19 years and grew to over 1,300 feet.
Though now dormant, the volcano is still a hotbed of fascinating information.
21 Earthquakes Preceded Paricutin's First Eruption
Paricutin’s first eruption was on Feb. 20, 1943, around 4 p.m. local time. Weeks prior, residents said that they had heard a noise like thunder, there were also over 20 earthquakes leading up to it springing from the ground.
Paricutin was the most active in its first year, growing to four-fifths of its final height. Its lava field covered 10 square miles. The lava had a temperature of about 1,958 degrees and moved at a speed of 196 feet per minute.
The Volcano Was a Pop Culture Hit
When it first emerged, the volcano became a hit around the world.
Pan-Am Airlines diverted its flights from Los Angeles to Mexico City to showcase the volcano, while 20th Century Fox used its dramatic backdrops for the film “Captain from Castile.”
7. Harbor of Rio de Janeiro
It’s easy to see why Brazil's Harbor of Rio de Janeiro makes the list of the greatest natural wonders. The balloon-shaped bay, formed by erosion from the Atlantic Ocean, is home to majestic mountains and blissful beaches.
Iconic sites such as Copacabana Beach, Ipanema Beach, Sugar Loaf Mountain and the Christ the Redeemer statue can all be found here.
Let’s take a look at some of the many interesting facts behind Rio’s crown jewel.
The Wonder Is Named for a River That Doesn't Exist
In 1502, Portuguese explorer Goncalo Coelho mistook the mouth of the bay for a river, so he inaccurately named it Rio de Janeiro, which means “River of January."
The native Tamoio people came up with the more accurate name Guanabara, which translates to “arm of the sea.”
The Harbor of Rio de Janeiro Is the Deepest Natural Bay in the World
Guanabara Bay also has more than 130 islands and over 50 miles of beaches.
Adding to the beautiful scenery are gorgeous granite mountains, which are part of the Serra do Mar chain. The largest is Corcovado Peak (2,310 feet), home to the Christ the Redeemer statue.
It's no wonder that Charles Darwin, who visited in 1832, was so impressed with the harbor's beauty that he claimed it seemed “almost unreal.”
The New 7 Wonders of Nature
Because nature is too beautiful for only seven wonders to be highlighted, the New Seven Wonders of Nature launched in 2011. With input from millions of voters from around the world, they chose another seven gorgeous landmarks.
Hey, the more, the merrier!
1. The Amazon River
Slithering through the Amazon Rainforest like a giant serpent, the Amazon River is the largest river in the world. (If you thought it was the Nile, you're not alone — it's a common geography fact most people get wrong.)
Brazil boasts the longest part of the river, but Colombia and Peru also have a claim to it. No one can dispute the Amazon as a wonder of the natural world. After all, it feeds the rainforest and is home to several endemic species like the adorable pink dolphin (which is actually a toothed whale, not a dolphin).
Let's head deep into the jungle to learn more about this mighty river.
The Amazon Is Responsible for One-Fifth of the World’s River Flow
The river is the largest in the world by volume of water discharged into the ocean. It pumps about 6,591 cubic kilometers of water into the sea every year, which is more than the next seven largest rivers combined. This translates to about 20 percent of global river flow into the sea.
To give you an idea of just how significant this is, the flow of the Amazon actually affects the water level of the Caribbean.
There Are No Bridges Over the Amazon River
Though about 10 million people live in the banks of the Amazon, most of the land around the river is — thankfully — undeveloped. This, plus the varying degrees of water level during rainy and dry seasons, makes it difficult and impractical to build bridges to cross from one side to the other.
Instead, the only way to cross the river is by boat. This is why cruises along it are so popular, providing an intimate experience in the heart of the jungle.
2. Komodo Island
Home to the largest lizard species on the planet, Indonesia's Komodo Island packs myriad wonders into a relatively small area. The first wonder is, of course, the komodo dragon. The animals only exist in this region and look like they belong in a Medieval book about myths.
Other wonders are the diverse reefs that make this a great diving spot, a gorgeous pink beach and mountains whose summits provide breathtaking views of crest-shaped lagoons.
Prepare for a visit to Komodo National Park by learning a bit more about this straight-out-of-a-fairytale place.
Almost 6,000 Komodo Dragons Can Be Found in Komodo National Park
UNESCO-listed Komodo National Park comprises three large islands and a few smaller ones. Komodo dragons can be found scattered around these islands, but most of them (about 3,000) live on Komodo Island.
Though protected, the lizards aren't cared for or fed by rangers. Rather, they're left to live naturally, hunting other animals that inhabit the park.
A word of caution: Do not, under any circumstances, approach a komodo dragon. To hunt, they bite their pray, then stand around waiting for the venom in their saliva to slowly and painfully kill their victim before eating them. That's a fate you definitely want to avoid.
Komodos Aren't the Only Interesting Species on the Island
Komodo Island is a teeming hotbed of biodiversity. Besides its famous dragons, the area has 4,000 species of birds and 1,000 species of fish in its reefs.
Some of the species that live on the island include wild horses, water buffalos, wild boars, deer and macaque monkeys.
3. Table Top Mountain
Making up Cape Town, South Africa's imposing, dramatic and unmistakable backdrop, Table Top Mountain is incredibly unique. As its name suggests, rather than have a peak, the mountain has a flat top — like a table — that gives it a one-of-a-kind look. This is especially true when it is covered by thick clouds that give it a mythical appeal.
From its top, the mountain provides the best views of South Africa's jewel city.
But you don't have to climb to the summit to learn more about this fascinating formation.
The Mountain Is the Only Natural Site With a Constellation Named After It
Constellations are usually named after mythical characters or animals whose shape they resemble. But the Mensa constellation was named after Table Top Mountain, with the name meaning "table" in Latin.
This makes the mountain the only natural site in the world to inspire the name of a constellation.
Over 70 Percent of the Mountain's Flora Is Endemic
If you love all things green and unique, take a plant-focused tour of Table Top Mountain.
The ecosystems that make up the park named after the mountain have produced several species of plants that can only be found within it — 70 percent of its plants are endemic.
4. Jeju Island
A volcanic island off the southern coast of South Korea, Jeju Island is the most beautiful natural wonder you might not have even heard of.
The island is teeming with gorgeous natural features like cylindrical volcanic rocks, large lava tubes you can walk through, waterfalls that go into the sea, natural rock pools, volcanic craters and Hallasan, the tallest mountain in South Korea.
Besides, there are so many things to do here, you'll need to come back multiple times to even make a dent in your to-see list: horseback riding, snorkeling, enjoying the beach and visiting green tea fields.
Need more convincing? The following facts may just inspire you to book a ticket to incredible Jeju.
Hallasan National Park Has More Plants Than Any Other Mountain
A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Hallasan is the mountain with the most species of plants on Earth. About 33 of these plants are endemic to it. This astonishing biodiversity is due to the volcanic nature of the mountain as well as its height, which rises 6,398 feet above sea level.
As you go up the mountain, you'll see multiple ecosystems and numerous species of flora and fauna. Once at the summit, you'll be greeted by a large crater filled with a deep blue lake.
Jeju Island Is Culturally Different from Mainland South Korea
Because it is separated from the mainland, Jeju has its own distinct culture that is different from that of the mainland. This can be seen in the dialect, which even some South Koreans have a hard time understanding, as well as in the food, customs and architecture.
One of the most famous aspects of Jeju culture are the mermaids of Korea. These women divers fish completely by hand to maintain an important island tradition.
However, the island's unique culture is, sadly, disappearing as it becomes more touristy and developed. Still, if you want a Korean experience that is very different from the homogenous mainland, you can still find it on Jeju.
5. Ha Long Bay
Undulating limestone cliffs rise out of the emerald water to form Vietnam's Ha Long Bay, which appropriately means "descending dragon."
The only appropriate way to experience the magic of this bay is to join an overnight small cruise ship tour. There is simply nothing that can compare to the experience of waking up, opening your window and finding yourself surrounded by the stillness of the cliffs partially covered in light fog.
Ha Long Bay is one of those destinations that actually exceeds all expectations and that no picture can ever fully capture — though you can see it in films like "Tomorrow Never Dies," "Kong: Skull Island" and "Pan."
While you have to experience the bay in person, these interesting facts can help you understand it better.
Ha Long Bay Has Been Inhabited for 18,000 Years
Archeological evidence suggests that the bay's islands have been inhabited by humans for around 18,000 years. Over the centuries, floating villages were erected on the bay, with houses, schools and even animal pens built to float and adapt to the varying water levels.
Today — after a government campaign forced most inhabitants to relocate elsewhere — Ha Long Bay has around 1,600 people who live in four floating villages. Some of these villages were allowed to stay open so that tourists could see their unique way of life.
There Are 1,900 Islands in Ha Long Bay
Nature built 1,900 islands around the bay. The islands vary in shape, size and diversity. Some are dangerous and off-limits, but there are other islands you can actually visit and hike in.
Most of the islands can only be reached by boat or kayak, both of which are two of the most popular activities in the area.
6. Iguazu Falls
Straddling the border between Argentina and Brazil, Iguazu Falls comprise the largest waterfall system on Earth. That alone earns it a top spot as a natural wonder.
But besides their sheer size and the power of the water, as it thunders down while defying gravity, the falls are also surrounded by dense and wildlife-rich rainforest. Iguazu National Park is made up of two parks, one in Argentina and one in Brazil. Species like jaguars, anteaters, monkeys and caimans inhabit the area.
Get (virtually) up close and personal with the falls by learning more about them.
There Are 275 Distinct Waterfalls in Iguazu
The waterfall system that makes up Iguazu Falls has 275 individual waterfalls. Shaped like a horseshoe, it's easy to see several of these falls at the same time.
About 80 percent of the waterfalls are on the Argentinean side, which is why many people claim that's the better side. Brazilians, of course, dispute this.
The Falls Have Had an Industrious Career in the Silver Screen
Iguazu Falls have served as the backdrop for many films over the years.
Its cinematic cameos include "Miami Vice," "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull," "Moonraker" (a James Bond film) and "Black Panther."
7. Puerto Princesa Underground River
Perhaps the least known of the Seven New Wonders of Nature, Puerto Princesa Underground River is located in Palawan, Philippines.
Also known as the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, the natural landmark is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, too. Its famous underground river emerges right onto the sea and is hidden by a system of limestone karst formations and caves.
The cave where you can see the underground river also boasts waterfalls whose existence was ignored until 2010. Beautiful doesn't even begin to describe this almost unbelievable landscape.
Though it's not as well known as other places on this list, we can dig up information about this awe-inspiring landmark.
The River Is the Second Longest Underground River in the World
The Puerto Princesa Underground River is 5.1 miles. Most tourists visit around 2.6 of these miles, with the remaining ones being open to exploration with a special permit only.
Until 2008, this was thought to be the longest underground river on the planet. That year, a new discovery led to Mexico's Sistema Sac Actun taking the top spot.
Still, second place is quite impressive.
It Is Asia's Largest Limestone Forest
According to UNESCO, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is "the largest and most valuable limestone forest in Asia."
This honor is due to the park's impressive tree diversity and a high concentration of endemic species. There are 295 tree species alone as well as 800 plant species and 195 types of birds.