Weird and Wonderful Landscapes

Nick Nomi

Senior Contributor

There are some destinations so beautiful, and yet so bizarre that they are more myth than a place. Places where rainbows seem to have been sucked from the sky and poured over hilltops, and where rivers flow with colours as red as wine. Locations so inspiring that locals have devised for them countless stories and numerous names — giving to them as much a place in legend as in reality. From stark Northern Irish beaches that legend tells us were crafted by giants to the cheerful Chocolate hills of Bohol, these are some of the world’s most unusual landscapes… and the lyrical epithets they are known by.

The River That Ran Away From Paradise (Caño Cristales, Colombia)

This river looks like any other for much of the year, but in Colombia’s moderate months between June and November, when the water level is just right, it becomes a rainbow of vibrant reds, pinks and greens that looks like an underwater convergence of plants painted in bold acrylics. The red tones come from a fragile endemic plant by the name of Macarenia Clavigera that clings to the rocks at the bottom of the river, losing its colour if the water becomes too shallow and thriving when the water is just deep enough to catch the sunlight, which gives it its astounding vibrancy.

The best way to reach Caño Cristales is by flying to the remote town of La Macarena in the wild Orinoquía region of Colombia. But from there, the only way to the river is by either horse or foot, and you’ll need to be accompanied by a registered guide.

Hershey’s Hills (The Chocolate Hills, Philippines)

The Chocolate Hills in the Philippines have numerous odd little tales about them — mostly involving giants— but not a single one mentions chocolate. But the captivating bubble-like hills rise from the ground as islands from the sea, and they take their name from the change in colour that happens when the seasons shift. As the rain subsides and the season gets drier, the foliage changes from lush cartoon-like green to powdery mounds of chocolatey brown that look just like hundreds of giant Hershey’s kisses. And while few people actually call them the Hershey’s Hills, we think that they should…

The Chocolate Hills are conveniently located on the stunning island of Bohol so it’s possible to mix and match a trip to there with a few days luxuriating on a deliriously pretty white sand beach. Simply fly from Manila or Cebu City to Panglao International Airport on Panglao Island (connected to Bohol by two bridges). Seafarers should instead take a ferry from Cebu.

Valle de la Luna, (Ischigualasto Park, Argentina)

The otherworldly landscape of the Valley of the Moon is dominated by vast rock formations — carved by water, wind and sun, as well as giant petrified tree trunks, and some the world’s oldest known dinosaur remains. The landscape remains largely barren, eerie and lifeless, and while its gloomy and grey desert terrain and numerous rock formations have conjured images of the moon for generations, the striking copper-coloured Las Coloradas cliffs would look more at home on Mars.

There is no easy way to visit the park, but arguably the best route is to fly to San Juan and La Rioja and then join a tour or rent a car to drive to the park.

The Rainbow Mountains (Danxia Landforms, China)

The Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park looks like a mountain range painted in vivid watercolours, that have been allowed to drip and combine into startling gradients of cerulean blue, surprising lines of vivid lilac and radiant peaks of powdery vermillion. The colours lend the landscape a surreal yet whimsical atmosphere that’s best experienced from one of the many dedicated viewing platforms.

From within China fly from Lanzhou, Xi'an, or Dunhuang directly to Zhangye Ganzhou Airport — less than an hour away from the geological park by road.

The Stepping Stones Of The Fomhóraigh (Giant's Causeway, Northern Ireland)

In Irish mythology, Fomhóraigh refers to a race of supernatural beings who were described as monsters from under the sea, and later as giants, which led to the name the Giant's Causeway — along with a story of two warring giants, Fionn mac Cumhaill from Ireland and Benandonner from Scotland. But this wondrously wild landscape is the result of molten basalt that contracted on the chalky ground as it cooled, creating a cracked topography of rugged hexagonal pillars that form striking geometric tombolos and stark cliff faces know locally as the Giant’s Organ Pipes. There’s also a huge stone on the beach that resembles a giant’s boot…. reportedly a size 93 1/2.

You can reach the Giant’s Causeway in two to three hours from Belfast and Londonderry by train to Coleraine, where it’s possible to take a bus to the visitor centre. And there’s a charming locomotive that runs four times a day from Bushmills just a little south of the coast.

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