Although the world’s billionaires are working on it, we can’t book our next vacation to outer space just yet, no matter how much we sometimes want to leave the planet. Luckily there are places closer to home that might satisfy your yearning for escape. Wild, remote and far from other humans, they could be just what you need to appreciate life here on earth again.
Wadi Rum Desert, Jordan
The Hollywood films made in Wadi Rum may give you a clue as to where we’re visiting first. The Martian, Red Planet and Mission to Mars all took advantage of this area's uncanny similarity to the far off planet. Deep red sands, wind-carved sandstone mountains and a lack of trees create a martian environment that may look inhospitable but people have lived here for thousands of years. Today you can take 4x4 or camel tours into the wilderness and camp out under skies filled with endless stars and galaxies.
Zhangye Danxia, China
If Willy Wonka made mountains they would probably look something like these. Rippled lines of orange, blue, purple and bright yellow wind their way down jutting rock forms to create these Rainbow Mountains that look like mad space cookies. Centuries of erosion, tectonic shifts and changing weather patterns have made these Technicolor peaks that wouldn’t be out of place on Jupiter. Find them in the northwest corner of China close to the border with Mongolia.
Crater Lakes, Iceland
It’s not hard to find otherworldly places on this volcanic island just south of the Arctic circle. Underground shimmering ice caves? Jet black sand beaches with basalt stone columns? Miles of uninhabited highlands dotted with steaming geysers? It’s all here and ready to be explored. For some real moon-like action head to the volcanic craters. Viti Lake, near the center of the island, was created by a huge eruption in 1724 that lasted for five years and shot jets of lava into the sky said to be visible from the south coast. Surrounded by black, barren lava fields the 150-meter wide crater is half filled with milky-blue opaque water and it’s possible to swim, if you dare.
The Wave, Arizona
This swirly-whirly rock formation is totally trippy but a little hard to ride. So many people want to get a look at this beauty that only 64 permits are released for each day and these are usually booked up months in advance and drawn by lottery. If you do get the winning ticket you can enter a land of dinosaur footprints, arches, canyons and wild rock formations carved from Jurassic winds and ancient water routes. You're going to want more than a phone camera to capture this other worldly environment, pack your tripod and aim to get there for midday when the sun illuminates the entirety of the wave.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
You probably know someone that went on a trip to South America and came back with those surreal photos where it looks like they are walking through endless sky, or appearing to hold their miniaturized friend in the palm of their hand. These are just some of the optical illusions you can capture in this surreal landscape, the largest salt flats on earth. After a prehistoric lake went dry 11,000 square miles of bright white salt, rock formations and ‘islands’ covered in cacti were left behind. Just to add to the dreamlike madness it is also home to thousands of bright pink flamingos that provide regular pops of color.
This sacred sandstone rock in the middle of Australia rises abruptly from the flat landscape around it and seems to glow bright red with the rising and setting sun. Something that makes it so unusual is its lack of other materials- it is a big solid chunk of sandstone with no scree slopes or soil. Its powerful presence made it sacred to the Aboriginal people and there are many myths, legends and traditions based around it. Today you can do a walking tour with the local Anangu people and learn about the bush, food, flora, fauna and Aboriginal dreamtime stories of the area.
Zhangjiajie’s Hallelujah Mountains, China
Soaring limestone pillars covered in dark green forest rise out of misty canyons and appear to float in this other worldly wilderness in China. Providing inspiration for Avatar and adopting the name of the movie's floating Hallelujah mountains, there are 3000 rock spires and pinnacles in this national park. There is also a pretty amazing way to get the best view. Take the Bailong ‘Hundred Dragon’ elevator, the world’s highest and fastest outdoor elevator, and in two minutes you’ll rise 324 meters for views that are out of this world.
We hope we’ve provided a bit of inspiration for places to visit before space tourism is readily available. Who knows, one day you could be unpacking your Limited Edition Mars Carry-On Closet in your martian spa hotel suite.
Written by Laura Sedlak