Most people are familiar with the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the list that documents the most impressive man-made constructions of classical antiquity. Less well known are the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, compiled by US news network CNN back in 1997, which seeks to highlight just a few of the most incredible natural sights and phenomena on the planet.
Of course, narrowing down the world’s natural wonders to just seven is a difficult task, and some of the inclusions (and omissions) proved controversial. But we thought that the list was worth revisiting, not least because you can visit all seven natural wonders on an escorted tour holiday...
The Aurora Borealis, better known as the Northern Lights, is one of the most spectacular sights in nature, and sits at the top of many a traveller’s bucket list. Cosmic particles react with the earth’s upper atmosphere to create a shimmering light show over the polar regions, with a kaleidoscope of greens, blues and reds dancing across the sky. Although sightings of the lights can never be guaranteed, you’ll have a great chance of seeing them on Discover The World’s 3-night ‘Northern Lights Special’ tour of southwest Iceland, which includes 2 nights in the countryside plus a guided tour of the Golden Circle, Reykjavik’s old town and a trip to the famous Blue Lagoon.
The tropical metropolis of Rio de Janeiro enjoys perhaps the most remarkable natural setting of any city on earth, draped across the jungle-clad mountains, golden beaches and scattered islands of Guanabara Bay. Saga’s great value 10-night ‘The Best of Brazil and Argentina’ tour gives you four nights to explore Rio, including visits to the iconic statue of Christ the Redeemer and the spruced up Olympic Boulevard. You’ll also travel to magnificent Iguazu Falls - which arguably deserves a place on CNN’s list itself - and you’ll spend four nights in buzzing Buenos Aires, Argentina’s atmospheric capital.
The Grand Canyon, carved from the earth by the Colorado river over many millions of years, is one of the largest canyons in the world: 277 miles long, up to a mile deep and up to 18 miles wide. This is one of the world’s top tourist attractions, so of course there are plenty of tours that stop off here, but to really appreciate the scale of the canyon we recommend Explore!’s ‘Walking The Western US National Parks’ tour. You’ll visit five different National Parks, including a full day hiking in Grand Canyon National Park, and you’ll also spend time in the contrasting cities of Las Vegas and Salt Lake City, as well as travelling on a section of the famous Route 66.
The Great Barrier Reef is one of the world’s most colourful marine ecosystems, stretching for some 1,400 miles along the coast of Queensland, made up of nearly 3,000 individual reefs and 900 islands. Top trips showcasing the best of Australia’s east coast include Contiki’s ‘Reef and Rainforests’ tour, which includes three nights in Sydney, a surfing lesson in Byron Bay and the chance to snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef. You’ll also visit the Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, where you can see iconic Aussie wildlife including koalas, kangaroos and crocodiles.
The summit of Mount Everest is the highest point on earth at some 8,840 metres above sea level, and the mountain was first conquered by Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953. Many climbers have followed in their footsteps since, and plenty never made it back down the mountain. You don’t need to stand on the summit to appreciate the majesty of Everest, however; adventure specialists Exodus are one of several operators that offer treks to Everest Base Camp at the foot of the mountain, a mere 5,380 metres above sea level! On the trek you’ll visit the colourful hilltop monastery at Thyangboche, climb Kala Pattar for magnificent views of Everest, and spend two nights at Base Camp, a bustling hub of activity as climbers prepare to make their ascent.
If the name Parícutin has you scratching your head then you’re not alone: this Mexican volcano was undoubtedly the most obscure choice to feature in CNN’s list of the world’s top natural wonders. But this truly is a wonder, a volcano that only appeared in 1943, erupting in the middle of a cornfield in the state of Michoacán and burying two nearby villages; you can still see the spire of the cathedral of San Juan Parangaricutiro sticking out of the lava field. The volcano is well off the normal tourist trail, but overland specialists Dragoman stop off here on their amazing 31-night ‘Yellowstone, Grand Canyon & Tequila’ tour, which takes you by truck all the way from the Canadian ski resort of Banff to sprawling Mexico City.
Victoria Falls is one of the world’s most breathtaking waterfalls, straddling the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe. The water cascades down 355 feet, and the falls were named after Queen Victoria by the Scottish explorer David Livingstone in 1855. The indigenous name for the falls, Mosi-oa-Tunya, is rather more evocative, meaning ‘The Smoke That Thunders’. You can combine the falls with some of the highlights of South Africa on Great Rail Journeys’ 15-night ‘Victoria Falls, Cape Town and The Garden Route’ tour, which includes three nights in Cape Town, a trip on the luxurious Pride of Africa train from Durban to Pretoria, and three nights at the A’Zambezi River Lodge near the falls, where you’ll enjoy an unforgettable sunset cruise along the Zambezi river.