Published May 20, 2012
For all the extraordinary feats humans have achieved, nothing can rival nature's greatest creations. At its best, nature can stun us with its beauty and humble us with its power. While the magnificence of places like the Grand Canyon and Mount Everest are well known, in recent years, the worldwide public has voted on a new group of lesser-known natural wonders as part of the New7Wonders project. Here are four picks that have already been confirmed winners from voters:
Halong Bay, Vietnam
Vietnamese lore suggests that the soaring limestone rock formations of Halong were formed when a dragon -- sent by the ancient gods -- crash-landed on Earth. Given the supernatural quality of this glorious bay, it's seems fitting that Halong would find its origin in such a fanciful tale.
A visit to the bay can be a truly moving experience, whether it's viewed during the daylight, when the clear waters shimmer among the vast network of tiny islets, or in the twilight hours, as the fading sunlight paints rich colors on the towering karst rock formations. A boat cruise through the bay reveals scores of caves, many of which are specially illuminated to display their mysterious beauty.
Jeju Island, South Korea
The true definition of a paradise island, South Korea's southernmost province holds many of the country's most valuable treasures.
Located southwest of the Korean Peninsula, Jejudo Island is a volcanic island in the shape of an oval that measures 73 kilometers from west to east. Because it's Korea's most southern region, the weather is significantly warmer than the mainland -- even in winter.
The island's distinctive volcanic landscapes play host to vast craters and sheer black-lava cliffs, as well as Korea's tallest peak, Hallasan. To the east lies the dark winding cavern of Manjanggul - the world's longest system of lava tube caves, while the sacred mountain of Sanbangsan and its grotto temple sit just to the south.
Iguaçu Falls, Argentina
Little can prepare you for a trip to the monstrous Iguaçu waterfalls. The waters of the Iguaçu river tumble endlessly over some 23 kilometers of cliffs, crashing into a giant gorge and leaving a thick mist in their wake. A geological fault on the Paraná river turned the outlet of the Iguassu river into a cascade approximately 80 meters high.
While there, visit an impressive cascade, known as the Devil´s Throat, via a 2,080-meter catwalk that showcases the landscape.
The sheer magnitude and force of these roaring falls provides a new perspective on the awesome power of nature. The falls - numbering 275 in total - once served as a holy burial ground for indigenous tribes. Now both Argentina and Mexico both claim a share of Iguacu Falls and the surrounding park.
Puerto Princesa Underground River, Philippines
A trip through the otherworldly underground river near the Philippine city of Puerto Princesa is a surreal experience. A meandering series of limestone caverns snake for five miles under miles of darkness before emerging to the open sea. Boating through the cavern's interior to catch an up-close glimpse of the stunning color and rock formations along the walls feels like a dream-like experience, one that's not to be missed.