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7 lesser-known wonders of the world

Travel may be difficult, or even off-limits for now - but that doesn't mean we can't make plans for the future. We hope that articles like this one will help you plan your next experience with confidence, whenever that may be.

Our world is full of wonders, and since ancient times, people have loved listing them. From the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World (of which only the Great Pyramid of Giza still exists) to more recent lists that pop up every few years, world wonders have always captured our imagination. From underground jungles to hanging monasteries, below you’ll find Skyscanner’s list of seven lesser-known, but equally breathtaking, world wonders.

Note: This article is intended for inspirational purposes. With travel restrictions changing all the time due to COVID-19, you should always check local government guidelines before booking any travel.

World wonders you didn’t know existed:

  1. Hang Son Doong Cave, Vietnam
  2. Salar De Uyuni, Bolivia
  3. Walled City of Baku, Azerbaijan
  4. Meteora, Greece
  5. Los Glaciares National Park, Patagonia, Argentina
  6. Nærøyfjord, Aurland, Norway
  7. Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Dominica

1. Hang Son Doong Cave, Vietnam

Image courtesy of Oxalis Adventure

Translating to ‘Mountain River Cave’, Hang Son Doong Cave is the largest in the world. Buried deep in the jungles of Phong Nha Ke-Bang National Park in Vietnam, the cave looks like something straight out of the Jurassic period. At 182 metres high, 91 metres wide and more than four kilometres long, Hang Son Doong Cave feels like an underground world of its own might, filled with the world’s largest stalagmites.

But thanks to its two sinkholes, the cave is also flooded with sunlight at times. This has made it possible for a spectacular underground jungle to form where trees reach up to 50 metres high, and for a variety of animals, from monkeys to flying foxes, to call this cave home. Talk about world wonders.

How to get there

You will need to book a flight to Da Nang or Hue in Vietnam and from there, get a bus to Dong Hoi. 50 kilometres north of Dong Hoi is the town of Son Trach, from which you can access Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park. Don’t worry though, you won’t be doing this trip alone. Oxalis Adventure is actually the exclusive tour operator for the cave, helmed by the people who originally discovered it in the 90s.

When is best to go?

From the end of January to the end of August. But remember that the tour operators are working in tandem with the government of Vietnam to ensure the sustainability of the cave, so only about 1,000 visitors a year are allowed. (Oxalis organises groups of 10 people at a time, for an excursion that lasts four days, of which two are spent camping in the cave). And that’s aside from coronavirus restrictions: at the moment, visa applications are suspended and a quarantine period applies on arrival.

What to bring

Camping gear, trekking clothes and shoes, and a decent camera that can capture the magnificence of the cave even at night.

2. Salar De Uyuni, Bolivia

Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia is one of the lesser known world wonders

From the largest cave, our ‘world wonders’ tour takes us to the largest salt flat. More than 10,000 km2 of white salt patterns make up Salar de Uyuni, in the southwestern Bolivian Andes, a place so surreal that you need to see it to believe it actually exists. A prehistoric lake that dried out, the salt flat transforms into the world’s largest sky-reflecting mirror during the rainy season, providing you with the opportunity to feel like you’re walking on clouds, and endless opportunities for #puddlegram photos. Plus, you might be lucky enough to encounter some of the flamingos that like to lounge around here. 

How to get there

First, you’ll need to get to Bolivia by plane. Then, you’ll need to reach Uyuni, which is the nearest town to the salt flat and about an eight-hours’ drive from La Paz. Depending on where you’re based, you can take a bus or train, or book a tour to the salt flat.

When is best to go?

Being in the Southern Hemisphere, the salt flat is frozen from June to August, so the best time to visit is anytime from September to May, when the rainy season kicks in. 

At the moment, travellers to Bolivia must have a negative PCR test result taken 72 hours before arrival, but there’s no quarantine on arrival back in the UK.

What to bring

Sunscreen. We’re not exaggerating when we say the surface becomes a mirror: you’ll need extra protection from the sun’s rays (also a hat and sunglasses will go a long way).

3. Walled City of Baku, Azerbaijan

The Walled City of Baku in Azerbaijan is one of the lesser known world wonders

The capital of Azerbaijan is divided into two timelines. On one hand, you have the modern city, with its futuristic skyscrapers and shopping malls, and on the other, you have the Icherisheher: the Old City. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Walled City of Baku with its curved roads, ruins, mosques and palaces instantly transports you to a different time.

Inhabited since the Paleolithic times, Icherisheher today maintains much of its 12th-century defensive walls. But at the same time, modern hotels, restaurants, bakeries and shops coexist with its diverse (think periods of Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam) past. Visit the seventh-century Maiden Tower, and the Shirvanshahs’ Palace, at the highest part of the Walled City.

How to get there

Once you grab a flight to Baku, you can arrange for transport to the Walled City from your hotel or explore on foot if you’re staying downtown. It’s a great idea to opt for a city tour though, as it will provide you with important historical context while you take in the sights.

When is best to go?

Azerbaijan gets very hot during the summer months, so the best times to visit the Walled City are from April to June and from September to October.

Right now, entry to Azerbaijan requires a negative COVID-19 test certificate issued within 48 hours of your flight, and you’ll have to quarantine for 14 days on arrival.

What to bring

Bottled water to stay hydrated. You don’t need to bring much else, as you will find places to eat and drink inside the Walled City. Baku is a modern city, so there is no need for a specific dress code, but note that if you’re going to visit a mosque, the women in your group will need to cover up.

4. Meteora, Greece

The hanging monasteries of Meteora in Greece are one of the lesser known world wonders

Monasteries hanging from the sky? That surely files underworld wonders. The Meteora (loosely translated to ‘suspended’) monasteries in Kalabaka in the north of Greece have been around since the 11th century when the monks settled on the tops of inaccessible sandstone peaks and built their abodes there.

But most of the monasteries still standing today were built around the 15th and 16th centuries, featuring post-Byzantine art. The idea was to be both secluded from the outside world and closer to God, but also safe from the Ottomans who’d conquered Greece by that time. Currently, there are 24 monasteries, six of which are still functioning, while the rest are either in ruins or have been converted to museums.

How to get there

It’s up to you to decide how big of a journey you want to make. You can book a flight to either Athens or Thessaloniki (the latter is closer) and take a train or bus from there. The scenic ride through the mountains is worth it.

When is best to go?

The Meteora monasteries are accessible all year long, and with Greece’s mild winters, you won’t encounter problems if you plan to visit during the winter months. (Find information and opening hours here.) However, you’ll get the most spectacular photos when the trees haven’t yet shed their leaves, so it’s better to plan your visit in the autumn, spring or summer.

Note that there are currently entry requirements for Greece, including proof of a negative PCR coronavirus test on arrival.

What to bring

Modest clothing for both men and women is advised when visiting the monasteries; your shoulders and knees should be covered. But don’t worry if you’re dressed lighter: all monasteries have skirts and shawls that they can provide for free to tourists who need to cover up. There are no restaurants or cafes around the monasteries though, so it’s a good idea to bring some snacks and refreshments.

5. Los Glaciares National Park, Patagonia, Argentina

Los Glaciares National Park in Argentina is one of the lesser known world wonders

When you hear ‘Patagonia’, perhaps your mind goes straight to Torres del Paine National Park, in Chile. But in the Argentinean part of Patagonia, one of the lesser-known world wonders awaits: Los Glaciares National Park. The unique thing about Los Glaciares is that the glaciers here are located much lower than usual (1,500 metres above sea level in contrast to the more usual height of 2,500 metres above sea level) giving you a unique chance to experience them up close. With glaciers occupying almost half of its area (the famous Perito Moreno among them), lakes with turquoise waters and jagged mountain peaks where condors and black-chested buzzard eagles fly high, Los Glaciares will steal your heart.

How to get there

First, you need a flight to Argentina. You can fly directly to El Calafate, which is the closest city, or stay in one of the bigger cities and travel from there. From El Calafate, you can book a tour that will take you from your hotel to the park. You can also opt to take a boat ride to the northern face of the Perito Moreno glacier.

When is best to go?

Los Glaciares Natural Park is a popular destination year-round, but the FCDO currently advises against all non-essential travel there due to coronavirus cases.

What to bring

Warm layers, appropriate shoes for trekking and glacier hiking.

6. Nærøyfjord, Aurland, Norway

the Nærøyfjord in Norway is one of the lesser known world wonders

A fjord so beautiful that it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Nærøyfjord in Norway is one of the most scenic places in all of Europe, if not the world. Its name literally translates to ‘narrow fjord’: it’s only 500 metres wide in some parts. Created thousands of years ago when the sea filled the resulting valley floor after glaciers retreated post-Ice Age, Nærøyfjord is actually an arm of Sognefjord, Norway’s longest fjord.

Prepare for dramatic contrasts where the turquoise waters meet the steep, 1,000-metre-long cliffs rising almost directly from the surface of the water, and where cascading waterfalls and picturesque villages complete the image. Make sure your phone is charged. You’ll regret it if you don’t take lots of pictures, as the scenery looks different from every angle.

How to get there

You can fly to Oslo or Bergen and take a bus or rent a car to the fjord. It’s a great idea to book a fjord cruise from Bergen that will allow you to see Nærøyfjord and Sognefjord from a unique perspective, while also stopping at picturesque villages along the way.

When is best to go?

The Nærøyfjord doesn’t usually freeze completely in the winter, so it’s possible to visit all year long. But for the most spectacular experience, you should visit from May to August to take advantage of the golden colours brought forth by the Midnight Sun.

At the moment, Brits need to self-isolate for 10 days on arrival in Norway, but don’t need to quarantine on their return back to the UK.

What to bring

Layers of clothes, as it can be windy in the fjord even during summer. Also Bergen is considered the rainfall capital of Europe, so a raincoat is a must.

7. Morne Trois Pitons National Park, Dominica

Morne Trois Pitons National Park in Dominica is one of the lesser known world wonders

The mountainous Caribbean island of Dominica is a great destination for many reasons. Think coastal villages, woodland hills, lush rainforests and waterfalls, natural hot springs and magnificent mountains. But Morne Trois Pitons is in our list of world wonders for good reason: it’s a National Park centred around a 1,342-metre high volcano, whose slopes and valleys are dotted with hot springs, freshwater lakes and the aptly named Boiling Lake (steam rises from the waters). The tropical forests, lush rivers and fragrant tropical flowers that surround it is just a bonus, as is the fact that Pirates of the Caribbean was shot here.

How to get there

Book a flight to Dominica. Your hotel will probably be located around Rousseau, the capital, but you can book a tour to the park or to specific attractions within the park, such as the Boiling Lake.

When is best to go?

Late fall and winter is the best time to visit Dominica, from October to January. You don’t currently have to isolate on return to the UK from Dominica, but there are some entry requirements.

What to bring

Dominica is a tropical destination, and the National Park is located in the rainforest, so sunscreen, mosquito repellent and a hat are essential.

Discover where you can go

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Want to read more?

What are the original seven wonders of the world?

The 7 Wonders of the Ancient World were the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Temple of Artemis at Ephesus, the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, the Colossus of Rhodes and the Lighthouse of Alexandria. Of these, only the Great Pyramid of Giza still remains today.

What are considered the seven modern world wonders?

There have been several attempts to create lists of ‘modern world wonders’ over the years. The most broadly accepted list includes the Great Wall of China, Petra in Jordan, The Colosseum in Rome, Chichen Itza in Mexico, Machu Picchu in Peru, the Taj Mahal in India and the statue of Christ the Redeemer in Brazil.

Why do the lists of world wonders always feature seven places?

The number seven was sacred back in the Hellenistic times when the first list of world wonders was created. As there were seven planets discovered back then (counting the Sun and the Moon), the belief was that the number seven symbolised both stellar and earthly perfection.