The pyramids of Giza. Petra in Jordan. Rome's Colosseum. While these places will never fail to evoke awe and wonder from their beholders, we have to face facts that since they’ve officially joined the ranks of the world’s wonders, they have become tourist traps. So commercialized are these sites, that the experience of seeing them can be sometimes less than enjoyable as we fight through throngs of crowds to see the famous place for but a few measly minutes before being tutted away to make way for other tourists.
Be that as it may, tourists still don’t mind fighting tooth and nail just to see these most famous of places because there’s a reason these landmarks are considered wonders of the world. They’re breathtaking. They’re beautiful. They’re definitely worth braving the crowds for.
Then there are those untapped wonders, those that haven’t quite flown within the tourism radar just yet. Here are some places that should make the list and should definitely be visited before commercialism descends upon them!
15 Chocolate Hills, Philippines
In the Philippines’ Visayas region is located one of nature’s most unique geological sites. The group of hills are perfectly-shaped mounds and covered in grass, which turns brown during the summer season, earning the cluster the nickname of Chocolate Hills.
With each hill measuring around 1,776 inches in height, plus an area of 50 square kilometers, many have jested that they look like Hershey’s Kisses. The hills are best seen on a viewing deck in the town of Carmen, where the site is located.
14 Torun, Poland
Well-preserved medieval towns always make for such beautiful tourist destinations—and the quaint town of Torun in Poland is no exception. Known best as being the birthplace of the famed astronomer, Nicolaus Copernicus, the medieval area of Torun is beautifully well-preserved.
It proudly boasts structures in the medieval style, all built from brick, many being in their original form. From churches to the town hall to city fortifications, Torun is definitely a site worth seeing.
13 Susa, Iran
Being the place for one of the cradles of civilization, the Middle East is rich in history and one city in this region that’s glorious in its ruins is Susa in Iran. It’s mentioned in the Bible several times, dating back to the 5th century BC.
One of the highlights of this ancient city is Ardeshir’s Palace, located along the Shavur River in the lower Zagros Mountains. Another place of interest in Susa is the Susa cemetery, which features a temple on a monumental platform and a myriad of ceramic vessels placed in graves as love offerings.
12 Meteora, Greece
The Meteora, which means “middle of the sky”. truly lives up to its name. Located in Thessaly, Greece, it’s one of the largest and most famous complexes of monasteries in the Eastern Orthodox faith.
The six monasteries are built on top of sandstone rock formations that jut out above the trees and high into the sky, hence giving rise to the name Meteora. It’s considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site and now that it’s still under the radar in terms of tourist attraction popularity, visiting it would be highly commendable before the crowds discover it!
11 Portmeirion, Wales
It’s often called a little piece of Italy nestled in the heart of North Wales, mainly because it was built in the Italian architectural style. Upon visiting Pormeirion, you’ll indeed be reminded of a small, simpler version of Italian coastal towns, like Portofino and Sorrento.
Contrary to popular belief, the village’s designer, Sir Clough Williams-Ellis, didn’t base his vision on Italy; rather, he wanted to pay homage to the Mediterranean. The architecture is mostly described as a romantic and relaxing play on the Baroque form, with the town’s most popular landmark being its central piazza.
10 Tunnel of Love, Ukraine
Nestled deep in the forests of Klevan, Ukraine, is a three-kilometer, grass-covered railroad track that passes through a corridor of thick, lush trees. Aptly called the Tunnel of Love, it has become a backdrop for photo opportunities of lovers and photographers alike.
It’s said that if a couple walks through the tunnel and makes a wish, the wish will come true! Superstitious as that sounds, many have paid heed and have visited the tunnel for exactly that purpose.
9 Ephesus, Turkey
If there’s one city that truly depicts the beauty of centuries past, it’s Ephesus in Turkey. The ancient city along the coast of Ionia was most famous for the Temple of Artemis, which happens to be one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, long since destroyed by war.
Ephesus also bore witness to many events in Christianity, including the legend that the Virgin Mary possibly spent her last years on earth in the city. Other relics of equal significance are the Library of Celsus facade, the Temple of Hadrian, and the Tomb of Pollio.
8 Enchanted Well at Chapada Diamantina National Park, Brazil
The Poco Encantado or Enchanted Well in Brazil is actually not a well, though who knows if it’s really enchanted or not? The well is a giant sunken pool that’s more than a hundred feet deep and startlingly clear. It’s so transparent, that you can see the rocks and tree trunks that lie at the bottommost portion of the pool. The body of water is most beautiful when sun light streams into a small opening and elicits a clear blue reflection on the water.
7 Potala Palace, Tibet
From 1645 up until the Tibetan Uprising in 1959, the Potala Palace in Lhasa was the home of the Dalai Lama. Named after Mount Potalaka, the palace grounds contain two chapels, one of which is a meditation cave. From the outside, it looks like an imposing fortress with inward-sloping walls, flat roofs, and staircases leading to the top of the rock.
Within its walls, the grounds contain two sub-palaces: the White Palace, which contains the living quarters of the Dalai Lama; and the Red Palace, which is used solely for prayer and meditation. Today, Potala Palace is a museum.
6 Ayutthaya, Thailand
For a time, Ayutthaya was the capital of the kingdom of Siam, now known as Thailand. Built along the shores of the Chao Phraya River, the city was once considered one of the most prosperous of its time, earning the nickname “Venice of the East.”
Today, the city is in ruins, save for the landmarks preserved at the Ayutthaya Historical Park. On the site stand numerous temples, with Wat Thammikarat and Wat Yanasen as only two of many.
5 Red Beach, Panjin, China
Contrary to what many initially think, Red Beach in Panjin, China isn’t actually a beach. There’s no vast expanse of sea and sand for it to be considered a beach—just a type of seaweed called Sueda, which starts growing in spring, turns green in summer, and transforms to a beautiful maroon shade in autumn.
The best time to visit (at least, the small portion that’s open to tourists) is during the months of September to November.
4 Transfiguration Church, Kizhi Pogost, Russia
It was given the distinction of being part of the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and rightly so. The Transfiguration Church is one of two wooden church structures found within Kizhi Pogost, located along the banks of Lake Onega in Russia.
The church was built in 1714 to replace the original one, which was struck by lightning and burned down. And it’s no wonder that it was completely destroyed, as it’s made of wood without nails. The wooden church has a whopping 22 domes of different shapes and sizes and is 37 metres high.
3 Forest of Knives, Madagascar
If there’s one place that can be considered surreal, by and large it’s the Forest of Knives in Madagascar. Dating back to the Jurassic period, the razor-sharp rock formations are made of limestone and are best admired only from afar, as the stones are too dangerous to venture too close to.
The 666 square kilometer area serves as the perfect barrier to keep humans away from the natural, untouched beauty of the animals and plants that dwell on the other side of the rocks.
2 Bagan, Myanmar
Asia has a multitude of breathtaking temples and cities that are proudly unique to the continent and Bagan in Myanmar is one of them. Widely considered equal in splendor to Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Bagan is an ancient city that once contained over 10,000 Buddhist temples and pagodas in its heyday.
Today, it houses a little over 2,000 ancient structures, but that’s more than enough for the city to be considered a tourist attraction. The best way to see the city in its entirety? Taking a hot air balloon ride that floats you above all the ancient sites!
1 Dragon’s Blood Trees, Yemen
Yemen may be known as a place of strife and chaos, but it’s also a country that’s rich and beautiful in its natural wonders. There’s a little island called Socotra, far removed from the hustle and bustle of civilization, a little place where the Dragon’s Blood Trees grow.
Legend has it that the tree sprung forth from the blood of a dragon after its battle with an elephant. The trees are said to look so surreal, it's as if they either belong in another planet or in another era altogether.