by Inigo del Castillo in Cool Travel on Wednesday 20 November 2013

The world is an amazing place to explore its beautiful sights. Some are more popular than others, like the Pyramids of Egypt, or the Mt. Fuji in Japan, or that beach in The Beach starring post-Titanic Leonardo Dicaprio. But some, and to the delight of all you hipsters out there, are more underground, more obscure than others. Here are some of those truly beautiful places that you’ve probably never heard of.

Namaqualand, South Africa
If you love seeing dazzling flowers of different colours stretching until the horizon, but also want to keep it from the mainstream, head to Namaqualand! Located in South Africa, this place is as beautiful as the flower fields of Holland with its 3,500 plant species – 1,000 of which can’t be found anywhere else.

Gullfoss, Iceland
This is one place that you’ll truly feel the majesty, power, and beauty of Mother Nature. As you approach Gullfoss, you might think that the river simply vanishes into thin air. But as you draw closer, the crevice which was obscured before, now comes into view. What you’ll see is a series of steps that that bring the river down to its 32m deep final descent. You can just feel the raw power of running water with a sight like Gullfoss.

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia
If there ever was a place to win a “Most likely to be on everybody’s PC wallpaper” award, the Plitvice Lakes would be in the running for the gold. Enclosed by lush rain forests, 16 turquoise lakes connect to each other through cascading waterfalls and towering rock formations. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site that’s home to bears and wolves, but also animals that won’t try to eat you, like hawks, owls, cuckoos, thrushes, wild ducks, herons, starlings, kingfishers, and butterflies.

Socotra, Yemen
Another out-of-this-world destination, Socotra is considered to be the jewel of biodiversity in the Arabian Sea with its unique land and marine species. And by unique, we really mean unique. It is home to the Dragon’s Blood Tree, a plant that is endemic to Socotra. It not only looks different, it also bleeds different as well. Try to cut the bark and it will bleed a dark red liquid. It’s also home to the Desert Rose. But if you think it’s a flower, think again. It’s a plant that looks like an elephant leg with leaves and flowers. Socotra is a park that’s really for the off-beat traveler.

Tubbataha Reef, Philippines
The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest contiguous coral reef system, and undoubtedly, the most popular. But have you heard about its lesser-known but equally beautiful neighbour, Tubbataha Reef in the Philippines? The national park is considered to be the global centre of marine biodiversity and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It contains no less than 600 fish species, 360 coral species, 11 shark species, 13 dolphin and whale species, and 100 bird species.

Wakayama, Japan
Wakayama isn’t on most tourist itineraries, but maybe it should be with its various off-beat attractions. It’s home to the Chuka Suba, considered as “Japan’s most delicious ramen.” You can also catch the 1,700 year old Nachi Fire Festival, the celebration of the Nachi Waterfall’s god. If watching people carry giant torches while screaming enthusiastically isn’t your thing, there’s always the hot springs and the glorious Wakayama Castle.

Coastal Dunes in Lencois Maranhenses National Park, Brazil
Though it may look like a desert, it is actually an environment where fish thrive all year round. Fresh water accumulate regularly during the rainy season, creating the blue and green lagoons sandwiched between the lofty dunes. The result is a view that is both trippy and breath-taking.

Giant Crystal Cave, Naica, Mexico
Also known as Cave of the Crystals, it looks like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. Discovered by miners in 2000, this cave contains some of the largest crystals in the world, the giant selenite crystals. Unfortunately, this cave is not open to the public because: 1) it is privately owned. 2) the air temperatures inside reach up to 58 °C and require special gear to enter.

Lake Natron, Tanzania
Remember that post where birds and bats turned into statues because of a deadly lake? Yep, this beautiful lake is the exact same one. Whenever it’s not turning animals into stone, Lake Natron becomes a Mars-like landscape to creep us out even more and to show us it has more than one superpower. This is possible because during the dry season, water evaporates, thus creating the perfect environment for salt-loving microorganisms to thrive. They then produce the red pigment that makes Lake Natron the lake from another dimension.

Crescent Lake, China
If you ever find yourself stranded in the hot desert and stumble upon a Chinese temple with a lake the shape of the crescent moon, that’s not a mirage. Yueyaquan is a crescent-shaped lake that can be found south of Dunhuang, China. This 2,000 year old oasis can be easily reached by camels and 4×4 rides.