8 of the Most Surreal Landscapes in the World

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Surreal Travel Destinations
Photo: Courtesy of @josemostajo

From early sci-fi writers to the marvels of modern CGI, humans have long crafted worlds of weirdness and wonder, but sometimes reality is even stranger than fiction. Think psychedelic hillsides, a bright pink lake, a hellish 30 meter-deep fire pit, and terrifyingly high pillars of rock. Some of these surreal travel destinations have to be seen to be believed.


Socotra, Yemen

A remote, rocky outcrop in the Indian Ocean, Socotra owes its fame to a single species of shrub that doesn’t seem to understand the laws of gravity. The ethereal dragon’s blood trees rise from the soil like an army of umbrellas blown inside out by the wind and take their name from their deep crimson sap, said by locals to possess magical properties.

They’re a good fit for the island’s otherworldly terrain and are regularly compared to UFOs

Surreal Travel Destinations Socotra Yemen
Photo: Courtesy of PA Images

Lake Hillier, Australia

There’s something unusual about Lake Hillier, an island lake off the coast of Western Australia — we just can’t quite put our finger on what it is.

Sometimes simply called ‘the pink lake’, its vibrant hue is thought to stem from a specific species of algae which produces pinky pigments, though no one is 100% sure. Still marked in blue on most maps, Hillier Lake has a salt content comparable to the Dead Sea, and although it is safe to swim in, most visitors prefer to grab their cameras and enjoy the views from a small plane.

Surreal Travel Destinations Hillier Australia
Photo: Courtesy of Two Lost Feet

Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia

Another outlandish setting that would have Salvador Dali cracking out the oils, Salar de Uyuni is the world’s largest salt flat, a Mecca for photographers, and probably Bolivia’s premier attraction. The flats are so vast, and their surface so immaculately glassy, that after rainfall the horizon disappears, and you’re left floating in the midst of a sphere of the sky.

The dreamlike aesthetic has made the flats a long-time favorite for film crews, and Salar de Uyuni doubled as the planet Crait in the 2017 Star Wars hit, The Last Jedi.

Surreal Travel Destinations Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Photo: Courtesy of PA Images

Zhangye Danxia Landform, China

Formally designated the Zhangye National Geopark, this psychedelic marvel is renowned for its layers of sandstone more colorful than a children’s cartoon. All the colors of the rainbow appear on the site’s iridescent hills, while the lunar landscape has been sculpted by millennia of erosion.

In 2018, the landform was included as a natural wonder in the ‘Civilization’ video game series – a ‘made it’ moment for any geological site.

Surreal Travel Destinations Zhangye Danxia Landform, China
Photo: Courtesy of PA Images

The Door to Hell, Turkmenistan

We wonder what it would be like to stumble across the Darvaza Gas Crater accidentally. You’re walking through the desert, sand stretching away to the horizon, when suddenly you find an almost perfectly circular fire pit plunging 30 meters into the Earth – no wonder it’s called the Door to Hell.

The crater – a natural gas field collapsed into a cavern – is thought to have been burning nonstop since 1971, after scientists set the site alight to stop the spread of methane gas.

Surreal Travel Destinations Door to Hell Turkmenistan
Photo: Courtesy of of INSH World

Zhangjiajie Forest, China

What do you get if you cross the rock formations of Arizona with the Amazon rainforest? That, very roughly, is the scene at the Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in China marked by precarious-looking pillars coated with thick foliage.

Vertiginous in the extreme, visiting the park involves tottering along cliff-side walkways, braving glass-bottomed bridges, and ascending the world’s tallest outdoor lift, which rises a terrifying 326 meters to the top of a pillar.

Surreal Travel Destinations Zhangjiajie Forest, China
Photo: Courtesy of Discover China

Dallol, Ethiopia

One of the hottest places on Earth – or the hottest depending who you ask – Dallol sports an altitude more than 100 meters below sea level, and a distinctly Martian aesthetic. Ensconced in a remote region of Ethiopia (aptly named ‘Afar’), the area is littered with bubbling geysers and toxic, sulfurous off-shoots.

Completely unique, Dallol resembles science fiction more than anywhere else that is actually real, and the water records a shockingly acidic 0.2 average pH.

Surreal Travel Destinations Dallol, Ethiopia
Photo: Courtesy of Elements Magazine

Deadvlei, Namibia

There’s a brutal, desolate beauty to a place that has been choked of life. Deadvlei (literally ‘dead marsh’) in Namibia is a giant clay pan surrounded by some of the world’s largest sand dunes and exists in a near-perpetual state of drought.

There were plants once – camel thorn trees adapted to dry, sandy soil – but now their lifeless husks dot the cracked Earth-like gravestones against the milky-white clay. They say that life finds a way. In Deadvlei, it would have to try pretty hard.

Surreal Travel Destinations Deadvlei, Namibia
Photo: Courtesy of PA Images
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