Hi all! Meg Cowley here. As a fantasy author, I’m tasked with taking readers to new and wonderful places, hopefully written so vibrantly they could well be real.

But what if our very own wonderful planet had some amazing hidden gems worthy of starring in a fantasy novel?

Sit back, be amazed, and prepare to add to your travel bucket list…

1. Sea of Stars, Maldives

Glowing blue waves gently lap sandy shores in the Maldives where this natural beauty occurs. It’s caused by luminescent phytoplankton, and the phenomenon is actually poisonous to wildlife… but I like to think there’s a sprinkle of magic involved too!

2. Meteora, Greece

The Meteora is a series of rock formations in Greece, upon which stand some of the most precariously constructed buildings you’ll see anywhere in the world. Pictured is one of the six 13th century Eastern Orthodox monasteries.

Now… where is the way in? I don’t fancy climbing those precipices.. do you?

3. Cenotes, Mexico

These fantastic naturally occurring sinkholes were, according to Mayan lore, the pathway to the Mayan underworld. They are typically almost perfectly circular sinkholes, sometimes hundreds of feet deep, formed in the limestone based topography by the passage of a complex web of interconnected underground rivers that thread through the Yucatan peninsula. They contain sweet fresh water that the Mexicans describe as ‘refreshing’ (translation: cold!).

4. Door to Hell, Turkmenistan

This natural gas field collapsed into a cavern, and has been alight continuously since 1971. It does look rather hellish, doesn’t it? Er… maybe don’t get too close to this one!

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5. Mendenhall Ice Caves, Alaska

This beautiful series of caves and caverns are difficult to view, but worth the effort. Why? Well, they’re encased in a glacier that is over 3,000 years old! It creates a breathtaking view hard to find elsewhere, as melt-water carves out these smooth ice faces. This natural wonder is worth a visit sooner rather than later. As the glacier recedes, the caves will be lost for good.

6. Waitomo Glowworm Caves, New Zealand

This species of luminescent glowworm is native to New Zealand, inhabiting caves along the underground Waitomo River. They create a surreal and softly lit series of caverns that make up the Glowworm Grotto. Wow!

7. Marble caves, Patagonia 

This unique peninsula of marble create stunning rock formations through millennia of wind and water erosion. The swirling layers of marble undulate through caverns in a breathtaking work of art by nature.

8. Angkor Wat, Cambodia

This Hindu, and eventually Buddhist, temple is one of the largest religious monuments in the world. The 12th century temple was reclaimed by nature, though it has now been extensively restored. The architecture style combined with the trees and fauna living amongst the rock makes for one of the most unique man-made structures on Earth.

9. Hvitserkur, Iceland

It’s a big rock, shaped like a dragon. Need I say more!? Magic was clearly involved here.

10. Catatumbo Lightning, Venezuela 

This is a unique atmospheric phenomenon that only occurs over the mouth of the Catatumbo river as it spills into the Maracaibo lake. This location receives a staggering 1.2 million lightning strikes a year as the storm crescendos above the waters for up to 160 nights a year, and 10 hours at once, striking up to 280 times per hour!

This phenomenon reminds me of the lightning strikes in Abhorsen by Garth Nix. I wonder if he was inspired by Catatumbo?

11. (Bonus Destination!) Cave of Crystals, Mexico

(Because who can narrow it down to just ten!?)

Containing some of the largest gypsum crystals in the world, the Cave of Crystals in Mexico is surprisingly not that well explored. It’s so inhospitable – at 99% humidity, 58 °C (136 ° F!), and entirely flooded – that it is now closed. When drained, humans can only survive there for about ten minutes without necessary protective garments. The largest crystal discovered here weighed 55 tons, and measured 12 metres in length!

What fantasy worlds would you place these real life magical wonders in, and who would visit/live there?

I have ticked off the Mexican cenotes, but the rest are definitely on my bucket list! How many have you visited?


– Meg