Mysterious places have this irresistible allure to them, maybe something about the forbidden that makes it more interesting than it is? A fascination with the unknown drives many travellers to the most bone-chilling corners of our world. Sometimes it’s a lonely place with a violent or macabre past, said to be haunted by the tormented souls of those already departed. At others, a quiet crypt or a reverent patch of ground calls to attention the impermanence of life and the ever-turning hands of time. I am in equal parts both fascinated and scared of such places and so thought I should find out which places in the world are mysterious. I am not including India in this list as I will make a separate list of India’s most mysterious places. So in no particular order, but following a westerly direction from the Americas to Oceania and Antarctica, here are some of the world’s most mysterious places to visit.
Lake Abraham, Canada
In warmer months, Lake Abraham looks like a lovely turquoise lake, but during the winter, the frozen water gets filled with suspended white orbs that look like snowballs. While it may look like Christmas magic, these ice bubbles are dangerous pockets of flammable methane gas formed when the organic matter at the bottom of the lake decomposes.
Spotted Lake, Canada
Located in the grasslands of Canada’s Okanagan Nation in British Columbia, the Spotted Lake looks like an ordinary, though beautiful water body in the cooler seasons. In the summertime, however, as it gets hot and water starts to evaporate, the lake transforms into many tiny colourful pools. These yellow, blue and green spots are caused by a high concentration of different minerals in each pond. The First Nations People believe that each of the different circles holds different healing properties.
Area 51, USA
The United States Air Force facility commonly known as Area 51, located within the Nevada Test and Training Range, has captured the imagination of both conspiracy theorists and Hollywood for decades. The top-secret military base which is still operational is surrounded by barren desert, and the secrecy surrounding its Cold War-era stealth aircraft testing has led to rumours of UFOs and aliens, wild government experiments and even a staged moon landing on the premises. Civilians can explore the area around the base, which has become a tourist destination, although they aren’t permitted inside.
Devils Tower National Monument, USA
The Devils Tower is a dramatic geologic feature that juts out of the rolling prairie surrounding the Black Hills region in Wyoming, and it became the first national monument in the country in 1906. It might seem like a majestic mountain, but it’s made of molten rock that hardened into fascinating geometric columns. This site is sacred to multiple Native American tribes, and its still the setting for Native American ceremonies as well as a popular destination for rock climbing and hiking.
Eternal Flame Falls, USA
The Eternal Flame Falls lies in New York’s Chestnut Ridge Park. There’s a strange orange-red light glowing behind a waterfall that looks like something out of a fairy tale. The flame is fueled by natural methane gas escaping through cracks in the rock. The flame isn’t quite eternal though with the water sometimes extinguishing the fire, but visitors often start it up again with a lighter to keep the magic alive. Once lit, the flame can go on for up to one year, unless extinguished by force.
Papakolea Beach, Hawaii
Known as the rainbow beach, the Papakolea Beach on the Big Island of Hawaii is also known as Green Sand Beach, the beach was carved out of the side of a volcano, and its sandy shores are almost the same hue as the surrounding grass due to olivine crystals left behind by the lava.
Island of the Dolls, Mexico
The Isla de las Muñecas, Spanish for the Island of the Dolls, is an island located in the canals of the Xochimilco neighbourhood of Mexico City. As per legend, the island’s caretaker became haunted by guilt after he was unable to save a little girl who drowned there more than 50 years ago. He hung dolls around the island as a tribute. The unsettling dolls with severed limbs, decapitated heads and empty eye sockets remain there, and some people claim the island is haunted.
The Bermuda Triangle
The Bermuda Triangle is an area of about 500,000 square miles that sits in the Atlantic Ocean between Bermuda, Puerto Rico and Miami, Florida. More than 20 planes and 50 ships are said to have mysteriously vanished into thin air or crashed without explanation. Though vessels manage to pass through the area with ease every day and there are no more disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle than in any other large, well-travelled area of the ocean, the unexplained accidents have still captured the public imagination. Intense electrical forces and a tunnel-like cloud have been reported, but other theories include rapidly changing weather patterns and alien abduction.
Stone Spheres or Palmar Sur, Costa Rica
Also called the Stone Spheres of the Diquís or simply Las Balos, the Stone Spheres of Costa Rica remain one of the biggest mysteries in archaeology. The more than 300 spheres, which are almost perfectly round, were unearthed by workers clearing a field in the 1930s. They range in size and weigh up to 16 tons. They are amazing man-made creations, but no one knows how or why they were made by an ancient indigenous culture. Some of the stones are on display at the National Museum of Costa Rica while others are in their original spots at the Finca 6 Museum and Archaeological Site in Palmar Sur.
Great Blue Hole, Belize
The Great Blue Hole is a massive, remote marine sea hole off the coast of Belize that is more than 1,000 feet across and 400 feet deep. It is the world’s biggest sinkhole and scuba divers flock here to experience its hypnotically crystal-clear waters, marine life and coral reefs.
Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela
Off the Caribbean Sea in northwestern Venezuela, lightning storms take over the skies almost every night of the year at Lake Maracaibo. This weather phenomenon is known as Catatumbo Lightning, named for the river that flows into the lake. Lake Maracaibo has the highest concentration of lightning on Earth thanks to a combination of heat, humidity, air currents and the mountainous landscape. At night, lightning strikes Lake Maracaibo about 28 times a minute for up to nine hours.
The Nazca Lines, Peru
More than 2,000 years ago, the ancient Nazca people of Peru carved hundreds of giant designs of humans, animals and plants into the desert plain. Despite being studied by scientists for more than 80 years, their function is still unknown. A UNESCO World Heritage Site today, the lines scar their way across the dusty desert landscapes of southern Peru. Most opt to do flyovers and see the great wonders from above, which is when the curious geoglyphs depicting spiders and monkeys come into full view. Some believe aliens created them as landing strips for their spacecraft.
Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
The world’s largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia extends for more than 4,000 square miles. Its extreme flatness and dryness and bright blue skies help create a dreamy mirror-like reflective surface during the wet season while in the dry season, the plain becomes adorned with a fascinating pattern of polygonal cracks that look like floor tiles. It was formed when a prehistoric lake went dry. A thin film of water gathers on the salt surface and gives the mirror-like reflecting surface.
Easter Island, Chile
The isolated Easter Island in the Pacific Ocean was once populated by the Rapa Nui civilization, which erected almost 1,000 giant stone statues known as moai approximately 900 years ago. These towering figures, which stand an average of 13 feet tall and weigh 14 tons apiece, captivated European explorers who first landed on the island in 1722. No one knows for sure why the ancient Polynesians carved and placed the statues across the island, though one recent theory hypothesizes that they were placed as markers of freshwater sources. When discovered in 1722, this 24 km island was completely isolated and uninhabited except for 800 enormous statues. Their huge size and weight, with some standing 30 feet tall and weighing over 75 tons, would have made them almost impossible to build and move. There are over more than 880 of the moai heads here, which are each thought to represent the final member of one of the tribal family clans.
The Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt
The only one of the seven wonders of the ancient world that’s still intact, the pyramids of Giza continue to be one of the most visited tourist attractions on Earth. Visitors and scholars alike are still baffled by how the 455-foot-tall pyramid was created without modern tools, although common theories are that they were constructed using some type of ramp system.
Valley of the Kings, Egypt
The burial place of Egypt’s highest nobility, at least 63 tombs have been identified throughout the valley, including that of King Tut. The untimely deaths of several of Tut’s discoverers have been attributed by some to the Pharaoh’s Curse.
Ark of the Covenant, Ethiopia
The search for the Ark of the Covenant, the golden container thought to hold the Ten Commandments, dates back to 586 BC when it vanished from King Solomon’s temple. Some scholars have speculated that the ark was brought to Ethiopia, while others believe the ark could be located in the Judean desert.
Richat Structure, Mauritania
Also known as the mythical-sounding Eye of the Sahara, the Richat Structure is a 48 km wide circular feature that from space looks like a bull’s eye in the middle of the desert. Richat was initially theorised to be a meteorite impact site but is now believed to have been created by the erosion of a dome, revealing its concentric rings of rock layers. Its distinctive shape can be seen by astronauts aboard the International Space Station.
Lake Natron, Tanzania
Also known as the Petrifying Lake, Lake Natron is said to have the power to turn birds into stone. The water temperature can reach 60 degrees Celcius and its pH level is 10.5, nearly as high as ammonia. The water is so caustic that it can burn the skin and eyes of animals that aren’t adapted to it. Its high levels of sodium carbonate also act as a preservative, leaving birds, bats and other animals that die in its waters almost mummified. The lake is, however, a safe breeding place for a flock of flamingos.
Fairy Circles, Namibia
Millions of circular patches dot the Namibian desert landscape. These eerie ovals of soil surrounded by rings of grass are known as fairy circles because their defined shape and pattern look as if they’ve been created by small spritely creatures. They can range in size from about 12 feet to about 114 feet. While scientists have many theories, including creepy crawlies like sand termites, recent research seems to indicate that the pattern is created via plants competing for scarce water.
Skellig Michael, Ireland
Skellig Michael is a mystical island that sits about 13 km off the coast of Ireland and towers more than 700 feet above sea level. A group of monks settled there and built a monastery as early as the sixth century that still stands. Not only is the island beautiful, but it’s also a movie filming location one can visit with the island being recognised as Luke Skywalker’s home in the Star Wars films.
Giant’s Causeway, Northern Ireland
Giant’s Causeway is a natural wonder on the coast of Northern Ireland that features 40,000 polygonal black basalt columns that were created by volcanic activity. The dramatic, pavement-like formation inspired legends about a giant named Finn McCool, who threw chunks of the coast into the sea to create a stepping stone path to Scotland.
Stonehenge is a more-than-5000-years-old structure which consists of a circular cluster of humongous megalith stones made of unique bluestone material. It is believed that this unique bluestone is found only on the Preseli Hills in Pembrokeshire, which is some 322 km away in Wales. While it is generally accepted that it was built as a sacred temple and burial ground, how Neolithic people managed this massive architectural feat is still debated. Set deep in the middle of the verdant lowlands of south-central England, where Salisbury Plain emerges in peaks and troughs of heath from the oak forests, Stonehenge has long oozed mystery and magic. Mystery surrounds both how the Neolithic people managed to transport such huge rocks all that way, and the purpose of the building. Today, it’s wrapped up in Arthurian legends and attracts Pagans for the summer solstice
Tower of London, England
One of London’s most notable historic sites, this former palace on the north bank of the Thames, was long used as the city’s most notorious prison and was the site of many executions, including two of Henry VII’s wives. To this day, visitors report sightings of numerous spirits continuing to inhabit the tower’s halls. Stories of hauntings and mysterious happenings began with the sighting of Thomas Becket, who is said to have stymied the construction of the palace’s extension from the grave. The apparition of Queen Anne Boleyn causes the biggest stir with her headless body seen lurking by the spot where she was killed at the behest of Henry VII back in the 1530s.
Loch Ness, Scotland
Loch Ness is a large, deep, freshwater loch, or lake, in the Scottish Highlands famous for the sightings of its titular Loch Ness Monster, a mythical serpent-like creature nicknamed Nessie. Nessie’s existence has never been proven, but it has made this lake a popular tourist destination. Even if one doesn’t see any evidence of a monster, the area is gorgeous with many travellers considering Scotland to be the most beautiful country in the world.
Paris Catacombs, France
Created to alleviate the burden of the city’s overflowing cemeteries, the bones of more than six million people now lie in the cavernous tunnels beneath the French capital. Many of these remains have been stacked into elaborate patterns throughout the catacombs, visible to visitors wishing to explore the Parisian underworld.
Devil’s Bridge, Germany
Multiple places around the world have been named the Devil’s Bridge due to some supernatural connection, but the most famous one is located in the German town of Kromlau, in the beautiful Kromlauer Park. Known as Rakotzbrücke in German, the parabolic bridge dates back to the 1860s and is one of the most stunning bridges in the world, so unbelievably beautiful that some say it was built by Satan. The semi-circle bridge forms a perfect circle with its reflection in the water below, a feat only deemed possible with some otherworldly assistance.
Crooked Forest, Poland
Just south of the city of Szczecin on Poland’s extreme eastern end, close to its borders with Germany, a small clutch of just over 400 peculiar pine trees has been garnering attention. Several hundred pine trees were planted there in the 1930s and grew with an almost 90-degree bend at their base, making them look like fishing hooks. The entire forest appears to be bent over almost 90 degrees at the trunk, before twisting back straight again and growing vertically. Some believe that a technique or human tool was used to make the trees curve like this, while others speculate that a winter snowstorm or some other damage could have given this fascinating forest its interesting shape.
Hill of Crosses, Lithuania
A major Catholic pilgrimage centre, the Hill of Crosses lies about 12 km north of the city of Šiauliai, in northern Lithuania. The precise origin of the practice of leaving crosses on the hill is uncertain, but it is believed that the first crosses were placed on the former Jurgaičiai or Domantai hill fort after the 1831 Uprising. Over the generations, not only crosses and crucifixes, but statues of the Virgin Mary, carvings of Lithuanian patriots and thousands of tiny effigies and rosaries have been brought here by Catholic pilgrims. The exact number of crosses is unknown, but estimates put it at about 100,000.
Gate to Hell, Turkey
The Gate to Hell at the ancient city of Hierapolis, in modern-day Turkey, is a stone doorway leading to a small cave-like grotto. The gate was built into one wall of a rectangular, open-aired arena, topped by a temple and surrounded by raised stone seating for visitors. 2200 years ago, its thermal springs were believed to have great healing powers. But a deep fissure running beneath Hierapolis constantly emits volcanic carbon dioxide, which pours forth as a visible mist. The gate, also known as the Plutonium, for Pluto, the god of the underworld, is built directly above it. In 2011, archaeologists showed that the gate is still deadly: Birds that fly too close suffocate and die.
Door to Hell, Turkmenistan
Almost 50 years ago, a gaping, fiery crater opened up in the desert of northern Turkmenistan. The Darvaza Crater, also known as the Door to Hell, is still burning today, and at night its glow can be seen from kilometres away. The crater is thought to have been created by a Russian natural gas drilling mishap in which engineers set the area on fire to stop the spread of dangerous gases, unaware of how long the fire would burn. It is a natural gas field that collapsed in 1971 and to contain the spread of the Methane gas, geologists set it on fire and it has been continuously burning ever since.
Sea of Stars, Maldives
Known as the Sea of Stars, the waters around Vaadhoo Island, part of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean, put on a magical nighttime display. When disturbed, billions of bioluminescent microorganisms called dinoflagellates in the water emit a bluish glow, much like aquatic fireflies. When the conditions are right, these floating lights can rival the splendour of the most stunning night sky or a spectacular sunset.
Plain of Jars, Laos
The Plain of Jars is a megalithic archaeological landscape consisting of thousands of stone jars scattered around the upland valleys and the lower foothills of the central plain of the Xiangkhoang Plateau. The jars are arranged in clusters ranging in number from one to several hundred. Some stand 10 feet tall and weigh several tons. Archaeologists estimate the jars are 2,000 years old, but their purpose is unclear. The most common theories are that they were used as funeral urns with excavations supporting this interpretation with the discovery of human remains, burial goods and ceramics around the jars. Researchers using optically stimulated luminescence have determined that the jars were put in place as early as 1240 to 660 BC. The Plain of Jars is one of the most important prehistoric sites in Southeast Asia.
Zhangye Danxia Landform, China
The Danxia landform refers to various landscapes found in southeast, southwest and northwest China that consist of a red bed characterized by cliffs. It is a unique type of petrographic geomorphology found in China and is formed from red-coloured sandstones and conglomerates of largely Cretaceous age. The coloured mountains were formed due to the natural weathering and erosion of the red sandstone and conglomerate laid down by sedimentation from lakes and streams in the region.
Kawah Ijen Lake, Indonesia
The Kawah Ijen Lake and Volcano are both terrifying and breathtaking because of a rare natural phenomenon that occurs here. Sulfuric gases burst through the rocky surfaces around the lake, combusting when they hit the outside air. This creates flames that shoot up to 16 feet into the air. The fires appear to burn blue and liquid sulfur streams down the mountain like electric blue lava. The lake is recognised as the largest highly acidic crater lake in the world and is also a source for the river Banyupahit, resulting in highly acidic and metal-enriched river water which has a significant detrimental effect on the downstream river ecosystem.
Hanging Coffins, Philippines
Hanging coffins are one of the funerary practices among the Kankanaey people of Sagada, on the island of Luzon in the Philippines. Believed to be centuries old, the coffins are placed underneath natural overhangs, either on natural rock shelves or crevices or on projecting beams slotted into holes dug into the cliff-side. The coffins are small because the bodies inside the coffins are in a fetal position. This is due to the belief that people should leave the world in the same position as they entered it, a tradition common throughout the various pre-colonial cultures of the Philippines. The coffins are usually carved by their eventual occupants during their lifetimes. The location depends on the status of the deceased as well as the cause of death. The hanging coffins in Echo Valley have become tourist attractions.
Lake Hillier, Australia
With its bubblegum-pink waters, Australia’s Lake Hillier is located on the edge of Middle Island, the largest of the islands and islets that make up the Recherche Archipelago in the Goldfields-Esperance region, off the south coast of Western Australia. A long and thin shore divides the Southern Ocean or by some definitions, the Indian Ocean from the lake, which makes its natural colour pop in comparison. It has plenty of fish living in its waters and is even safe for swimming, although tourists aren’t allowed in the water. The reason for Lake Hillier’s colour, which is permanent is because it is due to the presence of the organism, Dunaliella salina. The lake’s colour does not alter when the water is taken in a container.
Also known as Ayers Rock, Uluru is a large sandstone formation in the centre of Australia that resembles the upper shell of a turtle. One of Australia’s most recognisable natural landmarks, it is sacred to the Pitjantjatjara, the Aboriginal people of the area, known as the Aṉangu. The area around the formation is home to an abundance of springs, waterholes, rock caves, and ancient paintings. Uluru is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It shoulders its way high above the flatlands that encompass it; a gargantuan block of sandstone rock that looks like the carapace of a petrified animal. It is believed to be one of the last remaining homes of the creator beings who forged the earth.
Moeraki Boulders, New Zealand
The surprisingly spherical Moeraki Boulders formed about 65 million years ago before settling on Koekohe Beach near Moeraki. According to Maori legend, they are gourds washed ashore from the shipwreck of the canoe that brought their ancestors to New Zealand. The Moeraki Boulders are unusually large spherical boulders lying along a stretch of Koekohe Beach on the wave-cut Otago coast of New Zealand between Moeraki and Hampden. They occur scattered either as isolated or clusters of boulders within a stretch of beach where they have been protected in a scientific reserve. These boulders are grey-coloured septarian concretions, which have been exhumed from the mudstone and bedrock enclosing them and concentrated on the beach by coastal erosion.
Slope Point, New Zealand
At the southernmost point of New Zealand’s South Island, the constant, fierce winds blowing up from Antarctica are so strong that they’ve bent the trees growing there into surreal, permanent shapes.
Blood Falls, Antarctica
Antarctica is home to a crimson-hued waterfall called Blood Falls that pours down five stories along an icy white glacier. It is an outflow of an iron oxide-tainted plume of saltwater, flowing from the tongue of Taylor Glacier onto the ice-covered surface of West Lake Bonney in the Taylor Valley of the McMurdo Dry Valleys in Victoria Land, East Antarctica. Scientists determined that the grisly colour comes from salty, iron-rich water from inside the glacier oxidizing and rusting once it’s exposed to oxygen.
There is so much in our world that is unexplainable that I hope the evolution of science and techolony will answer. But for now, I hope to visit these places if I make it to specific countries. As for India, watch this space for a post that showcases India’s most mysterious places.