What are the 7 natural wonders of the world?

Sub Editor · 14 October 2021
The Seven Natural Wonders of the World: what they are, how to get there, and travel insurance information for your trip once you can visit safely.

For travel inspo, here’s the official Seven Natural Wonders of the World list. If you are planning a holiday, you might be interested in comparing savings accounts, a personal loan, or travel insurance. You can also find out your credit score for free.

Note for readers: While there’s currently a travel ban due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s possible international borders may reopen soon. The ‘When to visit’ and other details in this story assume travel is permissible, with no international travel bans in place. Some of this information may change as borders reopen and the rules around international travel or visiting these particular destinations become clearer. For the latest updates, visit the Australian Government’s Smartraveller website. It’s also important to consider your own health and the medical or safety risks that may be involved in travelling to certain destinations, particularly those that have been hard-hit by the pandemic. 

1. Mount Everest

Three mountain climbers make their way up Mt Everest
A view of Mount Everest from Gokyo, Sagarmatha National Park, Khumbu valley, Nepalese Himalayas. Image: Daniel Prudek/Shutterstock.com.

Mount Everest is renowned as the highest spot on earth, at 8,848.86 metres above sea level. It is parked right on the border between Nepal and Tibet, and it is protected by Sagarmatha National Park in the Himalayas.

Mount Everest’s original name in Tibetan is Chomolungma (“Goddess Mother of Snow”) and in Nepalese it is Sagarmatha. The mountain received an English name in 1865 because Nepal and Tibet were closed to foreigners at the time, so the Royal Geographical Society in Britain did not know the mountain’s local names.

You can get a helicopter tour to get as close to the peak as possible without actually climbing the mountain, and this may be preferable for many people. Climbing Mount Everest is not something to be attempted lightly. The trek to base camp alone takes around 14 days. It’s also not a weekender trip. If it’s snowing, you probably won’t physically be able to get near the mountain. Delays are not unusual.

Did you know? While Mount Everest is the highest spot above sea level on earth, it is not actually the tallest mountain when measured from base to tip. That distinction belongs to the Mauna Kea volcano in Hawaii, which extends 4.2km into the air and around 6km into the sea. And because the Earth is not a perfect sphere (it bulges out around the equator), the tallest mountain in terms of distance from the Earth’s centre is Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador, whose peak is around 2km closer to the stars than Everest’s.

When to visit: Most specialist travel websites tend to recommend September-November or April-May, as Mount Everest is safely locked away by stormy snow for most of the year.

How to get there: Fly into Beijing or Shanghai, then fly or take a train to Lhasa and drive or trek to the base camp. Alternatively, you can fly into Kathmandu in Nepal and make your way to the base camp or take a helicopter from that side.

Travel insurance: Canstar researches and rates travel insurance to visit China, and many insurance providers that we rate offer cover for snow sports and rock climbing. Cover to actually climb Mount Everest would require phoning up and giving an insurer all the details you can, to make sure you can get adequate cover.

On top of this, the Chinese and Nepalese governments both require that you get permits and climber’s insurance before climbing. The exact details of what this will cover and what it will cost may vary depending on where and when you buy it.

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2. Harbour of Rio de Janeiro

Spectacular aerial view over Rio de Janeiro as viewed from Corcovado.
The famous Sugarloaf mountain sticks out of Guanabara Bay. Image: Mihai_Andritoiu/Shutterstock.com.

Located in Brazil, the Harbour of Rio de Janeiro is surrounded by unique granite and quartz mountains that were formed by erosion from the Atlantic Ocean. It is also known as Guanabara Bay, and sits within sight of the famous white stone statue of Christ the Redeemer atop Corcovado Mountain, which overlooks the bay. It is the largest bay in the world based on volume of water.

The best way to see the bay is from the Sugarloaf Mountain cable car or from a helicopter, so you can take in the full view. You can also visit the islands of the bay including Governador Island, Paquetá Island, and Ilha das Cobras (“Island of the Snakes”).

Sunbaking is another great way many locals use the Harbour, but it is quite polluted.

Did you know? Rio de Janeiro means “River of January” in Portuguese and is the second-largest city in Brazil. There’s no river there, but the Portuguese explorer Gaspar de Lemos reportedly thought that Guanabara Bay was the mouth of a river when he arrived there in January, 1502.

When to visit: September-October, before the humidity sets in.

How to get there: Once it’s safe to visit Brazil, you can fly right into Rio de Janeiro.

Travel insurance: Canstar researches and rates travel insurance to Brazil.

3. Great Barrier Reef

An aerial view of the Great Barrier Reef.
The Great Barrier Reef, off the coast of Australia. Image: Superjoseph/Shutterstock.com.

It’s the home of Nemo, and it’s right on our doorstep. The Great Barrier Reef is not just one big, long, connected reef; it is made up of more than 2,900 individual reefs constructed by billions of miniscule coral polyps, which are living organisms. The GBR stretches over 2,600km in length, takes up 344,000 square kilometres in area and includes more than 900 islands.

If you’re not a fan of breathing through a tube or risking the stingers, you can still enjoy the reef from a glass-bottomed boat. There are a range of tour lengths, from a single day to an extended stay. A helicopter tour will also give you a great picture of the sheer vastness of this marine environment, and when the sun hits the reef you can see just about everything from the air.

The Great Barrier Reef is listed as a World Heritage Area (Queensland’s first) and is protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, a national park.

The Great Barrier Reef, Australia, wildlife.
Clownfish swim in sea anemone, on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia. Image: Vladimir Wrangel/Shutterstock.com

Did you know? While people often claim (wrongly) that you can see the Great Wall of China from space, it is a fact that astronauts and satellites have taken photos of the Great Barrier Reef from space.

How to get there: Depending on what part of the GBR you want to visit, you can fly direct to Cairns, Port Douglas, Airlie Beach, Hamilton Island (in the Whitsundays), or Townsville. There are tours starting from almost every major city along the eastern coast of Queensland.

Travel insurance: Canstar rates domestic travel insurance for travel within Australia. Most of the insurance providers we rate offer cover for water sports such as snorkelling on the reef, although it could be worth checking whether your policy covers you for unexpected border closures or other pandemic-related events that may arise.

4. Victoria Falls

A woman sits atop of Victoria Falls, Mosi-o-tunya Road, Livingstone, Zambia
Image: Brina L Bunt/Shutterstock.com.

As the Zambezi River crosses the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, it plunges 108 metres down in a stunning waterfall that is 1.7km wide. The falls are also called Mosi-oa-Tunya, meaning “Smoke that Thunders” in the local Lozi language. National parks in both Zambia and Zimbabwe protect this landmark.

The Seven Natural Wonders organisation states that when Zambia gained independence in 1964 and many of its geographic names were changed back to African names, only Victoria Falls and the nearby city of Livingstone kept their English names, because of the deep respect the Zambian people had for David Livingstone, the Scottish explorer who named the falls after Queen Victoria in 1855.

You can appreciate the splendour of the falls from the trails that follow alongside them, a boat cruise, or from the air in a helicopter. From the air, you have a chance of spotting elephants or the other wildlife of the national park. The Seven Natural Wonders organisation says both the Zimbabwean and Zambian sides of the falls offer “unique views and perspectives” of them.

Did you know? Victoria Falls is neither the highest, nor the widest waterfall on the planet, but it is the largest single sheet of flowing water when you consider both its height and width.

When to visit: June-July (for the ‘prettiest’ combination of water levels and visibility of the waterfall).

How to get there: Fly direct to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, or fly into Livingstone in Zambia or Maun in Botswana.

Travel insurance: Canstar researches and rates travel insurance to visit South Africa, but we currently do not rate travel insurance to Zambia or Zimbabwe.

5. Paricutin Volcano

An aerial view of Mexico's Paricutin Volcano
Paricutin Volcano in Michoacan, Mexico. Image: Rubi Rodriguez Martinez/Shutterstock.com.

Paricutin is a once-active cinder cone volcano in Michoacán, Mexico. It was chosen as one of the Seven Natural Wonders because it is the only volcano whose birth in 1943 was witnessed and documented by humans, as it emerged from the cornfields of a local farmer. It quickly grew hundreds of metres within its first year, and is now estimated to be around 3km above sea level (including almost 1km from base to cone). It erupted for nine years straight before falling silent in 1952, hopefully never to be heard from again.

The best way to see Paricutin is by taking one of the 19km round-trip hikes to the top of the volcano. It’s not an easy hike, so another popular option is to visit it on horseback. Both options take you past lava fields, buried village homes, and a church near the summit.

Did you know? Access to Paricutin is usually via Angahuan, a town that survived the volcano’s eruptions. While this town was heavily damaged as well, it survived because it was located on a mountain rather than in the valley where the volcano sprang out of the ground.

When to visit: October-April (avoiding rainy season).

How to get there: Fly into Mexico City and travel 400km or so west to Anguhuan.

Travel insurance: Canstar researches and rates travel insurance to visit the USA.

6. Grand Canyon

Stars shine brightly over the Grand Canyon, with a tree in the foreground
Night-time in the Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, USA. Image: Alexey Suloev/Shutterstock.com.

This famous gorge in Arizona can be explored on foot with a day hike or overnight camping hike. For those with limited mobility, exploring the canyon on the back of a mule is a plausible option and one that visitors rave about.

The floor of the canyon can even be experienced with a white water rafting trip for experienced kayakers. The Seven Natural Wonders organisation says a helicopter tour is the best way to appreciate how vast the canyon really is, but you can see a lot of the canyon no matter which method you choose.

Did you know? At over 1.8km deep and 446km long, the Grand Canyon is neither the steepest nor the longest canyon in the world. It was chosen as a natural wonder for its overall scale, size, and beautifully coloured landscape.

When to visit: Debatable. In winter the North Rim roads are closed, cutting off some great views, and in summer it reaches Aussie summer temperatures. Spring and autumn may therefore be preferable. Over 5 million people have visited the Grand Canyon in some years, so be sure to book your travel early.

How to get there: Fly into Las Vegas, Phoenix, Flagstaff, or Los Angeles for a guided tour leaving from these destinations. You can also make your way to the town of Williams and take a historic steam locomotive on the Grand Canyon Railway to Grand Canyon Village.

Travel insurance: Canstar researches and rates travel insurance to visit the USA, and most of the insurance providers we rate offer cover for water sports, such as white water rafting and rock climbing.

7. Aurora Borealis

Bright green rays of the Aurora Borealis, twisted into a spiral, shine over Iceland
Aurora Borealis, Iceland. Image: Mike-Hubert.com/Shutterstock.com

Also known as the Northern Lights, these naturally-occurring ‘polar auroras’ intrigue everyone who sees them appear as glowing lines of vivid colour along the horizon or waves across the sky. Humans have created legends around the cause of these lights in the heavens, which feature in Greco-Roman, Norse and Native American mythology, to name a few. The science as we understand it today is that this effect is caused by ‘solar winds’ – cosmic particles originating from the Sun which appear as different-coloured lights as they enter Earth’s atmosphere.

Did you know? There is also a Southern Aurora (Aurora Australis) that occurs in the southern hemisphere, but this is less well-known. A trip to Tasmania could be something to consider if you want to see a similar light show but are unable to make it to the far reaches of the northern hemisphere.

When to visit: This can depend on where you are going. For example, the best time to see the Northern Lights in Iceland is typically between August and April. To see the Northern Lights in Norway, you should generally go between late September and late March. It may be wise to allow for a multiple-day stay, to increase your chances of seeing the lights.

How to get there: You can travel to many different places on earth to see the amazing Aurora phenomenon, though it can sometimes be difficult to predict exactly when or where the lights will appear.

Travel insurance: Canstar researches and rates travel insurance for many destinations that may bring you close to the Aurora Borealis, such as the USA, the UK and parts of Europe. Simply compare travel insurance on our website when you’re planning your trip, but be sure to factor in the possible effect that Australian or international border restrictions could have on your travel plans.

The Seven Wonders of the World list featured in this article was compiled by CNN and the Seven Natural Wonders organisation.