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19 July, 20194 minute read

Out of this world: amazing lunar landscapes

This Saturday marks the 50th anniversary of the moment man first touched down on the moon. And while we can’t quite take you to experience the incredible craters, domes and ridges of the moon (well, not yet!), there are a few places on Earth where the landscape is spookily lunar-like. Let’s jet off, shall we?

Vatnajökull National Park, Iceland

Skaftafell glacier in Vatnajokull National Park in Iceland

Sprawled across a huge area of south-eastern Iceland, Vatnajökull is the biggest national park in Europe. The landscape is definitely otherworldly – think huge canyons, brooding volcanoes, black-sand plains and lava fields. The star attraction, though, is the Vatnajökull Glacier, with its pale-blue ice layered with swirls of volcanic ash.

See it: We visit Vatnajökull National Park on ‘Icelandic Adventure’.

Timanfaya National Park, Lanzarote

Red volcanic rocks lead to the Atlantic Ocean in Timanfaya National Park, Lanzarote

Timanfaya’s volcanic landscape was formed hundreds of years ago, when a series of volcanic eruptions covered a quarter of the island in lava. Little has changed in the landscape since then – travel through the park and you’ll find rugged lava fields, brooding volcanic cones, red-sand ‘seas’ and slopes covered in charcoal-grey ash.

Wadi Rum, Jordan

Down in the south of Jordan, a couple of hours’ drive from the ancient city of Petra, is the desert wilderness of Wadi Rum. Scenery-wise, it’s a cross between the Moon and Mars, with rippling dunes and vast swathes of pink-red sand, dotted with rugged arches, mountains and rock formations. In fact, Wadi Rum even stood in for Mars for Ridley Scott’s 2015 film ‘The Martian’.

See it: We’ll enjoy lunch in the heart of Wadi Rum during our ‘Jordan with Ancient Petra’ tour.

Masada, Israel

A cable car travels up to the ancient fortress of Masada in Israel, looking down on the Dead Sea and desert

The mountain of Masada rises up above the Dead Sea plateau. It’s a craggy, honey-hued horst that looks out over acres of Judean Desert towards the Dead Sea and Moab Mountains in neighbouring Jordan. As well as its stark, moon-like landscape, the mountain is famous for its history - it’s topped by an ancient fortress seized by the Romans in AD 73.

Namib Desert, Namibia

Sossusvlei Lodge in the desert landscape of Namibia

The name translates as ‘vast’ in the local Nama language – and the Namib Desert really is, spreading over an area of more than 300,000 square miles. Like much of Namibia, its landscape is dry and starkly beautiful, with shrub-dotted plains and soaring sand dunes (the most famous of which are found in Sossusvlei).

See it: Our tour of Namibia includes time exploring the Namib Desert.

Canyonlands National Park, USA

Sunrise at Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park near Moab, Utah, USA

Carved into three ‘districts’ by the Colorado and Green rivers, Utah’s Canyonlands National Park is a wonderland of canyons, mesas, arches, monoliths and spires. From the Island in the Sky Visitor Center, strike out on one of the walking trails to reach viewpoints overlooking the vast canyons and buttes of the Needles and Maze areas of the park.

See it: The Awe-Inspiring National Parks; tour include time at Canyonlands.

The Pinnacles, Australia

The Pinnacles rock formations in Western Australia

The Pinnacles are a series of bizarre limestone formations in Nambung National Park in Western Australia. These weathered spires (some reaching several metres high) were formed over millions of years, and stud the yellow sand that covers the landscape here.

See it: We can arrange optional excursions to the Pinnacles on Grand Tour of Australia.

Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Reserve, New Zealand

Geothermal activity in the Artist's Palette, Waiotapu Thermal Reserve, New Zealand

This geothermal park showcases all sorts of geological features, from geysers (Lady Knox geyser regularly erupts at heights of 10-20 metres) to colourful rock formations to bubbling mud pools. 

See it: We visit Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Reserve on our 'Best of New Zealand' tour.

And a little something extra…

Aurora Borealis or Northern Lights, Iceland

OK, so the Northern Lights are very much an Earthly phenomenon. But if you’re interested in all things space, you can’t get much more spectacular than the aurora borealis. Caused by particle collisions up in the atmosphere, the Northern Lights are a wonderful display of light and colour. Shimmering curtains, swirling patterns, streaks of brilliant green across a starry sky – however they appear, catching a glimpse is always an unforgettable moment.

See it: winter holidays to Iceland and Norway offer the best chances of seeing the Northern Lights.

Have you found any moon-like landscapes on Earth? We’d love to see your photos – share them with us on our Facebook page.

Image of blog author Laura Weeden

Although she loves a lie-in at home, Laura is often up and about before dawn on holiday. She’s watched the sun rise over the Grand Canyon, Uluru and Angkor Wat, but her favourite was seeing the first light of the New Year sweeping across the yacht-dotted waters of Sydney Harbour.

Laura | About the author

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