It’s 50 years since Neil Armstrong became the first person to walk on the moon. Over those five decades, our curiosity about faraway other worlds has accelerated to match our growing technological abilities. However, Earth’s unique geology has resulted in the creation of some spectacular moonscapes that do not require access to a spaceship to visit them. And so, if you want to holiday like you’re on another planet, here are a few ideas to tempt you.
This mid-Atlantic Portuguese archipelago owes its landscape to the activities of over 1500 volcanoes. It’s no surprise that geotourism is a big draw in the Azores: intrepid visitors can explore hundreds of volcanic ravines, caves, lakes and thermal water springs. The position of the lushly-vegetated islands also attracts many species of migratory birds, and provides a permanent home to two of Europe’s rarest avian species: Monteiro’s storm petrel and the Azores bullfinch.
If anywhere can lay claim to fairy chimneys, it’s Cappadocia in Turkey. Formed from a soft rock called “tuff”, these chimneys are what’s left of the deposits of ancient volcanic eruptions following millions of years of erosion by wind and rain. Reaching almost 130 feet high, they steeple the landscape. In Roman times, persecuted Christian communities used the malleable “tuff” to create underground cities, and plenty of evidence of this subterranean life remains for today’s visitors to explore.
The lava-created lunar landscapes of Fuerteventura’s arid interior are a dramatic contrast to the white sand of its coast. It’s the sandy beaches and, particularly, the dunes at Corralejo that are the island’s top attraction for many. Kite-surfing is popular but so too is bird-watching; anyone hoping to see the endangered houbara bustard couldn’t go to a more likely destination. In the water, surfing and diving opportunities are both excellent, with glass-bottomed boats offering a vantage point for those who prefer to stay dry.
Wadi Rum in Jordan has stood in for Mars in more than one blockbuster movie. Famously, it was also the filming location for the fictional planet, Jedha, in the Star Wars movies. Unsurprisingly, Wadi Rum is popular with movie buffs keen to experience for themselves what they’ve seen on the screen. It also draws adventure tourists, keen to hike there, climb its sandstone mountains, ride camels or Arabian horses, or camp out under its vast, star-filled skies.
When it comes to places that look like the moon, it’s hard to imagine anything that could be closer than the playa and lava beds of Nevada’s Black Rock desert. This remote region is best known for the annual Burning Man community event, which focuses on artistic self-expression as much as it does on the burning of a large wooden effigy. At other times of the year, the seemingly endless empty expanses of desert lend themselves well to land speed racing events.
Once a prehistoric lake, Bolivia’s Salar de uyuni is now the world’s largest salt flat. Studded with cacti, hot springs and lagoons, these brilliantly white salt flats are like nowhere else on earth. They also lie at an average altitude of 11,800 feet and nights can be punishingly cold. The rewards for visitors, however, are immense, particularly for those who time their trip to coincide with the rainy season and experience the famous “mirror effect”.
White chalk rock spires punch through the earth and push up towards the sky in Egypt’s White Desert. The result is a bewildering alien landscape that few visitors could ever look at long enough. To get its full effect requires an overnight camp, when the chalk edifices take on an almost Arctic-like appearance. However, the presence of Barbary sheep, Fennec fox and two species of rare gazelle, the Rhim and the Dorcas, are testament to the area’s true desert nature.
Even a glimpse of Valle de la Luna in Chile's Atacama desert is enough to appreciate how it came by its name. Towering red cliffs frame a landscape that changes every year, and climbing to the top of one of these cliffs to look over the moonscapes below is a must for any visit. So, too, is watching the sun set over the Great Dune.
If you want to see icebergs, there’s nowhere better than Jokulsarlon in Iceland. Ice-blue or milk-white, they proceed through the glacial lagoon like supernatural beings. Around and beneath them, swim huge schools of fish, which provide food for seals and seabirds that include puffins and predatory skuas. Boat trips on the lagoon provide tourists with impressive views of both the icebergs and the wildlife.
The world’s tallest mountain lies not in the Himalayas but in Hawaii. Most of the volcanic Mauna Kea lies beneath the Pacific but almost 14,000 feet of it rises above sea level. The dormant volcano offers excellent if strenuous hiking. You’ll walk past an alpine lake and many red cinder cones before finally reaching the snow-capped summit area to gaze down on the clouds far below.