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10 Most Surreal Places (part 2)

by Emiel Van Den Boomen

The first set of surreal places was one of these posts that got people inspired. Surreal places are fascinating, impressive and leave people spellbound.

I am going to present to you again a list of places that will leave you wonder. I will avoid some of the well-known places that might be extremely beautiful or impressive but have lost a bit of magic because of their popularity. Surreal places are not always the most famous ones. Surreal places make you wonder how these places can really exist….

Japanese island of Hashima (Gunkanjima)

Hashima Gunkanjima Surreal

Nick-name Battleship Island. Real name Hasima. In 1974 this strange island in Japan was completely abandoned within just a couple of weeks…

Surreal places Hashima Gunkanjima

What happened?

Well, this strange island used to be a thriving coal-mining town. The island reached its peak in the early 1940s when 400,000 tons of coal were mined from the sea floor under Hashima. At that time the island held the record for the highest population density on earth!

In 1974 the mine was closed and within weeks completely deserted by its 5,000 employees and their families. It was deserted so quickly that a lot of ghostly memories are to be found: a television set in the corner of a room, children’s toys, a pair of shoes waiting for its owner.

Surreal places Hashima

Abandoned places Gunkanjima

It’s a fascinating collection of decayed buildings and…sorry…what did you say? Skyfall? Yes, indeed! This island was featured in the latest James Bond movie Skyfall as the home of James opponent, the evil Raoul Silva.

Afar Triangle or depression in Africa

I have to warn you: the Horn of Africa will be cleaved from the continent where a new sea will be shaped that connects the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean. The Horn of Africa will become a new island….don’t worry, this will happen not earlier than after at least several million years..

It’s a given fact that this area of East Africa is one of the world’s most geologically hyperactive regions. Some parts of the so-called Afar depression sit more than 500 feet below sea level, due to upwelling magma cooling down making the area more dense and resulting it to sink. It has been flooded by the Red Sea, leaving thick layers of salt after the seawater evaporated again. But hey, we’re talking 30,000 years ago..

The Afar depression and its Rift valleys are a fascinating place. Just look at these images by George Steinmetz.

Surreal places Afar depression
Stone chimneys formed by mineral-bearing vapour (steam) rising from underground magma chambers. As the vapour evaporates, it deposits minerals around each chimney. It’s all natural!

Surreal places Afar depression
Sculpted by winds that consistently blow from east to west, sand dunes ‘move’ across an ancient seafloor.

Afar depression surreal
Groundwater heated to boiling goes up in steam at a geyser field northwest of Lake Abbe.

Afar triangle Ethiopia
Sulfur and algae turn hot springs into pools of living color. The water is condensation from hot gases rising from magma chambers. As the water evaporates, salts and minerals form a vivid crust.

White Sands National Park, New Mexico

From all different colours in Africa back to basic: white. In New Mexico (USA) you can find a National Park full of wave-like dunes of white, gypsum sand, in total 275 square miles of desert. It’s the world’s largest gypsum dunefield (I do have to check if it’s actually not the only one…maybe you know?).

Surreal Places White Sands

Surreal places

Glacier Grey

We are moving on to South America: Patagonia. In the National Park Torres Del Paine you can visit Glacier Grey. The biggest glacier in that zone, 6 kilometers wide and 30 meters high. It’s huge! I guess it was much bigger 20-30 years ago when we were not affected that much by climate change. And indeed, 450 feet of Glacier Grey is melting annualy. It shows the magic of nature….and how humans are slowly destroying it.

Surreal places glacier grey

Surreal places glacier grey


This is a tough one. A list of most surreal places on earth are always a mix of nature and human activities. After 60 years it is still hard to imagine how human beings could have drawn themselves into this horrible second World War. For my children it’s unbelievable (surreal almost) how people treated each other so terribly.

Surreal places Auschwitz

The remains of the Auschwitz complex, where 2 to 4 million people were murdered, has to be on this list. I wrote about the memories of the Holocaust and the War earlier on this blog, but we need to keep on remembering. The Auschwitz complex was partially destroyed in 1945, but has now been established as a museum. By 2011 more than 30 million people had visited the camp.

Surreal places Auschwitz

Meteor crater Arizona

The most well-known, best preserved meteorite crater on Earth! This crater is the breath-taking result of a collision between the Earth and a piece of an asteroid. This happened approximately 50,000 years ago. The asteroid travelled at a speed of 26,000 miles per hour, leaving an open wound of nearly one mile across…

Surreal places meteor Arizona

Stone forest Madagascar

Surreal places stone forest

The stone forest in Madagascar is actually a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s a collection of razor-sharp vertical rocks. This is the world’s largest stone forest, you will not find taller or more extensive stone trees anywhere. These are towers of eroded limestone and yes they do look a bit scary. As if a furious magician turned beautiful green trees into stone long, long time ago.

Surreal places stone forest
Can you spot the white monkeys?

Monument Valley

This is probably the best know natural wonder of this list. Ever since I saw my first classic Western movie I have been fascinated by this place. For hundreds of millions of years, materials from the Rocky mountains eroded and were deposited in this area. Layer upon layer. In the last 50 million years wind and water eroded the land, slowly revealing the monuments in this valley.

It’s crazy, we’re talking about periods covering millions of years here….we humans are such newbies!

Surreal places Monument Valley


Dubai surreal? Maybe a bit. But it becomes surreal when you see pictures like this. You can see the towers (including the highest tower in the world, Burj Khalifa) appear above the clouds. What an amazing sight!

Surreal places Dubai

The Wave, Arizona

Arizona again! When I first saw a picture of “The Wave” couldn’t believe it really existed. It looks like a Wonderland, with colourful U-shaped forms that have been eroding into the Navajo sandstone. The blending of colours is due to iron deposits.

The Wave Arizona

An ideal time to photograph The Wave is the few hours around midday when there are no shadows in the center, although early morning and late afternoon shadows can also make for dramatic photos. So they say..

Surreal places Wave Arizona

Well, what do you think? Which surreal place do you want to visit?


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Laura @Travelocafe.com December 7, 2012 - 21:50

Now this is a collection of unusual places… wow…

Kathryn Burrington December 3, 2012 - 22:31

A fascinating collection and some extrodinarily beautiful images, as well as some sad ones, but all surreal. Great post!

Emiel van den Boomen December 5, 2012 - 17:18

Thank you very much Kathryn.

Ayngelina December 3, 2012 - 20:45

I hadn’t heard of the white sands in New Mexico until I started blogging and I am really really hoping to see them in 2013.

Angela Corrias November 28, 2012 - 12:26

Great pictures, Madagascar’s stone forest seems to belong to another planet really, stunning!

Emiel van den Boomen November 30, 2012 - 22:33

It does Angela, it’s so weird! Thanks for your comment.

JulikaSarah November 27, 2012 - 19:12

Wow! The world is such an amazing and inspiring place!

[E][K][G] November 27, 2012 - 12:29

wow! wish i have lots of money so i can visit all of ’em..

michelle barrington November 27, 2012 - 11:35

Reminder of what a wonderful earth we live on. Such inspiring photography

Emiel van den Boomen November 27, 2012 - 20:23

Thanks a lot Michelle, true words.

monique November 27, 2012 - 04:56

I always look forward to these “most surreal places” posts emiel! The Arizona meteor and wave pics are stunning and we are too close not to visit. Thnx for sharing – most I did not even know about.

Emiel van den Boomen November 27, 2012 - 20:23

I didn’t know you live so close to/in Arizona! And I guess you are asking for yet another “most surreal places” post, right? Well, any suggestions for the next one?

monique November 27, 2012 - 23:01

well, relatively speaking (n. california is closer to arizona than the netherlands…) Yes! would love another! will have to keep my eyes open…

Melanie Murrish November 26, 2012 - 10:08

Wow-I can’t believe I didn’t know about some of these places, I want to visit them all! Thanks for a great post with amazing photography!

Emiel van den Boomen November 26, 2012 - 17:10

Same here Melanie, I also didn’t know about many of these places before. Our planet is full of hidden surprises. Thanks for your comment.


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