The world is full of strange places. Some you’ll find in travel guides; others you’ll only hear about from local lore. Whether they’re formed thanks to the influence of nature or human hands, these places pique the interests of travelers everywhere. Spanning the globe from Mexico to Japan to Western Europe, these are some of the most weird and wonderful places in the world.
This small island just off the coast of Japan is home to hundreds of friendly, if feral cats. Years ago, the natives brought cats to the island of Tashirojima to help contain the growing mice population. After years of unchecked breeding, the cat population exploded. Today, only around 100 people live on Cat Island, and it’s safe to say the island’s cats outnumber the people.
In the middle of the island, you’ll find a cat shrine known as Neko-jinja. When the island was more populated (by humans), fixed-net fishing was popular. Fishermen from all over would spend the night on Tashirojima, and cats would flock to the inns where the fishermen were staying to beg for scraps of food. In Japan, cats symbolize good luck and good fortune, and feeding them will make their luck more likely to rub off on you. Soon, the men were feeding the cats and developing soft spots for them. Realizing that the cats had a greater understanding of their environment, the men started observing the animals to determine weather and fish patterns—which increased their fishing yields.
According to island lore, one day, a fisherman accidentally dropped a rock onto a cat that had helped him catch more fish. the impact killed the feline. Filled with guilt, he buried the cat and built a shrine to its honor. That shrine still stands, along with about 10 others. If you visit Cat Island, you’ll find yourself surrounded by cats, cat monuments, and cat shrines.
The Silfra Rift
Thingvellir National Park, Iceland
Have you ever wanted to be two places at once? If you’re willing to dive for it, you can be in the Silfra rift. Silfra is an underwater rift between the North American and Eurasian plates. In some sections of the rift, you’ll find yourself within arms reach of both plates. The rift was created by the two tectonic plates pulling away from each other, forming a freshwater gap.
Located in Iceland, the rift is a popular spot for scuba divers and snorkelers. The water is stunningly clear with 300 feet of visibility. Since no rivers flow into this Icelandic lake, the water is filtered out through nearby, porous volcanic rock cliffs. This natural filtering system leaves the water utterly clear. The water, which originates from Langjökull (the second largest glacier in Iceland), filters through the volcanic rock slowly, taking as long as 100 years to enter the rift.
Iceland is an increasingly popular tourist destination, but the Silfra rift remains relatively uncrowded. If you want to dive, we recommend visiting in the summer. It often gets too cold for divers to be allowed in the water during the winter.
Middle Island, Australia
Aerial photos of Middle Island off the coast of Western Australia reveal quite a sight: Lake Hillier, a body of water colored bubblegum pink. That the bright blue Pacific Ocean surrounds the island lake only makes its pink hue more striking.
Lake Hillier was first documented in 1802 by navigator and cartographer Matthew Flinders. It's a fairly small body of water—only 600 meters long and 250 meters wide. But what Hillier lacks in size, it makes up for in its magnificent color. The precise reason behind Hillier's pink hue has yet to be determined, though many researchers attribute it to a unique combination of salt, salt-loving algae, and pink bacteria. Whatever the reason, the lake stays pink year-round. Indeed, according to Atlas Obscura, the lake's water keeps its color even when bottled.
Middle Island is part of the Recherche Archipelago Nature Reserve. Esperance Island Cruises operates boat tours to Middle Island, allowing visitors to witness Lake Hillier up close. Scenic flights can also be arranged, allowing you to drink in the lake's bubblegum hue from above.
Caves of the Kabayan Fire Mummies
Kabayan, the Philippines
Mention the phrase mummy and the mind likely conjures the embalmed corpses of ancient Egypt, swathed in linen cloth and entombed in pyramids. However, the Ibaloi people of the mountainous northern region of the Philippines had a different approach to preserving their deceased.
In about 1200 AD, the Ibaloi people began making mummies of their village elders. It started with dying members of the tribe drinking huge amounts of salty mixtures that served to dehydrate them and begin the process of drying their insides. After death, the bodies were meticulously cleansed, rubbed with herbs, and placed over a fire. Tobacco smoke was channeled into the corpse's open mouth to dry out the organs. This process was applied several times, resulting in a mummy curled into a fetal position. The mummies were then placed in an oval-shaped coffin and laid to rest in caves and alcoves carved into the rock face. This practice continued until 1500 when the Spanish colonists arrived.
Today, the mountain burial site is considered National Cultural Treasures of the Philippines. Sadly, cave insects and fungal growth combined with the human impact of looters have also placed the Kabayan Mummy Caves in danger. The site is currently being monitored by the World Monuments Watch, who in 1998, enlisted a group of conservators to prevent any further deterioration.
To this day, the caves are considered sacred territory; rituals are regularly performed. Tourism is a large industry in the area, so locals and the World Monuments Fund worked together to find a solution that allows visitors to glimpse the Kayaban mummies while honoring the site's history.
The Door to Hell
In 1971, Soviet geologists traveled into the Karakum desert in Turkmenistan searching for oil fields they could drill for profit. When they found what they believed to be a massive oil field, they immediately started drilling. But what they found underground was not oil, but a cavernous pocket of natural gas. Once their drills hit the pocket, the site collapsed and a fire ignited.
RELATED: 5 Gateways to Hell
To the surprise of the geologists (and everyone else), the site continued to burn long after the clean-up. Natural gas fueled the crater fire. It has remained alight for more than 40 years. Called the “everlasting burning crater”, this fire pit has attracted visitors for as long as it’s been burning. Often, the light will pull the attention of unsuspecting wildlife who wander into the flames.
For visitors, accessing the fiery pit is fairly easy. A number of Turkmenistan tours include the Door to Hell on their itinerary. If you’re going on your own, you can drive out from larger cities like Dashoguz. Locals suggest visiting at night to see the full effect of the burning crater.
Wimberley, TX, United States
Jacob’s Well has become a hotspot for daredevils and deep-water enthusiasts. Located in Hays County, Texas, about an hour southwest of Austin, Jacob’s Well is one bizarre natural phenomenon. The surface opening is only about 13 feet wide, but dive down deep below the surface and you’ll find a maze of caves and alcoves. In 2007, the Jacob’s Well Exploration Project mapped 6,000 feet of passages, and still didn’t cover it all.
Visitors are warned to use caution—especially if they plan to free dive into the cave. Between 1964 and 1984, nine people died, making Jacob’s Well one of the most dangerous diving spots in the world. Those who dare can leap from nearby ledges into the chilly water. Some brave and/or foolish freedivers have made it down 100 feet and still never found the bottom of this mysterious, beautiful underwater labyrinth.
The Sedlec Ossuary
Sedlec Ossuary, Czech Republic
Beneath the Cemetery Church of All Saints in Kutna Hora, Czech Republic is a small Roman Catholic chapel with a grim decorative touch. The Sedlec Ossuary is festooned with bones, serving as the final resting place of an estimated 40,000-70,000 individuals.
The tale of the Sedlec Ossuary dates back to 1278, when earth brought back from the Holy Land was sprinkled across the surrounding cemetery. Word of this act spread and the cemetery became a desirable place to be buried—so popular, in fact, that the bodies began piling up.
In 1870, a local woodworker was tasked with transforming the church's towering surplus of human remains into a pleasing, albeit macabre, pattern.
Perhaps the most striking feature is the enormous chandelier hanging from the center of the chapel. Naturally, it's made entirely from bones and contains at least one of each bone found in the human body. Only about an hour outside of Prague, there’s a convenient train station only ten minutes from the ossuary.
In the early 1940s, Edward James had a revolutionary idea. He decided to build a fortress of surrealist sculptures in a forested part of Mexico to represent his own eclectic tastes. The construction cost more than 5 million dollars, but the result was shocking.
The site looks like something from a fantasy novel. It holds more than 80 acres of natural waterfalls and pools that are connected by an intricate series of ramps, bridges, and narrow walkways. Massive sculptures, many more than four stories tall, decorate the site. James planted a vast array of wild tropical plants and built homes for the local fauna. At one point, there were as many as 29,000 different species of plants. In 2007, Las Pozas was bought by the government in order to preserve the exotic location for visitors and wildlife residents alike.