1. Northern Lights

The wow factor: The Aurora Borealis is a shimmering display of brilliant lights generally seen in polar regions. Solar wind and magnetosphere particles colliding with atoms in the upper atmosphere produce “curtains” or swirling clouds of greens, blues and reds which appear to dance in the sky. They are at their most pronounced during solar maximums which happen on roughly 11-year cycles, when sunspots, solar flares and solar storms occur more frequently. According to NASA, the current solar cycle, the 24th since 1755, will peak in early or mid 2013. Did you know? The Northern Lights are usually best seen in winter but can occur at any time of year. The most spectacular auroras in recorded history occurred on August 28 and September 2, 1859, the latter producing such intense light that it was reportedly possible to read by the light at 1am in Boston, Massachusetts. Experience: Specialised Tours offers a three-night break to Tromso, Norway, with activities including Northern Lights trips and snowmobile and husky safaris, from £895. The Aurora Zone has a new range of Autumn Lights aurora adventures in Finland from September-November. Quark Expeditions has an Arctic Northern Lights cruise up the East Greenland coast from September 16-29, while Hurtigruten’s Norwegian coast cruises, including the Arctic Highlights Voyage between Tromso and Kirkenes from November-March, also offer aurora spotting. Relax in an open-air hot tub watching the Northern Lights with Inntravel or in comfort from your own heated glass igloo with Taber Holidays, both in Finnish Lapland. Iceland’s luxurious Hotel Ranga also offers aurora viewing from outdoor hot tubs. www.specialisedtours.com, www.theaurorazone.com, www.quarkexpeditions.com, www.hurtigruten.co.uk, www.inntravel.co.uk, www.taberhols.co.uk, www.ghotw.com/hotel-ranga

2. Grand Canyon, USA

The wow factor: One of nature’s geological marvels, the Grand Canyon is vast – stretching along 277 miles (446 kilometres) of the Colorado River in Arizona, up to 18 miles (29km) wide and over a mile deep (6,000ft, 1,829m) from rim to river. The Grand Canyon National Park covers an area of 1.2 million acres (493,077 hectares), more than 1,900 square miles (4,931 sq km). www.nps.gov/grca Did you know? A trip to the bottom of the canyon and back, either on foot or by mule, takes two days, while hikers take three days to get from the North Rim to the South Rim, one way. A Colorado River raft trip through the Grand Canyon takes at least two weeks. Experience: Step out onto the U-shaped glass walkway of the Grand Canyon Skywalk which juts out from the rim at the Hualapai Nation’s Grand Canyon West and look down 4,000ft (1,219m) to the canyon floor. Grand Canyon West entrance tours cost $29.95 plus fees and tax and a Skywalk add-on costs $29.95. Stay overnight in a cabin facing the canyon rim for $129.95 plus taxes. A Grand Canyon Overnight Getaway add-on from Las Vegas, flying in a Heli USA helicopter below the canyon rim and over Hoover Dam and Lake Mead, to stay in a log cabin at Grand Canyon Ranch Resort after a post-dinner campfire singalong, costs £389 plus $50 fees with Trailfinders. www.grandcanyonwest.com, www.heliusa.com, www.trailfinders.com

3. Uluru, Australia

The wow factor: Formerly known as Ayers Rock, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a landmark almost in the geographical centre of Australia and is sacred to the local Aboriginal people. It rises 1,260ft (384m) from the flat Outback of Northern Territory and measures 2.2 miles (3.6km) long by 1.2 miles (2km) wide. Throughout the day, and especially at sunset, it changes colour to a multitude of hues. www.environment.gov.au/parks/uluru Did you know? Uluru is like a giant iceberg; most of its bulk is below the surface – around 3.7 miles (6km) deep! Experience: Travelbag offers a five-day Discover the Red Centre self-drive tour, including Alice Springs and Kings Canyon as well as Uluru, from £2,199 per person including return international flights into Darwin, car hire and accommodation. Intrepid Travel’s three-day Central Rock & Canyon tour also visits Kata Tjuta (The Olgas) and Kings Canyon and costs from £370pp including two nights’ camping. www.travelbag.co.uk, www.intrepidtravel.com

4. Niagara Falls, Canada/USA

The wow factor: Straddling the border between Canada’s Ontario province and America’s New York State, Niagara Falls comprises three waterfalls – Horseshoe Falls, the American Falls and the Bridal Veil Falls – over which the Niagara River plunges up to 188ft (57m). Although not the world’s highest falls (there are about 500 taller waterfalls in the world), Niagara’s cascades have the highest flow rate of any waterfall. Around six million cubic feet (168,000 cubic metres) of water thunders over the falls every minute in high season, with the flow reaching up to 68mph (109kmh) at the crestline. www.niagaraparks.com, www.niagarafallsstatepark.com Did you know? Niagara Falls is eroding at the rate of one foot (0.3m) per year and has moved back seven miles (11km) in 12,500 years – making it the world’s fastest-moving waterfall. At the present rate, Horseshoe Falls will erode back about four miles over the next 15,000 years, after which it will hit soft shale and the falls could be replaced by a series of rapids. Experience: A four-night package from Frontier Canada, with two nights’ deluxe accommodation in both Toronto and Niagara Falls, includes return Toronto/Niagara Falls transfers, sightseeing tour of Niagara Falls and Niagara-on-the-Lake and a Maid of the Mist boat trip to the base of Horseshoe Falls. Prices start from £385pp. A falls helicopter trip is £85 extra. www.frontier-canada.co.uk

5. Amazon rainforest, South America

The wow factor: Covering 2.5 million square miles (6.5 million sq km), including half of Brazil and 40% of South America, the Amazon rainforest is vast – and if it was a country it would be the ninth largest in the world. Beginning in the Peruvian Andes, the Amazon River and its rainforest stretch across nine countries. Did you know? Roughly 20% of the earth’s oxygen is produced by the Amazon rainforest, earning it the nickname “the lungs of the planet”, while 16% of all the world’s river water flows through the Amazon delta. The Amazon rainforest watershed also has the world’s highest level of biodiversity. Experience: While most people go to Brazil, Peru offers a far less travelled way to see it. Journey to the Amazon’s source with Wexas Travel on a 14-day tailor-made itinerary costing from £6,750, including flights. Besides Lima, Cuzco and Machu Picchu, it features four nights on a guided Amazon tour with Aqua Expeditions, visiting Peru’s remote Pacaya Samiria Reserve. Or visit the UNESCO-listed Manu Biosphere Reserve in the Amazon on a tour with Crees Expeditions, which operates two lodges including the Manu Learning Centre, where jaguars can be seen. www.wexas.com, www.aquaexpeditions.com, www.crees-expeditions.com

6. Victoria Falls, Zambia/Zimbabwe

The wow factor: Victoria Falls borders Zambia and Zimbabwe and is known locally as Mosi-oa-Tunya, or the Smoke that Thunders – an apt name, as the cascading waters of the Zambezi River create a misty plume that hangs over the falls and often catches the sunlight to produce rainbows. The UNESCO-listed waterfall, protected by national parks in each country, has the largest curtain of water in the world when the Zambezi is in full flood, usually February or March, at over a mile wide (1.7km) and dropping 325ft (99m) at Rainbow Falls in Zambia. Did you know? Scottish explorer David Livingstone was the first European to see Victoria Falls, in 1855, and named the mighty waterfall after Britain’s reigning queen. Experience: Stay at romantic hideaway Tongabezi Lodge, just upstream of Victoria Falls on the banks of the Zambezi, and take a thrilling boat trip to Livingstone Island, where Dr Livingstone first made his discovery where you can even swim right up to the falls’ edge in the Devil’s Pool. A two-night package at Tongabezi with two nights at Sindabezi Lodge, also on the Zambezi, costs from $415, with national park and falls fees plus Livingstone Island tour ($70) extra. You can also stay at the five-star Royal Livingstone Hotel on the Zambezi and take a microlight or helicopter trip over the falls. www.tongabezi.com, www.suninternational.com

7. Great Barrier Reef, Australia

The wow factor: Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Great Barrier Reef stretches for 1,430 miles (2,300km) off Queensland’s coast and is the longest coral reef system in the world. The largest structure built by living creatures, it is the only living thing that can be seen from space. It is home to over 1,500 fish species, one-third of the world’s soft corals, over 400 types of hard coral, over 30 marine mammal species including the endangered dugong, and six of the world’s seven turtle species. Did you know? The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park is 133, 200 square miles (345,000 sq km) in size – larger than the UK and Ireland combined. The reef system actually comprises around 2,900 individual reefs. Experience: A four-night package staying on Heron Island, a coral cay on the Great Barrier Reef, with Tailor Made Travel costs from £549, with return flights from £1,175. A 12-night stay with Black Tomato on exclusive Wilson Island, just off Heron Island and only accessible by helicopter, costs £4,599 with flights. Or stay on Hamilton Island, in the Whitsunday Islands, and spend a full day exploring the reef as part of a four-day Great Barrier Reef Adventure costing from £1,050, excluding flights. www.tailor-made.co.uk, www.blacktomato.com, www.hamiltonisland.com.au

8. Iguazu Falls, Brazil/Argentina

The wow factor: Not just one waterfall, but a chain of some 270-plus individual cascades make up the gloriously-beautiful Iguazu Falls, which lies on the border between Brazil and Argentina and is surrounded by two subtropical rainforest national parks designated as World Heritage Sites. Iguazu spans almost two miles (3km), with many of the falls punctuated by islands, and the highest cascade plunges over 260ft (80m). Did you know? Iguazu Falls has featured in movies including Moonraker (1979), The Mission (1986), Miami Vice (2006) and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). Experience: Wexas Travel offers a 13-night itinerary from £4,995 which includes a two night stay at Iguazu Falls, tours of both the Argentine and Brazilian sides, excursions with English-speaking guides, flights and additional stays in Rio, Salvador, Ouro Preto and the Amazon. An 11-day trip from Buenos Aires to Rio de Janeiro with G Adventures, costing from from £949, includes two full days at Iguazu Falls. www.wexas.com, www.gadventures.com

9. Wildebeest Migration, Kenya/Tanzania

The wow factor: July to October is when the annual wildebeest migration takes place, with as many as 1.5 million of the mammals and hundreds of thousands of zebra making their way from Tanzania’s Serengeti to Kenya’s Masai Mara. One of the obstacles they face is the mighty Mara River, and the sight of hordes of wildebeest leaping off the river’s high banks and swimming across while predators including crocodiles and lions lie in wait is one of the natural world’s greatest spectacles. Did you know? Also known as gnu, both male and female wildebeest have horns. Calves can walk within minutes of birth. Experience: ToEscapeTo.com features five-night stays in the Mara Porini Camp & Porini Lion Camp in Kenya from £1,525 up to mid-October. Flights to Nairobi are extra and cost from £650 return. Africa Odyssey is offering four nights for the price of three at Alex Walker’s Serian Camp in Tanzania throughout September from £3,300, including flights, internal transfers and game-viewing drives. www.toescapeto.com, www.africaodyssey.com

10. Limestone caves and karst mountains, China

The wow factor: Guilin in China is famous for its stunning karst mountain scenery, which was used as a backdrop in the HSBC TV advertisement featuring a cormorant fisherman. But below ground is equally stunning, with a number of show caves open to the public, all brightly illuminated by neon lights. Among them are Reed Flute Cave in Guilin and Silver Cave in Yangshuo. Did you know? The karst mountain scenery on the Li River between Guilin and Yangshuo is depicted on the back of China’s 20 yuan note. Experience: A three-night extension from Guilin to Yangshuo and back with Wendy Wu Tours, including a Li River trip, overnight in Yangshuo and visit to Guilin’s Reed Flute Cave, costs from £390. www.wendywutours.co.uk