For thousands of years, humans have looked to the stars. Today, NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope is photographing the universe’s first galaxies, military UFO sightings are making headlines, and companies are zooming billionaires into orbit. The space craze is at an all-time high, but not all of us have the money to leave the planet. Not to worry! There are plenty of destinations right here on Earth that are otherworldly. Ready for a galactic adventure? Here are 9 alien landscapes you can visit now — no spaceship required.
- Wadi Rum, Jordan
Wadi Rum is everything you’d expect of a desolate alien landscape: a red Martian-like setting, gargantuan sandstone formations, wide valleys, and rippled sand dunes. This desert locale in southeast Jordan served as Arrakis in Dune, doubled as Mars in The Martian, and was a backdrop in The Rise of Skywalker.
Stay: Glamp under the stars at Wadi Rum Bubble Luxotel or enjoy waterfront relaxation at Al Manara in Aqaba.
- Waitomo Glowworm Caves, New Zealand
An excursion into Waitomo Glowworm Caves is straight out of a sci-fi movie. Thousands of glowworms illuminate the ceiling of Glowworm Grotto, creating an unearthly subterranean environment one might expect in a world beyond the Milky Way.
Stay: A doable day trip from New Zealand’s capital, the caves are a mere 2.5-hour drive from The Grand by SkyCity in Auckland.
- Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, Idaho
NASA plans to put astronauts back on the moon by 2026. For us average explorers, Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve, a vast ocean of volcanic formations and ancient lava flows 2.5 hours east of Boise, is the closest we’ll get to our celestial companion any time soon.
Stay: Best Western Sawtooth Inn & Suites to the west and Tru by Hilton Idaho Falls to the east bookend this isolated alien-like world.
- Salar de Uyuni, Bolivia
Exploring distant planets offers extraordinary experiences that require significant logistical feats. Reaching Bolivia’s Salar de Uyun, Earth’s largest salt flat, isn’t that much different. This barren salt bed accessible via remote outposts like the small city of Uyuni, extends to the horizon, which during certain times of the year, transforms into a stunning otherworldly reflection of the sky, thanks to a thin layer of water from nearby overflowing lakes.
Stay: Uyuni, Bolivia, is the best jump-off point for tours. Hotel de Sal Luna Salada places visitors right on the edge of the salar.