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Our planet, and the creatures that inhabit it, know how to put on a show. From epic animal migrations and fantastical celestial events to strange blooms and otherworldly landscapes, each year these incredible natural phenomena inspire millions of travelers to pack their bags in hopes of witnessing something amazing. 

Considering their awe-inspiring beauty, it’s no surprise these unbelievable events drive big numbers for travel, and we think everyone should experience at least one at some point in their life. Here are a few dazzling displays to look forward to in 2024.

The Total Solar Eclipse

An eerie yet beautiful occurrence, once every 18 months, the moon passes between the sun and the Earth, resulting in a total solar eclipse. When observed from the 115-mile-wide “path of totality,” onlookers are rendered speechless as the once clear blue sky and surrounding landscape are bathed in a dark glow, the sun’s fiery rays seemingly snuffed. Animals sing, and human hearts flutter, and for those few minutes, the world stands still. In recent years, news of the total solar eclipse made quite the buzz in the United States as the path of totality bisected the nation in 2017 and again in April 2024. Armed with special eclipse glasses, tens of millions of travelers were prompted to flock to prime viewing areas to experience the wonder for themselves. The display in April 2024 marked the last total solar eclipse visible from the U.S. until the path makes its return in 2044. The next total solar eclipse will happen over Greenland, Iceland and Spain in 2026. 

The Aurora Borealis

A cinematic display on Earth’s biggest screen, the Aurora Borealis paints the night sky in shimmery curtains of red, purple, blue and green. Commonly referred to as the Northern Lights, this solar sensation has delighted and fascinated observers since, according to the Library of Congress, it was first recorded by ancient Babylonian astronomers around 567 BC. Interested in catching this otherworldly light show? While the phenomenon has been observed as far south as Hawaii, one’s chances of witnessing it start to skyrocket the closer they are to the North Pole. Take for example, popular polar destinations like Alaska, Norway, Finland and more, which enjoy this magical, yet perfectly scientific, exhibit from October through late March as the Earth’s magnetic field redirects fast-moving solar particles toward the planet’s northern and southernmost points.

Mexico’s Great Monarch Migration 

Humans aren’t the only ones who head to Mexico when the temperatures start to drop. Each year, beginning in October, hundreds of thousands of Monarch butterflies travel up to 120 nautical miles a day during the species’ epic migration to Mexico’s oyamel fir tree forests. Situated just west of Mexico City, by early November, swarms of these fascinating orange and black-winged insects can be found clustered along tree trunks and fluttering through the canopies where they remain until temperatures in the U.S. and Canada start to warm come spring. Until then, these Monarchs draw quite the crowd with the region playing host to a variety of tours at dedicated sanctuaries and biospheres that encourage people to witness the incredible journey in an up-close-and-personal way.

Death Valley’s Superblooms

With the word “death” in its name, it’s hard to imagine California’s Death Valley as anything but a barren wasteland. However, about once a decade, the region famous for its sandstone formations, scorching climate and mysterious sailing stones is completely transformed as a sea of wildflowers emerges seemingly overnight, resulting in a colorful tapestry of yellow, pink, purple and orange. Referred to as a “superbloom,” this rare phenomenon can only occur in the wake of perfect conditions — gentle rain, cozy temperatures and low wind throughout the year — and is most commonly observed between mid-February and mid-July. And, with the boom in flora comes the fauna as large numbers of pollinators like bees, moths, butterflies and hummingbirds who otherwise sparsely visit Death Valley make their way to the iconic national park. 

The World’s Largest Natural Mirror

Sitting just shy of 12,000 feet above sea level, Salar de Uyuni in Bolivia is the world’s largest salt flat. To describe the region in a word, the first thing to come to mind is “otherworldly,” a vibe the flats emit with their pale, white hue and raised honeycomb-shaped cracks, stretching on for thousands of miles as far as the eye can see. However, come December, this strange landscape begins to change as overflow from neighboring waterways finds its way to the prehistoric salt-encrusted lakebed, transforming the usually parched landscape into a shallow “lake” with water levels up to 20 inches. In tandem with the arrival of these watery conditions is the creation of the world’s largest natural mirror, as Salar de Uyuni’s natural features amplify the appearance of the lake’s reflection, resulting in a world that seemingly goes on for infinity.

Yosemite’s Firefall

Known for its magnificent granite cliffs, giant sequoia trees and scenic waterways, California’s Yosemite National Park is the definition of picturesque. The region is rich in natural beauty, and it's no surprise millions of visitors flock to the Yosemite Valley each year for a taste of its splendor. However, while most people visit this beloved park in the summer months, those who brave the brisk temperatures of winter may be rewarded with one of its most magnificent features of all: the Yosemite Firefall. Observable from El Capitan, a vertical rock formation on the park’s north side, Yosemite’s natural “firefall” occurs when beams from the February sun illuminate Horsetail Falls’ rushing waters, creating the illusion of a molten orange lava flow. It's a sensational sight, and thousands of visitors and photographers from around the world gather in droves for their chance to capture the perfect shot.

The Magic of the Midnight Sun

Picture the scene: it’s the Fourth of July, and you’re at a baseball game. Brats are on the grill, and beers are flowing freely; the sun shines down on you on this perfect summer day. For residents in Fairbanks, Alaska, a Fourth of July baseball game is a tradition, but there’s a catch: they play at midnight. A curious occurrence dubbed “the Midnight Sun,” each year from April through August, the Earth’s axis tilts toward the sun, bathing regions in the Northern Hemisphere in a nearly continuous stream of daylight, with some summer days raging on for 24 hours straight. For the uninitiated, watching our solar system’s friendly ball of fire refuse to dip below the horizon can feel wrong. But, for those in the Arctic, the Midnight Sun is a blessing, offering a much-needed dose of Vitamin D after a long stretch of “Polar Darkness,” the Midnight Sun’s counterpart, where the same areas experience little to no daylight from October through March.

Originally appeared in the Spring 2024 issue of The Compass magazine 

About the Author

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Senior Editor for VAX VacationAccess and world explorer, Jenna Buege loves writing about all things travel. When she’s not busy creating content, she spends her time exploring the great outdoors, cuddling with her two black cats and researching her next big (sometimes strange) adventure. 


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