Milan, Italy

photo © mytouristmaps

The Navigli are a system of navigable canals around Milan, Italy, consisted of five canals: Naviglio Grande, Naviglio Pavese, Naviglio Martesana, Naviglio di Paderno and Naviglio di Bereguardo.

The construction of the system lasted from the 12th to the 19th century; in 1805 Napoleon completed the construction of the Naviglio Pavese canal, connecting Milan to the sea by the canal of Pavia & Po river, to the Lake Maggiore through the Naviglio Grande canal & Ticino river and to the Como Lake through Martesana canal & Adda river.

From the Ossola Valley, through the Naviglio Pavese, was transported the marble used for building the Duomo of Milan.
After 1850, due to the advent of the railway, and later of the automobile, the canals transportation system suffered an inevitable decline; today, most of the canals are used for irrigation.

In downtown Milan, the Navigli area is now one of the best nightlife poles in the city; the Naviglio Grande and the Naviglio Pavese operates a tourist navigation service.

Darvaza Crater, Turkmenistan

Darvaza crater
 © Tormod Sandtorv

Also known as The Door to Hell, the Darvaza Crater, is a natural gas crater in the Karakum Black Sands desert, Turkmenistan, about 250 kilometers north of Ashgabat.

It was formed after the collapse of a natural gas field into an underground cavern. According to most sources, it is burning since 1971, when Soviet geologists set it alight to prevent the spread of the potentially poisonous methane gas.
The scientists believed that the gas would extinguish within a few weeks, but it is now still burning.

The Canadian explorer George Kourounis was the first scientist descended into the crater, collecting some extremophile microorganisms that live even in that hellish place.

Presidio Modelo, Cuba

Presidio modelo
Presidio Modelo, © I, Friman

The Panopticon Prison:
a prison model conceived in the 1780s by the British prison reformer Jeremy Bentham, where the inmates were constantly kept under surveillance. That model has considered innovative due to his efficiency despite the few staff and it was thought to improve the behavior of the inmates.

One example of the Panopticon prison was the Presidio Modelo, built on the Isla de la Juventud, in Cuba under President Gerardo Machado.

The five circular blocks, overlooked by a central watchtower with the capacity to house up to 6,000 prisoners, were inaugurated in 1926.
Raul and Fidel Castro were imprisoned there from 1953 to 1955 after their revolt against the Moncada barracks. After the victory against Fulgencio Batista, Fidel Castro used the prison to house his political enemies, but after various riots and hunger strikes due to the overcrowded conditions, the Presidio Modelo was permanently closed in 1967.

The prison is now declared a national monument and serves as a museum and a school & research center.

Aral Sea, Uzbekistan

Aral sea
photo by Arian Zweger

Muynak was once an important port city on the Aral Sea, in Uzbekistan. In the 1950s, after the Second World War, the Soviet Union drained the Aral Sea for irrigation of the cotton fields, during the Great Plan for the Transformation of Nature.

Uzbekistan is now one of the main producer of cotton in the world, and Muniak has become a large boat cemetery in a salty desert land.

The Great Blue Hole, Belize

the great blue hole

The Great Blue Hole is located near the Lighthouse Reef atoll, in the Belize Coral Reef Barrier, the second largest coral reef system in the world after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia; it is considered one of the best scuba diving site in the world.

The hole is almost perfectly circular in shape, 300 meters wide and 120 meters deep. It was formed as a limestone cave during the quaternary glaciation (when sea levels were much lower), flooded after the oceans’ level raising.

Recently, some scientific studies, by analysis of the amount of aluminum and titanium deposited in the Great Blue Hole (lower levels of aluminum and titanium in soil and sediments correspond to periods with fewer precipitations) have demonstrated that between 800 d.C. and 1100 d.C. two periods of drought created the preconditions for the decline of the Maya civilization.

Bosawàs Reserve, Nicaragua

The Bosawás Biosphere Reserve, located in the northern part of state Nicaragua is one of the most unexplored tropical forests in the world. Designated as a UNESCO biosphere reserve since 1997 and approximately 21,800 km² in size, the reserve is the second largest rainforest in the Western Hemisphere, after the Amazon Forest in Brazil. His name is derived from the Bocay River, the Mount Saslaya and the Waspuk River.
The Bosawás Biosphere Reserve is the homeland of the indigenous communities of Sumos (Mayangna) and Miskito (about 40,000 people), who live by hunting and fishing, protecting the biodiversity of the area.
Owing to his high botanical diversity, within the Bosawás reserve lives more than 200,000 insect species and a rich variety of animals like quetzals, guacamayas, harpy eagles, pumas, jaguars and the rare Baird’s tapir.
Actually the reserve is in real danger due to the deforestation by non-indigenous settlers that in the last years has reduced by 29% the forest area.
The Mayangna people and some organizations for human rights denounced the current situation to the Organisation of American States to stop that environmental damage. 

Tren a las Nubes, Argentina

tren a las nubes

The Tren a las Nubes is a tourist train that runs onto one of the world’s highest railway, in the eastern part of the Salta-Antofagasta railway line, also known as the “C-14”, connecting the Argentine Northwest with the Chilean border in the Andes mountain range, over 4.000 meters above sea level.

That railway track was made to facilitate the transportation of ore between Argentina and Chile, especially saltpeter, of which this area is very rich. The railway construction started in 1921 and the first race of the Tren a la Nubes dates back to 1972. Nowadays the train track is one of the most popular touristic routes in South America.

The railway line has 29 bridges, 21 tunnels and 13 viaducts. The most spectacular view is definitely the viaduct Polverilla: the curved viaduct is 224 m long and 64 m high; here it justifies its name: it is not uncommon, given the height, to see clouds beneath the track, making surreal the train trip that seems to run in the sky.
There are many stops along the way (some with markets selling artisan goods and locals offering regional food), including the town of Ingeniero Maury, (78 Km from Salta), so named in honor of the engineer Richard Fontaine Maury born in Pennsylvania, creator and director of the railway works.

Richard Maury took over the project discarding the rack system commonly at the time. To ensure the safety of passengers and goods he arranged the tracks in a special way so that the train, running through a system of zigzags and spirals, never lose contact with the soil underneath.

Currently, the train route has been reduced to the round trip from San Antonio de los Cobres to the Polvorilla Viaduct.
The complete circuit 2016 (217 km) is served by bus and train: it departs by bus from the city of Salta every Saturday (from April to September; in July also makes midweek departures), crossing Campo Quijano and Governor Solá to reach the spot Alfarcito, through the Quebrada de las Cuevas and then plain Muñano to reach San Antonio de los Cobres, where the travelers boards on the train to the Polvorilla Viaduct.
The train journey takes an hour to the viaduct, at 4.200 meters above the sea level, after 30 minutes back to San Antonio de los Cobres where passengers return to board buses to the city of Salta.

World’s best scenic train rides map