Hidden Waterfalls, Secret Beaches and More Journeys of the Soul - Atlas Obscura
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Hidden Waterfalls, Secret Beaches and More Journeys of the Soul

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This story is brought to you by vapor-distilled smartwater, who found unique inspiration for their water by looking up to the sky. we hope the change in perspective this piece offers will help inspire you.

No matter how stunning the place, it’s the journey that offers the most transformation. Whether climbing down to a hidden waterfall or swimming to a secret beach, Atlas Obscura’s “Journeys of the Soul” are all trips to watery wonders that show how exploration and curiosity can help heal the heart. These are five walks that take you farther than the destination.

GLJÚFRAFOSS
Porsmerkurvegur, Iceland

article-imagephotograph by Ravi Sarma

Pulsing down from a cliffside before it vanishes into the ground, Iceland’s Gljúfrafoss might not be the country’s largest or most famous waterfall, but it offers the most secluded moment of wonder. First, you have to choose between two routes: a walk in a stream flowing through a towering crack in the earth, or a hike up a hill to a wooden ladder that descends down into a cavern. Either way, you’ll find yourself alone in a mossy chamber with a view of the continuous pound of water. The experience is a reminder of the constant cycle of life on our planet (try, for a moment, to pause and remember your place in it).

article-imagephotograph by Ravi Sarma

RIO CELESTE
Guanacaste, Costa Rica

article-imagephotograph by Bruce Thomson

The turquoise currents of Costa Rica’s Rio Celestecolored by by a unique mix of volcanic sulphur with calcium carbonate, looks otherworldly upon first inspection. To get to the beautiful blue waterway, you first hike through the rainforest of Tenorio Volcano National Park, joined on the way by the calls of monkeys and tropical birds plus silhouettes of sleeping sloths. After making it to the banks of the cerulean waters (and following the current upstream), a waterfall emerges from the mist. There you can swim in the luminescent rivers, immersed in a density of nature that has vanished from most parts of the world.

article-image
photograph by Justin Knabb

article-imagephotograph by José David Leiva

HUACACHINA
Ica, Peru

article-imagephotograph by Ingo Mehling

The reward for climbing the high dunes near Ica, Peru, is a surprising vision of shimmering water. Encircled with palm trees and a cluster of buildings, Huacachina is one of the rare oases in South America. While there are many ways to get there, hiking through the dunes – or, for the thrill seekers, sandboarding down – offers the most contrast to the water in comparison to the arid sands. However you arrive, spending a day or longer at this lush spot in the desert offers refreshing tranquility. 

article-imagephotograph by ms.akr/Flickr

article-imagephotograph by funkz/Flickr

HORSESHOE BEND
Williams, Arizona

article-imagephotograph by Bhanu Tadinada

The path of the Colorado River is less orderly than many imagine. One of its most spectacular moments – and a place that shows its water’s enduring power – is Horseshoe Bend.

Hike there over ripples of red sandstone via Arizona’s Route 89, just outside of the town of Page. Any time of the day will be a different experience as the light from dawn to dusk changes the ground’s colors. Eventually, you reach a cliff overlooking Horseshoe Bend. Lay down on your stomach and look over the edge for the best panorama of where the river for centuries has carved around a 1,000-foot tower. The whole history of geology is revealed like a timeline in the layers of stone, from floods to eras of ice. To appreciate humanity’s part in this, hike a little further and you’ll find an ancient drawing in a wall, the only petroglyph on public view in the area. 

article-imagephotograph by Raphael Tenor

PLAYA DEL AMOR 
Marieta Islands, Mexico

article-imagephotograph by Christian Frausto Bernal

We are not always as kind to nature as we should be, but sometimes the Earth can mend its wounds into something beautiful. To get to Mexico’s “Hidden Beach” — also known as Playa del Amor, or Lover’s Beach — swim through a 40-foot tunnel at the edge of the Marieta Islands. Your efforts are rewarded by a stretch of sand lapped by gentle ocean waves that is completely invisible from the outside. Looking up, a circle of skys opens in what looks like a crater. 

Now a National Park, the Marietas were used in the early 1900s by the Mexican government for military testing, and it’s said that explosives opened this hole. Now with official protection, the islands’ flora and fauna have bounced back with an incredible diversity of birds and humpback whales in the surrounding waters. Simply put, this journey is a gorgeous encounter with nature’s endurance.

article-imagephotograph by Christian Frausto Bernal