If you’ve missed it, my Facebook group, Travelers Tell All (yes, please join), has been running tournaments to keep ourselves amused while we can’t travel. We first decided what the best city in the world was, then the best US national park, the best man-made wonder, and the best museum in the world. Now it’s time for the best natural wonder in the world, a rough category just to narrow down to 64, let alone seed. There were no qualifications for who could vote, or criteria they had to use. It was just a plain old popularity contest!

So far, this was our most popular tournament, with more votes cast than in the past. I hope that’s a positive trend, as for those of us who can’t travel, this is about all we have.

I divided the tournament into four “regionals,” seeded one to sixteen, and named after the four ancient “elements”: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. The seeding is fairly arbitrary, made by me and one of my closest friends/travel buddies. Let’s examine the results by regional. I encourage you to look up any of these you haven’t heard of; there are some amazing places in the world!

Italics won in the first round. Underlined italics won in the second round. Bold underlined italics advanced to the regional final by winning in the third round.

Earth Regional

The Earth regional first round looked like this:

(1) Grand Canyon vs (16) Tunnel of Love

(8) Bioluminescent Bay vs (9) Marble Cave

(5) Galapagos (12) Reynisfjara Beach

(4) Dead Sea vs (13) Avenue of the Baobabs

(3) Paricutin vs (14) Niagara Falls

(6) Carlsbad Caverns vs (11) Ngorongoro Crater

(7) Rainbow Mountain vs (10) Banff

(2) Uluru vs (15) Glacier Bay

Paricutin, the volcano in Mexico that is one of the actual seven natural wonders of the world, lost early and handily as the 3 seed, and the second seeded Uluru in Australia lost in round two. From there, Grand Canyon cruised to the final along with the surprise 11th seed, Ngorongoro Crater of Tanzania.

Regional Winner: (1) Grand Canyon def (11) Ngorongoro Crater

Biggest Surprise: It has to be Ngorongoro, advancing all the way to the Elite 8, and only barely losing there.

There is no mistaking the Grand Canyon. Photo courtesy of Christian Grand.

Air Regional

The Air regional first round looked like this:

(1) Northern Lights vs (16) Blue Grotto

(8) Namib Desert vs (9) Fjordlands

(5) Giant Sequoias vs (12) Socotra

(4) Antarctica vs (13) Guanabara Bay

(3) Yosemite Valley vs (14) Cave of Crystals

(6) El Yunque vs (11) Lake Hillier

(7) Torres del Paine vs (10) Kayangan Lake

(2) Victoria Falls vs (15) Komodo Island

This one went largely by seed, although Yosemite defeated Victoria Falls to reach the regional final.

Regional Winner: (1) Northern Lights def (3) Yosemite Valley

Biggest Surprise: Really, none.

The Giant Sequoias of California

Fire Regional

The Fire regional first round looked like this:

(1) Mt. Everest vs (16) Cliffs of Dover

(8) Bora Bora vs (9) The Wave

(5) Copper Canyon vs (12) Cherry Blossoms

(4) Yellowstone vs (13) Na Pali Coast

(3) Sahara of London vs (14)

(6) Kilimanjaro vs (11) Great Blue Hole

(7) Pamukkale vs (10) Chiquibul Cave

(2) Angel Falls vs (15) Giant’s Causeway

What a drama-filled region! The 3, 5, and 6 seeds all lost in the first round, and the top two (Everest and Venezuela’s Angel Falls) lost in the second. I don’t think anyone would have guessed this one would come down to the eighth and fourteenth seeds for the final.

Regional Winner: (8) Bora Bora def (14) Waitomo Glowworm Cave

Biggest Surprise: Way too many to list. Both of the finalists, the island of Bora Bora and New Zealand’s Waitomo Cave, were shocks to advance even half as far as they did.

Waitomo. Photo courtesy of Daniel Warren.

Water Regional

The Water regional first round looked like this:

(1) Great Barrier Reef vs (16) Pitons

(8) Plitvice Lakes vs (9) Crater Lake

(5) Matterhorn vs (12) Lake Atitlan

(4) Iguacu Falls vs (13) Pando

(3) Halong Bay vs (14) Monument Valley

(6) Zhangjiajie Forest vs (11) Havasupai

(7) Uyuni Salt Flats vs (10) Crystal Cave

(2) Amazon vs (15) Mt. Fuji

Halong Bay was my upset pick to win the whole thing, which shows what I know as the 3 seed from Vietnam went down in the second round. The top two seeds cruised.

Regional Winner: (2) Amazon def (1) Great Barrier Reef

Biggest Surprise: Other than Halong Bay losing, or Lake Atitlan of Guatemala defeating the coolest looking Swiss mountain, none.

Halong Bay in the mist. Magical!

Final Four

Match One: (1) Grand Canyon def (1) Northern Lights

Match Two: (2) Amazon def (8) Bora Bora

Final: (2) Amazon def (1) Grand Canyon

For the first time in these tournaments, it was not won by a top seed, as the Amazon comes out on top! With 10% of the world’s biodiversity, I guess that shouldn’t be much of a surprise, but yet it kind of is. What’s your favorite natural wonder?

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