There were many contenders, but the final decision has been made and the provisional winners announced: the Amazon, Iguazu Falls, Halong Bay, Komodo, Jeju Island, Table Mountain and the Puerto Princesa underground river have been chosen as the new Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
On-line, by phone and by text messages, thousands of people around the world have been involved in voting in this initiative launched by the New7Wonders Foundation. Chosen from a short list of twenty-eight, the provisional winners include two sites in South America – the Amazon and Iguazu Falls – and five other natural spectacles in Asia and Africa: Halong Bay (Vietnam), Komodo (Indonesia), Jeju Island (South Korea), Table Mountain ( South Africa) and the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River (Philippines).
The Amazon, South America This vast region of South America includes the tropical rainforest of the Amazon River basin, the largest rainforest in the world and one of the most diverse eco-regions on the planet. The region spreads into eight countries: Brazil and Peru, with the largest area, as well as Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guyana, Venezuela, Suriname and French Guiana.
Iguazu Falls, Argentina & Brazil
On the border between Argentina and Brazil, near Argentina's border with Paraguay, these spectacular falls are formed by 275 cascades with drops of up to 80 metres, fed by the magnificent Iguazu River. There are plenty of active adventure tourism options available in the environs of this popular destination: boats can be sailed under the falls, and the surrounding area offers many walking trails to explore the semi-tropical jungle and observe the local wildlife. The main spectacle, though, is the cascade known as the 'Devil's throa't – la Garganta del Diablo, which can be viewed in all its majesty by following the specially constructed walkways from Puerto Canoas, reached via the eco-train service. There are also special privileged views for travellers who stay at the Hotel Das Cataratas, the only hotel located inside the Iguazu National Park and just two minutes walk from the Falls, as guests enjoy exclusive access to area every morning before the public opening of the park and after closing time.
Almost everyone has heard of the Komodo dragon, but not everyone knows it comes from this small volcanic island in Indonesia. In fact the Komodo National Park includes three larger islands of the Pacific Ring of Fire – Komodo, Rinca and Padar – as well as numerous smaller ones, making up a total land area of 603 square kilometres. The full area is three times that and many of the protected animals are marine species.
Jeju Island, Korea
Another volcanic island, Jeju, in the Straits of Korea, is dominated by Mount Halla, a dormant volcano nearly two thousand metres in height. The island, around 130 kilometres off the southern coast of Korea, is mainly basalt and lava and was formed hundreds of millions of years ago as a result of volcanic eruptions.
Table Mountain, South Africa
The summit of this vast flat-topped mountain overlooking Cape Town, South Africa can be reached by cable car. Surrounded by steep cliffs, and measuring three miles from side to side, it is flanked by Devil's Peak to the east and Lion's Head to the west, which, together with Signal Hill form the natural amphitheatre of City Bowl. The exclusive Mount Nelson Hotel, part of the Orient-Express group, offers guests a great family deal that includes transfers and four entrance tickets to see Table Mountain.
Halong Bay, Vietnam
In the Quang Ninh province of Vietnam, near the border with China, this stretch of water encompasses an area of over 1,500 square kilometres and is dotted with thousands of limestone karsts and islands of all different shapes and sizes. Some are hollow with spectacular caves, while others are home to floating villages of fisherfolk. The bay was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994.
Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, Philippines
Said to be the planet's biggest underground river, the Puerto Princesa subterranean river on the Philippine island of Palawan is navigable for over eight kilometres before it disgorges into the South China Sea. The national park encloses one of the most important forests in Asia, and comprises a fantastic limestone karst landscape. It boasts eleven different ecosystems and is home to a wide variety of threatened animals.