From sulphur-caked desert plains to sun-scorched valleys to rain-doused tea fields, this guide to the world’s most extreme climates has all sorts of unique places. It ranges from the Himalayan foothills of north India to the remote plateaus of South America, offering an insight into some of the extra bizarre and remarkable corners of the globe. Ready? Let’s go…
Danakil Desert, Ethiopia
The Danakil Desert is like something from a whole other planet. Dipping to 125m below sea level, the region covers huge swathes of north-eastern Ethiopia in dusty plains and arid valleys. There’s a whole load of geothermal activity, combined with scorching equatorial temperatures that regularly peak above 120 F!
The Danakil Depression is the desert’s most striking corner. That’s a land where sulphur deposits accumulate on the surface, salt crusts form on stagnant saline lakes, and even ponds of lava broil next to craters. There’s not much human habitation but you might spot a camel caravan carrying minerals to ports on the coast.
Death Valley, USA
Appropriately named Furnace Creek sits smack dab in the heart of the Death Valley National Park in California. Currently, it holds the record for the highest recorded air temperature on earth – a sizzling 134 F (57 C), which was felt way back in 1913.
But the soaring mercury levels don’t stop people flocking to this part of the USA. Thousands visit every year to take in the rugged vistas of the canyons and hoodoos from Zabriskie Point, to see haunting ghost towns in the Mojave Desert, and stargaze under some of the clearest night skies this side of Hawaii.
Atacama Desert, Chile
The Atacama exists at two extremes. First, it ranges to high altitudes. Much of the region soars over 1,500m on the plateaus of northern Chile. Second, it’s dry. A mere 15mm of rain drops here every 365 days. You’ll need to bring plenty of water to drink!
The reason for the parched surface is the position of the Atacama between the mighty Andes and the Chilean Coast Range. That stops any considerable precipitation coming in from the Pacific Ocean and even means some of the highest peaks (some of them above 6,000 meters) remain free from snow and ice.
Antarctica, far-flung and lost at the pole of the planet, is a vast and desolate place of craggy fells, creaking glaciers and billowing winds. It’s got one of the world’s most extreme climates thanks to temperatures that can break the -100 F mark in the height of the winter season.
In fact, the coldest temperature ever recorded was set here at the Vostok Station on the East Antarctic Plateau back in 1883 – a shiver-inducing 128 degrees Fahrenheit below zero!
Of course, it’s not a place you can simply add to the travel bucket list and jet off to. That said, tourism expeditions to Antarctica are on the up. The best way to go is by boat across the wild Drake Passage, following in the footsteps of Scott and Shackleton to the very ends of the Earth.
Deep in the lush hills of Meghalaya State in northern India, Mawsynram has the dubious honor of being the wettest inhabited place on the whole planet. A whopping 470 inches of rain falls here every year. Most comes with the onset of the monsoon between June and October, when warm air from the south is forced up by the ridges of the Indian Himalaya.
The result is a town surrounded by 10,000 shades of greenery and seriously stunning natural landscapes. They’re what draw most of the adventurers, who come searching for the gushing cataracts of the Mawsmai Falls, the remote hiking paths of the Khasi Hills, and dank cave systems that still haven’t been fully explored.
Powder hounds and ski aficionados the world over are sure to know of Hokkaido. High up at the north end of the Japan archipelago, the island sits in the path of a unique air stream that blows across from Siberia and gathers loads of moisture over the Sea of Japan. The result? Perfect, minuscule crystals of the white stuff starting in November and ending in March.
Travelers and locals celebrate Hokkaido’s penchant for powder during the Sapporo Snow Festival, when amazing ice sculptures adorn the parks in the island’s biggest city. Of course, there’s also endless skiing and snowboarding in world-class resorts like Niseko.
Pack the thermals, folks – Oymyakon in Russia is hailed as the coldest continuously inhabited place on the planet. Thermometers read an average (yep – average!) -72 F in the midwinter months, while peak lows have hit nearly 100 Fahrenheit under.
North of the Sea of Okhotsk in the very depths of Siberia, the town is home to just 500 people throughout the year. Most are reindeer herders or wild fishers; descendants of the town’s first settlers, who arrived some 100 years ago.
Just a mention of Hawaii might conjure up images of salty-haired surfer dudes and bronzed bikini bodies. However, there’s something else going on in this land of perfect waves and hula dancers: Volcanoes.
Some of the most active geothermal areas known to humans currently preside over the island of Hawai’i. They hit a peak with the summit of brooding Kīlauea. Some 1,247 meters above the sparkling Pacific Ocean, it’s been spewing magma and sulphur into the air nonstop since the 1980s.
Scientists see little sign of it stopping, too. In fact, most predict a major eruption pretty soon. Still, that doesn’t prevent over a million adventurers exploring the lava tubes and smoking fumaroles of the mountains within the Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park each year!
If you can think of any more of the world’s most extreme climates to add to this list, be sure to drop them in the comments below! We’d also love to hear about your experience if you’ve been brave enough to travel to any of these inhospitable parts of the globe.