Amazing Natural Phenomena
1. Guatemala's Steaming Waterfall
A quick boat journey and a truck ride away from Río Dulce, Guatemala, there lies a particularly memorable watering hole, where the waterfall that cascades into a refreshing pool below is quite literally boiling hot. You’ll see steam rising from the falls, but luckily the mixture created by the boiling water from above and the cool water below creates the perfect temperature for a relaxing dip.
2. Mexico's Migrating Butterflies
The migrating monarch butterflies of Mexico make an arduous journey each year: they come all the way from Canada, covering an impressive 1,500 miles. Amazingly, this yearly cycle spans the lifetimes of several generations of the intrepid insects, and yet without fail they manage to find the exact same forests near Michoacán, in the central Mexican state of Morelia, as their ancestors did in the years before. Once there, they blanket the trees and flood the sky in huge orange flocks. The North American monarch is the only butterfly in the world to migrate in this way, and still a source of considerable bafflement to scientists.
It is surprisingly easy to see this phenomenon first hand owing to the butterflies’ remarkable precision and the long winter season that they spend in Mexico. February and March are the best time for visitors to trek into the forests and witness the clouds of butterflies for themselves, then realise with amazement that the swishing sound in the air is not the wind but the beating of millions of tiny wings.
Penitentes are solid, blade-like spikes of snow formed at high altitudes and common to the Andes, where they can even reach a height of up to 4 metres in some places. They were first described in literature by an awestruck Charles Darwin, who passed through snowfields filled with them on his voyage across Patagonia.
The name refers to the Spanish hooded gowns traditionally worn by penitents, lending the spikes the appearance of crowds of white-robed worshippers. And while there is a perfectly good scientific explanation for them, frankly we prefer to just admire their prettiness!
Every year between May and July in the Honduran department of Yoro, it inexplicably rains fish. It may sound like the stuff of magical realist novels, but for more than a century now witnesses have attested to the regular bout of unconventional weather, and the phenomenon has even inspired a local festival, the Festival de la Lluvia de Peces. The downpour always accompanies a heavy storm, after which hundreds of fish are found littering the ground. People then take them home and cook them.
To deepen the mystery yet further, the fish are of a kind not found in any of the surrounding bodies of water, making the meteorological explantion of strong winds transporting them unlikely. Another theory is that the fish live in underground rivers and come up to the surface, rather than falling from the sky. However, locals still stick by their own explanation – a priest named José Manuel Subirana visited Honduras in the 19th century and was greatly moved by the poverty he saw there, whereupon he prayed for three days and three nights for a miracle to feed the poor. Lo and behold, the fish have been raining down ever since.
In 2000, miners in Naica, Mexico, accidentally uncovered a truly incredible find when trying to expand an underground chamber. When they broke through the cavern wall they were amazed to find enormous crystals – the largest on earth – slashing through the emptiness like giant beams of light.
The overwhelming beauty of the place would tempt any traveller, but unfortunately this is one Latin American destination we can’t get you to! Not only is it incredibly hot inside and accessible only with a mountain of safety gear, but for the owners of the Naica mine, it is not a tourist attraction. Eventually, in fact, they will close it altogether, removing the pumps that currently keep the chamber from being submerged in the water that first allowed crystals to form over a period of 500,000 years. So it seems a glimpse is all we’re likely to get of this astonishing crystal cave.