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Karst landscapes

Mount Api pinnacles, Malaysia - one of the most unusual karst landscapes
Mount Api pinnacles / Paul White, Flickr / CC BY 2.0

WorldBlue Described karst landscapes

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WorldYellow What is included in this category?

Limestone, dolostone, and gypsum are quite common rocks and cover a major part of the land. These rocks are soluble and, as the water reaches them, sooner or later voids are forming in the rocks – and the dissolved material is deposited elsewhere, along the path of streams.

Hell in Grand Cayman
Hell in Grand Cayman / SWIMPHOTO, / CC BY 2.0

Sometimes, if no other rocks cover the land, the soluble rocks are exposed to the elements and our eyes. And, if the layer of the rock is thick and uniform enough, interesting formations are developing after some time. Well, geological time, e.g. tens of thousands of years or even millions of years (in the case of quartzites).

Wondermondo has included in this category these places of the world where a larger area of soluble rocks is exposed and water has shaped unusual terrain from this rock. And, well, some of these places are VERY unusual!

Take one of such places – Tsingy de Bemaraha in Madagascar. Here the former layer of limestone has been washed away, leaving just narrow, vertical needles and arrows of the rocks, rising even 120 m tall. Walking across such an area is nearly impossible – one gets lost in this natural labyrinth and simply cannot pass over these limestone sheets and needles. Lush vegetation grows among the limestone sheets and needles, many rare and sometimes dangerous creatures live here undisturbed by people.

Take another – Cockpit Country in Jamaica. Here dense rainforest grows over countless steep hills that resemble haystacks. Again – one can get easily lost among the endless “sea” of these giant haystacks.

Formations on Mount Roraima
Formations on Mount Roraima / Edmilson sanches, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

There are several kinds of unusual karst landscapes, such as:

  • Kegelkarst landscapes – areas with numerous very steep hills (cone-shaped, similar to haystacks, etc.) close together. These hills can be just a few meters high, but sometimes they are hundreds of meters tall – such as the unforgettable peaks along the Li River in China. Kegelkarst develops in tropical countries such as Southern China, Vietnam, Philippines, Jamaica, Dominican Republic, and some others.
  • Tsingy – areas that are covered with bare, knifelike vertical sheets of limestone. These dramatic karst landscapes are not very common. The best and maybe – most impressive – are the tsingy “forests” in Madagascar, as well as Shilin stone forest (China), Mount Api pinnacles (Malaysia) and some more places around the world.
  • Limestone pavements are somewhat less dramatic landscapes if compared with the previous kinds of karst landscapes. These are barren fields of pure limestone – but as this rock is soluble, the surface of the limestone is dissected with shallow runnels, with deep trenches – grikes, smaller holes, and larger holes – sinkholes. Thus a limestone pavement is an unusual, fascinating type of landscape. Impressive limestone pavement is Burren (Ireland) – the world’s largest limestone pavement with an area of 290 km2.
  • Turloughs are very specific places, found almost exclusively in Ireland. These areas have lakes that appear and disappear seasonally – e.g. suddenly appear in autumn and then disappear in the spring. Sometimes these lakes appear in a few hours’ time and then in a few days are gone again.

This category does not include many karst features, e.g. caves and separate sinkholes, rock stacks, karst springs.

WorldViolet Top 25 karst landscapes


Great Tsingy de Bemaraha


Thousands of rock blocks that are dissected by 80 – 120 m deep grikes with vertical walls. Sometimes these grikes are very narrow, less than 1 m, and create an immense impression on the one walking through them. Numerous endemic species of plants and animals – 47% of locally met species of plants and animals are found only in Tsingy de Bemaraha – for example, here are 34 endemic species of reptiles.

Unusual formations in Tsingy de Bemaraha
Unusual formations in Tsingy de Bemaraha./ Zigomar, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
Tsingy de Ankarana


A forest of up to 20 m high limestone blades. The gorges and canyons dissecting the Ankarana are up to 140 m deep. Patches of primeval tropical forests with numerous endemic species of plants and animals. Some of these forests are available only through caves. Up to 6 m long Nile crocodiles live in these caves. Numerous fossils.

Tsingy de Ankarana, Madagascar
Tsingy de Ankarana / , Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
Tsingy de Namoroka


An area with very impressive, up to 80 m tall tsingy formations – walls, needles, canyons, and also numerous caves.


Ha Long Bay


Site of unusual beauty – sea bay with approximately 2,000 tower-like islands formed by karst processes. The tallest islands are 100 m tall. The area contains many endemic species of plants and animals. Some islands have impressive caves (such as Hang Đầu Gỗ Cave). Local fishermen live in exotic-looking floating villages.

Hạ Long Bay, Vietnam
Hạ Long Bay / Brian Fagan, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Chocolate Hills


Unique geomorphological phenomenon – 1,200 – 1,700 similar grass-covered conical hills that form a unique landscape. The height of each hill is 40 – 120 m. During the dry periods, hills turn brown. Formed from coral limestone that has been uplifted and eroded. Hills contain numerous caves.

Chocolate Hills
Chocolate Hills / Jazela, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
Guilin – Lijiang Karst


A beautiful karst landscape along the Li River consists of numerous steep, conical limestone pinnacles. The sights of this landscape represent one of the most famous sights of China.

Karst landscape at Li River, China
Karst landscape at Li River / , Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0
Shilin stone forest


Spectacular karst formation that resembles a giant forest of stone pinnacles. One of the most impressive karst landscapes in the world.

Sangkulirang Mangkalihat


Extremely impressive karst landscape with numerous caves. Numerous endemic species of plants and animals, caves with prehistoric art (Gua Tewet), and unexplored areas.

Phang Nga Bay


Sea bay with beautiful karst pinnacles and islands. Here is located also the famous Ko Tapu – a limestone stack that was featured in the James Bond movie in 1974.

Ko Tapu - James Bond Island in Thailand
Ko Tapu – James Bond Island / René Ehrhardt, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Wulingyuan sandstone pinnacles


Unusual geological monument – a group of some 3,100 sandstone pillars that are up to 800 m tall.

Phong Nha-Ke Bang National Park


Impressive karst landscape with some of the largest caves in the world such as the Son Doong Cave. Here is located the longest known cave river in the world.

Sinkhole in Soon Dong Cave, Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park
Sinkhole in Soon Dong Cave, Phong Nha-Kẻ Bàng National Park. / Dave Bunnell, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0
Dong Van Plateau


An area with very impressive tower karst where the cone-shaped limestone hills rise up to 800 m tall. Here are very impressive canyons, and huge biodiversity values.

Dong Van Plateau
Dong Van Plateau. / Stephan Klage, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0
Tam Coc-Bích Đong


An area with beautiful tower karst formations. Here are found numerous caves.

Landscape in Tam Cốc
Landscape in Tam Cốc. / Ken Eckert, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0
Shibing karst


Very impressive landscape with thin dolomitic towers rising hundreds of meters tall above the plain.

Libo karst area


Typical cone karst area with cone-shaped, forested hills.

Australia and Oceania

Rock Islands (Palau)


More than 200 amazing small limestone islands, often mushroom-shaped and covered with lush tropical vegetation. Unique landscape element, especially when looking from the air.

Milky Way cove in Rock Islands, Palau
Milky Way cove in Rock Islands / , Flickr / CC BY 2.0
The Pinnacles (Nambung)


Desert, filled with amazing limestone formations – pinnacles that rise up to 3.5 m high.

The Pinnacles in Nambung National Park
The Pinnacles in Nambung National Park. / Tobias Keller, Wikimedia Commons / CC 1.0
Chillagoe karst landscape


Limestone towers that rise up to 40 m above the surrounding landscape. In this area are known some 600 – 1000 caves.

Balancing Rock in Chillagoe massif
Balancing Rock in Chillagoe massif. / Queensland State Archives, around 1935, Flickr / public domain
Mount Kaijende pinnacle karst

Papua New Guinea

Very impressive “forest” of limestone pinnacles that rise up to 100 m tall. An almost impenetrable area with extremely high biological diversity.


Burren in Clare County


One of the best examples of glaciokarst anywhere. These undulating hills, for the most part, consist of barren limestone pavements. In the limestone cracks grows an unusual community of plants – a mix of the Arctic, alpine and Mediterranean species.

Burren, Ireland
Burren / LWYang, Flickr / CC BY 2.0
Ciudad Encantada


Group of impressive rock formations shaped by karst processes. Some rocks look like oversized mushrooms rising over the trees, some resemble animals and humans.

El Torcal de Antequera


Impressive karst landscape with rugged, barren limestone pavements, many amazing limestone formations.

North America

Los Haitises

Dominican Republic

Interesting karst region, covered with tropical forest. Consists of hundreds of conical, 200 – 300 m tall, steep hills. Numerous caves, underground rivers, rare species of animals and plants.

Los Haitises limestone hills from the sea, Dominican Republic
Los Haitises limestone hills from the sea / Anton Bielousov, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

South America

Marble Caves (Las Cavernas de Marmol)


Unique geological formation – peninsula consisting of pure marble in the beautiful Lago General Carrera has been eroded by the lake water, forming caves, mushroom formations, and tunnels in the marble.

Marble Caves - Cavernas de Mármol, Chile
Marble Caves – Cavernas de Mármol / Daniel Peppes Gauer, / CC BY 2.0
Madre de Dios Island


One of the world’s most impressive limestone karst areas. Most active karst processes in the world thanks to a high amount of precipitation as well as wind action. Magnificent, otherworldly landscapes, enormous caves.

WorldYellow Recommended books

Geomorphological Landscapes of the World

Physical landscapes are one of the most fascinating facets of our Planet, which tell stories about the evolution of the surface of the Earth. This book provides up-to-date information about the geomorphology of the selected ‘classic’ sites from around the world and shows the variety of geomorphological landscapes as molded by different sets of processes acting over different timescales, from millions of years to days.

Encyclopedia of Caves and Karst Science

The Encyclopedia of Caves and Karst Science contains 350 alphabetically arranged entries. The topics include cave and karst geoscience, cave archaeology and human use of caves, art in caves, hydrology and groundwater, cave and karst history, and conservation and management. The Encyclopedia is extensively illustrated with photographs, maps, diagrams, and tables, and has thematic content lists and a comprehensive index to facilitate searching and browsing.

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