The world's 10 most dramatic canyons

TAROKO GORGE, TAIWAN

Taroko Gorge near Hualien in eastern Taiwan is one of Asia's top natural wonders. Its banded marble, lush vegetation and setting amid 27 peaks is astounding – the canyon is 1620 metres deep in places – but the gorge also gushes hot springs (bring your swimmers) and is dotted with venerable temples and pavilions capped with whiskered dragons. A hair-raising road twists along its side, often resorting to tunnels. See taroko.gov.tw

COLCA CANYON, PERU

This vast canyon, one of the world's deepest, plunges 3400 metres and is nicknamed the Valley of Wonders for its gorges, green valleys, snow-capped volcanoes and desert landscapes. Colonial-era villages are framed by ancient agricultural terraces. Cacti grow out of the pink rock. Llamas and alpacas are native to the region, and condors soar overhead. It's a centre for hikers, white-water rafters, mountain bikers and climbers. See visitperu.com

WAIMEA CANYON, US

Nicknamed "Grand Canyon of the Pacific" thanks to its reddish rock and ever-changing colours, Waimea Canyon carves through the slopes of Kauai island in Hawaii for 16 kilometres. It's easily admired by car from numerous lookouts – including Waimea Canyon Lookout and dazzling Puu Hina Hina Lookout – on a drive that leaves the hot, dry coast and takes you into the cool forests of its upper slopes. See gohawaii.com

SAMARIA GORGE, GREECE

The limestone of the White Mountains in Crete is a maze of canyons, with Samaria Gorge the mightiest. A 16-kilometre trek starts down a zigzag staircase through cedar forest, and there's no return until you pass through oak and maple forest and finish at the coast. You pass Byzantine chapels, Venetian fort ruins and WWII shelters along the way. May, when wildflowers are at their peak, is lovely. See samaria.gr

COPPER CANYON, MEXICO

Copper Canyon is Mexico's premier natural wonder, created by violent volcanic activity. The forest-cloaked chasm, where six river valleys meet, is far larger than the Grand Canyon, with the dizzying scenery best admired from train carriages on the incredible Chihuahua al Pacífico railway line. It's one of the world's engineering marvels, with 86 tunnels, 37 bridges and innumerable seat-clutching bends. You can also take to a cable car and zip-lines. See visitmexico.com

GRAND CANYON, US

Though not by any means the granddaddy of them all, Grand Canyon is still an impressive 445 kilometres long and up to 29 kilometres wide in places. It plunges 1600 metres to the Colorado River, which you can travel by boat. Photographs have become a cliche, but none capture the majesty of the real thing. Rim trails challenge your head for heights but are easily accessed. See visitarizona.com

ITAIMBEZINHO CANYON, BRAZIL

This canyon in Aparados da Serra National Park in southern Brazil is only some six kilometres long and 720 metres deep, but the narrow crevice is dramatic, draped in waterfalls, backed by a mountain range and cloaked in forest that is home to ocelots and parrots. You can walk trails at both the top and bottom of the canyon. The landscape nearby is sliced through by several other gorges. See visitbrazil.com

THE SIQ, JORDAN

Petra is accessed via a winding canyon called The Siq, where rocks are banded in orange layers that glow whenever the sun penetrates the narrow defile. At its end, you get your first glimpse of the ruined sixth-century city of the Nabataeans when the rose-red facade of the Treasury building is framed between the canyon's walls. It's the first of many temples, tombs and grand public buildings. See visitpetra.jo

TARA CANYON, MONTENEGRO

Rugged Montenegro is graced (or beset) with innumerable canyons, but the valley of the Tara River is the most beautiful, plunging through a stony landscape dotted with pine trees and, in part, opening to farmland and orchards. This world-class rafting destination is one of Europe's deepest canyons, at one point 1300 metres from pale blue river to peak, fed by some 40 waterfalls from numerous tributaries. See discover-montenegro.com

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ANTELOPE CANYON, US

Located on native Navajo land in Arizona, this very narrow canyon is favoured by art photographers for its sculptural rock formations, pink-orange walls and shafts of sunlight. The wonderful formations are actually petrified sand dunes and the result of eons of flash flooding. Upper Canyon is easily visited on a flat walk, but Lower Canyon's metal stairways are worth negotiating in late afternoon to admire the beautiful light. visitarizona.com

Brian Johnston has travelled as a guest of numerous tourism offices and at his own expense.

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