Did you know there are more than 117 million lakes, covering almost 4 percent of the world’s surface, dotted across the globe?
But not all lakes are created equal. There are some unique and special lakes that really stand out from the crowd. Some were formed as a result of catastrophic events, like meteor strikes or volcanic eruptions. Some contain noxious gasses or water so hot that it’s too dangerous to touch. Some are clear and blue, filled with the world’s purest water. And some are many times saltier than seawater, or filled with particles and organisms that turn the water an array of incredible colors. Let’s have a look at some of these most unusual lakes from around the world.
1. Jellyfish Lake, Palau
Jellyfish Lake in Palau, Micronesia, is a small marine lake, 1,500 feet long, and 520 feet wide with an average depth of only 100 feet. This 12,000-year-old lake is cut off from the sea, and pretty much free from predators. As a result, it has become home to millions of golden jellyfish who thrive here, reproducing at an amazing rate. The jellyfish migrate from one side of the lake to the other and back, every day, in a giant swarm. They have almost completely lost their sting, unlike those in nearby lagoons, making Jellyfish Lake one of Palau’s most famous snorkeling sites.
2. Boiling Lake, Dominica
Look at the clouds of steam rising from this lake on a cool day, you might be tempted to hop into what looks like a giant hot tub. But don’t! Dive in and you’ll be dead in minutes. At 200 feet across and 35 feet deep, Dominica’s Boiling Lake, one of the largest hot lakes in the world, is at a constant near boiling point. Truthfully, only a whirlpool in the center is actually boiling, but the water near the shores reaches 160–190 degrees Fahrenheit, and the volcanic gasses that bubble in the water make it appear to be boiling all the time. Getting technical for a minute, let me tell you that, in “geological talk,” the lake is above a fumarole (a crack in the earth’s crust) which releases gasses and heats the water.
3. Lake Baikal, Russian Region Of Siberia
At between 25 to 30 million years old and 5,387 feet deep, Lake Baikal is the world’s oldest and deepest lake. Although this lake, in southern Siberia, is not the world’s largest freshwater lake by surface area (that honor goes to the Caspian Sea), it is easily the most voluminous. On its own, Lake Baikal contains about 20 percent of the world’s unfrozen freshwater, and could hold all five of North America’s Great Lakes! In early spring, immediately after the ice has cleared, the lake is a beautiful aquamarine color. By summer (especially August), it has turned bright green from diatom and algal growth. October to April is the best time to visit, but if you are brave enough to face the cold and visit in winter, this is when the lake is at its atmospheric best.
4. Laguna Colorada, Bolivia
Algae and red sediment have turned Laguna Colorada, a salt lake in southwestern Bolivia, scarlet. Usually, the lake is a distinctive red-orange color, but occasionally, the 6-mile-wide lake will turn green when a different type of algae becomes more prominent due to changes in the water’s temperature and salt content. Islands of bright white borax dot the lake, a by-product of saltwater evaporation, and contrast beautifully to the vivid red of the water. The lake is a breeding ground for huge populations of strikingly pink James’s flamingos, who wade in the water feeding on algae. You’ll definitely want to bring your camera here!
5. Laguna Verde, Bolivia
It’s rather fitting that Bolivia’s Laguna Verde, another saltwater lake, is located in the same area as the Laguna Colorada. Laguna Verde earns its name from the copper deposits in the water, and sits at the foot of the Licancabur Volcano. You can see both by traveling to the Eduardo Avaroa Andean Fauna National Reserve, near the Chilean border. The area is also known for hot springs and natural beauty, so make sure it’s on your bucket list.
Pro Tip: The best way to visit Laguna Colorada and Laguna Verde is on a Jeep tour, and even if you are not a tour type of person, this is definitely something to consider. Joker Expedition offers tours that include both the lakes and the nearby salt pans.
6. Lake Hillier, Australia
This next lake is one of my personal favorites. The bubble-gum pink waters of Lake Hillier, on Middle Island, off the South Coast of western Australia, don’t lose color even when taken out of the lake. Hillier’s water is 10-times saltier than the ocean, but whilst it’s been speculated that the lake got its pink color from algae, studies of water samples have shown that this is not the case. Most scientists now believe it’s caused by salt-loving bacteria, thriving on the lake’s salty waters. Whatever the reason, there’s no denying Lake Hillier is an amazing display of natural color. The lake is surrounded by white salt and an evergreen eucalyptus forest, with the deep blue sea not far away.
Pro Tip: There are three ways to visit Lake Hillier. You can travel by helicopter with a HeliSpirit transfer to the island for a guided walk. Alternatively, Esperance Island Cruises offers the rare chance to sail there (limited dates). Or, finally, take a scenic flight with Goldfields Air Services, where every seat is a window seat.
7. Quilotoa, Ecuador
Quilotoa is a water-filled caldera, or crater lake, atop the most western volcano in the Ecuadorian Andes. The 2-mile-wide and 820-foot-deep green lake was formed by an explosive eruption 800 years ago, and its color is the result of dissolved minerals and sediment. The lake is also home to fumaroles, which emit steam, sulfur dioxide, and other gasses. To get here, you’ll need to hike about 6 miles up, but the sight is definitely worth it.
Once reaching Quilotoa viewpoint, you have the option to hike around the entire lake (about 6 hours) or hike down to the water (be warned the paths are not paved and require sturdy walking shoes). The hike down to the water takes about 45 minutes, and once here, you can opt for a 30-minute kayak ride to explore the lake a little. Heading back up again takes quite a bit longer than the descent, but you can hire a donkey to take you to the top if you can’t quite face the trek!
8. Kelimutu, Indonesia
When you think of a volcano, what probably comes to mind is fire and lava. But on top of Kelimutu in Indonesia, you’ll find three lakes with colors like a kaleidoscope. The Kelimutu lakes baffle scientists, as the lakes seem to spontaneously change color! The color changes are thought to be reactions to volcanic activity, but no one can explain why it happens. On a trip here, you could glimpse a red, green, blue, white, or even black lake. While scientists may not know the answer, locals believe “spirits” are responsible for the colors.
Discover Your Indonesia offers a 2-day, 1-night Kelimutu tour.
9. The Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
The Plitvice Lakes are located near Croatia’s border with Bosnia and Herzegovina. There are 16 stunning lakes in the collection, interconnected by spectacular waterfalls, with each lake separated from its neighbor by a thin natural dam of travertine (a form of limestone). The lakes, set in woodland, populated with deers, wolves, boars, and several rare birds, are one of Croatia’s top tourist attractions and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Plitvice Lakes are renowned for their distinctive colors, which change depending on several factors, including mineral deposits, organisms living in the water, and even the angle of the sunlight hitting the water’s surface. Each lake takes on its individual hue, and they range in color from blue and green to turquoise and even gray.
10. Lake Nyos, Cameroon
Lake Nyos in Cameroon is one of only three known exploding lakes in the world. The lake sits on an inactive volcano and above a pocket of magma that lies beneath the lake. Leaking carbon dioxide into the water and changing it into carbonic acid causes these “explosions” to occur.
In August 1986, Lake Nyos suddenly “burped” a massive cloud of carbon dioxide, suffocating all living creatures in a 15-mile radius and killing 1,700 people and 3,500 animals. It was the first time an event like this had ever been recorded. The lake has since refilled with carbon dioxide, and researchers believe a similar eruption could happen again, though a degassing tube now siphons water from the bottom of the lake to allow the carbon dioxide to leak in safe quantities.
The lake is relatively small, with a width of less than a mile and a length of just over a mile, but relative to its size, it’s extremely deep at 682 feet.
If you are interested in visiting Lake Nyos, contact Exploring Tourism Cameroon which offers a 10-day tour that includes a visit to the lake.
11. Aral Sea, Kazakhstan/Uzbekistan
The most unusual thing about this lake is that it’s now barely a lake at all. Once the fourth largest lake in the world, the Aral Sea was transformed into a desert when a Soviet-era irrigation project, beginning in the 1960s, diverted water from the lake. About 90 percent of the lake, which sits on the Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan border, dried up in the following decades. The Aral Sea’s shrinkage led to a total ecosystem collapse, as the lake became 10 times saltier and most of the fish and wildlife disappeared.
In 2005, the Kazakh government began work on a project to prevent the North Aral Sea (largest of the remaining lakes) from disappearing completely. Since then, water levels have increased, salinity has decreased, and fish populations have started to recover.
12. Don Juan Pond, Antarctica
The last lake on our list, Don Juan Pond/Lake, is the saltiest known body of water on earth, with a salinity level of over 40 percent, which is 18 times the ocean’s salinity!
Discovered in 1961, this small lake in Antarctica has a length of 985 feet and a width of 328 feet. This is a very shallow lake, with depths ranging from 4–12 inches. Scientists don’t fully understand how the lake exists at all, given the dry conditions of Antarctica, though studies show it’s most likely fed from an underground water source. Because of the high salinity level, the lake rarely freezes, despite temperatures plummeting to 58 degrees below Fahrenheit in the winter.
The world’s lakes come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and locations. I hope I’ve inspired you to add at least a couple of them to your travel wish list.
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