Imagine walking through a far-flung island of forest and stumbling across a bright, pink lake. Or quietly rowing your boat through a sea of floating lotus flowers that expand as far as the eye can see. Dreamy? Yes, but also completely possible if you consider a visit to one of the world’s strangest lakes.
Because lakes are mostly contained ecosystems, they have the uncanny ability to evolve in ways you might expect to come from the imagination of Dr. Seuss. Like Spotted Lake in Canada, which is considered one of the most bizarre natural wonders in the world, transmogrifying from an average-looking alpine lake into a field of gigantic green polka dots every summer.
There are more than 3 million or so lakes worldwide, so it takes quite an astounding trick to stand out. Some that caught our attention: a lake made of one of the purest skincare ingredients on earth and another with six-foot waves ideal for freshwater surfing.
Nature can also cook up some pretty forbidding lakeside scenes. At Tanzania’s Lake Natron, where the water reaches 140 degrees, petrified bats and birds (even doves) have been found washed ashore. For most travelers, of course, a lake vacation brings to mind more soothing, nostalgia-laden images. It’s as classic an American experience as a summer road trip. So by all means, go visit any number of the beautiful lakes in our country’s great outdoors. But if you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind, see-it-to-believe-it experience, we recommend a detour to one of these peculiar pools instead.
Jellyfish Lake, Palau
By the ocean, jellyfish are a nuisance to swimmers, but taking a dip with them in Palau’s Jellyfish Lake is an unexpected pleasure. These golden jellyfish are glowing orbs of pink and purple that range in size from a penny to a soccer ball and were cut off from their natural predators millennia ago. With no need to defend themselves, they evolved without the ability to sting—the only such known species of jellyfish. These blissful creatures do nothing more than soak up the sunlight (their main source of nutrition)—oh, and entertain the humans, who have taken to snorkeling in their midst.
Lake Nong Harn, Thailand
The yearly sprouting of thousands upon thousands of red lotus flowers completely transforms the surface of Lake Nong Harn into an 8,000-acre vision of buoyant blossoms. This aquatic garden begins to grow in October, just after the rainy season. When it reaches full bloom in December, nearby villagers, who trace the origins of the lake to a tragic love myth, take to boats to enjoy the miraculous scenery. The sea of red lotuses—Talay Bua Daeng, as the locals say—is best viewed during daylight hours before noon, when the flowers are fully opened, revealing their vibrant, pink color (not red, despite the name). The lake, which is located in the province of Udon Thani, 350 miles north of Bangkok, stays rosy until March.
La Brea Pitch Lake, Trinidad
Some lakes just stick with you, but none more than this one. Made of about 10 million tons of liquid asphalt and spread over a massive 100 acres, La Brea Pitch Lake is the largest natural deposit of pitch on earth. Its gooey emulsion of water, gas, bitumen, and minerals has been a major source of asphalt throughout the world ever since 1595, when Sir Walter Raleigh happened upon its shores on his quest to find El Dorado. Too bad he wasn’t looking for the Fountain of Youth, which is the nickname local villagers had given to the warm, healing pools of sulfur-infused waters that pop up around the lake during rainy season (June to November).
Boiling Lake, Dominica
Water at the center of this 200-foot-wide lakelet stays in a constant rolling boil so hot that no one has been able to take an accurate measurement. But consider that at the shore, this lake already measures between 180 and 197 degrees. Scientists believe the vapor-covered cauldron is really a flooded fumarole, or a vent that leads directly down to volcanic magma. It’s not the largest heated lake in the world—that title belongs to the magnificent, comparatively temperate Rotorua lakes in New Zealand—but Boiling Lake is certainly the most forbidding.
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