Strange, deadly, beautiful and unlike anything else on earth: these 12 bodies of water, including lakes and bubbling geothermal hot spots, range from the dreamiest swimming spots you can imagine to places that literally look like hell. Glowing organisms turn a lake in Australia a stunning phosphorescent blue. Bolivia’s Laguna Colorada is bright red, spotted with white mounds of borax. Domimica’s Boiling Lake is just as it sounds, with its center swirling and steaming. And in Palau, you can swim with millions of jellyfish that have been isolated in a lagoon for centuries.
Boiling Lake, Dominica
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The steam rising from this lake on a cool day might be tempting, making it seem like one big hot tub. But slip inside, and you’ll be dead within minutes. The temperature of the water in Dominica’s Boiling Lake is typically between 180 and 197 degrees Fahrenheit. The center if the lake is actively boiling. The lake is actually a flooded fumarole – an opening in the crust of the earth.
Bioluminescent Lake, Australia
For a brief period only in the Australian summer of 2008 to 2009,Gippsland Lakes glowed a stunning phosphorescent blue, creating an eerie effect in the darkness. An unusually high concentration of a bioluminescent organism, Noctiluca scintillans, built up in the lake, accumulating at the shoreline. Photographer Phil Hart captured the beautiful blue glow and even made it more intense utilizing the organisms’ natural defense mechanism. When they sense a predator nearby, N. scintillans light up, attracting even bigger predators to eat the first. So, splashing around in the water activated the glow.
Pitch Lake, Trinidad
The goopy asphalt in Trinidad’s Pitch Lake is so thick, you can walk on the surface of the water. Pitch Lake is the largest natural deposit of asphalt in the world, with much of it mined to pave surfaces as far away as New York City. Sir Walter Raleigh discovered it in 1595, even using the asphalt to caulk his ship. Nobody is quite certain why this lake is so full of asphalt or exactly how it’s created, but scientists believe that it may lie at the intersection of two faults, allowing oil from a deep deposit to be forced up to the surface. The lighter parts of the oil are believed to evaporate, and then bacteria go to work on the thick remainders.
Laguna Colorada, Bolivia
Red sediments and pigmentation from algae make Bolivia’s Laguna Colorada a striking red, which contrasts beautifully with white borax islands that dot its surface. Located in the Eduardo Abaroa Andean National Reserve, the lake is one of the highest on earth at 4,000 feet above sea level. The salt water lake is near Salar de Uyuni, the highest and largest salt flats in the world. In the summer, it’s packed with pink flamingoes.
Beppu Hells, Japan
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With their blood-red waters, billowing steam and overwhelming smell of sulphur, it’s easy to see why the nine geothermal hot spots of Beppu, Japan are known as the ‘Beppu Hells’. Geysers in the hot spot erupt throughout the day. Their individual names include Shaven Monk’s Head Hell, Boiling Hell, Demon Mountain Hell and Blood Pond Hell.
Lake Nyos, Cameroon
A crater lake in the Northwest Region of Cameroon in Africa is extremely deep and quite dangerous. It flanks an inactive volcano and sits atop a pocket of magma that leaks enough carbon dioxide to turn the water carbonic. In fact, there’s enough carbon dioxide in this lake to kill. In 1986, Lake Nyos emitted a large cloud of CO2 that suffocated 1,700 people and 3,500 livestock. A degassing tube now siphons water from the bottom of the lake to allow the CO2 to leak in safe quantities. But if an earthquake or other big natural disaster strikes, a weakening natural wall on the lake could result in a deluge of downstream villages all the way to Nigeria, allowing much more carbon dioxide to escape.
The Aral Sea, Kazakhstan
Once among the four largest lakes in the world, with an area of over 26,000 square miles, the Aral Sea has been shrinking since the 1960s, ever since Soviet irrigation projects diverted the rivers that fed it. Today, it’s almost entirely a barren basin of sand and salt, less than 10% its original size. The shrinking of the lake has been a major environmental and economic disaster for a region that once relied upon it for fishing, and to help mediate the local climate.
Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
This is paradise like you’ve never seen – unless you’ve actually been there, of course. Looking like a landscape scene straight out of the movie Avatar, the Plitvice Lakes in Croatia are tiered and cascading, streaming with narrow waterfalls, one pouring into the next. 16 lakes can be seen on the surface, separated by natural dams made of travertine. The lakes vary in color from deep blue to pale green depending on depth, the angle of sunlight and the quantity of minerals or organisms in the water.
Taal Lake, Philippines
It’s a lake within a lake within a lake within a lake. Encircled by a ridge within the island nation of the Philippines, Taal Lake has its own little island called Volcano Island. And on Volcano island’s crater lake is another island, called Vulcan Point. Taal Lake occupies a volcanic crater with a width of 15 miles, at less than 10 feet above sea level.
Jellyfish Lake, Palau
Swimming in a lake full of jellyfish may not seem like a good time when you’re imagining all of the painful stings that could result. But atPalau’s Jellyfish Lake, which is teeming with millions of the billowy sea creatures, you can snorkel, dive and float among hundreds of jellyfish that can’t hurt you. These golden jellyfish (Mastigias sp) have a sting that’s too mild to feel. It’s on one of the mostly uninhabited islands in Palau’s Southern Lagoon.
The Dead Sea, Israel and Jordan
The unusually high salt concentration in the Dead Sea of Israel and Jordan makes for a harsh environment in which most life cannot flourish, hence the name. But it also enables even the heaviest of humans to feel light as air, floating effortlessly along the surface. The mineral content of the Dead Sea is very different from that of ocean water, containing calcium chloride, potassium chloride, magnesium chloride and other minerals thought to have therapeutic value.
Lake Vostok, Antarctica
The water in the freshwater sub-glacial Lake Vostok may have been isolated for up to 30 million years. Located at the southern Pole of Cold in Antarctica, Lake Vostok’s surface is approximately 13,000 feet under the surface of the ice that tops it, placing it about 1,600 feet below sea level. In February 2012, a team of Russian scientists claimed to have pierced the ice shield to the surface of the lake with the world’s longest ever ice core (12,400 feet). Samples of the water will be taken at the end of 2012, when the Antarctic summer starts.