13 of the Most Bizarre Lakes in the World

Beautiful but bizarre

Photo: Mark Doliner/flickr

Because lakes are landlocked bodies of water, they are our planet's experimental mixing pots. They can stew strange chemistry and give rise to anomalous creatures found nowhere else on Earth.

Some lakes are the site of catastrophic historical events like meteor strikes or volcanic eruptions, while others harbor ancient secrets or unique geology. Others, like the Plitvice Lakes (pictured), are just plain cool.

Here's our list of 13 of the most bizarre lakes in the world.

Laguna Colorada

Photo: Byelikova Oksana/Shutterstock

This eerie lake in Bolivia has blood red water and is dotted with strange white islands made of borax, the same stuff used in many detergents.

The color of the water comes from tinted sediment and a large amount of red algae, which thrive here. Even more striking, pink flamingos often wade in its waters, adding to the contrasts of this otherworldly landscape.

Boiling Lake

Photo: Emily Eriksson/Shutterstock

Dominica's Boiling Lake is the second largest hot spring in the world, though you wouldn't want to take a dip there.

Along its edges the water temperature is a sweltering 180 to 197 degrees Fahrenheit, and its center is too hot to get close enough to measure. The lake is almost continuously veiled in clouds of vapor, and the grayish water is always bubbling.

Plitvice Lakes

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These breathtaking lakes in Croatia are truly exceptional, and Plitvice Lakes National Park is one of the world's most beautiful places.

They are actually 16 lakes, all interconnected through a series of waterfalls and caves. Each lake is separated from the rest by thin natural dams of travertine, an unusual form of limestone deposited slowly over time from the action of local moss, algae and bacteria. The travertine dams grow at a rate of only 1 centimeter a year, making the lakes extremely fragile.

Lake Nyos

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This lake in Cameroon is one of the world's only known exploding lakes. Just underneath it, a pocket of magma fills Nyos with carbon dioxide and transforms its water into carbonic acid.

As recently as 1986, the lake burped a massive plume of carbon dioxide, suffocating as many as 1,700 people and 3,500 livestock from nearby villages. It was the first known large-scale asphyxiation ever recorded from a natural event.

There is still concern that this event could repeat itself in one of the world's three exploding lakes. In fact, Nyos may be the most susceptible of the three to cause another disaster because the natural dike that contains the lake is weak and vulnerable to cracking.

Aral Sea

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Once one of the four largest lakes in the world, today the Aral Sea is mostly an arid desert strewn with rusty old ghost ships, a reminder of the lake's former volume.

Since 1960, the lake has been steadily shrinking thanks primarily to irrigation projects started by the former Soviet Union, which diverts the rivers which fed it.

Today, the Aral Sea is only 10 percent of its former size. The region's fishing industry and ecosystem have been devastated, and the tragedy has been called "one of the planet's worst environmental disasters."

Pitch Lake

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Trinidad's grimy Pitch Lake is the largest natural deposit of asphalt in the world. The lake covers more than 40 hectares, can run about 75 meters deep, and even harbors alien-like extremophile organisms in its water.

Locals also proclaim that its waters have mystical curative properties for anyone who bathes in them — though such claims are unproven. Interestingly, asphalt mined from Pitch Lake has been used to pave some streets in New York City.

Don Juan Pond

Photo: Pierre Roudier/flickr

This hypersaline lake discovered in 1961 in Antarctica is the saltiest body of water on the planet.

Its salinity level is over 40 percent. Unlike other bodies of water, the salt is comprised of 95 percent calcium chloride, which lowers the water's freezing point. So, Don Juan Pond doesn't freeze even at -58 degrees Fahrenheit, even though it sits near the frigid South Pole. Also because of the highly concentrated amount of salt, the water has the consistency of syrup. It's still a mystery to researchers where the salt comes from, mainly because the lake is a protected area.

The lake was named Don Juan Pond after Lt. Don Roe and Lt. John Hickey, who piloted the helicopter that flew the group who discovered it.

Dead Sea

Photo: Nirit Hann/Wikimedia Commons

The deepest hypersaline lake in the world, the Dead Sea is too salty for animals to flourish here, thus the name.

Its surface waters are also a remarkable 1,385 feet below sea level, making this body of water the lowest elevation on the Earth's surface. The salinity level of the Dead Sea also makes it difficult for swimming, but remarkably easy to float in.

In the middle of the 20th century, a collection of ancient, biblical scrolls were found in caves along the Dead Sea in Israel. The scrolls were well preserved in part due to the unique climate found here. The Dead Sea is also bordered by Jordan and the West Bank.

Taal Lake

Photo: tacit requiem (joanneQEscober ) Follow/flickr

Located in the island nation of the Philippines, Taal Lake is particularly bizarre because it has an island in its center called Volcano Island.

Because Volcano Island's crater also harbors a small lake, it is the site of the world's largest lake on an island in a lake on an island. The tongue-twister actually doesn't stop there; Volcano Island's crater lake also contains its own small island, called Vulcan Point. Got that?

Lake Balkhash

Photo: NASA/Wikimedia Commons

Located in Kazakhstan, Lake Balkhash is the 15th largest lake in the world, but that characteristic is hardly what makes it interesting. This lake is bizarre because half of the lake consists of freshwater and the other half is saltwater.

Balkhash maintains this unlikely balance in part because the two halves are joined by a narrow straight that is 3.5 kilometers wide and six meters deep.

There is some concern that Lake Balkhash could dry up like the Aral Sea, since many of its source waters are being diverted.

Tonlé Sap

Photo: Aleksandar Todorovic/Shutterstock

The unique ecosystem of Cambodia's Tonlé Sap evades classification as either a lake or a river.

During the dry season, the waters of the Tonlé Sap drain into the Mekong River, but during the monsoon season the flow of water is so massive that it actually pushes back up from the Mekong, forming the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. This lake is particularly unusual for the fact that its flow violently changes direction twice a year.

Because of these bizarre conditions, the region is a treasure trove for biodiversity and it has been designated a UNESCO biosphere.

Crater Lake

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When Central Oregon's Mount Mazama violently erupted 7,700 years ago, it left a massive caldera running nearly 2,000 feet deep right through the heart of the mountain. Despite the complete absence of streams flowing into it, Mazama's crater slowly filled with water over the course of millennia, simply from precipitation.

Today, it is the second deepest lake in North America, and it has some of the bluest, clearest and least polluted waters in the world.

Lake Baikal

Photo: Evgeny Sayfutdinov/Shutterstock

This massive body of water located in Russia is truly remarkable. It is the world's oldest and deepest lake, is the second most voluminous in the world, and contains some of the world's clearest water. It has somehow remained contained for more than 25 million years, and currently holds 20 percent of the Earth's fresh water supply.

Two thirds of the more than 1,700 species that call Baikal home are found nowhere else in the world. It's no wonder that the region was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1996.