20 of the World’s Most Epic Bodies of Water and How to Best Experience Them
These incredible bodies of water around the world are waiting to be explored.
Water is, of course, the essence of life on our planet but, with the exception of the oceans and maybe our favorite local fishing holes, many of us don’t often consider how truly epic water can be. There are countless bodies of water dotting planet Earth that are breathtaking, terrifying, filled with life or entirely absent of it. From the fjords in western Norway enjoyed on a car ferry and swimming with jellyfish in the South Pacific to seeing a lunar rainbow arc over Victoria Falls in Africa and hiking around color-changing lakes in Indonesia, here are 20 epic bodies of water and how to best enjoy them.
Grand Prismatic Spring
WHERE: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming
Standing before this magically radiant body of water, on the wooden boardwalk that takes you within inches of the 200 degree-thermal pool, is an awe-inspiring, other-worldly experience that you must see when visiting Yellowstone National Park. Located near Old Faithful (epic water in its own right), Grand Prismatic Spring is a natural wonder that pops on camera (see above) but truly must be seen in person to be believed.
Great Barrier Reef
Larger than the Great Wall of China, and the only living thing on earth visible from space, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is one of the seven wonders of the natural world. It’s also the world’s largest coral reef and offers a myriad of ways to engage with it–including scuba diving and snorkeling, and viewing it from above in a helicopter tour. But the best and easiest way to comfortably experience some of the over 3,000 individual reef systems and coral cays is on a glass-bottom boat, underwater observatory, and/or a semi-submarine. That way, you can relax while viewing giant clams, colorful fish, and lush vibrantly colorful coral gardens.
Being on the deck of a cruise ship as the vessel slowly enters the iceberg dotted Endicott Arm is a moment many Americans dream of, and for good reason! During an Alaskan cruise, you’ll likely see whales breaching, seals relaxing on dislodged chunks of ice, mountain goats frolicking on the jagged snow-covered shores, gulls nesting, eagles soaring above, and glacier ice calving then crashing into the sea. It is, without a doubt, one of the most epic water experiences on offer in the entire world. To get even closer to the glacier and feel the immense power and natural beauty—as well as the damaging impact of climate change—that is on full display in these waters, opt for a Zodiac boat excursion during your cruise.
The Dead Sea
You may know of this salty body of water, and the curious fact that you can’t sink in it, but did you know that portions of it belong to Jordan and Israel, and that the northern half of the western shore lies within the Palestinian West Bank? The Dead Sea is a wonder because it’s eight or nine times saltier than the oceans you have likely swum in. It’s so loaded with minerals that when you’re in it, you’re actually more just on it, feeling more like a float atop muddy olive oil than a swim. If you want to experience the epic saltiness, you should do so soon as the surface level is decreasing by about three feet annually. This means that the lowest point on the planet, an epic place previously visited by Cleopatra, is constantly being recalculated!
WHERE: Zimbabwe and Zambia
Over 500 million liters of water per minute drop in peak season from this natural wonder of the world. Victoria Falls is the world’s largest waterfall at 355 feet high but that’s just half the story! At a width of over 5,000 feet, this popular tourist site forming the border between two Southern African countries has earned its distinction of being the greatest curtain of falling water in the world. For perspective, this is roughly twice as wide and twice as deep as Niagara Falls. There are multiple vantage points to see the falls but the Victoria Falls Bridge is a highlight, although amazingly enough you can see and hear the falls from 30 miles away. Finally, Victoria Falls is one of the only spots on Earth to witness the natural phenomenon of a moonbow, or lunar rainbow, which makes this epic body of water almost otherworldly.
There are several epic ways to enjoy the English Channel along England’s south coast. Start on the beach with a lunch of fish and chips before playing games on the Brighton Palace Pier. Move along the coast to the viewing platforms and steep steps down to the sea at Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters Cliffs. Finish up with a pleasant hike along the famous white cliffs of Dover and take in the faint view of France!
Pamukkale Travertine Terraces
This massive cotton-candy wonderland (Pamukkale literally means “Cotton Castle” in Turkish) is composed of cascading milky-white limestone terraces that are punctuated by pristine pools of thermal water reflecting the brilliant blue of the sky above. This truly epic body of water is 12 hours by bus from Istanbul so, when you make that level of commitment to get there, the best way to enjoy the springs is of course from the inside because yes, you can still take a dramatic dip in these terraced pools!
Created thousands of years ago from a volcanic eruption, Crater Lake is not only a National Park, it’s a five-mile-wide pure blue body of water that will take your breath away as you gaze upon from the rim road above or equally, from the dock deep down in it. At 1,943 feet, Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the country —and the ninth deepest in the world—and one of the clearest, too. So much so that, on a sunny day, the light can penetrate to a depth of a whopping 400 feet. Epic, indeed. But to really experience it best, take the switchback trail to the bottom and a boat over to Wizard Island then jump into Crater Lake with an empty but sealed water bottle. Once under the water, take the cap off and fill up with the coldest and cleanest water you’ll ever taste!
Whale’s Tail Beach
WHERE: Uvita, Costa Rica
There are two remarkable ways to best experience these Pacific Oceans waters. First, get wet snorkeling and enjoying some of the finest scuba diving on Earth. Together with whale watching that’s available roughly 10 months out of each year, the waters on either side of this uniquely shaped beach in Uvita, Costa Rica, are an epic example of Pura Vida . Second, stay dry high up in the rainforest with toucans, howler monkeys, and sloths during a luxurious stay in a treehouse or villa at Rancho Pacifico, each with private plunge pools or tubs (if you want to get wet again after all) and each with sweeping views of Whale’s Tail.
WHERE: Yukon Territory
Easily accessible by renting a car during an Alaska cruise port stop in Skagway, the Yukon’s Emerald Lake is utterly enchanting! Travel 73 scenic miles up the Klondike Highway to the small community of Carcross to do some shopping, grab a bite to eat, and experience the curious Carcross desert before driving a few more miles north to these epic aquamarine waters. The extreme color is caused by light waves reflecting off the white sediment of carbonate-rich mudstone known as marl that lines the bed of the shallow lake. But you don’t need to know the science of it to marvel at the blue-green water! Viewpoints from above are ideal for mind-bending photos but you can get a closer look by hiking the miles of flat trails rimming the lake.
WHERE: Paris, France
Buy a ticket for the hop-on-hop-off Batobus and enjoy some of the most iconic Parisian sights from the comfort of a water taxi on the River Seine. You’ll see Notre-Dame, Musee d’Orsay, and, of course, the Eiffel Tower, among other famous sights. Disembark at your leisure to snag crepes along the water, ride the double-decker carousel at the base of the Trocadero, or dine with kitties at the cat cafe near The Bastille.
Unlike the other epic bodies of water on this list, you cannot engage with this hellish red lake in Tanzania. Famous for purportedly turning animals to stone a la Medusa, the deep red water which gets its striking color from salt-loving organisms, does not actually possess a mythical power. Instead, when animals die here, they can become preserved by the same kind of sodium carbonate minerals the ancient Egyptians used for mummification. And yet, what makes this lake epic is that, while virtually nothing aside from bacteria can live here, there is one incredible exception that is all about new life being born: Millions of Lesser flamingos come to nest here when the 120-degree water recedes during the dry season. This is, in part, because the perennial steaming moats serve as a natural protection from predators, meaning that otherwise inhospitable Lake Natron is, in actuality, an incredibly safe home. In fact, this is considered one of the only breeding grounds on Earth for these majestic pink flamingos.
Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/Shutterstock
Pacific Ocean From the Olympic Peninsula Coast
Cape Alava is the westernmost point of the continental U.S. and is strewn with large rocks, tree trunks, and other assorted fallen timber. These are the ingredients for a dramatically dystopian fairy-tale mashup vibe that is photogenic and magical in equal measure. If you want a body of water that is remote and thoroughly epic, experiencing this mystical nook of the Pacific will not disappoint!
This South Pacific oasis in an archipelago made up of over 500 tiny islands, between Guam and the Philippines, is home to a fascinating remnant of the last ice age as well as a magnificent daily migration of nearly a million jellyfish. The jellies are here because as the sea level rose during the ice age, salty water poured into the lake. But, by the time it receded, the jellyfish had already found a new home and evolved in a very important way that today, allows for humans to safely swim with them. That’s right, these particular species of jellyfish evolved without stingers. Instead, they live on algae, and just like humans coming and going to work on the freeways of the world, two times every single day upwards of 700,000 golden and moon jellyfish commute from one side of the lake to the other. This allows the algae to grow and allows us safely be in the water alongside these beautiful jellyfish.
No list of the most epic bodies of water on the planet would be complete without the most remarkable lake tucked into one of Earth’s most remarkable places, Torres del Paine National Park in Chile. As you hike around the lake you will, on a still day devoid of wind, witness a mind-bending reflection like no other, with the jagged snow-capped horns of the mountains doubled up in the pristine water. On just about any day of the year though, you will share this lush South American landscape with friendly alpacas and llamas, gaze up at condors overhead, and maybe catch a glimpse of a puma during summertime’s 17-hours of daylight in this UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve.
WHERE: London, England
Just as with the Seine in Paris, there are many ways in which to engage with and experience this epic body of water running 215 miles across the south of England, including a winding path through England’s capital. The newest and most dramatic way emerges later this year, in West London, inside Craven Cottage, the adorably named and thoroughly charming home of Fulham Football Club. When the glittering new Riverside Stand opens up, you’ll be able to watch the Cottagers do battle on the pitch from a perch six feet over the top a rebuilt wall and pedestrian path along the River Thames.
Fjords of Western Norway
There are car ferries abound to get your boating kick in Western Norway but to experience the epic fjords here it’s best to do it behind the wheel. Drive along the many roads that outline the pristine glacier waters, lush green mountains, and colorful wooden homes in the west of this Scandinavian wonderland. Start in the delightful city of Bergen and head north toward Trondheim, passing through the postcard-perfect Ålesund and its surrounding archipelago. While driving along the Atlantic Road you’ll head up and down the surreal Storseisundet Bridge, for one of the most stunning watery road trips in the world.
Canals of Amsterdam
WHERE: The Netherlands
Not quite Venice, but not far off either, Amsterdam has a spine of more than 60 miles of canals flowing beneath 1,500 bridges, and outlining roughly 90 islands. The three main canals, rimmed with stunning canal houses and museums, were dug in the 17th-century during the Dutch Golden Age. Known as the Grachtengordel, the Amsterdam canal rings are a UNESCO World Heritage Site and once you arrive, you’ll understand why. Whether on foot, boat, or from the seat of a bike, exploring the canals of the picturesque capital of the Netherlands is a chilled-out delight.
The canal that cuts across Panama is one of the most epic bodies of water on Earth. It’s also one of the most vital and a true human wonder of engineering. However, the Panama Canal was built at a terrible cost, with over 5,600 people killed during its construction during the U.S. construction period alone (it is possible that some 22,000 workers died during the French construction period which began decades earlier). Today, these waters are best and most often experienced from the deck of a cruise ship making its way from the Atlantic to Pacific Oceans during a journey that, before the Canal, would have involved a terribly long trip down and around the southern tip of Argentina. It may seem boring to some, but the lock system that allows the ocean waters to meet lifts vessels up to 85 feet across the hilly Central American country. If that’s not epic, I don’t know what is!
Kelimutu Crater Lakes
Located on the island of Flores, the famous home to the dragon residents of Komodo National Park, are three of the most magical bodies of water on the planet. The color-changing waters of these side-by-side lakes atop the Kelimutu volcano attract many visitors, often those in the area already en route to or from Bali. This is because, while a remote destination on its own, once you’re there it’s a relatively simple half-hour climb to the top and an easy hike around to see any number of colors on display. Scientists believe volcanic gas is why you may spy red, turquoise, white, brown, or black waters but locals believe their ancestors’ spirits live on in here, and that it’s their spiritual mood changes creating these fascinating, color-shifting pots of epic water. It’s recommended that you start early to witness a sunrise like no other from the top on a clear day!