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Lake Wakatipu: New Zealand
The beauty here is Remarkable. That’s with a capital “R,” as in the name of the Remarkables mountains which surround the glacial water. Helicopter flights take passengers on tours of the lake and mountains. The lakeside town of Queenstown is known for its natural beauty and the many activities there, including bungee jumping, jet-boating and more. For a truly amazing view, take the Skyline Gondola to the Stratosfere Queenstown Restaurant (pictured).
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Lake Tahoe: United States (Nevada and California)
Lake Tahoe has it all: Crystal clear water, amazing mountain views, a plethora of beaches and water recreation and more. Surrounding the lake—the 30th largest lake in North America—are a variety of ski resorts, hiking trails, casinos and many options for dining and nightlife, all with amazing views of the water. Looking for adventure? Try taking a summertime paddleboard trip along the lake's eastern shore (pictured).
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Made up of 16 emerald-colored lakes connected by breathtaking waterfalls, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is truly a wonder to behold, and owes its existence to the limestone gorge through which the lakes and waterfalls have been carved (for a similar limestone lakes and waterfall experience, head to Agua Azul in Mexico's Chiapas region). At Plitvice, pathways and wooden bridges wind through the canyon and lead to the many amazing cascades. Want to stay close and spend more time exploring? Try the Hotel Jezero; though rather basic in amenities, it is just 1,000 feet from the largest lake.
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Italy’s third-largest lake is also one of the deepest in Europe. A popular retreat for aristocrats and the well-heeled since Roman times, many villages and palaces surround the glacial lake. Old-world towns such as Lombardy are perfect places to enjoy traditional Italian food and sip a wine while the sun sets over the water. Looking for a little thrill? Hire a speedboat for a tour of the lake’s villas and villages.
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Maligne Lake: Alberta, Canada
Glacier-fed lakes abound in the Canadian Rockies, and each has its own splendor. If you have to pick one, go with Maligne Lake in Jasper National Park. Maligne is famed for its clear water and surroundings—pristine pine trees, jagged mountains and clear, blue skies. Take a kayak (or a boat cruise) over to Spirit Island for some truly spectacular views, including a look at three glaciers.
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Lake Lucerne: Switzerland
A truly scenic panorama adds to the beauty of Lake Lucerne, with its beautiful, blue water tucked in among massive, snow-covered peaks of the Alps. Vintage steamboats still sail from town to town across the lake, just as they have since the 1800s. While here, stop in at the quaint town of Lucerne and marvel at the Kappelbrüke, a covered bridge which dates back to the 14th century, and then take a side trip to relax with a soak in the spring-fed pool at Mineralbad & Spa Rigi-Kaltbad, located at the top of Mount Rigi.
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West Lake: Hangzhou, China
West Lake—a UNESCO World Heritage Site—has inspired Chinese poets and painters for almost two millennia, and visitors will find a wide variety of temples, gardens and islands in and around the lake. Elderly residents practice Tai Chi and engage in fan dances along the shore, while photography buffs try to capture perfect images of the Tang Dynasty-era Broken Bridge and the many charming pavilions with upturned roofs. West Lake makes for an easy day trip from nearby Shanghai.
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A trio of volcanoes and many Mayan villages surrounds Guatemala's Lake Atitlan, which itself is a volcanic caldera that filled with water an estimated 84,000 years ago. The lake may be the perfect destination for off-the-beaten path adventure seekers: It is so secluded that no road circles it. Roads from the mountains do extend down to the shore where small communities dot the lake, but it's just as easy to travel by boat. The best experience? Hire a guide to take you on a round-trip hiking excursion to the top of San Pedro Volcano.
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Technically an extension of the sea, the almost-landlocked nature of Loch Duich makes it feel like an inland lake. Duich is perhaps most famed for the 14th-century Eilean Donan Castle, which has been fully restored and opened for tours (it's also a popular wedding destination). As with many of the world’s most beautiful lakes, Duich is surrounded by mountains; here, they are the Five Sisters of Kintail. Scotland’s clan heritage is strong in the quaint, picturesque loch-side villages, perhaps that’s because the area was the setting of a 1719 battle between British forces and the Jacobite rebels who wanted Scotland free from English rule. Visit the historic Kinloch Lodge on the nearby Isle of Skye for luxurious surroundings and Michelin-starred dining.
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Lake Powell: United States (Utah and Arizona)
This reservoir on the Colorado River—the second-largest man-made lake in the U.S.—is a major vacation spot for about 2 million people each year. The sapphire-blue water and red-rock canyons make the lake a photographer’s dream come true. For a unique vantage, rent a houseboat for a couple nights and live on the lake. Rainbow Bridge National Monument—a natural arch which spans a finger of the lake—makes for a popular spot for boat tours.
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Mount Fuji’s reflection in the crystal waters of Lake Kawaguchi is a much sought-after photo, but it's no easy feat to be there when the wind is still and no watercraft are creating a chop to the water. Still, the cherry-blossom-lined shores offer some amazing views of Fuji. It makes for a splendid day trip from Tokyo, about 90 miles away, where you might want to stay at the Park Hyatt, which has Mount Fuji views from its rooftop bar and swimming pool.
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Dead Sea: Jordan, Israel and Palestine
Despite its name, this enormous body of salt water is a lake, not a sea. The Dead Sea has such a high concentration of salt and minerals that people easily float, and the classic tourist photo stunt is to float in the lake while reading a book. The intense blue water that is piled into white-capped waves during windy weather is actually at the lowest point on Earth. You'll find luxury resorts on the northeastern end of the Dead Sea in Jordan, and many of the properties offer spa treatments using salt and minerals from the lake.
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Taal Lake: Luzon Island, Philippines
The third-largest lake in the Philippines is also the most photographed, perhaps because of the crystal-clear water that makes it look like boats are floating above the lake bed. Or it could be heavily photographed because it surrounds the world’s smallest active volcano, the Taal Volcano. Stay at the nearby Nurture Wellness Village, which offers a full-service spa, resort, restaurant and outdoor pool.
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Lake Pichola: Udaipur, India
In 1559, Maharana Udai Singh built his City Palace at Lake Pichola. Artificially created in the 14th century, the lake is best known for its two islands, each with a palace. Catch an afternoon sail across the scenic lake to visit Jag Mandir Palace; royal families once held extravagant parties here, but now guests can enjoy a royal meal in the opulent surroundings. For a memorable stay, book a night at the Taj Lake Palace; this marble, 18th-century pleasure palace is now a hotel that appears to float on the water.
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Lake Victoria: Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya
For its size, the largest lake in Africa (and the world’s second-largest body of fresh water) doesn’t get many visitors, but it is a great place for travelers wanting to see local culture off the beaten path. Fishing boats and transportation ferries are about the only vessels on the water, and most villagers along the shores have little connection to the world beyond the water, making it a perfect place to see largely traditional African cultures. Nature enthusiasts should head to the southwest corner of the lake where Rubondo Island National Park is home to hippos, alligators and more than 400 species of birds.
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Kerid Crater Lake: Iceland
This lake is like no other on the list. The beautiful neon-blue water of this small lake is surrounded by red volcanic rock, as the lake is located in a small, cone-shaped volcanic caldera. Kerid Crater Lake is surrounded by steep cliffs on all sides but one, where a walking trail descends to the fairly shallow lake (only about 45 feet at its deepest). The tiny lake is usually seen on a tour of other crater lakes in the Golden Circle region of southwest Iceland. Many tours and car rentals leave from Reykjavík to the west.
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©Giovanni De Caro/Shutterstock
This tropical reservoir is home to more species of fish than any other body of fresh water in the world. Long stretches of uninhabited lakeshore and crystal-clear water make the lake an appealing destination for adventure travelers seeking a far-flung hideaway along with world-class kayaking, sailing and scuba diving (or cruise tours aboard yachts for the the less adventurous crowd). Lake Malawi National Park, on the southern end of the lake, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a hotspot for viewing tropical fish while diving. Amazing lodges with scenic views of the lake and surrounding landscape can be found along much of the shoreline.
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Crater Lake: United States (Oregon)
The caldera of the volcano Mount Mazama collapsed about 8,000 years ago, creating Oregon’s Crater Lake. Cliffs about 2,000 feet tall line the stunning blue water, which reaches depths of almost 2,000 feet, and the water is exceptionally clear—although you'll want to make sure you plan your trip after the snows have melted (they sometimes get 50 feet of snow annually). Come summertime, boat cruises take visitors for tours of the lake, perhaps to spot the “Old Man of the Lake,” a tree—now a stump—which has been bobbing in the water for more than a hundred years. Nearby Crater Lake Lodge offers a rustic setting with stunning water views.
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A small body of water, Lake Capri is reached by easy hiking trails in the Los Glaciares National Park. Leaving from El Chaltén village, hikers can reach the lake in about two hours. The nearly vertical cliffs of Mount Fitz Roy loom over the lake. A glacier lake, Capri has clear, blue water and is a popular spot for hikers to stop for a meal and a refreshing swim, despite the often-cold temperatures.
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Lake Titicaca: Peru and Bolivia
One of the highest navigable lakes in the world (12,507 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains), Titicaca features a number of islands, many with ancient Inca ruins, and the lake is so large (over 3,200 square miles) and so deep (over 900 feet in some places) that it often feels like you're at the sea. The lake's shores are the longtime home to many highland cultures steeped in old ways, and some of these Andean cultures refer to the lake as the Birthplace of the Sun. Looking for a luxurious stay? Try Titilaka, an all-inclusive eco-resort with amazing lake views.