One of the things we enjoy most while travelling is visiting gorgeous lakes around the world. Usually our main goal, while hiking especially, is to track down amazing scenery and landscapes. And there is no question that many of the most incredible and memorable places we’ve seen over the years have been beautiful lakes.
Big lakes, small lakes, deep lakes, calm lakes, popular lakes, remote lakes, tropical lakes and really, really cold lakes. Lakes with islands in the middle, surrounded by volcanoes or with weird animals swimming in them. The range is pretty wide, is what I’m saying. So deciding which ones are actually “the best” is pretty subjective and probably above my paygrade. Plus, as much as we’ve travelled this past 15 years or so, I have to admit, we haven’t actually seen every beautiful lake in the world. Yet.
Not for lack of trying, though. And when we really start thinking back, the list gets pretty long. So, keeping in mind there are still plenty of famous lakes still on our list of future stops, and that sometimes our feelings about a certain beautiful lake can be easily affected by our personal experience there, not to mention random stuff like weather, activities or even the most unpredictable travel wildcard of all – other people.
But I’ve always happily pretended I know what the hell I’m talking about, and I see no reason to stop doing that now. We do need content for this blog and all. But even I’m not arrogant enough to actually number them. Instead we’ve grouped them by region and picked our specific favourites from each area, including many more “honourable mention” beautiful lakes and even a few that are worth seeing for a variety of other reasons (besides simply aesthetics).
The Most Beautiful Lakes in Latin America
Not just one of the most beautiful lakes in the world but also one of our favourite places in the world, period, stunning Lake Atitlan draws us back to its unparalleled scenery for at least a couple months every winter. Which is why it seemed like the obvious place to start.
Deep and immensely scenic, this ancient crater lake is surrounded by photogenic hills and, most importantly, several spectacular volcanoes. From the massive windows of the north shore apartment we rent we are treated to constant views of the entire lake and all three volcanoes. I have to admit, it can be hard to get any work done.
Throw in a strong Mayan culture, a dozen fascinating villages, great hiking and a perfect climate, and you start to understand why Lake Atitlan continues to be our main home away from home destination.
This tiny lake is nice enough in its own right but the real draw is the view of the famous Torres del Paine. These three iconic granite towers are found in deep southern Patagonia in Chile and can be reached either as a long day hike or part of the popular 5-day “W Trek”.
Also in the Torres del Paine area, you can enjoy Lake Pehoe and Sarmiento Lake, just to name a couple.
This cold, grey lake in southern Patagonia features the unbelievable Perito Moreno Glacier. While the viewpoints are pretty amazing, it is also worth taking one of the boat trips for a closer look at this insane wall of ice. And while you’re in Patagonia, don’t miss Laguna del los Tres near Mount Fitzroy and El Chalten.
Lake Nahuel Huapi
This one makes the list as much for the cute city of Bariloche and the excellent surrounding hikes as for the lake itself. Bariloche is a great little place reminiscent of a Swiss ski village and the hut-to-hut hiking in the nearby mountains is top-notch.
Another worthy option “in the area” is Lake Llanquihue in Chile, just across the border.
Colours just hit harder at 4,300 metres above sea level. Which is where you’ll find exceptional Laguna Colorada, a beautiful lake most people see as part of a multi-day jeep excursion out of Uyuni.
Sure, the famous Uyuni Salt Flats are pretty fantastic at the start and the badlands of Tupiza are a wonderful place to finish but it was the clear skies, calm lakes and colourful flamingoes at the highest altitudes that really stuck with us. Not to mention sleeping with less than 60% of the oxygen we’ve grown accustomed to near sea level.
Peru / Bolivia
Now there’s a name for you. Almost everyone has at least heard of iconic Lake Titicaca. Far fewer have actually been there. But don’t miss it if you get the chance. Featuring the typically bright blue, high-altitude Andean skies that jump right out at you, plus a floating village or two, this highest navigable lake in the world straddles the border between Peru and Bolivia.
Some of the best viewpoints can be found on magnificent Isla del Sol, a tiny island with basic accommodation that can be hiked from end to end in just a few hours.
Honourable Mention Latin America Lakes
Quilotoa Lake (Ecuador)
Lake Nicaragua (Nicaragua, obviously)
The Most Beautiful Lakes in Europe
Once again, it’s important to remember that we haven’t seen every lake in Europe. However, we’ve now seen quite a few, and here are the standouts.
Not far from the lovely ski resort of Chamonix, the night we spent at outstanding Lac Blanc was the highlight of our spectacular Tour du Mont Blanc hike. And trust me when I tell you that is a pretty high honour. A perfectly calm night, insanely orange sunset and some visiting ibex certainly didn’t hurt, either.
Just as an added bonus, Lac Blanc also features on the Walker’s Haute Route from Chamonix to Zermatt – less famous than the TMB but possibly even more scenic (and definitely more difficult).
Found in the same corner of France as Chamonix and Lac Blanc, Lake Annecy is much easier to reach and the town of Annecy itself has often been called the Venice of France. Of course, if we had a nickel for every town called “the Venice of” something, we’d probably have at least a dollar or two.
Nonetheless, the flower-lined canals are extremely picturesque, there is terrific hiking in the mountains behind the lake and every summer Annecy hosts a weird winter biathlon. No, I don’t get it either, but people really seemed to like it.
Lac des Dix
We already mentioned the Walker’s Haute Route when talking about lovely Lac Blanc but, luckily, that is not the only impressive lake on a route we have personally deemed “the most scenic long-distance hike in Europe”. While there are actually several small, amazing lakes on the WHR, as it’s known, the one we liked best was the much larger, much more artificial Lac des Dix.
Sure, it only exists because of the huge, famous and at-one-time controversial Grand Dixence Dam. But the politics of its creation don’t really concern us, personally, and the lake itself is objectively gorgeous. Bright blue, surrounded by hills with a nice smooth, flat path running the length of it (one of the only truly flat stretches of the entire trek).
Other top WHR lakes:
Lac de Moiry
Lago di Braies
The most common starting point for the epic Alta Via 1 long-distance hike through the Dolomites, majestic Lago di Braies (also called Pragser Wildsee in German) certainly helps you kick things off with a bang. Yeah, it’s really popular and probably crowded with day trippers and rowboats, not to mention the oddly incongruous cows that hang out near the southern beach, but my oh my, the views.
And even if you’re not tackling the entire Alta Via 1, there are some shorter day hikes leading up into the mountains around the lake that provide even better viewpoints than you get from the shoreline.
I know I said I wasn’t going to specifically rank the most beautiful lakes in the world but, all things considered, Lake Bled would be a strong contender for number 1. Calm, clear water – check. Surrounding mountain scenery – check. Castle looming over the lake – check. Tiny island with a cool church that you can get to via rented rowboat – obviously. Extraordinary from every angle.
And while you’re there, don’t pass up the short trip over to neighbouring Lake Bohinj, another exceptional lake that some people prefer because it is quieter than Lake Bled. No island or church, though, “just” terrific scenery.
Most of Croatia’s big highlights are along the coast but the magnificent Plitvice Lakes are a geological marvel – a series of small lakes, diverse waterfalls and outstanding viewpoints.
Just Missed the Cut:
Lake Ohrid (Albania/North Macedonia) – a fascinating place but the most scenic parts are the towns around the lake, not the lake itself, really. Semantics and all. Still worth a visit, though.
Jokulsarlon / Fjallsarlon
Iceland is, hands-down, one of the most phenomenally scenic places we’ve ever been. Volcanoes, green hills, expansive rocky beaches, massive waterfalls, the list goes on. Iceland does not, however, have many great lakes. Which is one of the reasons the twin glacier lakes of Jokulsarlon and Fjallsarlon were both stunning and surprising.
Filled with floating icebergs and scattered ice chunks backed by glaciers and mountains on one side and Diamond Beach and the ocean on the other, these are truly can’t-miss Iceland attractions. Don’t worry about the multiple food trucks or ubiquitous tour vans, they needn’t concern you or the amazing photos you’re about to take.
Also, don’t miss out on nearby Mulagljufur Canyon, a gorgeous spot and the perfect place to stretch your legs for some big views.
And, while you’re in Iceland, another lake that is not quite as large or awe-inspiring but still very unique and extremely photogenic is Kerid Crater, a tiny round pool at the bottom of a perfectly round volcanic crater. In fact, you can walk all the way around the rim in about 15 minutes. Still looks cool, though.
Most Beautiful Lakes in East Africa
Malawi / Tanzania / Mozambique
Gigantic, culturally essential and impossibly diverse, this massive body of water that divides Malawi, Tanzania and Mozambique (each which calls it by a different name) offers weeks of exploration possibilities.
Whether you are into the colonial history of Livingstonia, the backpacker beach vibe of Nkhata Bay, the unique scuba diving opportunities of Monkey Bay or the remote island feel of Likoma Island, there is something for everyone. Unless you find East Africa hot and difficult, of course, then maybe not. But we think it’s still worth a try.
Other Outstanding Lakes in East Africa:
Lake Bunyonyi (Uganda)
Lake Kivu (Rwanda)
The Most Beautiful Lakes in Asia
Basically, Nepal has some of the most beautiful, well, everything, so it’s not surprising to find some of its lakes right at the top of our list. At right around 5,000 metres above sea level, the 6 Gokyo Lakes are the highest freshwater lakes in the world. Located in the Everest Region, they are surrounded (and I mean SURROUNDED) by stunning mountain peaks. Beyond that, I think the photos speak for themselves, as we consider Gokyo Ri (Gokyo Peak) to be the single most impressive viewpoint we have ever seen. Strong words, but necessary.
In a completely different part of Nepal, next to the city of Pokhara, Phewa Tal is worthy of honourable mention status as well. More snow-capped mountains, plus colourful local boats and such. Pretty.
This sublime lake in Rajasthan features the beautiful, historic city of Udaipur on its banks, picturesque mountains in the distance and, oh yeah, did I mention there is an island with a palace? No? Well, there is, and trust me, it’s pretty cool.
Another big lake with all sorts of things to see and do, Inle Lake is the perfect place to go for scenery, Burmese culture, local fishermen and floating villages. And if you visit on a nice calm day (or, better yet, stay for several), you can look forward to a reflective shot just like this one.
Honourable Mention Beautiful Lakes in Asia:
Hoan Kiem (Vietnam)
Tonle Sap (Cambodia)
Lake Toba (Indonesia)
The Most Beautiful Lakes in New Zealand
There are quite a few terrific lakes scattered throughout the country, especially on the colder, wetter South Island, including several around Mount Cook, one of the most beautiful mountains in New Zealand. But Lake Wanaka stood out for us with its hilly scenery, maze of islands, great hikes and weird old trees. The town of Wanaka is also more laid-back and manageable than nearby Queenstown, the “Adventure Capital of New Zealand”. Let’s call Wanaka, “Not Exactly Adventure but Still Pretty Fun Capital of New Zealand”. Or maybe just Wanaka – the Kiwis seem to prefer that.
Other Excellent New Zealand Lakes:
Lake Wakatipu (Queenstown)
Emerald Lakes (Tongariro Alpine Crossing)
The Most Beautiful Lakes in Western Canada
Where better to finish up than close to home, with Western Canada boasting the largest number of beautiful lakes per capita than anywhere else in the world. How’s that for going very specific, arbitrary and impossible to statistically disprove – all in one sentence? Thank you, I’m here to please.
Yes, clearly there is some recency bias here since extraordinary Floe Lake in Kootenay National Park just happened to be the focus of our latest trip. But that doesn’t make it any less spectacular.
As the headline attraction on the famous Rockwall Trek, Floe Lake is a deep, cold alpine lake backed by a 1,000-metre-high mountaindeep in the Rocky Mountains, it requires a strenuous hike to reach it and is at its best in the evening or first thing in the morning, meaning it is best to spend at least one night backcountry camping, but, wow, phenomenal. Definitely one of the most beautiful lakes in the world.
Another BC gem that is tricky to reach and even trickier to reserve a campsite at, Lake O’Hara might be even more impressive than Floe Lake because it features a collection of several different lakes, all connected by some of the most scenic hiking trails in Canada.
Unfortunately, there was a fair bit of wildfire smoke when we visited so the photos don’t quite do it justice. We were snowed out one other time and so far have been unable to secure another Lake O’Hara campsite or day-use bus ticket but, make no mistake, we’re not about to give up. In a perfect world, we’d spend a couple nights camping at Lake O’Hara every summer.
Probably the most photographed lake in the country, you’d certainly find people that would argue that luminescent blue Moraine Lake is the most beautiful lake in Canada. Located very close to Lake Louise, private vehicles are no longer allowed so you have to reserve a spot on one of the frequent shuttles. There are also some fantastic hikes in the area.
St. Mary Lake
Ok, obviously this isn’t really in Western Canada but, in the scheme of North America, it’s pretty close. Either way, this fabulous lake in Glacier National Park is very cool from any angle but is specifically memorable from Wild Goose Island Lookout.
More Top Alberta Lakes
There are many more beautiful lakes in the Alberta Rockies and, yes, I understand this is very heavily weighted to a certain area but despite all our travels, we have yet to find such an impressive collection of beautiful lakes anywhere in the world.
Peyto Lake (Icefields Parkway)
Lake Agnes (near Lake Louise)
Rock Isle Lake (Sunshine Meadows near Banff)
Chester Lake (Kananaskis – best during fall larch season)
Rawson Lake (Kananaskis – best when it’s not closed due to grizzly bear activitiy)
Maligne Lake (Jasper National Park)
Honourable Mention North America Lake:
Waskesiu Lake (Saskatchewan) – full disclosure, we’ve spent our summers here for, well, ever, so there is a certain element of bias. But, trust me, it still deserves to be in the discussion.
Map of the Most Beautiful Lakes in the World
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Most Beautiful Lakes in the World: Summary
Wow, writing that brought back a lot of memories. Now I’ve got a sudden urge to revisit every one of these fabulous places. Not exactly a practical plan but it certainly fits with our general theme of constantly adding destinations to our travel bucket list, never subtracting.
Regardless, if you are a lover of lovely bodies of water, we can strongly recommend including any of these beautiful lakes in your next travel itinerary.