The planet is home to some of the most amazing natural wonders – shaped by Mother Earth over millions of years. Yet few natural formations are as close to the heart of the planet and undergo such vibrant changes as crater lakes. Being connected with the inner regions of the Earth, these lakes can contract, expand, appear and vanish all in the geological blink of an eye.
While popular belief is that crater lakes are formed after water fills up meteorite impact craters, very few such lakes actually exist. Most of them are formed in volcanic craters – but all offer spectacular sights for sore eyes!
Fascinating, spectacular, stunning and at times deadly, this is a trip into the extraordinary world of crater lakes.
12. Lake Atitlán
Known as one of the most beautiful and picturesque lakes on the planet, Lake Atitlan in Guatemala has a long geological and cultural history. Though its depths have not been completely explored even today, the lake is the deepest in Central America, going down to 340 meters at some points. The enormous caldera that is home to Lake Atitlan was formed 84,000 years ago due to volcanic activity, and the region is still known as a hotbed for volcanoes.
Maya culture is predominant in this region and the lake is one of the main reasons for the vast settlements since the Mayan culture started to take shape here. Mayan sites such as Sambaj and Chiutinamit – and even underwater cities – are being excavated around Lake Atitlan. The beautiful lake has borne witness to volcanic activity, civil war and deadly landslides, yet its scenic panorama attracts tourists from all across the globe.
11. Lake Taupo
With a perimeter of 193 kilometers, a deepest point of 186 meters and a surface area of 616 square kilometers, Lake Taupo is arguably the most famous crater lake on the planet. Drained by the Waikato River, it is the largest freshwater lake in Australasia and attracts over 1.5 million tourists each year with its vast magnificence, breathtaking sights and the sheer joy of basking in its calm tranquility. Lake Taupo is located in the North Island of New Zealand and was formed by a volcanic eruption around 27,000 years ago.
The lake offers a cool and soothing retreat for both locals and tourists in the summer season, with weather that is moderate. Grand and still bubbling with geothermal activity in its depths, the volcano the lake sits on is dormant rather than extinct, meaning that although the next big eruption here could come anytime, it’s not very likely to be soon.
10. Lake Nyos
With the rich mineral content of their water, crater lakes can assume various colorful shades – that tempt you to believe it’s party time. But ask people at Lake Nyos and they will tell you that a crater lake can be a carrier of death and dark poisonous clouds. The beautiful and deadly Lake Nyos is located in Cameroon. It sits majestically on top of an inactive volcano that can nevertheless quite easily leak fumes of death. The lake is one of the few lakes on the planet that is saturated with carbon dioxide, due to its constantly being emitted by the volcanic vents under its lake bed.
It was in 1986 that the lake suddenly spit out 1.6 million tons of CO2 into the air, killing over 1700 people and 3500 livestock in the nearby villages. The crater lake is held in its place by a natural dam of rocks that is also weakening constantly and could one day spell disaster!
9. Ojos del Salado Lake
If you are searching for the world’s highest lake, irrespective of size and magnitude, then look no further than the crater lake on top of Ojos del Salado, which stands 6,390 meters high. This is the world’s highest active volcano we’re talking about – the massive giant on the Argentina-Chile border that houses a lake 100 meters in diameter, with a perceptible depth of nothing beyond 5 to 10 meters. Quite obviously, then, the lake on top of Ojos del Salado is itself no huge water giant, but its magnificent setting and the fact that you can even find a small natural lake at this altitude make it one the kings of the planet.
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8. Nemrut Lake
The sight on top of the dormant volcano of Nemrut in Turkey is both unique and extraordinary. Its large circular crater contains two lakes close to one another, offering a vivid contrast in terms of both appearance and temperature. Nestled at an altitude of 3050 meters, the caldera of the volcano contains a cold water lake that covers an area of 13 square kilometers and is 155 meters deep. Just next to it is a hot water lake with a temperature of around 60°c and a depth of 100 meters. The great physical and geographic contrast both the lakes on top of Nemrut present is a delight both for geologists and visiting tourists. Named after the Turkish king Nimrod, the lake is a photographer’s delight!
7. Manicouagan Lake
Dubbed the ‘Eye of Quebec’, this great Canadian lake is famous for being a freshwater reservoir, and is one of the most visually compelling shots when photographed from a satellite. It is one of the few crater lakes on the planet to have taken shape because of the actual impact of an asteroid 214 million years ago.
The Manicouagan Lake contains within its perimeter an island with Mount Babel at its center, and the mountain is considered to be the central point of the crater the asteroid impact left behind. Covering an area of 1942 square kilometers, this unique lake is the heart of a major hydro-electricity program that powers the city of Quebec.
6. Lake Vico
If there is one crater lake that has a timeless charm, exquisite beauty and is a perfect tourist destination due to its romantic setting, Lake Vico has to be it. Located in Lazio, Central Italy, it is the highest of all the major Italian lakes with an altitude of 510 meters. Surrounded by the scenic Cimini Hills and part of a beautiful natural reserve, Vico is already famous for the unique lush green forest that surrounds it. But more than the geography of the lake, it is the legend behind its existence that captures your imagination. Local tales have it that Hercules defied the locals to pick up his club, and when they failed to do so he picked it up himself. It was from underneath this club that Lake Vico sprung to life. If you are not a geology fan, then the story sits just fine with you!
5. Mount Katmai
There are few sights on the entire planet that are as spectacular as the lake that sits majestically in the caldera of Mount Katmai in Alaska. Yet it is not just the splendor of the sight today that is impressive, but the very way in which the lake came into existence. Yes this remains one of the most awesome recorded geological moments in the planet’s history. It was in June of 1912 that the peak of Mount Katmai imploded to create the large crater that today houses a lake more than 800 feet deep.
Three glaciers that were once sitting on its peak collapsed into the crater to create the vast and grand lake that even now spills water from a few spots on the peak. The story of the lake on top of Mount Katmai is just as overwhelming as the beauty it exudes today!
4. Rano Kau
The name of Rano Kau might not sound all that familiar but the name of Easter Island and its mysterious large stone statues are known across the world. It is on the edge of the crater wall in Rano Kau that one can find this ceremonial land of the ancient tribes that erected the giant statues. Within these ‘walls’ is the crater lake of Rano Kau – famous both as a geological and an archeological sight for obvious reasons.
The crater lake is not filled with large amounts of water as the rough sea winds sap away most of the moisture – but its depth ensures that this is the only place on Rano Kau that supports a mini-ecosystem of its own. A rare lake with a rare and mysterious background makes it a great tourist sight. Isn’t it?
3. Crater Lake
With an average depth of 350 meters and a deepest point of 594 meters beneath the surface, Crater Lake in Oregon, USA is the second deepest lake in North America and the ninth deepest on the planet. Formed after the collapse of Mount Mazama, the mineral-rich deep blue water of the lake along with its extraordinary clarity make it a picture perfect spot.
Crater Lake in Oregon is home to arguably the purest water in all the US and has sacred significance to the Klamath tribe of Native Americans. The natives here believe that the battle between the sky god Skell and Llao, the god of the underworld, led to the collapse of Mount Mazama and the formation of Crater Lake. One great attraction at Crater Lake is an old stump called ‘Old Man of the Lake’, which has been bobbing vertically in the lake for over a century now!
2. Blue Lake
Blue Lake in South Australia is your chameleon of lakes, managing to change its color magically from season to season. If you took a look at the snaps of the Blue Lake in winter, then its grey surface would have you confused about why it was ever named the ‘Blue’ Lake in the first place. With an average depth of 72 to 75 meters and stretching across an area of 1087 meters by 657 meters, the lake took shape after a volcanic explosion near Mount Gambier.
The lake appears in a vivid copper blue in summer months, while in winter it turns into dull grey with astonishing ease. The reason for the change has not yet been determined with certainty, but the visual spectacle the lake can offer is rare indeed.
1. Lake Toba
Located in the heart of the Indonesian island of Sumatra and stretching across a vast 1,130 square kilometers, Lake Toba is the largest crater lake on the planet by a long way. However, being the largest volcanic lake in the world means that its history is similarly great in magnitude – and it has also had a disastrous impact on the planet.
The Toba Eruption occurred around 75,000 years ago and was potent enough to black out the sun for an entire year all over the planet! Since Lake Toba lies near a fault line, it is a place of constant volcanic activity and major earthquakes.
Crater lakes have a violent past, vibrant present and the potential to lead to a catastrophic future. Yet we are fascinated by their origin, beauty, unique existence and the multitude of rare delights they have on offer. A look at the best on the planet surely tells us why we are lured by their magic!