Some of the most beautiful places in the world are those that surround freshwater lakes. Birds and animals gather around the waters, and humans feel a sense of peace and tranquillity when close to the water.
Across the continents, huge bodies of fresh water attract visitors to their shores. Each is quite different from the next. From the icy banks of Lake Baikal in Siberia to Lake Victoria on the equator, Lake Titicaca high up in the Andes and two of North America’s Great Lakes, Lake Michigan and Lake Superior, each has a very different story to tell and each a different set of attractions
Located in a tectonic rift, Lake Baikal in Eastern Siberia is the oldest and deepest lake in the world. It contains twenty percent of earth’s freshwater. The area in which it is located is geothermically active and hot water springs lie scattered along the perimeter of the lake.
Winter or summer, the landscape in the area is breathtakingly beautiful. The surrounding terrain is mountainous and the peaks form the perfect backdrop to the deep blue lake, which drains more than three hundred rivers and streams. Lake Baikal grows by two centimetres a year and is eventually expected to become an ocean.
During the winter months, the lake freezes over. Winter activities are many and varied and include dogsledding, ice skating, and ice fishing. There is also a hovercraft that will take you around the icy landscape in the depths of winter.
In the summer months you can take to the hiking trails, kayak or swim, but bear in mind that the water is seldom warmer than twelve degrees centigrade.
The area has an ecosystem that differs from most others. There are more than two thousand six hundred species of flora and fauna around the lake, more than seventy percent of which are endemic. The lake is home to the only freshwater seal on earth. The surrounding cedar and birch forests contain bears lynxes, elks, boars, foxes and wolves.
The island was first mentioned in Chinese literature in 110 BC. For thousands of years, the lake has been sacred to the Asian people and there are many fascinating carvings, temple ruins and other religious relics around the lake.
The lake, one of the clearest freshwater reservoirs on earth, contains twenty-six islands. The largest is Olkhon island and between the beginning of May and the end of December, you can take a ferry or a speedboat to the island. Before crossing, stop at the local Yurt close to the harbour and enjoy a cup of hot peppered tea.
The island is covered with grass and herbs on one side and on the other by small pine trees. People travel around the island by bike, motorcycle or off-road motor vehicles all of which can be rented. Hiking is, of course, also a great way to see the island.
A few thousand people live in the town of Khuzhir in the centre of the island. Whilst on the island, you can camp in the wilds or find yourself a comfortable hotel, but one of the nicest ways to get to know the people and their culture is to stay in someone’s home. The local people believe that the nearby Shaman Cave possesses supernatural powers. The island also has many other shaman spots complete with tall colourful totems.
Cruise ships travel the lake in the summer months so you can see the lake in style. There are parts of the island that are uninhabited, totally unspoilt and otherwise unapproachable. These parts of the island are often accessible by boat.
The lake is surrounded by nature reserves and is the ideal place for those who want to enjoy wild and unspoilt nature and the silence of a countryside uncontaminated by city noise.
The best way to get to Lake Baikal is to take the Trans Siberian train. It’s a long journey but well worth it. Jump off in Irkutsk and take a bus or hire a car and driver to take you there.
Africa’s Lake Victoria is the world’s largest tropical lake and the source of the Nile. It is on the equator and its shores are shared by Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. It boasts one of the richest freshwater ecosystems in the world. The shores are lined by banana trees and dotted with colourful fishing villages. There is an abundance of fish and birds that call this home. Birds around the lake include pelicans, fish eagles and kingfishers.
Eighty percent of the fish in the lake are giant Nile perch that reach the size of a man. Dhows have been used on the lake for hundreds of years and are available to those who would like to catch a fish. Measured by surface area, in size, Lake Victoria is second only to Lake Superior. There are many resorts and hotels on the banks of the lake. Take this opportunity to visit one of the local game reserves in your host country before sipping cocktails around the lake or taking a sunset cruise.
Lake Victoria has nearly five thousand kilometres of shoreline. Go out on a traditional fishing boat and see the lake from the perspective of the locals. Escape the heat. Visit one of the many islands where you can stay in simple stone or wooden cottages that dot the coastline of many of them. The cool breeze off the lake reduces the air temperature, making it a lot more comfortable than the mainland. The islands have lovely beaches trimmed with banana groves.
From the Ugandan side of the lake, you can visit Chimpanzee Island. The one-hundred-acre island is home to forty-nine chimpanzees.
Lake Victoria is an excellent destination for those who love African landscapes and the wildlife that walks it.
Almost twelve million people live in towns and cities on the banks of Lake Michigan. The lake has its own beaches and is often referred to as the third coast of the United States. It connects with Lake Huron and the two constitute a single large lake. It was formed about fifteen thousand years ago by glacial activity.
The lake has fast currents and sometimes large waves. Ships that failed to outrun the frightening storms that lash the surface of the lake lie wrecked across its floor.
A circle tour of the lake will allow you to enjoy the splendour of this natural wonder from several angles. The circle tour is popular and the roads are well-marked. You’ll travel almost one thousand eight hundred kilometres to circle the lake. The drive will take you through industrial lands but also through lakeside villages with cobblestone roads and dunes that once lay below the water when the lake was larger. These are the largest freshwater dunes on earth.
Chicago is one of the most prominent cities on the lake. It is the birthplace of the skyscraper, but even from the observation deck of one of these skyscrapers, you would not see Michigan on the opposite bank. One hundred and twenty kilometres of water separates the two cities.
The lake is like any coastline complete with lighthouses, harbours and jetties. Along the banks, you’ll find isolated beaches for dune climbing or hiking. Play volleyball on sandy, white beaches or make a barbeque in a pit along the way. Beach towns along the lake differ greatly in format from touristy resorts to quiet towns. Of one thing you can be certain, anywhere along the lake you will find loads of good food and drink.
There are vineyards and fruit orchards on the south banks of the lake. In the north, cherry plantations make a pretty show in summer. Traverse, on the banks of Lake Michigan, is the cherry capital of the United States.
Mackinac Island located in the strait between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan is not to be missed. The island was considered sacred by the indigenous people, the Ojibwa. Take a ferry across to this unique place where no cars may be driven. To get around you’ll have to cycle, ride a horse or catch a buggy. Mackinac City is full of shops, restaurants and fudge bars.
Whether you’re happiest sipping coffee in a lakeside city, hiking on isolated sand beaches or playing water sports you’re bound to find a happy space along the banks of Mount Michigan.
Lake Superior, earth’s largest lake, is a perfect destination for lovers of the outdoors. The lake’s shores are shared by both the United States and Canada. The shoreline is two thousand nine hundred kilometres long. To comfortably circumvent it you’ll need ten days. The tour should be planned for the summer or early autumn months and bookings must be made in advance or you may find yourself without accommodation.
Your travels will take you through Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Ontario. You’ll find a multitude of magnificent waterfalls, cliffs, sand and pebble beaches, forests and quaint lighthouses in the surrounding terrain.
Despite the many lighthouses around Lake Superior the floor of the lake is littered shipwrecks, close to six hundred of them. Because the water is so cold most of the wrecks are still in a very good condition. Many of them are visible, and some have washed ashore onto the beaches. Glass bottom shipwreck tours take people out onto the lake to view the wrecks. Shipwreck museums on the bank tell the sad tales of the demise of the vessels.
The national parks along large portions of the lake have hiking trails that meander through the pristine forests. Over eighty species of fish swim the lake and in the skies the bird life from hawks to woodpeckers is endless. There are plenty of camping grounds around Lake Superior so it is an excellent place to enjoy the fresh air and the sounds and smells of nature.
The forests vary from hardwood to taiga forests. The Pictured Rocks Lakeshore, an ancient hardwood forest that runs along more than forty miles of the lakeshore contains more than one hundred and sixty kilometres of hiking trails.
The Apostle Islands National Lakeshore, approachable from both Wisconsin and Ontario comprises twenty-one sandstone islands and boasts several quaint and interesting lighthouses.
Take a cruise and enjoy the beauty of the surrounding area from a boat. From this vantage point, you have the best view of the golden cliff faces that tumble into the navy-blue waters of the lake.
Pay your respects to the biggest lake on earth you won’t regret it.
High up in the Andes Mountains at 3856 metres above sea level, Lake Titicaca is the highest navigable lake in the world. It is also the largest lake in South America, with shorelines in both Peru and Bolivia. Once part of an ancient inland sea, the early indigenous people believed that it was here that the sun was born. According to local legend, it is also the birthplace of the Inca people.
Some of the highest peaks in the Andes surround the lake, forming a beautiful backdrop to the tranquil waters. There are more than thirty islands in the lake, several of which are considered sacred. Many of the islands contain relics and ruins of the ancient Inca and Aymara people.
A trip to Lake Titicaca usually kicks off in Puno. The centre of Peru’s folklore where the local people can dance more than three hundred ethnic dances. Buses head for the lake on a regular basis and there is also a train that runs up that way. There are boats that take tourists to the islands on a regular basis. There is also a floating bed and breakfast tethered to the banks, where you can spend the night in a Victorian boat built in 1862.
The Islas de Los Uros or floating islands are accessible from the Peru side of the lake. Manmade from woven reed mats, the Uros tribe built these islands to escape the Incas. The people maintain the stability of the islands by adding new reed mats to the old throughout the year. The crafts and the customs of the Uros are quite different to other Peruvians. They eat birds, fish and plants that grow around the lake and their homes, churches, schools and boats are made of reeds.
On the Isla Taquile, skilled weavers and knitters make colourful garments. There is no hotel accommodation on the island so you’ll have to homestay if you plan to stay overnight. This is the best way to get to know the local people and their culture.
On the island of Amantaní, occupied by Quechua, the women wear beautifully decorated blouses embroidered by men and given to them as gifts on their wedding day. They eat simple vegetarian food, living the simple agrarian lives that they have enjoyed for centuries. The island has two peaks which offer panoramic views of the lake.
Lake Titicaca is the perfect destination for nature lovers who also take an interest in indigenous people and local cultures.
Water slows the pace of life
It seems that life slows down around water. Large bodies of water calm the spirit, reducing the tension of daily life. These are just five of the many beautiful bodies of water around the globe. Each has its own tale, each its own charms. There are many more beautiful lakes surrounded by nature’s beauty with trails that countless hikers have followed and landscapes yet to be discovered.