The 26 atolls that make up the Maldives sit in the Indian Ocean about 400km southwest of the tip of the subcontinent. Abundant reef wildlife (including whale sharks) + incredibly clear waters bring in a lot of tourists. It's also one of Matador's 9 places to experience now before they literally vanish.
Visibility in Crater Lake has been measured at 43.3m -- among the highest in the world. Photographer Rhett Lawrence adds this note about swimming here: "[It's] allowed, but there's only one access point down to the lake -- a steep, mile-long trail (it's easy enough on the way down, but my then-4-year-old daughter did not appreciate the climb back up). Since that's the only access point, you've got to really want to jump in the lake to do it -- especially since it's so damn cold -- but it is permitted by the Park Service."
A shot from the northern tip of Sabah, Malaysia, near Kudat Town. From the photographer: "It takes 3 to 31/2hours drive from Kota Kinabalu city. I wanted to shoot a longer exposure but I had a difficulty judging the light or maybe bcos I was lazy :D kidding. I had to go further the beach, thigh deep and very clear water. Stacked 2 Cokin GND filter P121s, manual exposure 0.25sec, F13."
In the north of Sichuan province, the Jiuzhaigou Valley is a national park, nature reserve, and UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition to several crystal-clear lakes, it's a region of multi-tiered waterfalls and snowy mountains. Tourism arrived late but is growing strong, and while swimming isn't allowed...there's always nighttime skinny dipping.
Another one from the remote Malaysian state, which covers the northern portion of Borneo and is ringed by reef-rich islands. This photo was taken near Semporna, which is a hub for people who come to dive Malaysian Borneo.
Jenny Lake sits right below the peak of Grand Teton and is a landmark for many hiking trails, backcountry trails, and climbing routes. Despite the fact that motorboats are allowed on the lake, its waters are still considered "pristine."
Calanques are steep-walled coves, and there's a series of them along the 20km stretch of coast between Marseille and Cassis. Sormiou is one of the largest of these, and it's popular for its nearby climbing routes as well as its beach.
Panari, also called Aragusuku, is one of the Yaeyama Islands, the most remote area of Japan. The photographer notes: "The islands are also known as one of the world's best diving destinations, having a number of coral species and marine lives as large as those in the Great Barrier Reef. (Over 400 types of corals, 5 types of sea turtles, manta rays, whale sharks and all kinds of tropical fish species all live around Okinawa.)"
The most populous town in the Galapagos still sits right up next to some amazingly clear ocean water. Even here in Academy Bay, you can see pelicans, iguanas, sea lions, herons, rays, and other iconic wildlife.
The photo above was taken in the Bonsai Rock area, on the east shore of the lake, which apparently flies under the radar. Says the photographer: "30 years in Tahoe, and until this winter I'd never heard of it."
Put in to the Confluence section of the Rio Azul near El Bolsón, Patagonia, Argentina. Matador Senior Editor David Miller notes, "This was the first river I've ever paddled, played, and swam in where the water was clean enough to drink. The entire Rio Azul watershed is born in the glaciers and snowfields of the Andes and the water is incredibly clear and pure."
Photo: David Miller
Corfu sits in the Ionian Sea, off the northwest coast of Greece. Prior to the 1900s, most of the tourists that visited were European royalty. Today, its clear waters draw a lot of package-tour-style action.
Matador Co-Founder Ross Borden visited the Cook Islands for a week last year and came back with images and video of epicly clear water.
Photo: Ross Borden
Koh Phi Phi Don, Thailand
Made famous when its smaller neighbor, Koh Phi Phi Leh, was used as the filming location for The Beach, the main island sees a lot of traffic from both backpackers and luxury travelers these days. Water like this is a big part of the draw.
This is a 45-minute boat ride from Cartagena and well worth the trip. In between swims in that crystal-clear blue water, be sure to snag some fresh ceviche from one of the vendors walking up and down the beach.
Photo: Ross Borden
Blue Lake, New Zealand
One of many bodies of water in this list that someone or other has claimed has the clearest water in the world, Blue Lake is located in Nelson Lakes National Park, in the Southern Alps of New Zealand.
This one's made the rounds on the internet, but no one really seems to know where it was taken, or by whom. The best guess I found was the Königssee, a lake in southern Bavaria, near the border with Austria. If you have any info, clue us in.
Königssee, Germany? Photo: ??
Valle Verzasca, Switzerland
The clear waters of the Verzasca River run for 30km through this rocky valley in southern Switzerland. A dam of the same name, featured in the James Bond movie GoldenEye, blocks the river's flow and forms Lago di Vogorno. Just downstream from it, the river empties into Lake Maggiore.
This photo comes from the town of Kampung Genting on Tioman Island, off the east coast of peninsular Malaysia. Away from its beaches, there's significant rainforest terrain in the interior, where you can see the endemic soft-shelled turtle and the Tioman walking catfish.
Ross Borden explains: "I started in Moronvada, on the west coast of Madagascar and hired a boat and driver to take me down the coast to Belo Sur Mer, a super-isolated section of coastline known for diving, fishing and the fact that almost no one makes the trip down there. Belo Sur Mer is amazing on its own, but when the owner of the eco-lodge there told me about a string of uninhabited islands 80km off the coast, we jumped back in the boat and pointed it west, towards Mozambique and mainland Africa. What we found was four uninhabited gorgeous islands and one that had a tribe of "sea gypsies" living on it. These fascinating and hospitable people live off the rich fishing stocks of the Mozambique channel. We camped and lived with them for two days and they even took me along on an all-night fishing expedition in one of their sailboats in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It was one of the most amazing travel experiences of my life. During the day I would go snorkeling. Shoving off these tiny islands the water gets several hundreds of feet deep very quickly; I was out there with massive schools of deep ocean fish."
Photo: Ross Borden
Lake Marjorie, California
From the photographer: "Lakes in the High Sierra come in a number of colors. Lake Marjorie, at 11,132' has an aquamarine "swimming pool" tint. Crater Mountain dominates the skyline, with Pinchot Pass to the south. I was happy to see clouds at dawn, but by noon a fast moving storm was spitting hail, thunder, and lightning as we cleared Mather Pass. Damn, this spot is gorgeous."
Along the southern coast of the peninsula of the same name, Bodrum has an ancient history and was the site of one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World (the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus). It also has some amazingly clear water. From the photographer: "[It's] so clear at certain places that boats appear to be floating in mid-air! It reminded me of Luke's Landspeeder from Star Wars."