China’s Li River snakes through a fairy-tale landscape of conical limestone peaks, its smooth waters exquisitely mirroring the magical scenery.
When the calm flowing water of the Zambezi River encounters the 5,578-foot-wide (1,700-meter-wide) edge of the Victoria Falls gorge, it abruptly plunges 328 feet (100 meters) to the bottom.
The impact generates soaring mists and thunderous sounds that can be seen and heard for great distances.
During the rainy season—mid-November through late April—the falls virtually disappear behind a thick wall of mist; at other times, the water volume noticeably eases.
Best enjoyed outside the heat of summer, the Venetian canals and their gondolas provide one of the world’s most romantic experiences: gliding slowly down narrow palazzo-lined canals on a moonlit night. Venice is a city built on water. The canals—some 150 of them—link nearly 700 tiny islands to make what seems a floating city. Everyone must travel by foot or boat, visitors and locals alike. The nearly two-mile-long (three-kilometer-long) Grand Canal, the main water thoroughfare, is lined by luxurious, centuries-old palazzos with ornate Renaissance-style facades and is spanned by the elaborately designed Rialto Bridge. When the distance is far, the swift vaporettos (water taxis or buses) are handy.
The Great Barrier Reef stretches 1,200 miles (2,000 kilometers) through the Coral Sea along Australia’s northeastern coast. The reef, which in actuality is a collection of thousands of distinct coral reefs, has been designated a World Heritage site for its sheer beauty and uniquely complex and delicate ecosystem. More than 10,000 species, including 1,500 types of fish and 200 kinds of birds, live on the reef’s cays, atolls, and islands. The beauty of the fish and coral waterscapes annually draws hundreds of thousands of visitors who come to see the spectacle by diving, snorkeling, and glass-bottom boating. Conservationists fear that the large influx of visitors and their collateral effect on pollution are damaging the very natural wonder that people come to celebrate.
The 51-mile (83-kilometer) stretch of the Li River between Guilin and Yangshuo cities in China has inspired writers and artists for thousands of years. Here the Li River snakes through a fairy-tale landscape of conical limestone peaks, its smooth waters exquisitely mirroring the magical scenery. The vistas are particularly enchanting when flowing mists weave themselves around the peaks, hiding them and then exposing them in moments of surprise. The mountains are vestiges of ancient eroded seabeds that support graceful bamboo groves and terraced rice paddies. Each bend of the river reveals something new and interesting to see, from lumbering water buffalo pulling carts or cooling off in the river to fishermen gliding on narrow bamboo rafts.
An idea born of the British Empire’s colonial interests, the 100-mile-long (160-kilometer-long) Suez Canal connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Red Sea. Thousands of men labored ten years (1859-69) to build this shortcut from the Mediterranean to the vast waters of Asia, and vice versa. Without it, a cargo ship sailing from Italy to Singapore had to go around the southern tip of Africa, doubling the time and distance. Today, an endless parade of supertankers, along this blue ribbon that cuts through barren desert. If you stand back far enough from the canal banks, it appears as though the giant ships are gliding through dry desert sands in the middle of nowhere.
Thousands and thousands of years ago, glaciers carved the peaks and valley of the Alps. Those same glaciers formed the pre-Alpine lakes of the Lombard region some 30 miles (48 kilometers) north of Milan. Scenic Lake Como, with its deep blue waters, has long been known as “the looking glass of Venus.” Vistas of the lake reveal a serene scene surrounded by palatial villas, tree-clad mountains, and quaint villages. A major lake of the country, Lake Como covers 56 square miles (146 square kilometers) and reaches a depth of 1,358 feet (414 meters) between Careno and Argegno.
Home to 20 percent of the world’s total unfrozen freshwater reserves, Lake Baikal in southeast Siberia is the largest and oldest (25 million years old) lake in the world. At 5,578 feet (1,700 meters) it is also the deepest. Its age and isolation have produced one of the world’s richest and most unusual environments for freshwater fauna, earning it the nickname “Galápagos of Russia.” Scientists study Lake Baikal to better understand evolutionary science. Surrounded by forested shores and the jagged and snow-clad peaks of the Barguzin Mountains, Lake Baikal presents a picture of supreme beauty. In the winter, it freezes over with ice so thick that the Trans-Siberian Railway briefly runs trains over its surface. In the summer, its ice-cold, crystalline blue waters are transparent to a depth of 40 meters (131 feet), and colorful wildflowers bloom along its shores.
The storied past of the longest river in the world entices many people to cruise its length as it winds through Egypt. “Floating hotels,” some reminiscent of dhows, glide smoothly past timeless Egyptian life-scenes unfolding along the date-palm-dotted riverbanks.
The Polynesian island of Bora-Bora in the South Pacific is widely suggested as the world’s most beautiful island. A tropical blue lagoon ringed by coral reefs encircles the island, which is crowned by a rugged 2,385-feet-high (727-meter-high) volcano core draped with tropical foliage. Snorkelers and skin divers love Bora-Bora for its warm waters and plentiful sea fauna. Sunbathers delight in the white-sand beaches.
The Dead Sea, shared by Israel and Jordan, is the lowest spot on Earth. Its shoreline is about 1,300 feet (400 meters) below sea level. As the world’s saltiest large body of water, averaging a salt content six times higher than that of the ocean, it supports no life. With no outlet, the water that flows into the Dead Sea evaporates in the hot, arid air, leaving the minerals. The Jordan River is the chief source of the incoming water, but since the 1960s much of its water has been diverted for irrigation. Its length has already shrunk by more than a third, and, while the sea will never entirely disappear, because evaporation slows down as surface area decreases and saltiness increases, the Dead Sea as we know it could become a thing of the past.