The most beautiful places to swim in the world

When the weather is playing ball, there’s nothing more relaxing or refreshing than an outdoor swim. And with 71% of Earth being made up of water, there’s no shortage of spots that make ‘wild swimming’ just as heart-pumping as reinvigorating. If you don’t want to drench yourself in chlorine, you can ditch the pools in favour of wild swimming spots that include mysterious caves, scenic rivers, vast lakes, and even sinkholes, not to mention some of the world’s most beautiful beaches.  From isolated sandy stretches lapped by warm ocean waters to Central American cenotes that are shrouded in history, our planet boasts plenty of unique swimming spots that promise to leave a lasting impression. Read our pick of the world’s most beautiful places to swim, pack your swimwear and a towel, and get ready to enjoy a dip like no other on your next summer getaway.

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Fernando de Noronha, Brazil | Photo: Ze Paulo Gasparotto

1. Fernando de Noronha, Brazil

The chain of 21 islands known as Fernando de Noronha are among Brazil’s best-kept secrets, located 271 miles off the nation’s northeast coast. Of the chain’s 21 islands, only one is inhabited by humans, while the rest provide homes to reptiles, seabirds, and a host of endemic animals. Snorkelling and diving in the crystal clear water surrounding these UNESCO-listed, forest-covered islands is out of this world, particularly when the shores are occupied by turtles, spinner dolphins, and hundreds of beautiful fish species. When you want to relax on pearl-white sand, head to Praia do Leão, though bear in mind that the beach closes in the afternoon from January to June to make space for nesting turtles.

Fernando de Noronha brings in just 450 to 500 visitors per day, helping to preserve the islands’ delicate ecosystems and natural landscapes. You can reach the islands by taking a domestic flight from Aracaju, Belo Horizonte, Maceió, Natal, Recife, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, or São Paulo. We recommend booking your flight well in advance. Alternatively, some cruises visit Fernando de Noronha from October to February. If you fancy splashing out, you can charter a yacht to the islands. You’ll need to pay an environment preservation tax to visit the islands – prices start at around R$45 (US$14) for one day. You’ll also need to pay an additional R$130 (US$40) to explore the national park. Watch out for powerful swells when swimming in the waters of Praia da Conceicao, and don’t forget to pack environmentally friendly mosquito repellent. Also, read about our pick of Brazil’s most amazing wonders to make the most of your stay.

Fernando de Noronha | Photo: Rodolfo Barreto

Fernando de Noronha | Photo: Ricardo Avelar

2. Cenotes, Mexico

For a truly unique wild swimming experience, you need to take in dip in Mexico’s cenotes, which are natural pools formed by the collapse of limestone to reveal enchanting underground lagoons. At Cenote Xkeken – which is just a stone’s throw from the ancient Mayan site of Chichen Itza near the city of Valladolid – you can swim under stalactites in crystal-clear waters, which are illuminated a turquoise blue in the afternoon sun. Not far from Xkeken is Cenote Samula, which is accessed by a stone staircase. There’s also a dry cenote in the vicinity with a cave that echoes the sounds of the surrounding jungle.

If you want to dive into a cenote without jostling with crowds of tourists, we recommend heading to Tulum to swim through a network of dark caverns known as Cenote Dos Ojos. As you are pulled along by the cenote’s slow-moving subterranean river, you’ll see stunning cave formations including stalagmites, stalactites and natural columns. You’ll also spot bats zooming overhead. Join a diving group, and you can explore this cenote’s large aquifer.

Cenote Dos Ojos | Photo: Roberto Nickson

Photo: Jared Rice

3. Divna Beach, Dalmatia, Croatia

Divna (which translates to ‘beautiful’) Beach sits near the far end of Croatia’s second longest peninsula, Pelješac, and its remote location provides visitors with a back-to-basics beach experience. Unlike the nation’s more developed resorts, Divna Beach remains largely untouched, with few to zero facilities for holidaymakers. What it does have, though, is smooth pearly white pebbles, turquoise waters, and a backdrop of verdant green cliffs with a few charming stone houses extending out onto the beach. Just a short swim away are a handful of postcard-perfect tiny uninhabited islands, giving you a patch of unspoilt nature to enjoy all to yourself. If you want to explore more of Croatia, peruse our 10-day Croatia travel itinerary.

Photo: Nina Elliott

4. Macarella Beach, Menorca, Spain

For a day on a secluded beach sheltered by 30-metre cliffs in an idyllic cove, lay down a towel on the golden sands of Macarella Beach, one of the most famous beaches on the island of Menorca – though it looks like it belongs in the Caribbean. Thanks to the surrounding hills, the bright blue waters of Macarella Beach are usually perfectly still, creating the perfect conditions for a leisurely swim in a serene setting. In between swimming sessions, you can relax under the shade of palms and endemic trees or explore the caves that nature has eroded into the cliffs over thousands of years. You won’t find many tourist facilities at Macarella, but you can recharge your batteries at the small beach bar.

Just a ten-minute walk from Marcarella Beach is Macarelleta, which is the perfect place to top up your all-over tan. The Macarelleta nudist beach is considered to be the ‘little sister’ of Marcarella, and though it’s well known by those who like to bear all, its secluded location makes it suitable for unwinding and escaping the hordes. When you need a break from the sand, you can pay a visit to more of Menorca’s top attractions.

Cala Macarella | Photo: Maria Teresa Martínez

Menorca Sailing

Menorca | Photo: Lindsay Lenard

5. Kravica Waterfall, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Cascading from a height of 25 metres, the Kravica Waterfall is the highlight of the Kravica Nature Park, where visitors flock to make the most of the scorching Herzegovinian summers. Said to have existed for millions of years, the Kravica Waterfall was formed due to tectonic movement and the resulting upheaval of the Trebizat river’s limestone plateau. During summer, the pool at the waterfall’s base is filled with warm shallow water, which, coupled with the backdrop of the waterfall itself, makes for optimal swimming conditions.

While exploring the Kravica Nature Park, you might want to rent a canoe or follow hiking trails to see a vast range of stunning landscapes plus wildlife including snakes, deer, boar and frogs. Throughout the park, you’ll find several restaurants serving tasty bites to outdoor adventurers. The park remains open from 7am to 10pm during summer and 7am to 7pm over winter.

Kravica waterfall | Photo: Marko Tomic

6. Pont du Gard, France

Constructed during the 1st century CE, the Pont du Gard is a Roman aqueduct and a graceful example of ancient architecture. This UNESCO-listed aqueduct spans the Gardon river, which boasts shallow waters and a beautiful backdrop for swimmers during summer. The water is accessible from the rocky beaches that flank the bridge. While the river is usually crystal clear, its current can be rather strong, making it best to stick to the shore and avoid swimming under the aqueduct itself. Arrive early in the morning to beat the crowds.

If you’re looking for a base from which to explore the Pont du Gard, we recommend looking at accommodation options in Nîmes, which is about an hour away by bus. Ride bus number 121 to reach the aqueduct, and don’t forget to pack your swimwear, a camera, and plenty of refreshments. When you’re ready to see more of France’s highlights, check out our 10-day France travel itinerary.

Pont du Gard | Photo: Xuan Nguyen

Gard, France | Photo: Quentin Bounias

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Pamukkale is home to a series of white travertine terraces filled with bright blue waters that double up as natural pools

7. Pamukkale, Turkey

Pamukkale is home to a series of white travertine terraces filled with bright blue waters that double up as natural pools. The waters emanate from a nearby cliff that reaches a height of nearly 200 metres. Over thousands of years, a build-up of mineral deposits – namely calcite – have resulted in the unique blue glow of the terraced pools, allowing visitors to soak themselves in warm water while taking in western Turkey’s spectacular landscapes. The pools may be shallow, but they add new definition to the word ‘otherworldly’. Visit the ‘Cotton Castle’ for yourself, and you’ll soon understand why this surreal setting has attracted visitors for millennia. Learn more about Turkey’s hidden gems to make the most of your getaway.

Pamukkale | Photo: LoggaWiggler

Pamukkale | Photo: Vladyslav Cherkasenko

8. Blue Lagoon, Iceland

Fed by geothermal spring water that originates beneath the Earth’s surface, the Blue Lagoon is an 8,700 square metre geothermal spa that provides visitors with a warm retreat from the freezing temperatures above the surface. Here, the waters shine a distinctive milky blue colour due to mineral deposits such as silica that react with natural sunlight, and all the pools are embedded in black lava fields, making it a sight to behold as well as an excellent place to enjoy a refreshing dip. Even during winter, the water temperature sits at around 100 degrees Fahrenheit. Visit during summer if you’d prefer to bathe under the midnight sun rather than the dazzling Northern Lights. Bear in mind that the Blue Lagoon is just one of Iceland’s spectacular sights – read our self-drive Iceland road trip itinerary to learn about more must-visit attractions. If you’re strapped for time in Iceland, you might prefer to check out our five-day travel guide instead.

Blue Lagoon | Photo: Peter Stewart

Blue Lagoon | Photo: Jeff Sheldon

9. Phi Phi Islands, Thailand

While almost all of Thailand’s beaches are out-of-this-world stunning, none are more inviting than the sandy stretches of the Phi Phi Islands, which are a paradise of white sandy beaches and turquoise waters. The most amazing swimming spots of the Phi Phi Islands include Loh Lana Bay, Ko Phi Phi Don, Nui Beach, and Phak Nam Bay. To explore the famous setting of Leonardo DiCaprio’s blockbuster movie, The Beach, head to Phi Phi Leh. If you want to duck-dive in clear waters surrounded by towering cliffs on three sides, take a boat trip over to Maya Bay. Monkey Beach and Ao Toh Ko are also paradisical beach destinations that all sunseekers should visit at least once in their lifetime.

Many people visit the Phi Phi Islands as part of a day trip from the larger Thai island of Phuket. If you need more than just one day in the tropical sun, you’ll find plenty of accommodation options – both budget and luxurious – on Phi Phi Don, the largest of the Phi Phi Islands. While most visitors to the islands tend to be in their twenties, the laid-back atmosphere welcomes travellers of all ages. Don’t worry about food and drinks during your trip; the islands are home to a diverse array of budget-friendly local and international restaurants and food stalls. And remember, the Phi Phi Islands are just one of the amazing places to visit in Thailand.

Phi Phi Islands, Thailand | Photo: Alexandr Podvalny

10. Hamoa Beach, Hawaii

Surrounded by lush vegetation and lapped by deceptively strong currents, Hamoa Beach is a hotspot for surfers and sunseekers looking for a bit of seclusion. Thanks to the volcanic activity of the Hawaiian island of Maui, Hamoa Beach features distinctive black sand, which is as soft as silk. There’s no need to worry about stepping on rocks at this beautiful sandy strip, but it’s worth keeping up to date with local weather reports as the waves can transform from gentle to severe without notice, particularly during winter. Bear in mind that there are no lifeguards on duty at Hamoa Beach, meaning your safety is your responsibility.

When you’re not diving head-first into the swell that crashes into Hamoa Beach, you’ll find plenty of shaded spots on the sand to make the most of the enviable weather. Despite not being very developed, Hamoa Beach provides visitors with showers and public bathrooms as well as foot washing stations close to the base of the paved path that leads to the parking area. You’ll see the crescent-shaped Hamoa Beach while driving along the Hana Highway. If you still have an appetite for sun, sand and sea after swimming in the shore of Hamoa Beach, you might be interested in learning about more of the best beaches in Hawaii.

Photo: Symeon Ekizoglou

Maui | Photo: Logan Armstrong

11. Devil’s Pool, Victoria Falls, Zambia

Despite not having the most welcoming of names, Devil’s Pool is undoubtedly one of the best spots on Earth for fans of wild swimming. This natural pool sits at the very edge of the Victoria Falls, with just a submerged rock wall preventing swimmers from tumbling over. However, while a swim in Devil’s Pool sounds like an expedition for the courageous, it’s actually very safe, and there’s no other natural infinity pool quite like it.

Devil’s Pool is only open during the dry season, which runs from August to January, and even then, low Zambezi River levels can render the pool closed. Also, this natural lagoon positioned at the top of a cascade is only accessible from the Zambian side of the border. The easiest way to reach Devil’s Pool is to join a tour from Livingstone Island.

Photo: Leo Abdelnaby

12. The Maldives

We can’t create a list of the world’s best swimming spots without mentioning the Maldives, which is made up of nearly 1,200 islands that are all as picturesque as each other. The ocean surrounding the Maldives is famously crystal clear, giving swimmers of all ability levels the chance to observe underwater life. However, strong swimmers might prefer to dive to the depths of the seabed to explore colourful coral reefs. If scuba diving isn’t an option, you can still see marine creatures ranging from schools of parrotfish through to majestic sea turtles by grabbing a snorkelling mask. Head to the beach early in the morning, and you may be lucky enough to spot dolphins playing close to the shoreline.

Remember, though absolutely splendid, the beaches are far from all the Maldives have to offer. Read our one-week Maldives travel itinerary to make the most of your stay.

Maldives | Photo Teddie Humaam

Photo: Marvin Meyer

13. Radhanagar Beach, India

Hidden away in the Bay of Bengal amid the Andaman and Nicobar islands, Radhanagar Beach is the hidden gem of Havelock Island. With its fine white sand lapped by the impossibly clear ocean that reflects the blue sky, plus its backdrop of tropical forest that provides sheltered canopies for sunseekers, Radhanagar Beach is a slice of heaven on Earth. Unsurprisingly, this beach frequently makes it onto ‘world’s best’ lists. On top of being a swimmer’s paradise, Radhanagar Beach boasts stunning sunset views. It’s also just 12 kilometres from the famous Dolphin Yatri Niwas and only seven kilometres from the nearly as beautiful Vijaynagar Beach.

The best time to visit Radhanagar Beach on Havelock Island is between October and February, when temperatures range from 15°C and 34°C. As this is an area of mostly untouched beauty, the most popular activities at the beach are sunbathing and swimming. You can reach this small Island by catamaran or seaplane from Port Blair. More budget-conscious visitors can take one of two government boats. Find out more about India’s dream places to visit during your stay on this diverse subcontinent.

Radhanagar Beach | Photo: Bishnu Sarangi

14. Fraser Island, Australia

Fraser Island (K’gari) is home to over 250 kilometres of sandy beaches and 40 kilometres of strikingly coloured cliffs, not to mention dune blowouts, white and black water lakes, tall rainforests, and a host of wildlife. While the ocean that laps the island looks staggering, you might want to avoid taking a dip in it – sharks are known to frequent the area. The best swimming spots on this UNESCO-listed sand island are found further inland, where lakes are perched inside stunning dune formations. Adding to Fraser Island’s beauty are sheltered mangroves, banksia woodlands, and patterned swampy fens, making this ‘mosaic landscape’ a must-visit destination for anybody exploring Australia.

Of all Fraser Island’s lakes, we suggest diving into Lake McKenzie, a natural swimming sanctuary with turquoise water filled with natural tea tree oil, surrounded by silica white sands that reflect the lake’s blue hues. If visiting between August and October, keep your eyes peeled for humpback whales and their newly born calves, best seen as part of a boat tour. You’ll find plenty of accommodation options on the world’s largest sand island, but if you want to take your wild swimming adventure to the next level, you may want to choose a camping spot instead. For more ideas on making the most of a trip Down Under, read our two-week Australia travel itinerary.

Fraser Island | Photo: Nadia Levenets

Photo: Ushindi Namegabe

15. Hanauma Bay, Hawaii

Since 1967, Hanauma Bay has been designated an underwater park and a marine life conservation area thanks to being home to over 400 species of aquatic animals. The bay lies within a volcanic cone, giving it an idyllic appearance. Voted the USA’s best beach in 2016, Hanauma Bay is a hotbed for sunseekers, swimmers and snorkellers. There are so many colourful and exotic animals living in the bay that many liken its waters to a giant fish bowl.

When you arrive at Hanauma Bay, you’ll watch a nine-minute video that introduces the area’s wildlife and conservation efforts. Then, when you’re permitted to take a stroll on the sand and a dip in the ocean, you’ll be able to see animals that include butterfly fish, parrotfish, surgeon fish, damsel fish, goat fish, yellow tangs, eels, and Moorish idols. You might also spot the humuhumunukunukuapua’a (reef triggerfish), which is Hawaii’s state fish. If you’re lucky, you might rub shoulders with a green sea turtle, which can reach a length of four feet and a staggering weight of up to 300 pounds.

 

Photo: Victor He

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