Wild swimming is nothing new. Ancient Greek heroes swam across entire seas to meet their loved ones, the Romans were fans, and Lord Byron famously swam the length of the Grand Union Canal in Venice. There’s no great mystery to it - wild swimming is just swimming in any natural bodies of water, whether it be a lake, pond, river, or the sea - but the activity is enjoying huge renewed popularity across the globe.
This recent revolution in swimming is simply due to people rediscovering the thrill of being immersed in water in a natural environment. And in the same way that surfers travelled the globe in the 70s, seeking out the best breaks, swimmers are now on the move and travelling the world to find new places to get their fix.
The choice for swimmers is far bigger than river, lake or ocean - there are wadis to explore, remote tarns to reach, cenotes, ice holes, waterfalls, and more, and all of them glorious. But that's not to say you can swim everywhere. Many stretches of water are private; some are dangerous.
Speak to locals and do your research before jumping in head first (literally and figuratively). Some locations are hazardous and even shark-infested, relying on special safety programs that use nets, drum lines, or a combination of both to remove high-risk sharks from a particular area. Other locations are perilous because of unseen but powerful rip currents, or treacherous terrain.
Finding the perfect wild swimming spot is a hugely rewarding experience, which is why we’ve put together a bucket list of 15 international swims - and five spots where you might end up as shark bait.
20 Braving The Devil’s Pool, Border Of Zambia And Zimbabwe
Perched a stomach-lurching 360ft above Victoria Falls, this natural waterhole is only accessible when water levels are low, and it’s not for the faint of heart.
It might look like an infinity pool but it lies perilously close to a 100-foot drop - this isn’t called wild swimming for nothing. It’s a huge adrenaline rush bathing right beside the ridge of the waterfall, but you’ll need to take extreme caution doing so. Fatalities are rare, but not unheard of. There is a reason why they call it the Devil’s Pool.
19 Iceland’s Oldest Swimming Pool: Seljavallalaug Pool
There is nowhere better to enjoy a hot swim in a cold climate than in Iceland. The country is a swimmer’s paradise, full of hot spots, pools and rivers that are heated by the island’s geothermal energy.
Hidden in the Seljavellir valley is a 28x10m pool filled with hot spring water which was originally constructed in 1923 to teach Icelanders how to swim. It occupies possibly the most stunning location of any swimming pool on earth, and it’s Iceland’s oldest.
Above the pool are snowcapped mountains and one side of the pool drops down into a gravel river valley. There are no lifeguards and no rules, but polite etiquette is always welcome.
18 A Secret Underworld Of Turquoise Pools: Cenotes, Mexico
Swim in crisp mineral-rich waters under a jungle-framed sky in the Yucatan’s secret subterranean world of freshwater pools.
Cenotes are natural swimming holes formed by the collapse of porous limestone bedrock. Above ground there is jungle scrub, dirt and dust, while beneath is a system of bright blue pools, with tree roots acting as rope swings and ladders.
The water is filtered by the earth, rendered transparent and pure, so go swimming clean and freshly washed and avoid deodorant and sunscreen, which hurts the perfectly balanced biodiversity. Some of our picks include Cenote Azu, Cenote Dzitnup, Cenote Dos Ojos, Cenote Sacactun and Cenote Yokdzonot.
17 A Shimmering Spectacle: Gippsland Lakes, Australia
The Gippsland Lakes are Australia's largest system of inland waterways, separated from the sea by the sugar-sand strand of Ninety Mile Beach.
Owing to a combination of bushfires and flooding, bioluminescent dinoflagellates have appeared here unexpectedly in recent years, creating the unique opportunity to swim among twinkling constellations of light.
The Gippsland Lakes covers over 600 square kilometres and consist of three magnificent lakes – Lake Wellington, Lake Victoria and Lake King - as well as marshes and lagoons. Swimming is permitted only in the flagged, patrolled zones. Do not go beyond it.
16 A Tiered Waterfall In Laos: Kuang Si Falls
Whether you approach by boat down the Mekong River or in a tuk-tuk from Luang Prabang, the Kuang Si falls will offer cool respite in this tropical, landlocked country.
A multi-tiered cascade some 60m tall, there are multiple, vibrant blue pools, which are smaller near the top of the falls, but tend to widen out nearer to the bottom. Most of the pools are open for swimming, but certain pools are considered sacred, so honour the signs and don’t go for a dip in those.
15 Ring In The New Year At Scheveningen, Netherlands
Possibly one of the coldest festival swims in the world, this event sees around 10,000 people don swimwear and rush into the chilly North Sea from the beach in Scheveningen.
The tradition started in 1965 when a swim club decided to start the year fresh with a plunge in the sea. The swim received national attention after a big soup brand decided to sponsor it and from that moment on, the amount of participants and locations has increased every year. There couldn’t be a more invigorating way to kick off the New Year, and it’s quite a spectacle to watch from the sidelines too, in case you chicken out.
14 Swim With Gentle Giants: Crystal River, Florida
Self-dubbed the Manatee Capital of the World, the Crystal River is home to hundreds of manatees who rely on the water’s year-round 72-degree temperature. During the winter months more than 400 manatees migrate here to escape the cold waters of the Gulf of Mexico, and each year some of them stay in the bay through the summer months.
This is the perfect spot for you to get up close and personal with these gentle giants, and it’s the only place in Florida where you are permitted to swim with these curious creatures in the wild.
13 Don’t Get Spun Out: Corryvreckan, Scotland
This is one of the biggest whirlpools in the world and the dash across has to be timed perfectly to avoid the whirlpool when it is active.
Created by a rocky pinnacle below the surface of the sea, the whirlpool varies in strength depending on the tide and winds, and it’s possible to swim right across when it’s at its weakest. But swimming the Coryvreckan is not a challenge to be taken lightly or without supervision – in fact, George Orwell nearly didn't make it here while crossing from the islands of Scarba to Jura in a boat. Extreme caution is advised.
12 Into The Blue Cave, Croatia
Also known as the Blue Grotto, the Blue Cave is a stunning natural treasure located on the island of Bisevo, five kilometres south of Vis. Only accessible when the sea is flat as a millpond, the cave is a stunning spot for a plunge and is famous for the mesmerising blue light that fills the space at a certain time of day, created by the refraction of sunlight entering through a crack in the stone.
It wasn’t until recently that the cave was open for public and it has been a must-see location ever since its opening. Only official boats from Bisevo can enter the cave, however.
11 A Desert Oasis: Wadi Shab, Oman
Wadi Shab is one of the most lovely destinations in Oman and a popular local place for a swim and a barbecue. Not far from Muscat, it involves a 40 minute hike to get there, but even the most reluctant walker will find it worth the effort.
Wadis are riverbeds in the desert that are usually dry but contain water in the rainy season, with some fed year round because thanks to natural springs. Wadi Shab boasts turquoise pools, waterfalls and terraced plantations. While swimming in the lower pools is forbidden (they are a source of drinking water), there is an opportunity for discreet swimming in the upper reaches of the wadi.
10 Experienced Swimmers Only: The Bosphorus Cross-Continental Swim Challenge, Turkey
One of the most iconic open water swimming events in the world, it sees the Bosphorus strait in Istanbul comes to a standstill as close to 2,000 swimmers cross from Asia to Europe.
The Bosphorus is a sea strait that runs through the centre of Istanbul. It operates as a major shipping channel but it opens once a year in July for this annual swimming race. With huge tankers held up at either end of the 6.5km course, the water itself is fast, clear and furious, and the swim is not without its challenges. There is a major current, so take all the advice you can get from other swimmers.
9 Ice, Ice, Baby: The Ice Holes in Finland
Ice swimming might be a new craze sweeping the UK and US, but the idea that jumping into a hole in a frozen lake will make you feel wonderful is old news in Finland.
Each winter as many as 150,000 Finns enjoy taking regular dips in freezing water, in holes cut in the ice. It’s something of a traditional Finnish activity. Most ice holes are maintained by local clubs and have saunas close by, allowing the dipper to heat up, chill down, and get the blood pumping. The combination of frozen lake, epic snowy landscape, ice hole and smoke sauna, is addictive.
8 Wild Swimming In The Grand Canyon: Havasu Falls, US
Havasupai Fall, otherwise known as Havasu Fall, is located in the Grand Canyon, 1.7 miles north of the village of Supai, and this spectacular 45-metre-high waterfall attracts thousands of visitors every year.
With water temperature around a cool 70 degrees, and gorgeous turquoise cascades that burrow deep into the canyon as they flow over a series of travertine rock formations, the 11-mile trek to the site is totally worth it.
You can swim up to the waterfalls and climb up behind the base of the fall, and the surrounding beach-like area provides ample room to lay out the towels and soak up the sun.
7 A Magnificent Natural Swimming Pool: To Sua Ocean Trench, Samoa
To Sua Ocean Trench, which literally translates as “big hole,” is located in Lotofaga village, on the south coast of Upolu island in Samoa. When the volcanoes erupted on the island, much of the ground fell away, and this 98-foot deep hole was the result, and it’s one of the most unusual places to swim on the planet.
Surrounded by lush green trees, it's a 30-metre drop into the sparkling emerald green water, which can be accessed via a single ladder with a small sitting/viewing platform at its base. This outrageously photogenic attraction is a Samoan icon, and it’s easy to see why.
6 A Spectacular Mountain Lake: Llyn Cau, Wales
On the southern edge of the stunning Snowdonia National Park, nestled on the formidable mountain Cadair Idris, Llyn Cau is a dark blue crater lake. Accessed via the Minffordd path on the mountain's southern side, Llyn Cau comes into view at a height of 1550 ft and it is a divine spot to stop for a quick dip. There's a small stony beach on the south side, and the depth at the centre is estimated at about 150 feet.
Legend has it that if you spend a night at the top of Cadair Idris, you will die, become a poet or go mad, but there’s no myth associated with swimming there, so jump right in.
5 Look Out For Sharks: Fraser Island, Australia
A UNESCO World Heritage Site and the world’s largest sand island, Fraser Island is a picture-perfect paradise. But this paradise comes with a few downsides.
For a start, the surrounding sea is home to some dangerous currents. Then there are sharks. Plenty of sharks. So your best bet for swimming is inland spots such as Lake Wabby and Eli Creek. But be sure to get local advice about the whereabouts of the island’s crocodile residents before you dive in.
4 Look Out For The Sharks: Donsol, Philippines
Home to one of the world’s largest populations of whale sharks, Donsol is the perfect spot to “go large” on your wild swim. Swimmers have nothing to fear here, however. Apart from the odd careless flick of a gargantuan tail, whale sharks are harmless filter feeders and have zero interest in hunting humans.
Donsol is one of the few places in the world that can offer almost assured whale shark sightings from November to June and the opportunity to jump in and swim alongside these gentle giants.
3 Look Out For The Sharks: West End, Grand Bahama
West End has been ranked among the top 10 most shark-infested beaches in the world. And Aptly named, Tiger Beach - 20 miles northwest of West End - is one of the world’s top spots for seeing tiger sharks. Most diving expeditions guarantee an up-close sighting of these toothy creatures, which can grow to be about 16 feet long.
Tiger Beach might on the bucket list of underwater photographers and adventurers, but steer clear if you're the thought of sharks freaks you out.
2 Look Out For The Sharks: Gansbaai, South Africa
Gansbaai is a fishing town and popular tourist destination in the Overberg District Municipality, Western Cape. But before you take a dip, please know that it’s also often referred to as the “Great White Shark Capital of the World.”
Gansbaai is a premier cage-diving location and one of the best places in the world to get up close to great white sharks as they hunt and move through this area year-round. Still fancy a swim?
1 Look Out For The Sharks: New Smyrna Beach, Florida
Located on Florida’s Central Atlantic Coast, New Smyrna Beach is a charming beach town rooted in local culture, art and a beautiful, white sandy shoreline. It’s also one of the busiest surfing spots on this stretch of coast. But it’s most famous, however, for being the shark attack capital of the world.
There were nine shark attacks/bites in Volusia County in 2017, more than any other location on the planet. But this hasn’t put off the locals, or the thousands of surfers who continue enjoy this stunning stretch of coast daily.