Have you ever dreamed of swimming in a crystal clear pool surrounded by a lush green jungle? Is a Polar plunge in the Antarctic on your bucket list? They’re both on mine, that’s for sure. To inspire such dreaming and to help you make some of them come true, I asked my fellow travel bloggers about the most unusual places they’ve ever been swimming. From an onsen in Japan filled with red wine to a stunning underground cenote in Mexico, here’s our guide to some of the most beautiful and quirky places to swim in the world.
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Unique places to swim around the world
Enchanted River, Mindanao, The Philippines
Recommended by Dea, Jea Wanders
Entrance Fee 30 PHP (£0.45 GBP) | Cottage Rental = 200 PHP / £2.85 GBP | Non-swimmers are required to wear a life vest | Picnics allowed | Toilet facilities on site |
The Enchanted River in the Philippines is a short stretch of river with extraordinarily clear, sapphire blue water that attracts visitors from around the world. Hidden in a jungle, this mystical natural wonder is believed by the locals to be home to a mysterious fish that is impossible to catch. And there are tales of magical fairies and spirits at the river as well.
Beneath the miraculously clear blue water is a subterranean cave system discovered at 40 meters depth with tunnels leading to uncharted territory. Expeditions to further discover more about this unmapped underwater tunnel system still continue up to this day.
There’s a daily fish feeding that takes place at the river. At midday, a caretaker signals everyone to get out of the water, then a tune called “Hymn of Hinatuan” is played over loudspeakers. A school of giant fish then appears out of nowhere and pieces of squid and minced meat is thrown into the water. The fish feeding continues for about half an hour during which no one is allowed to swim in the water. Afterwards, the school of fish vanishes as if they were never there. The river returns to a clear and serene place to swim.
The best time to swim and enjoy the river is in the afternoon as many people leave after the fish feeding. There are life vests and cottage rentals available by the river. There are no restaurants around but visitors can buy freshly caught seafood near the river and have it cooked by the seller.
How to get there: Located on the island of Mindanao, buses run from Bancasi Airport to Hinatuan. From the main road of Hinatuan, a habal-habal ride takes visitors directly to Enchanted River. If renting a vehicle, there are parking spaces available nearby. And if you are wondering what a habal-habal is, it’s a rather ingenious mode of transport – a motorcycle with wooden planks as seats added to carry extra passengers. Your insurance is unlikely to cover you should you have an accident.
Roman Baths of Sliema, Malta
Recommended by Or, My Path in the World
FREE | Swimming shoes required as surrounded by rocks
Sliema is a great base for exploring the island of Malta, but it isn’t a popular tourist destination so many people miss out on its lovely Roman baths.
Malta is packed with quirky spots to swim, snorkel, and dive, but the Roman baths are rather unique. But first, what exactly are these baths? They are a series of square-shaped pools carved into the rocks along the coast of Sliema. Often referred to as Roman, the pools are actually believed to date back to the Victorian era (19th century). Back then, taking a leisurely dip was not a straightforward, simple action, at least not for women who couldn’t show their bodies freely. That’s why in each corner, you’ll see a hole where a wooden pole was inserted as support for a canopy that kept the bathers’ privacy.
Accessing the baths of Sliema is completely free of charge. If you get there early enough, there’s a good chance you’ll be all alone, though the water might be a bit chilly.
To swim in the rocky pools, you’ll find both stairs and steel ladders, but be sure to enter carefully and bring water shoes or sandals.
Right behind the baths, there’s also a restaurant/bar called Surfside, which has a diverse menu of international food and drinks.
How to get there: The nearest bus stop is Ghadir bus station, a 10-minute walk away from the Roman Baths. While the neatest parking is at Fort Cambridge, a 5-minute walk away.
Cenote Suytun, Yucatan, Mexico
Recommended by Shelley, Travel To Merida
$120 pesos (£4.50 GBP) | Life jackets available
Cenotes (pronounced sen-no-tays) are natural pools with freshwater located in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. They are found in very few places on Earth, with the largest concentration of some 6,000 spread throughout the Yucatan.
With so many cenotes, you may be wondering how to pick the best one to visit. Each one is beautiful in its own way and worth visiting. However, Cenote Suytun is unique in that it’s located underground in a cave.
What has made Cenote Suytun so beloved is how unique it looks from underground. There are stalactites and hanging rocks, and a hole at the top of the cenote so a single ray of light streams down, hitting a platform beneath. At the right time of day, it looks almost otherworldly.
Since it’s so beautiful for photographers and popular for swimming, if you want this special place free of crowds, arrive by 10 am and visit on a weekday. Cenote Suytun isn’t big, but it’s quite popular, so it fills up quickly. It is open daily, from 9 am to 5 pm. You can buy snacks at the cenote, but you will have to bring a picnic (there are tables) or visit a nearby restaurant for a full meal.
How to get there: The easiest way to visit is by rental car, as it’s quite remote. With your own car, you can also eat at the local, family-run restaurants nearby. Visiting this cenote makes a great day trip from Merida. It’s also not far from Tulum and Valladolid.
The Great Kemeri Bog, Kemeri National Park, Latvia
Recommended by Kathryn, Travel With Kat
20 Euros; 10 Euros (7-17. years old) | Guide services and bog shoe rental are included
Don your bog shoes and head out across the floating moss to take a dip in a peat bog pool nicknamed coca-cola lake thanks to the brown colour of the water.
The Kemeri National Park is about an hour’s drive from Riga in Latvia. Here, endangered species such as wolves, lynx and otters roam free. The plant life is equally captivating with orchids and carnivorous flycatchers found amongst the lichen and moss. Even small trees grow on the floating moss carpets and it’s this moss that you walk across when you explore the bog.
It’s impossible to walk on the moss, however, without bog shoes, which are actually snow shoes repurposed. Even with the shoes, it is possible to fall in if you tread in the wrong place so it is highly recommended that you join an organised tour with an official guide. Organised walks are held regularly with an expert guide from Purvu bridēji. Traditionally, locals swim naked here but we’d recommend taking your swimsuit if you are joining a tour.
How to get there: There are some organised tours from Riga, however, the ones below do not include either bog walking or a swim. If you are after a swim, renting a car would be the easiest way to get there, where you can meet up with a guide from Purvu bridēji.
Angel’s Billabong, Indonesia
Recommended by Mal, Raw Mal Roams
Free | Restaurants | Toilets | Picnics allowed | Dogs allowed | Water shoes required
Angel’s Billabong is a natural pool formed by the erosive power of the ocean which has carved out the rock over time. Visiting Angel’s Billabong is one of the best things to do on Nusa Penida, an Indonesian island near Bali, and the best way to fully enjoy this natural spot is to swim in it!
It is only possible to swim at Angel’s Billabong at low tide. When the water is shallow the multi-layered colourful bottom can be seen.
To get to the pool, you will need to walk over sharp rocks, so it is recommended to wear shoes, such as sports sandals or water shoes. The bottom of the pool is soft and safe to walk barefoot. Take a refreshing dip and enjoy the incredible view of the ocean.
During high tide, large waves can enter the pool with force and crash against the rocks. It’s quite a spectacle! If you’re visiting at high tide, watch the show from a safe distance.
There are a few local restaurants called ‘warungs’ lined up along the coast serving traditional Indonesian cuisine and cold drinks, including fresh coconut. A short walk from Angel’s Billabong, there is Broken Beach which is also a great place to visit; unfortunately, it is not suitable for swimming.
How to get there: It’s easy to visit Nusa Penida on a day trip from Bali but there is no public transport on the island so you would need to rent a car to get around. There is a parking area by Angel’s Billabong which costs 5,000 IDR per vehicle. Alternatively, book an organised tour that includes a visit to Angel’s Billabong.
Three Sisters Spring, Crystal River, Florida
Recommended by Lori, Naples Florida Travel Guide
FREE | Eco-travelers, families with young children | Floatation devices needed for everyone
Three Sisters Springs, in the town of Crystal River on central Florida’s Gulf Coast, is one of the most unique places to swim in the world. It’s a stunning warm natural spring and an important winter refuge for the West Indian manatee. Most unusually, it is the only place where you can legally swim with manatees, classified as threatened under the Endangered Species Act.
Getting in the water with them is both fascinating and exhilarating. Several tour boat operators can take you on a manatee tour, and they operate under strictly enforced regulations that include a pre-trip briefing to inform you of the rules for observing manatees in the wild. However, you can also swim and kayak in the spring during off-season times of the year when the manatees aren’t taking refuge from the cold.
The entrance to Three Sisters Spring is narrow and the strong current will carry you through to the crystal clear spring. There are no motorized boats allowed in the spring itself so the experience is peaceful and quiet. You can park and walk on the boardwalk surrounding the spring, but you can only swim into the spring from the river. Once inside, you can hover over the spring that flows upward from 20 feet below.
No matter what time of year it is, the scene is always spectacular and primordial, when you realize it’s been here since time began.
Crystal River is an easy day trip from Orlando, Tampa, southwest Florida, and Tallahassee, but staying overnight allows more time to discover more of Florida’s Nature Coast.
How to get there: There are regular shuttle buses from the town of Crystal River to the springs. There is an onsite car park.
Pink lake Lemuriyske, Ivanivka village, Berezin Cape, Ukraine
Recommended by Inessa, Through a Travel Lens
FREE | Suitable for families with children
Under the radar, not only among tourists but also among the locals, pink lake Lemuriyske is a gem for everyone looking for a quirky place to swim in Ukraine, along with locations like the Kinburn Spit and the Dzarylhach Island.
From afar, the waters of the lake look greyish-blue, the sky’s reflection bouncing off their smooth surface — this area of the country hardly gets any winds in the summer. But tas you approach the water, it becomes obvious that the lake is unapologetically pink. This quirky colour comes from a certain type of algae. The water is also salty. In fact, Lemuriyske lake has such high salinity that some locals call it a Ukrainian version of the Dead Sea in the Middle East. Many come here to experience weightlessness — it is easy enough to remain afloat while reading the newspaper. The water will do all the heavy lifting.
Due to its high salinity, the lake is not suitable for diving or snorkelling. And this salt can be quite painful if you have any open wounds.
A visit to this spot is somewhat similar to visiting a spa — the water is warm, healing, and relaxing. A good idea would be to take a couple of bottles of freshwater to rinse off the salt after a swim. Also, hats and sunscreen are a must in this dry and heated area. Because the cape is not adapted to mass tourism, it’s a must that you take with you any refreshments and snacks you might need.
How to get there: The lake is hidden among the small villages of the country’s south and is unreachable by public transportation. The closest bus stop is the one in the village of Ivanivka. From there, it is another 15 minutes by car via a narrow dirt road. The path winds across the steppe, past the windmills, and towards Cape Berezina — a perfect spot for a swim. There is free parking right by the lake.
Silfra, Thingvellir National Park, Iceland
Recommended by Cristina, Honest Travel Stories
16,490 ISK (£95 GBP) | 750 ISK (£4.30 GBP) for parking | Suitable for adults and children older than 12 years old | Minimum weight 45 kg (about 7 stones) | Minimum height 150 cm (about 4 feet 11 inches) | Maximum height 200 cm (about 6 foot 6 inches) | Confident swimmers only
Swimming or rather snorkelling in Silfra is unlike anything else in the world, as it’s the only place where you can snorkel or dive between two tectonic plates.
The water here is the clearest in the world, as it comes from a glacier located miles away. By the time it reaches Silfra, the water has spent 30 to 100 years filtering through a lava field.
With the water temperature just a few degrees above freezing all year round, hiring a wetsuit is required. You can enjoy this experience any time of year, but it’s better to do it in the summer or at least on a clear day, as the visibility does get better in these conditions. Try to schedule your snorkelling experience in the morning or midday so you can have the best possible light.
There are no places to purchase food or drinks here as this is a protected area, so do bring what you might need with you. if you are on a guided tour your guide may offer you biscuits and hot chocolate to warm you up after the experience.
Please note, there are various medical conditions that people intending to swim at Silfra should take into account, including respiratory issues, being pregnant, and heart conditions.
How to get there: You can visit on an organised tour or by car, parking at Þingvellir Parking P5 (Þingvellir bílastæði P5).
Check out my blog post to learn more about The Benefits and Risks of Cold Water Swimming
Devil’s Den Springs, Florida, USA
Recommended by Trijit, Budget Travel Buff
$22 USD (£16 GBP) | No children under 6 years old
What can be more thrilling than swimming in a freshwater spring inside a cave? Devil’s Den is one of the most beautiful springs in Florida and one of the most exciting places to swim in the world.
Located south of Gainesville in the small town of Williston in central Florida, Devil’s Den is a 60 foot deep, prehistoric spring that can be visited at any time of the year. Snorkelling under the overhead opening with the light beaming down on the refreshing 22°C (72°F) water with large catfish swimming all around you, is an incredible experience.
Outside, there are plenty of picnic tables where you can enjoy your lunch with families and friends. Bring your own food and drink, a towel, extra clothes, and snorkel gear, or rent it for a $10 fee. There are no site refreshments but there are toilet facilities. If you plan to stay overnight there are some very cosy cabins that can be rented.
It is best to visit early in the day before the long queues form for this popular site.
How to get there: It is not possible to get here via public transport. It’s about a half-hour drive south Gainesville. There is free parking nearby, including an RV (motor home) park.
Sarakiniko Beach, Milos, Greece
Recommended by Dymphe, Dymabroad
FREE | Bring water, snacks and a parasol for shade
On the stunning island of Milos, the unique beach of Sarakinikol looks more reminiscent of the moon’s surface than a typical Greek beach. It’s one of the most unique places to swim in Europe. White volcanic stone has been sculpted by the wind and the pounding of the waves over the Millenium. The pools of clear, aquamarine water look stunning framed by the bright rock.
Tourists flock here to swim in this beautiful setting. Come early to avoid the crowds and the heat of the noonday sun. There’s no natural shade to be found. Bring your own water and snacks as there are no facilities here either.
How to get here: There is a bus stop nearby as well as a parking area just a 1-minute stroll from the beach.
Jellyfish Lake in Palau, Micronesia
Recommended by Christian, Unusual Traveller
$100 USD per person in park fee, valid for 10 days, plus $150 USD the tour fee per person | Permit and a licensed guide essential | UNESCO World Heritgae Site
In the tinny nation of Palau in Micronesia is a one of a kind lake where you can swim amongst millions of small, harmless golden jellyfish that migrate across the lake each day. The small lake, hidden away in the middle of Rock Islands, a Unesco World Heritage site, is located around a 45-minute speed boat trip from downtown Koror, the largest and only real city in Palau.
Visiting Jellyfish Lake is only allowed through an organised tour with a local licensed guide. It´s not a cheap day trip. First, you will have to get a permit to the Rock Islands which costs around $100 per person and is valid for 10 days. This is on top of the $150 price for the tour, which includes a stop for lunch elsewhere on the island as there are no facilities at the lake.
In 2016 visiting the lake was prohibited to allow the population of jellyfish to recover from a drastic decline in numbers caused in part by the products people used on their skin when swimming. It reopened in 2019, but you are not allowed to wear any kind of sun cream or other products when entering the lake.
Scuba diving is band due to a toxic layer of hydrogen sulphide which starts at around 40 feet deep or so down to the bottom of the lake.
Deception Island, Antarctica
Recommended by Pamela, The Directionally Challenged Traveler
FREE | Ice swimming in 2°C (33°F) | Please consult your doctor if you have any medical conditions
One of the coolest places (quite literally) to swim is in the Southern, or as it’s commonly called the Antarctic Ocean. You won’t find any other tourists, any bathrooms, or food trucks here – but you will likely see plenty of penguins! This untraditional swimming spot is the perfect location for a polar plunge.
Only 10,000 people visit Antarctica on cruises each summer from November to March, and even fewer are brave enough to go in the water. This can be done from a beach on Deception Island, home to an active volcano and some wonderful wildlife – the penguins stand out beautifully against the black beach.
Upon first landing, you’ll want to explore the area while you still have your cold-weather clothes on. Once you go in the water, you’ll head straight back to the boat to warm up.
A polar plunge in Antarctica is no easy feat, so brave up and just walk right in before you chicken out. You may be swimming near small icebergs and penguins so do take time to soak up your surroundings. Since the water temperature is in the thirties, you’re not allowed to stay in longer than one minute. However, some people dry off then go back in several times. While the swim may be short, the memories (and bragging rights) will last for years to come!
Gili Meno, Gili Islands
Recommended by Victoria, Guide your Travel
FREE | Boat trips also available
The Gili Islands are located between Bali and Lombok in Indonesia. They’re known for their stunningly beautiful beaches and incredible underwater life.
Gili Trawangan is the largest island but Gili Meno and Gili Air are equally as beautiful. However, Gili Meno is also renowned for its incredible underwater art. The famous “Nest” is a set of sculptures by the artist and photographer Jason Decaires Taylor. They were built to help protect the fragile marine life of Indonesia by acting as artificial reefs. You can see them by snorkelling and there is no need to scuba dive. They’re located quite close to the shore of Gili Meno although most tourists visit them by boat. The spot can get quite crowded during mid-day so booking a tour in the early morning is highly recommended if you want some peace and quiet. The current in this location is quite strong so make sure you wear a lifejacket and take care even if you’re a strong swimmer.
Nearby Gili Trawangan, the largest island in the archipelago, is the perfect place to swim with green sea turtles. They’re easy to find even without having to pay for a tour. The turtles come to graze in shallow waters so you can easily spot them while snorkelling if you know where to go.
To-Sua Ocean Trench, Samoa
Recommended by Vicki, MakeTimeToSeeTheWorld
$15 Samoan Tala
The To-Sua Ocean Trench on the island of Upolu in Samoa is yet another wonderfully unique place to swim in the world.
Lush greenery covers the upper part of the canyon as you gaze into the sandy-bottomed swimming hole below. The only thing standing between you and the refreshing ocean water is a 30m, seemingly vertical wooden ladder. There are no safety rails, and the drop may be menacing to those with a fear of heights (and as such we wouldn’t really recommend it for children under the age of 6 or 7) – but the ladder is sturdy, with just the bottom rungs being a little bit slippy. If you take your time, you’ll be fine.
From the lower platform, the ladder contines down to the water. There are ropes to hang onto in the water if you are not a strong swimmer or just want to float without being moved too far by the current (which can be strong depending on the tides at the time of your visit).
There are very few facilities at the site itself. At the water level in the trench, it’s just a wooden platform, and around the top in the lush vegetation of the grounds, there are few fales (wooden huts) that can be used to lounge or for picnics, but you will need to bring your own supplies (snacks, water, beach towels etc).
How to get there: Public transport on the island is limited so it is easiest to get there in a hire car and park in the adjacent gravel car park.
Hakone Kowaki-en Yunessun Hot Spring Theme Park (the one with the red wine onsen!)
Recommended by Anne, Japan Travel Planning
Adults 3500 Yen, Children 1800 Yen (age 3-12 years old), under 3 years old is free
One of the most fun places to swim in Japan is at the Hakone Kowaki-en Yunessun Hot Spring Theme Park, located in Hakone, near Mount Fuji, 50 miles or so southwest of Tokyo. The complex is huge and contains two main areas – one a fun hot spring water park where you can wear swimsuits, as well as a more traditional onsen area without clothing, with separate male and female areas.
The water park area is a great option for families and enables you to try out a massive selection of hot spring baths – including green tea, red wine, coffee and sake onsens where the drink of your choice is used to fill the entire pool. While we wouldn’t recommend it, bathers are known to drink straight from the onsen using their hands as cups. There is also an outdoor section, with hot spring waterslides that are open even in winter.
In the traditional onsen section, you will enjoy a more customary experience where you can just soak and enjoy the various bathing options.
As is often the case in Japan, tattoos are not allowed in the park.
Plan to visit for at least 2-3 hours to make the most of your experience.
How to get there: Hakone Kowaki-en Yunessun Hot Spring Theme Park is easy to get to by public transport from Tokyo. Take the Shinkansen train from Tokyo to Odawara Station, then transfer to a local train to get to Hakone-Yumato Station. From here, you can catch a bus direct to the theme park. If you are driving, there is a large car park easily accessible for guests.
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