We all love a good splash about in the pool – except for maybe Eddie the Eel (and anyone trying to forget the embarrassment of taking part in the TV show Splash) – but swimming needn’t be an exclusive right of swimming pools; so we took it upon ourselves to seek out some of the world’s best secret swimming spots, from the beautifully blue to the extraordinarily exotic. Here’s what we found…
Although this oasis in the fiery Arizona desert is fairly well known, it’s definitely off the beaten path, which keeps the crowds at bay. You can either hike 10 miles to get there, or arrange transport by helicopter, horse, or mule. Shooting off from the mighty Colorado River that sculpted the Grand Canyon just to the north, Havasu Creek has carved its own beautiful canyon, and at one point cascades off the red rock into a 120-foot-tall waterfall. Rich in magnesium and calcium carbonate, the water is a striking cerulean where it falls in a calm pool ideal for swimming. Rest in the ample shade provided by the cottonwoods towering nearby.
Other wonders: just a 3.5-mile hike in, Franconia Falls in New Hampshire creates a natural waterpark in the wilderness. Slide down the water chutes, dive off the staggered ledges along the water, and sunbathe on the surrounding rocks. Bingham Falls in Vermont also offers wild waterpark-like attractions, with the added benefit of being able to climb behind a waterfall and dive back into it.
Nestled along the coast of Long Island in the Bahamas, Dean’s Blue Hole was formed by the deepest underwater sinkhole in the world. Plummeting more than 650 feet into the sea floor, this wonder of nature provides a splendid setting for splashing around and a prime spot for diving. Also try the Blue Hole in Belize, which is a small grotto formed in similar fashion to a cenote, or the US version, the Blue Hole in Santa Rosa, New Mexico, which is filled with fresh, sparkling spring water at the rate of 3,000 gallons per minute.
International daring: for even more far-flung swimming, venture to the thrilling Devil’s Armchair in Zambia. Perched atop Victoria Falls, one of the largest waterfalls in the world, this exhilarating swimming hole is formed by a sturdy rock ledge that breaks the current and creates a natural infinity pool. If you want your water on the hot side, head to the surreal Pamukkale Hot Springs in Turkey, or set out into the mountains of Tibet, where the Yangbajain Hot Springs create a steaming ultramarine bath surrounded by snowy peaks.
Enjoy the majestic forests of the Pacific Northwest with a 3.5-mile hike to the aptly named Opal Pool. As the Cascade Mountains shake off the deep snows of winter, the creeks fill with pure, crystal-clear water that catches in enticing pools. Take a deep breath before you slip into the remarkable blue-green waters of this hidden gem; the Opal Pool is breathtakingly cold, literally.
Hot hint: there’s a secret spot in Yellowstone, about three miles from the north entrance, where the thermal waters of the Boiling River flow into the icy Gardiner River. Mainly frequented by locals, this swimming hole offers a unique hot-cold bathing experience.
Along the lush eastern shores of Maui, the world-renowned Hana Highway takes bedazzled sightseers through the colourful rainforest and right by some spectacular swimming holes. At Pua’a Ka’a Falls, a slender line of water soars from the ferns into a tranquil turquoise pool. Just a few miles down the road, you’ll have to undertake a somewhat tricky hike to find Makapipi Falls, where the lava bed serves as a platform for the water tumbling into a calm lagoon ensconced in greenery.
Take your pick: not as hidden as the others, but well worth a visit, the Pools of Ohe’o 20 miles to the south in the Haleakala National Park offer an intriguing series of tiered waterfalls and grottos set amidst an elegant bamboo forest.
The unusual geology of the Yucatán Peninsula allows rainfall in many areas to flow right through the limestone floor into underground caves, until sudden sinkholes (cenotes) unveil these secret pools. The novel allure of these rare formations has led to the creation of enormously popular waterparks and put them on the map for millions of tourists. While the most famous of the bunch, the wondrous Chichén Itzá for example, are still worth braving the crowds, there are a few still relatively undiscovered spots you can try.
Near Chichén Itzá, the Yokdzonot cenote is run informally by friendly locals, and offers the same setting of stunning stalagmites, cascading vines, singing swallows, and crystal-clear water as its renowned neighbour. Close to Cenote Azul, you’ll find the quieter Cristalino, a favourite amongst the locals, and the inspiringly named El Jardín del Edén (the Garden of Eden) – a plunging pool of azure water in the middle of the jungle. Also worth a visit are Xunaan Ha, Casa Cenote, and Cenote Escondido.
More Mexican marvels: discover a hidden beach in the Marieta Islands by taking a boat from Puerto Vallarta and then swimming through a cavern to reach a secret cove cut into the sea wall. Chill out surrounded by the laid-back vibes of Todos Santos, a quiet beach and surfer haven in Baja California Sur that offers a welcome respite from the bustling resorts of Cabo San Lucas to the south.
Given the popularity of Game of Thrones Croatia has sprung up even more so in the last few years as the European holiday destination – especially when it comes to sightseeing and beauty spots. And when it comes to the latter, there are a whole host of national parks to conjure up sensory feelings of amazement; one of these places is Krka National Park. With cascading waterfalls, crystalline waters and a verdant backdrop it provides a slice of heaven just inset from the Dalmatian coast. The waterfalls – 17 in total – ensure there are water holes and pools aplenty for you to take a relaxing dip in, after a strenuous day of walking the beautiful park.
Keepin’ it European: aside from the undoubted beauty of Croatia, and its natural swimming pools, Europe has several other countries where similar dipping zones can be found. Giola (Thasos, Greece), Calanque du Sugiton (Marseille, France) and the enchantingly named Fairy Pools (Isle of Skye, Scotland) all offer areas of natural beauty to swim in.
For an experience you’re sure never to forget, visit the Blue Lagoon. Even when the temperature outside is in minus figures, the lagoon is heated to 40 degrees by natural volcanic black lava formations. This geothermal natural wonder is a must-see on any trip to Iceland .It’s truly beautiful and feels out of this world. If you fancy a drink, you needn’t step out of the warm water into the icy air, just swim up to the lagoon-side bar and make your order.
Turn up the lights: for a truly unforgettable experience – not that you’re likely to forget a 40 degree lagoon in the middle of a glacier – visit the Blue Lagoon in winter and stay for the Aurora Borealis (the Northern Lights to you and us), and be amazed by the earth’s own fantastic live light show.