Get your bucket list ready: from swimmable crevasses and restorative geothermal sites to otherwordly cenotes and infinity plunge pools surrounded by jaw-dropping views, these natural wonders are not only inspiring serious wanderlust, but begging for a dip (or two).
What are you waiting for? Dive in.
Hierve el Agua, Oaxaca Valley, Mexico
Photo credit @travelinglamas
Unlike its name (“the water boils”) suggests, taking a dip here is a refreshingly cool, not to mention ethereal, experience. A series of mineral-rich infinity pools full of calcium carbonate & magnesium (further reputed to have healing properties) are surrounded by two petrified waterfalls, formed by mineral water deposits subtly “boiling” into stalactite-like structures on the mountain’s edge over thousands of years.
Pools of ‘Ohe’o (Seven Sacred Pools), Maui, Hawaii
Located within East Maui’s magestic Haleakala National Park, this series of plunge pools fed by cascading waterfalls will have you feeling as if you’ve just been transported to Jurassic Park. Tip: as with many on this list, these pools are a very popular tourist attraction. We recommend arriving as soon as the park opens (9am) to avoid the crowds, then head post-dip to the adjacent Pipiwei Trail. Here you can wander through an enchanting bamboo forest to your reward of a breathtaking, 400 foot waterfall.
Grotta della Poesia (Grotto of Poetry), Roca Vecchia, Italy
Ciao bella! This stunning natural wonder can be found in Roca Vecchia, an important Bronze Age and Mycenaean archaeological site sitting on the Adriatic coast. Two turquoise, karst limestone sinkholes make up this swimmable grotto, aptyl named the Poesia Piccola and Poesia Grande.
Erawan Falls, Erawan National Park, Thailand
Located within western Thailand’s Erawan National Park, these 7 tiered, emerald falls are named after the three-headed erawan white elephant of Hindu mythology. If you look close enough while you’re there, you might be able to make out the resemblance of an elephant’s head in the top tier. Don’t forget to hike one of the park’s many trails after for your chance to spot wild monkeys, elephants, even king cobras.
Gunlom Plunge Pool, Northern Territory, Australia
After a steep climb to the top of Gunlom Falls in World Heritage-listed Kakadu National Park, reap the reward of sweeping views while taking a well-deserved dip in the crystal clear pools. Tip: go at sunset for a phenomenal view of the sky’s ever-changing colors.
Blue Lagoon, Grindavik, Iceland
Located in a lava field in Grindavík on the Reykjanes Peninsula, it’s no surprise this famed geothermal spa is Iceland’s top visited attraction. The naturally heated, milky blue pool holds a constant temperature of 40C (104F) and boasts skin-healing properties due to its mineral-rich content. Plus, you don’t have to leave the water to get a drink at the Lagoon’s outdoor bar.
To-Sua Ocean Trench, Samoa, South Pacific
If you can stomach the steep ladder access certainly not for the faint of heart, you’ll be rewarded by a refreshing swim in 30 meter (98.4 feet) deep, crystal clear turquoise waters fed by the ocean. This unique site actually consists of two giant holes, one with and one without water, joined together via an ancient lava tube.
Las Grietas, Puerto Ayora, Galápagos, Ecuador
Proving there’s more to the Galápagos Islands than gigantic tortoises, this dazzling ocean water pool is positioned between two tall cliffs on the central island of Santa Cruz. Directly translated to “the crevasses,” you’ll need to take a boat than embark on a 15 minute hike through lava fields and a cactus forest before arriving to Las Grietas. Tip: bring water shoes, as you’ll be entering and exiting the water via slippery rocks.
Natural Pool, Noord, Aruba
Enjoy a front row seat to the southern Caribbean Sea while taking a dip in this tranquil and shallow pool created by a unique rock formation. Arriving here will feel as if you’ve truly found an oasis, as this hidden gem is surrounded by the island’s most rugged terrain. Warning: large waves have been known to crash into the pool and knock swimmers around, so it’s recommended to steer clear of swimming on windy days.
Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye, Scotland
These enchanting crystal clear blue pools lie at the foot of Scotland’s Black Cuillin mountains, making for quite the wild swimming experience – for those brave enough to enter the River Brittle’s icy water, that is. For the rest of us, awe-inspiring views and a few magical photos will do.
Nanda Blue Hole, Vanuatu, South Pacific
There are quite a few blue holes located in Espiritu Santo (the largest island in Vanuatu), however the Nanda Blue Hole ranks as the most impressive. This deep blue, crystal clear pool is fed by fresh water springs rising through limestone, surrounded by lush green forest for an awe-inspiring contrast. The pool is also known as Jacquie’s Blue Hole, after the friendly family land owners who allow this natural attraction to be enjoyed by all.
The Devil’s Pool, Victoria Falls, Southeastern Africa
Along the Zambezi River on the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, brave souls can venture into the Devil’s Pool during the dry season (from September to December) when water levels are at their lowest and current is minimal. The pool itself sits on a rocky depression on the edge of Victoria Falls (twice the height of Niagara Falls), shallow enough for people to safely swim right to the edge before the waterfall gushes down 350 feet into the gorge below. For the most daring: guides will even hold your ankles while you lie down and dangle your arms over the edge.
Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park, Missouri
This cerulean blue pool is quite literally “shut in” by surrounding hard lava rock, over and around which flows the East Fork Black River in southeastern Missouri. Hundreds of winding chutes, waterfalls, shallow wading pools and deep plunge pools have also formed as a result, making the 8,550 acre Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park a truly spectacular sight.
Dudu Blue Lagoon, Dominican Republic
Situated on the DR’s northeastern coast near the town of Cabrera, this secluded, 100 feet deep freshwater cenote offers a glimmering shade of cobalt blue at the surface, and a series of diveable underwater caves below. Before leaving Cabrera don’t forget to stop by the Saltadero waterfall, where you may be tempted to climb up its ridges and jump off into the small plunge pool below.
Pamakkale Thermal Travertine Pools, Denizli, Turkey
A UNESCO World Heritage Site and often referred to as the 8th Wonder of the World, these ethereal milky blue pools in the Denizli Province of southwestern Turkey are formed by cascading travertines: sparkling-white calcium carbonate shelves. The natural site boasts a sprawling 100+ shallow pool count heated by geothermal activity (up to 96 degrees Fahrenheit), filled with restorative mineral waters welcoming bathers for thousands of years.
Giola, Thassos, Greece
Carved into the rocky seaside of the beautiful island of Thassos (home to the mythological Sirens), getting to Giola is no piece of cake – which makes arriving to this remarkable site all the more rewarding. The natural sea lagoon is enclosed by 8 meter (26 feet) high rocks from which swimmers can jump or dive into the crystal clear waters below, all the while catching sweeping views of the Aegean Sea.
Ik-Kil Cenote (Cave Pool), Yucatán, Mexico
“Cenote” comes from a Mayan word meaning “well” and is used to describe naturally formed pits or sinkholes, usually caused after the collapse of a cave. Found en route to the archeological site of Chichén Itzá, the enchanting Ik-Kill Cenote (located within the Ik Kil Eco-Arqueological Park) presents a perfectly round, 96 feet wide x 130 feet deep swimming hole surrounded by limestone rock, wild vegetation, and dangling jungle vines. Perfect for diving, the natural site has even hosted the Red Bull cliff diving series.
Lake Hillier (Pink Lake), Western Australia
This saline lake located on Middle Island (just off the south coast of Western Australia) is famed for its bubble gum pink color, which scientists can’t definitively explain. Leading speculation says the color is caused by a reaction of sea salt and sodium bicarbonate, or caused by red halophilic bacteria in the salt crusts. Whatever the cause, the lake is safe to swim in but tricky to get to – you’ll need to arrive via cruise or helicopter to access this protected nature reserve.
Kuang Si Waterfalls, Laos
Located in the region of Luang Prabang, Kuang Si Waterfalls are a short tuk-tuk drive from the French-influenced, Lao city of Luang Phrabang. Spend a day exploring, wading and swimming in the series of crystal clear azure pools fed by three tiers of cascading waterfalls. The water will be cool surrounded by lush, shaded jungle, acting as the perfect reward after hiking one of the nearby trails (some of which will take you to the top of the falls).
Havasu Falls, Havasupai Indian Reservation, Arizona
Located just outside the Havasupai Indian village of Supai, on the bottom of the Grand Canyon, lies Havasu Falls and it’s pristine, 72-degree year round swimming hole. Get ready for adventure – the only way to reach it is by helicopter, hiking a steep 10 miles, or hiring a pack mule from the Havasupai tribe. And you’ll need an entry permit ($40.00). The good news? You’ll likely have this majestic sanctuary all to yourself.
The Great Blue Hole, Belize
At close to 1000 feet wide and 400 feet deep, the enigmatic Great Blue Hole of Belize’s barrier reef is believed to be the largest sinkhole in the world. A diver’s dream world, the seemingly bottomless hole is encircled by an island of coral and home to numerous species of fish (sharks included), stalactite-filled caves and further marine life.
Oeschinen Lake, Lötschberg, Switzerland
Proclaimed by some to be the most beautiful mountain lake throughout the Alps, Switzerland’s deep-blue Oeschinen Lake lies surrounded by glaciers, green cliffs and snow-capped peaks. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is reached via gondola lift or a 30-minute hike through pine forest and pastures, offering activities from swimming and kayaking in the summer to ice-fishing and a 3.5 kilometer toboggan run in the winter.
Hamilton Pool Preserve, Austin, Texas
This gorgeous natural rock grotto was formed thousands of years ago when the dome of an underground river collapsed due to erosion. While immersing yourself in the cool jade-green waters, take in the comforting sounds of a 50 foot waterfall and don’t forget to look up – moss and fern blanket the limestone ceiling alongside large, jagged stalactites.
Melissani Cave (Cave of the Nymphs), Greece
This jaw-dropping cave housing an underground lake is found on the east coast of the island of Kefalonia in Greece. First discovered in 1951, further excavations in 1962 led to the discovery of oil lamps, plates and figures showing the Greek god Pan and several nymphs – leading the site to earn the name Cave of the Nymphs. You won’t be able to swim in the lake’s crystal blue-green waters due to their very, very icy temps, but you can reach them via a boat and guide.