Photo: Tomacrosse/Shutterstock

The 7 Most Stunning Swimming Destinations in the World

Insider Guides Diving Beaches and Islands
by Zibby Wilder Jun 28, 2018

If you love swimming outdoors, a good vacation involves pretty much anywhere there’s water, but serious swimmers may want to take it a step further than splashing in the shallows. While planning trips around hiking or biking are common, swim-oriented vacations are just starting to become popular.

While many swim vacations are organized by groups, we recommend a more DIY approach. That will give you flexibility over your schedule and may be preferable when traveling with others who don’t share your passion for the deep blue. If you’re up for planning your own swim-venture, here are seven awesome locations to take the plunge.

1. Cayo Coco, Cuba

Cayo Coco, Cuba

Photo: vvital/Shutterstock

Connected to mainland Cuba by a 17-mile causeway, Cayo Coco is a fair-weather swimmer’s paradise. More than 13 miles of pristine, white-sand beaches offer swimmers of all levels walk-in entry to nature’s swimming pool. Protected by raised reefs, the waters are warm and shallow, making them safe for those looking to hone their swimming skills or test their mettle at longer distances. Cayo Coco’s distance from Havana — about six hours by car — makes for less-crowded waters. You’re more likely to be outnumbered by birds (including flamingos) than fellow tourists here.

2. Massif des Calanques, Marseille, France

Massif des Calanques, France

Photo: Inu/Shutterstock

If you prefer your dips in the ocean to be punctuated by sips of fine wine and mouthfuls of haute cuisine, you’ll find nirvana in the Massif des Calanques. These secluded coves, tucked into the rocky shoreline south of Marseille, are known for their crystal-clear waters and deserted beaches.

Though you can drive and hike to many of them, the best way to get there is to hop on one of the many boat tours from Marseilles to Cassis. During the summer, they make plenty of stops for those looking for a memorable dip. An even better option is to hire a private boat or rent a sea kayak, so you can jump into the open ocean and swim your way into, and out of, these jewel-toned inlets.

3. Salt Spring Island, British Columbia, Canada

Salt Spring Island, British Columbia

Photo: Adam Richard Sklena/Shutterstock

Just off the east coast of Vancouver Island, Salt Spring Island is a quick ferry ride — or a chilly 3.2-mile swim — from the small town of Crofton. The ferry lands in Vesuvius Bay, which is a favorite spot for swimmers and scuba divers. On the island’s west side, Beddis Beach is also a popular walk-in spot for a plunge.

Wind, rain, and algae can sometimes impair visibility, but the tides tend to keep the waters here clear for refreshing swims and sightings of sea stars, anemones, eels, crabs, octopuses, and seals. The average water temperature around the island hovers at 49°F, so even a short plunge requires full-body coverage and an 8mm wetsuit. A group of cheerful locals, informally called the Salt Spring Seals, swims here regularly.

4. Maui, Hawaii

Kaanapali Beach on Maui, Hawaii

Photo: dirkr/Shutterstock

The Hawaiian Islands are famous for their warm, deep, aquamarine waters, which makes them an obvious pick. But for serious swimmers, they offer the opportunity to tick off a bucket list item: an open-water, island-to-island swim. This is no easy task and requires both training and planning, but with careful organization, a solo swim (with safety support) or relay swim is within the realm of possibility.

One prime spot is the 8.5-mile Pailolo Channel, which separates Molokai and Maui. This stretch of open water is the shortest between islands but presents many challenges, ranging from seasickness due to ocean swells, sunburn, and dehydration to run-ins with unexpected visitors such as Portuguese man o’ war and curious tiger sharks. Nevertheless, with careful planning, stamina, skill, and just plain smarts, this could be a swim for the ages.

5. Ibo Island, Mozambique

Ibo Island, Mozambique

Photo: Ibo Island Lodge/Facebook

For swimmers who also crave true adventure, Ibo Island is a jumping off point to the edge of nowhere. Called the “lost world” by some, this small island in the Quirimbas Archipelago drops off into the Indian Ocean from the island’s east coast. Its heyday dates back to around 700 AD when it was a vibrant stop on the spice trade route.

These days, residents number only a few thousand, the architecture is dominated by historical ruins, and, thanks to its remote location, Ibo’s waters, corals, and sea life are pristine. There’s no guidebook for swimming here — it’s the wild west of experiences. One of the only places to stay on the island, the Ibo Island Lodge, can help organize trips or make recommendations for swimmers. It’s the pick of the litter for swimmers looking for a unique, unspoiled, rule-free, Indian Ocean experience.

6. Lord Howe Island, NSW, Australia

Lord Howe Island, NSW, Australia

Photo: Tomacrosse/Shutterstock

A two-hour flight from Sydney or Brisbane brings you to this UNESCO World Heritage site, an island almost untouched by humans. The protected waters surrounding Lord Howe Island are home to more than 500 species of fish and over 90 coral species, many found nowhere else in the world.

The island has over 15 beaches, and its west coast is dominated by a sandy, sheltered coral reef lagoon — it’s blue gold for swimmers. Only 400 visitors are allowed on the island at a time, so you should book your flights and accommodations at the same time. But it means that you’ll be able to enjoy each and every stroke in peace.

7. US Virgin Islands

Trunk Bay, St. John, US Virgin Islands

Photo: Brocreative/Shutterstock

Just east of Puerto Rico sits the US Virgin Islands, a popular stop for cruise ships and tourists but also for swimmers. With an average water temperature of 81°F and regular visibility of up to 100 feet, the calm waters surrounding these islands sing a siren song to swimmers of all levels. Those looking for a little competition and camaraderie can drop in with Finfolk, a group of seasoned swimmers that organizes regular plunges. Another option is to time your visit to swim from Buck Island to the Buccaneer Hotel (Buck to Buc, as they say) as part of the yearly 5-mile St. Croix Coral Reef Swim. In neighboring St. Thomas, Magens Bay is a top spot for a swim, away from much of the boat and tourist traffic other parts of the island see.

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