MatadorU Photography faculty member Scott Sporleder shares this image from Palawan, the Philippines' most remote province and home to many beaches with super clear water.
Photo: Scott Sporleder

33 Places to Swim in the World's Clearest Water

Brazil Cuba Spain Maldives Galápagos Oregon Wyoming Marseille Outdoor Galleries
by Hal Amen Jul 1, 2012

HERE ARE 35 places around the world to strap on your GoPro, do some underwater exploring, and come back with amazingly clear imagery.

Linapacan Island, Palawan, Philippines

MatadorU Photography faculty member Scott Sporleder shares this image from Palawan, the Philippines’ most remote province and home to many beaches with super clear water.

The Maldives

Photo: Lifestyle Travel Photo/Shutterstock

The 26 atolls that make up the Maldives sit in the Indian Ocean about 400km southwest of the tip of the subcontinent. Abundant reef wildlife (including whale sharks) + incredibly clear waters bring in a lot of tourists. It’s also one of Matador’s 9 places to experience now before they literally vanish.

Dog Island, San Blas, Panama

Another from Scott Sporleder, here is a shot from one of Panama’s San Blas Islands, the largest of the politically autonomous reservations of the Kuna Indians.

Cayo Coco, Cuba

Photo: vvital/Shutterstock

A resort island on Cuba’s north coast, Cayo Coco is linked to the mainland by a 27km causeway. The adjacent reef and clear waters have earned international recognition as a dive destination.

Cala Macarelleta, Menorca, Spain

Photo: Jacinto Marabel Romo/Shutterstock

At the south end of the Mediterranean island of Menorca, the beach at Cala Macarelleta can only be reached on foot or by boat — probably one of the least-crowded beaches you’ll find in Spain.

Sua Trench, Samoa

To Sua Ocean Trench near Lotofaga village in Samoa

Photo: Martin Vlnas/Shutterstock

This impressively clear ocean trench is in Upolu, one of the many islands comprising the Polynesian nation of Samoa in the South Pacific.

Crater Lake, Oregon

Photo: Victoria Lipov/Shutterstock

Visibility in Crater Lake has been measured at 43.3m — among the highest in the world. Photographer Rhett Lawrence adds this note about swimming here: “[It’s] allowed, but there’s only one access point down to the lake — a steep, mile-long trail (it’s easy enough on the way down, but my then-4-year-old daughter did not appreciate the climb back up). Since that’s the only access point, you’ve got to really want to jump in the lake to do it — especially since it’s so damn cold — but it is permitted by the Park Service.”

Mantanani islands, Sabah, Borneo

Photo: Alen Thien/Shutterstock

A small group of three islands off the north-west coast of the state of Sabah, Malaysia. Diving is a popular activity here, as there are dive wrecks dating from the Second World War nearby.


Photo: Efired/Shutterstock

In the north of Sichuan province, the Jiuzhaigou Valley is a national park, nature reserve, and UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition to several crystal-clear lakes, it’s a region of multi-tiered waterfalls and snowy mountains. Tourism arrived late but is growing strong, and while swimming isn’t allowed…there’s always night-time skinny dipping. 

Sabah, Malaysia

Photo: Muhd Fuad Abd Rahim/Shutterstock

Another one from the remote Malaysian state, which covers the northern portion of Borneo and is ringed by reef-rich islands. This photo was taken in Semporna, which is a hub for people who come to dive Malaysian Borneo

Jenny Lake, Wyoming

Photo: Krishna.Wu/Shutterstock

Jenny Lake sits right below the peak of Grand Teton and is a landmark for many hiking trails, backcountry trails, and climbing routes. Despite the fact that motorboats are allowed on the lake, its waters are still considered “pristine.”

Rio Sucuri, Brazil

Photo: Renato Zaar/Shutterstock

Located in the Pantanal region of Brazil, Rio Sucuri is a spring-fed river that has some of the measurably clearest water on Earth. Multiple tour outfits run trips that let you snorkel the river.

Calanque de Sormiou, France

Photo: Daniel Pahmeier/Shutterstock

Calanques are steep-walled coves, and there’s a series of them along the 20km stretch of coast between Marseille and Cassis. Sormiou is one of the largest of these, and it’s popular for its nearby climbing routes as well as its beach.

Yaeyama Islands, Japan

Photo: Jihun Sim/Shutterstock

The islands are also known as one of the world’s best diving destinations, having a number of coral species and marine lives as large as those in the Great Barrier Reef. (Over 400 types of corals, 5 types of sea turtles, manta rays, whale sharks and all kinds of tropical fish species all live around Okinawa.)

Puerto Ayora, Galapagos

Photo: Marek Poplawski/Shutterstock

The most populous town in the Galapagos still sits right up next to some amazingly clear ocean water. Even here in Academy Bay, you can see pelicans, iguanas, sea lions, herons, rays, and other iconic wildlife.

Lake Tahoe, Nevada

Photo: topseller/Shutterstock

The photo above was taken in the Bonsai Rock area, on the east shore of the lake, which apparently flies under the radar. 

Cayos Cochinos, Honduras

Rounding out the Sporleder collection, this one comes from the central Caribbean coast of Honduras. For more images, check out the full photo essay.

Primosten, Croatia

Photo: Lukas Bischoff Photograph/Shutterstock

On the Adriatic Coast north of Split, Primosten is most famous for its vineyards, in addition to beaches that have been voted the best in the country.

St. George, Bermuda

Photo: Andrew F. Kazmierski/Shutterstock

The oldest continuously inhabited English settlement in the New World features many historic forts, like the small Gates Fort. Also: some damn clear water.

Hanauma Bay, Oahu, Hawaii

Photo: Mr. James Kelley/Shutterstock

Visit on a weekend during high season and you’ll be surrounded by busloads. If you can get it on a slow day with clear conditions, though, it’s some of the best snorkeling in Hawaii.

Pupu Springs, New Zealand

Photo: Tom Jastram/Shutterstock

At the very top of the South Island, on Golden Bay, 14000 liters of crystal clear water comes out of these springs per second!

Calanque d’En Vau, France

Photo: Gaspar Janos/Shutterstock

Another calanque on the southern coast of France, d’En-Vau has a narrower, steeper channel than Sormiou, giving a real feeling of seclusion and emphasizing the clarity of the water in this cove.

Rio Azul, Argentina

Photo: Agustin Devani/Shutterstock

Put in to the Confluence section of the Rio Azul near El Bolsón, Patagonia, Argentina. Matador Senior Editor David Miller notes, “This was the first river I’ve ever paddled, played, and swam in where the water was clean enough to drink. The entire Rio Azul watershed is born in the glaciers and snowfields of the Andes and the water is incredibly clear and pure.”

Corfu, Greece

Photo: proslgn/Shutterstock

Corfu sits in the Ionian Sea, off the northwest coast of Greece. Prior to the 1900s, most of the tourists that visited were European royalty. Today, its clear waters draw a lot of package-tour-style action.

Aitutaki, Cook Islands

Photo: Andrea Izzotti/Shutterstock

Matador Co-Founder Ross Borden visited the Cook Islands for a week and came back with images and video of epicly clear water.

Koh Phi Phi Don, Thailand

Photo: Balate Dorin/Shutterstock

Made famous when its smaller neighbor, Koh Phi Phi Leh, was used as the filming location for The Beach, the main island sees a lot of traffic from both backpackers and luxury travelers these days. Water like this is a big part of the draw.

Playa Blanca, Colombia

Photo: Oscar Garces/Shutterstock

This is a 45-minute boat ride from Cartagena and well worth the trip. In between swims in that crystal-clear blue water, be sure to snag some fresh ceviche from one of the vendors walking up and down the beach.

Blue Lake

Photo: Mi-chi/Shutterstock

One of many bodies of water in this list that someone or other has claimed has the clearest water in the world, Blue Lake is located in Nelson Lakes National Park, in the Southern Alps of New Zealand.


Photo: MNStudio/Shutterstock

This is a lake in southern Bavaria, near the border with Austria.

Valle Verzasca, Switzerland

Photo: Roman Mikhailiuk/Shutterstock

The clear waters of the Verzasca River run for 30km through this rocky valley in southern Switzerland. A dam of the same name, featured in the James Bond movie GoldenEye, blocks the river’s flow and forms Lago di Vogorno. Just downstream from it, the river empties into Lake Maggiore.

Tioman Island, Malaysia

Photo: Aliff Afiq/Shutterstock

This photo comes from the village of Salang on Tioman Island, off the east coast of peninsular Malaysia. Away from its beaches, there’s significant rainforest terrain in the interior, where you can see the endemic soft-shelled turtle and the Tioman walking catfish.

Belo Sur Mer, Madagascar

Belo Sur Mer, Madagascar

Photo: Ross Borden

Ross Borden explains: “I started in Moronvada, on the west coast of Madagascar and hired a boat and driver to take me down the coast to Belo Sur Mer, a super-isolated section of coastline known for diving, fishing and the fact that almost no one makes the trip down there. Belo Sur Mer is amazing on its own, but when the owner of the eco-lodge there told me about a string of uninhabited islands 80km off the coast, we jumped back in the boat and pointed it west, towards Mozambique and mainland Africa. What we found was four uninhabited gorgeous islands and one that had a tribe of “sea gypsies” living on it. These fascinating and hospitable people live off the rich fishing stocks of the Mozambique channel. We camped and lived with them for two days and they even took me along on an all-night fishing expedition in one of their sailboats in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It was one of the most amazing travel experiences of my life. During the day I would go snorkeling. Shoving off these tiny islands the water gets several hundreds of feet deep very quickly; I was out there with massive schools of deep ocean fish.”

Bodrum, Turkey

Photo: Nejdet Duzen/Shutterstock

Along the southern coast of the peninsula of the same name, Bodrum has an ancient history and was the site of one of the 7 Wonders of the Ancient World (the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus). It also has some amazingly clear water. 

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