On The Road
Eight Wild Swims To Do Before You Die
From steaming hot waterfalls to ancient volcanoes, we reveal the world’s most beautiful spots for a dip
Mount Rinjani crater lake, Lombok, Indonesia Ulet Ifansasti/ Getty Images
Picture the scene: you arrive at your dream holiday destination to find that the beach described as “secluded” on the hotel’s website is, in fact, one of the most popular hang-outs for locals and tourists. There’s also been a jellyfish outbreak so the idea of taking a dip seems even less appealing. As the heat of the day builds, you imagine yourself somewhere more peaceful – slipping into the fresh water of a remote lake perhaps, or diving into an isolated mountain pool.
Indeed, nothing beats cooling off in spectacular surroundings, somewhere in the wilderness. According to studies commissioned by NASA, there are also health benefits to regularly swimming in cold, clean water, including improved circulation and a stronger immune system. All things considered, it’ll always be a much more refreshing option than a dip in the hotel pool.
I started writing about wild swimming about 20 years ago while on an expedition to Indonesia, and have since published a series of guides charting what I believe to be the world’s best lagoons. From the white granite lakes of Yosemite Valley to the legendary Fairy Pools off the west coast of Scotland, here are the eight dips that top my list (and how to find them).
The Blue Lagoon – Abereiddy, Pembrokeshire, West Wales
The Blue Lagoon is a turquoise flooded quarry on one of the most spectacular coastlines in Britain. Positioned under towering cliffs teeming with rare wild flowers, a narrow channel leads out to the sea, allowing water to gush in and out as the tide ebbs and flows. The natural minerals from the slate found in this old quarry give the water an ethereal appearance, and there is an old winch tower (about 20ft high) that provides the perfect platform to dive off.
How to get there: Look out for the Abereiddy sign – nine miles from Fishguard or six miles from St David’s in west Wales. Park at Abereiddy beach, and it’s a 10-minute walk on the coast path to the right of the beach (Google Maps: 51.9435, -5.1992).
Tip: Continue up the coast to the old brick mill ruins above Porthgain, and then relax on the harbour by the Sloop Inn pub.
Best in: June, to enjoy the coastal wild flowers.
Fairy Pools – Glen Brittle, Isle of Skye, Scotland
© Adam Seward/ imageBROKER/ Corbis
Named after a water nymph from Celtic folklore (and called Allt Coir a’Mhadaidh in Gaelic), this series of rowan-clad waterfalls and pools off the west coast of Scotland can only be described with one word: spectacular. The water here is incredibly inviting; tinged with jade hues from the volcanic rock of the Black Cuillin mountains that tower in the background. Once you’ve taken the plunge, swim down and keep your eyes peeled for the underwater arch that connects the two top pools.
How to get there: From Sligachan Hotel (near Loch Sligachan) on the A87, follow the A863/ B8009 and turn left (signed Glen Brittle) just before Carbost. After four miles find Fairy Pools car park on the left. It’s a 20-minute walk up the stream to the waterfalls (Google Maps: 57.2497, -6.2554).
Tip: The famous Talisker whisky distillery is only about five miles away, should you want to warm your cockles after your dip.
Best in: September, to avoid the mosquitoes.
Cascades de Purcaraccia – Corsica, France
These iridescent bowls of clear mountain water are carved from smooth white marble – part of the extraordinary geology of Corsica. The path down to Les cascades de Purcaraccia – in the southeast of the Mediterranean island – can be tricky to navigate, but the adventurous are rewarded with a variety of pools and natural slides, which some people use to slide down on rubber rings. If heights aren’t your thing, then tread carefully, because there is an infinity pool that reaches up to the lip of a 50m waterfall.
How to get there: From Sari-Solenzara on the east coast, take the D268 high into the mountains. About 2.5km beyond Col de Larone, find a clear path on the right, 100m before the bridge over the Purcaraccia canyon. It’s about a 20-minute walk from there (Google Maps: 41.8375, 9.2645).
Tip: Continue along the road to find Les cascades de Polischellu, another great wild swim. Afterwards, enjoy a drink at the nearby Auberge du Col de Bavella.
Best in: September, when the mountain pools are at their warmest.
Río Vero – Alquézar, Sierra de Guara, Spain
Located in the mountains of Sierra de Guara – the canyoning capital of the Pyrenees, if not Europe – the Río Vero, in northern Spain, is a dramatic river and gorge with miles of tempting pools and waterfalls. The steep cliffs above are dotted with gaping cave chambers, which were once inhabited by prehistoric man, but are now home to countless eagles. Make sure to check out the ancient stone bridge, known as Puente de Villacantal, which is at the end of the main route down to the river.
How to get there: From the ancient fortress village of Alquézar, follow the footpath signposted for the bridge for about 30 minutes and descend into the gorge (Google Maps: 42.1746, 0.0321).
Tip: Continue downstream on the river path to find an old mill and a suspended walkway that hugs the cliff side.
Best in: July, to escape the heat.
what to wear
Lake Tenaya – Yosemite, California
© Daniel Morgan
Yosemite National Park might be better known for its waterfalls, but this sensational white granite lake, high on the Tioga Pass with views of the Half Dome (a great wall of granite that rises 1,444m above the valley floor), is well worth seeking out. Well away from areas more popular with tourists, there are white sand beaches, smooth rocks for lounging on and crystal-clear water. Snorkel out to the centre of the lake for some spectacular scenery.
How to get there: Enter via the Tioga Road (traversed by state route 120), which serves as the eastern entry point for the park. The best access is on the far western shore, after Sunrise car park, if you are travelling away from Yosemite village. Wander through the trees for about 100m to find the lake (Google Maps: 37.8274, -119.4679).
Tip: For even more seclusion, May Lake is on the turn off just before Tenaya. The Tioga Pass Resort is a good bet for accommodation.
Best in: May, before the crowds arrive in the valley.
Mares Forest Creek Canyon – New South Wales, Australia
Given the journey required to get to this beautiful area of southeast Australia, this is one of the most adventurous wild swims in the world. You can spend a whole day swimming and rock hopping in the pools along the length of this stunning mile-long canyon. At times, the walls are barely an arm span apart, and the limestone – which forms the milky, turquoise pools – is thought to be more than 400 million years old.
How to get there: Access via Wombeyan Karst Conservation Reserve, Wombeyan Caves Road, 66km from Mittagong in the southern highlands of New South Wales (Google Maps: -34.3169, 149.9640).
Tip: With countless blind corners and sheer drop-offs along the unmade road from Mittagong, take care on the drive, which takes around two hours.
Best in: January, at the height of the summer.
what to wear
Mount Rinjani crater lake – Lombok, Indonesia
Ulet Ifansasti/ Getty Images
Rinjani is a 3,726m-high volcano with a caldera containing a warm (about 20-22°C) crater lake – known as Segara Anak or Anak Laut (“child of the sea”) – that is about six miles wide. Although it takes a day to hike to the top, it makes a good diversion from the tourist-heavy beaches on the island of Lombok, which lies east of Bali. As you trek, steaming hot waterfalls cascade from the mountain sides and when the rim of the volcano approaches, the lake can be seen hundreds of metres below. There are many flat rocks to sunbathe on and, in the centre, a baby volcano steams and spits. You can try to swim out to it, but you will find the water gets uncomfortably warm.
How to get there: You can pick up a guide from Senaru, the entrance to the Rinjani National Park. If you’re feeling intrepid, hike up alone from the village of Torean – it takes about five hours (Google Maps: -8.41129, 116.45734).
Tip: If you don’t fancy the whole trek, just make for Senaru waterfall. Stay at the Rinjani Lodge for a touch of luxury.
Best in: October, before the monsoon.