Taking a relaxing dip in a stunning swimming hole is one of the world’s greatest pleasures – so much so, the activity is often used as a part of visualization practices to induce a sense of calm. If you’d like to experience one of the planet’s best, be sure to put these scenic swimming holes on your travel bucket list – they’re well-worth planning an entire trip around.
Pools of 'Ohe'o, Haleakala National Park, Maui, Hawaii (Nearby Hotels)
The Hana Highway, frequently acclaimed as one of the most scenic drives in America, winds through Maui’s lush rainforests and along the spectacular coastline, though it wasn’t always the popular tourist destination it is today. In order to attract more visitors, a local hotel owner began calling a series of tiered, waterfall-fed swimming holes the “Seven Sacred Pools.” There are actually more than seven pools, and none of them were ever considered sacred, but it sounded good, and despite it being a marketing gimmick, these pools that are a part of Haleakala National Park are absolutely stunning and ideal for a swim when water levels are safe.
Havasu Falls, Havasupai Indian Reservation, Arizona (Nearby Hotels)
Havasu Falls is set with a remote area of the Grand Canyon, aptly named “Havasupai,” or “people of the blue-green waters.” With its backdrop of fiery red rock canyon walls, the crystal clear cerulean waters take on remarkable hues due to high concentrations of calcium carbonate and magnesium. The waters plunge down into travertine swimming holes below, offering one of the most amazing spots to take a dip on the planet. This place considered sacred by the Havasupai isn’t easy to get to, requiring a ten-mile hike, mule or horse ride to get there, but that just means you’re not likely to run into a huge crowd. In addition to Havasu Falls, there are four other major waterfalls nearby, Upper and Lower Najavo Falls, Beaver Falls and Mooney Falls.
Tinago Falls, Philippines (Nearby Hotels)
Tinago Falls, or “Hidden Falls,” is located on Biliran, part of the Visayas islands group of the central Philippines, in the heart of the Caibiran rainforest. It’s the most accessible of the island’s many waterfalls, with a paved access road, requiring a climb 500 steps down what’s known as the “Winding Staircase.” As long as the water isn’t flowing too swiftly, there are two large swimming holes right at the base of the falls. The falls are surrounded by lush trees, vines and other exotic plants, making it a picture-perfect hideaway. Underneath, you can discover another hidden gem, a small cave that can be entered, where you can listen to the rippling waters of the falls.
Great Blue Hole, Belize (Nearby Hotels)
Tunnels and caves weave beneath this dazzling natural sinkhole that’s considered to be one of the most popular attractions in all of Belize. The “holy grail” of scuba sites, the perfectly circular hole that’s about one-quarter of a mile across and 480 feet deep, is considered one of the world’s top dives. It is the depth of water that gives it its legendary deep blue hue. Like a giant pupil in a sea of turquoise, the limestone sinkhole also features some rather bizarre stalactites and limestone formations, which mold its walls and seem to get more intricate and intense the deeper one dives. Nearby is one of Belize’s largest protected areas, Half Moon Caye Natural Monument, which encompasses 10,000 acres of the atoll and 15 square miles of surrounding waters.
To Sua Ocean Trench, Lotofaga, Samoa (Nearby Hotels)
To Sua literally means giant swimming hole. This natural, nearly 100-foot deep pool is in a lava field in Lotofago village on the south coast of Upolu island, renowned for its idyllic beaches and unspoiled nature. Swimmers use a ladder to climb down into the hole and enjoy refreshing, crystal clear waters that are fed by the ocean. The To Sua Ocean Trench is surrounded by picturesque gardens and a white sandy beach. Cooling off in the pool provides an excellent respite from midday heat, but in the early morning or evening hours when temperatures are more tolerable, you may want to check out the colorful food market, Maketi Fou, to stock up on delicious fruit like little ladyfinger bananas or pawpaws. Just a few steps away is the flea market, offering everything from kava bowls to authentic Samoan music, jewelry, baskets and lava lavas, the Samoan sarong.
Silfra, Þingvellir National Park, Iceland (Nearby Hotels)
While neither swimming, snorkeling or diving aren’t activities often linked to Iceland, believe it or not, this breathtaking nation is home to one of the world’s top dive sites, Silfra. This rift formed in the divergent tectonic boundary between the North American and Eurasian plates and is located in the Þingvallavatn Lake in the Þingvellir National Park in Iceland. The rift between the tectonic plates continues to grow two centimeters wider every year, which means divers or snorkelers can literally float through a crack between the American and Eurasian continents. The incredible visibility, typically about 100 meters, rivals even the air above, allowing one to enjoy incredible neon colors and other-worldly-like topography. Of course, the waters aren’t exactly warm, barely above freezing, making it pretty chilly even in a dry suit, but the reward is an incredible unique experience.
Kuang Si Falls, Laos (Nearby Hotels)
Located about an hour south of Luang Prabang, Kuang Si Falls is a multi-tier waterfall with cascades collecting in several vibrant cerulean pools while flowing downstream. You can hike to the top of the very tall main waterfall which feeds this series of small pools – and as the current is generally calm, swimming in safe in most areas. Although the water is chilly, it feels amazing on a sizzling hot day. This favorite attraction with tourists to Luang Prabang, it’s a must see even if you don’t plan to swim. Locals charge a nominal fee to visit the site, but it is well maintained, with walkways and bridges that help you reach the falls. Other highlights of Luang Prabang, the capital of Luang Prabang Province in northern Laos, include exploring temples and bustling markets which reflect the rich culture. You can also visit impressive Buddhist monasteries, watch the dawn procession of hundreds of monks and visiting the historical Royal Palace Museum.
The Subway, Zion National Park, Utah (Nearby Hotels)
The Subway is a mystical journey through the Left Fork of North Creek in Zion National Park, and a true adventure that involves route finding, plunging cautiously into chilly pools then sloshing through frigid waters over and through difficult obstacles. The narrow Subway section of the hike forces hikers through a unique tunnel that was sculpted by the creek. The churning water chisels the rock floor, forming shallow potholes that fill to the brim with frigid water. While it may not technically be a pool – swimming here is something you surely will never forget. If you’d like to view it without having to deal with challenging obstacles, you can explore the canyon from the bottom where thin sheets of sparkling waters cascade over mossy stair-step sections of rock.
Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye, Scotland (Nearby Hotels)
The Isle of Skye, an island in the Inner Hebrides connected by bridge to the mainland, boasts some of the country’s most alluring landscapes, including the Fairy Pools set at the foot of the Black Cuillins near Glenbrittle. These fantasy-like crystal clear azure pools have, not surprisingly, have been the shooting location for a number of popular films in recent decades, including 2007’s “Stardust.” The adventurous might want to take a dip in the cool, refreshing waters. It’s easy to imagine fairies living here in the lush emerald glen and twisted trees that surround the pools.
God's Bath, Sonora, California (Nearby Hotels)
If you like cliff jumping, waterfalls, snorkeling, swimming and sunbathing, you’ll love God’s Bath, located outside the town of Sonora, nestled in a remote wilderness area of the Sierra Nevada Foothills. This cliff-jumper’s dream features towering boulder formations and a combination of deep and shallow crystal clear water, reflecting deep blues and blacks. The granite bridge is a highlight – you can swim underneath and pop out in a hole milled out by the stream. While it’s surely one of California’s best swimming holes, it does require good boots and about a 2.5-mile moderate, unmarked hike to get there.