Around The World In 80 Swims
GOOD NEWS! Would-be wild swimmers and cold water veterans, your gorgeous Blue Planet has more wild water than you could ever swim in one lifetime. You’re surrounded by natural playgrounds where you can stretch your limbs, dunk your head and start ploughing through the water. Great bodies and arms of water flow, swell and roll in all directions. If you were stranded on Mars you’d be flat-out on your belly, pawing through red, sun-baked dust and rubble. But seen as you’re here on this oceanic marble you’re going to have a hard time keeping dry – you might as well make the most of it!
Wherever we’ve wound-up in the world, throughout the years, my brothers and I have always tried to find memorable swim spots. Now, we thought we’d write a big Jules Verne-style list including 80 of our favourites from different countries around the world. Delving back into old, tattered travel albums we’ve attempted to use only the most vivid and exciting moments, from watching dolphins lead a surfing masterclass, to diving down amongst Roman ruins in geothermal pools. This is a list we’ve created together with the intention of showing you just how endless the possibilities are, as well as how lucky we are to be sharing this gleaming, watery planet.
So, here’s 80 unusual and sometimes downright irresistible spots we’ve found around the world. We hope these get you spinning the globe with goggles in hand:
Cleopatra’s Pool, Turkey
JACK: We went out to visit Robbie when he was living in Istanbul. After staying in the city for a few days we took a trip down south and wound-up at Cleopatra’s Pool in Pamukkale. This was a geo-thermal pool filled with crumbled Roman ruins. It was specially designed to cater for crowds of visiting tourists. First you had to walk up tiers of natural, travertine footbaths that cascade down the hillside like reams of melting wax. Further up the hill were the sand-covered remains of the ancient Roman city of Hierapolis. It was a very special location.
The three of us swam and lounged around in the geothermal pool and took turns diving deep into the clear, greenish water, surrounded by thick flanks of foliage. I remember groping my way under a toppled pillar and arcing upwards on the other side, over the shrouded figures of preserved ruins half-hidden beneath me.
Newcastle Beach, Australia
JACK: Whilst following the Lion’s Tour in 2013, Robbie and I rented surfboards and swam and surfed for several hours off this long, apricot beach in Newcastle, Australia. The setting was so perfect that I didn’t think about sharks once – that is, until I spotted the distinct crescent of a fin cutting through the trough of a nearby wave. Luckily what followed wasn’t a re-enactment of the worst scenes in Jaws, but instead an unforgettable encounter with one of the most intelligent animals on Earth.
Lo and behold, to my relief, a lively pod of dolphins suddenly appeared and began to surf the waves, showing me how it was done. At one point four dolphins came back from a break and swam directly towards me. I kept my balance on the board, held my hands underwater and felt them splitting the water as they passed on either side. I could even see their large, patterned bodies turning slightly as they swerved by.
Lofoten Islands, Norway
JACK: The Lofoten Islands are washed and carved by some of the clearest water I’ve ever been in. If you can get past the chilly Arctic temperature, a swim in these waters is infinitely rewarding. Whilst setting off across the Moskstraumen, close to the tip of Mosken, I became very aware of the sea eagles circling above me, the fish scattering beneath me and blooms of Lion’s mane jellyfish bobbing close to the surface. Not to mention, the potential of meeting a big familial pod of orcas at any moment… it was a truly exhilarating experience.
Achnahaird Bay, Scotland
JACK: This long crescent of sand, edged by tufted dunes, is a natural treasure from our childhood. When we went to see our Grandma in Scotland during the summer we’d often take the hour-long trip north to Achnahaird bay. It was a very picturesque, yet also rugged swim location, surrounded by tall, higgledy mountains. I remember the waves would roll slowly into the wide cove, while inquisitive seals surfaced at regular intervals to monitor the bathers and kayakers.
Durdle Door, England
JACK: The natural jewel of the Jurassic Coast, Durdle Door, is a great limestone arch located close to a shingle beach. Last summer, after joining forces with Adventure Uncovered, Calum and I had the privilege of leading a group of swimmers through this Door. I remember diving down over a kelp forest as we passed through the shadow of the arch, and then rising slowly on the other side, as silver fish flitted all about us, darting through the dappled sunlight.
Krka National Park, Croatia
JACK: When we drove inland in Croatia we found that we spent long periods with arid, dusty expanses that evoked the mesquite-spotted deserts of Mexico. However, wherever there was water we also found natural beauty in abundance, particularly in the forested valleys of Krka National Park. Robbie, myself and our girlfriends Valeriya and Beth all swam there together in the trickling cascade pools of the Krka waterfalls. At one point, we even saw a striped snake hunting fish in the turquoise shallows.
Hout Bay, South Africa
JACK: When I was a teen I went on a rugby trip to South Africa. One of the first nights, after we arrived in Cape Town, was spent with a local host – the family of a Forward from one of the teams we’d be playing. My friend Hende and me ended up with this friendly, outdoorsy guy who took us to Hout Bay at dusk for a swim. I remember standing in the shallows, watching the sunset behind the rocks and jumping into the waves as they rolled into us. Behind us, the flat peak of Table Mountain carved an otherworldly silhouette, while to our right the outcrop of the Lion’s Head stood proud in the ebbing light, wearing a mane of rugged hills that formed the vague shape of a stretched-out lion.
JACK: In hindsight, we should’ve expected that a city known locally as the City of Lakes would offer lots of beautiful places to swim. As it happened, Luke, Calum, Robbie, myself and our cousins Gareth and Owen arrived at Udaipur in India and were greeted by a veritable Indian Venice. In fact, it was the same paradise James Bond found, wearing his pristine white suit in Octopussy, scattered with sprawling royal buildings, mosaiced courtyards, fountains, carp pools and marble wharfs. Not to mention the many iconic lakes, their serene waters spotted with domed floating palaces and pavilions. One day we wandered outside the city and swam in this square pool lined with tall white walls. As we all undressed, the two girls who’d joined our group began to attract a crowd of male onlookers. The next thing we knew the police were ushering us out the water, at which point Luke stepped on a shard of glass and opened his heel.
As far as swims go, this one started as a peaceful, idyllic experience, but soon turned into a bloody nightmare replete with loitering gawkers and police escorts.
JACK: In the humid jungles of Kalimantan, Indonesia, myself and two friends found ourselves riding a bamboo raft down a winding, coffee-coloured river. The local steering the thing had an uncanny knack for navigating knobbled rapids and finding secluded swim spots. One of the spots he found was a deep patch where the slow-moving river had widened and the canopy had parted overhead. The three of us paddled for a while in the sunlit, greenish waters, keeping our feet off the sludgy riverbed and keeping our minds off snakes. It was a wild, unforgettable setting for a swim. All around us the tangled jungle canopy seemed to swell and ripple, filled with cadent birdsong and the twig-cracking movements of small mammals.
El Nido, The Philippines
JACK: While staying in El Nido, we – myself, my girlfriend Beth, old mate Sandy and his girlfriend Millie – all kayaked around the coast together in search of turtles and a bamboo platform we’d seen several days earlier. On the way, we stopped in a cove, sheltered by palm trees, and snorkelled out over an unspoilt stretch of reef, descending slowly down the sloped seabed. We didn’t see any turtles, although we swam and dove together for a long time, spotting sprouts of brain coral, shoals of multi-coloured fish, sea anemones populated by grumpy clown fish and fat, lumpy sea cucumbers ploughing the furrowed sand.
Samana, Dominican Republic
JACK: We both agreed that the low-lying Samana peninsula was the best place we went when Beth and I travelled to the Dominican Republic. Apparently, it’s the best stretch of land for watching the migration of the humpback whales (unfortunately we weren’t there at the right time for that). Everywhere you went there were beautiful, empty bays, coves, waterfalls and forested hills. We stayed in a rustic chalet a short walk from a sandy beach lined with tall, skinny palm trees. Shortly after sunrise I watched a local fisherman heading out in his canoe and then swam in the tranquil waters over scattered patches of coral. Sinking through the lukewarm depths, peering through my googles, I was surprised to find countless little puffer fish hovering busily amongst the scattered clumps of coral and seagrass. I spent about an hour just floating and diving with them, admiring their unusual, spiny bodies and their smiley faces.
Lake Montriond, France
JACK: Beth and I spent a few weeks of summer with her family in the French Alps. We drove to Lake Montriond and I swam there several times, preparing for my Norway swims. However, there was one particular time that still remains vivid in my mind. Early in the morning we took our rented bikes onto a ski-lift, headed up into the mountains and spent a sweaty morning rattling and weaving down a ragged, closed-off bike trail. At the end, we came out onto an empty road and free-wheeled forever through goat-towns, forests and tunnels, until eventually we saw the sunlit lake cradled beneath us. There’s not much that could beat that feeling of finally putting down your bike, peeling off your sticky clothes and cooling off in the still, glittering water.
Mo Paeng Waterfall, Thailand
JACK: In our youth, we’d found a few natural river slides hidden high up amongst the hills in Cumbria. But the water-smoothed Mo Paeng cascades were much larger and more exciting than anything we’d experienced before. Pictured above you can see my pal Sandy trying to keep his line as the final bumps flings him sidelong into the pool below. It immediately became clear that this was one of nature’s secret gifts to big kids everywhere.
Gili Islands, Indonesia
JACK: Someone told us that there was no law on the little, sand-ringed Gili Islands, and no roads either. Upon hearing that, we, myself, Sandy and another of our mates, were sold. We spent three slow, peaceful days on the island in a stilted bamboo house. One evening we took a boat out before sunset and snorkelled in a channel between two of the three islands (the largest and the second largest). Swimming and diving down into the cool waters, we disturbed countless shoals of passing tropical fish and once even sighted a striped sea snake slithering down into the deep.
Manta Point, Indonesia
JACK: Manta Point, close to Bali, is a famous dive spot in Indonesia, due, in part, to the large manta rays that roam the area. Whilst diving, we were treated to appearances from turtles that grazed on a coral-studded seamount and manta rays that slipped gracefully overhead, trailing large pilot fish. It was a magical place and the warm swim (float) after our dive was one I won’t soon forget, surrounded by limestone arches and tall, chalky bluffs of Penida Island.
Manly Beach, Australia
JACK: Manly beach, in Australia, is one of the most popular of Sydney’s northern beaches. It’s a long curve of sand with a relatively subdued surf – at least compared to the likes of Bondi – and plenty of chilled, dishevelled cafés close by. Robbie and I walked a long way down the beach and swam and floated in the turquoise waters, watching local surfers arcing, spinning and generally turning the gentle waves into their playthings.
Sun City, South Africa
JACK: Okay, so this wasn’t a wild swim – a wave pool in the sprawling, terracotta resort of Sun City, South Africa, is about as tame as it gets. Unfortunately, the closest untamed waters were home to several large crocodiles so we happily settled for the pool. As it happens, this is still one of my most memorable swims abroad. The Roaring Lagoon, the main attraction at the Valley of Waves water park, had this 6,500-square metre gauntlet, leading up to a fortress wall, enclosing a rumbling behemoth of internal hydraulics, which sent out ranks of tall waves. We must’ve spent about a half-hour fumbling and flipping through the churned water, trying to keep our feet and fend off the incoming blows.
River Eden, England
JACK: Nine days is a long time to spend travelling down a river. Of course, it isn’t true, but we felt like we got to know every drop of the Eden in that time. Sometimes the changes in its behaviour were subtle, although occasionally it would transform dramatically. At times, when we were lucky, we found ourselves enclosed in the quietude of a monastery, flanked by overgrown walls of foliage, with little, wild lives, scurrying, flitting and leaping all around us.
Bodo Harbour, Norway
JACK: It wasn’t long after we crossed over into the Arctic Circle, and landed in Norway, that we found ourselves in the icy water at Bodo Harbour. Sculptured green peaks ruled the horizon and the harbour wall shielded us from any incoming currents. It was very still and peaceful in the bay where we first swam. There weren’t too many lion’s mane jellyfish and the clarity of the water had me constantly wanting to gasp for air.
Loch Broom, Scotland
JACK: Our swim across Loch Broom, in the Highlands of Scotland, was memorable for many reasons. In total, Robbie and I spent over five hours crawling through the chilly loch. There were countless splayed red jellyfish, a few shy seals and stretches of some of the clearest water I’ve ever seen. Then it all ended with us at Clachan church, where our Grandma Wild is buried, laying a wreath on her grave.
Obonjan Island, Croatia
JACK: Last summer the three of us were lucky enough to be invited to the Obonjan Festival in Croatia. We gave talks about the fine art of maelstrom swimming and led swims through the warm, turquoise waters around the coast. Our first amateur swim started with a dive competition and progressed into a hairy sea swim through unexpected chop. It was so amazing to see inexperienced swimmers pushing and surprising themselves, ploughing through the waves in a ragtag gang together.
Nagkalit-kalit Waterfall, The Philippines
JACK: It was one of the hottest days since we’d arrived at the Philippines, Beth and I took a tuk-tuk out to a waterfall we’d read about, called Nagkalit-kalit. We walked for almost an hour across sunlit farmland and through scattered palm tree forests. Luckily, before we’d really started to melt, we arrived at a perfect little lagoon encircled by rocks, trees and clumps of foliage. We bathed for a while in the chilled, greenish water and climbed up the side of waterfall using snaking roots, before jumping down into the plunge pool.
El Limon Waterfall, Dominican Republic
JACK: Whilst on holiday in the Dominican Republic, Beth and I rode horses through the dappled jungle light to a tall, imposing waterfall known locally as El Limon. From far above us, water cascaded in silvery threads, knitted together across a sheer 52m-high cliff. There was no better place to relieve ourselves of all the accumulated dirt and sweat. The lush canopy sprawled and rippled around us and the pool was a near luminous shade of green. We swam for a while and then paddled into a cave, where we sat on soft shelving and chatted about conspiracy theories in the silent gloom.
Vang Vieng & Si Phan Don, Laos
JACK: The ramshackle, westernised town of Vang Vieng is encircled by vast stretches of scenery, patched with irrigated fields, dense jungles and tall, abrupt mountains. The owner of our hostel called it the Wild West. And it was that. We were robbed twice in the week Sandy and I were there. We also heard that one of the bamboo dance floors, built alongside the river, had collapsed during heavy rainfall. It quickly became clear that tourism and alcohol had consumed the town – I was later quite relieved to hear that the whole mad party had been tamed somewhat – although there were a few quieter moments spent riding the open river in our rings, swimming in the murk and floating with the large jungles and mountains huddled around us. After that, we headed south to the much more tranquil, and less spoilt, villages of Si Phan Don (Four Thousand Islands), where the wide Mekong River meanders in every direction and roaring waterfalls appear in abundance.
JACK: In the foothills of the Himalayas, above the tattered sprawl of Manali, we found a rocky mountain pool, its centre disturbed by a galloping waterfall, which was threaded down through the fern-covered rocks above us. It was a secluded and tranquil setting. We smoked a little local weed and laid back, sprawled-out in the pool, with nothing but the sounds of nature around us.
Low Force Waterfall, England
JACK: These wide cascades, concealed by woodland in the Tees Valley, attract brave kayakers who plummet down the falls and practice their rolls in the pools below. When Beth and I went there we headed downriver and swam under the trees in a cold, hidden pool. The feeling of being alone was palpable and the water moved and held us with the knowing, soothing touch of a masseuse.
CALUM: Byblos is one of the oldest cities in the world, home to the ancient sea-faring Phoenicians and a jewel of Lebanon's coastline. Just north of this ancient harbour I found some fantastic pebble beaches. I had a wonderful dip in the warm Mediterranean followed by fresh dates on the beach.
CALUM: Quite simply, one of the most iconic swims on the planet. I completed the 1.2 mile swim this August and it was one of the most exhilarating swims I've had so far. The icy cold water, prison escape atmosphere and potential presence of Great Whites combined to make this a very memorable experience.
Kuang Si Falls, Laos
CALUM: This breathtaking series of cascades can be found in the northern jungles of the tiny Southeast Asian country of Laos. It was the perfect place to while away a lazy afternoon swimming and leaping from rocks into the crystal clear water below.
Canaima Lagoon, Venezuela
CALUM: The Canaima Lagoon lies at the entrance to Angel Falls National Park in Venezuela. The water was a deep silty brown and palm trees lined the fringes of the calm bay. it was ideal for a morning dip to start the day's adventure.
Mue Ne, Vietnam
CALUM: This surfer's paradise lies on the eastern coast of Vietnam. The big swells and crashing waves offered the perfect spot for some choppy surf swimming!
Hama Water Wheels & Orontes River, Syria
CALUM: The ancient, towering water wheels, or norias, in Hama have been turning for over 15 centuries. I was lucky enough to visit them in 2008 and swim in the Orontes River. Despite the civil war, the Norias still remain intact and as soon as Syria stabilises I would urge you to go see them for yourself.
CALUM: Living from the rocky cliffs, on the outermost walls of the walled city of Dubrovnik, is the perfect way to kick off any trip to Croatia. These buze bars offer the perfect opportunity to soak up some sun, drink cold beer and dive from 5-metre platforms into the dazzling Adriatic Sea below.
Caye Caulker, Belize
CALUM: The remote and pristine Caribbean Island makes up the outer reaches of the Central American country of Belize. I swam here with blacktip reef sharks, nurse sharks and speckled rays. It was a beautiful, tropical swimming location.
Barceloneta Beach, Barcelona
CALUM: There's something really special about being smack bang in the chaotic heart of a city and then 10 minutes later be strolling down a beach with the sand between your toes, about to dive into the warm waters of the Mediterranean.
Buttermere Lake, England
CALUM: In this picture you can see me racing across Buttermere Lake, as part of the Breca Buttermere Swim Run race. This moody, atmospheric spot is hard to beat for a wild and off the beaten track swim. There's a number of other nearby lakes which also offer excellent swimming, but I would say this is truly the jewel in the Lake District's crown.
Red Sea, Egypt
CALUM: The Red Sea is absolutely teeming with marine life and the perfect place for an animal-filled wild swim. One tip I would offer is to watch out for the highly venomous lionfish which makes these waters their home!
CALUM: Ancient Mayan ruins litter the cliffs which rise above the white sands of Tulum beach in Mexicos Yucatan peninsula. The long pristine swathes of sand make for a great outdoor swimming location, while the local Mezcal offer the perfect after-swim drink!
Lake Atitlan, Guatemala
CALUM: Aldous Huxley described this colossal volcano-ringed lake as the most beautiful place in the world. It's difficult to disagree. I spent a week here in 2008, swimming between the islands and exploring the shores of the mighty crater lake. It was truly a wild swimming destination without comparison.
Jeita Grotto, Lebanon
CALUM: This intricate network of mighty caverns is a breathtaking display of Mother Nature's skill as a creator. Bejewelled stalactites hang from cavernous ceilings and the caves stretch deep into Lebanon's mountainous interior. Hidden within the caves are some extremely cold pools, but don't let the temperature put you off, the icy embrace and otherworldly setting makes for a swim like no other.
Copenhagen's Lakes, Denmark
CALUM: Copenhagen is a swimmer's paradise. There are countless bodies of unspoilt water to strip off and dive into. With the world's finest restaurant (NOMA) nearby, as well as Christianna, the ultimate relaxation spot, there's plenty to do after your swim as well.
Mostar, Bosnia & Herzegovina
CALUM: The ominous Mostar bridge looms over this war-torn city in Southern Bosnia. It is famous all over the world as a symbol of unity and peace. Young Bosnian's attempt to leap from its 25-metre arch as a rite of passage into adulthood, although few are daring enough to make the jump. Recently I joined the ranks (number 1,451 to be precise). It was a fantastic place for a big jump and relaxing swim.
Semuc Champey, Guatemala
CALUM: It's quite the trek to reach the limestone cascades of Semuc Champey, hidden within the dense, steamy jungles of Guatemala. It was definitely worth the walk. The tiered falls were ideal tombstoning, while the deep, chilled pools offered plenty of safe places to leap in, float and let the world drift by.
Lizard Hut, Belize
CALUM: The Lizard Hut sits on the western tip of Caye Caulker. It's BBQ'ed lobster, rum cocktails and diving board are the key ingredients for a day's relaxation. Throw in the aquamarine waters of the Caribbean Sea and the perfect recipe is complete.
Cromer Island, Northern Ireland
CALUM: I was lucky enough to visit this beautiful island for my friend's 21st birthday during University. It was the final party of my university days and, after a heavy night, the sun was rising and we all stripped off and went for a skinny dip in the cold waters of the Irish Sea... magic!
Bunes Beach, Norway
CALUM: This remote windswept beach can be found deep within the Arctic Circle in Norway's Lofoten Islands. After our Into the Maelstrom expedition last year we all spent our day off at this breathtaking beach. Giant granite cliffs rise up from the waves on either side and make this an unforgettable location for a wild swim.
CALUM: The blanket white mounds of Pamukkale, in Western Turkey, could be confused for billowing snow clouds, but they are in fact giant deposits of salt. Water trickles from the top of the salt mounds and forms tiered cascades, with the white salt reflecting the sunlight and casting a myriad of sun rays in every direction. All three of us swam here in 2009. It was a breathtaking and surreal place for a swim.
Rio Caroni, Venezuela
CALUM: The Rio Caroni is the lifeblood of Angel Falls and the tepuis of Southern Venezuela. The waters are home to piranhas, candiru, and caimans, but it was just too difficult to resist going in for a swim. After some assurances from the locals that nothing was going to take a chunk out of me, I dived in for what turned out to be a wonderful (if a little short) dip.
CALUM: One of the benefits of being king is that you can build a bloody fantastic swimming pool. The King's Palace in Jodphur is no exception. The giant, greenish outdoor pool is ringed with terracotta walls. It's a great spot for a relaxing dive and swim.
San Gil, Colombia
CALUM: The sleepy Colombian mountain town of San Gil has some brilliant river pools and rocky waterways to explore. With the warm South American sun beating down on your back, it's a perfect place to while away a sunny afternoon...
Dead Sea, Israel & Jordan
CALUM: Truly a wild swim without comparison, a dip in the Dead Sea should be on everyone's bucket list. It's a very surreal experience. Just lie back and bob around like a sea otter, bring a copy of the Jerusalem Times if you want the full experience and enjoy a swim like no other (it's really more of a bob-around than a swim....).
Dznitnup Cenote, Mexico
CALUM: The underground caverns and collapsed Cenotes of Mexico's Yucatan provide some of the most breathtaking subterranean swimming out there. After crawling through some rather tight squeezes into what looks like Gollum's idea of a vacation, you'll emerge into a cavernous hall and the crystal clear waters of the cenote. Dive in, lie back and look up at the tiny natural skylight in the ceiling.
CALUM: Chefchaouen is a blue painted town in Morocco's northern Chouf mountains. A day's trek leads you to some remote gorges and mountain streams with fantastic natural pools, ideal for an afternoon of swimming. The region also produces the world's finest hashish, which is a surprisingly perfect accompaniment for a wild swim.
CALUM: On Cambodia's southern coast lies a string of azure beaches and pristine sandy bays. Sihanoukville is the hub of all this and the perfect place to dive into the warm waters and shallow, calm seas of the Gulf of Thailand.
Stockholm's Lakes, Sweden
CALUM: Whoever designed Stockholm was clearly a wild swimmer. Its countless outdoor swimming spots are without comparison in any other city we've been too. Just a stone's throw from the centre, in Gamla Stan, you can find a wooden pontoon that's ideal for relaxing and leaping from, into the cool waters.
The Nile, Egypt
CALUM: I don't think any wild swimming list would be complete without a swim in the mother of all rivers (just make sure you swim above Aswan, as there are a few crocs below). I visited Egypt in 2008 and after a day crawling through tombs in The Valley of the Kings, I headed to the banks of the Nile and went in for a cooling swim. As the sun set, a felucca sailed past and I over into the sacred, ancient waters. I rolled onto my back to watch the burning orange of the dying day fade slowly out of sight.