Gone swimming! Best places in the world to swim

Thursday, August 20th, 2015. Filed under: Italy Legendary Landscapes Mexico Myths & Legends United States

Swimmingly \ adv (1622):  very well; SPLENDIDLY

Several recent Guardian articles on wild swimming (Kenwood Ladies Pond, Hampstead Heath, and Wild Swimming in Italy) have me dreaming of water again.  One thing my husband Pat and I can agree on when planning a trip to take together is the opportunity to swim in natural water. We’ll never swim the entire 3,300 miles of the Amazon like Big River swimmer Martin Strel, plunge the frigid depths of Skye’s Fairy Pools like Kate Rew, or brave the open water of the Hellespont like Byron (and those who recreate his epic swim across the Bosphorus each August 30).  Our ‘immersive’ travel experiences are more about hedonism than fighting for our lives.  This post offers a few of our favorite places to float around in amazing surroundings.

Got a favorite beach or swimming hole?  Nostalgic for a pool or lake you visited as a child?  Shoot me your best where-in-the-world-to-swim tips in comments below!

Ik-Kil Cenote

Cenotes are freshwater wells.



Are you brave enough to swim in a place the Maya consider a gateway to the underworld? There’s safety in numbers at Ik-Kil Cenote, a popular place to cool off after visiting the archaeological site at Chichen Itza.  Ik-Kil is one of the more accessible of Yucatan’s 8000 cenotes, no helmets or rappeling required, but if you’re not confident in your stamina, it’s a good idea to rent a buoyancy vest.  TIP: If you use sunscreen, be sure it’s reef safe sunscreen. It’s increasingly the only type permitted at snorkeling sites and eco-parks (like Ik-Kil) in Mexico.  I’d hate to think we poisoned these beautiful places by our passing.

Ik-Kil Cenote Yucatan Mexico

Ik-Kil Cenote, Yucatan, Mexico.


Ik-Kil Climbers

If you can climb 125 steps down (and back up), you can swim at Ik-Kil Cenote.



Miami’s beaches are terrific but for sheer charm, nothing beats the Venetian Pool in nearby Coral Gables. Opened in 1924, the Venetian Pool was part of developer George Merrick’s Mediterranean vision for Coral Gables. The pool is a former coral-rock quarry, fed with fresh spring water from an underground aquifer. After a morning shopping or art gallery hopping in Coral Gables, spend the afternoon at the Venetian Pool, then head for happy hour at the Biltmore.  If you’re looking for old Florida, the Venetian Pool is pure gold.   TIP:  Children under three not permitted.  Check out A Taste for Travel for more travel tips for Coral Gables and events at the historic Biltmore Hotel.

Venetian Pool

The Venetian Pool (1924) is the only swimming pool on the National Register of Historic Places.


Venetian Pool Grotto

The Venetian Pool is a fantasy of waterfalls, grottoes, loggias and picturesque bridge.


Venetian Pool Beach

How adorable are these Venice-style lamp posts?

Venetian Pool Pole

The Venetian Pool contains 820,000 gallons of spring water but is not particularly deep.



Located one hour from Santa Fe, these mineral springs in northern New Mexico were used for healing and considered sacred by ancient peoples for thousands of years. Today the springs are a modern resort hotel and spa where bathing in the four types of water–lithia, iron, soda, arsenic–are therapeutic for both body and spirit. Staying overnight has its benefits, including late-night under-the-stars access to the steaming kiva pool.  An exquisite experience in Georgia O’Keeffe Country.

Fresco 1934 Will Shuster

The Voice of the Water (1934), fresco by Will Shuster at the Museum of Fine Arts, Santa Fe.


Arsenic Pool, Ojo Caliente

The arsenic pool at Ojo Caliente, New Mexico.  Bathing in arsenic water is believed to relieve arthritis, stomach ulcers and a variety of skin conditions.

Ojo Caliente at Night

The Ojo Caliente experience is enhanced at night.

Ojo Caliente Kiva Pool Day

Entering the warm kiva pool is like returning to the amniotic fluid of Mother Earth.

Ojo Kiva Pool Night

Floating in hot mineral springs under a starry New Mexico night sky is an unforgettable experience.



Oahu’s beaches are legendary but we found a fun freshwater alternative at Waimea Valley on Oahu’s North Shore. Sacred to native Hawaiians for 700 years, Waimea Valley is now a spectacular botanical garden dotted with ancient Hawaiian archaeological sites: remnants of religious shrines, houses, agricultural terraces and fishponds. Less than a mile’s stroll under a canopy of exotic trees, a 45-foot waterfall awaits. The water is fresh and cold. If you borrow a float board and kick hard to reach the spray at the base of the waterfall, you may be rewarded as I was with a miniature rainbow to hold in your hand.

Waimea Valley jeep

Waimea Valley is an amazing attraction on the north shore of Oahu.


Waimea botanical garden Oahu

It’s an easy walk of about three-quarters of a mile to the waterfall.


Waimea waterfall Oahu

Waimea Valley and waterfall is suitable for all ages, though you have to be a strong swimmer to get close to the waterfall as its current pushes you away.



Beautiful Sicily is dotted with thermal springs, many of them smelling of sulphur (considered medicinal) and teeming with crowds from the city. One of the more remote and pleasant, and my personal favorite, is Terme Aqua Pia in Agrigento province. Aqua Pia offers curative therapies and rooms, but day passes to the open-air pools are so worth the drive. Dolce far niente, Sicilian style!

Terme Aqua Pia hot springs Sicily

Aqua Pia has a ‘baby’ pool as well as a pool large enough for adults to swim laps.

Aqua Pia Gorge

Delve further into the gorge, closer to Aqua Pia’s source, and the water is much hotter.



The airport at Lamezia Terme is an easy gateway to southern Italy and we’ve gotten to know the area pretty well.  Terme Caronte has been offering water cures since 1716 and is a great–if rather clinical–place to get your flight kinks pummelled out with scented hydromassage.  The spa’s symbol is Caronte (or Charon) himself, the boatman of Greek myth who ferries the dead across the Styx.  There are free spots to soak alongside the road just opposite the spa and here, near the source, it is easy to imagine Charon poling his way across the Hades-hot, underground river.  Why settle for a prosaic tub indoors?

Caronte Spa Official

The historic Caronte Spa is now a modern clinic-like treatment center.


Caronte Unofficial

The unofficial bath by the side of the road.

Caronte Roadside spa

Even less official, this hole dug closer to the Caronte source by a rebellious Calabrian with a backhoe. A great place to meet locals, who told us they take the water home to treat ailing animals.


Later this year, we’ll be exploring Madeira and the Azores.  The Azores are home to several geothermal hot springs, some naturally carbonated.  Can’t wait!

Gone swimming somewhere fabulous? Let me know in comments below!


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