The World’s Most Magical Places to Swim

Whether you're diving into the caldera of an extinct volcano or skimming along the top of crystal-clear waters, the world offers many truly awesome places for a beautiful swim. Here are the 10 best that you'll find anywhere on earth.

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Places you can swim - Red Beach in Santorini, Greece
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Incredible Places You Can Swim

Red Beach, Santorini , Greece

A crescent-shaped island in the middle of the Aegean Sea, Santorini was once a massive volcano—archaeologists say it blew its top way back in the Bronze Age. It left behind a fascinating place where whitewashed buildings cling to the edge of towering sea cliffs, and beaches come in many colours, including black, brown, white and even red. At Red Beach, iron-rich sands—and the cliffs that hem them in—have taken a curious and beautiful rust-coloured hue, which forms a stark contrast when they intersect with the beach’s deep blue waters.

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Places you can swim - Santa Monica Beach, California aerial view
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Santa Monica Beach, California

While there are certainly more idyllic places you can swim, no other beach really matches Santa Monica’s cool factor. Hosting a variety of surfers and sunbathers, this broad beach is bisected by the truly remarkable Santa Monica Pier, a place teeming with energy and home to everything from a roller coaster, seafood restaurants, and old men angling for a big catch.

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Long Beach, Tofino, BC
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Long Beach, Tofino, B.C.

Although its waters can be chilly (even in the summer), Vancouver Island’s Long Beach, which is surrounded by the majestic, temperate rainforest of Pacific Rim National Park, is an almost mystical place. Mists roll in off the grey, crashing waters, the long span of sand is lined with driftwood, and people swim and surf to small, rocky islands that are only visible at low tide. Spend the day, then stay nearby at a luxe beach house like those at Pacific Sands Beach Resort, which sits directly on nearby Cox Bay.

Check out more of Canada’s best beaches, as voted by you!

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Fiji Blue Lagoon beach
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Blue Lagoon, Fiji

In many ways, Fiji—a cluster of 330 islands in the South Pacific—is the ultimate paradise, an almost mystical place where the palms seem taller, the water always feels bathtub warm, and coral reefs extend themselves and their aquatic bounty before snorkelers from all over the world. While pretty much any spot in Fiji would do for a dip, one of the most beautiful places you can swim is the remote Blue Lagoon. Part of the Yasawa Islands, Blue Lagoon is a spot where the water seems bluer, the often empty beaches appear whiter, and the aquatic wonders, from starfish to seahorses to sharks, are truly mind-boggling.

Find out why Bonaire is considered one of the world’s best snorkeling destinations.

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Best places to swim - Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro
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Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro

One of the world’s best places to swim (and be seen swimming), this curving beach is a major draw for visitors to Rio. While it’s perhaps most famous for the skimpy bikinis (and, yes, Speedos) that can always be found here on a sunny day, this it truly is a great place for a dip in the South Atlantic. Afterward, dry off with a game of foot volley, a form of beach volleyball unique to Rio and its cariocas.

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Panama City Beach, Florida
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Panama City Beach, Florida

While much of the good press goes to the sun spots further south on the peninsula (think Miami, Tampa and Key West), Florida’s very best beach is up on the panhandle. With sugary white sand (composed of quartz, not the grainier, brown silica found in most of the state), Panama City Beach sits at the heart of the Emerald Coast, a stretch of very clear, very warm, very emerald Gulf of Mexico water. Walk the beach, then spend the evening at Pier Park, a remarkable shopping complex that’s steps from the sea and keeps up the beach theme.

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Boto Amazon pink dolphin

The Amazon River

Contrary to popular belief, the warm, brown, slow-moving waters of the Amazon are actually safe for swimming—if you know what you’re doing. Yes, you will be sharing the river with caimans (a kind of crocodile), piranhas and the bizarre-looking pink freshwater river dolphins (called boto) that are found only here, but an experienced guide can tell you where, and when, it’s safe to dive in. You may even get a visit from a boto—a favourite excursion takes swimmers out to a mid-river sandbar, where you wait for the arrival of this mysterious, playful animal.

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Punta de Mita shoreline - aerial shot
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Punta de Mita, Riviera Nayarit, Mexico

Located in the heart of Mexico’s stunning Riviera Nayarit, the wavy Pacific waters that surround this peninsula afford some of the very best surf in the world for long boarders and stand-up paddle boarders (the bustling nearby beach town of Sayulita hosts an annual competition for both, one of the biggest anywhere). Celebs including Lady Gaga have come down here to learn, and often stay in one of the neighbouring beach houses, or the St. Regis and Four Seasons resorts on the peninsula.

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Manly Beach, Sydney
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Manly Beach, Sydney

Reachable via what has to be the world’s most breathtaking ferry ride—the boat directly passes the city’s world-famous opera house and provides on-the-water views of the towering Sydney Harbour Bridge—Manly is everything that a beach should be: soft sand, lovely water, and beautiful sunsets. Swim or surf here ’til the sun goes down, then stroll The Corso, a pedestrian street lined with shops and restaurants.

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Rosario Islands, Colombia
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Cartagena, Colombia

This beautiful, historic city—think horse-drawn carriages, cobblestone lanes and squares bordered by aging church clock towers—sits at the heart of a Caribbean playground. Just beyond its own sun-kissed beaches lie the 27 Rosario Islands (above), reachable by a short boat ride, which are filled with palms and fringed by aquamarine waters. Spend your day on the beach, then dance the night away in the city’s amazing array of salsa clubs.

Next, discover the best Caribbean beach for every type of traveller.

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