We’ll never say “no” to a stunning beach or a rooftop pool with skyline views, but there’s something exhilarating about taking a dip in an outdoor swimming hole surrounded only by nature. From a pool at the edge of Africa’s largest waterfall to the “fairy pools” of the Scottish Highlands, here are 15 incredible all-natural swimming pools to put on your summer bucket list.
Devil’s Pool (Livingston, Zambia)
What’s more incredible than witnessing the ferocious beauty of the largest falling curtain of water in the world, Victoria Falls? The answer might just be floating in the nerve-wracking infinity pool that peers right over the edge of the cascade. Brave visitors can take a dip in Devil’s Pool, a naturally occurring rock pool on the edge of the 354-foot-high falls. The power of the rushing river pushes swimmers against the lip of the pool’s rock wall — mere inches from the sheer drop. Sitting at the midway point along the mile-wide waterfall, the 10-foot-deep Devil’s Pool is only accessible by guided boat tour, and it’s one swimming hole that isn’t for the faint of heart.
Havasu Falls (Havasupai Reservation, Arizona)
A desert oasis, Havasu Falls lies just outside the boundaries of Grand Canyon National Park on the Havasupai Reservation. The falls and its swimming pool are only accessible by foot or horseback via an eight-mile-long trail, but the lengthy journey ensures the destination won’t be crowded with other tourists. There are multiple cascades along the trek through Havasu Creek, but it’s the 100-foot Havasu Falls that steals the show, dropping off a nearly vertical, rust-colored cliff into a large pool below. A high concentration of calcium carbonate contributes to the vividness of the azure waters. The falls and the local Native American tribe are named after those waters: Havasu means “blue-green water,” and Havasupai means “people of the blue-green water.”
Bimmah Sinkhole (Qurrayat, Oman)
Despite over 80% of the country being classified as desert, Oman lays claim to one of the world’s most alluring sinkholes. According to local legend, the Bimmah Sinkhole resulted from a meteorite strike, but geologists credit its creation to the erosion of limestone rock by running groundwater. Located 80 miles southeast of Muscat and less than a mile from the sea, the 65-foot-deep saltwater pool offers relief from the desert heat for locals and tourists alike. It’s common to see people paddling and swimming in the clear blue waters, and you might even catch a few daring people jumping from the cliffs of the cavernous walls into the deeper end of the pool.
Hamilton Pool Preserve (Dripping Springs, Texas)
Beat the Texas heat at Hamilton Pool Preserve, a 45-minute drive west of Austin in Texas Hill Country. The scenic swimming hole has a small sandy beach on one side, while a cave eclipses the other half. A delicate waterfall flows gently from the cavern's ceiling into the middle of the pool, slicing the body of water in half with water droplets. The 360-degree walking loop around the cave is closed due to the risk of falling rocks; however, visitors can still admire the area’s beauty from different angles around the preserve. Reservations are needed to enter the area: Visit the official website to reserve a spot and check for updates on accessibility.
Kuang Si Falls (Ban Long, Laos)
Embark on a bumpy, dusty, 50-minute tuk tuk ride from the city of Luang Prabang, and you’ll be rewarded with the pristine Kuang Si Falls in Ban Long. Three tiers of rushing water spill from the travertine falls, creating shallow pools of refreshing turquoise water. Wooden boardwalks and dirt paths guide the way from one cascade to the next, while more physically fit visitors can trek to the top of the highest waterfall and arrive at a quiet, marshy oasis that funnels the water toward the brink. Don’t leave without taking a ride on the rope swing tied above the largest pool.
Ik Kil Cenote (Chichen Itza, Mexico)
The Yucatán Peninsula is renowned for numerous cenotes, also known as sinkholes, formed by the collapse of porous limestone bedrock above. While there are many sensational cenotes throughout the region, the cascading vines and lush vegetation around Ik Kil Cenote make it one of Mexico’s most famous. Located 85 feet below the surrounding terrain, the pool measures 200 feet across and 130 feet deep, and is open to the public for swimming for a fee of $5 USD. Ik Kil is considered sacred by the Maya, who used the pool to perform sacrificial rituals, of which archaeologists have found evidence at the bottom of the pit. Ik Kil can get busy, but you can avoid tour groups by arriving when it opens at 9 a.m. or an hour before closing (4 p.m.).
To Sua Ocean Trench (Lotofaga, Samoa)
The tiny village of Lotofaga, with a population of just over 1,000 people, is located on the Samoan island of Upolu. It is also the secluded site of To Sua Ocean Trench, a 100-foot-deep sinkhole surrounded by 60-foot-high jungle-shrouded cliffs. The stunning natural site has only one long access ladder descending to a suspended wooden platform over the shimmering blue saltwater pool. A cave hangs over one side, marking the underground passageway to the Pacific Ocean, which feeds the swimming hole. After a dip, grab a drink or a snack at the on-site bar and walk along the nature trails above the trench to find sprawling sea views.
Semuc Champey (Lanquín, Guatemala)
Semuc Champey may not be the easiest place to get to — it requires a 10-hour bus ride from the tourist hub of Antigua — but most will say the enchanting tiered pools are worth the long journey. Surrounded by dense jungle in one of the most remote areas of Guatemala, Semuc Champey is fed by the Cahabón River, which cascades from one lagoon down to the next. Each lagoon is separated from its neighbor by a natural limestone bridge. After you enjoy a swim in the turquoise pools, another way to appreciate Semuc Champey’s natural beauty is to climb up to El Mirador (“the viewpoint”) for a bird’s-eye view of the area.
Pools of Ohe’o (Maui, Hawai’i)
Waterfall-fed stepped swimming holes in Haleakala National Park draw visitors off Maui’s famed Hana Highway into a beautiful rainforest sanctuary. The Pools of Ohe’o are accessible via the Pipiwai trail from the Kīpahulu Visitor Center; the path winds through pristine tropical jungle and passes by the series of pools before continuing on to the 400-foot Waimoku Falls. The lack of development around the pools creates a serene swimming area beloved by locals and tourists alike. It’s also a great opportunity to cool off on the long trek back from the falls.
Fairy Pools (Isle of Skye, Scotland)
The Scottish Highlands are known for spectacular scenery, and the Fairy Pools on the Isle of Skye are no exception. Nestled into the foothills of the dramatic Black Cuillins Mountain Range, the site features crystalline spring-fed water that spills from multiple cascades into a sequence of rock pools. Take one look at the emerald green hills and craggy cliffs surrounding the pools, and you’ll understand how the landmark earned its whimsical name. A 1.5-mile path leads from the parking lot to the pools, and those brave enough to test the chilly waters can swim in a setting fit for a fairy-tale.
Pamukkale Hot Springs (Pamukkale, Turkey)
It’s hard to believe that the dozens of terraced travertine pools of Pamukkale aren’t human-made, but the hot springs that bubble beneath the glistening white pools are 100% natural. Aptly named “Cotton Palace” in Turkish, Pamukkale features dozens of pools filled with limpid blue spring waters, which overlook the Çuruksu basin from a 650-foot-high cliff. The juxtaposition of the pools with the hilly green and brown terrain around them is a phenomenal sight, and the inviting warm water provides a spa-like experience for bathers and paddlers in all seasons (winter swimming is especially pleasant). Leave time to visit neighboring Hierapolis and wander through the ruins of the ancient city that was founded as a spa town in the second century BCE.
Grotta della Poesia (Roca Vecchia, Italy)
A rock pool overlooking the Adriatic Sea, Grotta della Poesia (“Poetry Cave”) is carved into the cliffs of the Salento peninsula and ringed with ancient ruins. The swimming hole sits in the middle of an archaeological park and is accessible by foot from the nearby village of Roca Vecchia. Legend has it that the sight of a princess swimming in the pool long ago inspired the sonnets of many poets, and the Grotta de Poesia was thus christened. Visitors come to swim in the aquamarine waters, jump from 15-foot-high cliffs, and venture through the semi-submerged cave that leads to the open sea. This popular tourist attraction is best visited on weekdays to avoid crowds.
Jellyfish Lake (Eil Malk, Palau)
Populated with a subspecies of golden jellyfish found nowhere else in the world, Jellyfish Lake is a natural wonder located on the far-flung Eil Malk island of Palau, an archipelago nation in the western Pacific Ocean. The 100-foot-deep lake is roughly 12,000 years old and a remnant of the last ice age, when rising sea levels filled the natural basin. When the sea level receded, the jellyfish were trapped in the saltwater lake and have developed and evolved in isolation ever since.
Jellyfish Lake is composed of three unique layers. Roughly 5 million jellyfish call the first 40 feet home, a layer of pink bacteria resides between 40 and 50 feet, and a poisonous layer of dissolved hydrogen sulfide gas sits below 50 feet. Despite the abundance of jellyfish and the poisonous gas layer, Jellyfish Lake is completely safe to swim in. The jellyfish don’t sting, and the water is harmless (as long as you don’t dive below 50 feet). Although remote, Jellyfish Lake is one of Palau’s most popular tourist attractions. Visitors can experience the nation’s unique underwater attraction via a guided boat tour, which also requires a 20-minute trek through the dense mangrove forest to the lake.
Reykjadalur (Hveragerði, Iceland)
Close to the town of Hveragerði, Reykjadalur Hot Springs is a magnificent geothermal region that boasts natural hot springs, mud pools, and a thermal river visitors can bathe in. Reykjadalur translates literally to “Steam Valley,” an appropriate name when you see the steam rising throughout the grass-covered gorge. The one-hour hike into the valley is breathtaking and an attraction in its own right, with cliff faces rising above the gorge and bubbly, boiling pools of water leading the way to the bathing area. A word of caution: Do not bathe in the water unless there is a sign indicating it is safe to do so, as some pools are dangerously hot. The wooden platforms on the water’s edge mark the safe swimming areas and double as changing platforms for bathers. Strip down to your swimsuit, post up in a steaming pool, and enjoy Icelandic nature at its finest.
Figure Eight Pools (Lilyvale, Australia)
A challenging 3.7-mile hike through Royal National Park ends at a series of rounded plunge pools, one of which is shaped like a perfect figure eight. Located on the edge of a coastal rock shelf about an hour’s drive south of Sydney, the Figure Eight Pools are a phenomenon caused by ocean erosion. Visiting the pools is only advisable at low tide, and consulting the tide chart to plan the out-and-back trek is imperative. Visitors can carefully wander around the rocky ledge and soak in the carved-out rock pools that pockmark the coast, all while gazing out on the South Pacific Ocean.