Pamukkale, Denizli Province, Turkey
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The white travertine terraces filled with the warm, translucent water of Pamukkale are a fluke, a fortuitous quirk of geological whim. The calcite-laden waters derive from springs in a cliff almost 200-metres high, and their path has created an incredible landscape that culminates in a series of stepped pools. The ancient Greco-Roman city of Hierapolis was built nearby and people have been bathing in the pools carved out by the hot flowing waters for thousands of years.
The Blue Lagoon, Grindavík, Iceland
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Iceland’s incredible Blue Lagoon is supplied with geothermal water that originates two kilometres beneath the surface. On its way to the lagoon, the water picks up minerals, algae and silica, but before it gets there it passes through a plant that uses its heat to power municipal hot water. Clever, right? The water finally reaches its destination in pools sunk into black lava. It’s the silica reacting with sunlight that gives the lagoon its incredible blue colour. Year round, the Blue Lagoon is a toasty 37-40 degrees, meaning in the depths of the icy winter you can wallow in the warmth and gaze at the Northern Lights.
Crater Lake, Oregon, United States
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Located in Crater Lake National Park, this is a caldera lake, formed by volcanic magma more than 7000 years ago. Swimmers can enjoy water that is among the purest in the world but only at Cleetwood Cove, and only for a short amount of time each year (mid-June to mid-September) due to the very cool temperatures.
The Exumas, Bahamas
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More than 365 islands, also called cays, make up the Exhuma region, which means visitors can swim with other tourists off larger islands or discover lonesome islets to explore alone. There’s also the option to swim off Pig Beach with a cohort of enthusiastic wild pigs. True story.
Firopotamos, Milos, Greece
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Milos is a lesser-known Cyclades island – thanks to its history as a mining asset, it’s much less developed than some of its neighbours. Its dramatic volcanic rock formations rise up out of waters that range from emerald to cerulean. One of the island’s most charming beaches is the tiny strip of sand at Firopotamos, surrounded by colourful fisherman’s houses with syrmata – boat garages – on the ground floor. Swim out to the tip of Firopotamos to see a disused ladder sticking up out of the sea – it was once used to deliver supplies – then look up to lands to see the Church of Saint Nikolaos.
Lake McKenzie, Fraser Island, Australia
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Fingers will prune and still it’s impossible to pull yourself from the gorgeous water of Lake McKenzie. It supports very little life thanks to the white silica sand that helps purify the rainwater that makes up the lake.
Aitutaki, Cook Islands
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Just 1800 people live on the island of Aitutaki, which means “little paradise”, but the rest of us can at least experience the main island and the 15 motus (tiny islets) that are dotted across an enormous, twinkling lagoon in the South Pacific.
Phi Phi Leh, Phuket, Thailand
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Everywhere you look is postcard-perfect on the Phi Phi Islands. The small uninhabited Phi Phi Leh is the tropical idyll on which the Leonardo DiCaprio film The Beach was shot. At Maya Bay, sheltered by soaring cliffs on three sides, tourists duck-dive in the exceptionally clear waters before returning to the larger islands as the sun sets.
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Even saying the word Zanzibar evokes something exotic – you can almost smell the spices and hear the waves lapping at white sand. There are more than 25 beaches on the main island, Unguja (generally referred to as Zanzibar), but Matemwe is the longest and most unspoiled. It’s a stretch of swaying palm trees and white sand, with a lagoon fronting the village. Swimmers can enjoy the clear blue waters, and snorkellers should venture out to Mnemba Island, where you can spot some impressive marine life, including giant trevally and trumpetfish.
Playa Blanca, Isla Baru, Colombia
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True to its name, the sand on Playa Blanca (white beach) is as white as white can be, and powdery soft to boot. The water is warm and turquoise-clear, and tiny fish dart about in the shallows. The island is reached by boat from gorgeous, crumbling, colonial Cartagena, Colombia’s northernmost town. Visitors can sleep in basic thatched huts with sand floors on the beach, or pay a very small fee to sleep in a hammock and drift off to the sound of the gentle lapping sea.
St Peter’s Pool, Malta
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Malta has plenty of gorgeous beaches with clear blue-green waters and white sands, but to lose the tourists check out St Peter’s Pool near Marsaxlokk. A natural swimming pool set in a sheltered bay, it’s popular with locals and snorkelers. There are ladders to descend into the pool, but it’s more fun to hurl yourself off a rocky platform into the cool depths.
Layang Layang, Malaysia
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A remote island 300 kilometres north of Borneo, Layang Layang is so isolated and the waters of its reef so deep and clean that only passionate divers tend to visit. There’s one resort and a naval base but what’s most interesting is what’s below the surface of the water: teeming with marine life, the reef is roamed by exotic species such as barracuda, dogtooth tuna, butterfly fish and sharks.
Fernando de Noronha, Brazil
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Copacabana, the Girl from Ipanema, itsy bitsy bikinis – Brazil is known for its beach-life, but the island of Fernando de Noronha is a local secret. It’s all lush green forests, pristine sand and glinting clear waters protected by its UNESCO World Heritage status. Snorkelling the waters around the unbelievably pretty Baia do Sancho reveals communities of spinner dolphins, turtles and hundreds of species of fish.
To Sua Ocean Trench, Samoa
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At some stage in history a volcano went off in Lotofaga, on the south coast of Upolu island in Samoa, creating a lava tube cave that connects the ocean to an enormous 30-metre-deep trench in the earth. A wooden ladder leads down to the grotto and the view from the top is most captivating – you can see right down to the white sandy bottom of the pool.
Divna Beach, Dalmatia, Croatia
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The view from the water at Divna (which translates as “beautiful”) is of green hills and quaint stone houses set right on the pebbly beach. The water is clear and the small white pebbles worn smooth and soft by time and tides.
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