When it comes to planning a summer getaway, a couple of sun-drenched destinations tendto dominate the list. And while the Blue Grotto in Capri and a Mexican cenote are stunning in their own right, sometimes you just want to go off the beaten track and avoid the usual tourist crowds. If you’re planning one last escape before summer ends, look beyond beaches. Ahead, we’ve gone in search of the world’s best natural pools that aren’t like anything you’ve seen before. From a giant coastal rock pool in Greece to figure eight–shaped plunge pools in Australia, these natural wonders have to be seen to be believed.
Searching for a vacation that’s out of the ordinary? Let’s keep it between us: These breathtaking natural pools are among the world’s best-kept secrets.
Giola is a naturally occurring giant rock pool perched on the coast of Thasos Island, Greece, and referred to by locals as Aphrodite’s Tear. Legend has it that Zeus created the pool for his mistress, Aphrodite, and shaped it like an eye so he could watch over her.
Insider tip: Giola is very secluded and requires off-road driving. Hire a vehicle that can handle the bumpy dirt tracks, and pack enough water to last you the day.
These bizarre figure eight–shaped pools are hidden in the Royal National Park in Sydney, Australia. While they might look man-made, the formations are entirely natural and can only be reached by a difficult hiking track through dense bushland.
Insider tip: Check the tide before embarking on a hike. The Figure Eight Pools are only accessible at low tide when the nearby ocean is calm. In March, a freak wave injured more than 50 peopleswimming in the pools, so be careful when standing near the rock ledge.
ARTURO BARREDA WESTPHAL/500PX
Oaxaca’s petrified mineral waterfalls look like tumbling white water frozen in time. The stunning phenomenon has formed thanks to calcium-rich water, which drips down the mountain and through underground caves. While much of the waterfall-like formation is an optical illusion, travelers can bathe in the warm thermal pools at the top of the cliff.
Insider tip: Hierve el Agua can get crowded during the day in high season, so opt to hire a driver and head to the attraction in the morning to have the stunning scenery to yourself.
COURTESY OF MARIETA ISLANDS TOURISM
It’s almost a scene from a fictional Alex Garland novel: 22 nautical miles from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, sits a pristine secret beach, concealed beneath ground level in a tiny crater. To reach Hidden Beach, also known as Playa del Amor, travelers must swim through a nearly 40-foot tunnel, which only has about six feet of space between the water and overhead rock.
Insider tip: The beach is sometimes closed due to a government research project, so check with boat operators before booking a trip to Marietas Islands.
Concealed in the depths of Arizona’s Grand Canyon, Havasu Falls is a must-visit for travelers who love a challenge. The water is a vivid turquoise color thanks to a high concentration of calcium carbonate, which also causes natural travertine pools and dams for weary hikers to bathe in. There is one catch: To reach the stunning falls, you must traverse a 10-mile track each way.
Insider tip: Apply for a permit to enter the Havasupai Indian Reservation before planning your trip and be sure to wear hiking boots—your flimsy gym shoes won’t cut it on the rocky terrain.