Planning a getaway? Swim Guide wants to help you find some of our planet’s hidden gems. Read on for tips on where to go to find stunning beaches, what to do when you get there, and how to protect the water and its many inhabitants.

1. Lake Wakatipu, New Zealand

This lake is the third-largest in New Zealand and (Harry Potter fans take note) shaped like a lightning bolt.  It’s bordered on all sides by tall mountains, and the basin in which it sits was carved by a glacier. The lake boasts year-round trout fishing and the two islands in the centre, named Pig and Pigeon, are popular for camping.

Photo by Loïc Lagarde

Respecting the beach:
During the rainy season, Lake Wakatipu is at threat of flooding. Fire is the biggest threat to the Pig and Pigeon Islands, generally due to open fires from campers. If you’re staying on the island, practice fire safety. Remember also not to take vegetation or debris from the site and, of course, don’t feed the animals.

2. Dog Island, San Blas, Panama

Dog Island is one of 365 islands that exist in San Blas. One of the top snorkeling destinations in the world, the water is a clear, stunning blue. Snorkeling offers views of fire coral, cuttlefish, lobsters, octopus, manta rays and, unfortunately, the invasive lionfish.

Photo by Rita Willaert

Respecting the beach:
There have been blog posts about the amount of garbage on the island, the result of an increase in consumer goods and tourism. As a visitor to the island, leave only footprints, and keep garbage out of the water. Remember to wear your environmentally friendly sunscreen so you don’t hurt the coral.

3. El Nido, Palawan, Philippines

El Nido is the largest marine sanctuary in the Phillipines and a popular tourist destination. The 90,000 HA area is home to nearly 500 species of reef-building coral and more than 800 fish species, 5 endangered sea turtles, whale sharks, manta rays, and dugongs. This is a scuba diver’s paradise.

Photo by Andy Enero

Respecting the beach:
El Nido’s beauty is what brings in growing numbers of tourists each year. Unfortunately, this is also the cause of ecological degradation: though ecotourism is essential to the El Nido economy, the environment is also incredibly sensitive to abuse. Tourism has grown so quickly in the last decade that the economy has boomed, causing development in the area to spike. El Nido is also threatened by a number of illegal activities, including coral destruction, illegal fishing and logging, and pollution.

As a visitor to the island, make sure you follow the local regulations for respecting the environment.

  • Don’t take pieces of coral with you, and avoid damaging the reef by dropping heavy items like anchors or other gear in coral areas.
  • Don’t touch the animals, whether on land or underwater.
  • Don’t leave garbage on the beach.
  • Limit the hair and skin products you don before entering the water and choose an environmentally friendly sunscreen.

4. Rakeedhoo, Vaavu Atoll, The Maldives

The waters of The Maldives are home to diverse coral reefs, which serve as a marine nursery for more than 1100 species of fish, as well as turtles, whales and dolphins, and a number of crustacean species. The Vaavu Atoll is the smallest atoll in the Maldives terms of human population, and this remote getaway offers beautiful swimming and diving as well as sailing tours.

Photo by Luca Moglia

Respecting the beach:
The Maldives are severely endangered as a nation due to climate-change induced flooding. Many of the islands will have to be abandoned if sea levels rise much further. Rising sea temperatures also causes coral bleaching, or mass die-offs, due to increased ocean temperature and thus, acidity. Respect the corals if you’re diving, swimming, or boating in the area and remember to limit personal care products, as they pollute the water.

5. Playa Maguana, Cuba

Located in the geographically isolated Baracoa, this part of Cuba is a little explored colonial village surrounded by beaches and rainforest. Baracoa was the first place to be settled in Cuba, and the culture of the city is nearly as breathtaking as the ocean view.

Photo by Karolina Lubryczynska

Respecting the beach:
This isolated part of Cuba is threatened by changes in the global climate, including acidification, water pollution, and loss of biodiversity. Because it’s still one of the lesser-visited parts of Cuba, it’s less under threat from tourism. Of course, it’s important to remember not to take any of the coral or natural artifacts with you, and limit personal care products before going in the water.

This blog post is the first of a 3-part Swim, Drink, Fish series. The focus of this blog post is Swim.

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