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Wild swimming spots

When the hotel swimming pool starts to lose its appeal, leap off the sunlounger and into nature's waters.

You used to have to risk your life if you wanted to recreate Robert De Niro's penance scene from the film The Mission. That was until someone found you can jump into Victoria Falls and survive - just. Head to a spot called Devil's Pool, and you're perched more than 100 metres above the tumbling waters. The experience gives the illusion you could be pulled into oblivion at any moment. It might sound scary, but for adrenalin junkies, that's the point. The most treacherous part is reaching the pool in the first place. It's only safe to trek there in dry season, and it's a two-hour trip over rugged rocks, where slippery surfaces can see you tumbling down waterfalls. If you want to pass on the near-death experience, dip your toes in more sedate waters around the parklands that are spread a mile between Zimbabwe and Zambia. Two nights at the Royal Livingstone Hotel in Livingstone besides the falls costs US$1,011 (Dh3,700). Book through Expert Africa (www.expertafrica.com; 00 44 20 8232 9777).

In Qatar, swimming aficionados looking for peace head to Khor al Udaid, which means simply 'inland sea'. Although the most pedantic swimmers will point out this place isn't a sea at all, but is a naturally formed inlet of the Arabian Gulf. Still, when you're breaking a path through its ethereal waters, we doubt you'll be debating the geographical definition. Instead you'll probably be marvelling at this mini natural wonder, as the surrounding sand dunes command a height of up to 40 metres. They carry an almost sculpture-like quality, moulded by the impact of winds blowing across this stretch of sand. The best way to reach Khor al Udaid is to rent a jeep or join a group tour from nearby Doha city, but you'll need to take a tent for an overnighter. There are more than 40 five-star hotels in nearby Doha City; among them is the Ritz-Carlton, which costs from$295 (Dh1,085) for a double for one night (www.ritzcarlton.com; 800 4789).

You might think a malaria-free spot of swimming paradise doesn't come easy in southern Africa, but you'll find it on the banks of 1,800km-long Orange River. Time your outing just before nightfall, and there's a likelihood that your swimming outing will come with a sunset straight out of a John Wayne epic as this stretch of Africa is renowned for wild horses that roam the Namib desert planes. The trappings of extreme wilderness doesn't end at the water's edge. Go near Norosthama River Resort, where an overnight stay comes with the option of horse riding through canyons, or canoeing down the river, before stopping off at rocky outcrops and taking the plunge. Norotshama River Resort (www.norotshamaresort.com) is located within the Aussenkehr Nature Park. Activities include sunset trips along the Orange River. Double rooms cost $130 (Dh475) and camping is $20 (Dh75). Visit www.norotshamaresort.com (00 264 63 29 7215).

Once a gem hidden by Cold War politics, Montenegro is still largely unspoilt. Here you can bathe on beach in the morning, then head to the mountains in the afternoon to explore crystal clear freshwater lakes. One of these is Lake Kolasin in the Durmitor National Park. Kolasin town is situated in the heart of Montenegro, perched 1,000m above sea level and spread across two canyons, including the Tara, the biggest in Europe. Nearby is Biogradsko Gora, among the oldest national parks in the world, sandwiched between mountains, forests, green meadows and glacial waters. At sea level, the landmark St Stefan, a small fishing village before it's transformation into the holiday retreat of A-listers such as Sophia Loren; it was Prince Charles and Princess Diana's choice as a honeymoon getaway. Two nights' stay at the Hotel Lipka, Kolasin, and a tour, of the national parks costs from $420 (Dh1,540) through Inghams Travel (www.inghams.co.uk; 00 44 208 780 4413).

Go to Jordan to be wowed by ancient architecture, then be amazed by its hidden waterways. A favourite for those wanting to break free of tourist crowds is the Mujib Gorge, situated 400m below sea level. The sandstone ravines provide a stunning backdrop as a trail cuts through from the Dead Sea, winds uphill then plummets to the Mujib River by way of a dramatic waterfall. We don't recommend abseiling down if you want to stay in your tranquil head space, but the offer is there for the taking. Instead linger in the wild swimming spots you'll find among the pools and lagoons that line the trails through the wilderness. Besides swimming, you can hire local guides to show you the other adventures on offer, including paragliding off sandstone crags and cooking up a campsite dinner in the desert. A 10-day package through Tailormade Explore costs $1,735 (Dh6,370) per person, including all transportation, nine nights' accommodation, tour guides, and most meals (www.tailormadeexplore.co.uk; 00 44 844 875 1890).

It's one mass of water that goes by three other names on the African continent. Most commonly known as Lake Malawi, it has abundance of wild swimming opportunities. As well as a spot for unadulterated swimming, the lake's turquoise waters are said to brim with more species of fish than any other lake on the planet. Packing your snorkel and flippers is near essential. The estimated 1,000 species of sub-aqua life is so valuable it was designated a Unesco world heritage site in 1984. The 600km-long lake comes with two inhabited islands which survive off the abundance of marine life. Head to the southern part of the lake which is so jam-packed with fish you can see them from the wake of a boat before you pluck up the courage to jump in. It's presumed David Livingstone was the first European to discover this gem, and he named it 'Lake of Stars', which is testimony as to how magical the waters look at night. The newly opened Pumulani Resort is based by one of the lakes' sandy beaches and has its own wooden dhows perfectly suited for a romantic sunset cruise. One night's stay costs $340 (Dh1,250) per room (www.pumulani.com; 00 260 216 246 090).

Looking more like a studio set for a science fiction film, the Ubari Lakes in Libya are often overlooked for water bound ventures. These palm-fringed pockets of blue might be heavy on the salt content, but an accompanying rinse in a desert spring offers instant relief, akin to an ice bath after a sauna. The Ubari Lakes are set amid the backdrop of rolling sand dunes and Ubari Sand Sea, an oasis city in the Targa Valley of south-west Libya. What makes these spots, such as Lake Gabraoun, so memorable is the surrounding mass of palm trees, shrubs, and sandy outcrops that offer a dreamlike spectacle when the light glows against them during sundown or sunrise. It doesn't come without a catch. Apart from camel or a long arduous 600km stumble across the sands, the only way to reach the waters is by 4x4. Most visitors use the lake as a way of cooling off after a long drive in the desert. Rather than hire a buggy for yourself, the best option is to join a desert adventure camping excursion so you can sleep under a seemingly never-ending spread of stars at night. A 15-day trip taking in the lakes, as well as a comprehensive look at the Sahara desert and Tripoli costs $1,900 (Dh6,980), with Exodus (www.exodus.co.uk; 00 44 845 863 9600).

It brings another twist to the term wild swimming but throw in a three-night long festival of music, and the campsite river beaches that serves Serbia's Exit Festival, become a magnet for those that throng to this city every summer. Revellers come to these waters to cool off from the midday heat during festival time (July 9 -12) that can reach 45 degrees Celsius. Set up as a peace protest and now regarded as one of the best music festivals on the European continent, it attracts more than 100,000 visitors and is a pull for such wild acts as the Sex Pistols, Manic Street Preachers, and the more demure Moby and Kraftwerk. Serbia's landlocked position and lack of sea is made up for by rivers and lakes, all prime spots for swimming wild. Novi Sad, the city that hosts Exit, is Serbia's cultural epicentre. Once there you're in proximity to the Fruska Gora National Park, home to a wild swimming paradise called Lake of Ledinci, and there are many beaches scattered across the Danube River, if you want to avoid crowds. A three day camping and festival pass costs $150 (Dh550). Go to www.exitfest.org, or visit www.serbia.travel.

One dose of Kenya's balmy tropical air and you'll be keen to take on the refreshing waters of Lake Victoria come sundown. These wetlands come fringed with sandy beaches and surrounded by lush green hills, to push the wild flavour to the maximum. The wilderness is the world's second-largest freshwater lake. It's also regarded as one of Africa's prime fishing spots, so pack the snorkel for the underwater spectacle. Most visitors come here during safari trips, but tread 10 minutes from the crowd and it'll seem like you have this whole lake to yourself, if you squint. Even better head to Mfangano Island Camp, where it feels like you're on your own private retreat. A three-day stay at Mfangano Island Camp, Lake Victoria, costs $305 (Dh1,120) including transfers from the mainland through Somak (www.somak.co.uk; 0044 20 8423 3000).

Nature lovers see Borneo as a real-life Jurassic Park without the dinosaurs. Head outside the city of Kota Kinabulu and the trek through the Mount Kinabulu National Park will offer a bounty of waterfalls to swim in to refresh yourself from the tropical heat. One night's stay in a double room at Shangri-La, Tanjung Aru, Kota Kinabulu, costs from $360 (Dh1,320). For more information, visit www.shangri-la.com. If you want to make a break for some of the most virginal diving sites on the planet, then go to the shores of the Kudat Riviera, where an ultra-luxurious hotel of the same name recently opened. The diving around this stunning peninsula gives a lucky few the chance to view sea cows among other rich underwater life. So remote is the resort, that it boasts that it is "paparazzi-free" and guests are given villas with at least a half an acre of personal space, helipads, and a floating spa. This spa, which can go with you on any wild swimming expeditions, offers the possibility of a massage after hard day's backstroke. Book through the Kiwi Collection (www.kiwiconnection.com).

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