3 Swimming Holidays

Get in the water on your next vacation 


There was a time when the term “active traveller” meant someone who was willing to walk (occasionally) between the hotel and the casino instead of taking the sky tram. But lately, a new class of vacationers feels that if they’re not breaking a serious sweat, then they’re not really on holiday. And while bike touring, walking safaris and kayak trips are all popular options for the adventure prone, the new new thing is swim touring—and Hawaii is one of the best spots to try it out. 

There’s no better way to get to know a coastline than to swim it, and an outfit called SwimVacation has designed a trip that keeps water-lovers wonderfully busy. Over the course of a week on the Big Island, participants take a dozen swims along the rocky Kona coast, experiencing the island the way the Polynesian ocean gods no doubt intended. (People on shore might look at you like you’re crazy. Just put your face down and ignore them. They’re looking, but you’re doing.)

“This kind of trip can really change a person’s life,” says SwimVacation founder Hopper McDonough. In addition to the well-deserved exhaustion of a day out in the elements, participants get a unique feel for the region as they slip in and out of the water and meet up with sea critters on their own turf. Or surf, to be precise.

Speaking of fish, one great thing about swim touring is that you can see a lot of them. An even better thing is that you get to eat them. Open-water swimmers burn between 600 and 1,000 calories per hour; so go ahead—have seconds at every meal. It’s vacation binging without all that pesky guilt!

If a full week of swimming isn’t your thing, consider becoming amphibious for just a portion of your vacation. From two- or three-hour swim tours to destination swim races, there are a variety of opportunities out there for those looking for a good excuse to get in the water. Here are a few more of our favourites:

Escape from Alcatraz

There’s no swim more notorious than the one from Alcatraz prison to the San Francisco shore—and these days you don’t even have to be an escaped prisoner to attempt it. Back in the day, jailers played up the risks of sharks, riptides and hypothermia, but the swim is actually quite manageable for reasonably fit people. Do this one with a guide or as part of an organized swim (SwimTrek offers one-day excursions), as it’s important to time the currents and be on the lookout for shipping traffic. One bonus that the striped-jumpsuit escapee crowd never had is that the swim ends at Fisherman’s Wharf, where, after the three-kilometre effort, you can pay your debt to society by buying (and then diving into) a sourdough bread bowl filled with crab chowder. 

Racing in Okanagan Lake

It may be most famous for its elusive water monster (Ogopogo), but every July, Okanagan Lake is also the site of Canada’s largest and longest-running open-water event—the Interior Savings Across the Lake Swim. Hosted in Kelowna, B.C., for the last 66 years, this fun, 2.1-km race attracts both world-class swimmers and recreational thrashers. (Note: make sure you don’t accidentally swim across the lake the long way; Okanagan Lake is 110 km top to bottom, which could put a serious crimp on the rest of your vacation.)

Grand Cayman Flowers Sea Swim

This annual June event is a one-mile romp through some of the bluest, clearest, friendliest water on earth. And while it has the distinction of being the world’s richest open-water race—more than US$100,000 is up for grabs each year—one in five average competitors are also selected for random prizes. For most folks, a couple of post-race mai tais in the Caribbean sun will be reward enough. 

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