Bus tours … walking tours … food tours. Where you go, I return from there. It’s time to try the latest travel trend: open water swimming tours, says Elaine Gluzak
During the pandemic, when Miriam Leitko
unable to swim because the pools were closed, the lifelong swimmer built a lap pool at her home in Willis, Texas. As soon as travel restrictions were lifted in 2021, she signed up for a weeklong trip to Hawaii with SwimVacation, a Maine-based tour operator that specializes in open water swimming.
“Open water swimming is energizing,” said Leitko, 64, who has taken 12 trips with the company. The tours, she said, allow her to leave her stress “literally in the ocean.”
Summer vacations are often built around the pleasures of shooting a cannon in a lake or splashing in the ocean. In contrast, these tours build trips around organized swims, which might include diving among sea lions in the Galapagos, swimming from island to island in the Adriatic Sea, or gliding over coral reefs in the Caribbean.
“You never feel smaller than when you’re in the ocean, which has a transformative effect,” said Hopper McDonough, founder and partner at SwimVacation, which bases most of its yacht trips in places like Turkey, where the next available departure is in September 2024 (US$6,995 / NZ$11,427.21 for one week).
“After the pandemic, we sold out two years ahead,” he said.
The swimming wave
Whether participants are seeking transformation, pursuing a passion blocked by Covid or traveling for revenge, swimming tour operators say they are experiencing a tidal wave of growth.
England-based SwimTrek, founded in 2003, linked the explosion to the pandemic-induced outdoor movement.
Nearly a third of SwimTrek’s customers — and growing — are from the United States, where the company has added vacations to Hawaii and Oregon (five days in Oregon’s Cascade Lakes cost $2,600), as well as trips to Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.
“When you’re open water swimming, every experience is different, whether it’s the sea state, the tides or the wildlife,” said Simon Murry, SwimTrek’s founder. “That’s the beauty, the unpredictability.”
Strel Swimming Adventures, founded by Martin Strel, a marathon swimmer who holds the Guinness World Record for swimming a distance of 5,268 kilometers, and his son, Borut, has met the wave with new Mexican destinations, including the Sea of Cortez (seven-day trips in October and November of 1990 USD). The company also offers tours in Greece, Slovenia and Turkey.
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Active England, an English adventure operator, has seen “exponential” growth in its swimming tours since trips resumed, according to Will Cairns, the company’s founder. Its trips include four days in Devon from June to September for £759 (about NZ$1,557), with swimming in the sea, an estuary and, after a two-mile walk in Dartmoor National Park, a natural pool in the River Dart.
“We have what I call ‘advanced swimmers’ who measure their swims in kilometers,” Cairns said. “But most people do it for the love of the water.”
A wild swim for everyone
Most tour operators divide swimmers into subgroups based on speed and claim to take everyone from former Olympians to casual swimmers interested in swimming 2 to 5 kilometers a day.
Not all new swim laps are hardcore. Bluetits Chill Swimmers, a group dedicated to wild swimming – a popular UK term for swimming in natural bodies of water – recently partnered with a tour company to offer swimming trips to places like Iceland, where a five-day package includes diving in hot springs , the sea, and the rift between tectonic plates (the $2,900 fall trip sold out shortly after it was announced this spring).
“Swimming with a group of like-minded people who don’t want to do a marathon swim is a wonderful, joyful occasion,” said Sian Richardson, who founded the group, which celebrates participation rather than competition and now has more than 120,000 members in public groups from Copenhagen to the Great Lakes.
Much Better Adventures offers wild swimming on its multi-sport tours, which also include hiking and biking in places like the Canadian Rockies (10 days from US$2,103), the Canary Islands (six days from US$1,166) and Dominica (nine days from US$2,375).
“We don’t believe all wild swimming should be about speed, towing floats or fancy wetsuits,” Sam Bruce, co-founder of Much Better Adventures, wrote in an email. “Instead, just being in the water in a wild place is enough.”
Whatever the difficulty level of the tour, safety is an important argument. Most operators send boats to escort swimmers in open water and choose their locations to avoid dangerous currents, strong winds and boat traffic. Trips also go where it might be difficult to swim alone.
“Someone else has done the planning for you,” said Kate Rew, founder of the Outdoor Swimming Society, a British volunteer group that promotes outdoor swimming, who traveled with SwimTrek. If you’re doing a few kilometers in new places, she said, “you need a lot of knowledge and local contacts.”
And there is at least one side benefit. “People sleep so well,” Cairns said. “Two to three swims a day is exhausting.”
– This article originally appeared in New York Times.
Screenwriter: Elaine Glusak
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