In the 1950s, Timex cast one of Acapulco’s famed cliff divers in a commercial to prove their watch’s durability. But the watch’s presence had added symbolic value: At La Quebrada Cliffs, with heights of up to 136 feet over the Pacific, jumping is a precision sport, where mere seconds can mean the difference between life and death. The waves below swell to a safe depth of 11 feet for only five seconds. Taking into account the three-second trip to reach the water, that leaves no room for error. Generations of locals have trained to make this death-defying leap, and you can now catch them during one of their five daily displays, including four torch-lit night shows.
You might not think a lakefront cliff jump could be as dangerous as one set above roaring ocean waves, but even a lake dive can prove treacherous for the uninitiated. The 100-acre Red Rocks Park along Lake Champlain in South Burlington contains some of the most thrilling jumps in the country. The highest cliffs are about 80 feet tall, but it’s not just height that make these jumps so risky. Some of the leaps will leave you sandwiched in very narrow inlets between adjacent rock faces—plus, the water is always notoriously freezing.
Perched on a limestone cliff on Jamaica’s western tip, Negril is one of the best places on the island to catch a Caribbean sunset. At the end of each day, locals and tourists alike flock to Rick’s Cafe, a popular cliffside bar which opened back in 1974 when this town was little more than an undeveloped fishing village. Sit back with a tropical drink and watch as locals conquer the three dives here, the tallest of which reaches 35 feet above the cove. While you’ll see many tourists make the dive, it should go without saying that drinking and diving is as terrible an idea as it sounds.
Santorini’s famed cliffs are well known for the whitewashed architecture that spills down from the mountains to the sea. Though the volcanic island attracts jetsetters, life here isn’t just about sunbathing by day and partying hard by night. There’s also a more rugged crowd who comes to Santorini to dive from the cliffs over black-pebble Kamari Beach. Though the 35-foot-high rock walls might seem daunting, the water underneath is deep enough to be safe for most amateur jumpers.
Make like a mouse and scurry through the tiny gated holes in Dubrovnik’s fortified city walls to catch a drink at one of the two cliffside buža (“hole”) cafes. These no-frills bars offer stunning views of the Adriatic Sea, the hills of Dalmatia, and the island of Lokrum. After a local wine or beer, there are two ways to get down to the crystal sea below: Either follow the handrails and walk down the steps, or follow the locals to a rock called lav (“lion”) and dive right in!
Located on the northwestern tip of Australia, the rugged, remote Kimberley region is one of the least densely populated places on Earth. That means you’ll have lots and lots of elbow room to explore the area’s famed cliffs, waterfalls, mountains, and gorges. Though there are many different cliff-jumping options at the lakes and rivers in the area, you’ll find the highest over the Ord River, reaching heights of up to 84 feet.
Located in Ticino, the Italian-speaking southernmost canton of Switzerland, the tiny village of Brontallo has a population of only 60 people. That is, until the city hosts the European Cliff Diving Contest or the World High Diving Federation Championships, when divers from around the world flock to the lakeside cliffs to try their hand at the 78-foot-tall jump here. Though you’ll find shorter, seemingly more manageable dives, reaching heights of 23 to 66 feet, you’ll still want to check with locals who monitor the water level before you take the plunge into the icy mountain waters.
Cliff diving as we know it likely got its start in the 1770s on the red cliffs of Kaunolu on Lanai’s quiet southwestern corner. It was here that Kahekili, the “birdman” king of Maui, perfected the art of lele kawa—leaping feet-first into the water without making a splash. Back in those days, it was more of a test than a sport, as he would send his warriors over the 63-foot cliff and into a shallow 12 feet of water to prove their loyalty and bravery. The daredevil king gave his name to Kahekili’s Leap in Kaunolu, but there are other similarly named diving spots throughout Maui as well.
There’s something appropriately epic about the cliff jumping at Rishikesh, the world capital of yoga. This city in the foothills of the Himalayas is a favorite among thrill-seekers who come here to raft in the whitewater rapids of the Ganges. An added bonus: During your journey, your river guide will often give you the opportunity to jump from cliffs 20 to 30 feet down into the purportedly holy and healing waters below. Luckily, most tour companies will provide life jackets and helmets for divers—though the cliffs aren’t incredibly tall, the water is ice cold and murky, so you won’t be able to see the bottom.
The 2012 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series brought its diving daredevils to the rugged island of Inis Mór, off the west coast of Ireland. Here, they were tasked with conquering the Serpent’s Lair, a natural blowhole carved out by the raging waters of the Atlantic. What makes this spot so unique is that the hole is almost perfectly rectangular, leading ancient Celts to believe it was the home of a mythical giant sea serpent. Divers have about three seconds to decide whether or not the legend is true once they jump from their 85-foot perch.
At Tar Creek Falls, about two hours from Los Angeles in the Los Padres National Forest, the trip up is almost as thrilling as the dive down: You’ll have to hike up a 70-foot-tall rock face before being able to jump down immediately next to a roaring waterfall. Tar Creek flows through the Sespe Condor Sanctuary, which means you might catch a glimpse of the endangered California condor, the largest bird in North America.
Strike it lucky on Horseshoe Lake, located in Alberta’s Jasper National Park in the Canadian Rockies. Every summer, locals head to the cliff-lined southern shore to jump into the blue-green waters below, but the U-shaped lake has remained largely free of the tourist hordes. And in the spring, before the seasonal thaw, you might even catch local high schoolers throwing boulders into the icy lake to create diving holes!