Cliff-jumping into the Atlantic: Ireland’s best coasteering spots

CNN  — 

If someone told you to jump into an often tumultuous and always frigid North Atlantic Ocean from a 30-foot-high cliff in Ireland, would you do it?

Turns out, not only are people doing it, tourists are increasingly paying for the privilege. I was one of them recently, and after jumping into the uncertain abyss, I came away with the undisputed highlight from a week-long trip to the fabled island – not to mention newfound respect for the power of the sea.

Colloquially known as “coasteering” and first invented in nearby Wales, the amphibious activity combines rough sea swimming, intertidal caving, cliff-climbing and leaping from extreme heights into the exposed sea below. Avoiding impact with rocks, hypothermia and drowning is all part of the “fun.”

Soaring to the sea off Northern Ireland's Atlantic coast.

In truth, coasteering in Ireland is a lot safer, less extreme and more enjoyable than it sounds. For around $60 per person, local guides will typically fully outfit you with a warming wetsuit, safety helmet, protective gloves, water shoes, a mega life jacket and an exhilarating – and probably exhausting (in a good way) – itinerary.

All told, it’s a fantastic way to not only see the country’s famous cliffs and shorelines in a new light, but to gain a new appreciation for an often-hostile environment.

From County Cork in the southern peninsulas to the cliff coasts of Kerry, Clare and Galway in the middle, and then all the way up to County Donegal and Northern Ireland’s timeless Giant’s Causeway, nearly two dozen guiding companies provide coasteering tours around much of the island.

According to glowing consumer reviews and my own personal experience, here are some of the best locations to cliff-jump off the western edge of Europe.

County Antrim

A few miles east of Northern Ireland’s spectacular Benone Strand, part of one of the island’s longest beaches, you’ll find near-ideal coasteering conditions when jumping with Causeway Coasteering in Portrush or Coasteering NI in Ballintoy.

The world-famous Giant’s Causeway is the draw for most tourists traveling this far north, but there’s plenty to discover along the whole of the Causeway Coastal Route.

“Game of Thrones” fans will recognize Ballintoy Harbour as the filming location for the Iron Islands, and you may need nerves of steel to handle the rush of adrenaline when coasteering on the island’s northern edge.

County Donegal

Over the border in the Republic of Ireland, if you really want to go out of your way to the most uninhabited and unspoiled areas in all of the island, look no further than County Donegal.

Nestled in one of Europe’s finest and most untouched coastal landscapes, Wild Atlantic Adventure Centre guides patrons to some of the most impressive jumps among the most outstanding sea stacks in all of Ireland or Britain. Located in the small village of Clonmany, the outfitter provides year-round coasteering tours, but ideal conditions are usually found in spring.

County Sligo

Rain or shine, coasteering offers an exhilarating adrenaline burst.

Primarily known for its big-wave surfing, Mullaghmore in County Sligo is both extreme and abundant when it comes to coasteering. According to North West Coasteering, “there are so many routes here, you could come every week for a year and still do a different tour every time.”

For maximum adrenaline from high-jumping cliffs, head to Mullaghmore proper. For more mellow routes with a focus on sea-cave swimming, tours are also available at nearby Bundoran.

County Galway

Situated on the northwest corner of County Galway, Connemara is a hotbed for Irish coasteering.

Although you can’t (nor would you want to) jump the deathly Cliffs of Moher just south of here, Real Adventures, Delphi Resort and Clare Island Adventures all offer highly rated trips to the jagged and sometimes tightly quartered coastline of Connemara.

When you’re finished, consider soaking up the fairytale good looks of nearby Connemara National Park.

Note: To get a better idea of what you’ll be jumping from and into, talk to a guide before booking.

County Kerry

In the likely event you’ll visit the very popular and very scenic County Kerry – which includes Dingle, Gap of Dunloe and Killarney National Park – you’d be well-advised to add coasteering to your itinerary while there.

While touring with Wild Water Adventures from Tralee, you’ll be treated to thrilling versions of the above, not to mention one of the friendliest and most experienced experts along the coast. Like all good coasteering guides, John Edwards never pressured anyone in our group, but was always encouraging, empathetic and reassuring.

Whichever way you go, adventure tourism along the Wild Atlantic Way is burgeoning and bucking the tour-bus trend when it comes to seeing the legendary Irish coast.

And who would have thought that something as straightforward as coasteering could emerge as the most unexpected, intimidating and thrilling way to get your feet wet?

Blake Snow writes for fancy publications and Fortune 500 companies as a seasoned writer-for-hire and energetic travel columnist. He lives in Provo, Utah with his loving family and loyal dog.