Sacred areas are the oldest form of habitat protection, and many of these areas contribute to biodiversity conservation. While sacred groves have received considerable scholarly attention, little is known about fresh water swamps in the Western Ghats, India and sacred swamps have largely been ignored. This paper provides a first overview testing the conjecture that sacred swamps have physical features that distinguish them from non-sacred swamps. We assessed 110 fresh water swamps in the district of Uttara Kannada, Central Western Ghats, India, through extensive field surveys. Out of them 11 swamps are ‘sacred’ according to local testimony. Swamps are found in wet evergreen and evergreen forest types, but sacred swamps occur only in the wet evergreen forests. Sacred swamps differ significantly from non-sacred swamps with respect to size and shape, distance to the nearest road, human settlement, and commercial orchard, and population density within a radius of 500 m. This shows that preferentially swamps close to settlements, orchards and roads have been declared as sacred, probably to regulate the continuing provision of relevant ecosystem services. While we find a variety of deities associated with these sacred swamps, the practices associated with sacred swamp status and management are essentially the same across belief groups. However, the conservation practice is at risk due to migration dynamics.