12 Places to Swim With Animals
Having a close encounter with wild animals is a common feature on a traveler's bucket list. And there’s really nothing more extraordinary (or exotic) than swimming with giant green sea turtles, rare marine iguanas, and even sharks.
Swimming with animals doesn’t have to mean entering a tiny tank or man-made enclosure. In Egypt, divers can swim with wild Red Sea dolphins and in the Bahamas, wild pigs come out to splash in the surf. You can ride a horse through the shallow Caribbean waters around Jamaica, or dive with hundreds of thousands of tiny, golden jellyfish in Palau. You don’t have to be a fearless (or reckless) adventurer to get up close and personal. All you really need is an excellent pair of flippers and an underwater camera. Read on for our top 12 ways to swim with animals.
Swim with Pigs in Bahamas
These are not your standard barnyard pigs, and this, full disclosure, this is not an organized wildlife encounter program. On the island of Grand Exuma, in the Bahamas, feral pigs will go out of their way to surf and swim with you. Just head to the appropriately named Pig Beach and wait for some handsome piglets to come play.
Swim with Portuguese Water Dogs in Portugal
If you want to spend an afternoon swimming with these water-loving canines (they even have webbed feet!) book a stay at the Conrad Algarve. Romans originally taught the Portuguese water dog to fetch nets and to herd fish. To this day, they’re exceptional divers and navigators. Breeder Carla Peralta is on-hand to arrange intimate, two-hour experiences with the dogs—this includes a boat ride and swim session—in nearby Olhão. It’s just 25 minutes from the Conrad.
Swim with Sea Turtles in Maui
Hawksbill and green sea turtles can be spotted off the coast of Hawaii. In these comfortable and clear waters, you can easily spot them while snorkeling or scuba diving. Look out for their large shells against the rocks, or nibbling algae from a coral reef. If you’re snorkeling with turtles in Maui, consider a reservation at the Sheraton near Pu’u Keka’a, where you can spot sea turtles is at high tide.
Swim with Sharks in Mexico
From August to October, the world’s largest fish migrate to the warm waters of Mexico. Visitors can swim, snorkel, or scuba with the gentle filter feeders. Off the coast of Isla Holbox you can spot many snorkelers enjoying unbelievable proximity to the whale sharks. Daredevils, instead, can hop inside an ocean-floor cage in South Australia to swim with (absolutely not gentle) great whites.
Swim with Jellyfish in Palau
Thousands of jellyfish will join you on a plunge in Palau’s saltwater Jellyfish Lake. These tiny, golden cnidarians, which were likely trapped in the series of saltwater lakes after the Ice Age, once numbered as many as eight million. Today, visitors are only permitted to snorkel across the lake (it’s extremely sulfuric at the bottom), and patient swimmers can follow the jellyfish as they trace the sun back and forth across the lake. Don’t fear these little jellies; their stingers are basically imperceptible to humans.
Swim with Manatees in Florida
Crystal-clear river waters gave Florida’s Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge its name, and it’s the only place to swim with manatees in the United States. Some 350 1,200-pound (but very gentle) sea cows spend winter in the warm, shallow waters. Friendly West Indian manatees have been known to greet snorkelers, swimmers, and scuba divers with a gentle nuzzle.
Swim with Manta Rays, Great Barrier Reef
Some 400 marine species call Australia’s Great Barrier Reef home, so if you go diving here, you’re sure to see more than just manta rays. But your best bet for swimming alongside the world’s largest ray—some can be 22 feet from wingtip to wingtip—is at Lady Elliot Island. Visit in the winter (May and June) when hundreds of manta rays congregate in the especially clear waters.
Swim with Horses in Jamaica
Rescued and rehabilitated racehorses in Jamaica are often enthusiastic swimmers, and there are countless tour groups that will take riders from the sugary sands of Half Moon Bay into the warm Caribbean waters.
Swimming with Whales in Tonga
Humpback whales are best seen between August and September around the islands of Vava’u and Ha’apai. Eco-friendly tour operators strive for “mutual interactions,” meaning it’s not a 100 percent guarantee you’ll get to swim with the whales. But Tonga, a kingdom in the South Pacific, is one of the only places on the planet you can swim with these giant creatures—some 79,000 pounds and as many as 52-feet long.
Swim with Dolphins in Egypt
Skip the dolphinarium and opt for an open-ocean encounter with wild Red Sea dolphins off the tip of the Sinai Peninsula in Sharm El Sheikh. Tourists can also swim with wild dolphins in Hawaii, though proposed regulations may forbid such experiences in the future.
Swim with Marine Iguanas in Ecuador
Considered the only true marine lizard on the planet, endemic marine iguanas are only found on the Galápagos archipelago. Diving with Charles Darwin’s so-called “imps of darkness” is a unique experience. And even though they’re a little creepy, visitors have nothing to fear. The iguanas feed exclusively on algae.
Swim with Penguins in South Africa
Typically, you have to travel to the extremely frosty ends of the earth to see wild penguins. But on Boulder Beach, in Cape Town, South Africa, a colony of black-footed penguins splash in the Atlantic waters. You may need a wetsuit if you want to actually swim with them, but you can definitely lounge on the beach or dip your toes in the surf while the penguins squawk and waddle.