Where in the World to Swim with Wild Sea Turtles
There’s something otherworldly about swimming with sea turtles in the wild. Luckily, you can swim with sea turtles all over the globe as they’re some of the most widespread marine life. Sea turtles are also one of the most ancient species – they’ve existed for over 150 million years.
There are seven species of sea turtles around the world — sadly, all are vulnerable or endangered. They are the green sea turtle, loggerhead turtle, hawksbill turtle, olive ridley turtle, leatherback turtle, flatback turtle and kemp's ridley turtle.
Sustainable tourism can contribute to sea turtle conservation. Have an ethical experience when swimming with wild sea turtles by keeping the following principles in mind:
- Avoid any sort of interference with wild sea turtles.
- Never feed sea turtles as it curbs their natural instinct to provide for themselves.
- Touching or chasing wild sea turtles is an extremely irresponsible wildlife interaction.
- Report any suspected violations that are exploitative or dangerous for sea turtles.
If you get lucky enough to see a wild sea turtle gracefully gliding through the ocean keep a respectful distance of at least 20-feet. Use an extra-long selfie stick for your underwater camera to take pictures without getting too close to wild sea turtles.
Book snorkeling trips with local tour operators, or even better, with a conservation project. Vet the tour operator in advance to confirm that they limit the number of people on their tours to avoid distressing turtles and that they don’t allow snorkelers to feed or touch sea turtles.
Ad Daymaniyat – Oman
Ad Daymaniyat is an archipelago of nine low-lying islands off the Batinah coast. The rocky islands have been protected since 1996 and were the first marine reserve in Oman. The Ad Daymaniyat islands are the best place to swim with wild sea turtles in the Middle East.
The uninhabited islands thrive as one of the world’s densest nesting ground for endangered hawksbill sea turtles. Green sea turtles, loggerheads, olive ridleys and leatherbacks also live in Omani waters.
The ocean surrounding the cluster of islands is shallow making it possible to snorkel and explore the vibrant coral reef that’s home to an abundance of sea turtles. No diving experience is required to swim with wild turtles in the seas of Oman.
Visit during the sea turtles’ migration in April for the best chance of spotting wild sea turtles. Ad Daymaniyat is closed annually from May to October for conservation.
Hurawalhi Island – Maldives
The Maldives has some of the best locales for spotting wild sea turtles year round. Five out of the seven species of marine turtles live in the translucent waters — green sea turtle, loggerhead, olive ridley, leatherback and hawksbill.
More than half of the Maldives’ green sea turtle population lives in the waters surrounding Hurawalhi Island. These green sea turtles are listed as a threatened species. At least seven critically endangered hawksbills also live around Hurawalhi. It’s a real gift to be able to see these sea turtles in the wild. You’ll be able to identify hawksbills from green sea turtles due to their sharp beak.
See wild sea turtles without getting wet at the world’s largest undersea restaurant. Diners at 5.8 often spot green and hawksbill turtles swimming by. Guests can go snorkeling with the island’s Resident Marine Biologist to learn about the conservation efforts that are preserving the natural haven for sea turtles.
La Paz – Mexico
There are many places to swim with wild sea turtles in Mexico. The popularity of places such as Akumal has brought in massive crowds that have left the area desolate and downright dangerous for sea turtles. The beach in Akumal where sea turtles used to thrive has been closed for conservation due to over-tourism.
Instead, head to La Paz for ethical sea turtle encounters by visiting the Todos Tortugueros conservation project. Here you can do your part in protecting endangered olive ridley turtles by assisting professionals as they relocate eggs from vulnerable nests.
Swim with highly endangered leatherback turtles from November to February in La Paz. Leatherbacks share the Sea of Cortez with olive ridleys that begin to lay their nests in June and continue to do so until December. Considered one of the best diving destinations globally La Paz was coined “the world’s best aquarium” by French explorer Jacques Cousteau.
Tortuguero National Park – Costa Rica
There are many hot spots for sea turtles around the coastline of Costa Rica but the best chance you have at seeing spectacular sea turtles is at Tortuguero National Park on the northern Caribbean coast. Tortuguero literally translates to Land of Turtles.
Costa Rica is home to a very rare sea turtle that’s a member of the sea green turtle family and locally known as tora carey. Hawksbill, loggerhead and olive ridley sea turtles all lay their eggs on the beaches of Tortuguero National Park during the nesting season from March to August. Over 2,000 tora carey green sea turtles lay their eggs at the park each year.
Conservation regulations are strict throughout Costa Rica and many grassroots organizations are working to preserve natural habitats for sea turtles and advocating for their safety such as Equipo Tora Carey.
Redang Island – Malaysia
The most incredible place to swim with sea turtles on Earth is Redang Island, Malaysia. Each time you enter the sea you may swim with as many as five sea turtles right off the shore in seafoam waters. Redang Island is home to olive ridley, hawksbill and green sea turtles.
Avoid Turtle Bay, where aggressive sea turtles have become accustomed to humans feeding them and swim right up to snorkelers looking for food. The sea turtles here are three times larger than those around other parts of the island. The contrast in behavior and size is stark between sea turtles that are left to their own natural antics and those that have tampered instincts due to constant human interference.
Snorkeling trips aren’t necessary to swim with sea turtles in the mellow nearshore waters. You can easily spot wild sea turtles from the coast as their heads dart up from the ocean to breathe.
Maui – Hawaii
No list of the best places to swim with wild sea turtles would be complete without Hawaii. Five of the seven species of sea turtles live in Hawaii's warm waters. Most sightings occur around the southern side of Maui in Wailea, known as Turtle Town.
Honu, Hawaiian for green sea turtle, are deeply respected by Hawaiians and hold great cultural significance as they’re manifestations of ?aumakua which are ancestral guardian spirits.
The best time to see turtles is in the early morning when winds and waters are calm. Honu and hawksbill sea turtles, ‘ea in Hawaiian, are seen swimming in the shallow waters of Maluaka Beach all year long.
Sea turtles are protected in Maui under the Endangered Species Act. It’s illegal to harass, touch or feed them.
Placencia – Belize
Placencia, Belize is located within the largest living reef in the Western hemisphere — making it one of the most important marine ecosystems in the world. Over 500 species of fish live here as well as three wild sea turtle species — green, hawksbill and loggerhead.
The gigantic Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System (BBRRS) is a protected UNESCO World Heritage Marine Site. Conservation efforts have made BBRRS the healthiest reef on the planet. Charles Darwin once declared that it was “the most remarkable reef in the West Indies.”.
Inhabitants of BBRRS include enormous hawksbill sea turtles — some weigh over 600 pounds. As a part of reef conservation efforts, snorkeling trips require a detailed briefing from official park rangers and licensed snorkel guides.
Breeding season, from April to November, is the best time of year to see wild sea turtles in Belize. Swimming with sea turtles in Placencia is simply unBelizeable.
Apo Island – The Philippines
There’s a place in the Philippines called "Turtle Island." The volcanic Apo Island is at the southeastern tip of Negros Oriental and holds the honor of top 100 Best Diving spots in the world.
The amazing biodiversity that can be seen at Apo Island is a direct result of the community-based initiative that launched in 1985 to preserve the island as a sustainable sanctuary. The lush reef has flourished for over 30 years and has been a feeding ground for namesake green and hawksbill sea turtles. If you touch a sea turtle here you’ll receive a $100 fine.
It’s required to have one trained guide per four snorkelers in order to implement local regulations and keep both swimmers and aquatic life safe. Sea turtles are spotted around Apo Island throughout all times of the year.
Curieuse Island – Seychelles
One of the most beautiful destinations to swim with wild sea turtles is in the Indian Ocean around Curieuse Island in Seychelles. Curieuse Island is a bio-reserve that feels like an undiscovered slice of paradise off of the coat of eastern Africa.
Hawksbill turtles and green sea turtles use Curieuse Island as a breeding ground. Unlike some of the other 115 islands in Seychelles, Curieuse isn’t developed for tourism. Instead, Curieuse Island is focused on environmental protections and eco-friendly tourism. It’s only possible to visit the island by boat on an organized day tour.
The beautifully preserved island is a retreat for wild sea turtles and wildlife enthusiasts who are eager to have ethical encounters with the majestic creatures. Prime sighting time is from October to March during the nesting season. Officers patrol the beach all day in order to ensure that there’s no human disturbance of sea turtles, nests or eggs.
The Galápagos Islands – Ecuador
Chelonia mydas agassizii is a green sea turtle subspecies that lives in the tropical waters around the Galápagos Islands. The reptile looks slightly different than other green sea turtles as it has a scary-looking serrated lower jaw, darker coloring and is smaller in size. Don’t confuse these with the famous giant Hood Island Tortoise found on the Galápagos Islands.
As one of the most biodiverse places on Earth, the Galápagos Islands are also home to hawksbill, leatherback and olive ridley turtles. It’s most common to see the Galápagos green sea turtles between the months of December and March during nesting season.
The Galápagos Islands are threatened by mass tourism. Over 200,000 people visit the fascinating ecosystem that motivated Charles Darwin to write “On the Origin of Species.” Be sure to visit with a responsible tour operator and abide by local regulations.
Great Keppel Island – Australia
Australia isn’t considered a major destination for swimming with sea turtles but it’s one of the only places on Earth to see wild flatback sea turtles. A prime spot to witness the beauty of these rare creatures are the waters around Queensland’s Great Keppel Island. They’re known to nest on Monkey Beach.
Flatback sea turtles look quite different from other marine turtle species with their smooth flat backs, grayish coloring and massive size — an adult flatback can be 3-feet-long and weigh 200 pounds. These sea turtles don’t migrate very far so it’s possible to see them year round.
Sea turtle conservation is paramount in Australia with comprehensive regulations that are strictly enforced. The biggest threat to flatbacks are the saltwater crocodiles that prey on them.
Gili Trawangan – Indonesia
It’s possible to swim out from the shore and see wild green and hawksbill sea turtles in the tranquil waters surrounding Gili Trawangan. Transparent waters make it possible to witness the wild sea turtles in all their glory from a safe distance. There’s no need to book a boat tour to swim with sea turtles at Gili Trawangan.
Green sea turtles are the easiest to spot as they stay around shallow waters to graze on algae. To identify a green sea turtle, look for a brown turtle with a round-shaped head. To swim with hawksbill sea turtles navigate into the deeper waters beyond the reef wall that surrounds Gili Trawangan. Hawksbill sea turtles are easily identified by their beautiful markings that look like misplaced puzzle pieces.
Marsa Alam – Egypt
Located along the coast of the extraordinary Red Sea in southeastern Egypt is Marsa Alam. The resort town is known as one of the most famous dive destinations in the world due to an abundance of colorful tropical fish, vibrant coral reef, dolphins, reef sharks and wild sea turtles.
The best place to swim with wild green sea turtles in Egypt is at Abu Dabbab Bay. Green sea turtles come here to feed on gardens of seagrass. You’ll have the best chance at swimming alongside a turtle from June to September. PADI-certified scuba divers in Marsa Alam will likely have the chance to swim with hawksbill sea turtles when exploring deeper areas of coral reef.
Eco-tourism is growing more popular in Marsa Alam in order to conserve this natural wonder through environmental awareness programs for both tourists and locals.
Klein – Bonaire
Bonaire is a tiny southern Caribbean island off of the coast of Venezuela. It’s most famous residents are green, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles. Sea turtles can be seen all around Bonaire National Marine Park’s reef-lined coast and the Bonaire islet Klein.
Throughout the year there are frequent sightings of green and hawksbill sea turtles. Loggerheads are often only seen during the nesting season and commonly around the coast of No Name Beach on Klein Bonaire.
Sea Turtle Conservation Bonaire works tirelessly to keep the island nation a natural nirvana for sea turtles. They’ve launched a turtle adoption program where travelers can purchase a tag number of a sea turtle and track its whereabouts with proceeds benefiting the programs to save Bonaire’s sea turtles.
Zamami Island – Japan
Japan isn’t the first place that comes to mind when planning out destinations across the globe to swim with wild sea turtles, but a trip to Okinawa’s Zamami Island practically guarantees sea turtle sightings. The islet is part of the protected Kerama Islands Marine Park. Loggerhead, hawksbill and green sea turtles are seen frequently in the shallow Okinawan waters.
Zamami Island is one of the most popular places for the sea turtles to spawn. During the migration season from May to August, five of seven sea turtles species can be found swimming here in waters with crystal-clear visibility. The nesting season is the best time of year for a highly likely chance to swim with wild sea turtles in Japan.