Where to Swim With Sharks
I know, swimming with sharks sounds scary especially if you grew up watching the "Jaws" franchise or other shark movies that don't necessarily depict the reality of these beautiful creatures. Although "Jaws" is a cult classic, I'm here to tell you that humans are not on the menu for sharks. They could care less about you, as humans simply aren't fatty enough compared to, say, seals.
In fact, the odds of getting bitten by a shark are one in 3,748,067, and death by selfie is actually more common than dying from a shark attack. I'm sure you've heard this before, but most shark bites are a case of mistaken identity. Sort of like babies, sharks explore by putting things in their mouths — which makes sense when you think about it!
Of course, there are always precautions to take when swimming or dealing with any wildlife. Be sure to do your own research, and if you are going on a shark adventure with an ecotourism company, make sure to read all about their safety measures and ask all the questions you want. Another point I want to make clear is that, if you are swimming with sharks, make sure you do so ethically. No touching or taunting the sharks, and only trained professionals should be feeding them — oftentimes, there is a very specific way this is done with bait boxes.
For those brave enough, swimming with sharks can be a completely magical experience. I've never experienced anything like it, and I found that watching sharks glide through the water with such beauty and grace was actually very meditative. Here are some of the best places to swim with sharks. (Note: I say "swim" because you won't be in a cage, and you don't need to be scuba certified, but you will need to know how to swim at the bare minimum.)
Being home to one of the largest concentrations of sharks, Florida is one of the best places to swim with them, and people from all over the world travel to Florida to do so. Some of the species that you'll see are bull sharks, tiger sharks, lemon sharks, sand bar sharks and great hammerheads.
I've swum with sharks twice with Florida Shark Diving, and they take the utmost care with both the swimmers and sharks. The company was founded by Bryce Rohrer and was born out of a want to stop shark fishing. Roher explained that he believes people just want to see sharks up close, so instead of fishing them, he created a unique experience to exist with them.
The setup at Florida Shark Diving is a pretty common one. They have an optional cage, but they encourage most people to get into the water without it. Instead, there is a long line connected to the boat, and the swimmers hold on at the surface while the sharks swim around and below them. There are multiple safety divers, and the company has a perfect safety record. I swam with 10 to 15 bull sharks on one visit and didn't feel threatened at all.
Located near Florida, Bimini is another location with a high concentration of sharks. The island is small and warm, with clear waters flowing from the Gulf Stream up onto the Great Bahama Bank, making this location incredible for shark research and shark encounters.
Bimini is another location where I had the pleasure of swimming with sharks. This time around I didn't use a company, but my family and I had a boat charter that took us to some of the hot spots for the day. I got the opportunity to watch nurse sharks suck conch out of their shells, and reef sharks glide along the bottom of the ocean.
Something that is unique to Bimini is the Bimini Shark Lab, where shark research is conducted to better understand shark biology and the role they play in regulating our ecosystem. I spent half a day touring the lab and even met some baby sharks that spend their time in the mangroves of Bimini.
As a bonus, Bimini is also a hot spot for dolphins. I ended up swimming in a huge pod of dolphins, and dare I say, it was actually scarier than swimming with sharks! Sharks are scared of humans and keep a distance, while dolphins are brazen and get incredibly close.
The Galapagos Islands came onto my radar for specifically swimming with whale sharks. I thought I'd be swimming with them in Cozumel, but during my research, I read too many reviews for different excursion companies that led me to feel it wasn't the most ethical route to go. There were many reviewers saying that, although the number of people allowed in the water at a time was regulated, it seemed that there were far too many boats for animals and people to feel totally comfortable.
Enter: the Galapagos. It's said that the best spot in the Galapagos to swim with whale sharks are Darwin and Wolf islands, where pregnant whale sharks pass through on their migration. You'll need to look for a naturalist shark diver or company to get you to this area, but it will be well worth it to swim next to the ocean's largest shark (bonus, they don't have teeth).
It should also be noted that, since the Galapagos Islands are a mecca for marine diversity, 32 different shark species have been recorded in Galapagos waters.
Rhode Island is a popular spot in New England for swimming with sharks. Many people equate any kind of swimming with wildlife to tropical destinations, but this northern location shouldn't be overlooked. I came across the Rhode Island Shark Diving company while researching the best places to see sharks at night. It's one of the only companies in the world that does cageless encounters with sharks at night as well as multiple long-day excursions.
The types of sharks seen in Rhode Island waters are blue sharks, mako sharks and white sharks, to name a few. Joe Romeiro, who owns the company has been photographing and observing the mako shark for years, and Rhode Island is one of the best places to see them. Mako sharks are the fastest sharks in the ocean and can jump 30 feet up into the air. (Sign me up!)
Cocos Islands, Costa Rica
No ecotourism list is complete without a journey to Costa Rica, which is personally one of the most diverse countries I've visited in terms of wildlife (and beauty). Have you ever seen those insane photos of tons of hammerheads swimming together? It's likely that was an occurrence in Cocos Islands, Costa Rica, which is a popular spot for schooling hammerheads.
Cocos Island National Park, located off the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, is the only island in the tropical eastern Pacific with a tropical rainforest, making this location very unique. The underwater landscape here has been attracting shark enthusiasts for years. In addition to hammerheads, it's also possible to see giant tuna, dolphins and many rays.
While it is a bit harder to find snorkel/swim-only charters here, they do exist. You won't have the view above without scuba diving, but you'll still see plenty while snorkeling.
Guadalupe Island, Mexico
This is the only location on the list where you'll have to get in a cage because no shark list would be complete without a great white adventure. Very experienced divers that have studied great whites will often swim or dive with them without a cage, but I wouldn't recommend it for the average person, and in Mexico, it's required by law to be in a cage while swimming with great whites.
Located off the coast of Baja, Mexico, Guadalupe Island is home to tons of great whites, thanks to a large seal population, including the Guadalupe fur seal. The location also has some of the clearest waters you can imagine with visibility down to 140 feet, making it perfect for viewing wildlife.
Something that is super interesting about the great white sharks here is that many of them stick around. It's been estimated that dive crews have identified between 245 and 300 individual sharks — and even given some names!
Shark Ray Alley, Belize
For those who want a very chill, relaxed snorkeling adventure, Shark Ray Alley is for you. Swimming with sharks and rays at this location is a breeze since it occurs in fairly shallow waters. You'll have to book a boat tour to take you to Shark Ray Alley, but once you're there, you'll be swimming with nurse sharks and rays in no time.
The main attraction here is the nurse shark, which I refer to as the most cuddly shark since they're so curious and friendly (but don't actually try to cuddle them). This is also a great spot to also see stingrays glide through the waters.
Shark Ray Alley is located inside The Hol Chan Reserve, located just off the coast of Belize. This area is protected from fishing mainly to keep it as a source of seagrass for the West Indian Manatee.
Bora Bora, French Polynesia
Another pretty chill location to swim with sharks is Bora Bora, French Polynesia, due to its black tip shark population. The black tip shark is curious but fearful and a generally small shark, at around 5 feet. Black tips hang out in and around the gorgeous coral reefs and shallows of French Polynesia.
There are many snorkel tours available to take you to the best spots where black tips are. Swimming with black tips is a unique experience because, similar to swimming with nurse sharks, they are used to humans being in the lagoons and will allow you to view them up close while they maintain a safe distance. Remember, it's true — sharks are actually afraid of humans.
Kuata Island, Fiji
As if I'd need another excuse to want to go to Fiji, with its crystal clear waters and idyllic tropical conditions. This is another great location for snorkeling or swimming with sharks in shallow waters. While there are also black tips here, the dominating species is white-tip sharks. Opposite of the black-tip sharks, white-tips sharks are actually very inquisitive and may want to check you out a bit more than the black tip.
Coral reefs are to thank for an abundant population of both white-tip and black-tip sharks here, as that is their preferred habitat. Kuata Island is remote yet accessible by ferry or boat, and there is only one accommodation on the island if you'd like to stay there.
La Jolla, California
Being under 22 pounds, the leopard shark is tiny and can easily be seen while snorkeling in the shallow flats of La Jolla. Leopard sharks tend to stick together, so it's not uncommon to come across large schools of them. Unfortunately, this is a shark that is fished for food — though regulations in the 1990s require them to be fished in smaller numbers, so the species can stay sustained.
Swimming with these sharks is easy, and there is no threat to humans. The best place to see them is at the La Jolla Ecological Reserve, where there are many options for tours.