For lots of people who love adventure, one of the coolest dreams is to go underwater and swim with turtles. I think these incredible ocean animals are really graceful and charming. To me, these marvelous marine creatures stand as paragons of grace and charm. Their timeless presence has graced our planet for over 150 million years, an enduring legacy that bore witness to the rise and fall of dinosaurs.
Evolving into remarkable marine reptiles, sea turtles have masterfully adapted their bodies to thrive in the expansive and mysterious depths of the ocean, where they gracefully spend approximately 96% of their lives. It’s only on the sandy shores that they briefly emerge, with females venturing ashore to lay their precious eggs, and in some cases, certain turtle species even indulge in sunbathing along the coastline. Remarkably, sea turtles demonstrate their profound prowess as navigators, embarking on epic journeys that span thousands of miles between their foraging haunts and their cherished nesting beaches.
These magnificent creatures are categorized into seven distinct species, each unique in its own right:
- Leatherback Sea Turtle
- Loggerhead Sea Turtle
- Green Sea Turtle
- Hawksbill Sea Turtle
- Olive Ridley Sea Turtle
- Flatback Sea Turtle
- Kemp’s Ridley Sea Turtle
Now, if you yearn for a rendezvous with these gentle oceanic giants in their natural habitat, here are top 8 recommendations for an up-close and personal experience:
1. Ari Atoll, Maldives
In the mesmerizing Maldives, a paradise for sea turtle enthusiasts, there are numerous locations to encounter these remarkable creatures. While the Ari Atoll often steals the spotlight as a prime sea turtle haven, allow me to introduce you to a hidden gem: the Adu Atoll. Nestled as the southernmost jewel in the Maldivian necklace, this atoll stands alone in its unique position, residing south of the equator.
Here in the Adu Atoll, a wondrous world of sea turtles awaits your exploration. It’s an enclave where hawksbill turtles reign in abundance, sharing their aquatic realm with graceful green turtles and even the elusive Ridley sea turtles. Unlike many other Maldivian atolls, the Adu Atoll is a rare destination where you might be fortunate enough to witness sea turtles nesting. Villingili, a pristine islet within this atoll, is among the select places where these noble creatures come ashore to lay their precious eggs.
For an unparalleled sea turtle encounter, I recommend a stay at the lavish overwater villas of the Shangri-La Villingili resort. Here, you’ll not only enjoy the epitome of luxury but also have a front-row seat to the marine wonders of the Maldives. It’s quite likely that you’ll witness sea turtles, along with the graceful presence of black-tipped reef sharks, gliding gracefully right beneath your villa, creating indelible memories.
Moreover, the Adu Atoll is renowned for its spectacular gatherings of manta rays. Venture to one of the shallow channels at the atoll’s entrance, and you’ll be treated to a mesmerizing spectacle as hundreds of these majestic creatures congregate for their cleansing rituals, a sight that will leave you in awe.
Though our recent visit may have been graced with less-than-ideal weather, it’s a testament to the abundant marine life that even in challenging conditions, you were able to witness the enchanting world of sea turtles, the graceful presence of sharks, and the mesmerizing gatherings of manta rays.
2. Akumal, Playa del Carmen, Mexico
In the enchanting realm of the Riviera Maya, specifically in Akumal, lies a place whose very name echoes its profound connection to these remarkable creatures – “Akumal,” translating to “place of the turtle” in Mayan. This coastal haven offers a unique opportunity to witness the grace of sea turtles in their element. Here, amidst the crystal-clear waters, you’ll encounter a mesmerizing spectacle as hundreds of green and loggerhead turtles gracefully indulge in their favorite pastime – feasting on the bountiful sea grass that carpets the shallow and protected bay.
As if the presence of these gentle giants wasn’t enough, Akumal boasts a stunning coral reef that teems with a kaleidoscope of vibrant marine life. Whether you choose to embark on a snorkeling expedition with a knowledgeable guide or venture out independently, the serene waters here offer an accommodating environment. With depths rarely exceeding five meters and the added protection of the bay’s natural geography, even beginners can explore this aquatic wonderland with confidence. The prospect of swimming alongside these elegant sea turtles is not just a dream but a tangible reality, making Akumal a must-visit destination for nature enthusiasts.
3. Maui Island, Hawaii
Nestled along the sun-kissed southern coast of Maui Island lies a place of wonder known as “Turtle Town.” True to its name, this locale stands as a veritable haven for those seeking encounters with the Hawaiian Green sea turtle, the most prevalent turtle species in these pristine waters. However, Turtle Town’s allure extends beyond a singular species, for you are also likely to cross paths with hawksbill, loggerhead, leatherback, and olive ridley turtles. These magnificent creatures gracefully navigate through the underwater labyrinth of ancient lava formations, creating a surreal backdrop rich in marine life, adorned with vibrant sponges and algae – all essential components of their diets.
One of the most intriguing behaviors of the Hawaiian green turtle is its occasional penchant for coming ashore at isolated sites to bask. This behavior, known as basking, is a rare phenomenon among sea turtles and has been observed in only a few select populations in the Pacific. Witnessing these majestic turtles in their natural habitat, engaging in such unique and rarely seen behaviors, is an experience that elevates Turtle Town in Maui to a realm of its own, beckoning travelers from far and wide to share in its aquatic wonders.
Barbados, a jewel of the Caribbean, boasts a thriving population of two majestic sea turtle species: the hawksbill and the leatherback turtles. The credit for this remarkable conservation success story goes to The Barbados Sea Turtle Project, which tirelessly works to safeguard these ancient creatures. Once upon a time, the hunting of turtles for their meat, eggs, and shells was a common practice in this region, but those days are long gone thanks to the vigilant efforts of the project. Their dedicated work includes monitoring, protection, and an inspiring campaign to encourage both locals and tourists to report nesting sites.
On the picturesque south and west coasts of Barbados, and sometimes in more sheltered spots on the eastern side of the island, you’ll discover a variety of serene bays. These bays are not only home to vibrant coral reefs but also offer an abundance of sea grass, sponge, and algae – the staple diet of the sea turtles. The warm, inviting waters ensure that there’s a high likelihood of encountering these magnificent creatures during your visit. If you’re fortunate enough to be there during nesting season, you might even witness the heartwarming spectacle of hundreds of baby leatherback turtles hatching and embarking on their journey to the sea along the idyllic west coast.
5. Virgin Islands
Nestled within the embrace of the Virgin Islands, Water Island off St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands beckons with a picturesque sheltered bay, graced by the soft, powdery sands of Honeymoon Beach. Here, you’ll find a pristine aquatic paradise, where warm, crystal-clear turquoise waters are complemented by an abundance of sea grass – a sure sign that sea turtles are never too far away. Our visit to this aquatic haven didn’t disappoint, as we were promptly greeted by the graceful presence of approximately six sea turtles, including a couple of adorable babies, within minutes of dipping beneath the surface.
One of the most enchanting ways to appreciate these gentle giants is to float serenely just above them, observing their graceful munching on sea grass. Yet, the highlight of any encounter is when these magnificent creatures elegantly rise to the water’s surface to take a breath, often right beside you. It’s a truly fabulous experience, an intimate rendezvous with these marvelous beings, a reminder of the wondrous and delicate balance of marine life that thrives beneath the turquoise waters of the Virgin Islands.
6. NEOM, Saudi Arabia
NEOM, a breathtaking paradise nestled in the pristine waters of the Red Sea. This enchanting destination is not only a haven for those seeking vibrant coral reefs and a diverse marine ecosystem but also a hub for environmental conservation initiatives. NEOM Island is dedicated to protecting endangered species and preserving the natural beauty of its surroundings.
The hawksbill sea turtles are a highlight of the underwater spectacle. These majestic creatures can be easily spotted as they gracefully glide through the water, indulging in their favorite pastime of feeding amidst the coral wonders. Swimming alongside these ancient mariners is a truly magical experience, providing a unique opportunity to connect with the natural world in an unforgettable way.
While both hawksbill and other species of sea turtles occasionally visit the coastline of NEOM Island, it’s important to note that the majority of their nesting activities occur on offshore islands. To protect these nesting sites and ensure the safety of the turtles, land access to these islands is strictly prohibited by law. This commitment to conservation ensures that these magnificent creatures can continue their life cycle undisturbed.
The timing of the nesting season can vary, influenced by temperature fluctuations, making it important to plan your visit accordingly if you hope to witness this incredible natural phenomenon. Whether you’re an avid marine enthusiast or simply looking for a unique adventure in a pristine marine environment, swimming with turtles in NEOM Island is an experience that will leave you with cherished memories of the wonders of the Red Sea and its remarkable inhabitants.
7. Bunaken Marine Park, Indonesia
Tucked away in the pristine waters of North Sulawesi, Indonesia, lies the captivating Bunaken Marine Park – a testament to the Indonesian government’s commitment to preserving the marine treasures of this region. As one of the pioneering Marine Protected Areas in the country, Bunaken has become a shining example of successful conservation efforts. The park is not only witnessing the resurgence of its turtle population but also flourishing with a kaleidoscope of vibrant coral reefs, mesmerizing schools of fish, elusive critters, and majestic pelagic visitors.
Within the embrace of Bunaken’s crystal-clear waters, the green sea turtle reigns as the most commonly encountered species. While exploring wall dive sites like Lekuan, you might find yourself in a delightful predicament – losing count of the numerous green sea turtles gracing your dive. Some of these ancient mariners are truly colossal in size, leaving an indelible impression on all fortunate enough to encounter them. Moreover, hawksbill turtles also make frequent appearances within the park, adding to the awe-inspiring diversity of marine life.
Bunaken presents ideal conditions for divers of all levels, offering warm waters, excellent visibility, and ease of diving throughout the year. Even novice divers can explore its underwater wonders with confidence. While the wettest months occur from November to February, the best time to experience the full splendor of Bunaken is from May to October. During this period, you’ll have the privilege of witnessing the nesting season, which spans from April to September, and the hatching season, a breathtaking spectacle that unfolds from June to November.
In Bunaken Marine Park, beneath the sun-dappled waters, a world of enchantment awaits, where the harmony of nature and conservation efforts come together to create an unforgettable underwater adventure.
8. Marsa Alam, Egypt
Nestled in the southeastern corner of Egypt, the charming town of Marsa Alam beckons to those seeking an unforgettable dive experience in the renowned waters of the Red Sea. Here, a mesmerizing world of vibrant coral reefs, tropical fish, playful dolphins, sleek reef sharks, majestic napoleon fish, and, of course, the beloved sea turtles, awaits your exploration.
One of the crown jewels of Marsa Alam is Abu Dabbab Bay, a picturesque sandy beach that has gained fame as a haven for aquatic enthusiasts. It’s here, amidst the azure waters, that you can fulfill your dreams of swimming alongside green sea turtles and the elusive dugongs. Both of these gentle creatures are frequent visitors, drawn by the lush seagrass beds that carpet the seabed not too far from the shore. Snorkeling in these serene waters provides an excellent opportunity to witness these magnificent beings in their natural habitat.
For those in pursuit of encounters with hawksbill sea turtles, the reefs surrounding Marsa Alam are the place to be. Here, these graceful turtles can be easily spotted while indulging in their favorite pastime – feeding amidst the coral wonders. Although both species of turtles occasionally visit the coastline, it’s worth noting that the majority of nesting activities occur on offshore islands, where land access is prohibited by law. The timing of nesting season may vary, depending on temperature fluctuations.
The best time to immerse yourself in the aquatic wonders of Marsa Alam is from June to September. During this period, you’ll have the privilege of witnessing the nesting season, which occurs from July to August for green turtles and in the Hurghada area for hawksbill turtles. The hatching season, a truly magical spectacle, unfolds from August to October for green turtles and from July to October for hawksbill turtles.
Marsa Alam, with its pristine waters and rich marine life, is an aquatic paradise that promises an unparalleled journey into the heart of the Red Sea’s treasures. It’s a destination where every dive brings you closer to the enchanting world of sea turtles and the mesmerizing tapestry of life beneath the waves.
Swim with Turtles
Contrary to what one might assume, the carapace, commonly referred to as the shell, the plastron, and even the skull of these remarkable reptiles are surprisingly sensitive. This sensitivity underscores the importance of refraining from any physical contact with sea turtles.
The act of touching these creatures can have profound and detrimental effects. It can incite fear and anxiety in the animals, leading to prolonged apnea, or breath-holding, which, in severe cases, can result in significant lung damage. It’s crucial to recognize that these ancient mariners have evolved to navigate their world with grace and precision, and any undue disturbance can disrupt their natural behaviors and even jeopardize their well-being.
To ensure the preservation and welfare of sea turtles, it’s imperative to maintain a respectful distance and adhere to responsible diving and snorkeling practices. Observing these magnificent creatures from afar allows them to flourish in their natural habitats, undisturbed by human interference. By doing so, we not only honor their existence but also pave the way for future generations to revel in the awe-inspiring presence of these remarkable beings. In this way, we become stewards of their well-being and the custodians of the wondrous legacy they embody.