Swimming with whales & dolphins

2 Minute Summary

Unlike captive cetaceans, meeting their wild cousins lets you discover their natural behaviour and become, for a moment, part of their underwater world. And when you realise just how much fun it is down there, you may just decide that Douglas Adams’ clever dolphins were right. Their wave surfing, deep diving, joyous song and gentle nature recall a more innocent time, one of carefree childhood frolics and storybooks where animals and people understood each other.
Swimming with these marine mammals is spiritual for some, an adrenaline rush for others, made all the more magical by the knowledge that with wild animals, encounters are on their terms. The feeling of bobbing beside a pod of spinner dolphins or snorkelling above a 40-ton humpback whose fins alone are the length of three grown men may be tough to capture on camera, but it’s sure to be imprinted on your memory for years to come.
Our guide to swimming with whales and dolphins shows you how to encounter these creatures responsibly.

Is this type of holiday for you?


Go if...

  • ... you want to learn more about the behaviour of whales and dolphins. Many trips are accompanied by marine biologists who share their knowledge of the species, and your photos may be used to support research projects.
  • ... you want to experience an animal which some consider as intelligent as humans. However clever they really are, and whether or not their clicks, squeaks and “songs” are in fact a language, encountering a wild cetacean convinces many of their intuitive abilities, and changes our perception of “dumb animals”.
  • ... you want more than just a cetacean selfie. This is something you absolutely have to experience in person – not through a lens.

Don't go if...

  • ...you are expecting SeaWorld-style acrobatics. These are wild animals, and they'll approach your boat if and when they wish. Sometimes the dolphins will leap into the air, or the whales will introduce you to their calves; sometimes they're little bumps in the distance. This is the beauty of nature – you're not in control, the animals are.
  • ... you aren’t particularly confident in the water – and in your snorkelling equipment. This is the big wide ocean, the animals are wild, and panicking is not ideal for other travellers – or for the whales and dolphins.
If you'd like to chat about swimming with whales and dolphins or need help finding a holiday to suit you we're very happy to help.
Rosy & team.
01273 823 700

Best time to swim with whales & dolphins


The Azores

Dolphins are present here year round, but the exposed, mid-Atlantic setting means the winter weather is cold wet and blustery – with wicked sea conditions. May-September, then are the best months with the calmest seas and least chance of being rained off. The weather can still change by the hour, though – so layers, waterproofs, sunscreen and hats are recommended!


Humpback whales migrate to the tropical Tongan waters from late July to early October. Here, they give birth and suckle their calves, fattening them up before the long journey back to Antarctica. While sightings can never be guaranteed, there is a very high chance of being able to snorkel alongside them during this period – trips usually include at least five days on the water to increase the chance of this.

The Red Sea

The best destination for year-round encounters, due to the warm, dry climate and sheltered waters. Dec-Feb will be cooler and slightly less pleasant – while any school holidays will bring bigger crowds and higher prices (as well as searing heat in July-Aug) – so we recommend spring and autumn as the best months.

Swimming with whales & dolphins travel advice


Advice on swimming with dolphins - responsibly

Amanda Stafford, from our supplier Whale and Dolphin Connection: “The Azores have a lot of guidelines: only two people in the water, keeping a certain distance, don’t stay too long in the water, lots of signals… Putting 30 people in the water at the same time, all thrashing around, is complete and utter madness. We’ve gone to great lengths to develop management protocol around training people. They need to know how to use a snorkel and mask, feel confident in the water – some places just throw people in and they can’t even use a snorkel!”

Tips on swimming
with whales

Rae Gill is the tour director of our supplier WhaleSwim Adventures, in Tonga: "People need to be fit and agile enough to get up a ladder in choppy water. They also need to be able to snorkel 50m at quite a good speed and be confident with their snorkelling gear, not just go out and think they will be able to do it. If they can't, our guides then have to look after one person and it affects the whole group. So we ask them to start getting fit in the swimming pool, to go to there with their snorkel and fins, do lengths to get their speed up and get confident. That way they're not worried about getting water in their snorkel when they're in the water, and they can focus 100 percent on the experience with the whales."

Tips on booking a longer trip

Amanda Stafford: “We insist people come for a week. We don’t do any one-off trips. That’s huge – if you take someone for a day, they’re desperate, it puts pressure on everybody, the skippers are worried about delivering an experience, everyone’s clambering around and desperate to get into the water. There’s a kind of anxiety which means the animals don’t want to be around. They’re all thrashing around in the water and it just makes for a ghastly experience. But if you have five days, each day you get more confident, each day there are different things in the water, you get better at what you’re doing, you watch other people enjoying the experience too – there’s a great group spirit on the boat. You feel like you’re a little pod with other people, it’s a very profound experience.”

Advice from our travellers


At Responsible Travel, we think the best people to advise our travellers are often... other travellers. They always return from our tours with packing tips, weather reports, ideas about what to do - and opinions about what not to.

We have selected some of the most useful swimming with whales and dolphins travel tips that our guests have provided over the years to help you make the very most of your holiday - and the space inside your suitcase.

Take sea sickness tablets if you are inclined to nausea on boats as it can get quite choppy. - Rosie Sutcliffe (Azores)

Don't leave it until the last week of the season. It was cold! Also be aware these are wild animals, you wouldn't expect to stroke a lion on safari so why expect to be up-close to dolphins. – Carol Sissons (Azores)

The weather… is so changeable. Wet suits and layers, sun cream, hats. You might need them. One other thing that I also read on a review was to bring quick drying towels which was good advice. - Amanda Kirby (Azores)

Get out every single time you can, you can't see / interact with wild dolphins + whales + fish + turtles + shearwaters (sea-diving birds) in Oxford Street. – James Bromley
Photo credits: [Top box: Theodore Scott] [Tonga: Roderick Eime] [Review 1 - Claire Bartlett: John Wright] [Review 2 - Emma Ghafur: Roderick Eime]
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Photo credits: [Page banner: Brandon Cole via Roderick Eime]
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