15 Most Breathtaking Destinations To Swim With Turtles, According To Travelers

Swimming with turtles is a magical, bucket-list experience for marine enthusiasts of all ages. Found in both warm- and cold-water environments, there are seven species of sea turtles gliding through the waters around some of the world's most breathtaking destinations. Sadly, six of these are either threatened or endangered, so it's essential to be responsible when diving in. However, unlike other underwater animal experiences (like swimming with captive dolphins in marine parks), visiting turtles in their natural habitat is an ethical and eco-friendly way to get nose-to-shell with one of the ocean's most adorable creatures and there are plenty of stunning snorkeling destinations to enjoy in the U.S. Just be sure to follow the rules (which are outlined below) to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience for every person and reptile.


Whether you hope to flutter your fins in the Galápagos Islands, blow air through your snorkel in Australia's Great Barrier Reef, or dive into the translucent waves at Akumal in Mexico, there are myriad fabulous places to explore a turtle's universe, some of which boast resorts primed for swimming with these beauties. This list of the most breathtaking destinations to swim with turtles will help you find the perfect spot. To ensure these places are the best, we conducted intensive research that included hours of digging through online reviews, blogs, and articles written by seasoned travelers, snorkelers, scuba divers, and turtle lovers from across the globe.

Dos and don'ts of swimming with turtles

First, avoid making these five mistakes when snorkeling for the first time. A frantic swimmer can scare away a turtle. Next, remember that you are in their home, and treat the area with care and respect. Leave no trace of your visit (i.e., don't litter), do not touch anything (coral reefs are alive, and you can damage or kill them), and don't take anything (shells and coral are essential parts of the natural marine habitat).


Stay between 10 and 20 feet away from turtles and do not approach them from the side. They will feel safer if they can see you head-on and devise a way around you or swim in a different direction. Do not snorkel or dive above a turtle, as it will need to surface at times. Do not feed, touch, or chase these reptiles. Instead, observe them quietly and calmly so as not to cause stress. They'll stick around for longer if they feel comfortable.

Children will love getting their feet wet around a turtle, so why not bring them along? If they're young or uncomfortable in deep water, check out these tips for snorkeling safely as a non-swimmer. Also, keep your children within arm's reach and explain these rules so there's no danger to them or the turtles. As long as kids remain with an adult, there doesn't seem to be an age restriction for swimming with turtles in most destinations. Some places may have separate rules, though, so check before jumping in.


1. Galápagos Islands, Ecuador

It's no secret that the Galápagos Islands are a haven for incredible wildlife. Located 600 miles west of Ecuador, Charles Darwin made this stunning volcanic archipelago famous. The British naturalist was so intrigued by the region's remarkable plants and animals that he went on to study them, later developing the theory of evolution. As for swimming with turtles, this is a fantastic place to jump in.


The Galápagos green sea turtle can only be found in this area. According to the Professional Association of Diving Instructors® (PADI), you can tell it apart from other green sea turtles by its serrated lower jaw. This unique species also boasts one pair of scales over its eyes. You can snorkel and dive with these turtles year-round.

The best time to swim with turtles in the Galápagos Islands is during their nesting season between December and March. The PADI experts recommend visiting Isabela Island's Quinta Playa, which boasts their main nesting site.

2. Ningaloo Reef, Australia

G'day mate! Welcome to Australia. Also known as the Land Down Under, this expansive country (and continent) is home to some of the world's deadliest creatures (steer clear of the funnel-web spider), most breathtaking landscapes (hello, Outback), and, of course, the Great Barrier Reef. This last natural attraction hosts six species of turtles and an array of colorful fish, bottlenose dolphins, and humpback whales.


The UNESCO World Heritage site, Ningaloo Coast, spans 1,493,752 acres of Australia's remote western coast. This is where you'll find Ningaloo Reef, the world's longest near-shore reef, home to a vast population of sea turtles that tourists can swim with year-round, including Hawksbill Turtles, Green Turtles, and Loggerhead Turtles. Keep your eyes peeled while swimming; you may also spot manta rays and whale sharks.

The best time to swim with turtles in Ningaloo Reef is during their nesting season between November and March.

3. The Maldives

If the thought of pristine beaches, crystalline waves, and decadent overwater bungalows has you drooling, book a trip to the Maldives. This Indian-Ocean archipelago is paradisical and a haven for impressive marine creatures. There are five main species of turtles local to the Maldives -– hawksbill, green sea, olive ridley, leatherback, and loggerhead. You'll likely bump into one (or more) while swimming in these translucent waters year-round.


Not surprisingly, swimming with turtles tops the list of the best things to do in the Maldives. The Lhaviyani Atoll is a fantastic place to visit for seeing green sea turtles, while the North Malé and South Ari Atolls often host hawksbill turtles, and the Baa Atoll is best known for olive ridleys. Many Maldives resorts offer tours to snorkel and dive with turtles, so be sure to ask about these when you make a reservation. Or book a stay at the luxurious Four Seasons Resort Maldives, which has a Turtle Rehabilitation Center that allows guests to help monitor injured turtles. This is found within the resort's Marine Discovery Center. The resort also offers a private, three-hour turtle trip led by a marine biologist.


The best time to swim with turtles in the Maldives is during their nesting season between May and June.

4. Marsa Alam, Egypt

You'll have plenty of chances to get up close to one of these underwater beauties as they'll be on their way to and from the beach, burying their eggs during multiple months of the year. One of the most breathtaking destinations to swim with turtles is Abu Dabbab, a nature reserve highlighted by a lovely white beach in northern Marsa Alam. Known as Turtles Beach, this Red Sea wonder is a haven for turtles and the remarkable Dugong (a sea cow that resembles a manatee). If you're lucky, you might even spot a whale shark or dolphins while discovering the two house reefs in this stunning spot. Reviewers on Tripadvisor recommend taking a guided tour to make the most of the experience, with one traveler writing that she saw over 15 turtles on her organized snorkeling trip.


The best time to swim with turtles in Marsa Alam is during their nesting season, from the end of April through October.

5. Barbados

You'll likely be pleased to learn that turtles are present in Barbados year-round. For a more professional experience, book an organized tour. Many companies in the area offer tours that take visitors out to snorkel and dive with turtles, explore shipwrecks, and enjoy a catamaran cruise while they're at it. Kayak tours are also available, but these tippy vessels make jumping in and swimming with turtles more difficult when you spot them. According to other travelers, the most breathtaking destinations to swim with turtles include Carlisle Bay, Paynes Bay, and Pebbles Beach. All of these options boast translucent water and coral reefs, making them ideal for spotting your favorite reptile.


Hit the warm Barbadian water between February and July for your best chance at swimming with leatherback turtles, as they will most likely nest during this period. Green and hawksbill turtles, on the other hand, are more prevalent while nesting between May and October.

6. Sipadan, Malyasia

If scuba diving with turtles is more your thing, you'll love visiting the Marine Protected Area around Sipadan Island in Malaysia. In addition to a healthy population of green sea turtles gliding past colorful reefs, they also hang out in caves worth exploring. According to Scuba Junkie, "It's not uncommon to see more than 20 turtles in just one dive" in Sipadan. We like those odds. You can spot turtles all year long in the waters surrounding Sipadan Island. Up your chances of seeing turtles by swimming at low tide. This is when they tend to return to the reefs after munching on seagrass deeper in the sea.


On a somewhat creepier yet fascinating note, Sipadan is also home to Turtle Tomb. This system of caves is just past Turtle Cavern, which is littered with skeletons of turtles who became trapped in the area. To visit this unique spot, you'll need to use your scuba diving skills and head down with an experienced local diver who knows their way around.

The best time to swim with turtles in Sipadan is during their nesting season from July through August when you're bound to spot more of these pretty reptiles heading to and from the beach

7. Akumal, Mexico

Tripadvisor reviews suggest arriving at Akumal early (i.e., between 8 and 9 a.m.) to ensure you see a turtle (or many). Organized groups tend to show up after that (often between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.), and the noise and splashing from rowdy members can scare turtles away. Plus, the bay is shallow and covered in fine sand, so you'll have less visibility with larger groups — they'll kick up more of the sea's bottom.


Speaking of tours, other turtle-loving travelers say you won't need to book a costly excursion to see the creatures while swimming in Akumal as long as you're a comfortable snorkeler and bring a buddy. The bay is calm and ideal for snorkeling. Translated from Mayan to "place of the turtles," Akumal lies just over 17 miles northwest of Tulum, making this a perfect destination for a snorkeling or scuba diving day trip. Have more time to spend exploring the waters around Mexico? Visit Isla Mujeres, a beautiful isle about 76 miles northwest of Akumal and about 8 miles offshore from Cancun. This is one of the world's best islands for snorkeling, complete with an underwater sculpture garden.

The best time to swim with turtles in Akumal is between May and the end of November. Turtles roam these waters year-round; however, the area is less crowded with tourists at this time, so you'll have a better chance of a peaceful encounter.


8. Turtle Town, Maui, Hawaii, United States

The translucent waters around Hawaii's Elysian island make Maui an excellent destination for swimming with turtles. Not sure where to swim? There are plenty of places for snorkeling in Hawaii and multiple tours to guide you to turtle-friendly locales. However, Turtle Town is the best place to visit if you're determined to see a Hawaiian green sea turtle up close. Sandwiched between Black Sand Beach and Nahuna Point on its southern coast, this is one of Maui's best places to snorkel. According to Hawaii Magazine, the "true Turtle Town" is located at Maluaka Beach, a secluded spot that can be hard to find due to its lack of signage. Its elusive nature makes this a less popular and much quieter beach.


Turtle Town itself can be reached by swimming to the southern point of the beach or snorkeling from Makena Landing. Filled with unique marine life, Turtle Town is made up of a group of coral reefs and extraordinary structures created by lava that erupted from underwater volcanoes many years ago. Hit the ocean in the morning for your best chance at ogling the sea's dazzling creatures, which are present year-round. The water tends to be calmer at this time, and the sun helps brighten the area for better viewing. Booking a snorkel tour is an easy way to explore Turtle Town.

The best time to swim with turtles in Turtle Town is during their nesting season between May and the end of September.

9. Seychelles

The Seychelles is a captivating place so beautiful that you'll be forgiven for thinking you've stepped (or swam) into a postcard. Known for its sugar-white sandy beaches and crystalline turquoise water, this archipelago is a bucket-list destination worthy of your vacation time. Those hoping to swim with turtles will be thrilled with the abundance of beautiful reptiles that drift through this area.


Whether visiting La Digue's beautiful Anse Caiman beach, exploring the small Cocos and Félicité islands, or snorkeling around Grand Soeur Island, you're sure to spy at least a few gorgeous turtles. The swanky Six Senses Zil Pasyon resort on Félicité Island has turtles who return to nest on their beach annually. Staff members notify guests when the eggs begin to hatch so tourists can witness the little ones' journeys into the sea. Snorkeling tours can also be arranged from the resort so guests can swim with turtles nearby.

The best times to swim with turtles in Seychelles are April and November. There's barely any wind at this time, which means the visibility is great. Head to Cousin Island Reserve between October and March to witness their nesting season.


10. Tobago Cays, St. Vincent and the Grenadines

You'll find the five small islands that make up the Tobago Cays in a mesmerizing slice of the Caribbean Sea. Part of the Grenadines, this archipelago lies in a protected Marine Park, which means it's ripe for marine life. A snorkeler's paradise, this pretty place is easily reached by boat (either a water taxi or organized tour) from Saint Vincent and Grenadine islands like Union, Canouan, and Bequia. According to Snorkeling Report, the best place to slip into the water for turtle viewing is on a soft sandy beach at the southern end of Baradal Island. 


One reviewer wrote on Tripadvisor, "You are all but guaranteed to get wonderfully close to these magnificent creatures in Tobago Cays." Speaking of getting close to turtles, the Mandarin Oriental hotel on nearby Canouan Island offers its guests private snorkeling tours via catamaran or power boat. It claims its visitors are bound to spy large numbers of turtles during the trip.

The best time to swim with turtles in Tobago Cays is between March and June, when they're most active, although they nest from January through September.

11. Gili Islands, Indonesia

Welcome to Paradise, also known as the Gili Islands. Three tiny isles are located off the northwestern coast of Indonesia's Lombok, where snorkelers flock to swim with turtles in Southeast Asia. The turtles on all three islands, Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno, and Gili Air, are so used to seeing humans in the water that they aren't skittish. As long as you're respectful and quiet and keep a safe distance, they'll swim along with you quite happily. While many turtle species are found there, green sea and hawksbill turtles are most commonly encountered in this area.


Whether you swim close to shore or scuba dive in deeper water, the best time to swim with turtles in the Gili Islands is during the dry season between April and October. During this period, the water is calmer and visibility better than in the wetter months.

12. Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica

Tortuguero translates to "region of turtles," which is a fitting name considering this northeastern Costa Rican National Park is a known nesting site for green turtles. According to the Sea Turtle Conservancy, Tortuguero National Park's beach "is the most important nesting site of the endangered green turtle in the Western Hemisphere." You'll also find Giant Leatherback, Loggerhead, and Hawksbill turtles in this majestic area, protected by the Caribbean Conservation Corporation and the Costa Rican government.


Swimming off the beach in Tortuguero is dangerous due to large waves, currents, and sharks, so you'll have to book a snorkel or dive tour or stay at a dive resort for your best (and safest) chance to swim with turtles. Join an organized walking tour during nesting season to see turtles on land. Local guides take tourists near nests on the beach at night. You'll be advised to wear dark clothes and leave lights and cameras at the hotel to protect the turtles. You won't be alone when you visit this park — more than 111 species of reptiles, 57 types of amphibians, and 60 breeds of animals call this area home, plus over 300 species of birds.

The best time to swim with turtles in Tortuguero National Park is during their nesting season between July and October.


13. Zakynthos, Greece

To increase your chances of spotting an endangered Caretta caretta turtle while visiting the Greek island Zakynthos (a.k.a. Zante), swim or snorkel in the water that stretches between Cameo Island and Agios Sostis. According to Snorkeling Report, the sparkling sea around Cameo Island is "one of the best in Europe for swimming with sea turtles." You can thank the crystalline water for that. Book an organized tour to get to the island or walk across the pedestrian bridge from Agios Sostis. The walk should take about 8 minutes from the beach at Laganas. You'll have to pay a small entry fee (about $5), so have cash on hand.


The best time to swim with turtles in Zakynthos is during nesting season between early May and mid-August. Locals claim that early morning and late afternoon offer the highest chances to spot a turtle in the waters around Cameo Island.

14. Apo Island, Philippines

Apo Island is a breathtaking destination in the Philippines, with more than 615 species of fish living in the waters off its shore. Considered one of the world's best places to scuba dive, a marine sanctuary spans about 0.3 miles of Apo's southeast coast, protecting the area's coral, fish, and turtles. Tourists can swim with turtles all year in this beautiful destination.


According to ZuBlu Diving, green and hawksbill turtles "can be seen on every dive." Turtles can be found in the waters near Apo Island in the dozens, snacking, swimming, or just chillaxing. A fabulous place to scuba dive and snorkel, this tiny volcanic island boasts a vast array of marine life and stunning coral, even in the areas that aren't protected. Its clear water, steep walls, and canyons make this an exciting diving spot.

The best time to swim with turtles in Apo Island is during its dry season, between December and May. That said, September offers divers calmer conditions and greater visibility, making it a more ideal period for turtle spotting, claim PADI experts.

15. Ama Bay, Japan

There's a trick to seeing turtles in Japan's splendid Ama Bay –- you must time your visit with high tide. At this point, the turtles are granted more space to feed on the seagrass beds, thanks to the influx of water. This well-monitored area is presided over by lifeguards to ensure the safety of the turtles, so stick to the roped-off sections. And if you're searching for an elusive turtle, ask a friendly lifeguard to point one out.


Don't feel like getting wet? There are plenty of glass-bottom boat tours on offer. You can spot a turtle while cruising along the water's surface if you're lucky. Travelers who left reviews on Tripadvisor recommend booking round-trip ferry tickets in advance to ensure you don't miss a spot on the late boat back. Their experiences on the island were so great that they wanted to stay as long as possible. These reviewers also recommend bringing your own snorkel gear and snacks.

The best time to swim with turtles in Ama Bay is during nesting season between May and July.

How to take great underwater photos of turtles

If you've ever tried to take a photo underwater, you know how tricky this seemingly simple task can be. Snapping a fabulous picture between crashing waves, flickering rays of sunlight, and murky water conditions is no easy feat. These tips can help you nab a turtle shot worth framing. First, follow a few tricks to get rid of fog in your snorkel mask. How can you expect to take a clear pic when you can't see straight? Next, choose your gear. While spending thousands on a fab piece of equipment would be amazing, a digital point-and-shoot is just as good, especially for novice shutterbugs. Digital Camera World recommends the OM System Tough TG-7 for its 4x optical zoom and rugged nature.


Now that you've prepped to start clicking, it's time to consider how to shoot. The nearer you are to the object (i.e. turtle), the better, as subjects become clear and sharp with fewer background particles and blur. Remember not to get closer than 10 feet from a turtle, and don't approach it from the side. Instead, shoot your photos at an upward angle. This technique helps increase contrast and keep the animal in focus. Turn off your flash (it upsets the turtles) and shoot in a shallow location on a sunny day, if possible. Keep the sun at your back just as you would on land. Also, focus on the turtle's eyes to capture its character.

How we chose the destinations

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of breathtaking destinations to swim with turtles, which makes creating a list of the best a daunting task. To ensure we chose the most beautiful spots, we scoured the internet for reviews and advice from seasoned snorkelers, scuba divers, and travelers who love swimming with turtles. We scanned blogs, articles, and reviews to ensure the destinations we highlighted were seen by many as epic places to swim with turtles. To be considered for this list, the destinations had to boast a healthy population of turtles and easy (and safe) ways to swim with them. Bonus points were given for places where people can swim with turtles year-round.


While not all places on this list are easy to get to (many require a boat trip from another nearby island), they all feature beautiful geography, crystalline waters, and plentiful marine life. Many of our chosen destinations exist within protected areas or sanctuaries, and they feature eco-friendly ways to enjoy a turtle encounter. So you can rest assured that you aren't going to cause harm to a turtle or its habitat by swimming in these spots, as long as you follow the "Dos and Don'ts of swimming with turtles," that is.