Dreaming of the magic of swimming with one of the world’s seven species of sea turtles? It’s possible, but travelers must first exercise caution when booking their adventure. Of the seven species of sea turtles, six are endangered, and three are critically endangered. Adult turtles have few natural predators, but climate change, illegal hunting, pollution, and other human impacts have taken their toll on these enchanting creatures.
Thanks to global conservation efforts, turtle populations are beginning to regrow in some areas, providing plenty of countries to visit to support these preservation efforts and ethically swim with the turtles.
Here are the most well-regarded spots to experience swimming with sea turtles in their natural habitats, everything you need to know to do it responsibly, and our favorite nearby stays.
The Caribbean Sea is home to four species of sea turtles: green, hawksbill, leatherback, and loggerhead. Nearby in the Gulf of Mexico, you can find Kemp’s ridley turtles. While turtles can be spotted year-round here, we’ve noted the times of year they are most abundant.
Turks & Caicos: Providenciales
Summer is a great time to see turtles around Providenciales, with peak nesting season for green sea turtles lasting only from June to July. Hawksbill sea turtles and loggerheads also frequent these waters. The best way to swim with turtles is to explore Grace Bay Beach, where you can also snorkel the dedicated underwater trail at Coral Gardens Reef. There is excellent snorkeling off the western side of Northwest Point Marine National Park when the waters are calm.
Favorite place to stay: At the Amanyara Luxury Beach Resort, guests can “adopt a coral” to help protect a reef at the Nature Discovery Centre and snorkel nearby Malcolm’s Road Beach.
St. Thomas: Buck Island National Wildlife Refuge
With pristine coral reefs and crystal-clear waters, Turtle Cove on the north side of Buck Island is the place to spot green sea turtles, with a possible chance to see hawksbills. Leatherbacks are rare in this area. The different sea turtles can be seen year-round, but peak nesting begins in August. Scuba divers should take the chance to check out Shipwreck Cove for an up-close experience with a variety of local marine wildlife.
Favorite place to stay: The Resort at Frenchman’s Reef offers two resorts in one; stay beachside at the smaller Marriott Morningstar Buoy Haus, or at the larger Westin Beach Resort and Spa.
Mexico: Akumal Bay, Playa del Carmen
Akumal Beach is popular in the Riviera Maya for turtle experiences, but be wary of illegal and unlawful tour companies that set up on the beach. Instead, consider a guided tour to the breathtaking Mesoamerican Barrier Reef near Akumal with a reputable company like Cozudive. Loggerheads, hawksbills, leatherbacks, and green sea turtles are all found in these waters, with a nesting season of May to October. Nearby Cozumel even has a turtle sanctuary where guests can help participate in local conservation efforts.
Antigua: Long Island
Long Island, also called Jumby Bay Island, hosts hawksbill nesting from June to October, and leatherback nesting from April to July. Green turtles are also found here, but the large hawksbill presence is where this island shines. The Jumby Bay Hawksbill Project is the longest hawksbill study in the world, tracking over 500 turtles. Pasture Bay Beach is a hawksbill nesting site, and we recommend chartering a tour to Bird Island to swim with turtles and blue tangs, and perhaps see a humpback whale.
Favorite place to stay: Jumby Bay Island Resort lies on half a mile of pristine sandy beach where guests casually lounge under thatched cabanas between dips in the water.
Costa Rica: Tortuguero National Park
While the black sand beach at Tortuguero National Park is not a safe place to swim, it is a great spot to see nesting turtles. This is the largest green sea turtle nesting site in the western hemisphere. Hawksbill and green sea turtles nest here from June to October, but the peak is in August. Leatherback turtles tend to nest here from February to April. You can visit the Sea Turtle Conservancy Visitor Center to learn about ongoing research and conservation efforts in the area.
Favorite place to stay: Nearby Aninga Hotel and Spa offers a low-impact tour to view nesting turtles, which is regulated by the national park.
Martinique: Anse Dufour
The seagrass beds in the middle of both Anse Dufour and Anse Noire make for excellent swims with turtles, particularly green turtles. The abundance of seagrass in the water makes for a tasty green turtle snack, giving you the best opportunity to snorkel and see them up close. The coral is better around the edges of these beaches, and stronger swimmers can snorkel around the point that connects Dufour’s white-sand beach with Noire’s black volcanic sand beach.
Favorite place to stay: Hotel Bakoua is just a twenty-minute drive from Anse Dufour, and offers a beautiful white sand beach of its own for guests to relax on.
St. Vincent and the Grenadines: Tobago Cays, Southern Grenadines
Snorkeling off the beach on the southern tip of Baradel Island is the best way to swim with turtles in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The entire area is protected by the uninhabited Tobago Cays marine park, which ensures a safe and ethical snorkeling experience with a high number of green sea turtles. The seagrass beds are a paradise for green sea turtles, and a close encounter is most likely there. Nearby Horseshoe Reef is a snorkeler’s dream, with vibrant coral and tropical fish a-plenty.
For other Caribbean experiences with marine life, St. John and Puerto Rico’s Culebra are also known for excellent snorkeling.
Favorite place to stay: Located on the largest island in the Tobago Cays marine park, Mayreau Beach Club & Villas touts one of the coolest beach bars in the Caribbean with three pools and a fourth-floor sunset bar. They offer private charters on their motor yacht to the marine park. Stop by the crescent-moon-shaped Salt Whistle Bay on your way to and from the hotel.
The Pacific Ocean is home to six of the world’s seven species of sea turtles: olive ridley, green, loggerhead, leatherback, hawksbill, and flatback turtles. From the Great Barrier Reef to the Galapagos Islands, you’ll find many incredible nesting sites and an abundance of marine life.
Ecuador: Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos Islands are home to nearly 9,000 species, including four species of sea turtles. The Galapagos green sea turtle is the most common turtle species and can be seen year-round, especially during their peak nesting season from January to March. Hawksbills are also common in the area, and lucky visitors may see olive ridleys or leatherbacks passing through.
Since the Galapagos is home to such a variety of marine life, you can also hit the water for a chance to swim with the archipelago’s 15 species of rays, 32 species of sharks, and over 20 species of whales. While you’re there, visit Devil’s Crown off Floreana Island for some of the world’s best snorkeling.
Favorite place to stay: Located in the heart of the Galapagos, the Pikaia Lodge boasts a private tortoise reserve and a 145-foot yacht for guests to explore the archipelago.
Australia: Great Barrier Reef
Loggerhead turtles and green sea turtles are the most common in the Great Barrier Reef, but leatherheads, hawksbills, flatbacks, and olive ridleys also make appearances around this large marine home. The best time of year to experience turtles here is during the breeding season: October to March.
Ningaloo Reef off Australia’s west coast is a reliable option for a swim with sea turtles, and nearby Exmouth is an important nesting site for green turtles. You can even swing by the Jurabi Turtle Center before you go to learn about the Ningaloo turtles.
Favorite place to stay: Lady Elliot Island Eco Resort is on a coral cay in the southern Great Barrier Reef nestled in protected waters, which makes for excellent snorkeling.
From swimming with Volkswagen, the 300-pound turtle living at Black Rock Beach, to snorkeling at “Turtle Town” at Maluaka Beach, Maui, has it all when it comes to sea turtle experiences. Nesting season from April to September is the best time to see Hawaiian green sea turtles and Hawksbill turtles in shallow waters. The deeper waters in this area are home to olive ridleys, loggerheads, and leatherbacks. If you want a unique adventure, experienced divers can visit Kahe Point Beach Park on Oahu for a chance to see turtles riding the currents of the nearby power plant’s pipeline.
Favorite place to stay: The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua on the North Shore of Maui hosts programs for adults and kids through Jean-Michel Cousteau’s Ambassadors of the Environment, including a Turtle Tracks group where guests can search for green turtles with a naturalist. On Oahu, check out the Turtle Bay Resort to try surfing with a dog and watch young guests attend the Mermaid Academy.
French Polynesia: Teti’aroa
As the only island in the area with undisturbed nesting sites, Teti’aroa is a sanctuary for green turtles. The turtles breed and nest here from October to March. While it is possible, it is rare to spot hawksbill, leatherback, or olive ridley sea turtles here, and it is even more rare to see a loggerhead. You may visit solely for the green sea turtles, but in the surrounding waters, you’ll also see a variety of tropical fish, dolphins, sharks, rays, and maybe even a pilot or humpback whale. For those truly interested in the endangered status of sea turtles, you can visit the nearby Turtle Care Center to learn more about turtle conservation efforts in the area.
Favorite place to stay: The Brando, where guests at this nearly-zero-carbon resort can accompany a Teti’aroa Society guide to see turtles nesting right on the beach, or join an excursion to explore the nearby reef.
Nicaragua: La Flor Wildlife Refuge
Over 30,000 olive ridley sea turtles come to nest on this white-sand beach annually. For peak nesting season and a chance to witness the incredible “arribada”, where thousands of turtles nest at once, visit between October and November. The most exciting place to snorkel here is beyond the break zone, where you can find parrotfish, manta rays, and even some octopus species. If you need a break from swimming with sea turtles and other marine life, you can also check out nearby Playa El Coco for a relaxing swim or Playa Maderas for excellent surfing.
Favorite place to stay: Several beautiful beaches lie between La Flor and Mukul Beach, Golf, and Spa, where guests can relax with a massage on the beach or continue the adventure on a hike with monkeys.
Australia: Cook Island Aquatic Reserve
A colony of green sea turtles lives at the Cook Island Aquatic Reserve year-round, making this reserve a reliable place for all levels of snorkelers and scuba divers to have a chance to swim with sea turtles. You can not only see green, olive ridley, hawksbill, loggerhead, and flatback sea turtles, but you can also experience swimming with manta rays, sharks, dolphins, and whales.
Favorite place to stay: Stay an hour north of the Cook Island Aquatic Reserve in the heart of the Gold Coast at the QT Boutique Hotel, or, for a quieter stay, consider the unique Jodha Bai Retreat less than twenty minutes inland of the Reserve.
The Indian Ocean is home to five species of sea turtles: olive ridley, green, hawksbill, loggerhead, and leatherback sea turtles. There are remarkable turtle conservancy efforts here, along with many opportunities to swim with sea turtles right from your resort.
Sipadan Island is one of the best scuba diving sites in the world because of its large turtle population and over 3,000 species of fish (including the elusive frogfish). Selingan Island, also known as Turtle Island, is home to the oldest sea turtle conservation effort in the world. You can find hawksbill turtles and green turtles year-round, with as many as 50 sea turtles nesting simultaneously from July to October. We recommend a tour with Borneo Dream to see both islands.
Favorite place to stay: Paradise awaits at the Sipidan Kapali Dive Resort, where guests can view exotic marine life from just a few feet above in their overwater bungalow.
Seychelles: Denis Island
Green sea and hawksbill are the two species of turtles to nest on Denis Island. The island is the only place in the Seychelles where green sea turtles are common year-round, with a peak season from May to September. The hawksbills nest from October to February, making this a prime spot for turtle viewing any time of the year. Denis Island is also an ideal location for scuba diving and record-breaking game fishing due to its proximity to a deep, ocean drop-off. You should also visit the beaches of Belle Etoile and House Reef for the best chance of a sea turtle sighting.
Favorite place to stay: Stay in a luxury spa cottage at the Denis Private Island Resort (the only stay on the island), an eco-conscious resort focused on sustainability and reducing its carbon imprint.
Maldives: North Malé Atoll
North Malé Atoll and Ari Atoll are hotspots for Hawksbill turtles, but you can head over to Baa Atoll to find green sea turtles. North Malé Atoll, Manta Point, and the Maldives Victory Wreck are superb places for snorkeling and diving to see sea turtles, manta rays, and whale sharks. Olive ridley, loggerhead, and leatherback sea turtles are also found in the atoll, just less commonly. Visit May to June for nesting season, or July to August for the opportunity to see a sea turtle hatching.
Favorite place to stay: The eco-friendly One & Only Resort Reethi Rah has a Sea Turtle Rehabilitation Center in partnership with the Olive Ridley Project, where visitors can Adopt a Turtle Patient and receive updates on their recovery. If you’re into surfing, the Maldives has some of the best luxury surf resorts in the world.
Take a charter with Mariposa Diving to Apo Reef Natural Park, the largest reef in the Philippines, home to 400 varieties of coral and 500 marine species. This is the place to scuba dive for a chance to swim with sea turtles and marine life. Green sea turtles, hawksbill, leatherback, loggerhead, and olive ridley sea turtles all pass through here, with nesting season lasting from October to February.
Favorite place to stay: From the beach at Pandan Island Resort, walk straight out into the water to snorkel with green sea turtles.
Indonesia: Gili Islands
The northern side of Gili Trawangan has excellent sea turtle snorkeling off the beach. While green and hawksbill sea turtles thrive here, there are still conservation efforts in the area. The Gili Shark Conservation Team teaches visitors how to scuba dive in exchange for volunteer time.
Favorite place to stay: Experience farm-to-table cuisine at Lombok Lodge, with a free water shuttle service to its private beach at Turtle Point on Gili Meno. For a stay directly on Gili Meno, we recommend Meno House, which arranges private snorkeling trips to the other Gili islands.
Indonesia: Bunaken Marine Park
Bunaken Timur is the best snorkeling spot in Bunaken Marine Park to observe sea turtles, fish, and colorful coral. It’s a great place to see hawksbill and green sea turtles, especially at the dive site Muka Kampung, or “Turtle City”. Don’t miss a snorkel at Siladen Island for its impressive reef and starfish population.
Favorite place to stay: On Bunaken Timur, stay at The Village Bunaken Resort where you can snorkel with turtles in the nearby house reef. Or rent an exclusive villa on Siladen at the award-winning Siladen Boutique Dive Resort.
The Red Sea is home to five species of sea turtles: olive ridley, green, hawksbill, leatherback, and loggerhead turtles. Here, sea turtles play a crucial role in maintaining the ecosystem’s delicate balance.
Egypt: Marsa Alam
The Red Sea Project invites visitors to meet the identified turtles of Marsa Alam in advance of swimming with them by looking at the pictures on their site. Swim with Mango, the green sea turtle, or one of her many other friends. Hawksbill, green, loggerhead, leatherback, and olive ridley turtles can all be seen here, with the highest chances of sightings from June through September. The Abu Dabbab Nature Reserve is commonly known as Turtles Beach and would make a great sea turtle sighting opportunity, or you can visit Marsa Mubarak for the chance to snorkel with coral and an array of marine life.
Favorite place to stay: Located on Marsa Mubarak, Iberotel Costa Mares has a dive center, and unique house reef, where travelers can also swim with dugongs, the manatee’s cousin.
Know Before You Go
When is the Best Time to See Sea Turtles?
The best time to see sea turtles is in the summer months during breeding season. Turtles come ashore to dig nests and lay their eggs. Most turtles nest at night, except for the Kemp’s ridley turtles.
How Far Away Should You Stay from Sea Turtles?
You should stay between six and ten feet away from sea turtles in the water, and at least 50 feet away from nesting sea turtles.
Touching or harassing a turtle can cause them distress, and may result in fines. Follow the NOAA Guidelines to safely view marine life in any situation, summarized here:
- Observe, do not disturb: Keep your distance, and do not chase, harass, touch, or feed sea turtles.
- Approach from the side: Allow the turtle to see you coming. Never swim above them, as that may deter them from surfacing for air.
- Be aware: Watch for signs of distress, and distance yourself if needed.
Not set on where to go yet? Here are other exceptional locations to experience sea turtles:
- Ama Bay, Okinawa
- Zante, Greece
- Amedee Island, New Caledonia
- Ngouja Beach, Mayotte
- Iztuzu Beach (Turtle Beach), Turkey