Want to swim with wild dolphins? Here are four encounters that will delight you down to your fin tips. (If you want to encounter dolphins responsibly, look for operators that do not chase pods of dolphins and forbid touching or feeding of the animals.)
1. Atlantic Spotted Dolphins; Bimini, Bahamas.
The pod size might number two animals or there might be as many as 60 individuals. Interactions might last a few minutes or a couple hours, with several swims a day or only one. In other words: The dolphins call the shots. But experienced operators consistently put snorkelers in the water with wild Atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) in the northern Bahamas. Live-aboards that specialize in these encounters depart from West Palm Beach, Florida, Grand Bahama and Bimini, but day trips are also popular.
GO NOW: Neal Watson’s Dive Bimini ofers interactive encounters, including mask, fins and snorkel, for $120 per adult, $100 for children under 12 years old (minimum of four passengers required).
2. Bottlenose and Common Dolphins; Galapagos Islands.
The chance to dive with sharks might be why you’ve booked a weeklong trip to the Galapagos in the eastern Pacific, but encounters with huge schools of dolphins add to the wow factor here. The two species that live in the islands year-round are bottlenose (Tursiops truncatus) and common (Delphinus delphis); migrating species include spinner (Stenella longirostris), Risso’s (Grampus griseus) and pantropical spotted dolphins (Stenella attenuata).
GO NOW: The live-aboards MY Wolf Buddy and MY Darwin Buddy ofer year-round, seven-night trips that include accommodations, meals and nonpremium alcoholic beverages, starting from $4,500 per person, double occupancy.
3. Bottlenose Dolphins; Socorros Islands, Mexico.
Often referred to as the Mexican Galapagos, the Socorro Islands are a magnet for big animals like silky, tiger, whitetip, hammerhead and whale sharks, and are famed for their resident giant Pacific manta interactions. But encounters with the local population of playful bottlenose dolphins can be just as entertaining — and can even occur simultaneously with a manta encounter in the water.
GO NOW: The live-aboard Rocio del Mar offers nine-day trips from October to late May that include accommodations, meals, and domestic beer and wine, starting from $3,195 per person. From June to October, the boat moves to the Sea of Cortez, where dolphin encounters are also possible.
4. Spinner Dolphins; Oahu, Hawaii.
Year-round of Oahu, operators find pods of spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris) during the daytime after the dolphins return from their nighttime ofshore feeding grounds. Enjoy their hey-look-at-me aerial activity, such as spins and tail slapping.
GO NOW: Dolphin Excursions ofers three-hour trips including choice of hot or cold lunches for $120 per adult and $85 per child under 12 years old.