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Our round-up of the best of the best:

Last updated: 02 March, 2023

These intelligent, social beings have long held a special and rare place in human hearts – a result of their seemingly-smiling faces, playful frolicking and friendly disposition. Seeing, or better yet swimming with, them will fill the hardest heart with their infectious exuberance.

Here’s our round-up of some of the best (and most accessible) places in the world to do it.

Table of Contents
dolphin underwater on reef background looking at you inside a school of sardine fish

Aliwal Shoals, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Umkomass, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Dolphins are ever-present at this incredible reef just off the coast of Durban year round, but May to July is the time to go to witness the ‘Sardine Run’.

Made famous by the BBC’s groundbreaking series ‘Blue Planet’, this extraordinary natural spectacle sees billions of sardines migrate up South Africa’s Eastern Coast from – attracting every denizen of the deep, including 18,000 common and bottlenose dolphins.

Divers can be dropped into the feeding frenzy to see dolphins hunting in packs.

Best for ages: 18+ | £40 | Half day

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Omanu Beach viewed from the top of Mount Maunganui, Bay of Plenty, North Island New Zealand

Bay of Plenty, New Zealand

Bay of Plenty, North Island, New Zealand

This beautiful wildlife-filled bay is home to common dolphins, orcas, humpback whales, penguins and fur seals.

Well-run snorkel tours depart daily from November to April on purpose-built dolphin viewing vessels equipped swim bars to hold on in the water; dolphins swim alongside you as you’re pulled along.

Best for ages: 7+ | £80 | 5 hours

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Aerial view of a woman snorkelling alongside a pod of dolphins

Bimini, The Bahamas

Bimini, Bahamas

Arguably the best place in the Americas to swim with dolphins is Bimini, a tiny Bahamian archipelago 80km east of Miami. Waters are always warm, visibility is excellent and you’re guaranteed a swim with spotted, spinner, striped and bottlenose dolphins.

Tours run all year round, but December to April is best.

Best for ages: 6+ | £100 | 1 day

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Aerial close up of a dolphin pods swimming in tropical warm blue water.

Bunbury, Western Australia

Bunbury, Western Australia, Australia

Two hours south of Perth, the Dolphin Discovery Centre at Bunbury runs 3-hour tours to swim with bottlenose dolphins in Koombana Bay. They’re expertly and sensitivity run, and encounters rely on dolphins approaching swimmers of their own accord.

Tours run daily (except Tuesday) from November to April.

Best for ages: 6+ | £125 | 2-3 hours

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Beautiful aerial view of Cacimba do Padre beach and Morro do Pico at Fernando de Noronha island

Fernando de Noronha Island, Brazil

Fernando de Noronha Island, Pernambuco, Brazil

This archipelago and surrounding marine park, 200 miles off the Brazilian coast, is Brazil’s top dive destination and home to one of the world’s largest populations of spinner dolphins. Visibility is excellent, as is the diving and snorkelling generally.

It’s well worth the effort to get there. September to December is best.

Best for ages: 6+ | £50 | 2-3 hours

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beautiful playful dolphin jumping in the ocean at the Galapagos Islands

Galapagos Islands

Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

The islands are home to permanent populations of bottlenose and common dolphins; others like Risso’s and spinner, migrate here in huge number from June to October.

The best place to specifically swim with them is the Darwin and Wolf islands, accessed by week-long, liveaboard dive trips.

Otherwise, you’ll usually spot (and maybe swim with) them while cruising around the Isabela and Fernandina Islands.

Best for ages: 6+ | £30

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Kaikoura, New Zealand

Kaikoura, South Island, New Zealand

Swim amongst hundreds, if not thousands, of wild dusky dolphins, surrounded by the jaw-dropping scenery of Kaikoura’s bay. The downside that the water is always wetsuit-wearing cold and visibility is limited.

Tours operate year-round, but November to April is best. If you don’t want to swim, you can watch from the boat.

Best for ages: 8+ | £100 | 3-4 hours

Marsa Alam, Red Sea, Egypt

Marsa Alam, Red Sea Coast, Egypt

Swimming with dolphins doesn’t get better than this, in the calm, crystal-clear waters of the Red Sea. The Samadai and Sataya reefs just offshore are home to large pods of playful spinner dolphins.

They’re easy to access on short boat rides year-round, sightings are almost guaranteed and visibility is excellent. Full day diving or snorkelling.

Best for ages: 10+ | £50 | 5 hours

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Panorama photo of Shoal Bay, Nelson Bay, Australia

Nelson Bay, New South Wales, Australia

Port Stephens, New South Wales, Australia

A 2.5-hour drive north of Sydney, Australia’s ‘dolphin capital’ offers a unique experience – being pulled along in the water by harness, as a resident population of bottlenose dolphins swim alongside.

Half-day tours depart all year round (but not daily, see website for dates) from Port Stephens at sunrise, with 12-15 guests.

Best for ages: 7+ | £200 | Half day

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Aerial view of a stunning reef just offshore

Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia

Exmouth, Western Australia, Australia

This pristine, 300km reef on Australia’s west coast is a marine biodiversity hotspot, home to over 500 species of fish, 300 species of coral and a year-round population of bottlenose dolphins.

Full-day snorkelling and diving tours leave daily from Coral Bay and Exmouth; from March to August you may also see whale sharks.

Best for ages: 6+ | £200 | Full day

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Bay Dolphins breaching, a unique specie that resides in Port Phillip Bay, Australia

Port Phillip, Melbourne, Australia

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Melbourne’s Port Phillip Bay, 1.5 hours south of the city, is home to a resident population of around 80 bottlenose dolphins. Australian fur seals also often show up, and you may spot a weedy sea dragon.

Half-day snorkelling tours operate from September to May, when the water is warmer around 20°C; you can also just go along to watch from the boat.

Best for ages: 6+ | £95 | Half day

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Dolphins swimming in blue ocean water in Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco, Mexico

These popular tours from touristy Puerto Vallarta take you out to snorkel with dolphins in Banderas Bay. Bottlenose dolphins are present year-round, and in December to March you can sometimes also see humpback whales, spinner dolphins and manta rays.

Half-day, morning tours are well-run; dolphins remain wild and approach only at their discretion.

Best for ages: 6+ | £52 | 3.5 hours

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Wayag Island in Raja Ampat PAPUA Regency INDONESIA

Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia

West Papua, Australia

This unspoilt Indonesian archipelago of hundreds of jungle-covered islands is home to extensive and pristine coral reefs that attracts a diverse and rich marine fauna; whales, sharks, rays and, of course, dolphins.

Spinner, spotted, common bottlenose, Indo-Pacific bottlenose and Risso’s dolphins are here, frequently encountered on liveaboard dive cruises. October to April is best.

Best for ages: 18+ | £0

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close up of a dolphin head on water surface

Rockingham, Western Australia

Rockingham, Western Australia, Australia

45 minutes’ drive south of Perth, Perth Wildlife Encounters operate award-winning tours that take you out into Rockingham Bat to snorkel with a pod of 200 wild, but friendly and inquisitive, bottlenose dolphins.

The 3- to 6-hour tours run daily from early September to early June. Sightings are guaranteed – or a free cruise.

Best for ages: 6+ | £130 | 3-6 hours

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Several dolphins jumping and swimming off the coast of La Paz and close to Isla Espiritu Santo in Baja California, Mexico.

Sea of Cortez

Baja California, Mexico

The wildlife-packed Sea of Cortez is a reliable place to find the big cetaceans of all stripes – including dolphins.

October and November are best, when the water is warmer and visibility is better. March and April are also good. The best way to reach them is on multi-day live-a-board diving trips, or on specialist (luxury) expedition cruises.

Best for ages: 10+ | £0 | 2-7 days

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A diver swimming amongs blue dolphins

Socorro Islands, Baja California, Mexico

Cabo, Baja California, Mexico

This tiny volcanic archipelago 2 islands – San Benedicto and Socorro – is a little-known marine paradise, 24-hours from Baja California.

January to March is the time to go to see bottlenose dolphins, plus there’s whale sharks, manta rays, humpback whales. It’s remote, pristine and magically wild but for advanced divers only on live-a-boards.

Best for ages: 18+ | £0 | 3+ days

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Tamarin Bay, Mauritius

Grande Riviere Noire, Mauritius

Mauritius’ beautiful west coast is an ideal spot to swim with bottlenose and spinner dolphins. Waters are azure and crystal-clear, with visibility up to 40m; sometimes whales can also be spotted.

Full-day tours include a BBQ lunch on the beach and reef snorkelling.

Best for ages: 6+ | £50 | 2hrs - 1day

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The Azores, Portugal

Pico, Azores, Portugal

This 9-island Atlantic archipelago is dolphin central and arguably the place in the world to swim with them.

There are five different species here, the climate is clement so tours are available all year round, and visibility up to 60m is excellent.

Best for ages: 4+ | £75 | 3-4 hours

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