The Best Places to See Dolphins
There’s no doubt about it, dolphin-watching is an activity that sits high on most traveller’s bucket-lists. After all, who doesn’t love dolphins?
Known for their playful personalities and innate curiosity, getting a glimpse of a pod of dolphins up close is a feeling like no other. Because of this, more and more of us are keen to get a taste of this magical marine experience, with dolphin and whale watching tours becoming an increasingly popular holiday activity.
Dolphins are incredibly intelligent mammals who, as well as clicking and whistling, communicate using a variety of body language signals. These include slapping their tails and flippers on the water, leaping out of the water, bumping into each other and spy hopping. In fact, Scott Dunn’s Indian Subcontinent Specialist and marine enthusiast Cherylle Sargent tells us she once spotted two pods of dolphins communicating with each other.
She says: “Dolphins are extremely inquisitive creatures. If you’re snorkelling nearby they’ll often come and play close to you. They also love to ride waves, it’s great fun for them!”
Excitingly, many of the best places to see dolphins are also perfect for spotting other marine creatures such as whales, turtles and other species, making a holiday to these destinations a wonderful experience for families and wildlife lovers alike.
So, where are the best places in the world to see dolphins? Should you go swimming with dolphins? And what can we do to ensure their habitats are protected for years to come? Read on to discover all this and more…
Where are the top 5 places to go to see dolphins?
Looking to plan your next luxury holiday and keen to add a dolphin or whale watching tour into the mix? Here are some of our top recommended destinations to see dolphins in the wild.
As one of our favourite all-around destinations and one of the best places to see dolphins in the wild, Sri Lanka makes for the dream luxury holiday destination. In Sri Lanka, dolphin and whale watching season runs at different times of the year depending on where you are. On the south coast, it's between November and April, while on the East coast, it's May to October, so whenever you travel, you should have the chance to see these magnificent creatures. During a Scott Dunn dolphin-watching tour here, you’ll sail out into the sparkling Indian Ocean with an experienced crew who will guide you in spotting Blue whales, Sperm whales, Spinner and Bottlenose dolphins from your boat. You can even take part in snorkelling and stand-up paddleboarding after the experience, and we’ll provide all the equipment. The tours are operated by both private and shared catamarans in the south and east coast regions and make for a truly memorable experience.
A paradise-like destination nestled in the Indian Ocean, the Maldives is often lauded as one of the best places in the world to observe dolphins in the wild, with the majestic mammals seen swimming the waters throughout the year. If you want the best chance of spotting them though, the best time to go is the dry season which falls between January and April. When it comes to the top location for sightings, we love Meemu Atoll, otherwise known as the Muli Channel, which is home to Spinner, Spotter and Indo-pacific Bottlenose dolphins to name a few. The Maldives is known for its crystal clear waters and beautiful tropical fish, so we’d recommend planning in a private snorkelling or swimming excursion as well if you have the time. You may even spot a dolphin nearby when you’re in the water…
Home to breathtaking beaches, vast savannah and miles of deep blue ocean, South Africa is a safari hotspot and wildlife lover’s dream. It’s also a fantastic destination for marine excursions, including whale and dolphin watching. One of the best places to see dolphins in South Africa is along the Garden Route and particularly Plettenberg Bay and the town of Hermanus where whale and dolphin watching is particularly spectacular between July and November. The dolphins you’re most likely to spot in South African waters include Bottlenose, Havisides and Humpback, and sometimes, on a clear day, you may even spot them from the shoreline. If you can, head to Port Elizabeth which was once claimed to be the dolphin capital of the world, with over 20,000 Indo-Pacific Bottlenose dolphins residing in Algoa Bay. On a Scott Dunn holiday, our experts can recommend the best South African dolphin tour for you, whether you’re hoping to see dolphins in large pods or are dreaming of a ‘Marine 5’ experience that also features sightings of penguins, seals, whales and sharks.
A holiday to Australia has it all; from rainforests to beaches, cities to the outback, there’s no end to the adventures a luxury holiday here can provide. And when it comes to wildlife experiences, you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere better.
If you’re planning a holiday to Sydney, north of the city around Port Stephens is a great spot, said to have a population of between 90-120 resident dolphins. Alternatively, Jervis Bay is a popular location for dolphin and whale watching on the south coast. Between May and November is the best time to see dolphins here, particularly Bottlenose dolphins and Humpback whales as they ride along the surf.
If your getaway is taking you to the Perth region, we’d recommend a Rottnest Island tour, which, although not specifically a dolphin-watching tour, gives you a good opportunity to spot them from your boat as you head over to the island.
The US’ sunny coasts of California and Florida almost immediately conjure up images of endless white sand beaches, days upon days of sunshine and glorious food and drink - but they’re also fantastic destinations for discovering a vast array of marine life, and in particular, dolphins.
In California, as well as trying your hand at surfing, you can kayak with sea lions, or hop aboard a private boat for a tour around Monterey’s coastline in search of whales and dolphins. Between California and the Pacific Northwest coast alone, there are an estimated 11-16,000 Risso’s dolphins, as well as Pacific white-sided dolphins and Northern right whale dolphins. It’s also not uncommon to spot Blue whales, Killer whales and porpoises here, especially from June to October.
If you’d rather head to the east coast, Florida Keys is also a brilliant holiday destination for dolphin watching. Get the family together and embark on a luxury private snorkelling charter through the Keys’ still waters, or test your balance on a paddleboard whilst keeping your eyes peeled and cameras ready for Atlantic Bottlenose dolphins as they play amongst the colourful reefs.
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The Scott Dunn commitment to eco-conscious wildlife experiences
At Scott Dunn, whilst our aim is always to bring you the very best luxury holidays and bespoke travel experiences, we are also passionate advocates of travelling responsibly. So, as the effects of climate change, plastic pollution, and global poverty represent huge challenges, we are fully committed to being proactively responsible both in the workplace and the destinations we visit. When it comes to the wildlife experiences we offer - like dolphin and whale watching - this mindset is just as important.
That’s why we only partner with environmentally conscious vendors who put the animals’ well-being first. We won’t work with any suppliers that host water parks featuring cetaceans in captivity, and we do ask that all of our suppliers to book with only the most reputable companies.
When making your booking for a wildlife tour, we’ll always direct you to the companies we believe are most ethical, and when it comes to dolphin watching, this means boats that actively keep their distance, do not ‘chase’ the dolphins and generally put these beautiful mammal’s wellbeing first. It is always our intention to use our influence to educate our supply chain and ensure that any activities booked through us, align with our values.
Here at Scott Dunn, we’re constantly looking to the future and are continually searching for sustainable ways to minimise our impact on the planet and offset carbon emissions.
Is swimming with dolphins cruel?
Swimming with dolphins is a potentially dangerous and harmful activity for both dolphins and individuals and we would strongly advise against it. Any reputable and ethical travel company would not offer this kind of experience, though sadly, many still do.
Here at Scott Dunn, swimming with dolphins is not something we offer.
What not to do during your dolphin experience
Whatever you do, don’t feed wild dolphins. This could lead to all kinds of illnesses and diseases for them, not to mention the fact that it lures them closer to boats including fishing boats and puts them at risk of injury.
You should also avoid touching dolphins, grabbing their fins or patting them. This can cause them a good deal of harm, and dolphins have the propensity to get agitated easily. It can also be dangerous for humans to do this since marine animals like dolphins and whales can carry diseases which can spread to us.
It’s safer and better for both you and the dolphins to admire them from a distance.
How long should you allow to see dolphins?
We’d advise picking a tour that goes out to sea for at least four hours since this gives you the best chance of spotting them. Whether you’ll see any dolphins does depend on where in the world you are, as well as factors such as the weather and season, but allowing for slightly more time gives you a better chance of seeing them.
How do I book a dolphin or whale watching experience?
Typically, a dolphin-watching experience is booked via your friendly hotel concierge, our local destination management company or a trusted supplier. If it’s something that’s a must-do activity for you, do check with your travel consultant before booking to make sure it’s something available at the destination you’re travelling to.