Best place to watch dolphins

These friendly, frivolous cetaceans inhabit most corners of the globe outside of the Polar Regions – so whichever bit of coast you find yourself upon will probably have a dolphin pod not too far away. Some spots are better than others, however – with opportunities to swim, a greater variety of species, warmer waters or the chance to combine your dolphin tour with other wildlife – including whales, turtles and land-dwelling creatures. There are also dedicated diving, volunteering and conservation trips. We’ve highlighted our top destinations below to help you choose the best place to swim with dolphins or to watch them.

1. Azores

(Best: May-Sep for calmer seas) The Azores has some of the most abundant dolphin sightings, with seven species commonly seen alongside sperm whales and orcas. This is one of the best places to swim with dolphins, with expert guides and boat drivers who can monitor the behaviour of each species. Week-long trips offer the chance to build your confidence in the open water and use a snorkel around the curious cetaceans.

2. Greece

Dolphins in Greece face considerable threats from overfishing to collisions with boats and pollution, so it’s not surprising that many Greece dolphin watching vacations put conservation to the fore. Whether in the Alonissos Marine Park or the Ionian Sea off Vonitsa, you’ll join dedicated researchers and marine biologists, helping them in their work to protect these shy but curious animals.

3. Hawaii

These classic, tropical islands are an idyllic backdrop for dolphin tours. The islands are well set up for seeing these frolicking creatures, and operators offer both boat tours and swimming with dolphins – which makes you wonder why there is also a need to have captive dolphins putting on daily shows in an “aquatic theatre” in Oahu. Leave the circus behind, and see these magnificent mammals in their natural habitat.
Isle of Mull

4. Isle of Mull

(Best: Late Apr-late Sep) This is an idyllic destination for wildlife fans. Daytrips out on the water to look for bottlenose and common dolphins as well as minke whales and porpoises are combined with tours to see otters, puffins, red deer and eagles. Marine biologists guide the boat tours, ensuring a fascinating, educational experience – and if you’re lucky you might even spot an orca.
La Gomera

5. La Gomera

(Best: Mar-Jun) The second smallest Canary Island is a great base for nature loving dolphin-watchers. As well as several dolphin species, including bottlenose, striped and rough-toothed, there are pilot, fin and sperm whales to look out for on the ocean, while on land the Garajonay National Park (a UNESCO site) protects unique flora and luscious landscapes. Scuba diving, biking and yoga are just some of the available activities.
Ligurian Sea

6. Ligurian Sea

Virtually all of the cetacean species that inhabit the Mediterranean can be found in this region. Ongoing projects have monitored whale and dolphin populations – including striped, bottlenose and the unusual Risso’s dolphin, up to 4m long and easily recognised by its scratched, scarred skin. You can join research trips, living onboard and participating in data collection and analysis, as well as daily boat tasks.

7. Namibia

Namibia is one of Africa’s great wildlife safari destinations, but not all of its animal attractions are to be found on land. Walvis “Whale” Bay is popular for marine tourism, and among the residents are colonies of bottlenose and Heaviside’s dolphins – dusky dolphins are also sometimes seen off the Namibian coast but further out, along with many other cetacean species.

8. Nepal

Nepal may not strike anyone as the most obvious place for a dolphin watching vacation given it’s landlocked, but the Karnali River, and Bardiya National Park, are both home to the Ganges river dolphin, an endangered freshwater species. It cannot breathe water, so surfaces regularly, and your best chance of seeing them is during the monsoon season of July to September.

9. Scotland

The Inner and Outer Hebrides provide habitat for an extraordinary range of marine wildlife, from huge colonies of seabirds to seals, otters and whales. But for many visitors here one of the most hoped-for sightings is a pod of playful dolphins, and they are frequently observed during boat trips particularly around the Isle of Mull in the Inner Hebrides. Some sea safaris are accompanied by marine biologists, and your trip helps with their vital conservation projects.
South Africa

10. South Africa

Part of the stunningly beautiful Garden Route, Knysna is a marine resort town with a great deal of wildlife off its coast. Bottlenose dolphins are frequently spotted close to the shoreline while further out you may see common dolphins. Dolphin watching vacations in South Africa lean heavily towards conservation, and you may also be taught basic boat skippering, as well as how to spot pods out at sea.
Western Australia

11. Western Australia

(Best: Oct-Apr) Marine biologists and environmental scientists lead tours to swim with bottlenose dolphins in sandy Koombana Bay, to discover them in their natural environment. An interpretative center offers more information so you can learn about your swimming companions. Fishing, walking through the mangroves or scuba diving in the Indian Ocean are also available here.
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Dolphin watching or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Responsible Travel's suppliers recommend

Why the Azores is special

Amanda Stafford, from our supplier Dolphin and Whale Connection, on how to choose the best place to swim with dolphins: “We get massive pods here, because there is abundant food for them. You see them in a kind of feeding frenzy, working together to forage, they’re high energy compared to what you find in some other places. That’s one of the reasons I think the Azores ranks among the best places in the world for dolphin watching. Sometimes they’ll be just a metre away in the bow waves, and the visibility is so good, that it’s like you’re among them.”
Written by Vicki Brown
Photo credits: [Page banner: Jeremy Ricketts] [Azores: Ferdinand Stohr] [Greece: Kostas Limitsios] [Hawaii: Remi Yuan] [Isle of Mull: M. Zonderling] [La Gomera: Bengt Nyman] [Ligurian Sea: Jasmine Halki] [Namibia: Rick McCharles] [Nepal: Zahangir Alom] [Scotland: dun_deagh] [South Africa: Miltos Gikas] [Western Australia: Adon Buckley] [Why is the Azores so special: Ravi Sarma]