A round the world trip is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience some of the unique wonders that exotic lands have to offer, but don’t neglect the oceans when planning to visit new destinations! In some very special places, taking a peek beneath rippling, salty waters reveals a kingdom of unique aquatic life that is even more eye-opening than creatures to be found on the surface!
I have a love for the sea. During my travels in Australia I trained as an Advanced Diver whilst working on a dive boat in the Whitsundays, then I worked on offshore pearl farms in Western Australia where whales were our only company for miles! In Indonesia, I qualified as an underwater photographer and I’ve also taught windsurfing in many locations, so I’m very fortunate to have experienced most of these sea creatures first hand and up close.
When I’m travelling, I love nothing better than slipping into tropical seas with my snorkel and mask to see what fishy friends might be lurking in the deep blue. I’m continually inspired to visit new oceans which is why I’ve put together some of my favorite underwater encounters along with some of my ‘bucket-list’ ideas. These ideas should give you the best chance of ’finding Nemo’ and co!
A whale shark is the biggest fish in the sea! Swimming with Whale Sharks might sound daunting as whales are huge and sharks can be intimidating but the Whale Shark is actually neither a whale nor a shark. You can’t find a friendlier fish than the smiling, (veggie!) Whale Shark. They top many divers’ list of dream encounters, however they are known for being quite elusive. It’s probably easier to snorkel with these gentle giants than to hope for a scuba date.
I have been lucky enough to swim with whale sharks on Ningaloo reef in Australia. It’s a little pricey, but thanks to the spotter plane used to find the whale sharks, your chances of a sighting are very high. I have also swum with whale sharks in Honduras in-between scuba dives, which was equally amazing and a even luckier experience!
There are a few reliable places to spot these guys; some of the best being Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia (April – July), Mexico (June – September), and Honduras (February – April & October – December being the high season for sightings).
Everybody loves a turtle and these can be found on every continent except Antarctica. There are many palaces to find an abundance of these cute, docile, reptiles, including Turtle Town in Maui, Hawaii and Akumal in Mexico (found between Playa Del Carmen and Tulum).
My favorite spot for finding turtles is Gilli Trawangan in Indonesia. The seas here are blessed with crystal clear, turquoise water and the beaches are to die for. The currents running parallel to the beach and the amazing visibility make this island a gem of a sport to swim with turtles.
I’ve spent weeks here, swimming and photographing these cool creatures. On an average swim I would expect to see between 5 and 10 turtles. On the beach, you’ll find a turtle conservation centre where you can see the baby hatchlings in the tanks before they are released back into the open sea.
The best time to visit this part of Indonesia weather-wise is between May and October. It’s an easy hop from neighboring Bali, which means it’s easy to reach on a lot of round the world itineraries – take a look at these example itineraries that include Indonesia.
Jelly Fish Lake is firmly on my ‘to do list’. It’s found on an uninhabited island off the coast of Koror in Palau, Micronesia.
Originally the lake was connected to the ocean so the jellyfish within are believed to have been trapped in the lake 12,000 years ago after a rise in sea levels after the last Ice Age. Feeding on quick-growing algae and with no predators to keep them in check, the jellyfish now completely pack the small lake. The lack of predators means the jellyfish have evolved so that their stingers are so small, they cannot be felt by humans. This makes the lake an ideal place to snorkel through clouds of totally harmless, translucent jellyfish – a magical and unique experience.
If you’re a keen scuba diver, Micronesia is probably on your radar already. To include Micronesia on your round the world trip it’s possible to fly from Manila, Taipei and also Tokyo. You can visit Micronesia year round, but if you want to avoid the wet season, visit between September and May.
Seeing any sized Manta Ray is an amazing experience, but in some corners of the world you’ll encounter Giant Manta Rays with wingspans of up to about 7.5m. Divers who have swum with these huge flying creatures report that Giant Mantas are really playful. They often hang out with the divers for the entire duration of the dive, playing in their bubble stream and generally being inquisitive!
One such place is Socorro, Mexico (aka the Revillagigedo Islands) – a 2-4 hour boat ride is needed to reach these uninhabited islands. If you want to meet the mantas in Mexico, March is the optimum time to go. Start saving now as it’s not cheap!
There are many places in the world that offer ‘contrived’ dolphin swimming experiences. The dolphins are captive or semi-captive and this is not something I would encourage supporting. If you’re after an authentic experience, head to Kaikoura in the South island of New Zealand where you can swim with pods of hundreds of wild dolphins.
You can swim with dolphins in Kaikora, New Zealand year round, so be sure to make a beeline for this pretty corner of the South Island.
I swam with these clever creatures in Kaikora and was surrounded by pods of around 400 dolphins at a time. They were circling and playing around me for ages, and seemed genuinely interested and responsive to my singing the ‘Flipper’ soundtrack through my snorkel!
OK, you might not be expecting pigs to be on this list. However there is one unique place in the world where you can swim with little piggies in a natural setting! Rumor has it that sailors left some pigs on an island in the hope of returning to eat them. Another story says that the piggies are the survivors of a ship wreck!
You can find these pigs in the Bahamas on Pig beach, Big Major Spot Island. You can take a boat trip to visit and snorkel with the friendly pigs who have learnt that visitors = food. When your boat chugs up, you will have a welcoming party of pigs stampeding into the water to greet you (and they’ll be keen to scoff any food you may have to offer)!
Here are 3 hand-picked shark meetings not to be missed. Some people hate the idea of cage diving with Great White Sharks, but whilst it may not be everyone’s cup of tea, others will be fascinated to come face to face with these apex predators.
Two great places where you can lock eyes with great white sharks behind the safety of a submerged cage are South Australia and South Africa. We've listed out our top cage diving destinations here with a little more info on how to do it.
Another shark I recommend trying to fish out is the Thresher Shark in the Philippines. These animals have the most unusual, beautiful, sweeping tails. The island of Malapascua is the only place I know where you can get regular sightings of these elegant creatures. I dived here, and it involves getting to a drop off about 30 meters deep where you wait for the sharks to visit their cleaning station and get their daily clean from other fish. I saw four different Thresher Sharks on my dive.
Thresher sharks are sighted year round here so if the Philippines are on your itinerary, visit this little paradise island for a chance to see them. If you’re tempted by the Philippines then check out these itineraries that include the Philippines.
Another dream dive destination is the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. Here you can scuba in search of the crazy-looking Hammerhead Shark along with shoals of endemic species not found elsewhere. The best time to spot Hammerheads here is January to May, but between June and November you are more likely to see whale sharks - it’s a winning destination!
Rajan is the last remaining swimming elephant in the Andaman islands, India – so I think an encounter with him would be seriously special.
If you want to swim with an elephant, you’ll have to get in quick. There used to be many swimming elephants in the Andaman islands as they were used to swim logged trees from one island to another. There is just one left and luckily 60-year old Rajan no longer works in the logging industry. He is living out his later years on a paradise beach where he is now cared for by a scuba diving school.
The other swimming elephants were sold to temples on the mainland but Rajan is able to still swim. If he doesn’t fancy it, he is never forced. If you would like to snorkel or dive with him, you need to plan well, as he is only allowed to swim with a maximum of 6 divers or snorkelers, 12 times a year. He swims between January and April when the sea is at its calmest and if there are waves, he refuses to enter the water and is not forced to. The owners don’t want to turn him into a circus animal, so they only allow one dive a week.
If this has inspired you to seek out some underwater encounters – I guarantee they will rank among the highlights of your round the world trip! If you’re already a keen diver, check out my trip inspiration Dive the World which might inspire you to turn your whole trip into a dive-based quest to explore the oceans around the world.
If you particularly want to experience any of these mentioned aquatic rendezvous, I we can help you plan ahead and pre-book many of them so you don’t miss out. If you would like a tailor made quote for a round the world trip specifically for ocean lovers - just contact Sara.