As divers, we are always searching for unique underwater experiences to add to our bucket list. For some of us it’s snorkelling with the Minke whales, while for others it’s cage diving with the Great White sharks. So, if you are on the search for some new ideas for your bucket list, take note of these 5 wild animals that you can swim with:
Yes, there is a place where you can actually swim with crocodiles! I am not talking about the scarily named “Cage of Death” in Australia where there is a glass cage between you and the crocodile. I am talking about swimming in the water with a wild crocodile – without a cage!
XTC divers in Mexico offers the chance for some very brave individuals to snorkel with the American Crocodiles in Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve, making this a super unique experience. Pictures and videos are welcome because, if you are brave enough to be in the water with a 4m+ crocodile you will want evidence!
Safety is the number one priority for XTC divers, their tour group sizes are small (up to 6 people) and only 2 people, plus a trained crocodile handler are allowed in the water at the same time. There are also two spotters on the deck looking out for crocodiles at all times. The tour is run over multiple days to maximise the chances of seeing a crocodile (note: sightings are not guaranteed), but also to allow you to experience some of the local dive sites.
Suitable for: Experienced divers.
Located: Banco Chinchorro Biosphere Reserve, Quintana Roo, Mexico.
Best time to visit: June to end September.
Water temperature: 25 to 28 degrees Celsius.
How to book: You can book this tour with XTC divers https://xtcdivecenter.com/crocs/.
Want to swim near hundreds of docile and sweet faced “cows of the sea”? Head to Crystal River/Kings Bay, Florida, USA, where the largest population of manatees in the US migrate to, during the winter months. Manatees are related to the dugong and can grow up to between 2.5m to 4m long. These animals are on the US federal endangered species list, and unfortunately humans are their biggest threat.
The U.S. Fish and Wild Life Service want to ensure that swimming with the Manatees is a safe experience for both the manatee and the snorkeller. No swim zones have been erected and regulations developed so that swimmers know what they can and can’t do in the water.
Suitable for: Swimmers, snorkellers and certified divers.
Located: Crystal River/Kings Bay in Citrus County, Florida, United States of America.
Best time to visit: November to April.
Water temperature: 22 to 23 degrees Celsius.
Depth: 1m – 3m.
How to book: You can book this experience through a licensed tour operator https://www.discovercrystalriverfl.com/things-to-do/on-the-water/manatees/.
3. Marine Iguanas
If you haven’t quite worked your way up to snorkelling with the crocodiles, then why not try swimming with iguanas?
Marine iguanas are native to the Galapagos region, are 8-14 inches long, and have earned the marine part of their name as they dive underwater to search for food. They can hold their breath for more than 10 minutes at a time, and dive down to depths of more than 9m.
You are most likely to see the marine iguanas dive into action between 11am and 1pm, after they have spent the morning in the sun warming up. They do this because the water is very cold (approx. 13 degrees Celsius). Their main food source is algae which is located on the rocks. They have very sharp claws to hold onto the rocks, and a flat nose to allow them to get their heads easily into rock crevasses to feed. It is common to see up to 10 marine iguanas at a time in the water, but don’t worry they aren’t interested in divers, so they don’t mind you getting up close to take their picture.
The Galapagos is one of the few places in the world where you can dive with iguanas making this a truly unique experience.
Suitable for: Certified Divers or snorkellers.
Located: The marine iguanas are native to the following Galapagos Islands: Isabela, Fernandina, Espanola, Floreana and Santa Cruz. The best place to dive with them however is at the dive site Cabo Douglas on Fernandina Island.
Best time to visit: Year round.
Water temperature: 13 degrees Celsius.
Depth: Shallow dive (5-10m) and it is close to shore. Be careful as it can also get quite choppy.
How to book: The best way to do this experience is by booking a live aboard that visits Cabo Douglas: https://www.liveaboard.com/diving/galapagos/cabo-douglas
Imagine swimming at a pristine beach surrounded by hundreds of penguins. That’s exactly what Boulders Beach in Cape Town, South Africa is like, and it is THE place to see African penguins. At 60-70cm tall, these black and white penguins congregate in the hundreds. Swimming with these feathery friends is allowed, as long as you don’t mind being in the cold water! Be mesmerised by these adorable birds and watch them zoom underwater, sun bake on the rocks, or waddle up the beach. Photos (no flash) and videos of the penguins are ok, but be sure not to touch or feed the penguins. If they feel threatened they will attack with their sharp beaks! Boulders Beach is a marine protected area, which means it is beautifully preserved and to ensure its upkeep, there is a small entrance fee (approximately $10USD) to enter.
Suitable for: Everyone, even non swimmers. You can wade into the water as far as you are comfortable. Alternatively you have the option to view the penguins from the beach or the boardwalk.
Located: Boulders Beach, Simon’s Town, Cape Town, South Africa.
Best time to visit: The best time to see the penguins is during breeding season which is from February to August. Also try and visit in the early morning or afternoon when the penguins are most active.
Water temperature: 14 to 21 degrees Celsius.
Depth: Varies, as it depends how far out in the water you go.
How to book: You can either book a Cape Town tour which includes a visit to Boulders Beach, or you can hire your own car. Entry into Boulders Beach is from R152/$10USD per adult for foreigners, and from R39/$2.50USD for South African citizens and permanent residents.
For those of you who don’t know what a platypus is, it is an animal native to Australia. It is a fairly strange creature, as it looks like a mix between an otter (the body and fur), a beaver (due to the tail) and a duck (due to the bill/beak and it has webbed feet). It is 40-50cm long, is a carnivore (it eats worms, shrimp and insect larvae), can stay underwater for up to 2 mins at a time, the males have venomous stingers behind their hind legs, and the females lay eggs. While the platypus sounds like a mythical creature, it really does exist!
You can check them out for yourself, as Rainforest Scuba is offering the opportunity to go diving in Platypus waters. Set in the Australian rain forest in Mackay, you will experience fresh water diving in a billabong and see marine life such as: catfish, eels, tiny turtles and shrimp. There are no guarantees you will see a platypus while you are diving, as they are very shy. Even if you don’t see one, you will you get to swim in the rain forest, which on its own is pretty unique!
Suitable for: Discover scuba or certified divers. There is also an option to snorkel or just join the land part of the tour where the guide explains about the platypus. The tour is only available for ages 8 and above.
Located: Finch Hatton, Mackay, Queensland, Australia
Best time to visit: At dusk, year round.
Water temperature: 20 degrees Celsius.
Depth: This is very shallow and only approximately 2m deep.
How to book: The tour is from $120AUD/$80USD for an adult certified diver. You can book this experience with Rainforest Scuba https://rainforestscuba.com/.
Hopefully we have opened your eyes to some more unique animal encounters that you can have in the water. If you are looking for some more inspiration to dive with other incredible animals, check out our article on Diving with big marine animals.
About the Author
Amanda and her husband Dean have been certified divers since 2009. Amanda has her advanced open water and Dean is a dive master. They have travelled the world and dived many sites in Australia, Asia, Central America and the Caribbean.
Amanda and Dean have a travel blog called Scatabout which details the fun and unique experiences they have had on their world travels. You can find them doing something adventurous like scuba diving, hiking or something strange like running down the side of a building.
You can follow Scatabout: