The Caribbean Sea is one of the most beautiful bodies of water in the world, home to warm turquoise waters, colorful coral and an amazing array of flora and fauna. One of the most majestic creatures inhabiting these waters is the exquisite sea turtle, and connecting with them through swimming or preservation is often a highlight of trips to the region. Our experts in the Caribbean have provided us with valuable information on the best ways and places to interact with these magical animals, all the while respecting them and their natural habitats, most importantly.
Turtles have actually existed for more than 200 million years, dating back to the era of the dinosaur. As their flippers made them natural swimmers, they evolved into a cross between amphibian and reptile. While this helped them endure the ice age, today many varieties, including various types of sea turtles, are endangered and risk extinction. This is mainly due to the actions of humans either directly on their habitats or stemming from larger environmental issues like climate change. Therefore, it is important to follow these general guidelines when swimming or interacting with sea turtles:
- Do not touch nor feed them
- Keep a few feet away from them whether you’re in the water or on land
- Do not swim close to them (nor the reefs), as this can cause great stress
- Do not damage or destroy the vegetation, and remember that shoreline vegetation is essential for preventing beach erosion and stabilizing dunes
- Do not anchor in coral or sea grass beds, but use moorings where provided or select sandy areas
- Do not purchase any turtle mean or jewelry and other adornments using their shells
- Please be kind, gentle and respectful
There are several local and international associations which promote the well-being and preservation of sea turtles. Some of these are listed below or there a lot of valuable information can also be found on website seaturtles.org.
With these rules in mind, it’s time to sport your mask and snorkel and start exploring on one of these exceptional beaches, cays and islands below.
Akumal – Mexico
Attracted to the warmth of the Golf, the favorite habitat for sea turtles to thrive became Akumal Beach, located in the Mexican Riviera 30 minutes south of the Playa del Carmen and 15 minutes north of Tulum. In fact, the name Akumal means “Place of the Turtles.” It attracts turtle lovers from all corners of the globe to come to enjoy the experience of swimming with them in the calm waters, which also makes it easy to venture even further. This area is protected by the second largest natural coral reef system in the world. Here you can swim with the giant sea turtles as well as an abundance of sea life and pretty schools of tropical fish.
One very special guest is Mexico’s Loggerhead, a species of giant sea turtle, that represents 30% of the world’s population. They can be found in the open sea and at great depth at times, coming up for air periodically. To see and swim with these great creatures, it’s best to take a diving tour or snorkel adventure. Akumal has recently been registered as a protected area in order to keep safe the turtles that visit faithfully, each year. Since the turtles nest from late May throughout the summer, another way to learn more about them is during controlled night walks when you may be lucky enough to witness the turtles arriving from the sea to deposit their eggs. During these months, the “Adopt a Turtle” program runs, which allows visitors to name a baby turtle and donate funds towards its preservation in these crucial first months. – Sylvia Jones of Villas and Apartments Abroad
Discover where to stay in Akumal with the help of Sylvia’s expertise and her fantastic collection of luxury villas in the area. She can be contacted here.
Colombier Beach – St Barthélemy
St. Barth is also a wonderful place to spot sea turtles. There are many Natural Marine Reserves areas supervised by the Réserve Naturelle Saint-Barthélemy, which you can locate on this useful map. The Réserve Naturelle also monitors turtles; you can watch some of their findings virtually at this link.
Colombier Beach is where most people go swimming or to snorkel with the turtles. There are only two ways to get there: by a 20-minute hike along a goat path (the correct path begins at the end of Flamands; the path from Colombier is much more arduous. Either way, you’ll want to wear sneakers). Pack a picnic lunch, bring a cooler as well as some snorkeling gear and your beach towels so that you can enjoy the day there. The other way to get there is by hiring a catamaran or private boat (we can organize these arrangements for our clients). Spend a half or full day at Colombier and ask to have drinks and lunch included when you book. Snorkeling equipment and towels are provided on the trip. – Peg Walsh of St Barth Properties
If you’re looking for the best places to stay while you enjoy these sea turtle experiences, St Barth Properties has two exceptional villas, Villa les Embruns and Villa Brume de Mer, which are near Flamands Beach and about a four-minute walk to the path. Learn more about these rentals by contacting St Barth Properties here.
Providenciales – Turks and Caicos
The Turks and Caicos is a fabulous spot to swim with sea turtles. Hosting the third largest barrier reef in the world, the reefs are positively popping with marine life. Sea turtles can be seen year round throughout the Turks and Caicos Islands, though summer is the best time for all marine life as the water is even more deliciously warm.
A good spot to view them on Providenciales is near the Coral Gardens Reef just off of Grace Bay. Swim out a little bit, towards the grass, and you are quite likely to see them dining! There are also several good dive guides who can take you island hopping or to other reefs easily accessible by boat. There you will have some of the finest snorkeling and diving and private moments: just you and the sea and large turtles enjoying the day. – Laura Blair of In Villas Veritas.
Cape Eleuthera – The Bahamas
Over in The Bahamas there is an alternative way to connect with sea turtles via the Earthwatch Institute, an international environmental organization that brings individuals together with world-class scientists to work for the good of the planet.
Rather than pay a company to just swim with sea turtles, the Tracking Sea Turtles in the Bahamas program allows visitors to spend a week or so with a scientific team whose mission is to save endangered green sea turtles and hawksbill turtles by protecting their habitats. Participants get to swim with turtles, however, in the process, they are helping gather important data from tidal mangrove creeks, seagrass beds, and coral reefs where the turtles forage. – Pamela H. Murdock
Explore the wonderful luxury villas on Harbour Island managed by Pamela H. Murdock Ltd. at this link.
The waters off the coast of Jamaica are home to two of the seven different species of sea turtles: the green and the hawksbill turtle. However, their numbers have dramatically decreased over the centuries, and this will lead to their extinction if we’re not careful. Therefore, the Jamaica Environment Trust runs a specific group, Save Jamaica’s Sea Turtles, which has several initiatives to protect and conserve the sea turtle population. On the island, turtles tend to nest on the north coast near Ocho Rios, or around Montego Bay and Kingston Harbour’s Palisadoes Spit.
On the island turtles hatch their eggs from May to December, and visitors can get involved through local community turtle conservation projects in Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth, Bluefields and Westmoreland as well as Hope Bay and Winnifred Beach in Portland. Or, if you happen to be visiting in late September, Save the Turtles organizes a “Beach Clean-Up Day,” which attracts more than 4,000 enthusiastic volunteers.
For anyone looking for responsible excursions for swimming or visiting turtles, try Mel Tennant. He in a fountain of all knowledge when it comes to these beautiful animals, and often assists guests with their turtle hatching expeditions. Goldeneye also offers great snorkeling, and Mel can arrange boat trips. He can be reached at +1-876-880-0069.
Tobago Cays – Grenadines
The Tobago Cays is made up of a cluster of five uninhabited islands, like lily-ponds hopping off one to the other; Petit Tabac, Petit Rameau, Jamesby, Baradal (Turtle Island) and Petit Bateau. These tiny lands are protected by the vast and beautiful horseshoe reef teeming with tropical sea life, including green and leatherback turtles.
In the Tobago Cays, you are in for the most beautiful experience, swimming with the turtles in the sea which is ranked among the best in the world, if not the best. You will not only encounter the beautiful greens and leatherbacks swimming and foraging freely in the reefs and grassy areas, but also other sea life, including stingrays gracefully going about their business, and a rich population of pretty tropical fish of different colors, shapes, sizes and personalities. The aquamarine water is irresistible and refreshingly invigorating. This is an experience that strips you of the remnants of the stress you brought with you which has no doubt polluted your lifestyle and environment.
In the Marine Park, all divers and snorkelers must be accompanied by an expert and licensed expert, the water over the reefs can sometimes be shallow so it takes someone who is familiar with the seascapes and knows where to travel, how to navigate, and to guide you. – Sylvia Jones of Villas and Apartments Abroad