Cruise and Beach Destinations
in the Caribbean, Mexico & Beyond

How to Swim with Sea Turtles in Barbados

Swimming with sea turtles in Barbados
Swimming with sea turtles is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Barbados. © Scott S. Bateman

Swimminging with sea turtles in Barbados is one of the best interactions with natural life in the Caribbean.

It is almost as fun as snorkeling with stingrays at the famous Stingray City off Grand Cayman island.

Most Caribbean sailing excursions start and end the same:

- Get on the boat, often a catamaran
- Sail to the destination
- Go snorkeling
- Sail back while the crew gives provides snacks and plenty of refreshing drinks.

It’s the destination that matters the most. We have taken quite a few sailing and snorkeling excursions. The most memorable ones for us have had the most interesting sea life.

They include sting rays in Stingray City in Grand Cayman, barracudas in St. Thomas and this one, a Barbados turtle swim with wild green and hawksbill sea turtles.

Our Barbados excursion to swim with sea turtles fit this pattern when we came aboard a large catamaran with about 20 other people. We chugged out of the port at Bridgetown and headed to our first stop, a simple and brief snorkeling swim over a reef that revealed nothing special.

It was our second stop that made the difference. We joined several other boats near a beach and spotted sea turtles and people in the water together.

The brown-green turtles were about three to four feet long, rose occasionally to the surface for air and dropped back down again. They swam closely among us in the hopes of getting food. Our guide didn’t disappoint them.

Note that other sea turtle experiences are available in the Bahamas; Curacao; San Juan, Puerto Rico; and Tulum, Mexico.

Cost and How to Go

Barbados catamaran
Some operators take passengers on catamarans, which are often more expensive than other boats. Credit: Barbados Tourism Authority

Cruise ships usually offer a Barbados turtle swim among the available excursions. They represent local operators and take a cut of the price for providing the convenience of booking the trip for passengers.

Prices often include taking a boat to the turtle swim, snorkeling equipment, meals and drinks.

Expect to pay $70 to $90 or more for an adult and $60 or more for a child depending on the cruise line, sailing date and amenities of the trip. Amenities for the more expensive versions may include lunch and open bar.

It also depends on the type of boat. A catamaran is often more expensive. The tours may last up to three hours.

Budget-minded Caribbean travelers can book directly with an excursion operator and sometimes save money. Track their websites in case of discounts.

The sea turtles mostly live on the west coast of the island, which also is the location of the Bridgetown cruise docks. Some operators will simply drive tourists to the closest beach with the turtles and charge even less than the boat tours.

Keep in mind there is no guarantee of a great turtle experience like ours. One reviewer said, “We only got to see one turtle for about 10 seconds before it swam away, which is of course up to nature but still a major disappointment.”

More About the Experience

Barbados sea turtle
Swimming with sea turtles is a top Barbados attraction. Credit: Wikimedia Creative Commons license

We arrived at the locations of the turtles within a few hundred feet of the coast. We immediately entered the water with our guide after getting instructions about how to be careful around the turtles.

As we pushed our masks under the water, we could see them swimming toward people for food and swimming away again. They were remarkably calm.

Our guide pulled out his own food, swam toward a turtle and attracted its attention. We all came nearby, but not so close to touch or disturb the turtle. It munched through the food and drifted away.

Unexpectedly, a large turtle swam under me toward the guide. It was so close my flipper grazed its shell. It didn’t react to the touch at all.

So we had at least a half dozen turtles swimming close to us to get to the food. They expertly and easily swam among us, underneath us and around us. They didn’t seem to mind being within a few feet of us, but they also swam in a way to avoid any direct contact.

Clearly they were used to humans swimming close to them.

Their large brown eyes and beautiful colors made their serene behavior all the more enjoyable as we shared the water with them.

In time the guide ran out of food and directed us back onto the boat. We parted with the turtles still swimming among passengers from other boats.

The catamaran made one more stop, this time on a secluded white sand beach. The crew served us our snacks and plenty of refreshing drinks. We strolled on the sand for another half hour or so.

Swimming with sea turtles in Barbados ranks among the best snorkeling excursions in the Caribbean.

Scott S. Bateman is a professional journalist who has traveled widely throughout the Caribbean and the Americas. He is the author of four books about cruising in the Caribbean, Alaska and Mexican Riviera.
June 12, 2024

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