8 Things to Know Before Swimming With Humpback Whales in Turks & Caicos
Have you ever dreamed of swimming with whales? In Turks and Caicos you CAN swim with humpback whales during certain times of the year. It’s one of the most incredible travel experiences I have ever had!
However, it’s not as simple as just going to Turks and Caicos and jumping in with your snorkel mask. This post is here to help you plan your once-in-a-lifetime whale experience and ensure you have a great (and safe) time doing so!
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Snorkeling With Humpback Whales in Turks & Caicos – What to Know
1.) Salt Cay is the place to go
Salt Cay is the best place to go in order to swim with humpback whales in Turks & Caicos! This is NOT something you do on the main island of Provo.
This is because Salt Cay is directly in front of the Columbus Passage where the Humpbacks migrate to the Silver Banks, so they can calve & mate.
Salt Cay is the smallest inhabited island of the main Turks & Caicos islands and has a population of only around 100 people. There are more feral donkeys than people! This island is quiet, with just a few restaurants, and no paved roads (golf carts are the transportation mode of choice). I, personally, loved how quiet and serene Salt Cay is!
2.) January-March are when the whales are around Salt Cay
Sometimes the whales will come a little earlier in December and stick around a little longer in April – but January – March is typically when the whales are hanging out around Salt Cay. I was there at the end of January/1st week of February and saw humpback whales every time I got in the water!
In the video above, this whale swam right up to me! It was amazing… and also a little terrifying, haha.
3.) Book with a reputable whale watching company
Be sure you book your whale experience with a reputable company that respects the whales – I highly recommend Salt Cay Divers. (I am not compensated in any way for recommending them – they are just a fantastic company that I love.)
Richard is the captain for these whale watching/swimming experiences at Salt Cay Divers, and his love and respect for the whales is amazing. The way these experiences work with Salt Cay Divers is Richard will scan the horizon for signs of whales (blowholes, breaches, etc.) when he sees signs of whales he will boat near them – kill the engine – and then you’ll slip into the water with your snorkel gear.
You are not baiting the whales in any way, and it’s up to them if they feel comfortable swimming by you – or if they’ll simply choose to swim away.
My experiences with the whales were they were generally curious of us and would swim around us several times. (Of course, this is not always the case – sometimes the whales will be long gone before you get out of the boat.)
The video above is of two whales who had zero interest in moving away from us! We ended up getting tired and a little cold, so we jumped back in the boat before they swam away! (Note, this video is best if you adjust the YouTube view settings to 4K.) They locked eyes with us (you can see that at about a minute into the video), and swam around us for a half-hour – it was terrifying at first – I mean they’re one of the largest animals on earth, and they were swimming right at me! However, they kept a safe distance from us and just observed us as we observed them. (Don’t attempt to touch the whales, though, please – this can be dangerous for both you and the whale.)
4.) You are snorkeling – not diving with whales
When you swim with whales in Turks and Caicos you are snorkeling. Diving and free diving on these excursions are prohibited.
Salt Cay Divers will provide masks and fins for you as part of the excursion fee as well as life jackets. Although, some folks prefer to pack their own snorkel gear they know they’ll be comfortable in.
5.) You’re unlikely to see whales every time – plan for a few days
As with any wildlife sighting, it’s not guaranteed you will see whales. The average time people spend on Salt Cay trying to swim with whales is 3 days. Of course, you could do a day trip from Grand Turk to try to snorkel with whales – but if swimming with whales is a dream of yours (like it was mine), don’t short yourself by taking this chance! Book a few days on Salt Cay and more than one whale watching/snorkeling trip! There are a couple of bed and breakfasts on Salt Cay and vacation homes to rent.
We spent 5 days on Salt Cay, and I felt that was more than enough. However, we were VERY lucky with our whale sightings. We saw whales every time we got in the water! We were even fortunate enough to see whales on our boat ride from Grand Turk to Salt Cay (our flight had been canceled, so we arranged to take a boat via Salt Cay Divers instead). It was incredible! *Our luck is also likely due to the fact that there was less boat traffic. Cruise ships weren’t running and overall boat traffic was down – with COVID affecting travel.
6.) Weather will affect visibility
Another reason you would want to book more than one day on Salt Cay is that the weather can also ruin your snorkel experience. If the water is too rough you may not be able to go out, or the water may be too cloudy to see the whales… even if they’re right next to you. Give yourself a buffer of at least a few days to up your chances of seeing whales!
7.) What you should pack for swimming with whales
The water in Turks and Caicos during whale season is like bathwater. You won’t be needing a wet suit! You’ll be perfectly comfortable in your favorite bathing suit. However, these are a few other things to consider packing for your whale experience.
- Snacks! When you head out to swim with whales, you are going to be on the water for around 3 hours (maybe longer if things are going well). Bring your preferred snacks and beverages. (Richard will have some water and sodas on the boat too, though.)
- Reef-safe sunscreen. Please protect the delicate reefs of Turks and Caicos and wear reef-safe sunscreen.
- Lip balm with sunscreen in it. I can’t tell you how many times I forgot to apply this while in Turks & Caicos and burnt my lips to a crisp. Don’t be like me – bring your SPF lip balm with you.
- Consider a rash guard. If you’re bad about remembering to reapply sunscreen, wearing a rash guard is a good idea!
- Sunglasses that stay on your head. You can help Richard look for whales – and this is much easier to do with a good pair of polarized sunglasses that stay securely on your head. (My husband and I are both fans of these Maui Jim glasses.) Consider attaching glasses to a strap to avoid them bouncing into the water if it gets rough!
- A towel. You’ll likely get in the water a few times and want to dry off as you boat to the next location.
- Your own snorkel gear. Not a must, but some folks are more comfortable with their own gear (especially with COVID now). Click here to shop snorkel gear.
- A GoPro. Again, not a must, but it’s super cool to be able to document your swimming with whales experience! I bought the GoPro Hero 9 for this, and it was AMAZING. If you watched the first video in this post, you can hear that the GoPro even picked up on the whale “talking.” Super cool! My husband used our older GoPro Hero 4, and even this older GoPro Model does a great job, in my opinion. (His video is the last one with the young whales playing.)
8.) Book AT LEAST a year in advance
Given that Salt Cay is not a large island, and Salt Cay Divers is one of the few companies you can book this snorkeling with whales experience with… they book up quickly! You’re going to need to plan this once-in-a-lifetime experience at least a year in advance. We lucked out and were able to book only a few months out because there were a lot of cancellations with COVID.
Karen of Salt Cay Divers will help you with booking and anything you need on Salt Cay – she is FANTASTIC. She and Richard will make sure your time on Salt Cay is nothing short of magical. (Again, we’re not sponsored and get nothing if you book with Salt Cay Divers – we just love these guys!)
- Click here for the Salt Cay Divers website.
If anyone has any questions at all about swimming with whales in Turks and Caicos, please feel free to reach out in the comments section at the end of this post. I’m happy to answer any questions!
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Is it safe to bring small children to the island?
Did you spend your entire trip at salt cay or would you recommend a few days there and few days on another island?
Hi Jill, I also spent a week on Provo and a couple of days on Grand Turk. I would recommend also having a few days on Provo, if you can.
VERY interested in doing this once in a lifetime trip in January 2023! Where should I book accommodations for solo traveler? (Preferably beach & close to diveboats that take you to whales)
Hi Mary, Have you booked your trip via Salt Cay Divers yet? If so, I would ask if they have their vacation home rental available at the same time – it’s just across the road then. If that’s not an option, I would check on VRBO (make sure the rental is on Salt Cay and not Grand Turk) or there are also a couple of bed & breakfasts on the island. I believe Pirates Hideaway and Tradewind Guest Suites are the options right now.
This is at varying depths around 200 feet deep. It’s very clear, and you can see the bottom in the videos at that depth, which can mess with how you interpret the size of the whales and how close they are at times.