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Africa Geographic Travel

“Hold on tight!” our skipper yelled as he gunned the 200hp boat, with its 8 adventurers and 3 crew, into the huge waves and out into the calmer waters beyond.

Within minutes the first dorsal fins were spotted and our crew were assessing the situation. But these dolphins were hunting at high speed – flashing past before we could get a good view of them. In fact on this first outing we spent the better part of 90 minutes cruising up and down a 20km stretch of awesomely beautiful coastline looking for suitable swimming mates. Nearing the end of our allotted 2 hours, we happened upon a group of 5 relaxed dolphins and our skipper cut the engines. The boat bobbed in the swell as we waited for the word from our guide, Leah Darlow, who had entered the water and was sussing the group out.

Thumbs up from Leah and 8 snorkelled humans splashed into the warm Indian Ocean waters and finned towards her. This first of my encounters over two days was pretty short, but it blew my mind. I was one of the first to arrive at the bubbly waltz going on between Leah and the 5 beauties and so I attracted immediate attention – the fab 5 broke away from Leah and headed my way at high speed, eyeballed me and then swam a mere meter below me, to suss everyone else out. I almost choked on salt water as waves of emotion hit me – I was weirdly awed at what was such a brief encounter. Back in the boat my grinning wife Lizz and I were giddy with the high of the encounter and looking forward to our next outing the following morning.

Swimming with dolphins has for some time been on Lizz’ #BucketList and she was beyond happy. Little did she or I know that the next morning we would be in cetacean heaven.

We figured out by watching Leah and this video that in order to keep the dolphins interested you have to dance with them – no touching allowed though – swim in tight circles and enjoy the moment:

Dance like nobody’s watching and soon you will have one or even two finned dancing mates. Leah gets five. Lose the rhythm and they’re gone – just like that. Tarts. And if you just hang around and gawk they don’t even give you the eyeball. Just like my school days. And they also like cameras – in fact some of them were obsessed in getting face time with GoPros and underwater cameras – if they could do selfies I’m sure they would.

Day two arrived – another stunning warm day in beachy heaven – and again we set out, this time with 12 keen dolphin fans. Five minutes in and we see promising signs. Leah is in quickly and her thumbs-up signals the start. This time Lizz and I gave it horns – pulling dance moves like carefree toddlers. And guess what? Over the next 40 minutes we were inundated with awesome carefree dancing and socialising with multiple smiling jellybeans. And in between dances we watched as these special sentient beings did their own thing or just hung about – swimming upside down, hanging vertically, rubbing noses with each other – lots of stuff. And then they were gone. Suddenly. Gone. The experience was beyond explanation. You have to do it.

Oh, and while in the water we also had great sightings of loggerhead turtles, eagle rays and countless colourful fish.

Notes:

These are truly wild dolphins and every effort is made not to interfere with their wild ways. There are only 2 licensed operators in Ponta do OuroDolphin Centre and Dolphin Encounters. There are a few pirate operators that often break the rules – don’t support them. We used Dolphin Centre and were very impressed with the pre-swim briefing, standard of boat and equipment, standard of guiding and the ethical and responsible manner in which the dolphin swimming was managed. The dolphins sought our company and left when they felt like it. Both operators assist with research projects and data collection and are monitored by the well-run team from Ponta do Ouro Partial Marine Reserve.

We paid for our adventure and the Dolphin Centre crew did not know I was planning a blog post. These pictures were all taken during our swims.

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I am a proud African and honoured to be CEO of Africa Geographic. My travels in Africa are in search of wilderness, elusive birds and real people with interesting stories. I live in Hoedspruit, next to the Kruger National Park, with my wife Lizz and 2 Jack Russells. When not travelling or working I am usually on my mountain bike somewhere out there. I qualified as a chartered accountant but found my calling sharing Africa's incredibleness with you. My motto is "Live for now, have fun, be good, tread lightly and respect others. And embrace change". Connect with me on LinkedIn

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