How to Swim with Dolphins in the Wild in Oahu, Hawaii
One of the most magical experiences you can have while visiting Hawai'i is swimming with dolphins in the wild (as opposed to swimming with dolphins in captivity because... Blackfish). I really cannot recommend it enough. In fact, I love it so much that I have done it numerous times! And this is coming from someone who has been to Hawai'i over 50 times. It is truly amazing and something you should not skip while visiting.
To swim with dolphins in the wild you have two options:
- Get in the ocean and try to find them yourself
- Go with a company that specializes in swimming with dolphins and knows how to find them without fail
If I were you I would go with option 2. Assuming you agree, here is everything you need to know!
The company I personally use is Dolphin Excursions and I would highly suggest doing the safari (as they call it) through them. They are located on the westside of Oahu in the town of Waianae. Depending on whether you have a car or not, you can either meet them in Waianae or have them pick you up at your hotel in Waikiki or Ko Olina. There are two tours per day - one at 7:30 am and one at 11 am. I would recommend the earlier one as I have heard it is easier to find the dolphins then since they are just coming back from feeding at that time. Plus that way you are done back lunchtime so you still have time for another adventure!
Upon arrival to the harbor you will check in and fill out some paperwork, grab your gear (fins and a snorkel mask - these come with your safari at no extra cost), and if there is enough time there's a small cafe attached where you can grab coffee and some food. Once everyone is ready, you walk down to the boat and hop on! Once on the boat you'll have the opportunity to put your stuff in a wet box. I wasn't sure if it would be a good idea or not to bring my dSLR along, but because there's a wet box I'd say you definitely can. Be careful though - everyone will throw their stuff in one box so make sure your equipment is in good casing or that you’re last to put your things in.
Next up, the fun part! The three hour tour goes something like this:
- Whale and dolphin watch from the boat
- "The drop" - this is where you are actually dropped in a bay where they know dolphins are and you get to swim with them!
- Snorkel with turtles, octopus, fish, and whatever else you can find
Last time we went we spotted tons of dolphins right away and ended up skipping the watch part in order to hop in with the dolphins, which just meant we got to swim with them for extra long (score!).
Once you are done, you'll head back to the cafe for lunch before being escorted back to Waikiki or Ko Olina.
If you have something like a GoPro, definitely bring it. If not, a photographer comes on every excursion and will take photos of you in the water. You do have to pay to purchase those photos though.
The excursion is currently $130 for adults and $85 for children. Visit their site for more info or to book your tour.
Note: if you are less adventurous, you can also pay to swim with dolphins at the Kahala Hotel or Sea Life Park, but those are dolphins in captivity, not swimming freely in the ocean with their families. I did the Sea Life Park experience in high school and it did not even compare to the experience with Dolphin Excursions.