Swimming with turtles is one of the top things to do in Barbados, and for good reason. This tropical island is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean and is a popular turtle nesting spot, so there are often sea turtles around. When planning my trip to Barbados, I couldn’t wait to get in the water and see them swimming around. This guide is perfect for first-timers or experienced snorkellers and will help you plan when and where to swim with turtles in Barbados.
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Types of Sea Turtles in Barbados
But first, learn a little about the turtles you may see in Barbados:
Of the seven different species of sea turtles worldwide, three call Barbados home: green turtles, hawksbill turtles, and leatherback turtles. Hawksbill and leatherback turtles are two of the rarest types, so seeing them in Barbados is a special occasion.
But how to know which turtle is which?
The largest species of hard-shelled turtle, Green turtles, take their name due to their green bodies. A herbivore in nature, an adult averages 2 m in length and weighs up to 180 kg. Green sea turtles can hold their breath for up to five hours and like to sunbathe.
Named for their narrow, pointed beaks, Hawksbill turtles have a distinctive pattern on their shell of overlapping scales. Their colourful exterior makes them considered the most beautiful species of turtles. An adult averages 0.5 – 1 m in length and weighs 45 – 90 kg. Primarily found in coral reefs, Barbados has one of the largest nesting populations of Hawksbill turtles in the Caribbean.
The largest of all turtles, Leatherback turtles are known for not having a hard shell and instead have thick rubbery-like skin. An adult averages 1.8 – 2.2 m in length and weighs more than 500 kg. They are the most migratory of the turtles, some swimming 11,000 km per year. Leatherbacks are the most unique, so it is extra special to see one while swimming in Barbados.
When Can You Swim with Turtles in Barbados?
While you can see sea turtles in Barbados year-round, the best time to see turtles in Barbados is during the nesting season, which depends on which type you want to swim with. A visit in February – July is the best chance to see leatherback turtles, as this is their nesting season. Travelling to Barbados in May – October will give you the best opportunity to see green and hawksbill turtles. I visited in September and saw a handful of turtles while snorkelling; it made me so happy.
Where is the Best Place to Swim with Turtles?
The best place to swim with turtles, in my experience, is Carlisle Bay. With its soft white sand and calm, crystal-clear waters, Carlisle Bay is one of the most beautiful beaches in Barbados and is a great place to go snorkelling and diving.
Strong swimmers can choose to snorkel out from shore or swim with turtles as part of a snorkelling tour. As a strong swimmer, I snorkelled from the beach using my own gear. I slowly swam out to where the tour boats were and saw turtles along my route and a few of the shipwrecks in Carlisle Bay. It was an incredible experience, and I highly recommend swimming with turtles and shipwrecks as part of your Barbados itinerary.
Other Places to Go Swimming with Turtles in Barbados
Prefer something closer to shore? Here are other places to swim with turtles:
Along the West Coast:
- Alleynes Bay Beach – is known for having near-shore turtle encounters
- Paynes Bay Beach – a popular place to swim and snorkel with turtles, especially with cruises
Along the South Coast:
- Dover Beach – a Hawksbill turtle nesting beach where you can see them on the beach and swimming
- Drill Hall Beach – is known for turtle nesting, where you can watch hatchlings make their way to the ocean
- Worthing Beach – a shallow water snorkelling spot, you can swim with turtles from the shore
Can You Touch Sea Turtles?
No, you should not touch sea turtles or any kind of sealife, whether you are swimming, snorkelling, or scuba diving. First of all, sea turtles are an endangered species, and secondly, touching them can transfer disease from our skin oils and germs onto their shell, harming the turtle. Admire these beautiful majestic creatures in their natural habitat from a distance; look but don’t touch.
What Time of Year Do Turtles Hatch in Barbados?
Hatching season for hawksbill turtles is usually between mid-July – mid-October. Hatchings tend to occur between dusk and dawn, 6 pm to 6 am. The Barbados Sea Turtle Project monitors turtle nesting and hatchings through volunteer patrols and public calls to ensure turtles don’t have interference or get disoriented on their way to the ocean.
Sea turtles are highly protected in Barbados, and it’s against the law to disturb or endanger turtles, their eggs, or their nests. A wonderful thing to see, be respectful if you luck out on watching turtles hatch.
Guided Sea Turtle Tours
Don’t want to swim out from the beach, have limited time, or prefer a tour guide? The best way to encounter and swim with sea turtles in Barbados is to go on a snorkelling catamaran cruise. There are a variety of cruises available across the island, which stop at multiple snorkel spots, with some tours even including beverages or lunch, so you can fully enjoy a day out on the water. Even if you only have one day in Barbados, you can find a tour to fit your limited time frame so that you don’t miss out.
The most popular tour is the turtle and shipwreck snorkel adventure, where you cruise from Bridgetown on a glass boat through Carlisle Bay to see shipwrecks, turtles, and other marine life. As a strong swimmer, I didn’t do a tour and instead swam from the shore, but I did see the wrecks, plenty of fish, and a few turtles, so I would recommend one like this one if you enjoy guided experiences.
Browse for the tour or cruise that best suits your schedule and desired experience:
Tips for Swimming in Barbados with Turtles
- Keep your distance, but if you do get close, do not touch the turtles.
- Do not feed the turtles. Remember, they are wild animals, and giving them food will make them reliant on humans and can cause them harm.
- If you see a turtle, do not chase it. It can make the sea turtle feel threatened or scared.
- Approach turtles from the side slowly and calmly. They are easily startled; you don’t want to scare them away or disrupt their natural behaviour.
- Bring a waterproof camera to capture memories of you swimming with turtles in Barbados.
- If you don’t see turtles swimming on your own, consider a tour, as guides often know secret spots.
One of the best things to do in Barbados and a highlight of my trip, swimming alongside turtles is an unforgettable experience. With its beautiful calm waters, Barbados’s southern and west coasts are the best places to snorkel with sea turtles. So get ready to grab your snorkel gear to swim out from shore or book your catamaran cruise.
Hope this information helps you plan how to swim with turtles in Barbados.