Animal encounters are the stuff of swimming legends: Lynne Cox shared a training swim with a grey whale calf. Adam Walker swam shark-infested waters guarded by a pod of dolphins. Ross Edgley bumped into a basking shark during his Great British Swim…
So, we thought it was time to look at a few SwimTrek wildlife encounters that truly stand out. We began searching our archives and talking to guides from many of our different trips to exotic places, where marine animals live in abundance – Marine Reserves and far-flung ecosystems with a baffling diversity of species.
We should also add, while our trips certainly increase the likelihood of meeting these less common creatures, any wildlife encounter is a rare and special treasure. You have to be very lucky to happen upon the shier, less populous inhabitants of our vast oceans.
Always respect the resident marine life. Keep a safe distance and listen carefully to expert knowledge and advice from conservationists. We’re always a guest in their neighbourhoods.
10. Monk Seals & Cuttlefish, Crete Discovery
Our Crete Discovery trip unfolds along a coastline of dramatic white mountains and uncovers a diverse mix of Mediterranean marine life, jostled by incoming currents from local seas and Libyan waters with swells brought in all the way from Africa. There’s a chance you’ll encounter animals big and small, from whales and dolphins, to octopus, turtles and cuttlefish, to sea urchins and sponges. The water of Crete are also home to the Mediterranean Monk Seal – one of the most endangered species still alive in our oceans.
9. Kingfishers & Minnows, Thames River Holiday
SwimTrek run one-day or two-day trips down the River Thames – waters which flow all the way from the Cotswolds to the urban heart of London. These peaceful tours are a great opportunity to nuzzle your way through the English countryside, meeting a few sleepy British critters along the way. You’ll travel slowly, peeking out at water level, with a chance to spot kingfishers, herons, damsel flies and fish of all sizes, ranging from minnows to catfish.
8. Dolphins & Reef Sharks, Red Sea Liveaboard
Find an underwater world like no other in the world-famous Red Sea. All kinds of species are busily milling in the depths and our coastal and reef swims find remote islands and multi-coloured reefs (the region has over 200 species of hard and soft coral) teeming with 1200 different species of fish, sponges and crustaceans. It’s a great chance to spot resident wildlife, scooping handfuls of bubbling water and peering at submerged vistas and drop-offs and caves, and even shipwrecks. The sheer quantity of marine life is just awe-inspiring, including spinner dolphins, turtles, dugongs, mantas and little reef sharks.
7. Turtles & Lobsters, Lan Ha Bay Holiday
Islands and karsts are scattered along the coast of Vietnam in the furthest reaches of the Halong area. Emerald green waters lap over coral reefs and patches of brackish water huddled close to tall limestone islets and caverns in Lan Ha Bay. You’ll stay at the jungle-covered Cat Ba Island, which is also a National Park, with plenty of time to swim the unique waters, searching for marine animals. If you're lucky you'll meet huge schools of tropical fish and seabed dwelling shellfish, as well as sunfish, turtles and lobsters - not to mention an incredible array of local birdlife.
6. Puffins & Porpoises, Scilly Isles
The rugged Isles of Scilly offer breathtaking coastal routes for swimmers, as well as island-hopping excursions with time aboard our 102-foot Brigantine square rigger, called the Lady of Avenel. The colder waters tangle over beds of seagrass, while puffins and other seabirds call out in the skies above and rock-covered reefs shelter varieties of fish and shellfish – if you’re lucky, you might also get a few moments in the presence of a shy porpoise.
5. Whale Sharks & Sea Lions, Baja Peninsula
The UNESCO protected region of Baja, Mexico, holds an arid stretch of land shouldered by the Sea of Cortez. Jacque Cousteau once called it ‘the world’s aquarium’ and it’s easy to see why as you circle the pristine beaches and hidden coves of Espiritu Santo island. Listen out for seabirds as you swim in waters frequented by sea lions, whale sharks and fin whales – not to mention a rich plethora of smaller marine life, skimming and diving in the warm shallows, where temperatures can climbs as high as 26C.
4. Eagle Rays & Seahorses, Belize Barrier Reef
Our swim around Turneffe Atoll, inside the Belize Barrier Reef, finds an incredible array of marine life, including 500 varieties of reef fish flitting through shallow coral mega-cities, as well as rarer eagle rays, dolphins, conches, seahorses and octopuses. The underwater seascapes are scattered with sandy plains and the coral fringes of the sun-baked atolls.
3. Dugongs & Manta Rays, Palawan Paradise
The Western Philippines are scattered with gardens of reefs with green vegetation and a variety of hard and soft corals. The Bacuit Archipelago, northwest of Palawan, is a province with over a thousand islands. Limestone towers and karst formations form a spectacular backdrop as you dig in and glide through the tropical waters. You’ll find yourself pawing through shades of aquamarine, staring down at depths filled with wildlife. You’ll meet a myriad of different fish and could also encounter dugongs, long nosed dolphins, manta rays and sea turtles, before you relax in the forested arms of the Miniloc Island Resort.
2. Scorpionfish & Dragons, Komodo National Park
This trip shows the pioneering heart of SwimTrek – head deep into Indonesia’s Coral Triangle and find marine life and coral diversity to rival anywhere else on Earth. It’s here that the Pacific and Indian oceans meet and marine life is blended together, with 6 of the world’s 7 marine turtle species and 37% of the world’s coral fish species. A few locals of the archipelago are: manta rays, scorpionfish, gobies, sweetlips, reef sharks, cuttlefish, shrimps and crabs. You’ll also get a chance to stop at Komodo Island for a rare opportunity to see the scale-armoured komodo dragon.
1. Trumpetfish & Marine Iguanas, Galapagos Islands
Finally, here’s a once-in-a-lifetime trip to a paradise for wildlife conservationists – a volcanic archipelago that once drew Charles Darwin and offered him the seeds for Origin of Species. It’s here that Galapagos National Park sprawls out and straddles both sides of the equator, filled with astonishing biodiversity. You could encounter sea lions, marine iguanas, sea turtles, manta rays, dolphins and countless exotic fish, from trumpetfish to rainbow runners.
"I wanted to say the most amazing animal encounters come from the tropical locations, but actually they are everywhere. Don’t get me started about glowing scorpions and javelina in Arizona. My current top wildlife encounters are the birds and otters in my local river…. oh and the sturgeon!"
Marlys Cappaert, SwimTrek Guide
We hope you enjoyed this selection of SwimTrek trips with wildlife encounters! Discover more unique experiences on our range of 2021 trips already available to book!