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While nature documentaries and aquariums give us a glimpse into the lives of these majestic animals, these best places to see sea turtles in the wild allow you an experience with turtles like no other.
While beautiful sea turtles live in all of the world’s oceans, they do need to come ashore for nesting and feeding.
Catch them at the right moment, and the awe and intimacy of observing these animals up close will stay with you for a lifetime.
So brace yourself for the cute-o-meter to sore off the charts, as we find out about 9 of the world’s best places, both underwater and on-land, to observe sea turtles in the wild.
Best Places To See Sea Turtles
1 – Great Barrier Reef, Australia
We start our turtle world tour in one of the world’s most beautiful, but sadly threatened, underwater worlds: the Great Barrier Reef.
Turtles can be found in the waters all year round. For diving and snorkeling, there’s no place quite like it to see these gentle, gorgeous animals.
Some of the best places to see turtles in reef region and surrounding areas are:
- Turtle Bay, Agincourt Reef
- Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, Fitzroy Island
- Mojo, Opal Reef
- Green Island
- Raine Island
Turtle species: The Coral Sea waters are home to an impressive six of the seven sea turtle species.
A common breeding ground for green and hawksbill turtles, you can also see loggerhead, leatherback, flatback, and olive ridley turtles roaming the waters.
Best time: Turtles can be seen all year round. However, late October to early December is a particularly good time to see sea turtles.
2 – Turtle Islands, Philippines & Malaysia
In 1996, the governments of the Philippines and Malaysia declared the staggeringly beautiful Turtle Islands as a Heritage Protected Area.
The shores of the islands in the Turtle Wildlife Sanctuary region are one of the few remaining nesting sites for green sea turtles.
The three islands protected are Selingaan, Little Bakkungan, and Gulisaan. While visiting is possible, it can only be done by guided tour.
Turtle species: Green turtles come to the beaches of the islands to lay their eggs.
Best time: Green turtles lay their eggs between July and October. Access to the islands is difficult, so you will need to book a specialist guided tour, and visit by boat.
3 – Gili Islands, Indonesia
The vibrant, thriving waters around Indonesia’s Gili Islands are a prime spot for observing and swimming with sea turtles.
Consisting of three islands, Gili Trawangan is the go-to place for underwater adventures and plenty of snorkeling, boat trips, and diving.
Turtle species: Swimming gracefully through the waters you’ll have a chance of spotting both green turtles and hawksbill turtles.
Best time: Turtles can be found in the water all year round. However, visiting between September and November is the sweet spot between the end of tourist high-season, and the start of the rainy season in November.
4 – Tioman Island, Malaysia
The exotic, jaw-dropping Tioman Island, located around 20 miles off the east coast of Malaysia, is surrounded by stunning coral reefs.
A wondrous haven for snorkeling and diving, Tioman Island is also home to the Juara Turtle Project, who do amazing work protecting the nesting grounds across the island.
Tioman Island is a great place to see turtles both in the water and nesting at certain times of the year.
Turtle species: Both green and hawksbill turtles continue to nest on the island.
Oliver ridley and leatherback turtles historically have nested on Tioman, but unfortunately have not been sighted for nearly two decades in the area.
Best time: Turtle hatching happens between June to September on Tioman Island.
However, for snorkeling and diving, Tioman’s consistently hot weather means you can visit all year round.
5 – Lhaviyani Atoll, Maldives
Known as one of the best snorkeling spots throughout Africa, Lhaviyani Atoll’s underwater worlds are a sight for animal lovers and intrigued minds.
The crystal waters surrounding this small collection of largely uninhabited islands are teeming with marine life.
Coral reefs are scattered throughout the islands of the Maldives, so you’ll have plenty of opportunities to get friendly with some of the ocean’s most glamorous creatures.
Turtle species: Green and hawksbill turtles are a common sight in the waters, while oliver ridley turtles can be observed in other parts of the Maldives.
Best time: Maldives weather is consistently hot all year round, but January through to April is generally considered the best time for the clearest waters and most stable weather.
6 – Laniakea Beach, Hawaii
Also known as ‘Turtle Beach’, Laniakea Beach is one of Oahu’s ideal places to see Hawaiian turtles in all their glory.
The miles of golden Oahu coastline, a prime surfing spot, are one of the turtles’ favorite places to nest and bask in the warm rays of the Pacific sun.
Turtle species: You’ll be able to spot green turtles laying out on the sands and making their way to the water.
Best time: Due to the calmer waters and warmer weather, the Hawaiian summer, May to October, is the best time to spot turtles.
7 – Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
Party-goers and holidaymakers will be familiar with Cancun, but there’s so much more awe and beauty to experience along the Yucatan Peninsula.
Along this stretch of coast, there are various nesting spots for a variety of turtle species. These include Akumal Bay and X’Cacel Beach, among various others.
If you switch your focus from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean, the Baja California Sur peninsula, along the west coast of Mexico, is also home to many turtle populations and nesting grounds.
Turtle species: Green, hawksbill, and loggerhead turtles can be found along the peninsula, while kemp’s ridley turtles can be found further north, on the border between Mexico and Texas.
If you venture west to the Baja California Sur, you can also spot leatherback turtles.
Best time: Turtle hatching occurs in Mexico between June and November, while the nesting is best seen from June to August.
8 – Tortuguero, Costa Rica
Tortuguero Beach, lining the tiny fishing village of Tortuguero, is one of the most important nesting spots for Caribbean Sea turtles.
A small part of the larger Tortuguero national park, riverboat trips and kayaking are amazing ways to observe turtles nesting.
Turtle species: The endangered green turtle nests here, and is a focus of much of the conservation effort. In this region, leatherback and hawksbill turtles also nest.
Best time: Nesting season runs from March to October, depending on the species of turtle.
9 – Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
As pictured, there’s no doubt that the Galapagos tortoise, with its grand, majestic demeanor, is one of the must-see animals on the Galapagos Islands.
However, the waters of the Galapagos are home to a very rare species of green turtle, native only to the Galapagos.
Both in the water and on the beaches, with patience and timing, you can get to see this rare sea turtle.
Turtle species: As mentioned, the waters are home to a rare type of green turtle, that nests on the island beaches every year.
Best time: The warm season in the Galapagos runs from December to May, the time in which green turtles are most active.
The turtles mate in December, lay their eggs in January, and the first egg hatchings begin in April.
Best Places To See Sea Turtles Summary
Sea turtles are truly heartwarming to swim with and observe in their natural habitat.
From the heat of Southeast Asia to the rainbow colors of the Maldives, it is quite remarkable how many places you can see these beautiful animals.
Plus, with so many tourist boards and charities doing their best to protect these under-threat species, hopefully, humans will be swimming with sea turtles for many generations to come.
Whether you enjoy diving, snorkeling, or want to get involved with conservation work, one thing will never change: sea turtles are ridiculously adorable!
So, before we wave goodbye to the sea turtles for now, let’s take one final look at 9 of the best places to see sea turtles in the wild:
- Great Barrier Reef, Australia
- Turtle Islands, Philippines & Malaysia
- Gili Islands, Indonesia
- Tioman Island, Malaysia
- Lhaviyani Atoll, Maldives
- Laniakea Beach, Hawaii
- Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
- Tortuguero, Costa Rica
- Galapagos Islands, Ecuador
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Author: Dale Johnson is a content writer, strategist, and adventure seeker, who has traveled to thirty countries to date, and counting.
Images licensed via Shutterstock