Swimming with dolphins is a dream for many people. It certainly was mine not so long ago.
But Sea World? Captive dolphins?
That’s just sad.
You can go swimming with wild dolphins in Kizimkazi, on the island of Zanzibar.
How to Swim with Dolphins – The 2-Minute Video Guide
Here’s a video from Africa Freak contributor Stephen Bailey.
He was in Kizimkazi in summer 2017 and his video explains where to go and how to book a tour.
On the video you really see how close you get. Keep watching to the end as you’ll see a dolphin literally poo in his face.
Captive Dolphins vs Wild Dolphins – Kizimkazi vs Sea World
Imagine living in the ocean, in a landscape that’s bigger than all the countries of the world, combined. You’re free to swim, explore, discover, and go where you please.
Then, one day, you end up in an aquarium instead.
Taking dolphins captive is even worse than putting animals in cages. Just because they are trained to do tricks doesn’t make it okay.
These majestic animals would much rather find their own food than do circus tricks for the Instagram faithful.
Swim with dolphins at a theme park or resort and you swim with pets.
Swim with wild dolphins and you gain a genuine understanding of how these animals really are. You’ll listen to them communicating and experience their true ocean grace.
It all comes down to one question: do you want to go on safari or do you want to be in a zoo?
Welcome to the Dolphins of Zanzibar
Got your mask, snorkel and flippers?
Ready for an unforgettable swim?
Heavenly Zanzibar is today’s destination. The island is famous for ancient Stone Town, its endless beaches and turquoise sea, its spices and exquisite fresh fruits, its unique coral reefs, AND… its dolphins!
While dolphins can potentially be found anywhere around the island, they are especially active in Kizimkazi, in the far south. Kizimkazi is one of the best places in the world to swim with dolphins.
How to Swim With Dolphins in Kizimkazi – The Complete Guide
What type of dolphins do I swim with?
There are two main species of dolphins in the area: bottlenose dolphins (most common), and the Indo-Pacific humpback species.
Pods of bottlenose dolphins go fishing in Kizimkazi Bay every morning. They like it best at dawn. This predictable fishing behaviour makes it very easy to locate the dolphins.
When to Go
Kizimkazi trips can be planned all year round. Notice however that dolphin sightings are not guaranteed (although highly probable).
My recommendation is to choose the dry season when planning your trip. Weather conditions are more suitable, the sea is calmer (fewer waves), which ultimately makes the experience more enjoyable.
However, the most important piece of advice is to go swimming with dolphins at sunrise. After their little fishing trip the dolphins return to deep ocean waters and are hard to locate.
It’s very unlikely you’ll swim with dolphins after 8am. Ideally you should be in Kizimkazi and on a boat by 6am.
How much does it cost to swim with dolphins?
Swimming with dolphins only costs USD 15-25 in Kizimkazi. That pays for the boat and conservation fee, plus mask and flipper rental.
All the tours are organised locally in Kizimkazi. If you’re a larger group then the price is cheaper. Come alone and it’s more expensive for the boat.
Don’t book an expensive tour!
Tour operators in Stone Town or at high-end hotels don’t have their own boats. They just transfer you to Kizimkazi and arrange your tour with a local boat owner.
So a USD 100 tour is essentially the same as a USD 30 tour, just with a more luxurious vehicle (it’s the same boat).
Ask around for prices. You’ll pay USD 15-25 as well as the price of a return transfer.
Planning a Kizimkazi dolphin swim
You can visit Kizimkazi from anywhere on Zanzibar island. The bay is a one-hour drive from Stone Town (ouch – early start!), or 45 minutes from Jambiani and Paje.
I wouldn’t recommend doing the dolphin swim from Nungwe or Kendwa in the north – that would be a two-hour one-way transfer.
The experience can be arranged with almost any Zanzibar taxi driver, hotel, hostel, guide or tour company.
Important: Ask around and compare prices. More crucially, ask what time you will get to Kizimkazi.
If somebody wants to take you to Kizimkazi at 9am they obviously don’t care about your experience. If they want to get you out of bed at 5am then book!
Not only do you have more encounters in the early morning, the dolphins are usually more playful. They swim slower after their breakfast so it’s easier to keep up.
What happens in the water
Swimming with dolphins demands a lot of effort, as dolphins are always on the move. Be ready to jump on and off the boat quite often. This can be exhausting.
Your boat will stop close to the dolphins. Jump in and swim. Then climb out and get back on the boat. The driver will swing around, following the dolphins so you can swim with them again.
Some people are expecting the dolphins to stay still and do circus tricks. These are wild dolphins!
Also, if you are not a good swimmer then you may be disappointed.
I’ve seen people who can’t swim flapping around wearing flotation aids – it’s like wanting to run with Usain Bolt without knowing how to walk.
You must be comfortable swimming in a choppy ocean, with animals who don’t care whether you keep up.
While it is tempting to try to touch them, it is preferable not to. Besides, they are so quick and agile it’s easy for them to swim out of the way.
Tip: The best way to keep up with the dolphins is to swim as they do. Keep your arms by your side and kick your flippers like you’re doing the butterfly stroke.
Scuba divers have an advantage here as it’s the same technique used when diving.
I’ve had the chance to visit Zanzibar on various occasions, and Kizimkazi has always been one of the highlights of my stay.
Swimming with dolphins is unique and incredibly exciting. It’s such an amazing feeling to experience their world for a few minutes, to swim with them side by side, and to feel their presence right underneath your body.
They pirouette and dance in the water, spiraling downwards before breaching and diving. Flipping along they swim straight past you, sometimes straight into you!
My favourite memories are always from the sounds. Not only do you swim alongside a pod of dolphins, you also hear them communicate in the water. It’s an orchestra of hums and tweets!
Bonus: Kizimkazi Dolphins Video
I came across this incredible video on Youtube. Take a look at it: it gives a great idea of what Kizimkazi is all about.