Atlantic bottlenose dolphins like these are often friendly and playful around humans. Atlantic bottlenose dolphins like these are often friendly and playful around humans. Atlantic bottlenose dolphins like these are often friendly and playful around humans. (Photo: Tory Kallman /Shutterstock)

5 must-visit places to see dolphins up close

Dolphins have been admired for centuries, so seeing them up close should be on everyone’s bucket list.

There are 43 species of dolphins in the oceans (and a few rivers) around the globe. You’ll generally find them in shallow water, near the coastline, in warmer locations. As if you need one more reason to plan a trip to one of the many beautiful coasts around the world, dolphin watching may be the best one yet!

The Azores, Portugal

Portugal's Azores Islands are home to the largest variety of dolphins in the world.Portugal's Azores Islands are home to the largest variety of dolphins in the world. (Photo: Dinozzaver/Shutterstock)

Some dolphin species are found in many locations around the world; others have adapted to a specific location. You can see the largest variety of them in Portugal’s Azores Islands. As many as 11 species may be feeding near the shores of this Atlantic island cluster at any one time, and opportunities to see and even swim near them in the wild are easy to come by. Make your way to Sao Miguel Island, where you’ll find many adventure tour groups ready to take you to see bottlenose, Atlantic, spotted, Risso’s and striped dolphins, as well as the common dolphin and many other species.


Dolphin Reef, Eilat, Israel

Dolphin Beach is a popular attraction in Eliat, Israel.Dolphin Beach is a popular attraction in Eliat, Israel. (Photo: Protasov AN/Shutterstock)

Dolphin Reef in Eilat, Israel offers a one-of-a-kind opportunity to see and be near the popular and friendly bottlenose dolphin. This underwater nature reserve allows you to swim near dolphins in their natural habitat. You’ll be up close with them – but only when they decide they’re interested in you. The reef operators help maintain as normal a life as possible for these animals. This natural ocean environment provides an opportunity for swimmers of all ages and abilities to have the experience of a lifetime. When you’re tired of swimming, you can relax in the sun on one of the most beautiful beaches anywhere.


Kaikoura, New Zealand

The Hector's dolphin can only be found off the coast of New Zealand.The Hector's dolphin can only be found off the coast of New Zealand. (Photo: Nickolay Stanev/Shutterstock)

Kaikoura is located on New Zealand’s South Island against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains, about 110 miles from Christchurch. The area offers numerous opportunities to see and swim with the playful dusky dolphins and a unique chance to see the smallest species: the Hector’s dolphin. Boat tours with hot showers and guides will take you to the best locations to see these beautiful creatures as well as numerous other mammals including killer whales, pilot whales and New Zealand fur seals.


Oahu and Kona, Hawaii

A pair of wild spinner dolphins play gleefully in a tropical lagoon.A pair of wild spinner dolphins play gleefully in a tropical lagoon. (Photo: Paul Vinten/Shutterstock)

Opportunities abound in the Hawaiian Islands to see the friendly and acrobatic spinner dolphins. The spinner dolphin is a small, tropical dolphin with a color pattern similar to spotted dolphins. These popular dolphins will fascinate you with their jumps, flips and amazing wave riding. Bottlenose dolphins are also found in large numbers near Oahu and Kona (the Big Island). There are dozens of tour operators on these two islands that offer boat trips to the areas where whale and dolphin sightings are most abundant.


Alaska

Did you know killer whales and pilot whales are actually dolphins?Did you know killer whales and pilot whales are actually dolphins? (Photo: Doptis/Shutterstock)

To see the largest dolphin species, you’ll want to travel north to Alaska. The 30-foot killer whale and the 25-foot pilot whale are actually dolphins. Also known as the orca, killer whales in Alaska live in pods of at least 10 animals, and sometimes have as many as 50 in their group. They’re able to live in any of the Earth’s oceans, but prefer cooler waters in coastal regions from North Vancouver Island to Alaska. Head to Seward, Alaska, from early May to mid-June to see these friendly giants congregating to feed on the salmon run that occurs nearby each year.

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5 must-visit places to see dolphins up close
5 must-visit places to see dolphins up close