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What’s it like to swim with dolphins in Cabo, Mexico?

Hands and legs outstretched in the “Superman” position, I tried not to do a face-plant as I bobbed unsteadily on the surface of the water.

I was waiting for two dolphins to push me up out of the water in the famous “foot push.”

We were at Dolphin Discovery’s “dolphinarium” in a natural sea cove in the Puerto Los Cabos marina near San Jose Del Cabo, Mexico.

Dolphin Discovery is one of two programs where you can experience a dolphin swim in Cabo. (The other is Cabo Adventures – scroll down to the end for more on their program.)

There are two swim-with-dolphin programs in Cabo, Mexico
There are two swim-with-dolphin programs in Cabo

Dolphin swim in Cabo

The dolphins didn’t disappoint as I followed in the wake of hundreds of other excited tourists before me.

Both dolphins in unison – each pushing on the arch of one foot – shot me along the water. Then I was up, up, up and completely out.

For a few thrilling moments, I felt like I was flying before splashing down.

Flying before falling! Me, splashing down…

Dolphin Discovery Los Cabos

Dolphin Discovery is the world’s largest “swim with dolphin” organization, with more than 20 dolphinariums in Mexico, the Caribbean and the U.S.

It’s certified by the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, meaning it follows or exceeds U.S. standards of animal care. For example:

1) The dolphins have to be obtained through humane means and not from conflict areas.

2) There’s a daily maximum number of hours of human-dolphin interaction.

3) The facility has a good reproduction program allowing babies to live with their mothers.

Who can resist the antics of dolphins?
Who can resist the antics of dolphins?

Most Dolphin Discovery facilities are in natural environments.

The Dolphin Discovery Cabo facility is tucked into an ocean cove, in a cordoned-off area measuring some 75,000 square feet – about the size of a football field.

It’s home to several playful bottlenose dolphins, including babies born to their moms here.

Dolphin Discovery Los Cabos offers dolphin swims in Cabo in an ocean cove near San Jose del Cabo.
Dolphin Discovery offers dolphin swims in Cabo in an ocean cove near San Jose del Cabo

4 Swim with dolphin experiences

Four programs are offered at Dolphin Discovery Los Cabos.

Dolphin Swim in Cabo San Lucas
These dolphins look happy, don’t they?

1) Royal Swim Plus:

The Royal Swim Plus option, which I experienced, is the “cadillac” program, where the highlight is the “foot push.”

It also includes the “dorsal tow,” where you hold on to the dorsal fins of two dolphins as they swim fast and pull you along.

What was incredible to feel first-hand was how strong dolphins are!

I had to hang on tight if I didn’t want to fall off.

Time in the water: 60 minutes

2) Dolphin Swim and Ride:

The Swim and Ride includes the “belly ride” (holding on to the dolphin’s fins as he or she swims on its back) and the “boogie push” (lying on top of a boogie board while the dolphin pushes you across the water).

Time in the water: 50 minutes

3) Dolphin Encounter:

The Dolphin Encounter program is great if you can't swim, as you stand on a platform in the water.
The Dolphin Encounter program is great if you can’t swim, as you stand on a platform in the water

In the Dolphin Encounter, you stand on a submerged platform in the water, and kiss, hug and pet a dolphin as you learn a little about dolphin behavior. 

Time in the water: 40 minutes

4) Royal Swim Plus Sea Lions:

One of the friendly sea lions you can "kiss" at Dolphin Discovery Los Cabos.
One of the friendly sea lions you can “kiss” at Dolphin Discovery Los Cabos

This experience combines the Royal Swim Plus option above as well as a sea lion interaction, where you get a ticklish kiss and wet “hug” from a sea lion.

Time in the water: 60 minutes

Dolphin facts

During your dolphin swim in Cabo, trainers share educational information about dolphins.

For example, you may learn:

8 Cool facts about dolphins

1) Dolphins don’t drink water – they get what they need from eating fish.

2) Killer whales are actually part of the dolphin family.

3) Dolphins never totally sleep – half their brain needs to be awake to breathe.

4) Adult bottlenose dolphins are known to teach young dolphins how to wrap sponges around their bottle noses to protect against abrasions when foraging for fish buried in the sandy sea floor.

5) Dolphins live in pods of up to 12 dolphins; young dolphins swim with their mothers for up to 6 years.

6) A mom-to-be bottlenose dolphin is pregnant for about 12 months.

7) Dolphins use “echolocation” to move around and find food – they send out clicks that bounce off (like an echo) from other objects under water (e.g., rocks, food, other dolphins).

8) Like female humans, female dolphins can take pleasure in “making love.

Me kissing a dolphin

Should you swim with dolphins in captivity?

We’ve swum with whale sharks in the wild at La Paz (a 2-hour drive north of San Jose del Cabo) – and it’s one thing to be with creatures roaming wild.

So to be honest, we were a little concerned about the ethics of interacting with captive dolphins.

But it was obvious at this facility that the dolphins were well cared for.

They seemed “happy” (if it’s possible for us to say that) – they responded well to their trainer, who treated them respectfully (and fed them lots of fish!).

A dolphin at Dolphin Discovery Los Cabos enjoys a hug with its trainer
A dolphin enjoys a hug with its trainer

And we saw the hula hoops and balls which they play with when they socialize with each other at the end of each day.

This is the minimum required to keep dolphins enriched.

Of course, the animal rights organization, People For the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), is opposed to all swim-with-dolphin programs (along with all marine parks and aquariums).

On the other hand, people who swim with dolphins in dolphin interaction programs ultimately learn more about them and become more interested in helping to protect dolphins and conserving the marine environment.

Also, dolphins in the wild live from 30 to 35 years.

But at Dolphin Discovery facilities (where they face no predators and are treated to good vet care), the dolphins live to about 50 years.

Greeting a dolphin during your swim with dolphins at Dolphin Discover Cabo
Greeting a dolphin during your swim with dolphins at Dolphin Discover Cabo

Our views

Would we go swimming with dolphins in Cabo now?

Probably not.

A few years have passed since I enjoyed my dolphin swim in Cabo with Dolphin Discovery.

And the more we’ve traveled and observed animals in the wild (like our “Big 5” safari in Africa), the more our views have changed about interacting with wild creatures.

In an ideal world, dolphins would live out their lives in freedom in their natural ocean environments.

If we wished, we could go to them and swim in their world. And they might even welcome us and say hello (like the wild dolphins in Mozambique that we swam with).

So, personally, we wouldn’t swim with dolphins in Los Cabos now. (And we know it’s easy for us to say this, having already enjoyed the experience.)

But the issue is complicated. And we understand the desire to rescue injured and orphaned dolphins and the need for better dolphin protection awareness and education.

The question is probably not whether to swim with dolphins (which stimulates them) but rather: Should dolphins be kept in captivity in the first place?

Best Cabo dolphin swim program

We mentioned there are two dolphin swim programs in Cabo.

You can also swim with dolphins in Cabo San Lucas through Cabo Adventures.

If you decide to do a dolphin swim in Cabo, we suggest you choose the Dolphin Discovery experience. 

While Cabo Adventures offers many great activities in Cabo, we’re less keen on their dolphin swim program. At their facility, the dolphins live in a large tank or pool right in Cabo San Lucas (in town).

At Dolphin Discovery (near San Jose del Cabo), the dolphins swim in a natural-looking sea environment. It feels wilder and much less like an aquarium than Cabo Adventures’ Cabo San Lucas facility.

Dolphins jumping out of the water at Dolphin Discovery Los Cabos
Dolphins jumping out of the water at Dolphin Discovery Los Cabos

Swimming with dolphins, Los Cabos

Note the following for swimming with dolphins in Los Cabos at Dolphin Discovery:

  • Wetsuits, towels, lockers and hot showers afterward are provided.
  • Life vests are worn in the water.
  • You don’t have to know how to swim to experience the Dolphin Encounter.
  • Reserved dolphin experiences are at 9:00 am, 11:00 am. 1:00 pm and 3:30 pm.
  • Each experience includes a 15-minute orientation, where the trainer demonstrates with a stuffed dolphin how the dolphins will interact with you and the hand signals you use, followed by 40 minutes in the water.
  • Roundtrip transportation from your hotel is included in the rates.
  • Dolphin Discovery Los Cabos reservations: See their website.

What else is fun to do? Check out these 25 epic things to do in Cabo San Lucas!

Don’t miss! Our ultimate Mexico travel guide (it’s packed with information on where to play, stay and eat in Mexico)


Photo Credits: Dolphin Discovery Cabo, except 1 and 2


Have you gone swimming with dolphins?

What do you think about dolphin swim programs?


About the authors:

Janice and George Mucalov

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews and information, insanely useful travel tips and more!

Lindsey

Thursday 20th of February 2020

This is really disheartening to see. I really don’t understand how people can promote these places. Their website states the dolphins weren’t taken from areas of conflict, but they weren’t rescued so they were captured and separated from their families. There is no such thing as a humane way to capture a dolphin. They only look happy because that’s the expression a dolphin carries, they do not perform these tricks in the wild they are forced to learn unnatural behaviors. It’s all around awful.

Janice and George

Wednesday 26th of February 2020

Thanks for reading our post and sharing your views :-).

We've mentioned that the issue is complicated. And the previous comments go into detail about the pros and cons.

We've also mentioned that we personally wouldn't swim with dolphins again (unless it was in the wild). But if visitors want to go (and we understand the desire to interact with dolphins!), we want them to know that we think Dolphin Discovery is the "better" program.

Nour

Thursday 4th of October 2018

Amazing photos ! I would like to experience swimming with the dolphins. I'm sure it'd be a wonderful adventure

Rebecca

Sunday 3rd of April 2016

We were visiting Cabo San Lucas staying in a hotel that overlooks the swim-with-the-dolphins pen. This is the height of inhumanity - penning wild animals for the entertainment and amusement of humans. Highly intelligent animals in, essentially, the equal to solitary confinement for humans ... prison for the rest of their natural born days. Rescue sanctuaries are one thing - where healing and release take place. This is quite another. "Happy" dolphins? More like the tears of a clown.

MelPass

Sunday 25th of June 2017

Vacations, oceans, beaches and family is wonderful. Making money is great. You do not have to exploit animals to do it. People need to know the truth how these animals are captured and treated. You should be ashamed.

Janice and George

Tuesday 5th of April 2016

Thanks for reading our blog post and for commenting. As travel writers, we've seen several swim-with-dolphin programs over the years - in Hawaii, Mexico, the Caribbean, etc. This looks to be one of the better programs. But our views are changing. The more we learn about the needs of wild animals (like the elephants in Africa - see our post), the more sympathetic we are to their plight. Keeping wild animals in captivity purely for profit or the entertainment of humans does sadden us. We don't believe this is the case with Dolphin Discovery in Los Cabos. The staff we met and talked with were committed, intelligent and caring. But we probably won't participate in future dolphin swims again :-).

Roger Proudfoot

Friday 27th of February 2015

Janice and George,

Very sad to see you promoting swim with dolphin programmes. You say you are aware of the Cove, have you actually watched it? If you truly love dolphins you would not be promoting this experience. I recently returned from Baja and went out on a small boat from Loreto to see dolphins for the same cost as the Cabos swim with dolphins. We spent a couple of hours with a bottle nose super pod which was truly an amazing experience.

Your blog only promotes swim with dolphin programmes and irrespective of where these dolphins were from by default it promotes the dolphin drives in Taiji. Once dolphinarium specimens are chosen the rest are slaughtered in the most barbaric way (a spike is driven into their spine and a plug is put in their blow hole so the cove doesn't go as red as it used to).

They have been around a lot longer than us, and are likely to be the most intelligent beings on the planet - they have a complex language, names for each other, have a more highly developed emotional cortex than humans - the list goes on. I think if you did your research you would come to love dolphins in a different way and not feel the need to promote such appalling entertainment.

By the way they are not happy - they are slaves to food.

Janice and George

Friday 27th of February 2015

Roger, you raise some very good points. We actually don't aim to promote swim-with-dolphin programs. Our blog post is a report on our experience and the research we came across. Personally, we prefer to see creatures in the wild. Your experience seeing dolphins in the wild in Loreto is one we're sure we'd enjoy too :-). Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts...

Vini

Saturday 12th of April 2014

Sucha a fun thing to do! Fabulous post. Fab details. The pictures are so fabulous! I'm definitely not gonna miss this experience ! Love the name of your blog!