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Bali is known for its beautiful beaches and crystal clear waters, it is one of the main things which drew me to visit Indonesia in the first place, there is no doubt you will be spoilt for choice when comes to deciding which beach to spend your day on. Crystal clear waters and an abundance of corals usually also bring another wonderful thing: Turtles.
Swimming with turtles in Bali is a very popular activity, one which is completely ethical when done respectfully and will undoubtedly give you a new found love of the ocean.
Interested in seeing more of Bali’s animals – find out what is unethical and better alternatives
The best way to swim with turtles in Bali is to head over to the paradise that is the Gili Islands, often nicknamed the turtle capital of the world. In these oceans, you will find two types of turtles – the Green Turtle and Hawksbill Turtle, both look pretty similar, however, you can tell the difference by their flippers, the Green Turtle has one claw on his flipper while Hawksbill Turtles have two.
Need further convincing that you need to visit the Gili Islands? 13 photos which will make you want to visit the Gili Islands right now
Swimming with turtles in Bali: Everything you need to know
Where are the Gili Islands?
The Gili Islands are a group of three small islands (Gili Trawangan, Gili Meno and Gili Air) located off the north-western shore of Bali’s neighbour, Lombok. They are paradise, think white sand beaches, bright blue oceans and an abundance of colourful coral. Due to this, they are often very popular with Divers and Backpackers, Gili T is the cheapest and most popular of the islands while Gili Air and Meno are often considered to be more expensive.
You are almost guaranteed to be able to swim with turtles on all three of the Gili Islands, however, the majority seem to gather around Gili Trawangan.
Read and book before you go: How to get from Bali to the Gili Islands
Where are the best spots to swim with turtles in Gili Trawangan, Bali?
Thankfully you do not need to go far to swim with turtles in Gili Trawangan, every time we spotted them we were less than 15 metres away from the shore.
Generally, the waters just off the beach are quite calm, however, they do get deep quickly and there is a sudden ‘drop off point’ where you will no longer be able to touch the floor, it is usually from this point on where you will find them. Due to the depth, you do need to be a confident swimmer who can tread water sufficiently.
If you do not feel confident in open water, you can still swim with turtles in Bali, I would probably just advise booking onto an organised tour where you will be able to use a life jacket to keep you buoyant.
While the turtles seem to gather all around the waters of Gili T, we had the most luck on the North East of the Island (The Island is very small and can be walked around by foot or cycling) towards the area of the Horizontal Bar. You will find many of the bars and restaurants in this area rent snorkelling equipment if you use their facilities, we always opted to spend half a day on one of the beachfront bars, leaving us free to go in and out of the ocean as we pleased.
Can I book an organised snorkelling trip?
Yes, as previously mentioned I would recommend this for anyone who isn’t fully confident with being out in the ocean on their own. Another, benefit of booking an organised Gili Trawangan snorkelling tour, is generally, they will know the best areas to find the Turtles. However, it is important to remember, they are wild animals, it is not guaranteed you will see them, but if you are unlucky, you will still see so much other marine life including Clown Fish and Royal Blue Tangs (or Nemo and Dory as they are often known as!)
Are you guaranteed to see Turtles in Bali?
You need to remember they are wild animals, there are no guarantees for snorkelling with turtles in Bali. However, your chances are pretty high – we were lucky to see at least one every time we went snorkelling or scuba diving.
They are also around all year long, therefore there is no best time of year to see turtles in Bali, but for a time of day, they are most active in the early morning and late afternoon.
Be patient and remember to enjoy the other incredible marine life as well.
What are the rules for swimming with turtles in Bali and Gili Trawangan?
Well, officially there are no rules, but because we are good humans and treat all animals with the respect they deserve these are the guidelines you should follow:
Touching turtles or trying to feed them is a definite no-no. While it may seem hard the turtle’s shell is the equivalent to its skin and like many marine creatures has a layer of mucus around it to protect it from harmful bacteria in the water.
Any contact with the turtle breaks this barrier and not only lets this bacteria in but also introduces human bacteria into its system which it may have no defence from. By touching a turtle you transmit the bacteria of your hand onto their shell/skin which can make them very sick.
Keep a 2-metre distance
Did you know that turtles, just like you, need air to breathe? Every now and then they will swim up to the surface to catch a breath. Please keep your distance.
If there are too many snorkelers around, the turtle can become distressed and go into a panic causing it to drown. Please give the turtles space to breath.
I do not need to talk to you guys about single-use plastic, I hope you already know, but I will say that the Hawksbill Turtle is a critically endangered species. If you want to continue being able to swim with turtles in Bali then we need to look out for these little guys, which is where the pick up 3 initiative comes from, everytime you visit a beach, no matter where you are in the world, pick up 3 bits of litter (minimum) even if it is not yours. We all need to be taking at least simple steps to help save our oceans.
Remember, do little bits of good where you are; it is those little bits together that overwhelm the world.
What do I need for snorkelling with turtles in Gili Trawangan?
You have a few options here if you are not a keen snorkeller or do not feel you will get to spend much time in the ocean in future then just rent snorkelling gear from one of the bars or restaurants in the area. Make sure they are sanitising the equipment though.
However, if you feel like you will make good use of it, then purchase your own dive mask and snorkel. I bought my own around 4 years ago, I also scuba dive, so I will always use this mask.
Mask and Snorkel: You do not need to spend a lot on this if you do not want to, the most essential thing is the mask fits well to prevent any leaks.
Reef Shoes: Reef shoes are a good investment if you go on a lot of beach holidays. They will protect your feet when walking across areas which are too shallow to swim in.
Mask headband: I will not be without one these now. It slips over the rubber strap which holds your mask on to prevent it getting caught in your hair. You do not know pain until you have got a diving mask knotted in your wet hair, believe me.
Reef-Safe Sunscreen: We need to remember to be responsible tourists. Help preserve that reef by wearing reef-safe biodegradable sunscreen when you go swimming or snorkelling. Many sunscreens are not reef safe and contain chemicals which are harmful to the reefs and the creatures which live in them. Reef-safe suncream is formulated to be safe to the oceans. Some places such as Mexico and Hawaii will not let you in the ocean without a reef-safe sunscreen, and if you are on an organised tour they will check, so invest in a decent, safe suncream.
GoPro Camera: It goes without saying that you are going to want video and photo evidence of your time swimming with the Turtles!
I am a big advocate for attempting to travel more sustainably if you are interested in this and would like to slowly implement new ways yourself, check out my post on how to incorporate low waste travel into your life.
Where to stay on the Gili Trawangan
You will be spoilt for your choice when it comes to Gili Islands accommodation.
We chose to stay at Little Coco’s bungalows which I would highly recommend. This property is 3 minutes walk from the beach. Situated in Gili Trawangan, Little Coco Gili Trawangan Villas offers accommodation with a private pool and free WiFi. This villa also features an outdoor swimming pool.
If you are backpacking Indonesia and therefore looking for more hostel vibes then DPM Gili T. Diving Hostel & Bar comes highly recommended. You will often find dive schools offer accommodation, so if you are thinking of scuba diving in the Gili Islands then you may want to consider booking into one of these for convenience.
If you are still planning your trip to Bali, you may find this 10 day Bali itinerary useful.
Can you swim with turtles on the other Gili Islands?
Yes, the turtles frequent around all of the Gili Islands as well as around Lombok. Therefore if you prefer not to stay in Gili T, then you can still do snorkelling around Gili Air and Gili Meno.
Both of which have plenty of accommodation, however, you may find it is more expensive than accommodation on Gili T.
Scuba Diving in the Gili Islands
Ready to get a bit more adventurous? Why not try scuba diving.
As I mentioned there are many dive schools across all of the Gili Islands, all of which are set up to assist you on qualifying as an open water diver (in total this process will usually take around 4 days to complete). I personally recommend Blue Marlin Dive School who are currently located on both Gili T and Gili Air, I found the service impeccable and they were really supportive of me being an anxious diver.
If you are already qualified as a scuba diver than the best dive sites for turtle spotting are said to be Halik Reef, Shark Point and Goodheart Reef. We completed 4 dives while staying on Gili T and were fortunate to see turtles on every dive. Alongside turtle, you also have a good chance of seeing blacktip shark, a ton of different fish and at times even Manta Rays.
In my opinion, swimming with Turtles in Bali is a must-do, if you are an animal lover you will want to ensure you add it to your itinerary. Just respect the little dudes and remember it is their home you are entering.