Where to Swim with Turtles in Rarotonga, Aitutaki and the Cook Islands
Nothing compares to the experience of swimming with majestic sea turtles among the vibrant coral of their natural environment. What are endangered in many parts of the world are abundant in the waters surrounding Rarotonga and Aitutaki. So abundant, in fact, that there are several guided turtle swimming tours that pretty much guarantee a turtle sighting (otherwise, you’d get your money back). Most turtle swimming tours occur in the turtle hotspot of the Avaavaroa Passage on Rarotonga, which is accessible from shore but definitely not recommended to swim there without a guide due to the strong currents. Nevertheless, there are some unforgettable turtle swimming tours in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands, which we’ll go over, right here, in this list!
9 Tips for Safe Turtle Swimming in Rarotonga
To keep safe within the strong currents of the passages where turtle tours take place, as well as to minimise damage to the lagoon’s breathtaking environment, there are a few safety aspects to keep in mind when choosing a turtle swimming tour on Rarotonga:
- Check you are with the right operator
- Go with a guide
- Check safety ratio: 1 guide to every 4 guests
- Check that you complete a safety instruction from your guide
- Check you have flippers, a snorkel and a mask
- Check your guide has a bronze medallion standard surf life-saving certification
- Check that the tour takes place within 3 hours of low tide
- Do NOT step on coral
- Do NOT touch turtles.
The Rarotonga turtle swimming tours listed below have all signed an MOU with Cook Islands Tourism Corporation to agree to the safety standards listed above, but it’s recommended to also do a self-check and be familiar with the standards and guidelines as provided by Cook Islands Tourism Corporation.
Note that the Aitutaki scuba diving tour is not included in this due to the different nature of this tour, which follows scuba diving standards instead.
1. Snorkel Cook Islands
Affordable, easy-going yet super safety-conscious, the turtle swimming experience with Snorkel Cook Islands is one of the best turtle swimming tours in Rarotonga. Enjoy two hours of freedom snorkelling at the turtle snorkelling hotspot, the Avaavaroa Passage, with the reassurance that your guide, an ex-professional lifeguard, is looking after your safety. The experience includes premium snorkelling equipment (snorkel, mask, reef shoes and fins), a locker to store personal belongings, parking, reef-safe sunscreen, a snorkelling map/species guide and even a drinking coconut as a refreshment. Learn more about the tour and book tickets on Viator or Tripadvisor.
Location: Main Road (Ara Tapu), Vaimaanga, southern end of Rarotonga – the Snorkel Cook Islands logo is easy to spot. Find out how to get around Rarotonga in our Rarotonga Transport Guide.
2. Ariki Adventures
Not only are Ariki Adventures pretty darn awesome for sponsoring the local Cook Islands Sea Turtle Conservation Society (5% of the fee goes toward turtle conservation) but they offer a unique and, let’s just say, less tiring way to swim with turtles in the Cook Islands. Introducing their “Turtle Sea Scooter Safari“, this two-hour experience with 90 minutes of swimming time has you zooming along the currents of the Avaavaroa Passage with electric sea scooters, making it effortless to keep up with the sea turtles. You’ll get a full tutorial on how to work the sea scooters, as well as advice on how to minimise disruption to the underwater environment. The tour also includes snorkelling gear (mask, snorkel, fins/flippers and a shorty wetsuit) and transport to the snorkelling spot. Learn more about the turtle tour and book your tour on Viator or Tripadvisor.
Location: Tours depart from the Flying Turtle Cafe, Main Road (Ara Tapu), Arorangi, west side of Rarotonga. Find out how to get around Rarotonga in our Rarotonga Transport Guide.
3. Go Local Cook Islands
The only turtle swimming tour to take you out by boat, Go Local Cook Islands offers a fun and interactive turtle swimming tour of the Avaavaroa Passage with a fun crew of local lads. The tour lasts one to two hours, depending on how long you want so to swim and includes quality snorkelling gear (snorkel, mask and fins), as well as raw and edited underwater photography so you can get some awesome shots with the turtles. Although it helps to be a confident swimmer, the guys provide floats and paddleboards for support if needed. The experience concludes with an awesome coconut show where the local boys climb up a tree to grab you a refreshing nu (drinking coconut).
Location: Find their beach setup at the Avaavaroa Passage, Vaimaanga, available Monday to Friday, 9 am to 4 pm. Find out how to get around Rarotonga in our Rarotonga Transport Guide.
4. Charlotte Piho Photography Tours
Get some neat underwater photos with award-winning photographer, Charlotte Piho, and her crew on one of several turtle swimming tours offered by Charlotte Piho Photography Tours. The most popular option is the guided group turtle swim where you’ll have 1h30mins to get geared up with snorkel, mask and fins, get some cute beach photos while wearing an ei (floral head garland), and head out with a group of swimmers and guides on paddleboards who will assist you and keep you safe in the Avaavaroa Passage while Charlotte takes some awesome shots of you with the turtles. Check out the group tour and book tickets on Viator or Tripadvisor. Alternatively, private turtle tours are available, as is a “Turtle and Ray” tour should you want some shot with beautiful eagle rays as well.
Location: Meet at the YWAM (blue building) in Vaimaanga, south side of Rarotonga. Find out how to get around Rarotonga in our Rarotonga Transport Guide.
Offering a turtle swim in an alternative location on Rarotonga, KiteSUP takes you to an exclusive turtle habitat where no other turtle swimming tour goes. The small-group tour of no more than eight guests takes you to a passage where you’ll encounter coral gardens, turtles, eagle rays and sometimes sharks. This “Adventure Turtle Snorkel Tour” is definitely for those that are confident at swimming and snorkelling. All the snorkelling gear is included (mask, snorkel, fins and wetsuit) and photos are taken throughout the tour and shared with you via social media. Tours last approximately two hours.
Location: Main Road (Ara Tapu), Muri, east side of Rarotonga. Find out how to get around Rarotonga in our Rarotonga Transport Guide.
6. Ocean Toa
Whoever you are and whatever turtle swimming experience you’re envisioning, Ocean Toa has the tour for you. Join the ocean “warriors” for a small-group guided tour, something more intimate with a private turtle tour, enjoy a more affordable swim with the family pass, or experience something more personalised, whether it’s for those with a disability or something with a little more attention to detail, on a bespoke tour. Either way, a portion of your booking goes toward educating local kids on water safety and ocean confidence in their fee-free “Ocean Tamariki School Holiday Program”. Of course, a quick turnaround of photos and refreshments are also included.
Location: Tours meet at the Avaavaroa Passage, Vaimaanga. Find out how to get around Rarotonga in our Rarotonga Transport Guide.
7. Bubbles Below – Dive Aitutaki
Finally, if you want to pretty much guarantee swimming with turtles in Aitutaki, then it’s best to go with a dive operator like Bubbles Below. They have resident turtles in the Arutanga Passage that they see every day on their dive trips, which are even suitable for absolute beginners. Their “Discover Scuba” dive includes tuition on basic scuba skills, as well as all of the diving equipment, then you’ll join your PADI divemaster for an unforgettable trip – the whole experience from start to finish, lasting about two to three hours.
Scuba diving with Rarotonga‘s dive operators is also a way of seeing turtles underwater depending on what dive site you go to. Learn more in 5 Best Dive Shops & Operators in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands.
Location: Arutanga Harbour, Arutanga, Aitutaki. Transfers are available for a fee. Otherwise, check out the Aitutaki Transport Guide to learn more about getting around.
Frequently Asked Questions About Swimming with Turtles in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands
What else is there to know about swimming with turtles in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands? Here are some of the most frequently asked questions on the internet about turtles in the Cook Islands!
Can You Swim with Turtles in Rarotonga?
Yes, you can swim with turtles in Rarotonga. Not only might you see turtles by chance when snorkelling from shore on Rarotonga but there are several turtle swimming tours to pretty much guarantee sightings. See the list above!
Where Can I See Turtles in Rarotonga?
Turtles can be seen in many places in Rarotonga, from multiple dive sites to the Muri Lagoon. The best place to see turtles in Rarotonga, however, is the Avaavaroa Passage, which is accessible from shore but has extremely strong currents that should only be tackled with a guide.
Where Can You Swim with Wild Turtles?
One of the best places in the world to swim with wild turtles is the Cook Islands – especially the island of Rarotonga where there are dedicated turtle swimming tours available.
More About Swimming with Turtles in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands
That’s it for our guide to the best turtle swimming tours in Rarotonga and the Cook Islands. Discover similar nature tours listed below:
- 10 Best Snorkelling Tours in the Cook Islands
- 10 Best Nature & Wildlife Tours in Rarotonga & the Cook Islands
- 7 Best Whale Watching (& Swimming) Tours in the Cook Islands
Finally, add more experiences to your bucket list with the 101 Best Things to Do in the Cook Islands: The Ultimate List.