Humpback Swims Is A product of SDL Expeditions
We are a San Francisco based travel agency that works with local companies in Vava’u,Tonga to provide the best experiences for our clients.
With only 6 guests per a group, we provide small, intimate close up encounters with Humpback Whales.
(Please note that swimming with whales is illegal in the United States as stated in federal law, including Hawaii)
This website is dedicated to educating potential and current clients about the humpback whale experience. We focus on small groups; we work with experienced skippers and guides (swimming with whales is an art, and your crew can make or break your trip); we offer numerous packages, with different styles of accommodation, to help fit your budget.
We consider Vava’u, Tonga to be the best place in the world to swim with humpback whales — that’s why we organize tours here! But what makes it so spectacular? Tongan waters are birthing and mating grounds for a specific population of humpback whales, which means they are around for months each year. Even better, the islands that surround Vava’u provide protection from the winds, ensuring that we can go out on the water almost every day.
The crystal-clear blue waters are another draw for many, as the water makes it much easier to get fantastic footage and photos of these gentle giants. We have traveled around the world — to Mexico, Dominican Republic, South Africa, Australia, Portugal, French Polynesia and the Cook Islands — to try and swim with humpback whales, but still considers Vava’u to be the very best place for up-close encounters.
These are snorkel trips, as it’s near-impossible to scuba dive with whales since they move quite quickly. Clients should have snorkeling experience and understand that there is a lot of swimming involved on these tours.
We generally get in the water with whales almost everyday, it really comes down to the quality of those swims. We aim to get 1-2 quality swims on a 5 swim day trip, and 3-4 quality swims on a 8 swim day trip. A high quality encounter to us is one that lasts over 10 minutes and is in close proximity to a set of whales.
Your Tour Organizer: Nadia Aly
Our tours are managed by Destination Tonga, a tourism management company, located in Tonga, and owned by Nadia Aly. Nadia is an award winning underwater photographer who leads numerous expeditions around the world throughout the year.
There are lots of options when it comes to swimming with humpbacks in Tonga, but not all of them are great options. You’ve likely traveled a long way to swim with these beautiful creatures, and we feel that we’ve created the island’s best experience — for both the snorkelers and the whales. Come join us and meet the humpback whales of Tonga for yourself.
- Small groups: We take max 6 people. Other boats will put up to 12 people, this can become an issue, as you are only allowed 4 people in the water with the whales at a time. Can you imagine having the most amazing whale encounter of your life, and being tapped on the shoulder after 5 minutes to rotate with another guest? We keep our groups small, to optimize for water time.
- Good operators (it’s an art to swim with the whales, and we have the best crew who have years of experience. Believe it or not this can make or break your trip)
- Top Accommodations: The island of Vava’u is small and quite undeveloped, there are not a lot of places to stay. We book our accommodations years in advance, to ensure our guests have some of the best options available for their stay.
Where is Vava’u, Tonga?
- Hot Breakfast
- Lunch and snacks on water days (gluten free & vegan available on request)
- Highly qualified boat, skipper, accredited whale guides
- Daily snorkeling in caves and on reefs (whale swims are prioritized)
- Return transport from VAV airport to your accommodations
- Photography/Video and post editing advice from award winning photographer Nadia Aly
- Smiles & fun
- Lunches on break or rest days
- All dinners
- Trip insurance
- DAN insurance
Well, that’s up to you! Fins, mask, wetsuit and snorkel are included in the tour, but let’s be honest with one another — it’s usually better to bring your own. We spend so much time on the water, nobody wants to deal with fins that sort of fit, a mask that fogs all the time, or a wetsuit that doesn’t keep you warm. So we strongly advise bringing your own gear.
- Wetsuit or swimsuit (We wear a 3mm full wetsuit in the water)
- Boat jacket
Let’s not forget about cameras to capture this amazing experience to share with your friends and family!
This is not a scuba-diving trip, so you don’t need a diving certification. You should be comfortable in the water and know how to swim, and feel comfortable with a snorkel. There is no need for freediving experience as most of the whale encounters happen at the surface.
If you have any questions or concerns, reach out to us on our contact page.
All tours provide a photo expert who can advise all clients on photo and video techniques, as well as post-production processes.
Group size is key to having a great time with the whales in Tonga. Day boats take anywhere from eight to 12 people out on a boat — our boats have a maximum of six
Each group takes turns in the water; the group on the
The whale-swimming laws in Tonga allow for four guests in the water, plus the accredited guide, which equals five
Swimming with the whales is a craft. Knowledge and respect for these animals go hand-in-hand to create a good encounter. Being able to read the whales, how comfortable they are and giving them space when they need it — we implement many tactics borne of experience to help ensure long, safe and fun encounters for our guests and the whales.
All our guides and skippers are local to Vava’u and are great watermen, with years of on- and in-water experience in local waters. They’re a great team with high respect and regard within the community and industry.
Bottom line…they know what they’re doing, and they are good at it!
There is a lot of respect for the whales and for these in-water encounters with them in Tonga. Another boat will never come and jump in on your whale encounter. If a boat is with a whale, it’s their whale until they sign off to another boat, if there is one in the area.
These encounters are quite initmate and special. We work as a group when in the water, and we stay close to one another, making sure we don’t spook the whales or cause them any stress. You will see on your tour that every encounter is different, and some whales will be much more interactive than others.
The weather can be flat calm or you can have rough seas and everything in between — it’s the ocean, after all. We go out to sea as long as our captain says it’s safe.
You should expect to be out on the boat all day; we don’t come back to dock unless there is an emergency on board. The water temp is roughly 77 F (25 C), and you will want to bring a boat jacket for wind protection.
The whales visit Tonga outside of cyclone season, so there is no concern regarding cyclones.
It is illegal to operate a business on Sundays in Tonga. There are a few restaurants and resorts open for meals, however you will see that most things are closed, even the airport. These can be great days to visit the local church and see how the locals spend their day. Usually we head over to a resort and relax for the day on the beach.