Swimming with Leatherback Turtles in Barbados

Shannon was crying. I knew she would. I knew she was crying, in fact, even before she lifted her snorkel mask.

She still cries, after all, every time she talks about a leatherback sea turtle nest-hatching experience we shared in Antigua a few years ago.

And here we were now in Barbados actually swimming with adult leatherbacks, whose nimble and graceful underwater gliding belie their epic girth.

Swimming with leatherbacks. Photo by Seattle Dredge

Swimming with leatherbacks. Photo by Seattle Dredge

Five leatherback sea turtles circled us  in about 15 feet of water in aptly named Turtle Bay along Barbados’ western Platinum Coast near Holetown.They skimmed quite close at times, looking for handouts. I often had the chance to look into their soulful, wise eyes and timidly touch their water-slicked, barnacle-crusted shells.

One of the giants gave me a lift: As it surfaced for air, it could not see me swimming above it and, unable to get out of its way, I was briefly getting a turtle-back boogie-board ride. Gnarly, dude!

Barbados Tourism

It was my third visit to Barbados but so unlike anything I’d experienced there before. My last visit occurred some dozen years ago, so I wasn’t terribly surprised at this detour toward eco-tourism. Other changes were more jarring, however, as I explored this new Barbados in transition.

The island nation’s devotion to history keeps it firmly rooted in the past and British tradition, but new developments and worldwide recession have eroded Barbados somewhat, both physically and economically.

Today, as the touted west shore sees its once-treasured beaches eaten away by development on the north end, Barbados has come to value its environment and share it with visitors. Which it bloody well should, because its green spaces and jewel-toned seas drop jaws.

The Club Barbados Turtle Trip

My friend Shannon and I were staying with a small group at The Club Barbados, an adult all-inclusive just north of the legendary celeb haunt, Sandy Lane Resort, on the west coast.

In addition to its complimentary use of kayaks, windsurfers, sailboats, and paddleboards, The Club Barbados offers tours (for an extra charge) to explore the island’s rich beauty and British-African heritage.

In Your Bucket Because…

  • It’s wildlife up close and personal.
  • Sea turtles touch a heart string.
  • You are a nature-lover and watersports fan.

The Club Barbados team makes the short cruise northward to Turtle Bay daily aboard its comfortably furnished powerboat. The ride presents a nice opportunity to view and photograph the Platinum Coast from a short distance offshore. The excursion includes use of snorkeling equipment.

Waterfront at The Club Barbados

Waterfront at The Club Barbados

The fact that the boat captains throw fish into the water to attract the turtles may be a little less than environmentally correct, but it does the trick. Eventually five super-sized leatherbacks (they can grow to be nine feet long) circled the boat with our group of snorkelers.For about a half-hour we had the turtles all to ourselves. They didn’t exactly interact with us, but didn’t flee us either (our captain had instructed us to swim softly and approach gently).

Then suddenly a huge catamaran spilled its guts of 20-some passengers who were noisy and obviously less enchanted than we. When a third excursion boat threw anchor, we knew it was time to leave.

Shannon was still given to bouts of tears. Most of us, however, giggled in sheer delight at interacting with such an ancient and endearingly enduring species.


  • Snorkeling experience is advised before doing The Club Barbados Turtle Trip, especially for younger children. Other excursion operators include Turtle Bay on their half- and full-day snorkeling adventures.
  • Barbados tourism agency
  • The Club Barbados, 866-317-8009


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