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Swimming with Dolphins in Nuevo Vallarta

Posted by Kristen Haney on February 06, 2012
sea lion and author Kristen pose for camera at Dolphin Center in Nuevo Vallarta picture
Photo credit
Photo: Kristen Haney
Photo caption
Sea lions like to show off for the camera at the Dolphin Center in Nuevo Vallarta.

Road Journals Blog—Donning flippers, a wetsuit, and goggles to plunge into water before I’ve had my morning coffee isn’t my usual routine. My pale complexion has forced me under umbrellas and out of the punishing rays of the sun for the better part of eight years, and my swimming technique resembles a slightly overweight dog desperately trying to find the stairs out of the pool while ensuring my head stays out of the water at all times.

But throughout my experience courtesy of Vallarta Adventure’s Extreme Dolphin Swim, I felt exhilarated, delighted, and surprisingly natural swimming underwater with dolphins and sea lions.

After a quick boat ride to the Dolphin Center in Nuevo Vallarta and a briefing from the staff, I squeezed into my wetsuit (after imploring another member of our group to zip me into its flattering, snug embrace), flopped down to the edge of the seawater pools in my flippers, and eased myself into the water. Our trainer explained the best way to interact and dive with the dolphins, and we watched through goggles as he demonstrated proper form underwater. I still treaded the water with trepidation. What if I attempted to dive and failed to go anywhere, backside stuck in the air as I flailed around trying to submerge my body?

My first dive was less than graceful. But with each successive attempt I gradually was able to dive deeper, until that exhilarating moment I finally reached one of our two dolphins. Since cameras aren’t allowed in the pool area for the dolphins’ safety, an underwater photographer was there the entire time to capture my awkward transformation from wet doggie-paddler to semi-apt swimmer and dolphin befriender.

The trainers also gave each member of our group the opportunity to “dance” with the playful marine mammals, rub their bellies, and receive wet hugs and kisses from our new friends. One at a time, we each gently grabbed the dolphins’ fins and experienced the thrill of being propelled across the pool with their fluid motions, thankfully a task easily completed without any confidence in my ability to hold my breath.

Our hour in the water seemed endless. We dove with motorized scooters so we could speed along next to the dolphins as they played underwater (or in my case, slowly chugged along, since I was terrified of pointing my scooter at someone underwater, which they advised against). One of the most thrilling interactive opportunities involved climbing atop a boogie board, locking your legs with feet flexed, and feeling the saltwater spray against your face as a pair of dolphins nose-pushed you across the water.

Dolphins weren’t the only marine mammals to delight the group and mug for the cameras. A hefty sea lion brayed as he sunned himself near our pools, and one of his slimmer companions joined our group in the water. She shook flippers, disdainfully mimed the differences between sea lions and seals, and tickled faces with whiskers while offering big, fishy kisses. More affectionate than the dolphins, I was instantly smitten.

The dolphins gave us a spectacular farewell of acrobatic flips and twists after we climbed out of the water, and the bottled water and fresh fruit offered after we rinsed off and changed helped wash down the salt water I had inadvertently swallowed. Despite my initial trepidation, I left my first dolphin experience beaming from ear to ear.

This blog post was first published in February 2012. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.