While it’s possible to see mantas in any tropical waters, a few places offer reliable sightings, making them ideal destinations if your goal is to swim with one or more of these magnificent creatures. Here are a few of the world’s top places to dive with mantas.
Isla de la Plata, Ecuador
Eighteen miles off the Ecuadorian mainland lies a manta hub called Isla de la Plata, where mantas gather by the hundreds each year from the end of July through early October. Project Mantas Ecuador has taken advantage of the annual manta gathering to study the massive fish, in an effort to understand their mating, feeding, and migration habits. Whether you assist the researchers by photographing the unique bellies of mantas for identification, or you just dive with a local shop for recreation, you’re practically guaranteed to see mantas during those months.
Known for some fantastic diving with or without mantas, the Maldives features mantas nearly year round. The mantas migrate a bit depending on the season, so plan accordingly. From December to May, the mantas hang out on the western side of the islands to feed and visit cleaning stations near the reefs; from June to November they move to the eastern edge in even greater numbers. Ari, Addu, North Male, Haa Alif, Haa Dhaalu, and Baa Atolls are all common hot spots. A massive annual manta gathering begins in August and continues through November in Hanifaru Bay, on the eastern side of Baa Atoll. It’s snorkeling only here, but clear water, full of mantas, is a nice tradeoff for not being able to blow bubbles underwater.
Kona is well known for its year-round, nighttime manta dives, wherein the local population of mantas feeds just offshore and well within reach of local dive boats. Large, bright lights are shined onto the water to illuminate the plankton and attract mantas from all around to the popular spot. In a matter of minutes, divers can go from sitting calmly on a boat to blowing bubbles with a dozen large mantas, gliding by in a delightful, unscripted interaction. The snorkelers in your group won’t be left out since they’re welcome to get in the water as well.
November through May in the gorgeous Mi’il Channel is the place to see mantas in Micronesia. It is possible to see them year round, since hundreds of mantas call this area home, but this time of year nearly guarantees sightings since many more gather for mating season. Clear, blue waters and uncrowded dive spots filled with sharks and mantas means once-in-a-lifetime diving experiences. Mantas circle the local coral reef cleaning stations as divers sit below to watch. The mantas get good scrub; the wrasse get a free meal; and the divers get an exciting show. If a front row seat at a manta salon appeals to you, then put Yap on your list of must-dive destinations.
Lady Elliot Island, GBR
This gorgeous island has such a large and regular population of mantas, particularly in winter months (that’s June to August down under), that a full study was done on them. During the cooler months, mantas gather here by the hundreds, which is the main reason that PADI considers this small island one of the top spots for diving with mantas. Rarely seen courtship behavior has been witnessed and captured on film in the pristine waters around Lady Elliot, and even non-divers can get a glimpse of them while relaxing in glass-bottom boats. While the destination isn’t cheap, it’s well worth the expense if you want to experience some of the best diving on the Great Barrier Reef in the presence of dancing mantas.
There’s lots of manta research being done in Mozambique’s clear and warm coastal waters, which are home to over a thousand mantas, concentrated in the Tofo area. The graceful giants favor the closer, shallow reefs for their cleaning stations, and surprisingly as medical stations too. The small fish at the cleaning stations rid the mantas of parasites, as well as helping to clean any wounds the mantas may have gotten from the local sharks. With waters only 30 feet deep in places, scuba divers, free divers, and snorkelers can hop in the water to get a face full of manta rays. Local dive shops do have some restrictions about how close divers can get to the cleaning stations, but none of the rules put a damper on the show.