Our plane landed in Hawaii earlier than scheduled. Kona is a small airport, so it took a bit for a gate to open up. As I was sitting on the plane, I overheard a local talking with a visiting family. “You must swim with the manta rays while you’re here.” I listened a bit more. She went on to explain that Kailua Kona is one of the only places on earth that allows you to swim alongside the gorgeous animals. “If you ever have the chance to do it, don’t hesitate.”
Her words stuck with me. When I got settled in, I did a bit of researching to find out how I could take part in swimming with these beautiful animals. While I was researching “things to do on The Big Island” I never ran across this activity. Was this some big secret adventure? Are travelers not doing this? I immediately texted Caitlin, and of course, she was all for it.
After experiencing the swim, I can honestly say, it’s one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. Sometimes eavesdropping pays off. I’m so excited to share my experience with you, and I hope you are thinking of adding this to your list of “Big Island MUSTS.”
I mentioned in a previous post that I would have to break up my Hawaii trip by the days because there was so much going on! Today, I’m blogging about our adventurous Monday on the Big Island. Waking up just knowing that I was going to be swimming with Mantas had me so excited! If you’re wondering what we did on Sunday, we adventured down to Green Sand Beach! You can read all about our experience here!
We were both still on East Coast time. We sat around drinking coffee at the house during the early hours of 5 am. I kind of liked being up that early because my days felt much longer and I got a lot of stuff done. Waking up before the sun has a way of making me super productive.
Caitlin and I drove Kona (the sweet goldendoodle I was watching for my friends) to his doggy daycare so he could play with his friends, and then we headed to our activities. I spent the morning doing what I love, playing tennis! I’ve had serious tennicize withdrawals since being home. Caitlin took the yoga mat by the water to do some stretching.
After our activities, we were both hungry! We stopped at one of the best places in Kona, Daylight Mind. The food here is so fresh and unique. The views are pretty breathtaking as well. I had eaten here numerous times, and it never gets old! This was Caitlin’s first time, and she was instantly hooked. I did yoga upstairs and had breakfast here the week before (read here)!
Instead of ordering coffee again, I decided to try their kombucha flight. The colors were so pretty, and I loved the glasses they served them in. I tried the beet, ginger, and lilikoi. Surprisingly, the beet was my favorite.
For my meal, I had the avocado mash with a poached egg on top of fresh spinach, tomatoes, and fresh fruit on the side. The mangos are out of this world this time of year! I could have licked the plate clean because of how delicious it was. I like that they don’t use a ton of seasonings in their food. It’s cooked so perfectly that it doesn’t need anything to coat it.
We decided to let our food digest and spend the rest of the day relaxing at the beach. We headed to Manini’owali Beach! It’s a white sands beach not too far from the Kona airport, and it’s a gorgeous spot for white sands and crystal clear water. It’s much less crowded and a lot larger than Magic Sands Beach.
When I was a kid, I swam all the time in the Hawaiian water. I was never scared of sea creatures or anything, but as I got older, I created a fear of the ocean. I’m sure my obsession with shark week had something to do with it, but I stopped getting in the water. Even when I go to Folly Beach, I only get in up to my ankles.
I figured since I’d be swimming with the manta rays, snorkeling, and surfing, I better just suck it up and swim in the damn thing. Caitlin is fearless, and so her confidence swimming in the water definitely helped. I’m so glad I did it because we had so much fun just going up and down with the waves. Plus, I’m still alive to tell you all about it.
I’m obsessed with this hat I found at Target. I love it because Kyle and his mom always tell me that I remind them of a mermaid. I’m sure it’s because my hair is always messy like one. 😉
Before I headed to Hawaii, I wanted to pick up some new shorts.
All of my denim shorts were too short, and I’m at an age where I just feel uncomfortable wearing short shorts. While I was browsing online, I was surprised to find that Abercrombie had the best denim at an appropriate (for me) length. I was really shocked at how everything at Abercrombie has changed. I bought a couple new denim shorts, some rompers, and a swimsuit. These shorts are so comfortable and don’t shrink when you wash them. The front is a lighter was and the back is a darker wash. The secret to buying shorts is to always go a size up! Jeans are fine when they are fitted, but shorts feel better when they are loose.
Kona was happy to see me! Look how adorable he is flying out the door? I miss that boy! Kona and Grumples got along so well and played for hours in the backyard when I had him down in South Carolina. I wish he could have met Leo because they act so much alike!
I had leftover vegan salad and almond quinoa from Island Naturals for dinner before we headed out for our manta ray swim. I wanted something light since we were going to be swimming. I figured I’d have an egg later in the evening if I was still hungry.
After searching for the perfect manta ray swim experience, we came across Big Island Divers. We read some great reviews, watched some videos, and decided we would book with them. If you haven’t found a place to book with yet, Big Island Divers should be it! It’s reasonably priced, our guides were amazing, and everything ran smoothly.
We headed to the Big Island Divers shop to check in and get sized for our gear. That took about ten minutes, so we had some extra time to spare before launching.
What’s the best way to kill time? Coffee.
I think Kona Coffee & Tea had some of the best coffee on the island. I stopped in here by accident a few days before to use the bathroom. Of course, you have to buy a pity coffee before using the restroom, so I ordered a small coffee to go. I took a sip and holy moly! I was not expecting it to taste that good.
We decided to have some coffee before heading to downtown Kona.
The coffee shop is really cute inside. I love the modern design mixed with the island details. They offer smoothies, small bites, and delicious pastries.
I loved the coffee so much and just had to buy some for us to drink during the week. You can actually purchase their roasts online, and I’m totally making another order once the second bag I purchased on the last day runs out! It’s a unique flavor with rich cocoa and earthy tones. I also want to mention that each time I went in there, the staff was so friendly and helpful! Amazing customer service for sure.
We took our coffees to the downtown area to hop in a bar. We watched some of the NBA game while Caitlin had a beer. I don’t even remember which bar we stopped into, but it was a hot one. We were sweating like crazy in there.
We made it to the harbor where we’d be launching!
It’s a gorgeous time of night to be at the harbor. The sun setting behind the boats is breathtaking.
When you get there, you’ll meet up with the other swimmers and your guides. You’ll learn everything you need to know before going out! And if you have any questions, they’ll most likely be able to answer them.
All of my doubts and fears were demolished after hearing these guys out. Here is what I heard the loudest “there will be no sharks”, “mantas cannot hurt you”, and “humans are the biggest predator to the mantas.”
Once the sun started to set, we took off for our manta ray adventure! We headed about five miles out.
While our guides were giving us an introduction and telling us the story of the mantas, they mentioned taking Dramamine for motion sickness. I’ve been on boats all of my life, taken long road trips, bumpy plane rides, jumped out of planes, and never experienced motion sickness. I didn’t give the Dramamine any thought. You may be a lot like me and have never experienced it, but do yourself a favor, take it. Even if you don’t ever experience the motion sickness, take it. Every person on our boat felt the motion sickness, and a lot of it had to do with floating on a raft with your face down into the water. I didn’t feel the motion sickness until our journey back, but it didn’t go away until the next day, so learn from my mistake! They had some on board for anyone that wished to take it.
The sun went down fast! You’ll definitely want to pack water, a sweater to wear on the boat ride back, and an underwater camera if you have one. I use an Olympus Tough Camera on all of my water-focused trips. I’m excited to share the snorkeling footage I shot with it on my last day in Hawaii. It’s a pretty good camera!
Some of us were just snorkeling, but there were also certified divers on our charter. I think it was so cool to see them swimming on the bottom of the ocean floor below us. There was one young kid that was diving that just inspired me! He was so adventurous and made me want to get a diving certificate.
The boat was swaying so much that it was pretty impossible to get a non-blurry photo. This was the best of the 20 taken.
So how do they get the mantas to show up?
There are lights placed on the bottom of the ocean floor and underneath our raft that attract the plankton. Mantas are practically filters that love eating the plankton.
See the light in the middle of the water in the photo above? That’s what we floated above.
See the hotel offshore? This is where it all started.
The lights shining off the hotel into the water attracted the plankton, which attracted the mantas!
Getting yourself to jump into the water is the hardest part. Maybe its just me, but I’m not about swimming at night. But it’s all worth it because what you witness down there is unimaginable, and no blog post or youtube video will be able to match what its actually like in real life. I have no words to explain how incredible it actually is, I’m just here to persuade you to do it.
Our guides have done this so many times that they have named the mantas that come and can tell them apart. It’s pretty cool. There have been a couple times where the professional divers have helped save the mantas from fishing lines.
They can’t predict how many or if any mantas will show up. They said we’d be lucky if four showed up, but we hit the jackpot. They counted eleven mantas on our trip! Guys, ELEVEN!
This is what it’s like to snorkel with the mantas. You’ll float on your stomach while holding onto a raft. You don’t want to tread water because you’ll end up kicking or bumping into a manta ray. They come right up to the surface!
This photo is a great example of how it all works.
That light is attracting the plankton and the manta ray glides up to eat it. See how close we are to him?
And of course, we are super good looking in our underwater snorkeling pics.
It was such a privilege to be able to swim with these manta rays. They don’t have any fear when it comes to humans, and they’ll rub right against you. It’s pretty breathtaking.
The mantas can get up to 22 feet wide and up to 3000 pounds, yet they are so graceful and delicate in the water. Their mouths are three feet wide but have a tiny throat. They don’t plan on eating you, so don’t worry! They can’t if they tried because they don’t have teeth. And their tales? No stingers and or threat at all. These giants are gentle and harmless.
I read somewhere that it is almost impossible for a manta ray to survive in captivity, which is why we don’t know as much about the manta ray as the other ocean animals. That made me feel even more privilege to be able to join them in their environment.
There are so many mysteries about the manta rays that are left unknown. I think that’s what makes them special.
This was Kyle’s favorite photo from my trip. Hope you enjoy it too! 🙂
It’s important not to touch or pet the manta rays because of the mucus that covers their skin. You can let them touch you, but don’t touch them! The mucus layer protects them from bacteria and microorganisms.
It’s taken biologist many years to figure out what family they belong to, but apparently, it’s the sharks.
This manta was so close to me. I couldn’t take photos of a lot of them because they were gliding on my stomach. It was unbelievable.
Scientists believe that manta rays can live longer than fifty years, but they are unsure. They don’t even know if they are an endangered species. The first citing of a manta ray documents all the way back to 1798!
See the spots on their bellies? That is how the manta rays can be identified.
Our underwater selfie turned out great…
If you do not have an underwater camera, you can actually rent equipment from the Big Island Divers!
The divers are down there swimming with the mantas. They are fun to watch as well!
We had so much fun and there were so many moments that had us cracking up so hard that I probably drank a gallon of salt water. Luckily, there was fresh pineapple on the boat to chase it all down!
The motion sickness kicked in a bit on the way back, but I drank my water and tried to focus on one spot.
This was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done, and I hope you plan your trip to the Big Island to swim with the mantas soon!
Questions for you!
- What surprised you about the mantas?
- Will you be adding this to your bucket list?
- Do you have a fear of ocean water?