The Guide to Whale Swimming in Tonga© Tonga Ministry Of Tourism
The Guide to Whale Swimming in Tonga

Tonga Whales: The Guide to Whale Swimming in Tonga 🐳 [2024]

© Tonga Ministry Of Tourism

How to Swim with Whales in Tonga

It’s on the bucket list of most visiting the islands of Tonga: swimming with humpback whales. Every July to October, humpback whales migrate from the Antarctic to the South Pacific Ocean in order to mate and calve. A unique opportunity in Tonga is to snorkel with these gentle giants, observing them in tropical waters. Saying it’s an incredible experience is an understatement, which only those who have had the privilege to swim with some of the world’s largest mammals can understand. Want to understand that feeling for yourself? Let us show you how in this guide to whale swimming in Tonga.

Before we dive into this guide to swimming with whales in Tonga, be sure to bookmark the 101 Best Things to Do in Tonga: The Ultimate List for even more experiences to add to your bucket list.

5 Essential Things You Need to Know About Swimming with Whales in Tonga

Before we get started, here are some tips that are essential to know about whale swimming in Tonga:

  1. You can only swim with whales in Tonga if you are with a licensed operator
  2. You need to be a confident swimmer, as whale swimming involves swimming in the open water
  3. Take seasickness pills (or your preferred remedy) before your trip – it can get pretty choppy out there!
  4. Take a warm layer of clothing to wear after your swim
  5. Abide by the rules given by your whale guide to ensure you keep yourself and the whale safe.

For elaboration on each tip and more, take a look at the 10 Tips for a Better Whale Swim in Tonga.

The Guide to Whale Swimming in Tonga(c)

When Can You Swim with Humpbacks in Tonga?

The first thing you need to know about swimming with whales in Tonga is when the whale season is. Generally, the whale season is between July and October in Tonga, but the season is actually slightly different between each island group. The seasons for each group are the following:

  • The whale season in Tongatapu: mid-June to the end of October
  • The whale season in ‘Eua: early June to early November
  • The whale season in Ha’apai: mid-July to mid-October
  • The whale season in Vava’u: mid-July to mid-October.

For more information on the whale season and the best time to swim with whales, including when is the best time to swim with cows and their calves, take a look at When is the Whale Season in Tonga?

The Guide to Whale Swimming in Tonga(c) Tonga Ministry of Tourism

The Best Places to Swim with Whales in Tonga

Whale swimming is available in four of the island groups in Tonga: Tongatapu, ‘Eua, Ha’apai and Vava’u. Each island group has a capped number of operators to ensure that the waters are not too “crowded” and whale swimming remains as ethical as possible. You can learn more about the ethics of whale swimming in Is it Safe to Swim with Whales in Tonga? Plus, check out the best whale tours across the whole country in the 10 Best Whale Swim Tours in Tonga.

Whale Swimming in Tongatapu

Tongatapu is the main island of Tonga and the island that most visitors arrive at, making it the cheapest destination to get to. The whale swimming here is excellent with a tiny number of operators who take whale swimming regulations seriously. The whale tours here range from affordable to mid-range in price compared to elsewhere in Tonga. Compare tour operators in the 5 Best Whale Swim Tours in Tongatapu & Nuku’alofa.

Whale Swimming in ‘Eua

A short flight or half-day ferry journey from Tongatapu, ‘Eua is the island with the smallest number of whale operators making for a good whale-to-boat ratio. As a destination itself, there’s plenty to do in terms of hiking in some of Tonga’s most pristine forests, sightseeing, cultural immersion and more. ‘Eua has the longest whale season, yet some of the shortest boat rides to the whales who swim just off the shore. For more about the island’s operators, check out The Best Whale Swim Tours on ‘Eua.

Whale Swimming in Ha’apai

While a little more expensive to get to than the previous two island groups, Ha’apai is where you’ll find some of your most idyllic islands in Tonga complete with turquoise waters and sandy beaches. Again, there is a small number of operators using a large area of ocean, where operators have a good reputation for having an eco-friendly approach to the whales. The waters here are typically calmer than in other island groups, but the whale season is slightly shorter than the islands in the south. See your tour offering in the 5 Best Whale Swim Tours in Ha’apai.

Whale Swimming in Vava’u

Finally, Vava’u is the most popular destination when it comes to whale swimming in Tonga. It has more than 25 operators, giving you plenty of options. There have been concerns, however, over some of the operators disregarding whale swimming regulations, which you can learn more about in our guide, Is it Safe to Swim with Whales in Tonga? The tours here are amongst some of the most expensive and the whale season is slightly shorter than elsewhere in Tonga. On the bright side, Vava’u has some idyllic island resorts offering whale swimming tours should you want the complete South Pacific package – see the 10 Best Resorts for Whale Swimming in Tonga for more details, as well as the 10 Best Whale Swim Tours in Vava’u for the most ethical picks.

For a more in-depth review of each destination for whale swimming, including pros and cons, take a look at The Best Place to Swim with Whales in Tonga. Again, check out the best whale tours across the whole country in the 10 Best Whale Swim Tours in Tonga.

The Guide to Whale Swimming in Tonga(c)

Whale Tours in Tonga

The only way you are legally able to swim with whales in Tonga is to do a tour with a licensed operator who abides by a set of regulations, which keeps both customers and the whales safe.

How Long are Whale Swimming Tours in Tonga?

Whale swimming tours typically last about seven hours, as that is the maximum time tours are allowed to operate for whale swimming. Alternatively, some operators on Tongatapu also offer half-day tours.

What Happens on a Whale Swimming Tour in Tonga?

Because of the nature of whale swimming, i.e. involving wild animals, there is no real set structure to tours. A loose structure of a whale tour in Tonga, however, looks a little something like the following.

Getting Gear and Safety Briefing

Mornings will start with getting geared up with a wetsuit, snorkel, mask and fins before departing on the boat with a skipper and at least one or two whale guides in search of whales to swim with.

During this initial part of your tour, you will be briefed on what you should and shouldn’t do if there is a whale to swim with.

When a Whale is Found

When and if a whale is found, the skipper will determine whether it is appropriate to swim with the whale or not. If so, swimmers will be required to put on their masks and fins quickly and gently get in the water; four swimmers at one time only. There may be a lot of getting in and out of the water, depending on how fast the whale is moving or if it proves to not be a good whale to swim with and another whale needs to be found.

If the whale does prove to be appropriate to swim with, swimmers will be required to follow their guide during the experience, who is making sure swimmers are an appropriate distance away from the whale (no closer than 5 m/16 ft). Then, just enjoy the wonderful experience.

Changing Swimmers

It’s typically the case that there are eight swimmers on the whale tour, so equal opportunity will be given to both groups of four swimmers. This could be swimming with the same whale, one group at a time, or finding a different whale for the second group depending on the whale’s behaviour. Note that a whale might not even be found to swim with – nothing is guaranteed with wildlife.

Stopping for Lunch

Lunch is typically included in whale swimming tours, usually alongside stopping by an uninhabited island or stopping at a snorkelling spot for customers who might want to do some snorkelling.

An Afternoon of Whale Swimming or Snorkelling

Depending on how the whale swim went in the morning and what the customers want to do, the whale guides and skipper will take you back out on the boat in search of more whales to swim with, spending more time snorkelling at an island or coral reef before heading back to base. No two whale swimming tours are the same.

The End of the Tour

Then you’ll head back to where you departed for the tour to wrap up an epic day on the water, whether it involved swimming with whales, just seeing the whales from the boat, or simply enjoying the snorkelling.

Tonga Whales: The Guide to Whale Swimming in Tonga 🐳 [2023]©

The Best Whale Swimming Tours in Tonga

So, what are the best whale swimming tours in Tonga? We’ve compiled a list of the most ethically minded (and fun) whale tours in The Kingdom in the 10 Best Whale Swim Tours in Tonga, but there are more than 37 to choose from! To help reduce the chances of picking one of the ethically questionable operators, consider doing the following:

  • Choose an operator that offers multiple-day tour packages, which helps reduce the pressure to find you the “perfect swim”
  • Look out for companies that state how they take an environmentally friendly and ethical approach to swimming with whales, as this typically shows they care
  • At present, choose to swim with whales in the island groups of Tongatapu, Ha’apai or ‘Eua where there is far less competition
  • Look up reviews from customers on review websites, such as TripAdvisor (not the website of the operator) to see if there are any negative reviews concerning the safety of the whale.

For more tips on finding the perfect tour operators for your trip, check out the pros and cons of whale swimming in Tonga’s four main island groups in our guide, Where to Swim with Whales in Tonga: The Best Islands.

The Guide to Whale Swimming in Tonga(c)

How to Get the Best Whale Swimming Experience

Knowing that a good whale interaction is never a guarantee, how you can increase your chances of a successful whale swim in Tonga?

Book More Than One Whale Swimming Trip

First, we recommend booking multiple whale swims while you’re in Tonga. Although this can be pretty pricey, many would agree that it’s worth it to have a decent whale swim while you’re in one of the only places in the world to have this experience. If the first swim is unsuccessful, then at least you may have better luck next time. And if you have a good swim on the first tour, then, trust us, you won’t complain if you get to do it again!

Whale Swimming Rules in Tonga

Another way to improve your chances of a good whale swim is to simply follow the instructions of your whale guide. Not following these rules may see off the whale, ruining the swim for your group. Such rules include (but are not limited to):

  • Swimmers are dropped off no closer than 10 m (33 ft) away from whales and 50 m (164 ft) from whales with calves
  • Swimmers can approach whales no closer than 5 m (16 ft)
  • The boat and swimmers should approach the whale from the side; not in front or behind the whale
  • Swimmers are to stay as a group with the guide at all times in the water; they should not go in front of the guide
  • Swimmers are to listen to the guide’s instructions
  • Only four swimmers can be in the water with the whale at one time
  • Don’t jump into the water from the boat
  • Duck diving is not encouraged
  • No flash photography.

Check out more advice on this subject in the 10 Tips for a Better Whale Swim in Tonga.

Tonga Whales: The Guide to Whale Swimming in Tonga 🐳 [2023]©

Frequently Asked Questions About Swimming with Humpback Whales in Tonga

Have a question about whale swimming in Tonga? Chances are we answer it here.

Can You Swim with Whales in Tonga?

If you haven’t already worked it out, yes, you can swim with whales in Tonga! Tonga is one of the few places in the world where you can legally swim with humpback whales.

How Much is it to Swim with Whales in Tonga?

Whale swimming in Tonga ranges from TOP$400 to $700 per person for a full-day tour. The most expensive place to swim with whales in Tonga is Vava’u while the cheapest currently is Ha’apai. Multi-day packages are available, reducing the price of the daily rate.

Why Do Whales Swim to Tonga?

Humpback whales swim to Tonga’s warm and calm waters every year to mate, give birth and nurse their young. Pregnant mothers (cows) find a safe place to give birth and raise their calf until fit enough to make the 3,000 km (1,865 mi) trip back to their feeding grounds in Antarctica.

How Old Do You Have to Be to Swim with Whales in Tonga?

Most whale swimming operators in Tonga don’t have an age limit but do require swimmers to be able to swim unaided for about a couple of hundred metres/yards. Guides will usually check out participants’ swimming capabilities at a snorkelling spot before swimming with the whales. Children who are not strong swimmers are usually welcome to watch whales from the boat.

Some operators are particularly good at providing memorable whale swimming experiences for weaker swimmers, which we outline in the 10 Tips for a Better Whale Swim in Tonga.

Is Tonga the Only Place You Can Legally Swim with Whales?

No, Tonga is not the only place where you can legally swim with whales but is one of the very few where you can swim with humpback whales and is a world leader in this experience. You can also swim with humpbacks in Niue, Australia and French Polynesia.

More About Whale Swimming in Tonga

That’s it for our complete guide to whale swimming in Tonga but if you need more advice, don’t hesitate to click/tap away:

Finally, for more essential advice, be sure to check out The Complete Travel Guide to Tonga and the 31 Tips for Travelling in Tonga.


Laura (Lola) S.

This article was reviewed and published by Laura, editor in chief and co-founder of Tonga Pocket Guide. Since arriving solo in the South Pacific over 10 years ago with nothing but a backpack and a background in journalism, her mission has been to show the world how easy (and awesome) it is to explore a paradise such as Tonga. She knows the islands inside-out and loves sharing tips on how best to experience Tonga’s must-dos and hidden gems. Laura is also editor of several other South Pacific travel guides.

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