Best Manta Ray Diving in the World

Best Manta Ray Diving in the World

Best manta ray diving in the world

Best Manta Ray Diving

Diving with manta rays is an incredible, nearly otherworldly experience, for those who’ve had the opportunity to experience seeing these graceful, gentle creatures up close. Person after person has described these encounters as “sheer joy” because there’s nothing quite like being in the ocean and having a manta ray swim right up to you, and look you in the eye. 

Of the two recognized species of manta, the smaller reef mantas often school in large numbers and are most commonly found on inshore reefs in the Indian Ocean and the South Pacific. The larger giant oceanic mantas are more widely distributed and tend to gather around offshore seamounts and islands. Sadly, both species are listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List, however, more countries are starting to recognize the importance of safeguarding these key species. The implementation of protected marine areas benefits the entire local marine ecosystem and improves the underwater experience for visitors hoping to catch a glimpse of a manta ray.  

Manta rays have marks that distinguish them along their underside, almost similar to how humans are identified by our fingerprints. Diving or snorkeling with mantas is considered to be the safest large animal encounter in the world since manta rays neither bite nor sting. And manta rays have the biggest brains of all species of fish, causing many to remark about how smart they are. Numerous divers who’ve experienced diving with mantas have said that they seem to be as curious about people as people are about them, often coming close to take a good look.

Manta rays can be found in many waters around the world, and we at Bluewater Dive Travel have come up with a list of the very best sites, where divers encounter manta rays under the best possible circumstances.

 

1. Socorro Island, Mexico

Home of the Giant Oceanic Mantas

Best Manta Ray Diving

An uninhabited outcrop of islands lying 370 miles west of mainland Mexico, the Revillagigedo Archipelago, commonly referred to as Socorro, experiences the full force of the Pacific Ocean along its isolated coastline. The four islands that make up this UNESCO World Heritage Site are comparable to the Galapagos Islands, and the marine ecosystem is equally rich, offering a refuge for migrating pelagics and resident species alike.

Arguably the best site in the world to interact with oceanic mantas, The Boiler is a submerged pinnacle off the rugged San Benedicto Island, where incredibly friendly mantas gather at cleaning stations to rid themselves of bothersome parasites. These gentle giants are not put off by divers or their bubbles, often gliding only inches away and making for some fantastic photo opportunities. 

The Canyon, on the southern side of San Benedicto, is another popular cleaning station for oceanic mantas, and dive groups can often enjoy huge schools of them circling in the strong currents above.

From November to June each year, the waters around Socorro Island in Mexico are home to over 500 oceanic manta rays (and scores of sharks as well). And, at Socorro, we’re talking about manta rays that are over 22 feet  (7 meters) in width, the Giant Oceanic Mantas. 

When you swim with the mantas, you’ll find sharks, whale sharks, jacks, trevally and remora alongside you as well, or maybe even a dolphin or two. Mantas move so beautifully that some have called it flight, as suggested by their moving “wings,” or compared it to a ballet.

As well as mantas, Socorro is known as one of the best shark diving destinations in the world, home to huge numbers of resident Galapagos, silky, hammerhead, and whitetip reef sharks.

 

When to come to Socorro:

The best months for spotting manta rays are between February and May, with water temperatures hovering around 24-27°C (75-81°F). Socorro can only be accessed via liveaboard, which only sail to Socorro between November and June. Mantas are there throughout the season. 

Skill Level: Best for experienced divers due to choppy seas and often strong currents.

Nearest Airport: Los Cabos International Airport (SJD), Mexico.

Where to Stay: The Socorro islands are uninhabited, so the only way to dive them is by liveaboard, on such excellent boats such as the Quino El Guardian or the Nautilus Gallant Lady. Or, check out our list of liveaboards in Socorro here.

BWT owner Scott Gietler, who visited Socorro for the first time early in 2019, called the experience in Socorro "the best manta ray encounters that I have ever had in my life. These friendly manta rays allow you to swim inches away from them, for several minutes at a time. Even though I was so close, at no time ever did a manta ray touch me with its wing, that is how much control that they have…. These dives alone are worth the trip to Socorro - they are not easily forgotten, and you will always cherish your moments with the most intelligent fish in the ocean.”

 


Interested in diving Socorro? Join our next trips:

Socorro Big Animal Group Trip Mar 2020 | Mar 18 - 27, 2020 | From $3,895 

Socorro Big Animal Group Trip Feb 2021 | Feb 5 - 14, 2021 | From $3,995 

OR view the availability of some of the best liveaboards in Socorro and book online at the best price! 



2. Kona, Hawaii

Manta Ray Night Dives

Visiting manta rays in Kona is as easy as hopping into a plane and getting there. And no one who visits Kona to see the mantas will ever be disappointed. The mantas at Kona are Reef Mantas, smaller than Socorro’s Giant Oceanic Mantas,  with a width of around 12 feet (3.66 meters). Unlike other mantas, which migrate depending on the time of year, Kona’s mantas stay in these waters all year long. There are 240 manta rays in Kona, and each one has its own name.  

Mantas are found in feeding and cleaning stations. These amazing creatures eat plankton, which gravitate toward bright lights. So when dive operators shine their lights, the plankton comes, followed by the mantas, swimming gracefully with their mouths wide open, essentially letting the current push the plankton to them, at times turning somersaults. Now that’s a sight to see. And while they feed, smaller fish come and clean the parasites off their bodies.

Every night they feed at Garden Eel Cove, nicknamed Manta Heaven, in Makako Bay, which is very popular with Kona’s guests. Visitors have the option of diving in this part of Kona in the daytime or in the evenings, which makes for a pretty special experience.

Best Manta Ray Diving Best Manta Ray Diving

 

When to visit Kona:

Diving Kona is pretty much year-round, but the waters are calmer and warmer in the summer months, from May through October. Water temperatures range from 70˚F (21˚C) through the upper 70s (25 - 26˚C).

Kona can be dived through liveaboards such as the Kona Aggressor II or via the numerous dive operators throughout the island.

Resorts in Kona abound, and if you’re doing the night dive with the mantas, finding accommodations will be no problem. 

 

3. Komodo, Indonesia

Visit Manta Alley and the Cauldron

Best Manta Ray Diving Best Manta Ray Diving

Established as a National Park in 1980 and designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site six years later, the waters around Komodo boast a plethora of marine life flourishing in optimum conditions. The island’s southern coastline experiences cool upwellings from the deep Indian Ocean, encouraging brisk currents and a thick plankton soup that feeds all manner of reef species, large and small.

Komodo is famous for the Komodo Dragons, of course, but it’s also well-established as a place where guests can reliably see manta rays -- and here you’ll see both Reef Mantas and Giant Oceanic Mantas.

At Manta Point Komodo, locally known as Karang Makassar (Makassar Reef), mantas are the biggest attraction, but it’s also home to reef sharks, turtles, giant trevally, sponges, and many other fascinating marine life. What brings mantas to this area over and over again are its plankton-filled waters, where the graceful giants come to feed and be cleaned on the regular. Divers have said that encounters with mantas here can last for as long as half an hour.

At iconic sites such as Manta Alley and The Cauldron, dozens can also be seen feeding and visiting shallow water cleaning stations along the reef. Over 200 vibrant coral species and many colorful sponges create a haven for a myriad of bright reef fish, and a spectacular backdrop to the manta rays swooping back and forth. 

This area, which is between Komodo and Rinca Islands, is only accessible via liveaboard. Check out BWT’s full list of liveaboards and their schedules here

Best Manta Ray Diving

Photo credit: Adam Gibson. Read all about the BWT trip to Komodo that Adam led from a few years back here.

 

When to visit Komodo:

While manta rays are found in Komodo from November through May, the best time to visit Komodo is between December and February, when water temperatures hover around 83 - 84 ˚F (28˚C). The cooler waters and plankton blooms draw the mantas to Komodo during this time. One caveat though: the currents are usually strong in Komodo in these months, and so it’s best for divers who have their Advanced Open Water Diver certification.

Pro-tip: How to get there -- If you’re planning to go to Komodo, you’ll need to fly in from either Jakarta or Denpasar to Labuan Bajo. Email us at Bluewater Dive Travel and we’d be happy to assist you for your Komodo trip.

Komodo can be dived via liveaboard, on the Pearl of Papua or the MV Ambai, for example. Check out our full list of liveaboards here. Or, we can help you by recommending dive resorts such as Komodo Resort and Diving Club, if you prefer a land-based vacation.

 

4. The Maldives

Home of the largest manta feeding station in the world

Best Manta Ray Diving

Spread across 35,000 square miles of sparkling turquoise water and white sandy beaches, nowhere else conjures images of idyllic tropical paradise quite like the Maldives. Lying in the Indian Ocean, southwest of Sri Lanka, the Maldives is an island nation of 26 natural coral atolls, known for great reefs and lively currents. Manta rays can be spotted here year-round, however, they do follow the plankton blooms which flourish on different sides of the archipelago depending on the season.

The Maldives, where there are about 5,000 manta rays, is home to the largest manta feeding station in the world, found in tiny Hanifaru Bay in Baa Atoll. The mantas go where the monsoons are, since the monsoons affect the supply of plankton. So, for part of the year mantas abound on the western side of the Maldives, and for the other part, on the eastern side.

From May to November there is an enormous buildup of plankton on the western side, which means the manta rays (and whale sharks) make their way to Hanifaru Bay in droves, to an area no bigger than a football field. At times, there are as many as 150 mantas feeding at the same time. 

While diving is no longer permitted in Hanifaru Bay since it was declared a Marine Protected Area in 2009, a limited number of snorkelers are allowed daily, but for only 45 minutes maximum. Any diver who’s been here, however, will tell you those 45 minutes are well worth it. There are a number of excellent dive spots around Baa Atoll, however, where mantas can be seen.

Another place in the Maldives to see mantas is South Ari Atoll, also known as Alifu Dhaalu Atoll, on the eastern side of the Maldives. 

In the Maldives, tour operators take guests out snorkeling as well as diving to see mantas, and divers can get equally good manta interaction while diving or snorkeling in these waters.

Best Manta Ray Diving Best Manta Diving Best Manta Diving

Photos from BWT's Tim Yeo's 2019 trip to Sri Lanka & the Maldives. Read all about it here!

 

What is Cyclone Feeding?

The timing has to be right, and it only happens several times each season, but when the lunar tide pushes against the Indian Ocean’s southwestern monsoon current, it creates a suction effect that pulls deepwater krill and plankton up to the surface of Hanifaru Bay. The krill instinctively head back to depth but get trapped in the bowl of the bay, rapidly building up and thickening the water in a matter of hours. Attracted by the tasty soup, manta rays gather in their hundreds to chain feed, following each other nose to tail in increasingly expanding spirals. Eventually, the chains break down and a mass feeding frenzy ensues, with mantas jostling against each other, and dozens of whale sharks, to filter the last remaining krill. 

 

When to visit the Maldives?

If you’re visiting Hanifaru Bay, as mentioned above, plan your trip from the months of May through November, although the peak period would be between late July and October. For South Ari Atoll, which is on the western side of the Maldives, mantas are around from September-October through May, and the best time to see them is between February and April.

Nearest Airport: Velana International Airport (MLE), Male

If you’re planning a trip to the Maldives any time, there are plenty of amazing Maldives liveaboards, including MV Fun Azul and the Maldives Explorer. However, if you’d prefer to stay at a resort, we can help you with this as well. 

 

5. The Galapagos

Mantas, Mobulas, and More!

Best Manta Ray Diving

The Galapagos hosts fifteen different species of rays, including the manta ray. The various types of rays can also be found in different areas around the Galapagos, with giant mantas often found off of Darwin and Wolf islands between Sombrero Chino islet and Santiago island.

But many believe that the best place to find mantas in the Galapagos is at Cabo (or Cape) Marshall, just south of the equator, off the northeastern shore of Isabela Island. At Cabo Marshall, you’ll wait among the black coral at a rocky plateau which drops off to over 30 meters (100+ ft), where many of the mantas come and feed. Depending on the time of year, visibility can be between 20 to 70 feet. But, that’s not all you’ll see at Cabo Marshall, where mobula rays also happily swim about in massive schools, along with hammerhead sharks, white-tipped reef sharks, pufferfish, parrotfish, among others.

Cabo Marshall is only accessible via liveaboard, such as the Galapagos Aggressor III and the Galapagos Master. Or, check out our full list of Galapagos liveaboards here. Also note that the currents and surge can be quite strong in these waters, and so they’re recommended for Intermediate to Advanced divers.

Read more about BWT owner Scott Gietler's "epic" Galapagos trip here. 

 

When to visit the Galapagos?

Galapagos has its very own ‘manta season,’ which is between December and May, when water temps are a little warmer, and visibility is better. This is actually the warm season for the Galapagos, when temperatures in the water range between 78  to 84 ˚F (25.5 - 29 ˚C), and so divers with a low tolerance for cold may want to bring their 5mm or 7mm wetsuits.

 


BWT has a number of upcoming trips to the Galapagos, and you’re certainly welcome to join us!

Galapagos Photo Workshop May 2020 | May 18 - 28, 2020 | Led by Mark Strickland | From $7,450 

Galapagos Photo Workshop July 2020 | July 20 - 27, 2020 | Led by Craig Dietrich | From $5,850 

Galapagos Photo Workshop Aug 2021 | Aug 2 - 9, 2021 | Trip Leader: TBA | From $6,150 

Galapagos Photo Workshop April 2022 | April 22 - May 2, 2022 | Trip Leader: TBA| From $8,800 


 

6. Raja Ampat, Indonesia

black mantas amidst a manta ray sanctuary

The whole country of Indonesia has been a manta ray sanctuary for some years now. In 2015, a manta ray nursery was discovered in Wayag, and last year, a new group of mantas was discovered in the remote island of Palu.

The reef mantas at Raja Ampat are distinct from mantas in other areas, as they are dark both on their undersides and on top, which is why they’re called Black Mantas. When there’s an abundance of plankton in Raja Ampat’s waters, Black Mantas can even be seen leaping above the water’s surface, taking their ballet into the air and then belly-flopping gracefully.

 Raja Ampat is also home to Giant Oceanic Mantas, although they are fewer here than reef mantas.

Best Manta Ray Diving Best Manta Ray Diving

Some of the best dive spots for reef mantas in these waters are Manta Ridge, Manta Sandy, Eagle Rock and Wayag Lagoon, while at Blue Magic and Magic Mountain, divers will see both types of mantas. At the cleaning stations in these areas, mantas have even been seen lining up to be cleaned! 

Read more about Bluewater Travel’s Raja Ampat 2019 trip led by travel expert Katie Yonker.

 

When to visit Raja Ampat?

Mantas frequent the waters of Raja Ampat from October through May, but the best time to visit is between December and March, when the waters are the calmest and there’s optimum visibility. Water temperatures remain at a consistent 28 to 32 degrees.

If you’d like to join either of BWT’s trips to Raja Ampat in December 2020 or December 2021, let us know!

Otherwise, check out our list and schedules of liveaboards that dive Raja Ampat, or check out dive resorts in the area like Papua Paradise Eco Resort or Kri Eco Resort. Or, here’s where you can find other excellent dive resort choices in Raja Ampat as well.


BWT has a number of upcoming trips to the Galapagos, and you’re certainly welcome to join us!

Raja Ampat Photo Workshop Dec 2020 | Dec 4 - 14, 2020 | Led by Mark Hatter | From $5,508 

Raja Ampat Photo Workshop Dec 2021 | July 7 - 18, 2021 | Trip Leader: TBA | From $6,545 


 

 7. Yap, Micronesia

Where Mantas Dance

There are only two words to describe Yap’s waters-- crystal and clear. Therefore coming to this remote part of the world to see manta rays in their cleaning stations is worth the trip, as visibility can go up to 100 feet (30.45 m)! 

Yap is located between Palau and Guam and is to the east of the Philippines. Its two most famous sites for diving with manta rays are the Mi’il Channel, where mantas can be found from November through May, and Goofnuw Channel, for the other months of the year. The Mi’il Channel is found at the northwest side of Yap Island and is known for the “Manta Car Wash,” a nickname for the cleaning station in the area. When the waters are warmer, the mantas go over to Goofnuw Channel. 

Additionally, Yap’s waters are where many divers have been witness to small groups of mantas dancing, as part of their courtship ritual, especially between October and March. 

Many divers have Yap’s waters as part of their bucket list because it is home to some of the healthiest barrier reefs in all of the Pacific, replete with walls and caverns, and the opportunity for some amazing twilight diving.

 

Best Manta Ray Diving 

 

When to visit Yap?

Since manta rays can be seen in Yap pretty much all year round, this makes scheduling a visit easy. But if you want to take a chance on seeing the mantas’ mating dance, then schedule a trip between October and March. Yap’s waters remain in the comfortable ‘80s˚F the whole year round.

Yap has a range of resort options, from budget to luxurious, such as Manta Bay Resort and Yap Pacific Dive Resort.


Honorable mentions:

There are a number of other great places in the world where manta rays can be found, but the BWT team has three, in particular, that deserve special mention.

Tubbataha Reefs National Park, Palawan, the Philippines--as part of the Coral Triangle with its incredible biodiversity, Tubbataha is home to reef mantas, an exciting (and recent!) discovery.

German Channel, Palau--Mantas also regularly visit the German Channel in Palau, where there are a number of cleaning stations where small groups of mantas gather. Often, when they’re done getting cleaned and they see divers, they are known to swim quite close

La Paz, Mexico --This area has become famous for its “mini-mantas” the manta ray’s smaller cousins. Joining a night dive to see dozens of  Mobula rays is simply unforgettable.

Similan Islands, Thailand --Between December and April each year, manta rays stop-off on their migration to feed in the Andaman Sea’s plankton-rich waters. 

Bali, Indonesia --The manta rays around Bali are huge!

 


BOOK YOUR NEXT DIVE TRIP

If you're looking for that 'next big trip' - hopefully this list of the world's best coral reefs has helped either add some new ones or help prioritize your list! If you have any questions on any of the above locations, or any others, please let us know and our travel advisors would be happy to help!

Bluewater Travel can book you on any of the group trips that we have listed above, or help arrange a trip just for you!  We'll provide recommendations and get you booked on any boat or resort, help sort out your flights, transfers, and just about everything else you need to have an amazing trip--all that at no additional cost than doing it all yourself.  

Email us, call us at +1-310-915-6677 or write to us through the live chat box to start planning your trip! 


FURTHER READING

Check out these useful resources from our sister websites, Bluewater Photo, and Underwater Photography Guide

Wet Wide Angle Lens Buyer's Guide

Best Underwater Cameras (2019)

Comprehensive Guide to Shooting Wide-Angle

Coral Reefs Now More Resistant to Ocean Warming (2019)

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