Helping you discover the world & share your experience.
Login    Sign Up

Safari Explorer: close encounter of the manta kind

  • Courtesy of American Safari Cruises
  • Courtesy of American Safari Cruises
  • Courtesy of American Safari Cruises
  •   (Photo by Sarah Sekula)
  • Courtesy of American Safari Cruises
  • Courtesy of American Safari Cruises
  • Courtesy of American Safari Cruises
by Sarah Sekula
From Adventure + Outdoors
February 21, 2012

It's 7 o'clock in Mantaville. Population uncertain.

We’re motoring along in a skiff, a small inflatable craft with an outboard motor. It quickly transports us from the Safari Explorer, a luxury mega-yacht that is our home base for the week, to an area off the coast of Kona, Hawaii. On board, seven manta ray watchers from Denmark, Australia, and the U.S., snugly outfitted in wetsuits and snorkel gear, anxiously await what comes next.

One by one we climb down the ladder into the 75-degree water. I swim toward a surfboard outfitted with lights on its underbelly. This attracts plankton; the perfect snack for Giant Pacific Manta Rays.

Before I know it, the first ray arrives to what I hope will be a well-attended party. With a wing span of about 12 feet, this guy is utterly graceful; cruising along like a stealth bomber. His gaping mouth could easily swallow a small coffee table; good thing he is toothless. Plus, unlike stingrays, mantas have no poisonous barbs. Even though they are closely related to sharks and can weigh up to 3,000 pounds, diving with them is perfectly safe.  

The gentle giant is only a few feet below me at this point. He propels upward, then turns a back flip. And as if that wasn’t cool enough, he does it again. And again. And again. And again.

Giggling through my snorkel, I notice a blue light shining from the ocean floor. Another. And another. Until the whole area glows ethereally like we've stumbled upon the mystical world of Atlantis. Then thousands of bubbles rise to meet my face mask. The seemingly surreal moment eventually makes sense: There are scuba divers below, and waterproof spotlights are sitting on the sea floor.

Even more startling, there must be almost two dozen rays swimming beneath us now. Just imagine an underwater performance with all the theatrics of a ballet. Better yet, there’s a backup dancer: a bottlenose dolphin, which is, apparently, pretty rare in these parts.

Happily, I soak up every facet around me. I feel fortunate to witness this, and I'm hardly alone in my amazement. In fact, some say this is the number one snorkel experience in the world. My cohorts seem to agree, they are all squealing with delight.

Back on the skiff, teeth chattering, everyone is atwitter. To sum it up, a white-haired lady plops into her seat and immediately says, in her distinct New Jersey accent: "Okay, I can die now."

As we head back to the ship in time for dinner, I wonder if anything else during my 7-night cruise aboard the Safari Explorer will top this experience. Now that I look back, I'd say nothing did. A few things came close, however. Like the time a whale surfaced at the stern of the ship. Or the time we traveled via Pinzgauers, German all-terrain vehicles, to North Kohala.

Let me put it this way: The waters off of Kona, Hawaii, are not, by any measure, ordinary. And if you are ever presented with the chance to swim alongside manta rays, by all means, do it.

If you go:

Many cruise lines offer this excursion. I was onboard American Safari Cruises. You may also book directly with companies like Kona Diving Company, Jack’s Diving Locker or Sea Paradise. 

American Safari Cruises

3826 18th Avenue West
Seattle, WA 98119
1-877-263-9888
www.innerseadiscoveries.com

Thanks to American Safari Cruises for sponsoring my trip.

Share and discuss this story with your friends

Sarah Sekula icon

Sarah Sekula

When I’m not zigzagging around the planet — scaling the steps of Chichén-Itzá, carving up Costa Rican waves or roaming through the remote jungles of India — I’m writing about my adventures, the environment, fitness, health/wellness, extraordinary people and social injustice issues. My writing appears in USA Today, ISLANDS, Caribbean Travel & Life, Cayman Airways Skies, American Eagle Latitudes, Orlando Sentinel, abcnews.com, Where Orlando, Where Jacksonville, Upscale and Wild Blue Yonder.



Located: Orlando USA
Likes: Adventure, health/wellness, nature, sports, festivals, dance, music, etc.
Website: http://www.sarahsekula.com

More stories by Sarah Sekula

Ukrainian New Year at the Jasper Park Lodge

Ukrainian New Year at the Jasper Park Lodge
There are plenty of reasons to visit Jasper, Alberta, in January. Malanka is one of them. It’s a festive weekend gala that celebrates the Ukrainian culture and is about experiencing all of the Ukrainian Christmas traditions in one weekend. I was there last January when I stumbled upon it....

VIDEO: Swanky Switzerland: Badrutt's Palace Hotel

VIDEO: Swanky Switzerland: Badrutt's Palace Hotel
Photos and video by Ken Lopez (www.kenlopezphoto.com) Not only is Badrutt's Palace one of the ritziest hotels in all of St. Moritz, Switzerland, it's also surrounded by extreme beauty in every direction (caught by expert cameraman Ken Lopez). Watch as I learn the art of cheese making, explore...

Choose You Own Adventure in Peru

Choose You Own Adventure in Peru
Many head to Peru because Machu Picchu has long been on their bucket list. It was definitely on mine, so I was thrilled to finally check it off. But beyond this epic archeological treasure, however, there is much more to love about this geographically diverse country. May I suggest carving up...

VIDEO: Getting pampered at Grand Hotel Kronenhof

VIDEO: Getting pampered at Grand Hotel Kronenhof
I recently visited the Grand Hotel Kronenhof, a five-star hotel in Pontresina, Switzerland. It's the perfect jumping off point for exploring the Swiss Alps and a peaceful place for a Switzerland spa vacation. Check out the video, and you'll see what I mean. I've included things to do in...

VIDEO: Quidditch World Cup VI comes to Orlando

VIDEO: Quidditch World Cup VI comes to Orlando
The spellbinding sport featured in the Harry Potter books and films has a Muggle (or non-magical) version that is part rugby, part soccer and part dodgeball. It’s not only a captivating spectacle, it’s a serious sport sweeping the nation. But, don’t worry if you missed the...

Zappos.com: A traveler's best friend

Zappos.com: A traveler's best friend
Zappos! A zippy little word, indeed, and a worldwide phenomenon for the apparel and footwear obsessed. For the ranks of the uninitiated, zappos.com is a nontraditional kind of company — inspired by the Spanish word for shoes, zapatos. Consumers choose from a vast selection of products...

Florida Film Festival Kicks Off in Orlando

Florida Film Festival Kicks Off in Orlando
The Florida Film Festival (April 5-14) is hands down one of my favorite events in Orlando. Of course, the selection of films is grand (this year there are 167 from 31 different countries), it’s somewhat likely you’ll rub shoulders with a celebrity or filmmaker, and there’s the...

Maui: Below the Surface

Maui: Below the Surface
It was a picture-perfect day off the shores of Maui’s Makena Beach as our group of six paddled an outrigger canoe through the calm waters. It had been about 10 minutes or so since we left shore, but already we had arrived at the perfect snorkeling spot. I was still putting on my mask and...

Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort

Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort
The Wyndham Grand Orlando Resort Bonnet Creek has a lot going for it. For starters, it’s super close to the major theme parks in the Bonnet Creek Resorts area. And it’s a four-star property with endless things to keep you busy. Let’s start with my favorite, the Blue...

GIVEAWAY: Win a SmartWool Jacket

GIVEAWAY: Win a SmartWool Jacket
Hi everyone! If you dig SmartWool as much as I do, this is something to get super excited about. I’m giving away one men’s SmartWool jacket ($220) and one women’s SmartWool jacket ($220). So, how do you go about scoring a prize? It’s pretty darn easy: 1)...

Recent Activity & Recommendations