Q: My sister-in-law swam with dolphins on a cruise excursion in Cancun. We're thinking about visiting Mexico in the spring — not on a cruise — and would like to try this. How do we find a good program? Are children allowed to swim, too?
A: Dozens of outfits in Mexico offer basic dolphin encounters — in which participants shake hands, hug and kiss the dolphins, usually in programs that last 45 minutes and cost between $79 and $99.
Some companies also provide more personalized or all-inclusive experiences. Here are two organizations recommended by Mexican tour agencies:
Dolphin Discovery operates dolphinariums in Isla Mujeres near Cancun; Cozumel; Puerto Aventuras in the Riviera Maya; Aquaventuras Park in Vallarta; and at Six Flags Mexico. The company is known for its all-inclusive packages, which may include transportation, breakfast, lunch, open bars, tours and other water-based activities. For example, Isla Mujeres has programs that feature snorkeling and kayaking at Garrafon Park; at Cozumel, visitors can snorkel the coral reefs of Chankanaab National Park; and Vallarta includes a water park with 10 slides and a playground area (park entrance fee is required). Details: www.dolphindiscovery.com; 866-393-5158.
Delphinus offers dolphin swim programs in Cancun and Riviera Maya and includes two eco-parks. In addition to basic programs, the company also has specialized offerings: "Dolphin Trek," an underwater dive with dolphins encounter ($149); "The One," a one-on-one experience with a dolphin and one trainer ($499); and "Trainer for a Day," an eight-hour session that includes 200 minutes of water time with the dolphins ($259). Details: www.delphinusworld.com; 888-526-2230.
Two companies are recommended by industry experts, but I often find the best suggestions come from visitors. Check TripAdvisor (search "dolphin swims Mexico") to see which are recommended by everyday travelers.
Many basic dolphin encounters are open to infants and children; however, children who do not meet age or height requirements may need to swim with a paying adult. Also, be sure to check online for discounts.