As a scuba diver or snorkeler, seeing mantas is high on most people’s bucket list. Described as one of the most breath-taking experiences a diver can have, why wouldn’t you want to hang out with Manta Rays? We are lucky to have had a few manta encounters around three Indonesian islands, but there are many other places in the world you can see them. If you want to dive with these majestic creatures, we can tell you the best places to see mantas.
Introduction to Mantas
There are two different species of mantas. Manta Alfredi also known as Reef Mantas , tend to be the species you see travelling or being cleaned in groups. Manta Birostis, the Giant Oceanic Manta, are larger and more solitary.
Both species have three colours. The “Chevron” are the most popular and the majority of our encounters have been with the Chevron. “Black Morph” are completely black and “Leucism” look very white as they have less pigment, but they are not albino and don’t have red eyes. Regardless of how many species there are or their size, you won’t be bothered what you see, you will just be overjoyed to see a manta!
Mantas are not only beautiful and graceful, but very interesting. They have the largest brain of any fish species (yes they are a fish, just like tuna or salmon) and are now ranked as the most intelligent. Recent studies have shown that mantas are able to recognise themselves in a mirror. An injured manta has been known to approach scuba divers asking for help; they slow down their swimming speed allowing humans to cut off fishing lines or fishing nets wrapped around their bodies. At the bottom of this post, we have provided plenty more interesting manta facts for you!
To respect mantas and for the best experience, you need to follow a few guidelines.
- Never try to chase after a manta, they will simply swim away. A large manta can glide at speeds of up to 9 miles an hour with small bursts of 22 miles an hour so you will not catch them. Stay still and hover maintaining neutral buoyancy and, due to their inquisitive nature, they will undoubtedly end up coming closer to you.
- Avoid excess flash photography and don’t point your flash directly at their eyes.
- Try to stay at least 3 metres away from them. Sometimes this isn’t easy as they are curious creatures! I have had to release the air in my lungs very quickly when a manta started gliding close to my head.
- If they do get close, remember they won’t harm you so stay calm (sometimes it’s difficult to contain your excitement, after all, you have a manta super close to you which is awesome!!).
- Mantas have been known to play in the bubbles produced by scuba divers as they swim over you, I have witnessed this myself. Again, just stay calm and breath normally (first rule of diving … never hold your breath!)
- If you are lucky enough to have a manta swim over you and you have a camera, try to capture a photo of the spot pattern on their underbelly. They have a unique ID pattern just like a finger print and if it’s a clear photo, you can send it to Manta Matcher or Manta Trust. Both organisations are part of the Marine Megafauna Foundation, who have a visual database of resident and migrating mantas around the world. They can match your photo with others on their database. An email will be sent to confirm if it’s been sighted before, or they will tell you if this is the first viewing. They can track and better protect mantas with your help.
Best places to see mantas in Indonesia
Nothing is guaranteed when diving, even if it is “manta season” or one of the “best places to see mantas”. Mantas spend most of their time in the open water and only get close to the reef when they want to be cleaned. If you are lucky enough to see them, cherish that awesome experience but if not, then fingers crossed you will have better luck next time.
Indonesia is one of the best countries in the world for seeing manta rays. There are a few options for diving these famous islands. A liveaboard is the ultimate dive experience but not everyone can afford this. Some dive operations have dive /accommodation packages, but if you are on a budget, you can stay in a homestays and choose how many fun dives you wish to do.
Tip: A homestay doesn’t mean you are staying in someone’s home, it’s simple and cheap accommodation throughout Indonesia. If you want to book in advance for peace of mind, you can book via Agoda or Booking.com.
Komodo National Park
Komodo is often top of the list for one of the best places in the world to see majestic Manta Rays, which can be found here all year round. Our encounter with Mantas in Komodo was at 9 metres deep on a cleaning station. The dive site was called Mawan but there are many other dive sites in Komodo where they can be found. We dived here a few times and saw mantas on every occasion and in total, spent around 2.5 hours with these graceful creatures. We watched in awe as these large and graceful creatures swam silently and effortlessly around the coral mountain, their eyes would turn and look at us. It was obvious they were aware of us watching them.
Recommended dive centres
Uber Scuba are No. 1 on Trip Advisor. They run day trips from Labuan Bajo but also have a liveaboard.
Scuba Junkie are located on the outskirts of the National Park. They have dive and accommodation packages and are a leader in conservation.
Blue Marlin are just one of our favourite people and have dive centres in Gili islands aswell as Komodo.
Raja Ampat is another destination that tops lists as one of the best places to see mantas. Due to its remote location, it’s not the easiest of destinations to reach. Although a liveboard is the ultimate experience, not everyone can afford it, but it is possible to visit Raja Ampat on a budget. If you base yourself in the north, this is where most of the famous dive sites are found.
We didn’t see them at Manta Sandy which is meant to be one of the famous sites for manta viewing, but we did at Arborek which is unusual. December to March offers the best viewing.
For us, Blue Magic excelled and was my favourite site diving Raja Ampat. We had a 30 minute fantastic encounter with an Oceanic Manta as it was being cleaned, even when we did our safety stop, we still had an excellent view.
Recommended dive centres
Derawan and Sangalaki
Not many people would consider a trip to Derawan for mantas, and these destinations don’t appear in any “best places” list. The Marine Megafauna Foundation recently co-hosted “Manta Week” in Derawan, so you should definitely and this destination to your list. As Derawan isn’t as popular as other dive destinations in Indonesia, you often get a dive site all to yourself. Now do I have your attention? Who doesn’t dream of not seeing another dive boat on a trip?
We had our first manta encounter at a surface interval. We saw their dark shape below the surface and jumped in with our mask and snorkel. As mantas feed on plankton at the surface, we were able to watch them filling themselves up for about 20 minutes as they barrel rolled over and over. When diving, we had another 20 minutes watching mantas around a cleaning station.
Recommended dive centres
Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida
Although we visited Lembongan, we didn’t have a chance to dive with mantas as the sea conditions weren’t favourable (however GTS founder Sarah has dived with them in Nusa!). If the sea is rough, a reputable dive centre will not attempt the journey. Although mantas can be seen here all year round, August to October are considered to have the best conditions and, if you are lucky, you may also see the amazing Mola Mola!
Nusa Lembongan and Nusa Penida are located about 30 minutes by speed boat from Bali. Both islands visit Manta Bay and Manta Point which are the main dive sites for mantas. Lembongan is the smaller island but has a better tourist infrastructure, Penida is quite a large island with less tourists.
Recommended dive centres
Best places to see mantas around the world
There are many places in the world for manta ray viewing so take your pick! Listed below are the best sites according to Dive Magazine and Diviac Travel.
Maldives: Ari Atoll (most predictable sites are Ukulhas Thila and Panettone) – all year round viewings
Maldives: Baa Atoll (Hanifaru Bay and Dharavandhou Corner are the best sites)
Mozambique: Tofo (year round, but sadly between 2003-2011 they saw an 88% drop in manta sightings due to fishing, thankfully Mozambique is finally starting to protect its mantas)
Costa Rica: The Cocos Islands have year round mantas but calmer conditions are December – May, best dives site is Bajo Alcyone
Ecuador: Isla de la Plata (the world’s largest recorded population of Giant Oceanic Mantas)
Galapagos: Best dive sites: Gordon’s Rock, Diarwin Island, Cousin’s Rock and Cabo Marshall, best viewing January – May
Hawaii: Kona (all dives done in Makako Bay near Garden Eel Cave are done at night)
Mexico: Revillagigedos Islands & Socorro Island (one of the best places to see the rare black morph and Giant Oceanic mantas)
Japan: Ishigaki Island, Okinawa (At Kabira Bay, Manta City and Manta Scramble are the two famous sites, best time April – November)
Thailand: Koh Bon & Similan Islands (best time is February – April)
Fiji: Yasawas, Kadavu, Namena Marine Reserve, Wakaya and Taveum (best time is June – October)
French Polynesia: Rangiroa, Manihi and Fakarava atolls
Micronesia: Yap (year round viewings but December – April are best)
Micronesia: Palau (Dive sites for almost guaranteed sightings October - May are German Channel and Devilfish City, the latter is also an excellent place for night dives with manta rays)
Solomon islands: Uepi Island
Eastern Australia: Lady Elliot Island
Western Australia: Coral Bay & Ningaloo Reef, (trips only run June – November but mantas are here all year round)
- The word “manta” is Spanish for cloak.
- The Oceanic Manta is often found near the surface but can also dive to depths of 1,000 metres
- A full grown Oceanic Manta’s wing span can reach up to 7 metres (23 feet) and weigh up to 2 tonnes.
- The Reef mantas are smaller and grow up to 3 to 3.5 metres (9-11.5 feet) weighing up to 1.4 tonnes.
- Mantas are sexually mature around 10 – 15 years old.
- Male mantas have two penises, but females only have one vagina.
- Gestation period is 13 months and they give birth to one pup at a time every other year.
- Mantas can have as many as 15-18 pups in their lifetime,
- Mantas give birth to live young but have never been filmed giving birth in the wild.
- Mantas live to at least 50 years old however scientists still know little about this and continue to study.
- They have around 300 tiny teeth – all of which are useless as they are filter feeders.
- Mantas have to keep swimming or they will sink.