Swimming With Whale Sharks off the Coast of Mexico

Ellie Swain

Senior Contributor

Imagine sharing bathtub-warm waters with 40-feet-long and 20-ton whale sharks, the largest fish in the world. While the idea may sound daunting, whale sharks can’t and won’t eat or attack humans. These majestic creatures are filter-feeders, sucking up teeny-tiny, microscopic plankton and fish with their enormous, gaping mouths. The slow-moving beasts live up to 70 years old and swimming with them has become popular in many corners of the globe, including the Philippines, Australia, South Africa, and Mexico. For a wildlife experience like no other, swimming with these magnificent beings is a must-do off the coast of Mexico. Are you still feeling wary? It’s time to learn more about sharing the waters with these gentle giants in Mexico.

Where Can You Swim with Whale Sharks in Mexico?

It’s possible to snorkel and swim with whale sharks from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, Cozumel, Tulum, Akumal, Holbox, or Isla Mujeres in the Quintana Roo region of Mexico. For some of the best sightings, it’s recommended to visit the whale sharks off the coasts of Isla Holbox or Isla Mujeres.

Both of these palm tree-filled tropical islands are wonderful to visit without swimming with whale sharks, so it makes sense to combine a trip with your wildlife adventure.

If you’re staying in another spot in the Quintana Roo region, it’s likely that you can still swim with the whale sharks. However, you may need to pay extra for more extended transportation or meet your snorkel crew in another area when you book a tour.

When Is Whale Shark Season in Mexico?

Whale shark season in Mexico runs from June through to September. This is when there are plenty of whale sharks moving through the waters around Cancun, Isla Mujeres, Isla Holbox, and other areas in the region.

But, for the best chances of swimming with large numbers of these beautiful beasts, head out in the water during the peak months of July and August.

During the winter and spring months, whale sharks also travel to the rich waters of the Sea of Cortez down the Pacific coast of Mexico. While the waters of Quintana Roo offer your best shot at swimming with the sharks, if you miss the season, you can also ogle at them underwater in Baja California from November to May.

One of the prime spots for spotting whale sharks on this side of Mexico is the Cabo Pulmo National Marine Park which is also teeming with bright and beautiful fish species.

How Do You Book a Whale Shark Tour?

Sharing the same warm, blue waters with whale sharks is one of the highlights of a trip to the Quintana Roo region. That means booking a tour to transport you to the whales and back to shore safely is easy, as many companies offer their services.

While it’s possible to show up and book a whale shark tour on the spot, planning a trip in advance is recommended. Tours can get booked up ahead of time, especially during peak season.

Whale shark tours usually include gear such as snorkels, fins, and wetsuits along with boat transportation to the areas of the ocean the whale sharks typically frequent. Most tours will also include a fresh ceviche lunch consisting of local ingredients, which you can enjoy on the boat or the beach.

Tours usually start from around $125/£95, depending on your needs for transportation from your accommodation.

Remember, while swimming with whale sharks during the appropriate season is highly likely, it’s never guaranteed. Consider this when booking with a tour operator. Some companies are happy to take you out again or even offer you a refund if you don’t spot a whale shark during your trip.

What Can I Expect From My Trip?

Swimming side-by-side with whale sharks is likely to be one of the most surreal and magical wildlife encounters you’ve ever experienced. During peak season, many swimmers are surrounded by hundreds of whale sharks at one time. If you’re lucky, you may experience a host of gliding, glimmering manta rays too. As you can imagine, observing both these majestic sea creatures at once is quite the scene.

It may be nerve-wracking at first to see the sharks floating languidly with their giant mouths open as they feed on plankton. But remember, they have no interest in you whatsoever.

It’s essential not to touch the whale sharks at all as this stresses them. Plus, you wouldn’t want to feel the wrath of their vast bodies if they were to push you away. Always keep a 10-foot distance to protect the whale sharks as you admire their grandeur.

If you’re close enough, you’ll be able to gaze upon the unique, speckled pattern on the whale shark’s torsos. Watch the massive gills on their sides wave in and out hypnotically, and stare into their tiny, curious eyes before they sail off into the distance.

It’s vital to know that on your way to the whale sharks, the waters can get extremely rough. Some swimmers develop extreme seasickness on their boat trip out to sea.

If you’re prone to seasickness, be sure to take medication. Seasickness can be a real downer, and you don’t want it to take away from the momentous occasion of observing the world’s biggest fishes moving gracefully in their natural environment.

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