Swimming With Whale Sharks in Cancun, Mexico

My first attempt to swim with whale sharks in the Philippines didn’t result in anything as I was there during the wrong time of the year and not in the best spot, but fortunatelly things did work out in my favor and I finally managed to get to see the largest fish in the world in Cancun, Mexico.

With crystal clear water (most of the time, unless there’s tons of plankton) the tip of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula offers an unbeatable opportunity to observe these gentle creatures, as whale sharks come to feed in the waters near the island of Contoy. The whale watching season in Cancun lasts from May until September, and sightings are pretty much guaranteed although for the past few years they appear to be spending less time in the area.

Unless you have a boat the only way of reaching the whale sharks is by joining an organized tour, and I did so with Ecocolors Tours, a local company with more than 13 years of experience that focuses on environmentally friendly tours and is run by  certificated professional guides who are naturalists and biologists and know everything about the area and the whale sharks.

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The water was quite blurry but I certainly got to see the gentle giant.

 

Reaching the Whale Sharks

The tours start early in the morning as it takes quite some time to reach the spot where they feed. Ecocolors Tours will arrange pick up at your hotel or close to it, and you’ll be taken to the marina where a light breakfast is offered that includes coffe, tea, water, some fruit and pastries.

The marina they use is a bit far from downtown Cancun, but this allows a more personal service in a quieter location. Once all the participants have arrived you’ll be placed into groups of not more than ten people, and appropriate gear will be distributed. Life vests are mandatory unless you use a spring suit which can be rented on location, and masks and fins are provided.

Should you need a camera they also have the traditional underwater cameras for sale, which I had to buy as I didn’t have the water case for mine.

It takes about 45 minutes of high speed sailing to get to where the whale sharks are, time during which you’ll enjoy some beautiful views of unspoiled beaches and  the Caribbean reefs.  By the way, if you’re prone to get seasick make sure you bring some pills!

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The spectacular Caribbean Sea

 

Swimming With the Whale Sharks

Odds are that by the time you reach the whale sharks there will be some other boats in the area, but they are usually spread enough to not bother each other. The sharks are constantly moving around eating plankton, and will be heading towards a boat just to veer off another way a few seconds later.

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Cruising with its mouth open.

The process to swim with them is always the same: swimming in partners, you sit on the side of the boat which will head towards the intended path of the whale shark. When about 3-5 meters away from the whale shark you’ll be told to jump and will then try to swim fast to keep up with their pace, looking at them in the eye (while they look back at you) and trying to take some great shots. Mind you they swim much quicker than you and you’ll be left behind a few seconds later.

This is done with all the teams in the boat around four or five times, by then a few will be too tired to give it another shot.

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A whale shark heading towards me

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Getting close to the huge mouth

 

Heading Back and Snorkeling Stop

After spending some good time with our friendly giants we headed back to the marina, but not without first stopping at a shallow reef where we were given some time to snorkel around  for about 20 minutes and were offered some great fish ceviche and water or sodas. It was far from the ultimate diving experience but the sea was much cleaner here and the reef did have some marine life, though I was not able to see any turtles or a dolphins as we did when heading towards the whale sharks. In any event it was some good time to relax and enjoy the Caribbean, and definitely one of those those things to do in Mexico when on vacation!

whale sharks tour snorkeling

Fish cruising along the shallow reef

 

Once lunch was over we sped back to the marina, the bumpy ride keeping you awake like it or not ( in my opinion attempting to doze off like one person did could be labeled as a crime as views like these are not easy to find). After a quick visit to the loo if necessary we all hopped to the van and were taken back to the hotel.

Conclusion

Whale shark watching tours are certainly not cheap, but they do offer a unique opportunity to mingle with the largest fish in the world, a statement that by itself has a lot of value. If you’re lucky and the water is very clean you can also end up with some spectacular pictures, a souvenir to brag about back home too! 

 

 

Leave a Reply 38 comments

Aaron - July 18, 2016 Reply

So funny! I aimed to swim with Whale Sharks while in the Philippines, just to find out it was the wrong time of year as well! Guess I might have to try Mexico next time! Great guide Federico, thanks!

    maitravelsite - July 21, 2016 Reply

    Hey Aaron!

    When in the Philippines, were you planning on going to Donsol? What I didn’t like about my experience in Cancun was that the visibility was very bad. I’d make sure that when you go there is confirmed good visibility otherwise the experience is not half as exciting…thanks for dropping by!

Megan - June 14, 2016 Reply

Wow I’d love to swim with the whale sharks, it sounds so cool!

    maitravelsite - June 16, 2016 Reply

    It is very cool indeed Megan! I do hope though that whenever you do it the water is much cleaner than when I did…it will be a much better experience! Thanks for dropping by 🙂

Brock - September 30, 2015 Reply

It has been years since I dove underwater with goggles in an ocean…snorkeling and such. This is definitely on my bucket list. I think it would be a blast to swim with them up close and simply hangout for an afternoon. Awesome. I have seen many people do this over in the Philippines, didn’t know you could do it in the Cancun area. Awesome!

Jhon Lingkon - July 12, 2015 Reply

Amazing photos, & i have to say you are a brave man

    maitravelsite - July 13, 2015 Reply

    Whale sharks are as tame as baby dogs…there’s nothing to fear! 🙂

DALLAS - May 11, 2015 Reply

Wow, I’d love to swim with sharks! I think I would be quite scared but I’m sure it’s an incredible experience.

BALÁZS - April 20, 2015 Reply

Wow, I’d love to swim with sharks! I think I would be quite scared.what great place.

    maitravelsite - April 20, 2015 Reply

    It was lots of fun indeed, and not scary at all 🙂

rublie - March 21, 2015 Reply

Looks like a really cool activity, but tiresome swimming so much. Have you ever swum with white sharks, and if so, which experience did you prefer?

    maitravelsite - April 6, 2015 Reply

    Still have to swim with white sharks! That’s a cage swim though, completely different but probably more exciting!

Fabiana - February 4, 2015 Reply

That sounds like so much fun. I heard of a similar tour when I was uun Cancun but I ran out of time. I wish I had done it.

    maitravelsite - February 14, 2015 Reply

    It’s really cool!

Arianwen - January 6, 2015 Reply

I wrote about this recently too! I took one tour from Holbox and one from Isla Mujeres so I could compare the two. Either way, it’s an amazing experience! 🙂

    maitravelsite - January 13, 2015 Reply

    It is indeed, isn’t it! Hopefully the water was cleaner when you went 🙂

Rob Allen - November 25, 2014 Reply

This looks amazing. Did you hire a tour guide?

Craig - November 13, 2014 Reply

That looks like an awesome expedition. Have you ever thought about upping the ante and swimming with Great White sharks?

    maitravelsite - November 19, 2014 Reply

    Oh yes I have Craig, I certainly will do so when I go to South Africa! 🙂

Namaste Turkey - September 29, 2014 Reply

Scuba diving is my favourite activity, I always perform this when ever get’s a chance to do so…good to see you share the shame enthusiasm..

Jane Vacation Addict - September 23, 2014 Reply

Never done this myself, but sounds like a really cool birthday present for my best friend which loves swimming and I think knows more about whales and dolphins than National Geographic 🙂

    maitravelsite - September 23, 2014 Reply

    It’s difficult to beat this as a birthday gift!

Ursula - July 30, 2014 Reply

Wow, I’d love to swim with sharks! I think I would be quite scared but I’m sure it’s an incredible experience. Your pictures are very nice. Hopefully, I get the chance to do it:)

    maitravelsite - July 30, 2014 Reply

    Hopefully some day Ursula!

Victor - July 28, 2014 Reply

We swam with them on the Maldives. They are so cute and lazy.

    maitravelsite - July 28, 2014 Reply

    In the Maldives!? Now that’s a great place to do this! And your description is spot on too… lol

Mindy & Ligeia - July 16, 2014 Reply

We went to Donsol, Philippines about a year ago to try and snorkel with whale sharks there, but they weren’t around for some reason. Biologists were there, too, investigating why the sharks weren’t in the waters. Hope it’s not a trend that their numbers are dwindling!

    maitravelsite - July 18, 2014 Reply

    I heard that too when I was there even earlier. Moalboal wasn’t any better, and though Cancun’s season appears to be getting shorter there’s still plenty of them ..fortunately!

Alex - July 16, 2014 Reply

I’ve seen whale sharks in Thailand, Philippines, and Panama but I STILL want more. Would love to get in the water in Cancun with them!

    maitravelsite - July 16, 2014 Reply

    I can totally relate to this! I would like pics with cleaner water too 🙂

Ayngelina - July 15, 2014 Reply

Very cool, I would love to do something like this.

    maitravelsite - July 16, 2014 Reply

    It’s a lot of fun!

Laura - July 15, 2014 Reply

Looks like an amazing experience. It’s definitely high on our list.

    maitravelsite - July 16, 2014 Reply

    Don’t skip it Laura, you’ll like it a lot!

Debbie - July 15, 2014 Reply

What an amazing experience. I would love to do this. Thanks for sharing your story. Whale sharks seem incredible!

    maitravelsite - July 16, 2014 Reply

    They are big and gentle at the same time, hope you do get to do it!

Giselle and Cody - July 14, 2014 Reply

Wow, what beautiful creatures, and what a an experience you must have had.
And the gorgeous Caribbean sea! This is something that we would most definitely be interested in doing.

    maitravelsite - July 16, 2014 Reply

    If coming for TBEX you could give it a shot as September is the end of the season…

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