You’ve just decided to go to Mexico, or maybe anywhere where there are whale sharks, and you’re now wondering how can I swim with whale sharks, and then, what’s the best whale shark tour company? As a travel agent, I know how overwhelming planning can be, especially when you’ve got to factor in sustainability and eco-friendliness in your tour (got to protect our planet and its animals). Swimming with whale sharks is one of the best things I’ve ever done, so I hope to help you have an incredible experience like I did.
Mexico has great food, beautiful beaches, and strong cocktails, but what it’s also famous for are whale sharks, particularly large amounts of them. It’s been a dream and passion of mine to swim with these gentle giants for ages, and I knew I had to take this opportunity when I discovered I’d be there in peak whale shark season. After lots of research (and a bit of stress), we ended up booking the perfect experience. Here’s how to swim with whale sharks in Mexico!
Where And When Can I Swim With Whale Sharks
Whale Sharks gather from June to September to feed off the Mexican coast. The best months are July and August, as you’re most likely to see a large gathering of them. Our guide mentioned one amazing encounter where he saw an estimated 300 whale sharks all feeding together. This is obviously a once in a lifetime experience and usually, you can hope for ten to eighty. The easiest place to see Whale Sharks is from Isla Mujeres, which is a tiny island thirty minutes from Cancun. It’s also a beautiful destination for beaches, Mayan history, diving, and delicious food, which I’ve covered in my Isla Mujeres 3 Day Travel Guide.
What Are Whale Sharks
Whale Sharks cause much confusion from their name. Are they a shark or a whale is a common question. They’re actually the largest fish in the world, making them a shark. They are even larger than the Great White. Even though they come from the shark family, whale sharks are gentle giants with no teeth and are completely safe to swim with. The only harm they’d ever do would be accidental, as they are large, just like whales, so care always needs to be taken around them. They are very similar to whales, filter-feeding on plankton for sustenance, but unlike whales, they don’t require to surface for air. They’re usually solitary creatures and can live up to an estimated 130 years. A full-grown whale shark can be as long as fourteen meters.
Best Whale Shark Tour Company On Isla Mujeres
Swimming with whale sharks was the main reason we chose Isla Mujeres for the start of our Mexican holiday. My twin sister and I are the daughters of Marine Biologist parents and a Marine Biologist Grandma. The ocean has always been our second home, and discovering its magic is high up on my bucket list. Our parents have dived with whale sharks and hearing them tell their stories I knew I had to see these gentle giants in the wild for myself.
Many tour companies offer a whale shark experience from Isla Mujeres, and when we first started looking it was overwhelming. The reviews were many and varied, and I knew I wanted the best possible experience for my first time swimming with whale sharks. Some people’s reviews were terrifying. But don’t worry, I’m here to make this easy for you, as the company we eventually found was absolutely amazing.
We eventually found a tour operator called Casa del Buceo (House of Dive), and I can’t recommend them enough. They’re eco-focused, and the safety of the reef and its marine inhabitants are their first priority. They’re professional when it comes to safety, but relaxed enough to create a fun personalised experience. They offer private or shared tours and their pricing is very competitive. Our guide, Enrique, was funny, knowledgeable, and knew exactly what to do in the water. You can also book different diving and snorkelling experiences with them. We did their Underwater Museum dive and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’ve written about my experience in my Isla Mujeres 3 Day Travel Guide.
How To Swim With Whale Sharks
We woke up as the sun was rising thanks to jetlag and the wash of deep reds, oranges and pinks highlighting the bedroom. We were going to hopefully swim with whale sharks today and I was filled with excitement and nerves. Casa del Buceo had asked us to meet at 6:45am, so we were soon power walking through the humid, hot morning to the little dive house on the edge of the mangroves.
Important things I’d stuffed in our little backpack: A towel, reef-safe sunscreen for afterwards, sun-shirt to avoid being sunburnt, as no sunscreen was allowed to protect the Whale Sharks, an underwater camera, and water bottle.
Casa del Buceo’s little dive shack was filled with underwater photos, fish identification charts, and had wetsuits and fins hanging up to dry. Everyone was relaxed and friendly and a guy who spoke English signed us in. We were fitted with our fins, and snorkel equipment and given our bright orange lifejackets. It was once possible to hire wetsuits to get out of wearing the lifejacket, but when I asked, we were told that Mexico had very recently changed the laws, so it was now mandatory to wear the lifejacket. There were jokes thrown around in the early morning, and we tentatively greeted the six other members of our group. One of the reasons why Casa del Buceo appealed to me, was the small group sizes. It meant more chances to swim with the whale sharks and a more personalised experience.
At 7 am we all moved from the wharf to the boat and took our seats. It was then an estimated one-hour boat ride through the blue of a new day (estimated as whale sharks don’t work by GPS coordinates, they just go where the planktons at). The sea breeze blew the humidity away and cooled the sweat that had already formed on our bodies. It was a perfect day with hardly a cloud in the sky and a soft swell. Looking to the left my heart leapt as the sleek forms of dolphins raced across the waves. They surfaced once more and then vanished beneath the water.
When Enrique announced that we’d reached the feeding ground we all crowded around the edge of the boat, looking out over the dark blue water. There was one other boat beside us and then nothing but the endless moving horizon. “There”, I shouted pointing at a huge shape moving just beneath the surface. I felt tears rush to my eyes as the whale shark swam past our boat, it’s mouth gaping to receive the plankton. It was so beautiful, a deep navy blue with individual spots dotted all over it. Its movements were slow and majestic, the great tale swirling the water behind it.
There was no waiting around after that. The first pair jumped in the water with Enrique and he escorted them towards a feeding whale shark. Casa del Buceo always made sure there were only two of us in the water at a time. This ensured our safety (don’t want to get left behind), and it also ensured the safety of the whale sharks (imagine 100 people suddenly swarming them). The boat continued to motor, as anchoring was not an option with the seafloor forty meters below us. From the boat we began to count more large forms cruising placidly through the ocean around us. Even a turtle popped its head up to say hello.
When it was my turn I quickly put my mask and fins on and slid into the water. Enrique gestured for my twin sister and me to follow and we swam after him until we saw our first whale shark. It was cruising towards us and we hung in the water as its dark form slowly swam passed. Little remoras hung off its underside, and the strength of its tale eddied the water around us. I grabbed my sister’s hand, and we squeezed each other tightly. It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life. The sun was sinking and twisting through the water, vanishing into the darkness of the ocean. There was no way to see the bottom, but with the whale sharks swimming around us it didn’t matter. All I could focus on was the beauty of the moment and the creatures that were letting me share in it with them. I managed to swim alongside one, gazing into the dark, single eye I could see. My legs were burning from the sudden exertion, as their slow was still my fast, but I didn’t want to stop. To experience this connection with mother nature was an awe-inspiring moment.
We were always careful to keep a safe distance as we’d been instructed and never touch one of the whale sharks. What I didn’t expect from them was their utter lack of fear of us. Sometimes I would turn in the water and discover one swimming straight towards me and have to quickly twist away. In the end, I swam with the whale sharks four times and each time was absolutely amazing. Sometimes you’d stick with one for a while as it swam slowly in a circle, other times you’d have two whale sharks on either side of you, or watch one slide up from the deep with its mouth wide open. We were extremely lucky to see one hanging vertically in the water, which is a rare feeding position when the plankton is thick enough. We were probably there for over two hours, and by the time we left the water, there were boats and people everywhere. I felt extremely privileged and thankful to Casa del Buceo for giving us the first hour with so few boats. I felt even more grateful when I saw one company getting people in the water for a photo and then taking them back to the boat the next moment.
We headed back to Isla Mujeres and left the whale shark feeding ground behind. An early lunch was included in the price of the tour and we anchored at one of the beautiful beaches on Isla Mujeres. After the incredible experience, it was great to be able to relax in the shallow, crystal blue water with a beer and a chicken sandwich. We practised our Spanish, joked around with the difference between Castellano and Latin American and got to know the rest of our group. It really was one of the best days I’ve ever had.