July 10

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.

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!

whale shark tour cancun reef
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.

whale shark cancun
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.

A whale shark heading towards me
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.


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! 




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  1. 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!

  2. 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!

    1. 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!

  3. 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:)

  4. 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..

  5. 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! 🙂

  6. 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?

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

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

  8. 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!

    1. 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 🙂

  9. 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!

    1. 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!

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