Isla Mujeres, Mexico, my journey to swim with whale sharks and tips for swimming with them.
I booked my adventure with a reputable charter and journeyed down to a small island about eight miles off the coast of Cancun, Mexico called Isla Mujeres, the Island of Women.
I was there to seek out encounters with the enormous whale sharks which migrate there every year during the summer months and feed on the Bonito eggs spawned by Bonito fish.
Whale sharks are enormous and yet very gentle giants. They are sharks not whales.
An adult can grow to be 40-50 feet in length and weigh over 40,000 pounds.
The opening of their mouth seems like they could swallow you whole, and I think they could, however, they only feed on plankton and very small fish and are non-threatening to humans.
I had an amazing time swimming with these beautiful spotted creatures. It was as if they were on auto pilot, slowly gliding through the blue water, oblivious to the humans around them.
From my initial encounter, seeing a shark with its mouth wide open, big enough for me to fit inside, my heart started to pound. They don’t move for you so you have to get out of their way.
I didn’t wait around to see what happens if I hadn’t.
As I swam amongst several whale sharks coming and going from all angles, I’d watch one swim off then I’d turn around to see another headed directly towards me and I hurriedly swim out of the way before we collided. Eventually I got used to playing ‘dodge the whale sharks’.
Not only are there whale sharks but there were an abundance of manta rays in the area too. Watching their breathtaking grace and beauty while they performed an underwater ballet was an added bonus to this adventure.
Here are some tips you’ll want to know for swimming with whale sharks.
Tip #1 – Book a reputable company with a package. Choose wisely, size does matter!
*Image Note: Check out the difference sizes of boats. I was on the blue boat and the boat you can barely see in the distance is what tourists ride on!
If you want to go for several days of swimming with the whale sharks then book a company that offers a package.
I booked a trip for four days which included the transportation to and from the Cancun airport, ferry to and from the island, hotel room, breakfast, lunch and excursions every day to swim with the whale sharks.
The 32′ boats (total of two) we went out on were much larger than the boats used by local tour operators which gave us ample space and a faster smoother ride. (Blue boat in image.)
We traveled 20-25 miles off shore of Isla Mujeres to find the whale sharks, it’s even further if you leave from the Cancun area. The crew was very friendly, knowledgeable, and accommodating. The group tour was only 12 people who were fun and very interesting!
The best part of booking the package is that we were scheduled to be on the water from 8am-2pm every day, all the other boats (totaling between 30 & 40 and this gets very crowded) go back to shore at between 11am – noon.
This allowed our group to stay until 2pm and we had the whole area to ourselves. We had the whole ocean to ourselves!
The package may cost a little more but it’s well worth it because…
If you choose to go on your own…here’s what you’ll want to know.
Personally, I wouldn’t waste the time or money because, while you can go on your own and book a day of swimming with the whale sharks, you’ll only spend 3-4 hours out on the water, that includes to and from where the whale sharks are located then a short period to swim with them.
The boats are very small and some don’t provide much shade or even a toilet! (see image, it’s the furthest boat, you can barely see it!)
Tip #2 – Rest, Eat, and Hydrate!
Spending hours in the hot humid climate, blistering sun, riding miles on a boat, and swimming with sharks can be exhausting.
If possible, allow a day to acclimate to your surroundings before diving in. Doing too much with inadequate rest or sleep will take it’s toll.
Be sure to avoid acidic foods and drinks before going aboard a boat.
The first day we went out to swim, the water was rough, and for the first time I was sea sick…very, very sick, even with taking Bonine. I share more about that incident in my post of the 5 Essential Items to Bring on a Sun and Water Excursion.
Be sure you’re to stay well hydrated by drinking pure water in advance and throughout the day.
Tip #3 – Plan on unpredictable weather
The migration season for Whale Sharks takes place in the summer months, right during hurricane season. June – November can bring storms and hurricanes to the area and unpredictable weather.
If you have a day when the seas are a bit rough or storms are predicted, you may not want to venture on the water, so by having a few extra days you have the option of other days to go without missing out.
Isla Mujeres may be small, 5 miles long and 1/2 mile wide, but it’s full of interesting history dating back centuries.
You can rent a golf cart and drive around the island at your leisure. There’s plenty of opportunity to explore ancient ruins or just siesta on the beach with a cerveza.
Tip #4 – Take an underwater camera!
The technology of underwater cameras has come a long way in the last several years.
GoPro is a very affordable camera and easy to use. The quality of footage and photos is terrific, even when the water might be a little murky.
I found a better deal directly through the GoPro.com site rather than through Amazon.
You can buy a bundle package to save a bundle.
I would highly recommend buying the Handler Float Grip so if you drop your camera in the water it will float on the surface and not sink.
A must for any time on or around waterways!
I love my GoPro 9.
Swimming with Whale Sharks is an adventure you’ll always remember. Be sure to be prepared, make the best of your time, and enjoy!
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