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Bucket list experience:

Last updated: 13 November, 2022
Expert travel writer: Alex Robinson

Between May and September, the world’s largest fish visits Riviera Maya waters to feed on the large upswells of plankton from the Gulf of Mexico. Snorkelling with them is an astonishing experience, and takes place in open sea. These giant filter feeders, which can reach over 12 metres are astonishingly well-camouflaged – almost invisible in the inky blue until they are almost next to you, then gently swaying past and back into the depths.

Numerous tour operators in Cancun and Playa del Carmen offer snorkelling and diving trips which usually include reef snorkels and lunch.

Price from: £40
Minimum age: Any
Age suitable: 13+
When: All year around
Duration: 4-5 hours

Getting there & doing it

The dive sites sit around Isla Contoy in the far north of Quintana Roo. While tours leave from throughout the Riviera Maya, Isla Mujeres and Isla Holbox are the closest departure points (with the shortest boat rides).

You will be at the snorkel site for around 3 hours as swimmer enter the water in pairs, with a guide. Snorkellers are prohibited from getting closer than 2m from the sharks.

Snorkel sites are in the open sea – too deep to see the bottom. Snorkellers must be confident swimmers as there can be a light ocean swell.

The water can be choppy on the rides out – especially late afternoon so bring anti-nausea tablets. Sharks arrive during the rainy season, and if there’s a rainshower it can be chilly when the boat is moving.

When to do it

Tours run seven days a week between mid-May to September only. They usually depart around 7.30am-8am (pick-ups will be earlier, e.g. from Playa del Carmen at 6am). They return mid to late afternoon.

Try to avoid the July high season, when there can be many boats which spoils the experience and distresses the sharks.

Our writer’s picks of the best places to stay near this experience, closest first

Izla Hotel

Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, Mexico[4.9 miles]

This family-friendly Isla Mujeres beachside is one of the few Riviera Maya hotels to have sunset-and-ocean views; from balconies, pools and restaurants.

Official star rating:

Casa de los Suenos

Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, Mexico[5 miles]

An intimate boutique with rare sunset views, on secluded Isla Mujeres. It sits next to a waterpark and the whole resort is rentable.

Official star rating:

Beloved Playa Mujeres Resort

Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico[11.6 miles]

This boutiquey couples-only retreat on a quiet Cancun beach, offers an intimate alternative to the hectic hotel zone without compromising comfort.

Official star rating:

Grand Hotel Cancun

Cancun, Quintana Roo, Mexico[18.8 miles]

A large resort on the best stretch of beach in Cancun. Stays, however, are stylish, understated and sophisticated – with fabulous dining and an ocean balcony fronting every room.

Official star rating:

Destination guides including or relevant to this experience

Mayan Riviera


Talc-white beaches, reefs teeming with life, ruined temples in misty rainforests – the Riviera Maya offers a family or romantic beach holiday with a dash of Indian Jones adventure.

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Overview >

Other worthwhile experiences near this experience if you have time or interest..

Cancun Museum of Underwater Art

Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, Mexico[17.8 miles]

British artist Jason Decaires Taylor’s underwater art gallery feels like a latter-day Atlantis – with statues covered with wispy sea weeds and baby coral, fish swimming all around sitting on the sand in vodka-clear water off Isla Mujeres.

Best for ages: 18+ | Free

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Overview >

Round-ups that include this experience