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Travel bucket list idea:

Swim with whale sharks on the Mayan Riviera

  • Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, Mexico

  • Bucket List Experience

Last updated: 21 March, 2024

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.

Logistics

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.

Destination guides

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Destination guides including or relevant to this experience

Mayan Riviera

Destination guide

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.

Round-ups

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Round-ups that include this experience

aerial view of two people snorkelling with a whale shark

Inspiration

Swimming alongside the world’s largest fish, in the open sea, is a wonder-inspiring, humbling experience you’ll never forget. Here’s our round-up of the best places in the world to swim with them.