Isla Mujeres Whale Shark Snorkelling
Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula has a lot to offer travellers; from scuba diving in Cozumel, to the iconic Chichen Itza, the beaches of Cancún, and the wonders of Tulum. But, for me, nothing beat our jaw-dropping Isla Mujeres whale shark snorkelling trip.
Finding an Isla Mujeres Whale Shark Snorkelling Operator
Whale shark tours depart from Cancún, Isla Mujeres, and Isla Holbox. These boats all go to the same spots, so these tours all off similar experiences (though you’ll spend longer on the boat if you take a tour from Cancún).
We opted for Isla Mujeres, just a short ferry ride away from Cancún. This island is a backpacker’s dream- beautiful beaches, fun nightlife, and a chilled out, friendly vibe. Not to mention the fact that most things, including whale shark snorkelling tours, are far cheaper here than in pricey Cancún!
Shop around for a tour operator, and, before booking, try to ask other travellers about their experience, or read online reviews to be sure the company is reliable. Also ask about what is included in the tour, and what happens if you don’t see whale sharks that day. Many operators offer a partial refund, or the chance to try again the following day.
We booked through our hostel, and got a trip with a wonderful guide, brand new equipment, sandwiches and snacks, soft drinks and water throughout the trip, an additional snorkelling trip on a coral reef on the way back, and a boat party to end the day, with freshly made ceviche, snacks and beer. All for just US$69 (almost half of what we’d been quoted in Cancún)!
Our Isla Mujeres Whale Shark Snorkelling Experience
No wildlife sighting is guaranteed, and I got on the boat that morning with the nervous feeling that we’d have an unlucky day. Our boat arrived at the whale sharks’ feeding ground, and our guide told us all to scan the waters for the telltale fins.
We peered into the sea for what felt like hours, with no sign of whale sharks. Just when I was giving up hope, our guide called out excitedly, and the boat veered towards a speck in the distance.
And there he was. A massive whale shark, almost the length of our boat, floating lazily at the surface of the water.
“Ready to go in?”, our guide asked with a grin.
I leapt to grab my snorkel and tug my fins onto my feet. We were only allowed to enter the water in groups of five, and I was determined to be in the first group. I had heard too many stories from people who had spotted a whale shark only to have it disappear moments later into the depths.
I needn’t have worried. Whale sharks began popping up all around us, their dappled backs appearing at the surface, and their giant tail fins stretching out of the water.
I sat eagerly at the edge of the boat, desperate to jump in, as the others slowly donned their gear. Catching sight of my excited face, the guide laughed. “Tranquilo“, he chuckled, “wait for the others!”
After an eternity, we plopped into the water, and swam towards the nearest whale shark. It was an overwhelming feeling, swimming alongside a 40ft shark whose tail alone was longer than me. He was completely undisturbed by our presence in the water, allowing us to drift beside him, before turning and vanishing from sight.
More whale sharks were appearing all around us (as well as more boats and swimmers). These giants appeared suddenly from the murky water, their huge mouths gaping at the surface to swallow the fish eggs that lure them to these waters. Smaller fish swum underneath the whale sharks’ bodies, as though using their huge pals for protection.
Turning to admire the spectacular sight surrounding me, I found myself staring directly into a three-foot-wide mouth. Frantically swimming one way, then another, I managed to dive out of its way just in time. As if in protest at my rudeness, the whale shark gave a sharp flick of his tail, smacking Adam in the leg, before continuing on his way.
Our Isla Mujeres whale shark snorkelling adventure was over all too soon. Though not before we wrapped up our trip with a fun boat party, where we drank Coronas and excitedly chatted about our whale shark experience.
Whale Shark Snorkelling Facts & Tips
Whale shark season starts in May, when the sharks begin to approach the surface of the water to eat fish eggs, and ends in September.
Isla Mujeres celebrates an annual whale shark festival in July, which celebrates these beautiful beasts and attracts thousands of visitors.
You are pretty much guaranteed to spot whale sharks on your trip. However, it’s difficult to tell whether you will see one, two, or hundreds. To maximise your chances, visit in July or August, when the season is in full swing, and several hundred sharks gather in one place.
Do follow the rules! Don’t chase the sharks, or get too close. This is their home, so remember to be a respectful guest!