Whale Sharks in Cancun: Mexico’s Most Exciting Snorkeling Adventure!

September 7, 2020

I sat on the edge of the boat, clinging to dear life as the waves tossed the “stationary” vessel about. Finally, I heard Csaba yell, “GO!” and I did as I’d been instructed. I pushed off the side of the boat into the deep water below, just as the huge dorsal fin came near.

Scuba diving the MUSA, bull shark diving, and swimming with whale sharks are the most exciting water adventures you can have in Mexico! Snorkeling with whale sharks was the best underwater experience that I’ve done to date, although my encounter with a wild but friendly sea turtle at the Great Barrier Reef was a close second.

Getting There

The swim with whale sharks in Cancun tour should be at the very top of your list of things to do in Cancun, a resort area that has no shortage of attractions. We began our quest at the marina, getting fitted for either a wetsuit or a life jacket, and then given directions from Csaba Gocze, our guide from EcoColor Tours. The rules for the eco-tour are very clear and intended to protect the sharks. You are not allowed to swim over them, free dive beneath them, or touch them. While they are not on the endangered list, they are considered vulnerable.

instructions from viator guide

Getting instructions on what to do and what not to do.

It’s an hour’s boat ride from Cancun to the general area where they migrate, off the coast of Isla Mujeres. “It can sometimes take another five hours to actually find the whale sharks in the deep water,” said Csaba, preparing us for the worst. Fortunately, it took just another (bumpy) hour before a group of gigantic sea creatures was spotted.

boat trip

Heading out to find the sharks.

Recognized as the biggest fish in the sea, whale sharks can grow to a length of over 40 feet and live up to 100 years. These docile giants are not carnivores and are harmless to humans. They are classified as filter feeders and dine on plankton through their ginormous mouths. This feeding method is known as ram filtration in which the shark swims with its mouth open pushing water and food into it.

To prepare to swim aside the sharks, we were instructed to don our masks, snorkels, and fins, perch on the wooden rail of the boat, and wait for the signal. The bobbing of the boat proved this to be more difficult than anticipated as each of our small group clasped the rail and tried to maintain our balance.

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Whale Sharks in Cancun

whale sharks cancun

I was mesmerized by the magnificent creatures.

After what seemed like an eternity,  Csaba gave us the signal and I slid into the water.  I panicked for a moment, as water rushed into the low-quality snorkel tube I’d been given, and I lamenting not having brought my own great snorkeling gear.  After recovering, Csaba guided us to the closest shark and we glided along until it swam by. Although they are fast, they did not seem to be bothered at all by the swimmers nearby. What magnificent creatures they are! The first dive was somewhat intimidating, but we were allowed to do several, at each one I found myself more wonderstruck than the previous, as I was able to relax and really get a good look at their spots and the length and colors of their gills.

whale sharks cancun

So close I could count the spots!

The last dive in was the best…. as soon as I was submerged, my eyes went wide as I saw the five-foot open mouth (catching the microscopic plankton) seemingly coming straight at me. Even though I knew I was not part of its meal plan, it was a terrifying sight, and I may or may not have screamed a little through my snorkel. The shark, however, was unconcerned and made a gentle turn to the left. There was never any danger whatsoever.

whale sharks cancun

This open mouth was coming right at me!

We could not have had a more enthusiastic guide. Csaba, an expat from Hungary, was like a child on Christmas every time we emerged from swimming beside the whales. “This is the best day ever!” He beamed. “There are at least 20 sharks here today, the most we’ve seen this year!”

Getting Fed

whale sharks cancun

Our crew made us fresh shrimp ceviche.

Back on board, the crew made us a delicious snack of fresh shrimp ceviche.

Going to the Reef

After getting refreshed,   our tour continued to Ixlache Reef off Isla Contoy for more snorkeling. Even though the area was beautiful, all agreed it was a little anti-climactic after the whale shark experience.

whale sharks cancun

Snorkeling at the gorgeous Ixlache Reef.

Swimming with whale sharks in Cancun is an experience of a lifetime. I’ve done a lot of snorkeling and scuba diving around the world with other sea animals like stingrays, turtles, sea lions, eels, nurse sharks, and blacktip reef sharks. They were all fantastic experiences, but I can honestly say that they pale in comparison to swimming next to the mammoth whale sharks.

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This article may contain affiliate/compensated links. For full information, please see our disclaimer.

(This swimming with whale sharks in Cancun mega-adventure was published by Viator.)

Disclosure:  The author was honored to be the guest of Viator on this expedition, but as always, the opinions, reviews, and experiences are her own.

About the Author

Patti Morrow

Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning international blog Luggage and Lipstick and southern travel blog Gone to Carolinas. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials” and she was named one of the “Top 35 Travel Blogs” in the world.

Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal.  She has traveled extensively through six continents looking for fabulous destinations, exotic beaches, and adventure activities for her Baby Boomer tribe.


  1. Comment by Matilda

    Matilda Reply October 21, 2015 at 12:36 pm

    Sounds like an amazing experience. Adding it to my list!

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply October 21, 2015 at 3:26 pm

      It’s one of the most fun experiences I’ve had… and that’s saying a lot as I’m an adventure travel writer. 🙂

  2. Comment by Svet Dimitrov

    Svet Dimitrov Reply October 24, 2015 at 2:04 am

    Wow, absolutely gripping and yet outstanding! I love the calmness that the enormous sea provides. It is an oxymoron in itself, isn’t it?


    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply October 24, 2015 at 1:28 pm

      It certainly is, Svet! Swimming next to whale sharks was one of the most amazing experiences that I’ve ever done.

  3. Comment by Prianka

    Prianka Reply October 24, 2015 at 11:28 am

    I’ve been in love with whale sharks ever since I saw them in the Osaka aquarium a few years ago! Would love, love to do this.

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply October 24, 2015 at 1:29 pm

      Prianka — I highly recommend it. It’s totally surreal to swim next to the whale sharks who do not seem to mind sharing the ocean with us!

  4. Comment by The Globe Trotter

    The Globe Trotter Reply September 2, 2017 at 4:33 pm

    Wow! What an amazing experience! We went scuba diving in Egypt and loved it. But this seems, even more, fun though a little bit intimidating as well, after all, whale sharks are the largest known extant fish species!

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply September 4, 2017 at 5:47 pm

      I have to admit, swimming with those gigantic whale sharks in Cancun was one of my most memorable experiences!

    • Comment by luggageandlipstick

      luggageandlipstick Reply September 10, 2017 at 4:32 pm

      Whale sharks are definitely intimidating due to their size!

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