Swimming with whale sharks in the waters of Isla Mujeres is a truly unforgettable experience. Every summer, hundreds of these gentle giants migrate to the warm, crystal-clear waters off the coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula for an epic feeding frenzy. As you swim alongside them, marvel at their immense size and unique beauty. It’s an extraordinary opportunity to get up close and personal with some of the largest fish in the world.
The best time of year for whale shark tours is from May through September, when the visibility is at its peak, and you have a better chance of spotting multiple sharks during each swim. Isla Mujeres boasts one of the most reliable whale shark populations in the world.
The whale sharks feed on plankton at the surface in the same area, Every. Single. Day.
How do the whale shark tours work? (Are they ethical?)
When you embark on a whale shark tour, you’ll be accompanied by experienced guides who will ensure your safety and provide plenty of helpful information. They’ll help you navigate the waters and show you how to safely interact with the sharks.
The tours usually start with a briefing of what to expect and some general learnings about whale sharks, like why they are in the area, and why they are coming in masses to feed at the surface. They also conduct a safety briefing and establish rules of how to behave on the boat and in the water.
Once you reach the location where the whale sharks eat, you will notice many boats from Isla Mujeres, Cancun, and even Cozumel. The good thing is, that the tours are highly regulated by Mexican authorities. Only two people per boat plus their guide are allowed into the water at the same time. This ensures noise reduction (from fins splashing), overcrowding, and most of all peace for the animals.
It also makes for the best experience for each person. I can vouch for it. I swam with one whale shark for minutes.
Each pair of two people usually gets two swims. You will be equipped with fins, snorkel gear (mask and snorkel), as well as a mandatory life jacket.
When in the water, the guide will make sure you oblige with the rules and regulations. They really focus on operating ethical tours. The whale sharks are feeding plankton at the surface, unlike other places, here they don’t use any kind of bait to attract the whale sharks.
Rough sea – don’t get seasick
The water in the whale shark area in Isla Mujeres can get very choppy. Keep in mind, that you will be spending most of the time on the boat getting to the area, waiting for your turn, and going back. It’s not uncommon that the rough ocean gets people sick.
Rules for swimming with whale sharks in Isla Mujeres
When swimming with whale sharks, the rules are simple but also strict to protect the animals and ensure the best possible experience:
- Don’t touch the whale sharks
- Keep your distance
- Don’t chase the sharks
- Do not approach from the back – they will swim away
- Keep your noise to a minimum – avoid splashing your fins on the water
- Don’t swim without a verified guide, and only swim when it’s your turn
- Wear fully equipped snorkel gear including a life jacket
- Only reef-eco-friendly sunscreen is allowed
Why Isla Mujeres so great to swim with whale sharks?
Firstly, Isla Mujeres has one of the highest populations of whale sharks and great water conditions. The whale sharks are feeding in the same area every day. Even though the area is quite large with over 60 square miles (155 km²), experienced guides will find the whale sharks. It’s said to be a 99% chance to see whale sharks on your tour.
Secondly, Isla Mujeres’ whale shark tours are ethical and highly regulated, ensuring the best possible experience for everyone – as well as the sharks. Additionally, tours are only allowed from May 17th till September 17th.
Of course, I have to mention that the entire experience without any boats and humans would be even better for the whale sharks, but because of the tours, the area is protected from fishing as well. Ethical tourism helps to prevent whale sharks, whose numbers are at risk.
Isla Mujeres whale shark season
Whale sharks are around all year long, but the best time to swim with them is between May, 17th and September, 17th. That’s also when the tours operate. Then, the visibility is best, and the whale sharks spend the most time feeding at the surface.
Can you scuba dive with whale sharks in Isla Mujeres?
You can not scuba dive with whale sharks in Isla Mujeres. While diving in the whale shark protected area is prohibited, it’s possible to see whale sharks while diving at one of the dive sites in Cancun, Isla Mujeres, or Cozumel. However, an encounter is purely by chance. In nature, you never know where the gentle giants might swim by.
How much is swimming with whale sharks in Isla Mujeres?
Because Isla Mujeres is such a small island, most operators charge about the same price within a 10% room. Most 1 day-tours cost about $125 USD per person. This includes snorkel gear rental, boat transfer, and usually two rounds of swimming with the whale sharks. Often a small lunch is served, too.