Image source: Flickr - Julie Edgely
The opportunity to swim alongside whale sharks is a bucket list item for many travelers, and there are only a handful of destinations in the world that offer the near guarantee of seeing one. Spots like Mexico, Belize, the Philippines, and the Maldives are a few of the more popular destinations for snorkeling or diving with whale sharks.
Most people think of Playa Del Carmen and Isla Mujeres as the prime spots for whale sharks in Mexico, but the truth is, you can book a tour right from Cancun as well. In Mexico, whale shark season is approximately mid-May through mid-September, with the peak times being June, July, and August.
Many tour providers will offer complimentary pick-up and drop-off from your Cancun hotel, allowing you to stay right in the hotel zone and still spend a day on the water. During the summer, the likelihood of tours selling out is high. If swimming with whale sharks is high on your priority list, be sure you check into tour options as soon as you have your travel dates selected.
Despite photos that seem to depict slow moving creatures, whale sharks can move fast. You jump in the water and a split second later, they are breezing right past you. It's an adrenaline rush, but its also a workout. You may have to wear a wetsuit or a life jacket per local regulations. It is highly recommended to wear the life jacket, especially on a rougher day, as you have such a limited time in the water.
It's better to experience the whale sharks with a smaller group, since at times only two swimmers are allowed in the water at a time. During rough seas, this means you will be stuck on the boat and, if you have to wait for more groups to get out there, you might end up with a nice bout of seasickness. Some of the best companies cap the tours at 10 people max.
Whale sharks are quite plentiful in the region, but in the unlikely event you don't see any on your tour, some tour operators offer you the opportunity to go again the next day free of charge! This offer is typically only available during the peak season, so be sure to ask your tour provider what guarantee they offer.
Whale shark season in Mexico pretty much coincides with hurricane season as well. It's not uncommon for tours to be canceled during periods of inclement weather as it's a bit of a haul to get from shore to the area they are typically found in. Conditions need to be favorable for visibility as well; otherwise it will be a miserable experience for all. If you're planning a trip to Cancun just to swim with the whale sharks, it's definitely a good idea to purchase travel insurance in case of weather complications.
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Erin is a travel and food writer who currently splits her time between the Netherlands and Belize. She's traveled to 60+ countries on 5 continents with a passion for culinary travel, luxury hotels, and all things Disney. Her writing has appeared in numerous online outlets including Gadling, BootsnAll, CNN, Art of Backpacking, TravBuddy, CBS, and more. She was the major author of Belize's official visitor magazine, Destination Belize 2013; wrote the official AFAR Guide to Belize; and is also AFAR Magazine's local Belize expert.. In addition to writing for other publications, Erin maintains several blogs, Our Tasty Travels, No Checked Bags, Pooh's Travels, and the brand new Caye To Belize. Follow Erin on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google Plus.
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