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Unforgettable Encounters: A Trip of a Lifetime Snorkelling with Whale Sharks in Cancun, Mexico

Updated: Apr 26


Whale Sharks are confusing creatures. Largest in length compared to other sharks, the whale shark is indeed classified as a shark (and not a whale), and thus labelled the biggest fish in the world. While on an impromptu sunny vacation, relaxing at a luxurious resort in Cancun, Mexico, we had the unforgettable opportunity to snorkel along side these gentle giants



Whale Shark swimming forward, Cancun, Mexico
Whale Shark swimming forward, Cancun, Mexico


When we first decided to secretly fly to Cancun, Mexico for an impromptu beach getaway, we hadn't planned on any exploration or excursions. Our focus was primarily on seclusion, relaxation and luxury. We booked an extended weekend stay at a luxurious beach research and planned on only visiting the beach, the bar and the restaurants. To learn more about this impromptu trip, read: A Secret Luxurious Escape to Cancun, Mexico & Private Swims with Big Fish.





Normally, when we visit a new location, we typically spend time researching the area, available excursions, local tours and unique adventures to possibly experience. Though this wasn't our first time exploring Mexico, it was our first experience together, and first time booking the Beloved Playa Mujeres Resort in Cancun, Mexico. To learn more about this luxurious resort, read: Beloved Playa Mujeres Resort, Cancun, Mexico: An Honest Review of A Luxurious Couples Resort Getaway.



Beloved Playa Mujeres Beach Resort, Cancun, Mexico
Beloved Playa Mujeres Beach Resort, Cancun, Mexico


We did research for unique experiences or excursions available through Beloved Playa Mujeres Resort and tours available in the area. The one experience that immediately caught our attention and made us consider not spending the entire trip relaxing on the white sand beach, was the unique opportunity to swim and snorkel with whale sharks. Seriously, how could we pass this up?


Whale sharks frequent the area near Beloved Playa Mujeres Resort and many group tours were readily available to book, both through the resort an elsewhere. Safety regulations protecting both people and the wildlife, limits the individual time in the water. Only a certain number of boats are allowed in the area with the feeding whale sharks, and if we opted for a group tour, only two guests would be allowed in the water at a time for 10 minute intervals. Depending on the number of people on the boat, guests would likely be allowed their turn in the water twice, for a total of 20 minutes.


If we planned on taking the journey to find the whale sharks, we wanted to be able to spend as much time as possible observing them and taking photos underwater. We researched private tours, and only a few boats offered this as an option. It did cost a pretty penny, but we decided the cost was worth the unique experience to snorkel with whale sharks, and opted to hire a private boat.



Close up of whale shark fins, Cancun, Mexico
Close up of whale shark fins, Cancun, Mexico


We opted to book with Ceviche Tours, which was one of the few that offered a private excursion, and included a professional diver escort in the water, plus fresh fruit, drinks and of course ceviche on board. They were indeed professional, experienced and very supportive. We would highly recommend them.



LUXURY TRAVEL EXPERIENCE: Looking for a private snorkelling with whale shark tour, for up to 6 people? Enjoy a private full day tour with your friends and family on this eco-friendly whale shark tour, including hotel chauffeur service and a lunch at Isla Mujeres.


After booking, we were requested to meet the Ceviche Boat at a specific dock in the early morning on the day of the experience. We requested a taxi from Beloved Playa Mujeres Resort to the ferry, then walked to the dock from the port, which was quick and inexpensive.

Prior to booking, we read many reviews from different tours, snorkelling with whale sharks in Cancun, Mexico. Many reviewers warned of rough seas on route to find the whale sharks, and many experiencing seasickness as a result. We we weary, but came prepared with anti-nausea medication, which we consumed before boarding the boat. Having recently experienced seasickness on a boat cruising the Galapagos Islands, and knowing the same anti-nausea medication helped, we felt confident we would not be greatly affected by the waves, should we encounter them. We were so very wrong.





Arriving at the scheduled dock, we met the diver and captain and boarded the small speedboat. I perched myself on the back, sitting facing the opposite direction we were travelling, grasping onto the side. My husband chose to climb the ladder to the second level and sat above, facing forward. Keeping calm, I took deep cleansing breaths of the cool sea air and focused on the horizon in an attempt to anchor my line of sight. It worked, at the beginning, but after thirty minutes the waves did get quite rough, and after two hours of searching, my body had had enough.


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When we arrived at the location where the whale sharks were feeding, we could see a few other boats anchored at a distance. Our Ceviche Tour captain noticed that we looked unwell and suggested we jump in the ocean too cool our body temperature.


He first tied the life preservers around our waist to keep us upright and we jumped into the ocean. The cool waters did help for a moment, but severe nausea overtook us both and we began vomiting uncontrollably. At first, I thought it would be fine to get it “out of our system” and feel better afterwards, but I wasn't so lucky.




After a few moments of unpleasantness, the vomiting subsided but the nausea remained. Determined to continue, we both swam the few meters towards the site where whale sharks were feeding. The waves were rocky, but not unbearable. The life preserver did a good job at keeping us afloat, but offered us resistance when swimming and snorkelling.




Whale sharks emerging from depths while feeding, Cancun, Mexico
Whale sharks emerging from depths while feeding, Cancun, Mexico


From the surface, the occasional splash of something inhuman emerged, but it was too quick to comprehend. Below was an entirely different experience. Dunking our heads underwater, a new world opened up. Circling us, in the large open space between the anchored boats, was a group of huge whale sharks.


Swimming seemingly aimlessly, the whale sharks were sucking in gallons of water from the surface and feeding. They were enormous yet so graceful. Like other whales (hence the name) whale sharks are filter feeders. They open their large mouths, that are approximately five feet wide, and take in huge quantities of water and plankton. Their large gills capture and filter the small ocean critters for food.


 

Did you know? Whale shark have approximately 3000 tiny teeth inside their large mouths, but no one is quite clear why they have them and what they use them for.

 

Their distinct spotted patterns glistened in the reflected sunlight. It is difficult to describe (or capture) the size of such an enormous. Inside the vastness of the ocean, enormous creatures seem small in comparison, but huge when compared to a human being. Whale sharks are only 40 centimeters at birth and can grow to approximately 30 feet in length in adulthood, the relative size of a long yellow school bus.







Our professional diver joined us in the water and guided us on where to look swim for the best view underwater. Each time we emerged from dunking out heads underwater, we looked for our diver and he would point to where to go or look. The life preserver did make it difficult to swim quickly, especially with the lingering nausea. Though we attempted to chase behind the whale sharks at first, we quickly lost energy and stayed in one location, waiting for the whale sharks to come to us.



UNIQUE TRAVEL EXPERIENCE: Combine snorkelling with whale sharks with a visit to stunning Playa Norte beach on Isla Mujeres Island. This small group tour includes hotel transfers and fresh ceviche.


We, and everyone else on the snorkelling with whale sharks tour, had been forewarned not to disturb them and not to physically touch them, we were only there to observe. The whale sharks took no obvious notice of us, or if they did, they did not appear bothered by our presence. The water was clear, but their movements (and ours) disturbed the plankton and floating debris, sometimes clouding the water.


Watching them move, their actual motions appeared slow and insignificant, but due to their size, one small movement propelled them forward. We found ourselves more than once, forced us to swim quickly out of their path to avoid a collision. By the end of our unforgettable experience, both of us had been accidentally slapped by the tail of a whale shark whilst trying to swim out of their way.




J swimming along side a whale shark, Cancun, Mexico
J swimming along side a whale shark, Cancun, Mexico


Since we had opted for a private excursion, we were allowed to spend our entire time in the water with the whale sharks. We watched as others took turns, climbing back onto the boat and allowing other guests to jump in and marvel at these beautiful creatures. Passengers on the other boats also experienced seasickness. From the water, we could see guests draped over the edge or sitting on the side with their heads down, covered in a camp towel. One guest was particularly bad and needed to be rushed back to shore. Since our speedboat was the fastest amongst the boats anchored in the area, our captain offered to transport the sick passenger back to shore, and we were escorted back via another (slower) boat.


 

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After about 45 minutes in the water, the nausea ever present, my body had had enough and I boarded the boat. My husband stayed a few minutes longer and then joined me. Facing forward, we pressed our backs against our seats, enjoying the cool sea air. At full speed, the boat crashed against the waves, lifting off of the water and slapping back down, spraying us with cold mist. The sound was deafening, as if the wood was cracking beneath us. Though it was an intense and long ride back to shore, the speed, the position, and the cool mist, eased any lingering seasickness.



Whale shark swimming away, Cancun, Mexico
Whale shark swimming away, Cancun, Mexico


Arriving a different times, all the boats stopped on route at a nearby beach to allow their passengers the opportunity to snorkel a nearby reef, or relax in the crystal clear waters. The waters were calm and warm, exactly what we needed. Though the nausea disappeared, we didn't partake in the fresh fruit or ceviche offered by Ceviche Tours. It all looked refreshing and delicious, but we feared it would not sit well. Floating in the calm waters, we simply relaxed.


Unfortunately, whale shark populations are on the decline and they are now considered an endangered species. Participating in eco-friendly, non-disruptive excursions like this snorkel with whale sharks, help support ecotourism and encourage the protection of all marine life. Even knowing now what we would physically need to endure, we would choose to do it all over again for a chance to observe whale sharks in their nature habitat once more. It was truly an unforgettable (and amazing) experience.


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