Snorkeling with Whale Sharks has been high on my bucket list for many years now. Jaws frightened me when I was little and being in open water makes me nervous. Why would I want to jump in the water with one of the largest fish in the sea? Getting out of my comfort zone and challenging myself to new experiences is thrilling and exciting. Secondly, the experience of being in a different world i.e. an underwater environment is like going to a new exotic destination and I love to travel and explore new places. A good thing to know about the Whale Sharks is they don’t have big teeth and they don’t eat people!
What is a Whale Shark?
Whale Sharks are often referred to as “gentle giants.” The Whale Shark is not a Whale but a Shark. It is the largest fish in the sea growing up to 41 feet in length and can weigh over 20 tons. They don’t have large single teeth like a Great White but 3,000 small, tiny teeth. This shark is a filter feeder that feeds on plankton, krill, and tiny fish. Far from being jaws but it certainly does have a large mouth that can span up to five feet wide while eating. Whale Sharks may live up to 100 years old or maybe even longer. Currently, they are considered an endangered species and efforts are being taken to save these fish from being fished.
This Shark display on the Smithsonian Ocean Portal website gives you a feel of just how big the Whale Shark is in comparison to other sharks.
Whale Sharks in Baja Mexico
November through May is the best time to snorkel or dive with the Whale Sharks in Baja. When we planned our family Cabo Vacation in late November this year I knew we had to do this excursion. After reading Trip Advisor reviews before our trip, recent tours were seeing the Sharks so it was a good time to book. Tours are expensive and they don’t offer guarantees of seeing the sharks so you want to call ahead and ask about sightings before you book.
The cost varies from $165-$200 per person for the tour. I booked online with Expedia and they give a member discount of 10% or more. Our cost was $164.18 per person and that was the best deal I could find. Expedia booked our tours with Cabo Adventures. All we had to do is present our Expedia vouchers at check-in and arrange transportation with Cabo Adventures directly. Cabo Adventures is one of the leading tour companies on Trip Advisor currently ranked #1. They offer Whale Shark tours, Luxury Sailing trips, Swim with the Dolphin Programs and more.
Cabo Adventures Whale Shark Tour
We were picked up at 7:30 am in the morning and transported to the Cabo Adventures office located in the Cabo Marina area. We checked in, took a bathroom break, and were split into groups. Transportation to La Paz was in a newer, air-conditioned van. Approximately a two-hour drive from Cabo, a good book helps pass the time. Our tour guide, Alex gave us a brown bag packed with a turkey sandwich, apple, and juice for breakfast. Alex provided information about the whale sharks as we approached La Paz. He was extremely knowledgeable about Whale Shark behavior and briefed us on what to expect once we were in the water. Alex spoke excellent English as well.
At the Whale Shark Museum in La Paz, valuables and clothing were stored in a small locker without locks, so glad I didn’t bring a purse! The office is watched while the tour group is out. Special biodegradable sunscreen is recommended as chemicals like perfume or certain types of sunscreen should not be worn. Wetsuits and snorkel gear is also provided.
Once everyone is ready and gathered outside it is a short walk to the pier to catch the boat. The boats are small and everything gets soaked. All I needed was our Go Pro, a beach towel, cheap sunglasses, snorkel gear and my hat.
On the boat, Alex split us into groups of five and explained that each group will get three opportunities to swim with the sharks. Once the Captain spotted our first group of Whale Sharks, everyone got ready. The first group immediately prepared and sat on the edge of the boat. Simultaneously all five people jump in the water and the boat rocked violently. Large fins emerged above the water and I began to question myself.
Am I really ready to do this?
Snorkeling with the Whale sharks Bonnie’s Experience
Now it is my turn, and it takes courage as I jump in the water! Alex says, “Look Down!” The whale shark is directly swimming under me. I scream in my snorkel! (You can hear for yourself on the U Tube video) For a moment I feel frozen and can’t move as I watch the biggest Shark I’ve ever seen swim under me. My heart beats rapidly. His tail slowly moves from right to left under me. Am I too close to his tail, I wonder.
Exhilarated, amazed, filled with awe, excited, freaked out, shocked, are words to describe this experience.
Swimming after the group and the ginormous fish, I keep swallowing salty sea water. Yuck! Is it me or the new snorkel I purchased before the trip.
Epic Travel Fail
I never tested my brand new Cressi snorkel gear before the trip. My new dry snorkel isn’t so dry. It leaks water through the bottom of the tube. On this amazing bucket list dream experience, I have a faulty snorkel. Always test your equipment before vacation to make sure it works properly.
Have a floatation device for your GoPro or underwater camera. Someone almost lost theirs on our tour. Alex said it happens pretty frequently.
On our second turn, there is a little panic as the Whale Shark turns fast and comes close to all of us. Alex tells the group that we need to swim in a formation of 2 to the left and 2 to the right behind him. Whale Sharks don’t seem to care about us, but it is scary when one changes direction and starts to approach you. Remember they are the size of buses swimming towards you. Intimidated by its size and unpredictability in its movement is the adventure thrill of swimming next to a Whale Shark in the wild.
Third time is a charm, as Alex guides me and takes me by the arm. The guide is the most experienced with these Sharks and I feel the safest close to him. We approach the Whale Shark carefully as it is feeding with his enormous mouth open wide. The water is murky because of all the plankton it is eating. Peacefully, the shark is floating still while enjoying his lunch. We swim around him and the shark is magnificent. I was in awe of how beautiful this shark, It’s indescribable really.
Hunger Sets In
Ready to celebrate my accomplishment and feeling elated after our Whale Shark experience I realize hunger has set in. Yummy Baja style Fish tacos, tequila, and beer are served on the rooftop of the Whale Shark Museum. Alex says the tequila is good for all the sea water you’ve swallowed. Sitting at a table of new friends, we toast to the Whale Sharks, Mexico, Travel adventures and fill our bellies with tacos. After a long day, most everyone took siestas on the 2-hour journey back to Cabo.
My bucket list item should be crossed off but now I want to swim with the Whale Sharks again. Next time in Isla Mujeres, Mexico where hundreds come every summer.
Feel free to check out my U tube video on It’s a Bonnie Thing.