This was a once in a lifetime experience to swim with the gentle giants of the ocean. There are a number of places around the world you can do it but found the Whale Sharks in Isla Mujeres brilliant. As I live in Australia, traveling to Mexico is no quick trip, in fact, it was nearly 27 hours door to door. However, after the experience I had, it was well worth the travel time.
Isla Mujeres ( near Cancun) was not the first place I tried to do this! Coral Bay in Western Australia does get Whale Sharks migrating through their waters as well. Unfortunately, timing and weather contributed to my tour being canceled, so never got the opportunity to try. I have heard others experiencing the Whale Shark snorkel here and had a wonderful time, although the animal numbers in Mexico can’t be denied.
Explore Tours to swim with the Whale Sharks!
- Cancún: Swim with Whale Sharks
- Riviera Maya: Whale Shark Encounter
- From Cancún: Half-Day Snorkeling with Whale Sharks
- Swim with Whale Sharks from Playa del Carmen or Cancun
- Cancun & Riviera Maya: Whale Shark Tour + Playa Norte Beach
The best thing about swimming with Whale Sharks, it’s a snorkelling activity, easy to do, and fun for everyone. It doesn’t require any training and the activity is safe, as long as you follow your instructions.
Watch the You Tube video of Whale Shark swimming!
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What are Whale Sharks
These might very well be a part of the Shark family and could be one of the largest animals you will see in your lifetime. However, you have absolutely nothing to fear with these beautiful creatures as they aren’t interested in humans. They are the biggest fish in the ocean growing up to 12 metres (40 feet) long and having a 70-year lifespan. Can you also believe that they can weigh up to 20 tonnes, roughly the size of a school bus?
They inhabit tropical and warm-temperate seas like what you get off the coast of Mexico. Primarily pelagic, this means that they live in the open sea but not in the greater depths of the ocean. The spawning of coral and plankton blooms appear to control their movement around the world.
Much like humans fingerprints, the white spot markings and patterns on a Whale Shark are very unique. Their heads are flattened and have a large mouth that could be 1.5 metres(5 feet) wide. The colours on their back or side vary from grey to brown, and their bellies are white. They also have rows of teeth, like other sharks, but don’t use them.
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Whale Shark mating?
Around 30 years old, a Whale Shark will reach sexual maturity, able to mate and reproduce. A male will try to get the female’s attention by zigzagging and diving deeper, essentially trying to show off. The male will swim up from below and use one of his two claspers to mate with the female. As this has not been witnessed much, there is still much research needed for this behaviour.
The gestation period is unknown, but a female Whale Shark will produce eggs that hatch inside the mother. She will then give birth to roughly three hundred live young. Unfortunately, all won’t all make it to maturity.
Are they Whale or Shark?
Are they a Whale or a Shark, or a bit of both? They are in fact, a Shark, made of cartilage and breathing through their gill. However, they share a lot of common traits similar to Whales. One being their size and two having a diet and feeding habit more like Whale.
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What do Whale Sharks eat
Whale Sharks are known to be filter feeders. This means they feed by sifting small food particles through the water, as they swim around. You will see Whale Sharks opening and closing their large mouths, drawing the ocean water in. Their bodies filter out the food they need and then release the water back into the ocean.
Their favourite meal is Plankton, which are tiny drifting organisms carried by tides or currents. Other food sources are shrimp, algae, Sardines, Anchovies, squid, tuna or they have been known to hang around for fish spawning to eat the eggs.
They are not, by any means, meat-eating carnivores like the Shark!
Where is Isla Mujeres
Isla Mujeres is a small Island located approx. 36 kilometres (22 miles) or 1 hour off the coast of Cancun. This is on the eastern side of Mexico in the Quintana Roo Region.
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How do I get to Isla Mujeres
Flights to Cancun can happen from anywhere in the world, but some transfers might be needed. This is the closest spot to get to the beautiful island of Isla Mujeres. From the terminal, you will need to make your way to the Puerto Juarez Ferry Terminal. The “Ultramar Isla Mujeres Ferry” leaves from this terminal roughly every half an hour between 5am and 8:30pm. Tickets will cost you about $16USD round trip and can be purchased right before you get on board.
Best time to visit for Whale Sharks Isla Mujeres
The Best months to see Whale Sharks Isla Mujeres is when they’re migrating through in July and August of each year. This is when the numbers will be the highest. Although anytime between June and September, the plankton is in abundance and you’ll find plenty of the Whale Sharks filter feeding through the beautiful clear waters of Mexico.
However, these are wild creatures, and it’s never guaranteed to see them. I think this is why I chose Mexico for this experience, as there are hundreds in the water and the best opportunity to see at least one.
Another thing you might like to consider is traveling within three days before and after a full moon. It’s not an exact science, but a variety of underwater creatures are more active during a lunar cycle. This could either be the Whale Sharks themselves or the plankton they are eating.
Whale Shark Isla Mujeres Tours
Snorkeling with Whale Shark Isla Mujeres is available for all ages and there are many tour boats that leave from the Island. The boat will manoeuvre in the path of an oncoming Whale Shark and with your mask and snorkel fitted, two people will jump in the water. Although the Whale shark seems to move its tail very slow, it doesn’t take long for it to glide right past you. It’s funny that you seem to be kicking so hard to keep up, while it’s making little to no effort to swim along. A couple of minutes later the boat will pick you up and you take turns with the rest of the people on the boat.
Although there were at least a hundred boats in the water, they were spread out over a number of kilometres in the water. It wasn’t overcrowded and plenty of Whale Sharks in the water to share around. We ended up using Ceviche Tours and they were friendly and helpful. The boat only had about 8 passengers on board, so the numbers were limited and left more time in the water for you. As Skilled Divemaster’s and booking 3-day tours with them, they ended up leaving us in the water just waiting for the next Whale Shark to pass by.
How long is a Whale Shark Isla Mujeres Tour?
Allow a full day to enjoy the Whale Shark Isla Mujeres experience. It takes about 1 to 1.5 hours to travel each way to the location. After a few hours out on the open water, you travel back to the Isla Mujeres beach and have a late lunch in the shallow waters. Gives you a chance to have a quick swim while lunch is being made.
Is lunch provided on the Tour?
What was lunch you ask? Ceviche, a popular Mexican dish, which is made from fresh raw fish cured in fresh citrus juices like lemon or lime, Onions, salt, coriander and other seasonings like chilli peppers. Ours was also topped with some beautiful fresh avocado, just a perfect way to end the tour.
I’m sure this is not the same on every tour, but it was absolutely amazing!
Whale Sharks Isla Mujeres is a one in a lifetime experience and shouldn’t be missed, if your ever in the area. Would also recommend an underwater camera if you can. That way you can remember the occasion over and over again. Most of all, don’t forget to have fun.
Whale Sharks Cancun
Are you staying at Cancun and want to experience the Whale Shark tour as well? Then, no worry’s! There are a number of tour company’s that leave from several different city’s on the mainland. This includes Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, Cozumel, Tulum and other Islands like Holbox. The boat tours take a little longer, but you still get to experience the same things as if you were staying on Isla Mujeres. Some of these tours could also include transportation from your Cancun accommodation.
Something for you to consider when travelling through the area.
Safety to consider swimming with Whale Sharks
Whale Sharks Isla Mujeres are wild creatures your swimming with and there are a number of things you need to do for your own safety and to limit the environmental impact of the tour.
- Wear a short wetsuit to keep you buoyant. You’re in open water and you are nowhere near the bottom.
- Wear a full bodysuit. Consider protecting your skin from Jellyfish, Coral spawn, or particles in the water that might react to your skin. This is not needed for everyone!
- Stay out of the direct path of the Whale shark and don’t get too close. Even their massive tails could swipe a person and send you spinning. Let them feed and you can easily admire them from a small distance.
- Take precautionary methods for Seasickness. You are going into open water and will be out there for hours. Nothing spoils a tour more than being seasick the whole time.
- Don’t touch any wild animals. You need to limit the ethical and environmental effects of doing this activity.
- Take lots of sunscreen. You are in a small boat and in the sun a lot.
Isla Mujeres Weather
Max and Min Temps ( Celsius)
January: 28° / 19°
February: 28° / 19°
March: 29° / 20°
April: 30° / 22°
May: 32° / 24°
June: 32° / 25°
July: 32° / 25°
August: 33° / 24°
September: 32° / 24°
October: 31° / 23°
November: 29° / 21°
December 28° / 20°
June and July are obviously peak summer season, and being a tropical location, it also has the heaviest rainfall. Don’t let this discourage you from booking around this time. Whale Sharks tours will still run in light rain, and it doesn’t hang around for too long. The first morning I arrived on the island, it poured down for 2 hours with gusting winds. However, after that, the sun came out, and was such a beautiful day.
January: 66mm, 6 days
February: 54mm, 5 days
March: 36mm, 3 days
April: 42mm, 3 days
May: 108mm,7 days
June: 183mm,11 days
July: 129mm,11 days
August: 148mm, 11 days
September: 224mm, 14 days
October: 185mm, 13 days
November: 85mm, 8 days
December 79mm, 7 days
The average Temperatures of the ocean water all year round ranges from 26 degrees to 29 degrees. Be prepared for an ample amount of possible swimming time and what makes Isla Mujeres an ultimate beach location to travel to.
About Isla Mujeres
Whale Sharks aren’t the only thing to see or do on Isla Mujeres. The island itself is approximately 7 kilometres (4.3 mi) long and 650 metres (2,130 ft) wide and in clear weather, you can see the coast of Cancun from the west side of the island. It’s a perfect location just to sit and relax on the beach or take the opportunity of the many activities.
The best way to get around Isla Mujeres is by scooter, motorbike, pushbike, or golf buggy. Like most tourist hubs, scooters are in abundance and the most popular form of transport on the island. However, buggy’s are the second most popular and an alternative to cars or taxis. Both the scooters and buggy can be hired on the island when you get there.
There are several restaurants available with all kinds of different food. Not sure about you, but I love trying local dishes and cuisines when visiting any country. I remember that it was hard to get breakfast so early in the morning before tours unless it was supplied by your hotel.
Accommodation ranges from 2 to 5 star, so something suitable for everyone. I picked my location out of convenience and price. It was a basic, comfortable room and easy to walk everywhere for tours and across the road from the beach.
Other things to do in Isla Mujeres
What else can you do to entertain yourself while visiting Isla Mujeres? Let me sujject a few things below:
- Sailing Trips
- Sun baking
- Golf Cart bar crawl
- Dolphin discovery
- Captain Dulche’s Museum
- Explore the Island
- Yoga on the Beach
- Avenida Miguel Hidalgo ( Pedestrian Street shopping)
- Visit the Turtle Farm
- Diving the Reef or Musa Museum
- Visit the Mayan Temple, Punta Sur
- Watch a sunset from the beach
- Admire the ‘Sea Wall Murals’ of Isla Mujeres
- Visit Playa Norte beach
- Day trip to Isla Contoy bird sanctuary
- See the Joysxee Floating Bottle Island
Other things to do in the Area:
“Hi, I’m Chris Fry, the writer and photographer behind Aquarius Traveller, where I share my outdoor journeys, provide valuable information and inspiration for your land and underwater travels. I live in Australia, have travelled extensively across Australia and to 36 other countries”
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