It’s not every day you come face to face with the world’s largest fish. We’ve partnered with family traveler Erin Bender of Travel With Bender, who will prepare you for that exact moment when you hit the Caribbean waters and go swimming with whale sharks.
Finally! You are heading to Mexico. You’ve been planning this trip for years.
You book yourself a gorgeous all-inclusive hotel right in the heart of Mexico’s Caribbean coast, but your soul is yearning to be enveloped in the crystal blue waters off Cancun.
As you take a stroll along the boardwalk by the beach you stop at a tour desk, immediately drawn to the image of a bus-size whale shark. This is it. Your once-in-a-lifetime chance to get up close to the world’s largest fish in the warm tropical waters of Mexico.
But wait. Before you book that tour there are four important things you should know. This is not a warning. Swimming with whale sharks is exhilarating and fun, and an unmissable bucket list activity you have to do in Cancun. But this guide will help make that dream experience the perfect story you can tell your grandkids one day.
Choose a Responsible Company
There are many local companies operating whale shark tours, so choose wisely. We found this tour to be socially responsible and eco-friendly. How can you tell? They don’t speed through the water around feeding grounds. Some operators are so busy trying to get tourists to the sharks they are creating hazards for snorkelers, let alone these precious creatures. They don’t feed the sharks. The whale sharks are already there feeding naturally so there is no need to entice them with more food. They limit their time with the sharks, so you don’t overstay your welcome. Responsible operators only allow two people in the water at any given time to swim with the sharks so they can keep an eye on guests and so the sharks are not overwhelmed. And lastly, don’t get too close, close enough for a picture, but a responsible operator will advise you to avoid touching them.
Bring Biodegradable Reef-Friendly Sunscreen
You want to leave the sharks’ environment as you found it, so responsible tour operators require the use of “reef friendly” biodegradable sunscreen. Alternatives are full-length wet suits. I’ve found this type of sunscreen isn’t quite as strong as regular sunscreen, so make sure you cover up when out of the water.
Take a Sea-Sickness Tablet
You probably won’t get sea sick, but why take the chance of ruining your bucket list moment? It’s a long boat ride out to the whale sharks, but that’s not where the sea sickness kicks in. That happens when you are waiting for your turn in the water. The boat sits out in the middle of the open ocean bobbing up and down, up and down. To avoid sea sickness, speak to your doctor or local pharmacist about what medication to take. Most tour companies will even stop at a nearby pharmacy on the way to the boat – this is the perfect time to take the medication as well. Always seek professional help when using medication.
Be Ready To Swim
Finally, before you hop in the water with these giant beauties, be prepared. Whale sharks are the largest species of fish on this planet and when you watch from the comfort of a boat these enormous creatures seem slow and mellow. But once you’re in the water you are going to realize how fast and strong they are.
The boat will drop you right in front of them, where you can swim fast to stay alongside a shark for a moment or two before they pull ahead and swim away.
Be prepared. Prepared to swim, prepared for the rush and thrill when the tour leader says “jump” and you launch yourself from the boat into the ocean … in front of a massive shark.
Swimming with whale sharks is an experience you’ll never forget. And I hope our guide will help you be prepared. So how about it? Do you want to swim with a whale shark?
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