The Best Tours to Swim with Whale Sharks from Cancun in 2023

Are you looking to swim with whale sharks from Cancun? Look no further! This is one of the unmissable tours that you must do in Cancun and in this post I am going to tell you which is the best company that can take you there and respect the environment!

You do not want to miss the chance to swim with whale sharks in Cancun. Every year, the waters off the coast of Cancun are blessed with the arrival of a large group of whale sharks.

These magnificent animals come to feast on the large plankton bloom- making this one of the best destinations in the world to see them up close.

If you have always dreamed of swimming next to the world’s largest fish, or even if this is the first time you have heard of snorkeling with whale sharks – this is your chance.

Keep reading to find out everything you need to know about this experience.

woman swimming next to the whale shark
Photo © Canva

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In a rush? Here is the top-rated Cancun Whale Shark Tour

👉Whale Shark Encounter Tour in Cancun with Snacks and Breakfast🦈

This tour has 495 5⭐ Reviews from previous participants, which says a lot.

This tour includes:

  • Round Transportation with AC from your hotel
  • Continental Breakfast(pastries, coffee, juice, fresh fruit)
  • Drinks(water, softdrinks)
  • Fish or Shrimp Ceviche with tortilla chips & guacamole
  • Snorkel equipment & Life Jacket.

Click here to book your tour on VIATOR

What guests have to say about this tour:

Our tour guide Pia was so sweet and knowledgeable. She stayed at my boyfriend’s side as he got seasick and knew so much about the whale sharks, you could tell she loved what she does. The experience was AMAZING!! I had so much fun and would recommend it to everyone. All the equipment you need is provided, just being the adventure and smiles.

Tamara_J, Aug 2022

All About Whale Sharks in Cancun

If you are just now being inspired to snorkel with whale sharks you might be wondering, are whale sharks whales or sharks?

The answer is sharks. They get their name because they are so large, and, like whales, they are filter feeders.

Whale sharks are the world’s largest fish, they can grow up to 12 meters long! Their enormous bodies are covered in unique white stripes and spot patterns.

Whale sharks swim at a slow pace of 3 miles per hour all over the world, and they visit Cancun every summer! 

Are whale sharks dangerous?

No! Despite their enormous mouths, whale sharks cannot bite or chew. As mentioned above, whale sharks are filter feeders.

Their enormous mouths can stretch up to four feet wide. They do this to process water through their gills and eat plankton and tiny fish and shrimp. 

Whale sharks are often called gentle giants. They calmly swim and do not pose any threat to you.

Despite their gentle nature, you will still need to be careful while in the water with them. You will need to position yourself to the side or behind the whale shark.

You never want to be above or below them, or next to their pectoral fin. Your tour guide will give you a detailed explanation of how to safely swim next to the whale sharks. 

When is the whale shark season in Cancun?

Whale shark season is officially from May 15 to September 17th. These are the dates that the government grants permission to boats to go to the area where the whale sharks hang out.

This does not necessarily mean the whale sharks have arrived yet (or that they leave exactly on September 17th) but these are the dates when operators can offer tours.

Normally the whale sharks arrive in the area by late May or early June, and tour operators will begin offering the excursion to snorkel with the whale sharks.

Traditionally, most shops do not run tours on the 30th of every month. They save this day as a “day off” for the whale sharks, to have a break from the boat traffic and snorkelers.

Unfortunately, some operators do not respect this tradition.

photographer taking a picture of the whale shark underwater
Underwater photographer & a whale shark – photo from Canva

What is the best time to see whale sharks in Cancun?

Many people agree that the best time to see whale sharks is in July and August. This is typically when there are the most whale sharks in the area.

It is possible to see up to 100-200 whale sharks in the area – which is simply amazing! If possible, try to book your tour near a full moon.

During the full moon, there is even more plankton floating on the surface, which attracts the whale sharks.

It is best to not wait until the very end of the whale shark season to book your tour. 

Is swimming with whale sharks in Cancun worth it?

Yes! Swimming with whale sharks is an unforgettable experience. There is nothing like the thrill of swimming next to the world’s largest fish and being able to see with your own eyes the beautiful patterns on their skin and the way they effortlessly move through the water.

The Cancun area is a great place to swim with whale sharks. The water is warm and comfortable to swim in, and there are usually many in the water.

On some days, it is even possible to spot manta rays and dolphins swimming near the whale sharks! 

diving with whale sharks
Diving with whale sharks – photo from Canva

What are the best Whale Shark Tours in Cancun?

There are many different tour operators who can take you to see the whale sharks. The best operators follow all the government’s rules to ensure the safety of the whale sharks, and their guides will teach you about these amazing animals.

If someone offers you a tour that seems unbelievably cheap compared to other tours, you should be suspicious- this is probably a person who does not have all the correct government permissions to visit the whale shark area.

All tour operators are required to follow the government rule of snorkeling in buddy pairs. This means that only two snorkelers plus the guide are allowed in the water at a time.

Most tours guarantee you will get at least two jumps into the water to snorkel with the whale sharks.

Here are some of the best tours.

1. Small-Group Eco Friendly: Whale Sharks tour in Cancun

4.5⭐ 588 Reviews

With this tour, you will start your tour by boating a boat and heading out to look for the whale sharks. Once the captain has found the whale sharks, you will suit up in your provided snorkel gear and hop into the water to swim with the whale sharks.

Your guide will be a bilingual biologist or naturalist who will get in the water with you, and help you enjoy this experience to the max.

You are guaranteed two jumps into the water to snorkel with the whale sharks. After the snorkeling ends, you will head to Isla Mujeres.

There you will enjoy lunch on one of the most beautiful beaches in the world before heading back to Cancun. 

There is a limit of 10 people on this tour, and it lasts approximately 7 hours.

Once in a lifetime
This trip was amazing and the whale sharks did not disappoint they are so big and carefree our tour guide and captain were amazing I highly recommend we also paid for the picture package and I am so glade I did they got all of our memories on file for us without me having to worry about it

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Miguel_O, Sep 2022
scuba diving with whale sharks
BOOK YOUR TOUR HERE – photo from Canva

2. Whale Shark Encounter Tour in Cancun with Snacks and Breakfast

5⭐ 495 Reviews

You will start your day with breakfast at the marina before speeding off in search of the whale sharks.

On the boat ride keep your eyes open for dolphins and sea turtles. Once you reach the whale sharks your guide will give you a briefing and get in the water with you to ensure you are safe and have fun.

After snorkeling with the whale sharks you will head to Isla Mujeres. On the way, you will have the chance to stop and snorkel at a colorful coral reef.

At Isla Mujeres, you will enjoy a lunch of fish or shrimp ceviche (they can accommodate dietary restrictions, just let them know in advance) and guacamole and be able to relax on the beautiful Playa Norte beach.

This tour lasts approximately 8 hours.

Awesome experience
Super fun experience and would for sure recommend trying it out. The tour guide did an awesome job and was super friendly.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Jared_K, Aug 2022

3. Eco-Friendly Private Whale Shark Tour in Cancun

5⭐ 31 Reviews

Snorkel with the whale sharks on this private tour. You will meet your guide at the marina and head out to look for the whale sharks.

Once the captain has found the whale sharks you will spend approximately three hours snorkeling with them.

The helpful guides will give you information about whale sharks and help you have a great time in the water.

After snorkeling you will eat lunch and head back to the marina. This tour is ideal for groups or if you can afford the luxury of having a private boat.

This tour lasts approximately 8 hours. 

Fun adventure
A great adventure that you would not have imagined possible. The day started with our tour guide Marcella who was full of energy and tended to us for all our needs. Had a great tour chacing the whale shark a got real close. Bought the video service that will be mailed to us. Loved the fish and treats served. Overall a great experience to mark off my bucket list.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ A Tripadvisor Reviewer, Aug 2022

4. Whale Shark Swimming & Isla Mujeres Beach Visit

5⭐ 270 Reviews

You will start your day with a check-in at the marina where you can also enjoy a light breakfast. You will then get on the boat that will take you to the open ocean where you will see the whale sharks.

You will have an experienced captain and guide who will help make sure you see the most whale sharks and have fun while being safe.

You will be required to wear a life jacket from the time you depart the marina for your safety. There will be 10 people maximum on the boat, and you will get into the water in pairs of 2 with the guide.

Each person will get the chance to jump into the water 2-3 times to swim with the whale sharks. After visiting the whale sharks, you will go to have a ceviche lunch at Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres.

You will have an hour to relax or do some more snorkeling from the beach before heading back to Cancun.

Boats leave from the marina at 7:50 am and return between 1:00 and 2:00 pm. 

It was wonderful experience , crew Dorian and Gilberto are cool guys you ever met, help get through this and help you get best pics and video for social media, try book with them and tips those guys too, make your adventures amazing.

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Joe_B, Sep 2022
Isla Mujeres aerial view of tuqouise water
Turquoise water of Isla Mujeres off the coast of Cancun – BOOK YOUR TOUR HERE – photo from Canva

5. 7-Day Eco-Adventure Tour with Whale Shark Encounter

5⭐ 3 Reviews

Experience the best of the Yucatan Peninsula with this 7-day eco-adventure tour. Your package includes round-trip transportation from the Cancun airport and 6 nights of accommodation at a 3-star hotel.

During your trip, you will visit the famous ruins of Chichen Itza, a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the new seven wonders of the world.

You will visit the Sian Ka’an Biosphere reserve where you will hike through the jungle and get to kayak through the mangroves.

You will visit the town of Puerto Morelos and get to swim in a freshwater cenote. The highlight of your week will be the day you will spend snorkeling off the coast of Cancun with the whale sharks.

Your experience includes a guide and drivers, breakfast every morning, and snorkeling equipment. 

6. 7-Day Whale Shark Ecofriendly Tour in Cancun

5⭐ 17 Reviews

Explore the natural beauty and rich marine life of Cancun’s coast with this 7-day eco-adventure tour.

Enjoy a small group experience with a maximum of 10 guests. You will have 6 nights accommodation in a 3 or 4-star hotel with breakfast included.

Your tour includes snorkeling in the deep waters off of the coast of Cancun with whale sharks, visiting marine turtles, and snorkeling in freshwater cenotes and on coral reefs.

Guests love the specialized guides who will share local knowledge with you. 

An amazing adventure respecting and loving nature and a beautiful creature. Outstanding staff! Veronica was the best. Thanks for a once in a lifetime adventure!!

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ A Tripadvisor Reviewer, Aug 2022

Planning to swim with whale sharks in Cancun?

whale shark with a swimmer
Swimming beside a whale shark – photo from Canva

Swimming with whale sharks is an unforgettable experience. You want to make the most of your day and be able to enjoy it to the max.

Here are a few common questions, and answers, so you can best plan your whale shark experience. 

What to bring on a whale shark snorkeling tour?

You will be spending your day on a boat, getting in and out of the water, so you will need to wear a comfortable swimsuit.

Many of the boats that go to visit the whale sharks are smaller, 10-person boats, so you should not count on having a bathroom on the boat to use to change into your swimsuit.

Come dressed in your swimwear (you can bring dry clothes to change into if there is a bathroom) and a lightweight cover-up. 

You will be in the sun all day, so make sure to bring your sunglasses, a hat, and reef-safe sunscreen.

You can use reef-safe sunscreen early in the day at your hotel before getting on the boat, but you will not be allowed to reapply until after you swim with the whale sharks.

The only kind of sunscreen you can use is eco-friendly, which does not contain chemicals that are harmful to corals and marine life. You may want to bring a rashguard to protect you from the sun. 

Tours will provide you with snorkel equipment, but if you have your own and will be more comfortable using it, you are welcome to bring it.

If you have a GoPro or underwater camera, you can take it with you, but no flash photography is allowed. 

If you have a dry bag, you will want to bring it to store your cell phone, wallet, and anything else you do not want to get wet.

You will also need to take a bit of cash with you, to tip the crew, and pay the dock fees. These can only be paid in cash on the day of the tour and cost around $15. 

Who can go on a whale shark tour?

Most people can go on the whale shark tour, although there are a few considerations to take into account before signing up.

Most importantly, people who sign up for the tour should be comfortable being on a boat for several hours.

Depending on where the whale sharks are, the ride can take anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour and a half.

Snorkeling with whale sharks is in deep water, so it is helpful to know how to swim and be comfortable in deep water.

If you are nervous, guides will help you, or you can observe the whale sharks near the surface of the boat.

Some tours have a minimum age requirement for children, and many recommend guests with back problems, heart problems, or who are pregnant to not participate in this tour. 

whale shark feeding with fish
Shark feeding by swimming with mouth open – photo from Canva

How much does the whale shark tour cost?

Depending on which tour company you choose the price of the tour is between $140-$210 per person.

There is also an option to charter a private boat to see the whale sharks for around $750 – which is a great option if you can fill the boat with your group.

You will need to pay a dock fee in cash on the day of your tour, it costs around $15 per person. 

Whale shark tours cost more than regular snorkeling tours because of the extra licensing and government fees that boats need to obtain in order to visit the whale sharks.

The whale sharks are often further away from shore, so the boats consume a lot more gas also. 

What is included on most whale shark tours in Cancun?

Most tours include round-trip transportation to the marina, a bilingual guide, and snorkeling equipment.

Most tours include a stop at Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres where you will be served lunch and non-alcoholic beverages.

Lunch is typically sandwiches or ceviche.

How long do whale shark tours in Cancun typically last?

Whale shark tours typically last between 5-7 hours. The length of the trip depends on the exact location of the whale sharks, some days it takes longer to get to them than others, and the weather conditions for driving the boat.

You will typically have around 3 hours snorkeling with the whale sharks and an hour at the beach to eat lunch. 

Where do you go swimming with whale sharks in Cancun?

Isla Holbox, Mexico
Isla Holbox, Mexico – photo from Canva

The whale sharks are found off the coast of Isla Mujeres, Isla Holbox, and Isla Contoy in the deep, open water.

They are constantly on the move, but it generally takes 40 minutes to 1.5 hours to get to them from Cancun. 

How far in advance should you book a whale shark tour in Cancun?

It is a good idea to book your tour as soon as you can. The government limits the number of boats and snorkelers that visit the whale sharks, and this is a very popular tour.

Spaces can fill up quickly, and you do not want to miss out. As soon as you know your travel dates, it is a good idea to book your tour. 

Tips for Going on a Whale Shark Tour in Cancun

You want to enjoy every moment of your time with the whale sharks. Tours leave early, so make sure you get plenty of rest the night before and stay hydrated throughout the day.

Remember to pack plenty of sun protection and take sea sickness medicine if you are prone to feeling seasick. Listen carefully to all the safety briefings the guide gives you, and you will have a great time!

FAQs about swimming with whale sharks in Cancun

Whale shark swimming in Cancun
Whale shark swimming in Cancun – photo from Canva

Is it guaranteed that you’ll see whale sharks?

No, tour operators in Cancun do not guarantee you will see whale sharks or get your money back.

That said, the captain and crew will work very hard to find the whale sharks and help you get in the water swimming with them. 

Can kids/families swim with whale sharks in Cancun?

Snorkeling with whale sharks is a great family activity. Some tours have minimum age limits, and all families with young children should think critically about whether their children are old enough and comfortable enough on boats and in the water to enjoy the experience.

For some families, it might be best to wait until children are better swimmers before booking the experience. 

Do I need to be able to swim for a whale shark snorkeling tour?

The whale sharks are in the deep, open water. Participants should be comfortable swimming in water that is over their heads, even though life jackets are required.

If you are not comfortable swimming, you can always stay on the boat and observe the whale sharks from the surface. 

What if I have never snorkeled before?

It is helpful to have a snorkeling experience before going on this tour. The whale sharks swim fast (compared to us) so you will not want to spend a lot of time on the surface getting comfortable.

If possible, try to do some snorkeling on your vacation before you book your whale shark tour to get some experience. 

Is snorkeling gear provided?

Yes, snorkeling gear is provided. If you have your own, you are welcome to use it. 

Swim with Whale Sharks The top-rated Cancun Tours 2023

Can I use sunscreen in the water?

No, per the government rules, you should not use sunscreen in the water. You can apply reef-safe sunscreen after you have snorkeled, or use a rash guard.

Will you get seasick on whale shark tours in Cancun?

You might get seasick on the ride to find the whale sharks. If you are prone to seasickness or worried you might be, make sure to take seasickness medicine in the morning before getting on the boat.

For this tour, it is better safe than sorry, you do not want to feel bad and miss out on the fun! 

Is wearing a life jacket mandatory?

Yes, the government requires all participants to wear a life jacket. In the past, you could use a neoprene wetsuit in place of a lifejacket, but that is no longer allowed.

This is to keep people from freediving under the whale sharks and coming up where boats cannot see them. 

Final thoughts: Swim with whale sharks in Cancun

Swimming with whale sharks is an amazing experience. Unfortunately, whale sharks are under threat worldwide from changing ocean temperatures due to climate change, pollution in the water, and overfishing.

The Mexican government has created rules to ensure the safety of whale sharks, and the popularity of this experience can help more people learn about this amazing animal.

Remember to listen carefully to your guide’s briefing and follow all of the rules to help protect the whale sharks. 

Adrienne diving

About the Author

Adrienne Banka is a Michigander and fell in love with diving at 16 years old. Now she is an island living dive instructor turned brewmaster, turned mom.  When she is not in the water she enjoys riding her bike and chasing after her dog and her little girl. 

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