If you plan your Cancun trip at the right season, you’ll have the chance to book an exciting whale shark tour.
It is a high-priced activity that can surprise many misinformed travelers.
To help you make the right choice, I decided to take the plunge myself. After many hours of research, I decided to go with this agency. And wow, what an adventure!
Thanks to this article, you can easily decide which whale shark tour is best for you (where to go, when, how). I was in your shoes, and I know all the questions you’ve in mind 😉
Grab your fins, and let’s go!
Plan your trip around Cancun
In 2 months, I’ve spent more than 10,000 USD to test the best activities in the Riviera Maya. Stay with me to quickly decide which experiences you should do and learn how to make the most of your trip.
Compare the best Cancun whale shark tours
There are various options to enjoy the whale shark experience. Here are the winners after many hours of analysis.
Best whale shark shared tour from Cancun
I went with this agency, and I loved it. The guides are professional and bilingual. They work with reliable captains (and good boats!) and will do their best to make the most of this experience. As a bonus, you’ll stop at the beautiful (but crowded) beach of Playa Norte. It’s probably the most professional agency in the area. This is why they are a bit more expensive.
- Max Pers: 10
- Price: 209 – 229 USD
- Starting time: 7h30 am
- Pick up: Cancun / Tulum / Playa del Carmen / Isla mujeres
- Duration: 5 hours
- What’s included: Transportation / Snorkeling equipment / water & soda & beers / Breakfast, snacks & ceviche with guacamole / Sea sickness pill / Playa Norte (Isla Mujeres)
Best whale shark private tour from Cancun
It’s the best option if you can afford to book a private tour. You’ll spend more time with the whale sharks. And trust me, every minute counts.
- Max: Private tour, up to 10 pers
- Price: 1500 – 2000 USD
- Starting time: 6 am
- Duration: 8 hours
- Pick up: Cancun
- What’s included: Transportation (Cancun only) / Snorkeling gear / water & soda / Ceviche / Playa Norte (Isla Mujeres)
Best whale shark tour from Holbox
I used the service of this agency to go kayaking in the mangrove. It’s a reliable company that owns its boats. You’ll stop at Santa Paula (in front of Cabo Catoche) on the way back. The area is nice, but the snorkeling stop is useless. No transportation is included, but Holbox is a small place, and you can easily pre-arrange a taxi.
- Max pers: 10
- Pick up: No.
- Price: approx 195 Usd
- Starting time: 6h30 am
- Duration: 7 hours
- What’s included: Snorkel gears / water & soft drinks / Light breakfast and Ceviche / Stop at Santa Paula.
Best whale shark tour from Isla Mujeres
It’s an excellent option as it’s the cheapest tour and the closest departure point to see the whale sharks. The boat team is always the same, guaranteeing a great vibe and good services.
- Max Pers: 10
- Price: 129 USD
- Starting time: 7h30
- Pick up: No, but everything is near in Isla Mujeres.
- Duration: 6 hours
- What’s included: Snorkel gears / water & soda / Snacks & ceviche with guacamole / Playa Norte (Isla Mujeres)
Your Whale Shark Tour: here is what will happen
In this section, you will learn all the typical steps to swimming with whale sharks in Mexico.
Pick up from your hotel
You will have to wake up early depending on where your hotel is. Taking an agency that includes pick-up will be much more convenient because you won’t have to book a cab and stress about arriving late.
Except for Holbox and Isla Mujeres, the boats leave from Cancun (Punta Sam/Puerto Juarez). I booked a hotel in Cancun Downton, and a very comfortable van picked me up at 6:50 am – some travelers had to get up at 4 am!
We’re 8 people. Let’s start the briefing.
Whale shark rules
The goal is to observe the whale sharks in their natural environment without disturbing them too much. Hence, you can’t do whatever you want.
Here are the main rules you should know:
- You can’t put on sunscreen.
- You will need to wear a life jacket or a wetsuit (an extra fee of 15 USD with the agency). In any case, you can’t dive.
- Do not touch the whale sharks and try to stay at least 2 meters away.
- 2 people + the guide are allowed to enter the water (for a few minutes). The others will remain on the boat.
Let’s jump on a boat and look for whale sharks
After a light breakfast, it’s time to start the adventure.
Whale sharks move daily in search of food (plankton, fish eggs, shrimp). The first step is to search the area to find them. All the agencies cooperate, and the first boat to find them will indicate their position by radio.
Depending on your luck and the season, it may take more or less time.
On average, it takes 1h30 (in my case, it was one hour).
But it can go up to 4-5 hours, especially at the beginning and end of the whale shark season.
During the trip, the boats will go full throttle. The bigger the boat, the less you will feel the repeated shocks caused by the waves. It will be hectic.
Also, take precautions against seasickness.
You will feel it, especially when the boat stops for several hours in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. According to our guide, 2 out of 10 people are sick on average.
And believe me, you won’t be happy to vomit on whale sharks (neither will they).
- During my tour, the agency gave us pills to keep motion sickness under control. It’s essential to take them before you feel sick.
- Our boat had a roof to protect us from the sun and 2 powerful motors.
You found the whale sharks. Now, what?
Your heart will start to race as soon as you see their fins and the huge shadows moving under the water.
If you are lucky, there will be enough whale sharks for all the boats. Now is the time to be well organized so everyone can enjoy it.
Here is how it’s going to happen:
- A group of 2 people stands on the boat’s edge with masks and fins.
- The captain must position himself in front of a whale shark.
- Then you will hear a “Go“! Don’t think about it. Just jump and keep your mask on your face. Once in the water, look for the whale shark before you start swimming.
- If all goes well, the whale shark should pass you with its huge open mouth and small eyes. You must then position yourself towards its lateral fin to swim with it. Use only the power of your legs. Good swimmers should have no trouble following them.
- After 3-5 minutes in the water, you will have to get back on the boat to allow 2 other people to do the same.
- Then, you repeat it a second time.
During my tour, the experience went perfectly. There were more than 60 whale sharks for about 30 boats. The guide gave his best to help each group, and it was never a mess on the boat.
There were so many whale sharks that we could do 3 sessions. And I enjoyed every minute spent with these marine giants. It took us 2 hours in total.
Eat fresh ceviche on the beach Playa Norte (Isla Mujeres)
From now on, everyone has a big smile on their face. The adrenaline slowly comes down and gives way to hunger.
It’s time to eat.
The tour operators coming from Cancun all stop at Playa Norte. It’s a beautiful sandy beach, with a turquoise blue and shallow sea—a real little piece of paradise. The only hitch is that you will arrive around noon, and many boats will be present with music.
Once the anchor is dropped, JP, our guide, offers us beers and sodas. We lounged in the water while the crew prepared ceviche (raw fish cooked with lemon juice, coriander, tomato, and onions) and guacamole.
I don’t know if it’s the magic of the Caribbean or the joy of swimming with whale sharks, but everything is delicious!
After one hour, it is time to return to Cancun.
Best Cancun whale shark tours: The booking guide
Swimming with whale sharks is one of the most incredible experiences I have had in the Yucatan Peninsula.
To fully enjoy it, there are several things to know. Ready to take notes?
From where start the Cancun whale shark tours?
In Cancun, travel agencies leave from Punta Sam or Puerto Juarez (20 min away from Cancun downtown).
The further away you are from Cancun, the earlier you have to wake up (and later you will be back).
The agency I booked offers a pick-up from Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Isla Mujeres, and Cancun. They have many vans and group the passengers according to the hotels to minimize the time spend on transportation.
- Staying in Cancun the night before and after the whale shark watching.
- Using this reliable agency to get a well-organized pick-up and a great tour.
You can also leave from Holbox or Isla Mujeres
Holbox is a paradise island with a relaxed atmosphere and restaurants on the beach. In recent years, the whale shark area has been closer to Isla Mujeres than to Holbox. It means that it will take you longer by boat. In addition, the boats are often smaller in size.
This travel agency is still an excellent option if you don’t want to stay in Cancun.
Your last option is Isla Mujeres.
The island is only 30 minutes by ferry from Cancun. You will have less choice among agencies that offer whale shark tours. On the other hand, you should spend less time on the boat, and the prices are therefore more attractive.
Here is an affordable and well-rated tour.
When is the whale shark season in Cancun?
Whale sharks are a protected species, and the Mexican government dictates the dates for swimming with them.
In 2022, it’s from May 15th to September 17th.
However, this does not mean that all months are equal.
- 15/05 to 10/06: Weather conditions acceptable. Occasional whale sharks.
- 11/06 to 30/06: Weather conditions very good. Occasional whale sharks
- 01/07 to 31/08: Weather conditions excellent. Very frequent whale sharks.
- 01/09 to 17/09: Bad weather conditions. Frequent whale sharks.
If the weather conditions are bad ( strong winds), the port may be closed, and the tour will be canceled (and refunded). And if the boats are allowed to leave, the trip will be painful for your butt and back.
Also, this tour is not a zoo. In May and June, it is more challenging to find whale sharks. You will spend more time on the boat and have to “share” them with more people. It means less time in the water. And if there are too few whale sharks for the number of boats, no one will be allowed to jump in the water.
The best months to swim with whale sharks are July and August.
Private tour or shared tour?
A private tour will allow you to stay longer in the water with these gentle giants. The prices are higher, but it becomes “affordable” for 6+ people.
This private tour is top-rated among travelers.
If you decide to go on a group tour, it shouldn’t be with more than 10 people. We were 8 on my tour, and I didn’t feel like there were too many of us. And we were able to go in the water 3 times.
How much is it?
Whale shark tours are expensive.
Depending on where you start, a whale shark tour should cost you between 129 & 220 USD. On top of that, you must add the port tax of 12 USD and the tips.
Still, it’s 100% worth it.
Are whale shark tours available to everyone?
As I told you, the boat trip will be rough (even if the sea is calm). The activity is therefore not recommended for travelers with back problems and pregnant women.
However, you don’t need to be a good swimmer — although you’ll enjoy it more if you are.
Tips to enjoy your Cancun whale shark tour
The agencies in this article are all well established and know how to organize this experience. However, there are a few things you should know so that you can be better prepared.
→ You will have little time to observe the whale sharks underwater. If you can, come with your snorkel mask (if it’s a good one). Also, I advise you to have some previous experience. Go swimming the day before with your mask if you are a beginner. You will be able to enjoy it more on the big day.
→ Take a seasickness pill if you’ve never been on a small boat before.
→ If you decide to take a wetsuit, don’t drink too much water and go pee first.
→ Bring some cash to pay the dock fee and tip the crew.
→ Wear a lycra tee shirt and a hat to avoid sunburn (no sun cream).
→ The locals like to say that the days of the full moon are better (because there is more plankton).
→ You can book your tour a few days before to avoid windy or rainy days.
How to book the best whale shark tour?
I used Viator to book this experience. The interface is simple, and I could quickly communicate with the tour operator.
Also, you can cancel up to 24 hours before the activity for a full refund.
Cancun Whale shark tours: Your questions
Many travelers ask us the same questions about whale sharks in Cancun. So I decided to group them in this section.
What's a whale shark?
A whale shark is the world's biggest fish —yep, it's a shark. They measure on average between 8 and 13m and love eating plankton.
Is it dangerous to swim with whale sharks?
Whale sharks are not dangerous. They're peaceful animals.
Is swimming with whale sharks scary?
Their imposing size may impress at first, but fears are quickly replaced by excitement. They pass by swimmers without worrying about them.
Why should you not touch a whale shark?
There are many reasons not to touch whale sharks. You must not disturb their action in their natural environment and risk removing some of the mucus on their skin.
Is whale shark snorkeling ethical?
It's a good question. All the boats go to the same places, which can look a bit like a circus, with many people swimming in the middle of whale sharks. They didn't seem to mind. But no one can know what they are thinking about us.
These tours are also important for their protection. It is an endangered species, and tourism is one of the solutions to convince the locals to protect them.
Why do whale sharks come near Cancun?
The junction of the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico is an ideal area for the proliferation of marine life. Moreover, whale sharks like warm waters.
Where can you book Mexico whale shark tours?
You can find Whale sharks around Cancun and the sea of Cortez (Baja Sur, California)
Can you spot dolphins and manta rays?
If you are lucky, you may see dolphins during the boat ride. And sometimes, manta rays mix with whale sharks to eat plankton.
Best whale shark tours in Cancun: Bottom line
Several good travel agencies offer you to swim with whale sharks. The easiest way for you will be to stay in Cancun or Isla Mujeres in July or August. If you can afford it, a private tour will allow you to spend more time with these beautiful creatures. Travelers on a budget will happily arrange a group tour from Isla Mujeres. Finally, travelers who wish to stay on the Riviera Maya will love the professionalism of this agency (I went with them).