Where to Swim with Whale Sharks in North & Central America
With a size that most often averages 12 meters length (40 feet), whale sharks are the biggest fish in the sea. Even though they are listed as Vulnerable to extinction in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, you can see them congregating in large amounts in various areas of North and Central America. It is possible to snorkel with them, following the code of conduct you’ll be introduced to on the boat.
Often called “gentle giants”, whale sharks are filter feeders. They are attracted by waters abundant in zooplankton, and other small organisms such as releases of eggs from fish or coral spawning. While they usually are solitary, you may see hundreds at a time coming to feed in certain areas and seasons.
If you have a camera, contribute to whale sharks identification and conservation by taking pictures of the area above their left pectoral fin. Upload them to the Wild Book for Whale Sharks. This database uses NASA’s star algorithm to identify and track whale sharks.
Holbox & Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Whale sharks are frequently seen North of Holbox and Isla Mujeres between June and September. They are coming to feed on the fish eggs of the little tuny. Up to 420 whale sharks have been counted in the “Afuera” area. This annual event also draws thousands of tourists every year, and the Mexican government created some regulation to follow when snorkeling with the gentle giants. They ask snorkelers to remain at least 5 meters away (16 feet) from the whale sharks, and the boats, 10 meters (32 feet). To see all regulations, consult holboxguide. The trip costs around USD $110 per person.
To know how to get to Holbox and Isla Mujeres, refer to our dive travel guide to Mexico
Bahia de los Angeles, Baja California, Mexico
If you’re looking for less tourists and (almost) as many whale sharks, head to Baja California iduring the summer, on the Pacific coast of Mexico. The small village of Bahia de los Angeles sees every summer 200+ whale sharks coming all the way up through the Sea of Cortez.
Going on a liveaboard trip to Bahia de los Angeles
(5 nights starting from USD$2495)
is a great way to discover the area as well as getting to know other dive buddies you’ll share amazing experiences with. You’ll get to dive with sea lions, snorkel with whale sharks, and all transfers between San Diego, USA, and Bahia de los Angeles, Mexico, will be taken care of.
Utila & Roatan, Honduras
Utila is one of the only spots in the world where you can see whale sharks year round. There are no big congregations as in Mexico, however the captains have certainly an eye to spot them from far! Go between October and December to have best chances to see asome. Utila, with its party atmosphere and highly rated dive shops, attracts backpackers from all over the world while Roatan is more attractive to a relaxed crowd. Note that Utila is a great place to pass some certifications. If you’re thinking of doing your Divemaster, go there! There are many people learning to dive so you’ll get plenty of opportunities to assist Instructors, get lots of experience underwater, and see whalesharks and dolphins during the surface intervals.
La Paz, Baja California, Mexico
La Paz, on the Sea of Cortez in Mexico is a hot spot for biodiversity, attracting whale sharks between January to April. You may swim with a couple or up to a dozen whale sharks, do not expect to see congregations as in Holbox or Bahia de los Angeles. At this time of the year in La Paz, the water temperature drops, and it can get as low as 20 degrees celsius (68 Farenheit). Some shops can organize a tour all the way from Cabo San Lucas. Keep in the driving part (about two hours one way) and expect to pay around USD $200 per person for the day trip.
Gladden Spit, Belize
Gladden Spit, South Belize, is an area on the reef about 50 km (40 miles) of Placencia. It takes one and a half hour by boat to reach, and whale sharks are going there to feed in the spawning events of many different tropical fish. April and May are the best months to see whale sharks. Local dive shops recommend going just before the full moon, and up to 10 days after. The day trip in Belize usually costs about USD $200 per person. You may see some whale sharks in Gladden Spit, but don’t expect to see as many as in Holbox or Bahia de los Angeles in Mexico. These are some of the few places in the world to attract such a concentration of whale sharks seasonally.