Whale shark. Quintana Roo, Mexico. July 2014.
Whale shark. Quintana Roo, Mexico. July 2014.

The huge mouths of whale sharks are worth a trip

  Mexico: Yucatán - July 2014

Dear English-speaking readers, this page is an automatic translation of an article originally written in French. I apologise for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have resulted. If you read French, click on the French flag below to access the original, correct text: 


I crossed an ocean for them. Whale sharks - tiburones ballena in Spanish - gather in July and August off Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula.

Awesome!

Yes, in this month of July 2014, I am in Mexico. This is a new destination on the Little Bubbles of Elsewhere! I usually hang out in Southeast Asia more during the summer vacations... But I really wanted to see this:

Whale shark. Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, Mexico. July 2014.

Every year, from mid-June to mid-SeptemberWhale sharks gather by the hundreds off the Yucatan Peninsula, near the Yum Balam Nature Reserve in Mexico. They come to feed on tiny translucent tuna eggs, abundant in the area in this season. You can swim with them by snorkeling.

The intensity of the experience is proportional to the size of the animal. It's just enooormous!!!

Whale shark. Quintana Roo, Mexico. July 2014.

Those are the biggest fish in the world. They don't have teeth (only tiny teeth of a few millimeters that are not very useful), but they are sharks.

Like whales (which are mammals, not fish), they are gigantic and feed on tiny marine organisms (plankton) and small fish, which they swallow by filtering the water with their mouths wide open.

They measure in the 12-14 meters at the adult age. The largest specimens can reach, it seems, 18 to 20 meters and weigh 20 to 30 tons...

Whale shark. Quintana Roo, Mexico. July 2014.

To learn more about these unusual fish, I refer you to the Wikipedia entry "whale shark"..

Previous meeting: in Thailand, in 2006!

With a whale shark in Thailand, in 2006.
With a whale shark in Thailand, in 2006.

My previous encounter with a whale shark was in 2006! It was in Thailandduring a dive-cruise in the Similan Islands, near Richelieu Rock (the picture on the right, where you can see me with my little compact camera of the time, was taken by another diver, Daniel Cocker, whom I thank for the picture!)

I had tried to cross their path again off Koh Lanta in 2007then in Sogod Bay in the Philippines in 2008. In vain. More recently, during a diving cruise in the Maldives in February 2014, I once again managed to miss a whale shark... Frustrating.

So, this summer, I decided to fly to the west: direction Mexico, where the meeting with these giants of the sea is certain at 100% in July!

Update 2018 : four years after this 2014 trip to Mexico, I had the chance to meet whale sharks again... See my post here : 
→ In the Philippines, let the whale shark come to you

Whale shark. Mexico. July 2014.

Video: swimming with whale sharks

What a show! The animals are there, on the surface, swallowing big swallows of plankton, indifferent to the small swimmers tossed by the swell around them.

Once in the water, there is no need to chase them. These nice monsters are much faster than humans with fins. With the swell and the current, approaching them is already very sportive!

I confirmed what I already knew: I'm a much better diver than swimmer. I'm not a good swimmer. I never get sick on a boat, but I was almost seasick in the water when I was maneuvering my boat. I never get sick on a boat, but I was almost seasick in the water, maneuvering my big tank to take my pictures and videos!

Whale shark. Quintana Roo, Mexico. July 2014.
Whale shark. Mexico. July 2014.

Some practical information to observe whale sharks in Mexico

As I receive more and more emails asking me about my trips, I compile below some little info about my stay in Isla Mujeres and the whale shark tours... 😎

WHEN TO GO?

As I explained above, the whale shark season is roughly from mid-June to mid-September. The meeting with the giants of the seas is, so to speak guaranteed from mid-July to mid-August. The rainy and hurricane season usually arrives in September-October.

July-August is also the season when it is terribly hot in this region of Mexico (tourists who are not interested in whale sharks come en masse, in February-March, to enjoy the Riviera Maya when the temperature is more bearable).

I am able to be satisfied with a fan in Asia, I bless the air conditioning here ... But it is really in the water that we are the best!

What calor aquí! Isla Mujeres, Playa Norte. Mexico, July 2014.

ISLA MUJERES AS A BASIC CAMP

I chose to stay at Isla MujeresThis way, you can be as close as possible and reduce the travel time to the whale shark area (and thus get there before the hordes of snorkelers coming from Cancún and Playa del Carmen).

I settled in the south of the islandfar from the tourist "village" of the north. Nothing planned in advance. I found at the last moment, on the internet, the day before my arrival, a small hotel that seemed nice and comfortable, just to end my Mexican stay in beauty. It was a good choice. A peaceful place, with a view on the sea, very cute. The iguanas come to walk near the pool and the wifi works like a charm. I recommend the address, which remains affordable, it's really nice: Hotel La Joya.

Good to know: for accommodation in Mexico, if you pay in cash, you are often given a discount corresponding to the amount of the taxes (that is 16% + 3% in all the hotels where I stayed).

An iguana near the pool at the hotel La Joya. Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo, Mexico, July 2014.

WELL CHOOSING YOUR DIVE CENTER

Once again, I had not planned or booked anything in advance... Once I arrived in Isla Mujeres, I looked at the reviews on the internet and decided to go to the Casa del Buceo. It is a small Mexican diving center, family, out of the tourist center (and not too far from my hotel). Super nice welcome, outings in small groups, staff with small care. Ideal for me who is in a hurry a bulky camera with its waterproof housing.

The day I showed up, it was hot as hell. The very efficient Pablo was opening a cerveza behind the counter. A nice guy, who immediately understood what the dripping tourist who came to inquire needed: "Here, it's too hot, have a beer", he told me while handing me a Dos Equis (XX). I also did two small scuba dives near the island with them.

Casa del Buceo. Isla Mujeres, Mexico, July 2014.

(If you live in Playa del Carmen, I also recommend the small French diving center O2 Mexicowhich regularly organizes whale shark excursions. I dove with them in cenotes and at sea ...)

WHALE SHARK EXCURSION RATES

Whale sharks, which gather in the summer off the Yucatán Peninsula, near the Yum Balam nature reserve, have become a tourist attraction. We come to swim with them from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Isla Mujeres, Isla Holbox ...

The tour (which usually includes transportation, lunch and drinks, guide and equipment rental) costs from $100 to $150 (American, of course), sometimes more, depending on the starting point, the operators, the services.

Palmer with whale sharks, it's exhausting! Mexico, July 2014.

HOW TO AVOID THE CROWD

At the end of the morning, there is an impressive number of boats in the area where the whale sharks are! To avoid the crowd, it is better to use a diving center or a tour operator who leaves early (same tactic as to visit the Mayan pyramids). It's definitely worth getting up at dawn!

Whale shark seen from the boat. Quintana Roo, Mexico, July 2014.

RESPECT THE LAW

Since recently, the approach of whale sharks is regulated (fortunately for them): no scuba diving, no more than two swimmers together with an authorized guideIt is mandatory to wear a floating suit (wetsuit or lifejacket), ban on touching animals

Once located, the huge fishes are clearly visible from the surface, by boat, and the success of the trip depends on the skill of the captain and the guide to lead you to the right place, to admire these giants from their best angle, preferably avoiding other groups of snorkelers.

Whale shark excursion with Casa del Buceo. Mexico, Quintana Roo, Isla Mujeres, July 2014.

CROSSING

Another thing to know: the crossing to reach the whale shark area can be long (from one to three hours, depending on the starting point, the power of the engines, the age of the captain and the weather). It can also be very "bumpy" if there are waves (watch out for seasickness, both on the boat and in the water). Whale sharks are not always in the same place and not necessarily very close to the coast. At one time, there was a gathering near the island of Holbox. But this is not the case anymore.

For the outing I did, we went quite far offshore, well beyond Isla Contoy located north of Cancún. I made a Google Map below, with a blue fish that I placed where I think we went.

Three weeks in Mexico

I've been in Mexico for three weeks now! My stay ends this Sunday, July 20th... And except for today, I haven't blogged at all during the trip! Too many busy days and messed up internet connections. And then, I think I needed to disconnect a bit...

A tourist at the Mayapan Tequila distillery, near Valladolid, Yucatán. Mexico, July 2014.

Still, I managed to post some pictures (mostly underwater) along the way, on the Facebook page of Petites Bulles d'Ailleurs. You can see them at the end of this link :
Album "Mexico - July 2014" on Facebook

Here are, in order, the stages of this trip to Mexico - or more exactly to a very small part of Mexico, along the very touristic Riviera Maya - that I will detail in future articles:

Finally, I still have two more trips and lots of dives to tell about: the Maldives (February 2014) and my short getaway in Indonesia (May 2014). I interrupted the ongoing stories and I have a lot of pictures in the hard drive...

Anyway, I'm way behind in updating the Bubbles Underwater & Beyond. So don't be surprised to see Indonesian and Maldivian posts coming in between two Mexican articles in the coming weeks!

To see all the articles on this trip, click on the link below ...

  Mexico: Yucatán - July 2014

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  1. So do you prefer Mexico to Thailand?

    In Mexico there is a lot to see including the famous cenotes and the Mayan pyramids. It is one of the most beautiful trips I have ever made. The Yucatán peninsula is very touristic but some villages are still preserved from mass tourism and remain good spots to stay.

    On the other hand I did not have the opportunity to snorkel with these whale sharks! It's a pity.

    Thank you for making us discover this

    1. @Chrissand: I love Asia, and I love going back... But I find it artificial to compare countries as different as Mexico and Thailand. And then I really only saw a tiny bit of Mexico... I'll tell about the cenotes and pyramids in a future post 😉

  2. Hello Corinne!
    Thank you for the information, they are precious for my next trip to Mexico mid-September (yes I know it's the end of the season, but you never know!).

    I saw the whale sharks in the Philippines last year, and it was crazy!

    I can't wait to read your stories about the Cenotes and the dives in Cozumel!

    See you soon!

    Emma

  3. Buenos dias Corinne!

    So that's funny, I almost went to Mexico at the end of June for the whale sharks (an alternative to diving 😥 ) and then I gave up because I only had one week. As a result, all your tips give me a great idea for a next trip... Beautiful your pictures, as usual! 🙄 So I decided to go to the Azores to see whales and dolphins! The big heat in less!

  4. Hello Corinne,

    I wrote to you a few times when I wanted to start my Padi and you very kindly answered and advised me. I passed my Padi with my husband and as we still live in Indonesia, I walk on your tracks in the middle of all these beautiful islands. I thank you for the report on the whale sharks, I think we will go one day soon!
    thanks again

  5. Wow! What pictures !!!

    I really will have to try diving here too in Reunion. But, the shark risk here is cooling me a lot for this activity. It seems that the sharks are scared by the bubbles of divers, you confess me? Of course, here, no whale sharks ... ..

  6. A big thank you for this cool post.
    Well illustrated as always 🙂
    When I think I'm wearing out my vacation waiting for the sun 🙁
    Highly my next vacation dives to All Saints!
    See you soon

  7. The music in your little video bubbles is always particularly well chosen! If you ever need to change jobs, get into sound illustration 😉

  8. Nice and complete article, it makes you want to! I'll keep this whale shark encounter in a corner of my head, maybe we'll go there next summer, who knows 😉
    We have recently tested a snorkeling trip with dolphins in the Bahamas: it was magical! So I can imagine what it must have been like to get close to these sharks (although they are huge compared to dolphins).

  9. Hi Corine,
    we have been following your tracks for some time, lately Raja Ampat where I missed you (see my comment on your post), and Richelieu rock where we didn't have the chance to meet the whale shark (boo!).
    This summer, we are planning a trip Gautemale-Belize-Yucatan, with a program that seems to be quite busy. So, we won't have time to drag our flippers everywhere and we are selecting the cream.
    For the moment, we retained to go diving in cenotes and to try to observe the whale shark. We ask ourselves the question to go to dive in Cozumel or not. In your opinion ?
    By the way, do you have any echoes about diving in Belize?
    Thank you in advance, and I look forward to reading more about your trip to Mexico on your excellent blog.
    Looking forward,
    JC and Muriel

    1. @ JC & Muriel: ah, if you have already discovered Raja Ampat, it sets the bar very high !!!

      I don't know much about diving in Belize, I only know generalities: i.e. that the Caribbean is much less spectacular underwater than some parts of Indonesia, especially those which are in the "coral triangle"... The Caribbean coast has suffered from the El Niño phenomenon, from the concreting of the coast (especially around Cancun), from tourist traffic, from overfishing.

      I stayed in Cozumel and dived on the most interesting sites (I haven't written about it on the blog yet, I'm very late for the story of my Mexican trip), with a guy I recommend, who is quite a character: Sergio Sandoval (Senior) from Aquatic Sports (not to be confused with his son, who has the same name, with the "Junior" added). In short: there are certainly some beautiful sites, and I never sulk in my pleasure underwater, but it is not, in my eyes, spectacular as in Indonesia... The most beautiful site according to me: Palancar, with its impressive coral formations. I will try to post some pictures and a small report very soon.

      For the rest, the island of Cozumel is rather nice, it's worth spending a few days there and make friends with the really nice locals (and dodge the hordes of Americans disembarking from the ocean liners that dock daily). If you have the time: yes, give Cozumel a chance. Otherwise, you can do without it, in my humble opinion. Afterwards, there is another thing that is worth seeing in season (January-February, I think), on the Yucatan coast, which is the bulldog sharks...

      Otherwise, yes, the cenotes, it is really apart, unique, extraordinary... I warmly recommend you.
      8)

  10. Hello
    It makes you want to swim with tiburones!
    We have 2 boys 9 and 11 years old who know how to snorkel.
    Do you think they can do this experience?
    They have already swam among fish in Thailand and turtles in Indonesia during our world tour.

    Thank you for your reply.

    Iris

    1. @Iris: yes, if they are good swimmers and accompanied by at least one parent during the "tiburones ballenas" outing, that they know how to comply with the rules, I think it is quite possible. But it's probably safer to get in touch with a structure there in advance, to check that they are OK to take 9 and 11 year olds. Have a great trip 🙂

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