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 made from a post originally written in French. My apologies for any strange sentences and funny mistakes that may have been generated during the process. If you are reading French, click on the French flag below to access the original and correct text: 

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


That's right, this July, 2014, I'm in Mexico. It's a new destination on the Petites Bulles d'Ailleurs! Usually, I usually hang out in South-East Asia during summer holidays... 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 Yucatán Peninsula near the Yum Balam Nature Reserve in Mexico. They come here to feed on tiny translucent tuna eggs, which are abundant in the area at this time of year. You can swim with them by snorkeling.

The intensity of the experiment is proportional to the size of the animal. It's just huge!!!

Whale shark. Quintana Roo, Mexico. July 2014.

Those are the biggest fish in the world. They don't have teeth (only very small teeth of a few millimetres which are not of much use), 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 in adulthood. The largest specimens can reach, it is said, 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 "whale shark" Wikipedia entry..

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 diving cruise in the Similan Islands, near Richelieu Rock (the photo opposite, where I can be seen with my small compact camera of the time, was taken by another diver, Daniel Cocker, whom I thank for the picture!)

I 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 west: towards Mexico, where the meeting with these giants of the seas is certain to happen in 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 cattle are there, on the surface, swallowing large plankton swarms, indifferent to the small swimmers tossed around by the swell.

Once they're in the water, there's no point in chasing them. These gentle monsters are much faster than humans on flippers. With the swell and the current, approaching them is already very sporting!

I got confirmation of what I already knew: I'm a much better diver than I am a swimmer. Palmer on the surface being shaken by the waves is not my thing at all. I, who never get sick in the boat, was almost seasick in the water, manoeuvring my big tank to make my photos 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 get more and more emails asking about my trips, I'm compiling below little info about my stay in Isla Mujeres and the whale shark tours... 😎


As I explained earlier, whale shark season is roughly stretching out 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, who am able to make do with a fan in Asia, I bless the air conditioning here... But it's really in the water that we're best!

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


I chose to stay in 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. Good luck. A peaceful place, with a sea view, very cute. The iguanas come to stroll near the pool and the wifi works of God's fire. 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 taxes (i.e. 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.


Again, I hadn't planned or booked anything in advance... Once I arrived in Isla Mujeres, I looked again at the reviews on the internet and decided to go for 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 pointed, it was a hot day to die. The very efficient Pablo was opening up 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, why don't you have a beer", he said, handing me a Dos Equis (XX). I also did two small bottle 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 tours. I dove with them in cenotes and at sea ...)


Whale sharks, which congregate 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 excursion (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.


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 really worth getting up at dawn!

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


Recently, the approach of whale sharks has been regulated (fortunately for them): no scuba diving, no more than two swimmers together with an authorized guidemandatory wearing of a floating garment (diving suit or lifejacket), ban on touching animals

Once located, the huge fish are clearly visible from the surface, by boat, and the success of the excursion depends on the captain and guide's ability 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.


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 of whale sharks just off Holbox Island. But this is no longer the case.

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

Three weeks in Mexico

I've been in Mexico for three weeks! My stay ends this Sunday, July 20th... And except today, I haven't blogged at all during the trip! Too many busy days and lousy 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.

All the same, I managed to post a few pictures (mostly underwater) along the way, on the Facebook page of Les 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 in Mexico - or more exactly in a very small part of Mexico, along the very touristic Mayan Riviera - 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've interrupted the stories in class and I've got a lot of pictures in the hard drive .

Anyway, I'm way behind in updating 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 of things to see, including the famous cenotes and the Mayan pyramids. This is one of the best trips I have ever made. The Yucatan peninsula is very touristy but some villages are still preserved from mass tourism and remain a good spot to stay.

    By cons I did not have the opportunity to snorkel with these whale sharks! Pity.

    Thank you for making us discover this

    1. @Chrissand: I love Asia, and I love to go 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 the 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 we never know!).

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

    I can not wait to read your stories about Cenotes and Cozumel dives!

    See you soon!


  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 a week. So, all your advices give me a great idea for a next trip... Wonderful pictures, as usual ! 🙄 So, I went to the Azores to meet whales and dolphins ! The big heat in less !

  4. Hello Corinne,

    I wrote to you sometimes at the moment when I wished to begin my Padi. You have very kindly answered and advised me. I spent my Padi with my husband and as we still live in Indonesia, I walk in your footsteps in the middle of all these beautiful islands. Thank you for the report on the whale sharks, I think we will go a 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 that I use my holidays waiting for the sun 🙁
    Highly my next vacation dives to All Saints!
    See you soon

  7. The music of your little video bubbles is always particularly well chosen! If you ever have to change jobs, check out the sound illustration 😉.

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

  9. Hi Corine,
    we have been walking in your footsteps for some time, lately Raja Ampat where I missed you (see my comment on your post), and Richelieu rock then where we did not have the chance to cross the whale shark (bouhou!).
    This summer, a Gautemale-Belize-Yucatan trip is planned, with a program that seems busy. So, we will not have time to go hang our palms everywhere and we are to select the cream.
    For now, we have chosen to go diving in the cenotes and try to observe the whale shark. We ask ourselves the question of going diving in Cozumel or not. In your opinion ?
    By the way, do you have any echoes about diving in Belize?
    Thank you in advance, while waiting to read the rest of 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 do not know much about diving in Belize, I only know generalities: that is, the Caribbean is much less spectacular underwater than some parts of Indonesia, especially those that are in the "coral triangle" ... The Caribbean coast has suffered from the El Niño phenomenon, concreting of the coast (especially around Cancun), tourist crowds, overfishing.

      I stayed in Cozumel and dive on the most famous sites (I have not told this on the blog, I'm late for the story of my Mexican journey), with a guy I recommend, who is a real character: Sergio Sandoval (Senior) of Aquatic Sports (not to be confused with his son, who has the same name, with the "Junior" attached). In short: there are certainly pretty sites, and I never sulk my pleasure under the water, but it is not, in my eyes, spectacular as in Indonesia ... The most beautiful site in my opinion: Palancar, with its impressive coral formations. I will try to post very soon photos and a small report.

      For the rest, the island of Cozumel is quite nice, it's worth it to spend a few days and sympathize with the really adorable locals (and dodge the hordes of Americans landed cruise ships-buildings that dock daily). If you have time: yes, give Cozumel a chance. Otherwise, you can do without it, in my humble opinion. After, there is another thing that is worthwhile in season (January-February I think), on the coast of Yucatan, it is the bulldog sharks ...

      Otherwise, yes, the cenotes, it's really apart, unique, extraordinary ... I highly recommend.

  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 experiment?
    They have already swam among fish in Thailand and turtles in Indonesia during our world tour.

    Thank you for your reply.


    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 follow the rules, I think it's quite possible. But it is probably more prudent to contact a structure on site in advance to check that they are OK to take 9 and 11 year olds. Have a good trip! 🙂