Whale sharks—the world’s largest fish. Intimidatingly huge, these majestic creatures are actually gentle giants. They are filter-feeders, swimming slowly along straining enormous quantities of seawater through their mouths to extract plankton. There are a handful of places in the world where migrating whale sharks pause to feed reasonably close to shore. Isla Mujeres is among the best. The season runs from early June to late August, and we serendipitously found ourselves here on the island just at the season began. Swimming with these leviathans is a uniquely amazing experience, one we knew we had to partake of.
We were picked up at our marina at 7:30 AM, and were transported to town (by golf cart, naturally) for a light breakfast. Afterwards, we boarded Camila, our ride to the swim site. The sharks congregate at a shoal about 20 miles off the eastern coast of Isla Mujeres, and we traveled for about an hour to reach the spot.
Once there, we prepared to enter the water in pairs to swim alongside the feeding sharks. Our captain would position the boat so that once in the water, we could drift in the current while one or more sharks would glide slowly past. This video will give you a sense of the size of these creatures. Compare the length of the swimming shark to the swimmers alongside.
Finally, our turn came. I hope these videos give you at least a taste of what this experience is like.
After several hours taking turns swimming (we had ten passengers on the trip, and we would usually have four in the water at once), it was time to return to shore. The crew broke out sandwiches and refreshments (water, soft drinks, and of course plenty of cold cervezas) while we headed back toward the island. About a mile from shore, we paused to snorkel for about 45 minutes over a very pretty reef, while one of the crew diced up a red grouper to make fresh cerviche. We then anchored in thee feet of water just off Playa Norte, or North Beach, the popular tourist beach on the north end of the island, where we ate our cerviche and drank more beer from floating tables made of life jackets.
We reboarded the boat to return to the dock, arriving at 2PM, comfortably exhausted, and with our heads filled with exciting memories. The cost? $110 USD per person (plus tips). A bit expensive by local standards, but in our opinion well worth it for a truly unforgettable experience.