Did someone say whale shark tours in Playa del Carmen? Swimming with whale sharks in Playa del Carmen is one of those ‘not to miss’ experiences, like diving with bull sharks. You really can’t come to Playa del Carmen during whale shark season and not do this tour!
In this blog post, you are going to learn everything you need to know about swimming with whale sharks in Playa del Carmen to help you prepare for this magical experience.
Just here for the referral??
I recommend doing this tour with Living Dreams Mexico. They are the most ethical and awesome company around and it’s a flat fee, no hidden costs.
They even give you all of the photos included in the price, most companies charge $80 or more for this alone!
Swimming with these gentle giants is hands down one of the best experiences of my life. If you have followed my travels for a while you will know that’s quite a big statement coming from me. But it’s true.
I swam with whale sharks in Mexico for the first time in 2018 while I was visiting Isla Holbox, although I never wrote about my experience there, I’ll explain why a little later. But I loved it so much that I knew it was something I wanted to do again.
Now it’s something I try and do each year during the Mexican whale shark Season.
Whale shark tours Playa del Carmen -
everything you need to know
It can be tricky to navigate with tour companies in hotels and hostels doing the hard sell on you and it is one tour you really do need to do your research on. So to help you out I have tried to include the key things in this post to help you have the best experience swimming with whale sharks in Mexico.
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Can you swim with Whale Sharks in Playa del Carmen?
No, you can’t swim with whale sharks in Playa del Carmen. But you can easily take a tour from Playa del Carmen to visit Isla Mujeres.
The Whale Sharks actually don’t come directly to Playa del Carmen, they are off the coast of an island close to Cancun called Isla Mujeres. You can also find the whale sharks close to Isla Holbox which is another island north of Cancun.
It’s the bull sharks who visit Playa del Carmen, not the whale sharks.
You can easily take a whale shark tour from Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Cancun, Puerto Morelos, or anywhere else in the Riviera Maya. The tour company will simply pick you up from your hotel and bring you to the marina in Cancun where you will then get on a boat to make the short trip over to where the whale sharks are.
It is also possible to do a Whale Shark tour from Isla Holbox, but that requires you to stay for at least 1 night on the island and it’s a little more complicated than going from the mainland.
When is whale shark season Mexico 2021?
The dates of whale shark season 2021 in the Riviera Maya are 17th May until 17th September 2021.
The official Whale Shark season dates are set by MRMP (Biosphere Reserve Management Program).
You may see other dates advertised, but these are dates set by tour companies. Most don’t start running tours until June just in case the whale sharks are late arriving. This saves upsetting customers by having to cancel their tours or taking people out on a tour and not seeing any whale sharks.
If you are planning on visiting Mexico just to see the whale sharks, then I’d plan to go sometime in June, July, or August to be on the safe side.
Where is the best place to swim with whale sharks in Mexico?
In the Riviera Maya, you can swim with whale sharks in two locations:
- Off the coast of Isla Holbox
- Off the coast of Isla Mujeres
Unless you are planning to visit Holbox for a few days it isn’t an option to do a whale shark tour from Playa del Carmen to Holbox, it is just too far away.
The only option for a whale shark tour from Playa del Carmen is to visit Isla Mujeres as you can easily do it in a day.
You can also swim with whale sharks in Cabo San Lucas, La Paz, and Baja California from November through until mid-May each year (basically when they aren;t in the riviera Maya).
Whale Shark Diving?
This is a question that many people ask, can you scuba dive with whale sharks in Playa del Carmen? The answer is no. In Mexico, you are not allowed to dive with whale sharks. There are other places in the world where you can, just not here in Mexico.
Things to be aware of before swimming with whale sharks in Mexico
There are many things you need to be aware of before swimming with whale sharks. I have put a few bullet points below:
- No touching
- No sunscreen
- Listen to the guide
The big one really is to listen to the guides. They will give you a briefing on the transport on your way to Cancun, then again in the boat on your way to finding the whale sharks. Listen to them, they are there to keep you, and the whale sharks, safe and happy.
Sunscreen is a big no-no as it can be harmful to the whale sharks, yes even your reef-safe stuff. Instead, it’s better to invest in a good rashguard and hat so you can cover up from the sun as much as possible.
Then after you have finished swimming with the whale sharks you can smother yourself in all the reef-safe sunblock you like!
Choosing the right tour company
The Whale Sharks are a protected species, as are the waters they migrate to in Mexico. So one of the main reasons I didn’t write about my Whale Shark experience on Holbox was that I just didn’t know enough about the ethics of the whole thing to be about to recommend anyone to do the tour with. The company I did the tour with were ok, they did nothing wrong, but it could have been better.
I asked to borrow a GoPro to take some video and pictures as mine was broken – they ran out and didn’t tell me until that morning so there was nothing I could do. So the guide told me he would take some for me and charge me $10 USD… This was the best shot he got.
I should have just burned my $10.
Then on the tour itself, everything just felt so rushed. Now that is partly because of the rules in place to protect the Whale Sharks but some companies handle this better than others. We arrived late and there were already a lot of other boats there. We were then put in pairs and each pair gets 2 chances to snorkel with the Whale Sharks. The guide shouted now, I jumped in, swam for what felt like 10 seconds, and then told to get out.
Then we went to another crowded place and snorkeled while the captain made lunch. Now I don’t mean to be negative, because the whole experience of getting to swim with a whale shark was unbelievable, and as I said before, it is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I just expected better service from the tour company.
Cost of a Whale Shark Tour
Whale Shark tours aren’t cheap I paid around $120 USD which is on the cheaper side as I know of companies who charge $250 for the same group tour. Now I’m all for saving a few bucks, I’m much more of a hostel and public bus kinda gal, but if I could go back and do this again, I’d book the $250 tour. Because the experience I had on the $120 tour was pretty crappy when I compare it to the experience I had on the one that cost $250.
This is a once in a lifetime experience. It’s not something you scrimp on.
Living Dreams Mexico
Fast forward to now and having lived in Mexico for some time now I can speak with much more authority when making recommendations.
There is only one company that I recommend to book the Whale Shark tour from Playa del Carmen with and that is Living Dreams Mexico.
I know one of the owners personally. He is the guy rallying people to clean up the beaches in Playa, making huge steps to become a plastic-free company, and constantly speaking out against animal cruelty.
With them it is all in the detail – professional photos are included, as are snacks, and drinks. These guys even give you a blanket and cushion in the minibus!
Many companies give you one price and then like to add on extra for things like life jackets, wet suits, and photos.
They don’t do that…the price you see here is the price you pay. ALL extras included. The professional photos/ videos they include are valued at $100 USD. It doesn’t take a maths genius to see this is a pretty sweet deal!
What’s Included in the Tour
The whale shark tour includes pickup from your hotel or apartment in Playa (they can also pick up in Tulum, Puerto Morelos, and other places if you ask) and transport you to Cancun. From there you will be met by the boat and begin your short ride to Isla Mujeres. You will be provided with a wet suit (optional), a life vest (mandatory), and snorkeling equipment. Onboard you will be offered soft drinks all included in the price.
Once your whale shark swimming experience is over it’s time for lunch! This was so much fun. Lunch was freshly prepared ceviche and tostadas served on a surfboard in the beautiful turquoise waters of Isla Mujeres.
Ready to book your whale shark tour?
I recommend doing the whale shark tour with Living Dreams Mexico. They are the most ethical and awesome company around and it’s a flat fee, no hidden costs. Photos included.
You can make an inquiry simply by adding your name and email address in the form below and someone will be in touch with you within 24 hours.
The best bit, for me, is the pictures. They will take pictures and videos of you so you don’t need to and you can just enjoy the experience. Now, I know it’s not all about the photos, it’s the memories that are important. But I must admit I still feel a bit gutted about not having any photos and I would have gladly paid $100 USD for a photographer.
Whale Shark Tours Playa del Carmen Final Thoughts
Ask questions, find out what is included, how many people will be on your boat, how long you will get to swim with them, etc. Then check reviews and make sure everything the company has told you checks out. Don’t just book the cheapest tour and hope for the best. This is a once in a lifetime experience and you do not want to just book any old tour and hope for the best.
If you book this whale Shark Tour with Living Dreams please mention my name when booking so they know where you learned about them.
Looking for somewhere to stay
in Playa del Carmen, Cancun, or Tulum?
Check out my accommodation guides
I also recommend booking one of these Airbnb’s. They are all in great locations and are super reasonably priced.
Book your trip now
Are you ready to book your trip? To help you get the best deals and service here are the companies that I personally use to book all of my travel online. I always shop around before booking anything, but these are my tried and tested starting places.
- Skyscanner – I’m a bit fan of Skyscanner, it is who I use to book all of my flights. I often will check other like Google Flights or Momodo, but I always go here first and it is who I book 99% of my flights with.
- Booking.com – I LOVE booking.com especially when I can book and cancel free up until a certain point, mostly because my plans are forever changing. It’s easy to use and has one of the widest selections.
- Airbnb – I’m not a huge user of Airbnb, but sometimes I do like to use it, and I ALWAYS check it before I book anything else. You can get some really cool places to stay here, and it is especially good in places like Cuba. If you don’t have an account and you click on this link then you will get $36 off your first booking.
- Hostelworld – If you are looking for hostels then this is a great place to check first. They often have additional places that you won’t find on Bookin.com.
- Agoda – Although I don’t use it as much as booking.com, Agonda is especially good if you are traveling in Asia as they really do dominate there.
- Worldpackers – If you want to travel on the cheap and save money on accommodation then you need Worldpackers in your life. You can read more about it here. If you click this link to sign up and use the code CLAIRESITCHYFEET then you can get a 40% discount on your membership!
- Book a Way – If you are traveling in Asia and want to pre-book your transportation then bookaway.com is a fantastic site to do so. They have buses, trains, and cars.
- RentalCars – Looking to rent a. car while you are away? I always book through Rental Cars as they do a search of all of the big sites and find the best deals.
- Welcome Pickups – Very occasionally getting from the airport to my accommodation is a total pain in the butt, or I’m traveling in a group and it makes sense to arrange a pickup. When I do I use Welcome pickups.
- World Nomads – If you are looking for flexible travel insurance then it’s World Nomads all the way. I wrote all about insurance here if you want a more thorough review.
- SafetyWing – AsI’m a Digital Nomad and not moving around quite so much anymore I personally use SafetyWing now for my health insurance. I wrote a full review here.
- Viatour – Sometimes it can be a little expensive, but I like Viatour for somethings, especially if you can get a discount code! It’s also great for inspiration.
- Klook – If you are traveling in Asia, then Klook is great! You can book all kinds of tours, activities, and train tickets, plus they even have sim cards and WiFi.