REVIEW: Swimming With Whale Sharks In The Ocean – What To Expect
Let me guess, you want to swim with whale sharks in Playa del Carmen, but you’re still not sure if it’s really for you?
Need an honest review? Then look no further.
Although considered a part of the shark family these gentle giants are very docile and extremely agreeable to swimming alongside humans.
This is one of our most popular tours at PlayaDelCarmen.com and you’ll learn why in this detailed review. Enjoy!
Finally, one to tick off the bucket list, and what a rush it was!
Whale Shark season has started for 2017 so don’t miss out on this amazing experience.
According to the Lonely Planet, this area has made the list of the best places to swim with the whale sharks!
We got up at the crack of dawn for pick up. It was a hard wake up, but Anna, our fabulous tour guide, greeted us with a smile and so much enthusiasm, it made the 6 am pick up enjoyable.
The transportation is a small, comfortable van for up to 10 passengers. Although we had brought a little breakfast with us,
Although we had brought a little breakfast with us, they provided bananas, and oat cookies (gluten-free!) and bottles of water. We did pick up additional guests at a couple of hotels and we were on our way to Punta Sam, just south of Cancun, where the boats leave from.
Once everyone was on board, Anna gave a detailed briefing on what we should expect. Sunscreen is discouraged as the chemicals stay in the ocean long after you leave, but there is the option to buy long sleeved t-shirts (they are worth the $ and a great souvenir) and also to rent wetsuits rather than use the mandatory life vests.
TIP #1 – Bring Clothes
Bring Clothes that are light and will cover you up. As sunscreen is discouraged, you will need something to cover up with.
Ana also offered everyone Dramamine, a medicine that helps prevent motion sickness. It can make your drowsy.
TIP #2 – Take the Dramamine!
I have a stomach of steel. I am normally the one holding the poor person’s hair back during sea sickness episodes as it never happens to me. Well, there is a first time for everything. You are out in the middle of the ocean, often with no land in sight, in a boat that can rock quite a bit. (I refused the meds and ended up getting sick – BUT it was totally worth it!)
Well, there is a first time for everything. You are out in the middle of the ocean, often with no land in sight, in a boat that can rock quite a bit. (I refused the meds and ended up getting sick – BUT it was totally worth it!)
You are out in the middle of the ocean, often with no land in sight, in a boat that can rock quite a bit. (I refused the meds and ended up getting sick – BUT it was totally worth it!)
Once we arrived in Punta Sam, we had time to use the toilets, grab some continental breakfast and get changed if need be. Then we were off to the boats. The groups are limited to 10 people with 2 guides and a captain.
The staff are amazing and everyone is well taken care of. The boats do have a little shade, so stick to the front of the boat if possible. There are no bathrooms on board, so if you are squeamish about peeing in the ocean, you will have to hold it all day.
TIP #3 – Be Patient
Take things as they come. This tour is like a safari adventure- it is up to nature and unpredictable.
We encountered giant sea turtles, wild dolphins, and a manta ray. That being said, the whale sharks were being shy that day and we almost gave up after a few hours of searching for them. While on the boat, Ana and the crew were great at making sure that everyone was comfortable and happy, providing drinks (they have water and soft drinks) and even a sandwich.
We were just about to give up (if you book with us and don’t see the whale sharks, we do offer a full refund) when the captain received word that there was one close by. We headed over to where the whale shark was spotted and everyone got ready.
TIP #4 – Listen Closely to Instructions
The guide takes groups of 2 at a time, and when she says go, you GO.
The whale sharks are constantly moving so you have to swim alongside them but in a certain way that you don’t scare them off.
The boat of 10, along with the other boats in the area all cooperate so that everyone gets a turn to swim as unobtrusively as possible. So listen to the guides instructions and follow them as closely as you can.
Again, this is nature and things may change, but generally, you will get 3 turns to swim for a few minutes each time. The guides are equipped with go-pro cameras, so you can focus on what you need to do and not worry about getting pictures.
The guides told us to jump in the water and we jumped! Have your equipment ready, mask on and follow the guides, you will get to swim alongside the incredible whale shark and the guide will also be there with you.
Some of the whale sharks are faster than others, but if you follow your guide, you should be good to go. Life vests are mandatory unless you bring your own wetsuit (or they have them for rent).
Here is a brief video of our experience:
We had two turns for everyone that wanted to swim with them (since they were quite shy and we were late to find them. There were a couple of people that were not too keen on swimming in the open ocean and decided to view them from the boat.
Once this part of the adventure was finished, we headed towards Isla Mujeres, which is a small island off the coast of Cancun.
Our quest to find the whale sharks had taken us quite far out, so it did take about an hour to arrive at the island. Although we did not actually set foot on the island, the boat anchored in a shallow area where the water was crystal clear. Here, we were able to swim and just relax with a cold beer.
It was also time for lunch! The crew served up some fresh ceviche with tortilla chips and guacamole. If you are vegetarian, please let us know at the time of booking, and they can provide a salad.
TIP #5 – Bring Cash!
Not only will you need it for tipping the fabulous staff – only cash is accepted if you want to purchase the USB with the images of your day, or the great souvenir t-shirts. Once we arrived back to Punta Sam, we had a few minutes to relax (and use the bathrooms!) while they were preparing the pictures and video.
A lot of tours we have been on charge insane amounts for the pictures ($100 + for a CD is not uncommon). This tour offers you a USB with a ton of images and video for $35. Well worth the money considering this will likely be a once in a lifetime experience.
The ride back to Playa del Carmen was a quiet and sleepy one. It was a long day, filled with adrenaline and surprises – but it was an incredible experience. I highly recommend it!
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