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Isla Mujeres dazzles with its white sand, turquoise water, and brightly colored buildings, but did you know this tiny island off the coast of the famed Yucatan Peninsula (it’s just 7 kilometers/4 miles long) is one of the best places in the world to swim with whale sharks? Yep, during “whale shark season,” the waters surrounding the island are teeming with these giant, friendly creatures – in fact, during July and August, you’ll find the world’s biggest congregation of whale sharks here!
As you can imagine, swimming with whale sharks is one of the most popular tours on the island, and there are plenty of options available, from a small group tour that includes breakfast on the pier to one that boasts a ceviche lunch on the beach! However, it’s important to note that these tours can only be enjoyed during whale shark season, which runs from mid-May to mid-September.
So, if you plan to vacation in Isla Mujeres during whale shark season, this detailed blog post has all the information you need! From how much the tours cost and how long they last to what to pack for the tour. Armed with this information, you’re certain to have the best possible experience!
So, let’s dive in (no pun intended) on the 15 things you need to know about swimming with whale sharks in Isla Mujeres on the stunning Riviera Maya.
Don’t have time to read the full article? Swimming with whale sharks is truly a remarkable experience. Because so many people want to get a chance to see these gentle giants, we recommend booking this whale shark tour in advance which includes round-trip transportation, two meals, and an experienced guide.
1. About whale sharks
Whale sharks are not whales as you may have previously thought but filter-feeding sharks. They are, in fact, the world’s biggest sharks because they can grow to be between 5.5-10 meters (18-33 feet) long and weigh a whopping 18 metric tonnes.
Despite their gigantic size, whale sharks are not very shark-like at all and are known as the “gentle giants of the ocean” due to their tame nature and the fact they can’t bite (they have very small teeth) and instead eat by sucking in large gulps of water and trapping plankton, small fish, and shrimp in the filter pads inside their mouths. Plus, they move through the ocean super-slowly at a speed of just 3 miles (5 kilometers) per hour, meaning swimming with whale sharks is a very safe activity in Isla Mujeres!
Would you believe these beautiful creatures can live to be as old as 150 years? But that’s not the most interesting fact about them. As we learned on our tour, a whale shark’s back is covered in a mosaic pattern of stripes and white spots, which are unique to each whale shark – similar to a fingerprint!
Sadly, as you may already know, whale sharks are considered endangered, and their global population now stands at 200,000-240,000. This means it’s so important to protect their dwindling numbers and book an environmentally-friendly whale shark tour in Isla Mujeres. Luckily, I’ve listed 3 of my favorite eco-friendly tours from the island in this blog post.
2. Where do you go to swim with whale sharks in Isla Mujeres?
Most of the whale sharks in Isla Mujeres can be found in the waters on the island’s north side. In whale shark season (from mid-May to September), hundreds of whale sharks relocate here, making Isla Mujeres home to the largest congregation of whale sharks during these months.
From the pier in Isla Mujeres, you will travel by boat for 45 minutes to an hour until you reach your first swimming spot. The reason you’re on the boat for so long before you can dive in to swim with these gentle giants is that whale sharks congregate in deep waters and can dive over 500 meters (1,640 feet), so the boat needs to travel pretty far to get to the deep waters!
You can also see whale sharks in the waters surrounding the nearby island of Isla Holbox and Isla Contoy.
Related Read: Swimming with whale sharks is very popular from nearby Playa del Carmen too. You can check out what to know about swimming with whale sharks in Playa del Carmen here!
3. When is whale shark season in Isla Mujeres?
Swimming with whale sharks in Isla Mujeres is not possible all year, so if you want to tick off this bucket list activity while visiting the island, you’ll need to come here in “whale shark season,” which runs from mid-May to mid-September.
Tours typically start operating when the first whale sharks are sighted, usually in mid-May or early June, but this varies every year. As we all know, nature and weather are unpredictable.
The peak of whale shark season is July and August, and these months offer the highest chance of seeing and swimming with these giants as the waters are abundant with them in these warmer months.
As for the best time of the day to see whale sharks, that’s in the morning, hence, why most whale shark tours in Isla Mujeres depart in the early morning.
4. What does it cost to swim with whale sharks in Isla Mujeres?
Tours in Isla Mujeres range from $155-$209 USD per person. The prices vary according to what’s included. For example, some tours include the dock fee, and this particular tour includes a picnic breakfast on the pier which is why it’s a little more expensive!
Keep in mind too, that some tours charge extra for hotel pick-up and drop-off.
If the tour you book doesn’t include the dock fee, you will need to pay an extra $15 USD cash on the day of the tour.
5. What are the best whale shark tours in Isla Mujeres?
With so many different whale shark tours available in Isla Mujeres, it can be hard to know which one to pick! Below, we have included our favorites and those with the best reviews so you can easily choose the best tour for you.
Whale Shark Adventure in Isla Mujeres
This small group tour is available between May and September, and it’s a popular option because it’s capped at just 10 people per boat – allowing for a more personalized experience. All gear is included, and you should enter the water twice to swim with the whale sharks as well as manta rays, dolphins, and flying fish if you’re lucky. However, the number of times you will stop will depend on the weather, how good your group’s swimming skills are, etc.
Lunch, snacks, bottled water, and soda are included in the price too. And this tour costs $155 USD per person, but for that price, you will need to make your own way to the PEMEX gas station in downtown Isla Mujeres. You can request hotel pick-up, but that is an extra charge, and you will need to make a note of that when you book.
Also worth noting is your guide will have a GoPro to snap some underwater photos of you and the whale sharks, which you can purchase after the tour for an additional fee!
Group Whale Shark Tour from Isla Mujeres (Breakfast and Lunch)
This whale shark tour can also be booked between May and September. It includes a picnic breakfast on the pier, soft drinks, snacks, and a yummy ceviche served on the beach at Isla Mujeres (note, vegetarian options are available on request).
You’ll spend around 3 hours snorkeling and swimming alongside whale sharks and also have a chance to spot other amazing marine creatures like giant manta rays and dolphins. You’ll also snorkel around Isla Mujeres at coral reefs on your return to the pier, home to various colorful fish.
This tour costs $209 USD per person, plus the $15 USD dock taxes, which are payable in cash on the day. There are a few pick-up points for this tour, such as the PEMEX gas station. But you can request to be picked up from your accommodation, but there may be an additional charge for that. Note that pick-up with this tour is earlier than the others at 6-6:30 am.
Because it is such a small group, be sure to book this tour online in advance to avoid disappointment if it’s sold out.
Whale Shark Swimming and Manta Ray Snorkel
This whale shark and snorkeling tour has a maximum of 10 passengers per boat and includes lunch, all snorkeling equipment, and the dock fee for the great price of $174 USD per person.
Operating between May and September, you will need to meet at the Aqua Adventures dive shop on Avenida Benito Juarez 13 (across from Javi’s Cantina) at 7:50 am. From there, it’s a 40-90 minute boat ride to your first swimming spot. Here, you will take turns entering the water (two guests and one guide at a time) to ensure the best chance of the whale sharks staying close to you – as they can be scared off by large numbers.
After the water-based fun, you will stop at a beach on the island for some sandwiches, ceviche, and shallow-water snorkeling. And you will be back at the dock between 2:30-3 pm.
6. What is included on most whale shark tours in Isla Mujeres?
Most whale shark tours in Isla Mujeres include lunch and all snorkeling equipment. Some tours include a continental breakfast on the pier before boarding your boat, and some tours include the dock fee, so, no need to bring cash with you for those tours.
Hotel pickup and drop-off are mostly available on whale shark tours in Isla Mujeres but may be an extra charge, depending on where you’re staying.
And although the tours from Isla Mujeres don’t guarantee that you’ll see whale sharks, you’ve got a great chance of seeing and swimming with them if you book for July and August – the peak months of whale shark season.
For all the tours listed above, you can expect to be swimming with them within 45-90 minutes of departing the pier.
Related Read: If you plan to visit Cancun, keep in mind that swimming with whale sharks is one of the most popular things to do in Cancun too!
7. Is it safe to swim with whale sharks?
Yes, it’s safe to swim with whale sharks in Isla Mujeres – provided you follow your guide’s instructions and always wear a lifejacket. As I mentioned, whale sharks are incredibly mild-mannered and docile creatures, and they can’t bite due to their teeny-tiny teeth. That makes them one of the safest marine creatures to swim next to.
In saying that, as with any boating activity and especially one that involves swimming in open water, there are some risks involved, which is why it’s super-important to listen to your guide, wear your lifejacket even when sitting on the boat, and only book a tour with a reputable company (FYI, the ones we’ve listed above are a safe bet!).
8. How far in advance should you book a whale shark tour in Isla Mujeres?
Isla Mujeres is quickly becoming a very popular summer vacation spot in Mexico, and because the summer coincides with whale shark season, as you can imagine, any whale shark activity tends to book up very quickly. Therefore, we recommend booking a few weeks in advance, if you can.
The great thing about booking through Viator is that you can change your booking up to 24 hours before most tours, so if your plans do change, you can always select another date. You can also cancel and get a full refund!
Why We Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! We almost always book our tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:
- Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
- Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
- Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
- Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.
9. Is it guaranteed that you’ll see whale sharks?
No, whale shark tour operators in Isla Mujeres usually don’t guarantee that you’ll see whale sharks. Wildlife is unpredictable, and unlike whale shark tours in Exmouth, Australia, they don’t use spotter planes to scout the shark’s location here. Plus, whale sharks move around constantly to find food, so it may be difficult to pinpoint their exact location.
In saying that, the tour operators here are incredibly experienced and have been doing this job for years, so they know the best places to find whale sharks. And because the tours only operate during whale shark season, your chances of seeing them on a tour here are pretty high – especially if you’re taking a tour during July or August, which is the season’s peak!
10. What should you bring on a tour to swim with whale sharks?
There are several essentials that you’ll need to pack for your whale shark tour in Isla Mujeres – for example, a swimsuit, towel, reef-friendly sunscreen (some tour companies won’t allow anything other than reef-friendly sunscreen), a sun hat, sunglasses, and flip flops are all must-brings in my opinion. But you may also want to pack a GoPro or underwater camera if you’re a keen photographer or a prescription snorkel mask if you need one.
I’ve made a bulleted list of what I deem to be important items to pack for your whale shark tour:
- Light beach coverup to protect you from the sun when you’re on the beach
- Sun hat
- Reef-friendly sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher
- Flip flops or sandals for walking on the boat and the shore
- Underwater camera/GoPro
- Prescription snorkel mask
- A dry bag to protect your valuables
- Cash to pay the $15 USD dock fee if you’ve booked a tour that doesn’t include it or to use for gratuities.
Related Read: Whale shark tours are typically snorkeling; however, you can also go scuba diving at Isla Mujeres!
11. How long do whale shark tours in Isla Mujeres typically last?
Isla Mujeres whale shark tours typically last for between 6-8 hours. Pick-up from your hotel or the assigned meeting point varies between 6 am and 7:45 am, and you will usually be back at the dock in Isla Mujeres around 2:30 pm.
Expect to spend at least 5 hours on the boat, and hotel transfers to the dock can vary in length from 15-20 minutes.
12. Will you get seasick on whale shark tours in Isla Mujeres?
Yes, you may experience seasickness on your whale shark tour in Isla Mujeres. That’s because the majority of tours take place on small boats, which can be rocky in choppy waters.
Now, you may be lucky and feel completely fine, but it’s best to be prepared. Unfortunately, I learned the hard way and didn’t take any seasickness medication before our whale shark tour and then felt a little ill out at sea, which took away from the experience. So, this is your warning not to do as I did!
Dramamine is one of the most popular motion sickness tablet brands, and although it should be in stock at the few pharmacies on Isla Mujeres, we recommend buying some in bigger areas like the Cancun Hotel Zone, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, or elsewhere to ensure you have some on you.
You will need to take the Dramamine 30-60 minutes before you set sail and keep some with you throughout the day in case you need to take more.
13. Can kids/families swim with whale sharks in Isla Mujeres?
There is an age requirement for most whale shark tours in Isla Mujeres. For example, this tour has a minimum age of 3 years. And while this particular tour doesn’t state its minimum age requirement, they do have infant seats available, meaning young kids are welcome but may need to stay on the boat with an adult.
On the same note, even if the kids meet the age requirement he/she doesn’t have to go swimming with whale sharks but remember, an adult will need to remain on the boat with them.
And as I mentioned above, many travelers get seasick on whale shark tours. You will need to consider your child’s age and how they may react to a rocky boat before booking.
But, despite this, we think swimming with whale sharks is a fantastic family-friendly activity in Isla Mujeres. Swimming with these gentle giants is something your little ones will remember for many years!
14. Do you need to be a strong swimmer on whale shark tours in Isla Mujeres?
Yes, we would advise previous swimming experience before booking an Isla Mujeres whale shark tour.
Because these tours involve swimming in very deep open water, being confident in the water is a must. That doesn’t mean you have to be a very strong swimmer, just that you’re confident in your ability and can swim in deep water.
Of course, you can still book the tour if you can’t swim, but you will need to remain on the boat and watch the whale sharks from there. This isn’t a bad option as you’ll also get to enjoy ceviche on the beach in Isla Mujeres (one of the best beaches on the Yucatan Peninsula) and snap some cool photos from the boat of the marine life you encounter (such as whale sharks and dolphins!)
15. Is swimming with whale sharks in Isla Mujeres worth it?
YES! It’s definitely worth booking a whale shark tour in Isla Mujeres. Whale sharks are the world’s biggest sharks, and the opportunity to swim next to these huge creatures (they can be as long as 10 meters/33 feet) is a once-in-a-lifetime experience! You may even get close enough to see the spots and stripes on their backs!
A whale shark tour from Isla Mujeres is the perfect way to experience the underwater world of the Caribbean Sea, and as well as whale sharks, you may also be lucky enough to see giant manta rays, dolphins, and colorful tropical fish. Plus, when you add to the mix the fact that you’ll get to enjoy lunch on a stunning beach on the island and get to take some awesome photos on the boat ride, booking a whale tour here is a no-brainer!
So, if you’re looking to add a bucket list experience to your Yucatan Peninsula itinerary, look no further than a memorable whale shark tour from Isla Mujeres!
Where to Stay in Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Since you’re definitely going to be booking a whale shark tour in Isla Mujeres, it makes sense to stay right on the island for a few days. This gorgeous piece of paradise is home to a huge array of the best things to do in all of Mexico! To help you narrow down where to stay, these are our top hotel recommendations for a range of budgets.
Selina Isla Mujeres PocNa is a budget-friendly hostel/hotel that’s within walking distance (under 2 minutes!) of the beautiful Playa Norte. It is an absolutely stunning property, complete with a huge pool and outdoor bar and restaurant area. Sometimes they even host events like yoga, live music, or even DJs! It’s the perfect place to socialize and meet travelers from all over the world.
You can choose either shared or private accommodations. The private rooms range from budget to luxury – almost like a 4-star hotel stay!
A bed in a dorm here starts at $35 USD per night, and you can book a private room for $93 USD per night. To secure your stay in advance, I’d recommend booking online either on Booking.com or HostelWorld.
This is a luxurious 4-star hotel with private beach access. Rooms start around $275 USD, depending on the dates of your reservation. It is absolutely gorgeous, super comfortable, very clean, and they have amazing service. It has a pool, solarium, wellness center, restaurants, room service, and WIFI. You can book your room online in advance here.
Lotus Beach Hotel – $$$
This is not a cheap option (at all!) but it is one of the most luxurious hotels in Islas Mujeres. Lotus Beach Hotel is a 5-star hotel located right by the beach. Their rooms are very fancy, and their beach club is fancier still. If you’re looking for a high-end experience, this is the way!
Lotus Beach Hotel has a wide variety of amenities such as Wi-Fi, pools, a bar by the pool, bike rental, snorkeling, and anything you’ll need on the beach (including an umbrella, chairs, and towels). In addition to that, they also offer other relaxing services such as massages, couple massages, solarium, hiking, and diving, among others. The rooms can be as much as $1,000 USD per night, but I’ve seen great deals for this hotel on Booking.com (sometimes as much as 55% off!), especially for the summer months when the whale shark tours are running. You should book Lotus Beach Hotel online in advance to avoid missing out!
Renting a Car in Mexico
Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to get around Mexico is in a rental car.
I struggled to get around by bus and taxi for the longest time. But after renting a car in Cancun in 2023, I never looked back. It allowed me to explore the country without worrying about tours or taxis. It was why I fell in love with Mexico and eventually decided to live here periodically.
I refuse to use local services whenever I rent a car in Mexico. The truth is they sometimes can’t be trusted or come with hidden fees (or costly insurance that doesn’t make sense.) There are even rental car scams! So instead, I use Discover Cars, the company most experienced travelers or ex-pats in Mexico recommend.
The rates on Discover Cars are cheap, too, with the average rental costing around $25 USD per day. Full coverage insurance can be added for an extra $10 USD a day too.
Driving in Mexico also only requires a driver’s license using the Roman alphabet. If yours uses another like Japan and China, you simply need an international driving permit.
Insurance is required, but if you book with Discover Cars and get the full coverage, that’s all you need! Oh, and being over 18 is required, and if you’re over 25, your rental will be much cheaper!
Don’t get Caught without Travel Insurance!
We never travel without travel insurance! We’ve had a few instances during our travels when one of us has ended up in the hospital, and travel insurance has saved us thousands of dollars over the years!
SafetyWing is our go-to insurance, we both have policies with them whenever we travel.
They offer travel medical insurance that’s super affordable (only $45 USD per 4 weeks!)The only thing to note is that the insurance must be purchased once you’ve left your home country – we typically buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
We’ve personally used SafetyWing for many different trips, and we’ve been reimbursed for countless expenses when we’ve fallen ill. SafetyWing even covered our flights back to Canada in full when the pandemic first happened (when last-minute flights before the borders closed were super expensive!) While most travel insurance companies left people stranded, SafetyWing fully reimbursed us for our last-minute, pricey flights!
Also, because it is so affordable, there really is no excuse not to take out a policy. Check prices and get a quote online here with SafetyWing (you can even take out a policy if you’re already traveling!)
Thanks for reading!
I hope this blog post has answered all your questions about booking a whale shark tour in Isla Mujeres – it’s honestly one of the top experiences we had in the Riviera Maya. After all, it’s considered one of the best places in the world to swim with whale sharks for good reason!
For more, check out our Mexico page. It has all our blogs about Mexico laid out to make planning your trip easy! Or maybe at a glance, you’ll find some of these related guides helpful too!