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3 BEST Tours for Swimming with Whale Sharks in Tulum

3 BEST Tours for Swimming with Whale Sharks in Tulum

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If you’re hoping to swim with the world’s biggest fish (AKA whale sharks!), you’ve come to the right place!

Swimming with whale sharks in the wild is an unforgettable, bucket-list-worthy experience that you certainly won’t forget. In fact, it was the best tour we did while living in Tulum!

There are lots of whale shark tours available from Tulum, and deciding which one is right for you is no easy task. You want to make sure you choose a tour that is safe and is worth your time and money. This is where we come in; we’ve done many tours and completed the research, and below, you’ll see three of the best (and most highly rated) whale shark tours in Tulum!

Quick Pick: Our Favorite Whale Shark Tour in Tulum

If you’re ready to book a bucket-list whale shark experience right away, look no further than this full-day all-inclusive tour from Tulum!

This is the tour we did and we can’t recommend it enough! Your driver will pick you up directly from your accommodation in Tulum to take you all the way to Cancun where you will board the boat and head out to swim with these gentle giants. You’ll also get to snorkel along some gorgeous coral reefs and spend time on Playa Norte beach – the perfect way to end the day!

This tour runs daily and is perfect for the whole family as anyone age 3+ can go. It costs $229 USD per person from Tulum, which we think is a great deal considering it includes meals, roundtrip transportation, snorkeling equipment, and your knowledgeable guide. Just check out the hundreds of 5-star reviews here if you don’t believe us!

The Best Whale Shark Tours in Tulum

1. All Inclusive Whale Shark Tour from Tulum

Whale shark swims near a group of people snorkeling off the coast of Tulum, Mexico
So cool!

We were lucky to do this small group whale shark tour the last time we were in Tulum, and it was an incredible experience!

The day starts bright and early with pick-up from your Tulum accommodation between 4-5 am, but don’t worry, you can sleep on the bus on the way to Cancun! Once there you will get some coffee and snacks and head out to the open seas in search of these gentle giants.

After about an hour on the boat, our guide spotted the first whale shark! We jumped in the water and swam next to it for around 15 minutes. Whale sharks swim quite slowly so it was easy to keep up and swim alongside it – talk about a majestic experience!

Then it was back on the boat and onto the next spot in search of more whale sharks. We spent around 3 hours in the water in total during this tour, and we saw multiple whale sharks, dolphins, colorful fish, and even a manta ray. And with a maximum of only 10 people on the tour, the boat never felt crowded and we didn’t have to snorkel through crowds of people which was a huge bonus!

This experience costs $229 USD and includes your hotel transfers, the whale shark experience, snorkeling equipment, snacks, soft drinks, and a delicious ceviche lunch on a stunning beach on Isla Mujeres. Just make sure to bring an extra $15 USD with you to pay the natural reserve fee on the day of your tour, and some extra cash to purchase professional photos at the end if you wish!

2. Budget Whale Shark Tour with Biologist

Whale shark swims past me with my camera off the coast of Tulum, Mexico
This whale shark came right up close to us!

This small group tour is a great option for anyone on a budget as it is one of the most affordable quality tours from Tulum.

You will have to make your own way to the pick-up point in Tulum where you will be driven out to Cancun and then take a boat out to the whale shark sighting area where you will spend the next few hours searching for whale sharks with your naturalist guide.

We love that this tour has a biologist on board, they know exactly where to go to find the whale sharks and will teach you all about these magnificent creatures while you’re on board.

This highly-rated tour (check out the great reviews here!) doesn’t guarantee a whale shark sighting, but you’ll get to dive in at least two different swimming spots, increasing your chances of seeing these majestic fish. You’ll also get to indulge in an included lunch which will either be served up on a beach on Isla Mujeres or on the boat, depending on the weather and how you’re doing for time. 

This tour only costs $209 USD per person for pick-up from Tulum and includes everything except a $20 USD cash environmental fee that must be paid on the day of the tour. Make sure to bring your swimwear, biodegradable sunscreen, and seasick medication (if needed) for this full day of fun in the sun!

3. Swim with Whale Sharks and Isla Mujeres Beach Tour

Whale shark swimming off the coast of Tulum, Mexico
Whale shark swimming off the coast of Tulum, Mexico

This particular tour includes breakfast, lunch, snorkeling equipment, and a stop at Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres, regarded by many as one of the best beaches on the Yucatan Peninsula!

You will need to meet at the Super Aki supermarket in Tulum where you will be picked up early to start your day of adventure. Before boarding the boat, you will be provided with a light breakfast and coffee to fuel you up for a big day out on the water.

On this tour, you will get between two and three swimming stop-offs, which highly increases your chances of seeing and swimming with the whale sharks. Our friends did this specific tour and said they saw around 20 whale sharks from the boat and in the water!

Afterward, the boat will take you to Playa Norte to enjoy the white sand beach while indulging in a ceviche lunch. You can swim and snorkel here before heading back to shore with full bellies and tons of new memories!

Numbers for this experience are capped at 20 people per boat, making for a more personalized experience. It costs $280 USD per person from Tulum and you will need to have $20 USD in cash on the day of for the environmental fee. We recommend securing your spot online in advance since this is such a popular tour (just look at all of the 5-star reviews here)!

Related Read: Be sure to check out the best cenotes in Tulum or take a catamaran ride while you’re here too!

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.
  • Lowest price guarantee – If you happen to find the same tour at a lower price elsewhere, Viator will refund you the price difference.
  • 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.

Check out the Viator website here! Or, for more info, read our detailed review about Viator here.

About Whale Sharks

Tourists snorkel next to Whale Shark off the coast of Tulum, Mexico
They are majestic creatures!

Also known as “the gentle giants of the ocean” due to their docile nature, whale sharks are, in fact, filter-feeding sharks and not whales, as you may have previously believed.

These huge creatures weigh around 18 metric tonnes and can typically grow to be between 5.5-10 meters (18-33 feet) long. They take the crown of the world’s biggest shark! Despite their size and scary-sounding name, whale sharks can’t bite and can only eat small fish, shrimp, and plankton by “filter-feeding” through the filter pads in their mouths.

Plus, they only swim at a very slow speed of 3 miles/5 kilometers per hour, so they are safe to swim alongside. 

Whale sharks are one of the longest-living fish in the world, and they can live to be 150 years old! On our whale shark tour in Tulum, our guide told us a very interesting fact – the whale sharks’ backs are covered in a mosaic pattern of white spots and stripes, which are unique to each whale shark – a little bit like a fingerprint!

How far in advance should you book a whale shark tour in Tulum?

A child and father swims beside a whale shark in Tulum, Mexico
Kids love the tour!

Tulum’s status as one of the most popular tourist spots in Mexico has firmly been cemented of late. Yep, this bohemian coastal resort is buzzing throughout the year but especially in the summer months, and this also happens to be whale shark season (mid-May to mid-September). Therefore, as you can probably guess, the good whale shark tours (such as the ones listed above) tend to book up quickly. 

What’s great is that if you book through Viator, you can reserve your spot and not have to pay until just before your departure date. You will also get free 24-hour cancellation, meaning if your plans happen to change and you need to rebook or cancel your tour you can do so for a full refund. This is a huge bonus, and is why we always book with this reliable company!

Related Read: While you’re staying in this bohemian town, why not, check out the best restaurants in Tulum?

Is swimming with whale sharks in Tulum worth it?

A whale shark swims through the water off the coast of Tulum, Mexico

YES! Swimming with whale sharks in Tulum is 100% worth it!

Just imagine swimming next to these gigantic, gentle creatures (some of which can be up to 33 feet/10 meters long) in the deep blue waters of Tulum. You’ll see the world’s biggest fish up close, an experience only a few people get to do. You’ll even get to see the unique mosaic patterns on their backs from a short distance away. So cool! And just imagine the underwater photos you can take!

Honestly, I could talk all day about how amazing our whale shark tour in Tulum was. But, to summarize, swimming with whale sharks is certainly an experience that will remain engrained in your mind forever! So if you’re wondering how to spend your time in Tulum and you love adventure, don’t hesitate to go swimming with whale sharks!

Other Activities to do while in Tulum

View of the gaurd house at the Tulum Ruins with views of the coast
The Tulum Ruins!
  • Visit the Tulum Ruins. If you’re reading this blog, you’re likely interested in visiting Mayan ruins. The great part about staying in Tulum is that there are some incredible ruins right at your fingertips! This archeological site sits right on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean and was likely a large port town. The largest structure, El Castillo, was a lighthouse guiding those coming in on the shore. Accessing the Tulum ruins is a quick 5-minute drive from downtown Tulum and isn’t quite as crowded as Chichen Itza. You can also book a tour of the ruins for more insight with a local guide and a stress-free visit, as they take care of all the planning!
  • Rent a bike and explore the city – Renting a bike is a fun and convenient way to explore Tulum. You can see the murals, cute shops, hit a brewery, and even the beach in just a few hours! Renting a bike in Tulum is really simple and very affordable. My favorite bike rental shop is Ola Bike Tulum where you can get a bike for $11 a day! You can even do multi-day bike rentals without returning the bike, making it easy to have transportation the whole time you’re in Tulum. 
  • Visit Cozumel – Cozumel is a small island off the coast making it a great day trip from Tulum! Cozumel is well known for its white sand beaches and clear water. This is one of the best places in Mexico to go scuba diving and snorkeling. Cozumel has the second-largest coral reef in the world, only behind the Great Barrier Reef! There are also more Mayan ruins and villages all around Cozumel that you can explore. To get to Cozumel, you’ll need to catch the ferry from Playa del Carmen. The 45-minute ferry ride is about $20 USD. 
  • Food tour – While visiting Mexico, a food tour is a must. Not only do they have some of the best food in the world (in my personal opinion), but they are also a great way to experience the traditions and culture of the country! This walking food tour of Tulum will take you to all of the best restaurants and local spots in the city. You’ll experience traditional Mexican dishes, such as tacos, tamales, mole, and dessert! Not only will you get to taste some delicious food, but get to meet a local guide who will teach you all about Tulum!
  • Have a beach day – With all the adventuring and exploring you’ll likely be doing in Tulum, a lazy beach day is a perfect activity to relax! Many people come to Tulum for the amazing beaches, as they are some of the best beaches in Mexico. The closest beach to Tulum is Paradise Beach, and the name speaks for itself. You can rent lounge chairs here for $10 and enjoy the nearby restaurants. You can easily get to Paradise Beach by walking, biking, or a quick taxi ride. 

Renting a Car in Mexico

Bailey and Daniel take a selfie while driving around Mexico
A rental car means freedom to go to the beach whenever you want!

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. Read my honest review of Discover Cars here for more details!

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! 

Thanks for reading!

Daniel and Bailey take a selfie on a catamaran cruise to Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Thanks for reading!

I hope this blog post has inspired you to book your bucket-list whale shark tour in Tulum! Honestly, you won’t regret it!

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!

Is Mexico Safe? Safety Info about Traveling in Mexico

33 FUN Things to do in the Riviera Maya, Mexico

13 BEST Chichen Itza Tours from Cancun

21 BEST Day Trips from Playa del Carmen