Whale Shark - Image from Wikipedia
Getting to these guys was fairly easy. We booked a tour from Isla Holbox for $850Mx ($70 CAD) a person from the hostel we were staying at: Tribu. You can also book tours from Isla Mujares, but I believe it will cost a bit more.
Once on the boat, it's a 1 hour ride towards the Caribbean Sea to get to their favourite swimming hole. When you find a whale shark, you won't be alone for long. All the tour companies leave at the same time, and are in constant radio communication. Pretty soon, the poor whale shark will be surrounded by a half dozen boats or so, all with a half dozen swimmers. The fish didn't seem to mind though.
So here's the deal, they give you a couple of fins, a snorkel, and mask. At a maximum two people are allowed in the water at a time plus one guide (from all the tour boats). So, you'll have to wait your turn to swim. There was time for us to swim twice, each time for about two minutes. That's it.
Getting Ready to Dive in!
When it's your turn to go, the captain takes the boat out directly in front of the whale shark's path. When he gives the signal, you jump in and watch as the giant fish swims on a collision course towards you, then right past. It's amazing how insignificant us humans are to such a big animal. The whale shark doesn't bother to change its course, it expects you to get out of the way.
Swimming With the Whale Shark
Once the whale shark passes you by, you turn around and swim after it. They can move pretty quick, but we had no trouble keeping up, and got an amazing up-close look at this animal. In fact, both times we were swimming with the whale shark, we were so close that it would have been no trouble at all to reach out and touch it. We didn't, because our guide informed us that touching the whale shark was forbidden in the only English he probably knew.
Not my photo, but here's a view pretty close to what we saw in the water.
Whale Shark Underwater - Image from Wikipedia
Once the swimming fun has ended, you're fed a sandwich and taken to a reef for some more snorkelling. While we were there, the reef had poor visibility, so we were taken to a beautiful area between Isla Holbox and the mainland they called the mangroves.
Ashley at the Mangrove
The final stop on the tour is just outside the flamingo reserve where you can see pink flamingos in their natural habitat from the boat.
Was it worth it? Yes.
It's a lot of fun getting to swim with such large animals. I'd do it again.
If you're prone to seasickness, as we both are, pills can be had from the local pharmacy for $5 Mx each. We took one just as we left on the tour and had no trouble keeping our lunch down the entire trip. Okay, Mike had no trouble. Ashley was rather ill, but at least she didn't actually upchuck.
One last tip... keep your life jacket on at all times while in the boat. Near the end of our tour the wind began to pick up and there were some larger waves on the sea. Our captain managed to hit a wave funny, and the boat came down on its side. We had about 5" of height left between the gunwale and the water. We managed to right the boat by jumping to the other side just like you would when tacking a sail boat, and the disaster was diverted.
What's a whale shark you ask? It's the world's largest fish. They've been known to grow to over 41 feet in length. But keep in mind, it's not a whale: it's a fish. And it's big. Despite being part of the shark family, they pose no danger to humans. Mostly because they don't have sharp teeth being that their diet consists of algae, plankton, and krill. They are also have a fairly docile demeanour making them great swimming companions.