Here in the Mexican Caribbean, we might not have seasons like spring, fall and winter, but we do have a unique season of our very own: whale shark season! From May 15 through September 15 every year, whale sharks make their way down to the northern shores of the state of Quintana Roo to feed on plankton and presumably to enjoy a little tropical weather.

Riviera Maya Whale Sharks 

My first encounter with whale sharks was just last summer. My husband Jorge, my best friend Nadia and I took a boat out of Solo Buceo Marina at Dreams Cancun Resort and Spa, joined by a group of Brazilians who were much better swimmers than we were. The ride out was bumpy and we spent about 45 minutes circling around in search of the whale sharks, but once the little boat reached our destination we were blown away. Several other boats were surrounding a herd of dozens of huge animals, with snorkelers and whale sharks swimming peacefully side-by-side.

 Swim with Whale Sharks Riviera Maya Mexico

After letting the Brazilians on our boat be the guinea pigs, our guide Pepe grabbed my hand as I jumped into the choppy waters of the open Caribbean Sea. The boat captain had timed it so Pepe and I could easily sidle up alongside an approaching whale shark, and I caught my breath a little as I saw the shark’s huge gills rippling with the water just beside me. I felt as if I could reach out and touch the speckled animal, but Pepe had already warned us that we’re not to touch the wild whale sharks. I glanced behind me and saw the huge tail swaying side to side, so far away I could just barely see the outline, and suddenly realized how big the whale shark was. I swam between the whale shark and Pepe (still holding my hand) for a few minutes before the creature pulled ahead.

Whale Shark Season Riviera Maya 

About 15 minutes later, it was my turn to go into the water again. As I jumped, Pepe lost sight of our target whale shark, so we swam out a little before he spotted another one coming. “Put your head underwater,” he told me. As I submerged my snorkel mask, I saw the giant, gaping mouth coming straight for me. A sudden fear of being accidentally swallowed whole by a toothless shark swept over me, but the whale shark turned aside just in time and we once again followed alongside it for a while before heading back to the boat so my husband could have another turn.

I’ve always been a bit panicky in the water and I’d spent all week stressing about what it would be like to swim next to a 10-meter shark, naturally. However, once I was in the water, the whale sharks calmed me down immediately with their slow swim and laid-back demeanor.

This season, I hope to do the whale shark swim again!




Laura Winfree

Originally from Virginia, Laura Winfree moved south of the border in 2005 to major in tourism at La Salle University Cancun. Today, she works as a copy writer for a local travel agency in addition to freelance blogging, writing and translating. Laura writes about her life as an expat in Mexico at and Nightclubs and weekly beach trips are her favorite part of living in Cancun!