A wondrous swim with whale sharks in La Paz, Mexico

In ADVENTURE, MEXICO by Janice and George36 Comments

Swim with whale sharks in La Paz

Nothing could quite prepare us for the moment when we first saw a massive whale shark gliding slowly by, just feet away. It was one of those OMG moments – an almost other-worldly experience. How wondrous that these creatures allowed us to swim and snorkel alongside them in the wild!

Whale sharks are actually not whales (or sharks). They’re fish – the largest fish in the world (growing up to 40 feet long and weighing up to 47,000 pounds).

But even though whale sharks are humungous, they are really just “gentle giants.”

Grey with white spots, they eat only tiny plankton and krill. And they’re not at all dangerous to divers, snorkelers and swimmers.

The only concern we had when swimming with them was to stay away from their cavernous mouths. To feed, they open their mouths very wide to suck in gallons of sea water from which to filter out algae, plankton and krill.

And our concern wasn’t so much for us – it was for the whale sharks. We didn’t want to accidently poke them in their open mouths with a flippered foot.

swim with whale sharks in La Paz - photo Cabo Expeditions

My, what a huge mouth you have! photo Cabo Expeditions

Swim with whale sharks in La Paz

Whale sharks are unfortunately endangered. However, there are still several places around the world where you can swim with them – the Bay of La Paz in the Sea of Cortez is one such place.

We took a day tour with Cabo Expeditions, which picked us up from our resort in Cabo San Lucas and drove us by van to La Paz (about a two-hour drive).

In La Paz, we geared up in wet suits, then climbed aboard our boat for the ride out into the bay. We were accompanied by our Cabo Expeditions guide and a federally licensed local guide with good knowledge of marine biology (along with a boat captain, of course). Arial spotter planes looked for the whale sharks from above, communicating their location to our boat captain. Other pangas and boats also descended on the spot where four or five whale sharks were feeding.

swim with whale sharks in La Paz - boat trip

The boat trip out into the bay of La Paz to swim with whale sharks

“Jump! Jump! Jump!”

When a whale shark was spotted swimming close by our boat, our guide shouted at us to jump in the water and swim up to it.

We felt like paratroopers, quickly jumping in one after the other like dominoes. Then we’d swim alongside the whale shark while peering down at it through our snorkel mask. When it swam away from us and we couldn’t follow it any more, we’d swim back to the boat, climb aboard and wait for the next whale shark to watch.

Jump, swim, observe, repeat.

And imprint this awesome once-in-a-lifetime experience in memory.

Swimming with whale

It can be hard to keep up with a whale shark – photo Cabo Expeditions

Brrr… it’s so cold

But while tremendously exciting to be watching whale sharks up close, it was hard to ignore the cold seeping into our bones and stiffening our fingers.

In winter, which is the season for swimming with whale sharks in La Paz, the water temperature drops to the low 60s.

swim with whale sharks in La Paz - photo Cabo Expeditions

Whale sharks are the “gentle giants” of the sea – photo Cabo Expeditions

So we felt both regret and relief when it was time to say goodbye to the whale sharks and return to La Paz. After, we tucked into hot soup and tortillas at a local Mexican restaurant, before being driven back to Cabo.

Want to see what it’s like to swim with whale sharks in La Paz?

Take a peek at this short video by Cabo Expeditions.

If you swim with whale sharks in La Paz:

  • Season:  The season to swim with whale sharks in La Paz is October to February.
  • Tour operator:  Choose an ecologically responsible tour operator and guide (boats should maintain a safe distance from the whale sharks to avoid any possibility of hurting them). We found Cabo Expeditions to be very conscientious. Their 8-hour tours, which leave from Cabo, cost $160 per adult (with a 20% discount if you book online). We’ve also heard from friends that Fun Baja (based in La Paz) is good too.
  • No-no:  Don’t touch a whale shark (even though it’s quite easy to do). Touching them can transfer harmful bacteria from you to them, and make their skin vulnerable to infection.
  • Tip:  Even with a wetsuit, know that you might find the water cold. Try to rent a thicker wetsuit or wear an additional wetsuit vest for extra warmth.

 
Like this post? Then pin the image below to Pinterest by clicking on the image :-).

swim with whale sharks in la paz


Have you gone swimming with whale sharks? Where?

Janice and George Signature

Comments

  1. Sharks are fish, in the class Elasmobranchiomorphi with skates and rays, the cartilaginous fish.

    1. An easy way to tell is to look at the angle of the tail. Vertical=fish, horizontal=whale

  2. Oslob is actually one of the more touristed areas in Cebu. The whale sharks there are fed by the fishermen, unfortunately pulling them out of their migratory cycles. I’d encourage people not to visit Oslob for the whale sharks; if you’re looking for a nice place to see them in the Philippines, Donsol is the place to do it!

  3. Seriously looks so fun! We were in Cancun a few weeks ago and didn’t see much except for some blue fish :(

    We’ll definitely have to keep this in mind the next time we head back to the area!

    1. Author

      Thanks for the link! We’ve just returned again from Mexico, this time a 6-week trip which included exploring some of the colonial towns in the interior – Guadalajara, Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende and Morelia – before finishing in Zihuatanejo. So we’ll have more Mexico info for you too soon :-).

  4. What an incredible experience! I am so supremely jealous of you guys—as a diver, one of my greatest pleasures is spotting and swimming with pelagics, so I’m dying to see a whale shark in the wild. They are so huge but so graceful! I can’t even imagine what this must have been like for you.

    1. Author

      Good question – whale sharks are migratory. You might see them off La Paz at other times of the year also, but chances are best between December and February/March.

  5. I luckily encountered a whale shark randomly when I was snorkeling in Costa Rica but unfortunately didn’t get a pic of it! Next time I want to get pics like yours! Love these magnificent creatures!

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  7. What an awesome article about an amazing experience. Your pics are awesome! Can I link to this for my 50 Best JanuaryTravel Experiences?

  8. That had to be just absolutely amazing, cold or not! I would love to swim with whale sharks. You’ll surely remember this experience for a lifetime.

  9. Oh goodness guys, I bet that was bloody fabulous!

    It’s so high on my list. I try to dive everywhere I go but I haven’t been lucky enough to see whale sharks yet. Darn it!

    1. Author

      If you’re diving whenever you can around the world, chances are you’ll come across an area where whale sharks congregate. They’re found in the Maldives, Belize, the Galapagos, Donsol Bay (Philippines) and several other places. Crossing fingers for you :-).

  10. What an amazing experience which I would really love to do one day. Another for my wish list which gets longer almost every day but how to fit it all in in one life time?

  11. Ahhhh I wanted to do this so bad while we were just in Cabo but it didn’t work out. I will return however as it rates up there as far as adventure experiences go (for me).

    Glad you posted this about La Paz – will make it back soon I hope!

    Cheers!

  12. Swimming with whale sharks is on my bucket list and it all sounds amazing, except for the cold water part! The cost of the excursion sounds very reasonable. I didn’t realize that spotter planes were used to locate them.

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