Swimming with Whale Sharks In Mexico

About 8 years ago, I traveled to the Maldives for my cousin’s wedding, and had the experience of a lifetime when I got to swim with the whale sharks in the open water. I’ve always looked back at that as one of the most magnificent wildlife encounters of my life, and hoped that one day, I would be able to share it with Bridgette.

That day finally came! When I realized it was prime whale shark season for our trip to Cancun and Playa del Carmen, I immediately asked Bridgette if she’d be up for it. She was half eager and half nervous, but ultimately decided she’d like to give it a try. I was sooooooo excited for her to experience that majestic feeling of swimming next to these magnificent gentle giants of the sea!

We joined a local tour in Cancun and left the dock early in the morning for a 1 hour boat ride into the deep sea. My brother in law, Brian, my cousin Celine, and my niece Brianne joined us on this excursion, along with 5-6 other people that we did not know. The boat ride was really fast and bumpy as we rode through wave after wave. Because we sat in the front of the boat, it was an especially wild ride for us, and about 45 minutes into it, we hit a really big wave that sent all of us flying from our seats. Brian, unfortunately, didn’t land steadily and ended up hitting his chin against the side of the boat while spraining one of his ankles. Blood was pouring out from his mouth and I immediately saw a deep cut along his lips and chin. It was a moment of panic for everyone as Brian tried to stop the bleeding with his bare hands and the boat crew scrambled to find a first aid kit to assist.


Long story short, the boat had a first aid kit that consisted of 3 cotton balls and 2 bandaids. Not much help at all. One of the crew members simply tried to stick a bandaid on the wound, which clearly didn’t do anything. Brian asked for some ice and towel and was eventually able to stop the bleeding for a bit. His injured foot made it hard for him to walk though, so we knew we needed to get him to a doctor. At that point, we had to make a decision. It would take an hour to get back to to dock in Cancun if we headed back at that point, in which everyone on board would have to forego the excursion, OR, the captain asked hopefully if Brian could hang tight for now and allow us to reach our destination in 15 minutes, swim with the whale sharks for about an hour, and then all head back to dock. Although our group was wary about the wait for Brian’s injury, Brian decided he was fine for the time being and would just remain on the boat while everyone else swam with the whale sharks. I could see the relief in the captain’s eyes for not having to abort the trip, and I was somewhat annoyed that he didn’t see his passenger’s safety and well being as a priority. Nonetheless, since Brian said he would be fine, I decided to let it go.

As we entered the whale shark territory, we were immediately surrounded by their beautiful, amazing fins around the boat. It was such a majestic sight to watch them from the boat….I couldn’t wait to get into the water with them!


The experience in Mexico was quite different than what I had experienced in the Maldives. In the Maldives, we were the only boat out there, and our entire group jumped into the water whenever a whale shark was spotted by the captain. In Mexico, there must have been dozens of boats around the same area at the same time, and according to the captain, only 2 passengers from each boat were allowed to get into the water at one time. Granted, there were a lot more whale sharks in Mexico than what we saw in the Maldives, but I couldn’t help wondering if the amount of boats and people in the water were causing stress to these animals. Even though we were in the wild and in their habitat, the fact that so many whale sharks remained around us seemed a little odd to me. Wouldn’t they  want to swim away from all the commotions?

Bridgette took her first jump with her aunt Celine, and she had the most astounding encounter with her first whale shark, who pretty much swam right up to her!

I did my first jump in Brianne, and had a hard time staying underwater because my snorkeling equipment didn’t work very well. Water kept getting into my mask which made my eyes sting so badly! I’ve found that it’s very hard to rely on tour groups’ snorkeling gear because they go through so much wear and tear without proper replacements, so I decided after this trip that we will purchase and bring our own gears going forward! After all, if we’re going to be paying for these amazing experiences, we should have gear that allows us to fully enjoy the experiences!

Each pair took about 4 jumps into the water (just a minute or 2 each time) and then it was time to go. I thought we were going back to the Cancun dock but we actually landed on the island of Isla Mujeres. The captain claimed it was much closer to Cancun, which would allow Brian to seek medical help quicker, but in reality, it was because Isla Mujeres was a part of the overall excursion and he still did not want to deter from the original itinerary. 😑

Isla Mujeres is a very small island, and boats were not allowed to dock directly on land, so Brian actually had to get into the water first with his injured foot and limp to shore. The captain’s assistant, Renee, was very helpful and not only helped Brian safely get to shore, but accompanied him to find a nearby doctor. Renee grew up in Isla Mujeres, so he was very familiar with the island. Within about 2 hours, Brian saw a doctor at a nearby clinic, got several stitches for his lips, confirmed his foot injury was not a serious enough fracture that needed immediate attention, and got back onto the boat. While I was with Brian at the doctor’s, Brianne, Bridgette, Celine, and the rest of the people from our boat got to enjoy the clear, pristine water of the Caribbean Sea. The girls loved swimming in the beautiful water!

When we left Isla Mujeres, I was sure we would be headed back to Cancun at that point, but nope, the Captain insisted on “one last short stop to snorkel nearby.” I felt exasperated that he still had no intention to get Brian back on shore soon, but since Brian felt okay, I didn’t argue.

The snorkeling was fairly nice, as we got to sees a bit of  their famous underwater sculpture museum, but there were a ton of people in the water, so it felt crowded at times!

After the snorkeling, we finally made our way back to Cancun. It was definitely a very eventful day, and while it was a real bummer that Brian got injured before he ever had a chance to get into the water, I am also grateful that his injury was not more serious and did not require any hospitalization.

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