Best Places to Swim or Dive with Whale Sharks: Our Top 6

Best Places to Swim or Dive with Whale Sharks: Our Top 6

Whale sharks are majestic and graceful giants of the ocean. It can be an extremely humbling experience to get in the water and swim with these beautiful and gentle creatures. We've traveled the world to find the best places to swim & dive with whale sharks. Here is our list of top six destinations where you can get in the water up close with the largest fish in the world.

In this guide, "dive" means you can scuba diving with whale sharks is possible. "Swim" means you can swim with the whale sharks and "Snorkel" means you can leisurely snorkel around the whale shark.


#1 - Wolf and Darwin Islands, Galapagos - Dive

From June to November, the weather and water temperatures in the Galapagos get colder. Plankton starts to bloom thanks to natural upwelling currents and whale sharks come to the area to feed. This explosion of nutrients also attracts a huge diversity of fish activity making which makes scuba diving with whale sharks the Galapagos even more awesome! The Galapagos Whale Shark project is trying to learn more about why these adult whale sharks come to Wolf and Darwin.

Galapagos whale shark at Wolf & Darwin Islands
 
 
Wolf and Darwin are the northernmost islands in the Galapagos, and the water there is warmer than the other islands. Whale sharks can appear suddenly out in the blue, and a strenuous swim often then occurs if you want to keep up with them. The marine life in these islands is unlike anywhere else in the world, which also earns them a spot in the top 5 of our best shark diving article and our scuba diving bucket list article.
 
"Everything is bigger in the Galapagos, and the whale sharks are no exception! Swimming with these gentle giants is always an incredible experience, but the 40 - 50-foot long whale sharks we saw in the Galapagos were nearly double the size of those I’ve encountered elsewhere." - Katie Yonker, Travel Agent and Trip Leader
 
Check it out for yourself and join us in July 2020: Galapagos Underwater Photography Workshop
 

#2 - Socorro Island, Mexico - dive

Located 240 miles southwest of Cabo San Lucas and often called "Mexico's Little Galapagos", the Socorro Islands offer a wonderful chance to see a plethora of large pelagic animals. In November and December, whale sharks can often be seen along with giant mantas, humpback whales, and large gamefish.


Whale shark encounter in Socorro, December 2018, with dolphins and manta in one frame

Photo taken by @vibesandhorizons


"My favorite whale shark destination is the Socorro Islands, Mexico. Also known as the Revillagigedo Islands, this remote archipelago consists of 2 volcanic islands of San Benedicto Island and Socorro Island, and a seamount known as Roca Partida, arguably my favorite dive site anywhere on the planet. Whale sharks are known to visit Socorro starting May and stay until December. Socorro is my top destination for whale shark diving because they are often accompanied by large schools of jack, dolphins and manta rays." - Tim Yeo, Travel Agent and Trip Leader


#3 - Isla Mujeres, Mexico - swim or snorkel

Whale sharks gather during the summer in two areas around Isla Mujeres. Most operators will snorkel off Isla Holbox, where the whale sharks gather to feed on plankton and krill. Other operators will take snorkelers way off Isla Mujeres to clear blue water, where whale sharks and mantas feed on bonito eggs after spawning events.
Upclose whale shark diving encounter in Isla Mujeres, Mexico

"Although this is a snorkel-only destination, the opportunity to snorkel and swim with whale sharks, particularly in July/August, is about as near of a guarantee as you'll find for marine life. Plankton rich waters & breading tuna eggs draw in hundreds of whale sharks (and manta rays) to this location every year, resulting in a consistent, (and fully natural) event. Over the years the knowledge of this event has grown, so you can expect to see a massive amount of boats and other snorkelers, but thankfully there are a number of regulations now set with how close you can get to the animal, only 2 snorkelers at a time allowed to be in the water, etc to help regulate the tourists and protect the animals. Also, with the abundance of whale sharks, you still commonly have your own shark to swim by & admire." - Adam Gibson


#4 - La Paz, Mexico - swim or snorkel

A reliable place to swim whale sharks, especially in the fall and winter months. We are fans of visiting La Paz in October and November when the water is warmer and the whale sharks are busy feeding on plankton. A visit in the winter means cooler water temps and less visibility, but also the possibility to see grey and humpback whales. You will be swimming with them in the Bay of La Paz.

La Paz is a short, easy flight from either Los Angeles or Mexico City - although most people will fly into Los Cabos Airport and take a van or taxi for two hours to La Paz. One thing to keep in mind, is that the bay is closed for swimming with Whale Sharks from May until early October due to new government regulations.

 
 
"Whale sharks in La Paz have the wonderful distinction of being predictable but wild. No one is feeding these sharks! Because of this, they have very little interest in people and it can be a hectic affair trying to keep up with their breakneck speeds. Don't get me wrong, when you're in the water with them they look slow and majestic. But when something the size of a bus is being majestic, they're really traveling at speeds much faster than you can swim. So it can be better to be smart than physical -  position yourself where you think the whale shark might go next and be careful not to get in its way. With any luck you'll find yourself in a surreal world where the celestial patterns across the whale's back cruise under you as the hot sun and desert mountains shine above." - Nirupam Nigam, Editor-in-Chief Underwater Photography Guide 
 
 

#5 - Oslob, The Philippines - swim, snorkel or dive

Oslob, located at the tip of Cebu, is a mere two hours from Moalboal and Dauin, which are both breathtaking diving destinations. Resorts in these two areas offer swimming with whale sharks in Oslob as an optional day activity, where snorkeling tours are common and locally regulated.
 
Local fishermen have been authorized to feed the whale sharks daily in Oslob, which is why the sharks are spotted here so regularly. As one of the most reliable places to see whale sharks year-round Oslob often attracts large crowds, which might dampen the enjoyment for some.
 
Nonetheless, *whale shark swimming *in Oslob remains a great experience for *all ages*. If you do choose to take the side trip *there *you won’t be disappointed!
 
 Swimming with Whale Shark in Oslob is an experience not to be missed
 
"In Oslob, Philippines, a day trip from Dumaguete,  there is a whale shark experience different from the most others in the world. Dozens of full-grown 40ft whale sharks arrive in (usually) clear blue water to be fed by fisherman. A multitude of boats brings guests, most without fins, in a circle to visit and swim with the whale sharks" Scott Gietler, Bluewater Travel Owner and Trip Leader
 
or 

#6 - BAHIA DE LOS ANGELES - SNORKEL

Bahia de Los Angeles, also known as the Bay of Los Angeles, is in the northern Sea of Cortez, Mexico. It is accessible via a long drive from Southern California, or via a liveaboard such as the Rocio del Mar. Liveaboard trips often involve flying into Phoenix, Arizona and taking a van ride down to the northern tip of the Sea of Cortez.

best whale shark swims in the world - bahia de los angeles

Prime months for this experience are July, August, and September. Local fishermen take you out in their pangas, picking you up from either the shore or directly from the liveaboard boat. The whale sharks are here to feed on plankton, and if you are lucky one will be remaining still feeding vertically in the water column. There is also good scuba diving in this area, with colorful fish, many different nudibranch species and a good variety of macro subjects.

When the wind is calm, finding the whale sharks is usually not difficult, but if the water is choppy it can take a while and get a little rough if you are in a small boat.

 

More Places to swim or SCUBA dive with Whale Sharks


There are other great places to swim with whale sharks in the world, like Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia, Donsol Philippines, Triton Bay or Cenderawasih Bay near Raja Ampat in Indonesia, and Mafia Island in Tanzania. They can offer amazing experiences, but can be more difficult and more expensive to travel to. Where is your favorite place to see whale sharks? Share your experiences with us!

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