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Whale shark encounters rank near the top of any snorkeling bucket list. Coming face to face with the largest fish in the oceans, is always a sensational experience. Whale shark can be observed in many tropical destinations, but nowhere else in the world do so many come together at once like off the coast of Cancun. Each year, from June to September, hundreds of whale sharks take home off the Yucatan Peninsula to feed on plankton. Swimming with whale sharks is a not-to-be-missed experience for snorkeling lovers, and quite simply one of the Riviera Maya prime attractions.

A whale shark seen at the surface from a boat in Mexico
Whale sharks usually swim at the surface, making them very easy to spot from a boat.

How to go snorkeling with whale sharks in the Mayan Riviera?

To go snorkeling with whale sharks, you will have to book a boat tour from a local agency. Tours include pick-up in any hotel of the Mayan Riviera, including in Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Akumal, Isla Mujeres, Cozumel, and Holbox areas.

The duration of the tours varies between 6 and 11 hours, depending on the pick-up location. The average price for a day tour, including snorkeling gear, is about $165 per person. The main departure point is Cancun Marina/Puerto Juarez. Some tours include also snorkeling in Isla Mujeres, particularly at the MUSA/Manchones Reef, on the way back to the port.

The boat trip to the whale shark area is approximately 1:30 to 2 hours. The whale shark can be observed from mid-May to Mid-September, but it is recommended to visit the area between mid-June to August since there is a higher possibility to see whale sharks.

Whale shark observation area in Mexico

Water entrance for snorkeling with the whale sharks

You will snorkel with whale sharks under the direction of a guide. Once a whale shark is spotted from the boat, you will jump in the water and start swimming along with this fascinating fish.

Whale shark in Cancun
A whale shark photographed from the surface of the sea.

Snorkeling with whale sharks on the Mayan Riviera

Whale sharks are the biggest fish on earth. They can grow up to 40ft but despite their size, they are harmless to humans, mainly feeding on plankton.

In order to ensure your safety and to conserve the species, strict rules have to be respected for whale shark’s observation. It is for instance prohibited to touch a whale shark, and you should always maintain at least a two-meter distance from the head and four meters from the tail.

It is prohibited to use sun lotion or tan lotion when swimming with whale sharks. Make sure you follow all the instructions provided by your guide. You can learn more about best practices for swimming with whale sharks in Mexico on the WWF website.

Snorkeler with a whale shark in Cancun
Snorkeling with these giants of the sea is an unforgettable experience.

Although the tour focus is on whale sharks, an amazing variety of ocean life such as manta rays, turtles, dolphins, and whales may be sighted during the tour.

This snorkeling tour is not recommended for beginners: snorkelers have to swim pretty fast to follow the whale sharks, and the currents can be strong.


  • Level required Intermediate
  • Maximum depth+50ft (deep offshore area)
  • Water entranceFrom a boat
  • LifeguardYes
  • Visitor numbersMedium to high
  • Access costsSnorkeling tour (from $140pp.)

MAP Spot

These spots are accessible to anyone with basic snorkeling skills, and feeling comfortable in the water and with his snorkeling gear. You will enter the water from the shore (beach, pontoon, ladder, rocks) or from a boat. The water height in the sea entrance area is reasonable, but you will not necessarily be within your depth. Moderate currents can occur in the area, even when the sea conditions are good. The distance to swim to reach the most interesting snorkeling areas of the spot does not exceed 200 meters.

This level only apply when the spot experiences optimal sea and/or weather conditions. It is not applicable if the sea and/or weather conditions deteriorate, in particular in the presence of rough sea, rain, strong wind, unusual current, large tides, waves and/or swell. You can find more details about the definition of our snorkeling levels on our snorkeling safety page.