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
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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