whale sharks

Swimming with whale sharks in Cancun (the movie)

When you first set off traveling you imagine a certain type of life for yourself. You imagine mystery and culture, challenges and adventure. And you imagine it at every turn. Fortunately long term travel is not like this, especially for us. I say thankfully because if it were I would be beyond tired by now and thinking about packing the whole thing in for the easier option of a full time job.

For us travel has become about large periods of absolute freedom, mixed with shorter periods of work we choose, with the occasional adventure thrown in followed by recovery time. So far this formula works great and aside from the bits of “am I truly happy” and “what should I do with my life” which comes with being human, we are pretty damn happy.

To continue that happiness it was time for an adventure. A month or so ago we returned from a yucky but adventurous trip to Belize. Then Holly, my sister-of-sorts showed up to spend some time with us. While she was here we did a few things around Playa, showed her our favorite sites and eating spots, and decided to share an adventure with her. Swimming with the whale sharks.

For those who don’t know, which is most of you, I have a completely rational fear of being eaten by a shark. It is completely rational because sharks eat people, especially in Perth, Australia. Despite this completely rational fear I don’t let it stop me swimming in the sea / ocean, and I don’t let it interfere with anything as cool as swimming with whale sharks.

So when Sarah managed to get us some free and discounted tours, I was like, “hell yeah. lets do it!” Cancun is the place in the world to go swimming with whale sharks. More whale sharks congregate here than anywhere else in the world, and you are guaranteed to see them. It also cost a hell of a lot less than places like Australia, running around $160 US per person which includes pickup and drop off, swimming with the sharks (including snorkel gear), breakfast, and a delicious ceviche lunch while parked on the boat off the island of Isla Mujeres, basically everything.

It starts with a 0630 pickup, and then an hour or so drive to Cancun. We are dropped off at a little harbor and fed breakfast. A brief run down of what’s what is given. Don’t touch this, remember to breathe, people can still hear you scream underwater, and we were on our way.

whale sharks

About an hour into the boat ride (after spotting a few dolphins and watching land fade to nothing) the boat slowed. Other boats were visible along with their payloads/people. And all around us were giant fins sticking out of the water, dozens of them. I experienced a few butterflies at the thought of having nothing but ocean and predators swimming below me, but the thought of swimming with these big beautiful fish in their natural environment threw all that into a hidden recess of my mind and allowed excitement to flourish.

I was not quite prepared for the spectacle of these giant creatures floating around us and under us. At one point a huge blue form floated from beneath the boat and then silently on. Heads lifted above the water line showing gaping mouths sucking in tons of water like underwater hoovers. Cool beans.

whale sharks

In groups of three we donned our flippers and masks and dived in to swim with the beasts. Like icebergs, they are bigger under the water than above, and unlike icebergs they move around a lot, and fast. It was not what we expected. In my mind we would jump in the water and watch them swimming around while we huddled together in a group. In reality you have to chase the buggers who have a habit of veering away from you at the last second, man-swallowing sized mouths gaping open as they take in their invisible breakfast.

It’s awesome as hell. They appear from nowhere, sometimes two or three at a time, only acknowledging you enough to avoid a collision. There is no touching but as you swim alongside them you sometimes find yourself no more than a meter away, staring into their tiny eyes or watching their giant gills flush through with tons of disposed water. Huge fish which appear tiny next to their benefactor cruise along under enormous fins, breaking off occasionally as you come near.

“There’s one!” And the race is on to swim alongside.

“There’s another one!” Reverse and go for it!

“Holy shit one just swam underneath me!”

And on it goes for as long as you have the energy to keep swimming. For an hour or two we swim alongside them, chase them and get left in their bubbly dust. It is incredible to witness. To glide along the surface alongside these giant beasts while they just do what whale sharks do. To be in their natural environment and watch them eat and cruise. Wow.

Through all this I barely even thought about how deep the water below me was, about how I could see nothing from the depths. My focus was just on these marvelous fish and their incredible girth. It was a hell of an experience and one I would recommend wholeheartedly.

Adventure? Tick! Unique and spectacular coolery? Tick! Making up a word which should be included in the English language? Yep! Now it’s time to recover while you check out the video. (For HD you gotta go to Vimeo, but come right back and tell me how awesome it is if you do).

Thanks to The Snorkel Shop for organizing this incredible day. For more adventures and/or lack thereof subscribe up on the right there. Or follow on facebook (up on the right there as well).

24 Comments
  • holly s-o-s
    Posted at 20:40h, 02 September Reply

    awesome post! i loved this experience, and totally appreciate u guys sharing it with me!!! not to mention, i am extremely pleased with how i look in my swimsuit and life jacket. hahahahaha! thanks for holding my hand while that enormous whale shark swam right under us and scared the crapsky out of me! xoxox

    • Tyrhone
      Posted at 21:43h, 02 September Reply

      So that’s why the water was so murky… πŸ™‚ It was a pleasure having you along and so glad you did it. Kudos to ya mate.

  • Taunee
    Posted at 21:14h, 02 September Reply

    WOW! That really does look amazing. Good choice of music too. πŸ™‚

    • Tyrhone
      Posted at 21:44h, 02 September Reply

      In the end they weren’t as scary as you think, and of course it’s a good choice of music, I chose it πŸ™‚

  • Lisa Stinhilver
    Posted at 22:39h, 02 September Reply

    That was a beautiful video to watch! So close. My little guy said NO WAY!

    • Tyrhone
      Posted at 00:42h, 03 September Reply

      Thank you, it was amazing to be so close, and very unexpected. Just give him a little nudge, it is so worth it πŸ™‚

  • Jimmy Dau
    Posted at 23:32h, 02 September Reply

    Nice work! Looks amaze…and good to see you didn’t sink too much πŸ˜‰
    Jimmy Dau recently posted…Food in MexicoMy Profile

  • mum
    Posted at 10:37h, 03 September Reply

    This is so fantastic to watch Tykes,double joy for me, because superimposed over it
    I have another ‘movie’ in my head, taking my so small little boy for his first swimming
    pool lessons in Highlands with the teacher and her Labrador pups, I’ll scan the photos
    for you and Sarah, that little fellow did not want to learn and look at him now !! Of
    course you do know that you will now have to re-arrange the video to include them,for me.
    love you lots xxxx

    • Tyrhone
      Posted at 14:38h, 04 September Reply

      Hey mum, I sort of remember that, mainly just the puppies :). I’ll make you your own version if you can find those pics.

  • Leslie
    Posted at 06:50h, 04 September Reply

    Had to watch this twice!!! You did a fab job with everything and the music just set it off perfectly! Well done. I love to see what my dear friend, Holly, is up to on this amazing adventure! Thanks for posting, B-O-S!!!

    • Tyrhone
      Posted at 14:40h, 04 September Reply

      My pleasure, thanks for reading. Holly was great, straight in the water like there werent dozens of 30 foot sharks swimming around!

  • Barbara Crawford
    Posted at 07:07h, 04 September Reply

    Hey Tyke, that was really cool. (Tom talking from Barbara’s laptop) You guys are really getting in some fantastic experiences and it makes me so glad for you. The slap was worth it…?

    • Tyrhone
      Posted at 14:43h, 04 September Reply

      Thanks Barbara, I love that we get to do these cool things every now and again. It wasnt me getting slapped but I’m sure the camera guy is used to it as he gets right in there! πŸ™‚
      Tyrhone recently posted…Swimming with whale sharks in Cancun (the movie)My Profile

  • Paul Farrugia (globalhelpswap)
    Posted at 09:12h, 05 September Reply

    You did it!! It was one of the highlights of our trip.
    We did it in Donsol in the Philippines and it cost $12!!!! For 3 hours!!
    I will never forget that first sighting when I was looking down in the ocean and then basically saw a living submarine coming right for me! Priceless.
    Paul Farrugia (globalhelpswap) recently posted…August newsletter by globalhelpswapMy Profile

    • Tyrhone
      Posted at 14:36h, 05 September Reply

      $12! It’s mind boggling to me that anything in todays world could be worth the effort for $12. It is amazing swimming with such a large creature right? In a place where other large creatures might eat you. Priceless for sure, almost literally in your case. ..

  • Montecristo Travels (Sonja)
    Posted at 15:20h, 10 September Reply

    My husband has dreamed of doing just this for YEARS!! So I am sending him the link! THANK YOU I had no idea they were in Cancun. We were heading more towards the Seychelles. πŸ™‚ We Scuba dive – do you know if they have a different tour for those of us not β€œbubble counters”?

    • Tyrhone
      Posted at 16:57h, 10 September Reply

      Hey Sonja, you should definitely go for it. Just remember the season is May to September. I didn’t read about any scuba versions. When we snorkeled though they sort of skim the surface so it is not necessary on this tour. Maybe they do it elsewhere when the whale sharks are feeding lower down but I am not sure about that.

  • Steph (@ 20 Years Hence)
    Posted at 07:28h, 11 September Reply

    I am so incredibly jealous of this! Tony & I have been doing our best to dive our way around Asia and have certainly seen some incredible things (we were diving with 2-3m long mantas the other day) but spotting a whale shark in the wild is at the top of my list and so far we’ve had no luck. I guess we’ll have to get ourselves to Cancun… Surely there are worse fates, right? πŸ˜‰
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted…Everything You Ever Wanted to Know (& More!) About: TAIWANMy Profile

    • Tyrhone
      Posted at 15:12h, 11 September Reply

      I just can’t get into diving, I enjoyed it when I did, but past 10 meters my head wants to explode no matter how much I try and equalize. Fortunately though there are experiences like this where the action comes to you! And yes you could do a lot worse than a trip out to our part of the world πŸ™‚
      Tyrhone recently posted…Where there’s a Mexican, there’s a way!My Profile

  • Charlie
    Posted at 20:36h, 15 September Reply

    Wow! Amazing! I really wouldn’t have thought you’d get so close to them. I would love to do this one day, though I’m pretty sure I’d be too scared (kinda terrified of the ocean!)
    Charlie recently posted…Google Glass will change how we travel, but will you wear them?My Profile

    • Tyrhone
      Posted at 17:17h, 16 September Reply

      When you are there and in that water with them, you just kinda forget about all the other stuff. I have a thing about sharks and, you know, how they eat people, but even I forgot all about it when I was swimming next to this giant fish. If you get the chance make yourself do it!
      Tyrhone recently posted…Where there’s a Mexican, there’s a way!My Profile

  • Carmel
    Posted at 07:47h, 29 September Reply

    I am SO far behind in my blog reading. WOW! That is such a great adventure. I’ll have to take note of this for a future trip to Mexico….I wanted to watch in HD, but loading the regular video is hard enough with this crap wifi in Mongolia.
    Carmel recently posted…GRATITUDEMy Profile

    • Tyrhone
      Posted at 15:10h, 29 September Reply

      You’re missing out, if I was you I would leave Mongolia right away so you can watch the video in HD πŸ˜‰
      Tyrhone recently posted…A few days at Akumal lagoonMy Profile

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