When researching this trip, I typed: Swim with Whale Sharks Cabo into the search engine. A number of tour operators popped up, including Cabo Adventures, the one I would be using. I ignored them and clicked the videos tab. I wanted to see what whale sharks were like. Now, on the other side of my experience, I can tell you one thing: the pictures and videos don’t begin to do them justice.

It was time. I plopped over the side of the boat and into the warm, salty water. I bobbed up and down in the gentle waves, positioning myself just behind our guide, as instructed. He pointed away from us, then down. I dipped my mask below the water and peered out into the blue haze. The water was not very clear, so we could see maybe fifty feet or so. I squinted my eyes, but still nothing. Then a dark shape began to emerge, like a shadow when the clouds slowly break, first small but growing rapidly. My breath caught in my throat, never making it up and out my snorkel. It was gigantic, and it was heading right at us.

Whale Sharks

whale shark swimming and surrounded by small fish in la paz bay in los cabos

Whale sharks are the largest fish in the world. They are documented to 45 feet in length and unconfirmed reports list them at up to 60 feet, though 30 to 40 feet is more typical for a large adult. They tip the scales at over 20,000 pounds and can live to 120 years of age, reaching sexual maturity at around 30 years old. They live in warmer tropical or near-tropical waters around the world, and typically roam the vast oceans in search of plankton and small squid or fish, occasionally diving to depths of over 5000 feet. As filter feeders, whale sharks are gentle giants, unable to swallow anything larger than an apple – something I had to remind myself of as one swam toward me.

How do you Swim with Whale Sharks Cabo?

people on a boat heading out to swim with whale sharks cabo

The Bay of La Paz, just offshore of the city of La Paz, is a filter-feeder’s dream. From October to May, currents well up plankton-rich waters into the bay, and whale sharks congregate to feed. The bay is shallow, typically 10 to 30 feet, with a sandy bottom that makes snorkeling in the open water feel comfortable. On the two-hour bus ride from Cabo San Lucas, Oliver Hernandez, our incredible guide, gave us a thorough and humorous biology lesson on whale sharks, then explained the rules and logistics of swimming with them.

people sitting on the side of the boat wearing snorkel gear and getting ready to swim with whales sharks cabo

Here’s how it works. Whale sharks rarely stop swimming – Oliver said to think of them as freight trains – they don’t move for anything, even each-other. To swim with whale sharks Cabo, you need to get ahead of them and let them come to you. Your boat will drop your group (6 people maximum, including your certified guide – we did groups of 3 at a time, taking turns) in the water ahead of a previously spotted whale shark. You will then position yourself, with the help of your guide, so that the whale shark will swim just past you. As it passes, you begin to swim alongside it, taking care to never touch it and to keep your distance from the tail as it weaves side to side. After a few minutes, your guide will signal it is time to stop. The whale shark will swim off, and your boat will come pick you up. It sounds simple, and it is, but the first time is a little chaotic as you try to keep up with the whale shark, keep track of your guide, and not kick your companions in the face with your fins (sorry Marc!).

Who Can Swim with Whale Sharks Cabo? Can My Kids Come?

Whale sharks swim at a fast walking pace. Fins are provided, along with wetsuits and lifejackets. At no time are you allowed to free dive with the whale sharks – surface snorkeling only is permitted. The swimming is tiring, but only lasts about 5 minutes per stretch. If you can handle moderate activity for that length of time, repeated 3 to 4 times, then you can swim with whale sharks.

I asked Oliver about kids, and he said many children come along. Some tour operators have no age restrictions, but our company, Cabo Adventures, has an 8-years-old and up policy, and I agree that is appropriate. Even if your child can swim well, it is an open water excursion with a very large animal and may require some self-regulation that younger children may not be capable of. Oliver stated that when a family with kids is along, they try to keep that family on a boat alone, so the guide can help the kids more. Still, as always, you know your child best. For myself, I would take my kids in a heartbeat.

Is it Ethical to Swim with Whale Sharks Cabo?

cabo adventure tour guides on whale shark boat explaining rules and regulations for when you swim with whale sharks cabo

Only you can answer this question. All I can do is give you information upon which to base your decision.

Swimming with whale sharks in the Bay of La Paz is highly regulated. The giant bay is divided into three zones – a recreation zone, a marine traffic zone, and a 7000-hectare reserve zone for the whale sharks. The animals are not restricted in their movements in any way – it is open ocean. Here are the rules that Oliver mentioned to us: all boat captains and guides must be certified via a training course. Boats cannot exceed 40 feet in length, cannot exceed the speed limit, and can only operate between 9am to 5pm. One boat per whale shark (there are normally 10+ whale sharks in the allowed area), with a maximum of 14 boats at a time. Oliver told us they once had to wait 4 hours for their turn. No more than 6 people in the water at a time (as mentioned, we did three guests plus our guide and alternated). Personal rules include no touching the whale sharks, no flash photography, no harassment, two arms distance minimum, mandatory buoyancy device, no free diving (surface only), biodegradable sunblock only (provided), and no big splashes – the more you blend in, the better.

The whale sharks are free to dive or leave the area at any time, and they are more than capable of out-swimming even the fastest swimmer, if they so desire. I will add this; our guide Oliver was not only knowledgeable, but his genuine respect and concern for the whale sharks was evident in everything he did from the way he talked about them, to the way he enforced the regulations. It was clear that if I got out of line, I would have to deal with him.

Swim with Whale Sharks Cabo

outline of a whale shark while looking up at the sky while swim with whale sharks cabo

The shadow grew and morphed into a wide mouth, followed by a massive body and huge fins. It passed us about fifteen feet away and, as previously instructed, I began to swim alongside it. Beautiful white spots dotted the side, uniquely patterned to each animal like our finger prints, and numerous small fish swam along with it. It was about 20 to 24 feet long – a juvenile, believe it or not. Oliver had called them moving reefs, and I could see why. A tiny, lidless eye stared out from near the front of the head. I was lost in the moment, completely unafraid. I finally remembered to glance at Oliver, and in what seemed like no time, he gestured for us to stop. I surfaced to exultations from myself and my companions. We beamed with the marvel of what we had just experienced. I began swimming to the boat, desperate to get aboard – not because of fear, but because I couldn’t wait to do it again. To be so close to such a gentle, magnificent creature in its natural environment is something I will never forget. Somehow, despite its size, instead of fear, it gave me peace.

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Is this a sponsored post?: Yes, while the swim with whale sharks Cabo trip was sponsored, all of our thoughts, opinions and views are our own.