Transformative travel is such a big word, but our experience swimming with whale sharks in La Paz was exactly that; something that none of us will soon forget. Suited up in wet suits and reef-safe sunscreen it did not take long to reach the shallow waters where the endangered whale sharks spend the winter months in the Sea of Cortez. As the captain slowed down our catamaran, the kids jumped up to the bow to see the huge fish cruising along in front of us.
Whale Sharks are not actually whales. They are sharks, aka fish, and the largest fish species in the ocean. Large is an understatement. Imagine a shark swimming next to your boat that is longer than the three humans swimming in the water beside it.
While its name seemed ominous to my kids, they have seen many movies about man-eating sharks and know that orcas off the coast of our hometown in Vancouver often eat prey as large as them I continually reminded them that whale sharks do not eat large prey. “They would probably spit you out real quick,” I joked as we looked at the mouth of the shark in front of us.
My 8-year-old did not like the joke at all, or the size of these giant fish, and decided that he would just observe from the deck, pointing and shouting as he spotted another giant in the ocean. But my 10 year old, decided he was going in! “Go, go, go,” shouts the boat’s captain as he positions the boat ahead of the shark. Off the back of the boat we jump, as the shark is just a few meters away. Have you ever been so close that you could reach out and touch a shark that huge! (No, you are not allowed to touch them!)
Wowed does not even begin to explain how thrilled I was to be swimming next to one of these gentle giants. While they are hanging out and eating, you actually do need flippers to keep up to them. Sharks are always moving, needing water to move over their gills at all times. Getting in the right position is not always easy, trying to stay away from their mouth (the eyes are on the side of their heads so they cannot see what is in front of them and would likely crash into you if you were in front of them) and also staying away from its powerful tail that is likely to swat and quickly change direction if it feels something nearby.
Tips for Swimming with Whale Sharks in La Paz
- Whale shark season is typically from October to April when they enjoy the warm waters of the Sea of Cortez.
- Whale sharks eat plankton and small fish that they might scoop up. They do not eat large prey although the thought of ending up in their giant mouth is enough to make sure you stay out of the way!
- Whale Sharks have a lifepsan of about 70 years but the ones that are typically spotted off the coast of La Paz are considered juveniles.
- They can weigh up to 21 tons and can be as long as a typical school bus!
- Conservation is very important in Mexico and swimming with the whale sharks is regulated in La Paz. Only a certain number of boats are allowed into the area at a time. Only 5 people and a guide are allowed into the water at a time. It is not permitted to touch the sharks.
- Book your tour online here
What to Pack when Swimming with Whale Sharks:
- reef safe sunscreen
- bathing suit
- hat / sunglasses (hats tend to fly off while the boat is crusing out to the sharks)
- cash for tips
- water / snacks (most tours offer snacks on board)
Tips for Visiting La Paz:
- Whale Shark day tours are available from Cabo San Lucas for those who want to come just for the day. Sunrider Tours offers pickup and dropoff. It is about 2 hours drive to La Paz from Cabo San Lucas. Book online in advance here.
- La Paz is the perfect base for a trip to the Baja although it does not cater to the resort lifestyle. Instead if offers an authentic Mexican city with stunning harbour views, great eats and lots of nature nearby.
- There is a bus to La Paz from Cabo San Lucas.
- Having a rental car and driving in Mexico is the easiest way to get around, especially if you want to visit nearby Bandara Beach.
- There are lots of 3 star style accommodation in La Paz. Expect to pay around USD40-50 for this kind of accomodation.
Lindsay Nieminen hails from Vancouver, Canada and shares her love of travel on this website. She is passionate about showing others that they should not put off traveling the world just because they have young children or are single parents. She aims to encourage them to seek out adventure, whether it is at home or abroad by providing information on how just about everywhere can be a destination to explore as a family.