3 Best Places to Swim with Whale Sharks: We Have Done 2

by | Last updated Jan 21, 2024 | Best Snorkeling Maldives, Best Snorkeling Mexico

My husband and I love snorkeling and seek out really unique underwater adventures when we travel the world. Swimming with the world’s largest fish was #16 of 77 on our ultimate couples bucket list! Whale sharks are the gentle giants of the ocean, munching on plankton as they meander around the sea. If you want to check off this amazing underwater experience on your bucket list, you need to know the best places to swim with whale sharks. Let’s go through the top locations!

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Map of Best Places to Swim with Whale Sharks

Trip map created using Wanderlog.

There are several places in the world to have this incredible underwater experience. However, I am going to walk you through three of the BEST places to snorkel with this majestic 40,000-pound fish:

– Mexico

– Maldives

– Australia

01-Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Map of how to get to the whale shark tour in Isla Mujeres Mexico

Map of how to get to the whale shark tour in Isla Mujeres, Mexico

Our first exhilarating encounter with a whale shark was at Isla Mujeres in Mexico.

It took a little effort to reach this destination. We flew into Cancun International Airport, rented a car, and used the charming area of Playa del Carmen as our base.

There are plenty of highly-rated beautiful condo rentals in Playa del Carmen to choose from.

On the day of our whale shark tour, we drove up to the Gran Puerto Cancun Ultramar ferry docks in Puerto Juarez, parked our car, and hopped on to the ferry. Isla Mujeres is a short 20-minute boat ride away.

Ferries run every half hour starting at 5:30 am. We took the 7 am ferry to get to the dock by 7:45 am for our whale shark tour.

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WHEN TO GO

Mid may – mid September

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BEST ISLA MUJERES TOUR COMPANY

Swimming with a whale shark in Isla Mujeres

Best places to swim with whale sharks: Isla Mujeres, Mexico

We booked with On Isla Mujeres Water Tours and had a great experience!

They have over four hundred 5.0 TripAdvisor reviews!

I want to share my story of how great the tour guides were to me.

Right before our trip, I was in a car accident. I tore a ligament in my thumb and needed to be in a cast. I asked my orthopedic surgeon if we could wait until after our trip to Mexico.

Thankfully, he agreed.

I wrapped my hand as securely as possible and was determined to still swim with whale sharks. On the day of our tour, the very nice tour guide stayed with me the entire time.

When the whale shark was spotted, we jumped out of the boat. You have to swim fast to keep up! Since my right hand was out of commission, my sweet guide pulled me right next to the whale shark (as seen in the photo below).

My kind guide pulling me near the whale shark

My kind guide from On Isla Mujeres Water Tours pulling me near the whale shark

Incredible experience!

By the way, whale sharks are not whales. They are sharks, but they are not predatory. These gentle giants are filter feeders, mainly munching on plankton.

After the whale shark tour,  we enjoyed a lovely prepared snack of fresh ceviche and guacamole while cruising around Playa Norte, one of the top beaches in the world!

Playa Norte on Isla Mujeres

Playa Norte at Isla Mujeres in Mexico

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ISLA MUJERES WHALE SHARK TOUR COST

$150 USD per person

02- South Ari Atoll, the Maldives

Map of how to get to the whale shark tour in the South Ari Atoll in the Maldives

Map of how to get to the whale shark tour in the South Ari Atoll in the Maldives

I got lucky twice.

Not only did we swim with whale sharks in Mexico but we also had the chance to do it again in the Maldives.

If you are coming from the United States, it’s going to take a lot of effort to enjoy this experience.

Expect about 24 hours of travel.

The best flight paths go through Qatar or Dubai from the United States. You arrive in Male, the capital of the Maldives, and then take a seaplane or boat to your resort island. 

The dive shop on your resort island will take you on a whale shark excursion.

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WHEN TO GO

Year-round, but the larger concentrations occur from December – March.

This is one of the few places in the world you can experience swimming with a whale shark year-round.

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BEST SOUTH ARI ATOLL TOUR COMPANY

There are 26 atolls in the Maldives.

The atoll that has a high concentration of whale sharks is the South Ari Atoll.

As long as you pick a highly-related resort in this atoll, you should be in good hands. Check first with your resort if the whale shark excursion is an option.

PRO TIP: Confirm with the dive shop the days they offer the whale shark tours. Some resorts do not offer it daily. You would hate to fly all the way to the Maldives and miss this experience!

We stayed at one of our favorite boutique resorts, the Outrigger Maldives Maafushivaru.

As soon as we arrived, we booked our tour. Not only does Outrigger offer whale shark tours, but they also have an incredible house reef AND offer manta ray tours!

If you love snorkeling and want to know more about the best Maldives resorts for snorkeling (+ videos and reef ratings), check out my article below.

The whale shark excursion was amazing! We had a few minutes in the water with this majestic fish all to ourselves before other tour boats started to arrive.

Snorkeling with a whale shark in the South Ari Atoll in the Maldives

Best places to swim with whale sharks: South Ari Atoll in the Maldives

Remember you are not the only one enjoying this bucket list item.

You will likely be swimming with quite a few other tourists from different resorts as everyone tries to have this same experience.

Sharing the whale sharks with other boats in the South Ari Atoll in the Maldives

Sharing the whale shark with other boats in the South Ari Atoll in the Maldives

On our way back to our resort, we saw a pod of dolphins swim right next to our boat!

That was one perfect day.

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MALDIVES WHALE SHARK TOUR COST

$175 USD per person (if you stay at the Outrigger)

03-Ningaloo Reef, Australia

Map of how to get to the whale shark tour at Ningaloo Reef Australia

Map of how to get to the whale shark tour at Ningaloo Reef, Australia

One of the best places in the world to swim with the world’s largest fish is Ningaloo Reef in Australia.

This reef holds the “world’s highest rate of whale shark swim numbers […]  with an interaction rate of 97.14%!” according to Australia’s Coral Coast Official Tourism Website. Pretty impressive.

Tours operate from two locations: Coral Bay and Exmouth. More tour companies operate out of Exmouth.

Fly from Perth to Learmonth Airport daily or fly from Melbourne’s Tullarmarine Airport to Learmonth on Sundays and Thursdays between April – October via Qantas Airways.

From the Learmonth Airport, drive 25 minutes north to Exmouth or 1 hour and 10 minutes south to Coral Bay.

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WHEN TO GO

Coral Bay: March – end of June

Exmouth: March – early August

BONUS: You can swim with humpback whales from August – October. If you go in August, you could potentially swim with BOTH whale sharks and humpback whales.

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BEST NINGALOO REEF TOUR COMPANY

Whale shark

Courtesy of Shutterstock: Whale shark

We have done enough snorkeling tours to know that small-group tours are the way to go. Big groups mean fins in the face and no breathing room to witness the spectacular marine life below.

There is only one tour company from Exmouth that takes a max of 10 people, which is Live Ningaloo.

Other companies take 20 at a time. Note only 10 people can swim with whale sharks at a time, so that means the larger tour companies have to switch out groups.

This more personalized, intimate experience does come at a higher price compared to the other tour companies.

If the price rather than smaller groups is a priority, the highly-rated company Ocean Eco Adventures is a great choice.

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COST

Live Ningaloo: $660 AUD (~$440 USD)

Ocean Eco Adventures: $449 AUD (~$300 USD)

Final Thoughts

My husband and I are avid snorkelers, and snorkeling with a whale shark on two occasions goes down as one of the best bucket list adventures we have ever done. Do not miss this magical encounter.

According to Australia’s Coral Coast Official Tourism Website, “only 1 in 3 million people globally will swim with a whale shark in their lifetime.”

Be one of them!

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Questions about our whale shark experiences in Mexico or the Maldives?

Let me know in the comments below!

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