I don’t call it a bucket list but I do have a long list of things to do and places to see. Right near the top, along with swimming with orca and manta rays, has been swimming with Whale Sharks. Cancun is a great place for this. These behemoths of the ocean clock in at up to 10 metres long and can weigh over 20 tons. They are literally the biggest fish in the sea, and they survive by eating some of the smallest – plankton. Much like basking sharks, they happily cruise along, mouth open, swallowing phyto- and zooplankton by the bucket load. They can’t swallow a person but that doesn’t mean you should swim in front of one. With eyes on the side, like a bird, they just won’t see you!!
How to see them
The only trip I booked in advance was to see the whale sharks. For me, even the Mayan ruins were a poor second choice. I went with Ocean Tours for this trip and they were fantastic. Our guide, Dorotheé, was both knowledgeable and enthusiastic if a little scatty – probably because she was French!
Once we had found the sharks off the Isla Mujeres, it was a bit of a free for all. With over 20 boats in a small area and 10 swimmers per boat, it got a bit hectic. However, only 2 divers at a time, per boat, are allowed in the water and they’re not all chasing the same shark!
Each pair gets three jumps in with the sharks and the time you spend depends on whether the sharks swim off. The first jump was surreal. When the timing is right the captain gives you the signal to jump in. Seeing one of these amazing creatures, up close, for the first time was magical. As we jumped in the shark swam by and they are surprisingly fast swimmers. This one very quickly passed us by. I tried to keep up but no such luck.
On our third and final jump, we struck whale shark gold. The whale shark was in no hurry and stayed pretty much in the same place giving what felt like forever to swim around the magnificent animal. Swimming above the shark it was possible to see the huge gills undulating as water flowed through them and the spotted skin reflecting the sunlight as the body slid past whilst its massive tail swept from side to side. Beneath it, cleaner fish swam around the shark, eating parasites and dead skin from its body. It was a truly amazing experience.
To get so close to the whale shark reminded me how lucky I am to be able to travel and see the natural wonders around us. The natural world has to be preserved because otherwise, it won’t be around for future generations to see. Find out more about the risks to the wildlife from common sunscreens check out my blog post here.