Is going on the whale shark tour in Cancun worth it? Should you snorkel with whale sharks in the Riviera Maya or not is one of my hardest reviews and decisions to make.
It is very cool but… I go back and forth telling people if they should go on the whale shark excursion. Seeing these giant fish is a once in a lifetime experience. However… the experience itself is what makes it borderline worth the time and money investment.
Take this with a grain of salt as I feel like I may have taken this for granted due to me doing a lot of random travel adventures. However, here is an honest review of snorkeling with whale sharks in Mexico.
The gist of this tour is that you essentially are on a boat for 2.5 hours one way, hop in the water with the sharks for 30 seconds-2 minutes, and you do that twice.
You then go back in the boat for 2.5 hours, which is typically broken up by stopping at a nice little beach area to walk around and eat a big snack like ceviche. You also go snorkeling at a separate area for 30-60 minutes but the snorkeling and visibility was some of the poorer I have done unfortunately.
The first time I went in the water the shark I jumped in next to was slow & casual and I was able to be alongside it for 1.5 minutes, and then was tapped by the guide to come out of the water for the others turn.
The second time my shark was in a hurry and I was full swim behind it for 30 seconds until it was taking off… and that was it. If I wasn’t a strong swimmer I would have seen it for 5 seconds before it was gone.
It is also mandatory to wear a life jacket, which dampered the experience. I tried everything I could to get out of that but no luck. Before I went on this tour I pictured me swimming underwater for 10-20 mins with lots of sharks and just being an ocean animal for a while.
Unfortunately you are floating on the water in a life jacket swimming as fast as you can to keep up with one shark. You’re also in the water with about 30 other boats and you have 5+ boats kinda circle an area looking to share the shark with each other.
Our guide says normally there’s only about 3-4 sharks in the area at a time. With that said, 3-4 total sharks… probably 150-200 people. I also thought a little bit about the distress the whales might be under as 5+ boats circle them for hours.
Anyways to answer the question if you should snorkel with whale sharks in Mexico? Is 5 hours in a boat… of which we had rough seas and two people were throwing up overboard, worth doing?
I would say if you had 4+ full days on your vacation, yes. If you’re here for a shorter time I am torn if you should use one of your 2-3 days doing it. If it was a 30 min boat ride I would say absolute no brainer, do it. Maybe in Belize or other places there is a shorter trip to do this?
However, in Cancun, Tulum, Holbox etc, it is 2-2.5 hours from shore and of course the time it takes you to transport from your hotel to the marina on top of that.
When I was in Cancun and Tulum with transfer from my hotel to the Marina it was going to be a 9+ hour day! Thankfully in Holbox my trip from hotel to marina was 2 minutes.
In the end it is your decision. I wish I could tell you to 100% do it but I can’t. If you have tons of days then yes go do it. If you only have 3-4 days…. I don’t know.
I just honestly don’t know if that kinda time commitment is worth it for the 2.5 minutes I spent in the water. It is such a close call. I’ve been to the region 7-8x now so I said it was time as I had seen most everything in Quintana Roo by the point and this was one thing left I wanted to do.
If you have never been to Tulum or Cancun or Playa Del Carmen before, where there are cenotes and ruins that are amazing to see and don’t take your entire day, then I would spend my time doing that on my first trip.
Furthermore, if you prefer to be comfortable… the boat you’re on for 5 hours isn’t… comfortable. I was by myself this time as I knew people I was on prior trip to the region probably wouldn’t have enjoyed it.
I could imagine and ex-girlfriend or two being on this trip would have given me anxiety out of them probably not enjoying it… yes I date the wrong girls I get it.
I hate that I have to tell you it’s not a definite thing to do as I have wanted to do this tour since I found out about it 10+ years ago.
I was beyond excited and this has been one of my biggest bucket list things to do ever! Then the mixture of 5 hours on a fishing boat, having to wear life jackets, 2.5 minutes with the sharks and such… I’m not sure the experience was enough to make it a sure 100% must do thing.
Is the whale shark snorkeling tour good for kids?
Not really. The sharks aren’t just hanging around, they’re moving and some really fast. Even adults need to be decent swimmers for it to be worth it or else you get left in the dust and see the shark for 5 seconds.
I don’t know if kids would enjoy it unless are very good snorkelers. One of the kids on my tour had mask issues, which if you can’t adjust your mask on the fly or know how to breath out a snorkel, you may not even have a chance to see the sharks!
Imagine jumping in the water, your mask comes off or is leaking, you come up to fix it and boom… never see the shark.
If you’re not a strong swimmer to keep up with a shark you may just see it swim by… and that’s it. Which I guess to some kids could still be awesome.
I am thinking of me as a kid and that is such a tough call as I probably would have been excited to be on the boat and just looking for whales or whatever being occupied by that for a lot of the boat ride, or I could have been bored out of my mind and sleepy.
How much does the whale shark excursion tour cost?
It costs around $160-200 per person. This also adds to my thoughts on it, if you have a family including 2-3 kids, of which maybe one or two aren’t good snorkelers, you may pay $1,000 for this experience.
How long is the whale shark snorkeling tour in Mexico?
You will be on the boat for 5-7 hours. The boat typically departs around 6/7am and back to dock by 2/3pm. Then or course it depends how far you are from the marina you take off from.
If you’re in Tulum for example this can be 1-2 hours from the Marina. If you are in Cancun 30 minutes or so depending where you are or Holbox is nice as if you are in town it is just 5 minutes away.
Hope this helped your decision, sorry to be sort of on the fence about it but I think at the end of the day it comes down to how many days you have and if you have been to the region 1-2x before and seen all of the amazing others things to see that require much less money and time commitment.