Whale-Shark Tour Round Two!

Whale-sharks on building

Remember that story I told you about the whale-shark tour a friend and I took when I first got to Playa del Carmen, México? The disastrous one where my lips got all sunburnt, I almost died, and we didn’t see any whale-sharks!?! Well, that tour had a guarantee (or your money back) to see whale-sharks. So we got to go again for free. They suggested waiting until August or September, but my friend is moving back to the States for a bit, so it was now or never.

Making friends

The pickup was again crazy early in the morning, only this time I was second to last (last being my friend as she lives just up the street). So the van was late, and I started freaking out that they forgot about us. How sucky would that be? I believe they just neglected to let us know of the updated pickup time, rather than “same as last time”. They finally showed, so no worries.

Agouti in Playacar
I love all the critters! I spotted this agouti in Playacar.

We stopped at the same cafe for breakfast. It gave us a chance to meet everyone else on the tour and get to know each other. We had a couple from Costa Rica who were traveling around as digital nomads. They had been in México for quite a while as well. Then there was a family from Texas. Wife, husband, and two older teenage boys.

The males in the family were all into scuba diving, so my friend got to chat them up for a bit. Those scuba folks are a breed in unto themselves! I chatted with the wife about how I was the same as her and liked to stay on top of the water and snorkel. Then I could just lift my head and breathe air if I was so inclined. To each her own.

Please don’t have to poop…

Our tour guide was different this time, which meant we got a different boat. I figured they would all be the same. Nope. This one had a lot more shade and a way better ladder for getting us wet tourists up out of the water. Still no toilet. My biggest fear is needing to poop while on one of these boats. Having to climb down the ladder, drop trow, and take a dump right into the ocean in front of everyone. With no bum-paper. Worst fear!

The whale-shark sightings from the previous day were much closer than on our last tour, so the boat ride was only about an hour. Lucky for us, a whale-shark had been spotted by the time we got there. Unlucky for us, there was only one shark… for all 50+ tour boats. Only two tourists, per boat with a limit on the number of boats, can be in the water with the shark at once to not harass the massive creature. The boats literally lined up in a floating queue, dropped off the next pair when it was their turn, and then went to the back of the queue again.

House gecko on wall
This is my house gecko! She lives in my kitchen cabinets and sneaks out at night to eat. Eat all the bugs!

Here is how this works. Someone spots a whale-shark and lets others know where it is. The tour boat drives to a spot in front of the whale-shark (they generally skim the surface (or just under) of the water in one direction, eating tiny krill). Then the boat drops off two life-vest (or wetsuit) wearing tourists and one guide. The boat then leaves you to pick you up later.

You have one job

Your job as a tourist is to spot the whale-shark coming towards you and start swimming hard and fast so that you can swim beside this giant dinosaur for as long as possible. The whale-shark is swimming very fast, so you only get to see them for a minute before they have left you behind. Then you swim back to your boat so the next two people can take a turn. Hopefully, you will get to go again.

That is in an ideal world where there is one whale-shark for every tour boat. Each tour boat would just stick with one shark. Everyone on the boat could get in a few times. However, we had one shark and tons of boats, all trying to get in line to drop off tourists to see the shark. Remember that money-back guarantee? It is scary to have all those boats jockeying for position. It’s a risk to the tourists and the sharks. Luckily, a couple more whale-sharks showed up.

This happened to us. We were working our way up to the front of the boat line when another shark showed up somewhere else. Boats broke off to go follow that one. We were dropping off people and picking them back up. It was all working out. Now it was my turn. I have my fins on, my mask properly spit in and read to go. I have a custom snorkel because my jaw is all messed up. Ready to jump off this boat into the open ocean with a 16 foot long shark. Wait for it!

Palm tree over the beach
If you fear anything, it should be falling coconuts! They’ll get ya!


They say, “Go, go, go” and I’m in the water. Everything I was told to do was out the window as this giant creature from the deep is coming straight for me. I’m supposed to be on the side of it, not directly in front! I panic all ‘deer-in-headlights’ and do nothing but watch it glide right underneath me. Its tail-fin almost touched me by mere inches! Coolest thing ever!!! Okay, now swim like crazy… it’s gone.

Now I’m in the open ocean surrounded by many tour boats, all with their propellers going and not paying attention to me. I can’t find my tour guide and I do not know which boat is ours. No dying! Found the guide and got to the boat. Banged my shin hard on the way up the ladder… going to feel that later when my body isn’t so full of adrenaline. What an adventure!

We get back in line with the other 15-20 boats, all with tourists waiting to see the same shark we just saw. What a cluster. It took a really long time for everyone on our boat to see the shark once. There were more tour boats showing up and we couldn’t justify using up their turns so that we could go again. Remember, only two tourists dropped in the water with any shark at once. And each boat had to wait until the previous boat dropped their two people, and moved out of the way, before they could drop their people.


Lucky for us, the tour also included a snorkel at this really pretty reef off the coast of Isla Mujeres. I’m a slow snorkeler. I like to sit and watch the cleaning stations. Those things are so cool! So I had to remember to follow the guide, and keep my friend in sight. It was fun, though. We saw all the fishies!

After the snorkel, we headed to that gorgeous beach on the north end of Isla Mujeres that we had been to on the last tour. This time, someone had roped off a swimming area to keep the swimmers safe from all the tour boats. That white sand and crystal blue water was truly amazing. The water was the perfect temperature. We swam and chatted. It was the highlight of the last tour and it did not disappoint this tour.

Back to the boat for fresh ceviche and guacamole. Yes, please! Then heading home. I wore a buff to avoid another lip sunburn. There is only so much you can do on a boat, though, and I still burned. Not so bad as last time, so I call it a win. It was the swimming that got me. Worth it!

The trip back was uneventful. Our guide showed us all the pictures and videos he took. Very cool! I would love to show them to you now, but they were $40. That’s over my budget. Sorry! I would recommend doing the tour in August/September when there are more whale-sharks in the area. I won’t go again though. It was a once in a lifetime kind of tour and I’m more of a swim at the beach kind of human. Pura Vida.

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1 Comment

  1. Cool, you got to see one. Never have, and at this point it seems the probability is getting slim.
    Too bad it was such a tourist hoard. At least it wasn’t a fishing armada.

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