Each year between May and September,the annual whale shark migration returns to the warm waters of the Mexican Caribbean Sea near Cancun and the Riviera Maya. As the ocean’s largest fish,these massive yet gentle giants provide swimmers with a once in a lifetime opportunity to swim along with them as they feast upon the nutrient-rich plankton,krill and other tiny delicacies that are found here in abundance.
“Whale sharks are non-aggressive and feed near the surface,so swimming with them involves little more than being in the right place at the right time and strapping on some snorkeling gear,” writes USA Today in its online Travel Tips section. “Given the sheer number of whale sharks that visit the Cancun area during the whale shark season,boats usually have little difficulty arranging a close encounter with these gentle giants.”
Tens of thousands of locals,expats and visitors alike have already taken the plunge,heading into the crystal clear waters to swim alongside these enormous creatures as they dine. An added bonus comes with the wide variety of other exotic sea life you are likely to encounter,including manta rays,wild dolphin pods,sea turtles,the world’s second largest coral reef and so much more.
“Sea conditions during Cancun’s whale shark season are excellent for snorkeling,” writes USA Today. “The water temperature is around 85 degrees Fahrenheit,with open ocean visibility reaching 100 feet.”
In recent years,a major effort has been underway to protect this ecological wonderland,prompting a close partnership between the Mexican government and members of the scientific community,including American NGO Seacology,the Georgia Aquarium and the Mote Marine Laboratory. The goal is to prevent large oceangoing vessels from colliding with marine life and much smaller eco-tourism watercraft in the whale shark migration path near Cancun and Isla Mujeres.
To celebrate the whale sharks’ return,Isla Mujeres – which lies off the coast and is just a brief ferry ride from Cancun – will hold its 7th Annual Whale Shark Festival from July 25-27. The festivities will help to educate attendees about the region’s many traditions and environmental offerings.
“Following a kick-off parade on Friday,July 25,the festival will showcase time-honored dances,local cuisine,nearby businesses and works from local artisans,” according to a press release. “In addition,the festival raises awareness of the need to preserve the area’s marine ecosystem.”
Other nearby attractions include a Whale Shark Exhibition,diving and reef tours. Here,the barrier reef serves as “the nursery of the Caribbean,” providing food and sanctuary for a wide variety of marine life all along Mexico’s only Caribbean Coast,including waterfowl and game fish. By encouraging sustainable eco-tourism,visitors will be able to continue enjoying this ecological wonderland for many years to come. These efforts also help to preserve the local indigenous culture,which still relies on the surrounding marine environment.
In fact,fishing was once the key industry for people living on this pristine stretch of coastline,which just a few decades ago remained relatively unknown. Today,there are countless hotels and vacation properties available in the region that are sure to accommodate any budget or lifestyle,from boutique resorts to five-star all-inclusive destinations and privately owned villas or condominiums.
While visiting,be sure to check out the nearby ancient Mayan ruins,as well as the area’s enchanting inland jungle terrain,which is home to a wide variety of other fascinating wildlife and colorful tropical foliage.
Have you ever been to Cancun or Isla Mujeres to swim with whale sharks? If so,share your experiences with other readers in the comments section below!