Swimming with whale sharks has been at the top of my bucket list ever since I can remember ever putting one together. So when we landed in La Paz, I knew we had to go!
La Paz is one of the best places in Mexico to see whale sharks.
That’s because the Sea of Cortez—once named the “Aquarium of the World” by Jacques Cousteau—is the perfect habitat for the juvenile whale sharks that come to feed during the winter months.
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That’s why, if you are in Baja California Sur over Christmas or spring break, going on a whale shark tour in La Paz is a must.
In this guide, I will tell you everything you need to know about swimming and snorkeling with whale sharks in Baja, including the best whale shark tours in La Paz, when to go, ethical tips, what to pack, fun facts, and how you can help the whale sharks in Mexico and beyond.
Whale Sharks in La Paz, Mexico
Best Tours + Tips
Is It Ethical to Swim & Snorkel with Whale Sharks?
Sadly, whale sharks are endangered. So is it ethical to still swim with them?
These harmless creatures are greatly threatened by the following:
- Bycatch and accidental capture (fishing)
- Market demand for their meat/fins/oil (e.g. unregulated fisheries)
- Unregulated/unethical whale shark tourism (e.g. interrupted feeding, killed/injured by boat propellers)
But that does not make it unethical to respectfully and responsibly meet these gentle giants in their natural habitat as long as you and the tour in question abide by ethical and responsible behavior, regulations, and practices.
✨ Quite the contrary, ethically swimming with whale sharks informs tourists, boat operators, and scientists on how to safely and responsibly interact with and protect them.
First, it’s very important that, when researching swimming and snorkeling with whale sharks, you ensure the tour you take is certified in accordance with all local regulations and laws and follows ethical/eco-friendly practices.
From what we learned during our excursion, all whale shark tours in La Paz are certified and heavily regulated by the Mexican government’s environmental branch, SEMARNAT (Secretaría de Medio Ambiente y Recursos Naturales).
While there may be slight sustainability practices/differences between each of the tour operators (i.e. avoiding single-use plastics, giving back to conservation efforts, etc), you can rest assured that whoever you go with, is a certified whale shark tour operator.
All boats entering the protected La Paz bay, including all whale shark tourism activities, are photographed and tracked.
To further protect the nursing whale sharks in La Paz, both tour companies and individuals must adhere to strict rules and regulations.
As a tourist, you should take extra care when encountering whale sharks, whether in Baja or elsewhere in the world.
- Do not touch whale sharks
- Keep your distance; 1m (3ft) from the body and 3m (10ft) from the tail
- Avoid swimming above, below, or directly in front of a whale shark
- Never chase, dive down, or stress them as this can interrupt their feeding
- Avoid splashing around and making loud noises
Also, don’t forget to…
- Use biodegradable sunscreen, if needed
- Keep your trash on the boat secure until you can properly dispose of it
Whale sharks feast on plankton food. As surface filter-feeders, they can easily ingest microplastics, not to mention the harmful ingredients that wash off your body from wearing makeup, lotion, and non-reef-friendly sunscreens.
By ethically and responsibly encountering wildlife in the wild, we can keep these beautiful beasts from disappearing from our earth entirely. 🌿
Please respect the rules and the whale sharks when you enter their home (which they so gently welcome you in!). If you observe illicit or harmful action, please report it.
Read more below to learn about the best tours, plus tips on what to pack and wear.
The Best Whale Shark Tours in La Paz
Before we get into who to book your whale shark tour with, what can you expect from this experience?
In short, here’s what you can expect on your whale shark tour in La Paz:
First, you take a 25-minute boat ride to the checkpoint and then to the El Megote sand dune area where the whale sharks congregate.
Once you gear up, and your boat captain and crew spot a whale shark either swimming slowly by or feeding, you and your group (maximum 5 people per whale shark) will gently enter the water and snorkel alongside the Tiburón ballena for approximately 5 minutes (or until it disappears by swimming faster than you!).
After the last group has had their 3rd and final jump, you’ll head back to La Paz.
Finally, when you go on a whale shark tour in La Paz, know that the tour will last around 2–3 hours, but varies depending on the weather.
Below are the top-rated whale shark tour operators in La Paz for booking your tour.
Check the descriptions of each for details on inclusions, exclusions, and more!
Note: USD/MXN prices are estimates based on current exchange rates. Rates may vary for children.
- Price per person: $129 USD ($2500 MXN pesos)
- Max group size: 8
If you want to go on a fantastic tour with guides who get consistent 5-star reviews, then book your small-group whale shark tour with MéXplore.
Not only is MéXplore a local, certified tour operator, but their guides are passionate biologists.
Everything is included in the tour price, such as:
- Snorkel gear and wetsuit
- All permit/conservation fees
- Photos and videos of your experience
The only things not included are optional tips for crew members and transport to/from the departure point, which is near The Dock Café down past the La Paz Malécon (location on Maps).
The only possible downside of booking with MéXplore is the higher price point per person, but that’s the price to pay if you want a reduced group of max 8 people, plus their expertise in the business.
If you’re looking for an even more reduced group (maximum of six guests for semi-private tours), check out the custom whale shark tours by VIP Tours La Paz.
- Price per person: $81 USD ($1600 MXN pesos)
- Max group size: 13
If you want to see the whale sharks but are on a bit more of a budget, then I recommend booking your tour with Baja Pelágica.
This is who we went with, and Hector and Brisa—the owners and your guides for the day—are both super friendly and passionate about what they do!
Like MéXplore, Baja Pelágica’s whale shark tours include necessary snorkel gear, wetsuits, life jackets, snacks, and drinks (water, soda, or beer), plus all fees and any footage Brisa manages to capture (though if you have an underwater camera, bring it!).
At a group size of up to 13 people, the boat can get crowded and quickly messy with everyone scrambling to prepare for their turn. I don’t think that spoiled our experience in any way, though. We were all just enamored with our close whale shark encounters!
One thing that I really appreciated was the way these guys communicated about responsible travel and how it’s important we all do our part to raise awareness of whale shark tourism beyond our experience.
- Price per person: $60 USD ($1200 MXN pesos)
- Max group size: 6–12
IES Travel is a local tour agency offering the cheapest rates (that we found) to swim with the whale sharks in La Paz.
The $1200 pesos tour price may vary depending on your group size, but the price I believe is for their 12-person capacity boats and includes everything I’ve mentioned previously with the exception of alcoholic drinks. They also offer 6-person tours as well and soon 14-person boats.
We discovered this local company thanks to our friend Carmen who owns the mezcaleria in town. They came highly recommended but they were unfortunately full the day we wanted to go.
Nevertheless, they are a truly local tour company that has been doing this for years and are well-known and connected.
And if you have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out and ask for “Rana” who has been very attentive and gracious to answer many of my inquiries!
Note: We communicated only in Spanish, so if you need an English-speaking guide/tour, you might need to reach out instead to MéXplore or Baja Pelágica.
Baja Adventure Co.
- Price per person: $135 USD ($2600 MXN pesos)
- Max group size: 6–8
Baja Adventure Co. (or BACo) has been a popular choice for water adventures in Baja California Sur for years.
Their whale shark tour is pricey, but you get a fun and professional bilingual crew who have the experience, local knowledge, and quality gear—all the ingredients you may need for a memorable day swimming with the gentle giants of La Paz.
Tips, alcoholic drinks, and pro-level photos/videography are not included in the tour price. The price also accounts for a minimum group of 3 people.
Sun Rider Tours
- Price per person: $88 USD ($1700 MXN pesos)
- Max group size: 9
Sun Rider Tours has been operating in Baja California Sur, in Los Cabos and La Paz, for over 25 years.
Whether you are traveling solo, as a family with kids, or as a couple, Sun Riders can accommodate you.
They are also proud pioneers of Inclusive Tourism, meaning they offer activities (in particular, scuba diving) for individuals with disabilities. (Side note — have you noticed how disability-friendly La Paz city is with all its ramp sidewalks and parks?)
Sun Rider’s whale shark tour includes all the essential gear and fees like other tours, but they don’t include the $2 USD port harbor fee which you can only pay in cash (about $40 pesos).
If you’re based in Los Cabos, these guys can arrange a half-day or full-day whale shark tour for you. They also offer whale-watching tours out of Cabo San Lucas.
See Creatures by Nautilus (Baja expeditions)
- Price per person: $135 USD ($2000 MXN pesos)
- Max group size: 8
Finally, no round-up of tours would be complete without mentioning Baja Expeditions, who have been running ecotourism activities in La Paz and the Sea of Cortez since 1974.
In addition to their iconic whale shark tour (operated by See Creatures), they also offer eco-luxury safari camping on La Isla Espiritu Santo (Spirit Island), gray whale encounters in San Ignacio Lagoon, whale-watching in Baja, liveaboard kayaking, and much more.
“This is a half-day journey to experience these gentle giants as they feed, hover and filter plankton for hours while enjoying a good cleaning by fish and remora along their ventral sides. Your expert naturalist guide and professional boat captain both have received special training and are certified to manage responsible encounters that respect the habitat and feeding patterns of the animals.”See Creatures
With See Creatures, you can book your whale shark tour departure from Cabo San Lucas, from La Paz, or reserve a private tour for your group.
What to Bring/Wear to Swim with Whale Sharks
As a reminder, all tours will provide you with all the necessary gear and equipment to see the whale sharks, including:
- 🤿 Snorkel gear; fins, masks, snorkels
- 🚤 Life jacket, wetsuit
- 🐳 Marine park and conservation fees
- 🍎 Fruit and/or snack
- 🥤 Water, soda, or beer* (*not all tours)
That said, there are a few extra items you will need to pack and wear to go swim and snorkel with the whale sharks on a day tour.
- 👙 Swimsuit (ladies, if you run cold, wear one with long sleeves in winter).
- 🧖♀️ Towel
- 👕 Sweater or wind jacket
- ☀️ Biodegradable sunscreen
- 😎 Sunglasses and/or sunhat
- 📸 Optional — Underwater action cam (I took my GoPro Hero 11)
- 🤿 Optional — Your own snorkel/dive mask if you have one (I took mine)
- 🌊 Optional — Sea sickness medicine in case of choppy waters
I was thinking about how, if I go again, I would make some hot tea and put it in a thermal mug to stay warm and hydrate on the windy boat ride back to La Paz marina.
Also, wear flip-flops or shoes that you don’t mind getting wet!
While there was storage on the boat for our backpacks to keep things dry, check with your tour guide about available storage space on board prior to your trip. You may want to go equipped with a dry bag to be extra safe if you are carrying camera gear.
Finally, if you need to use the restroom, go before your tour departs! Our boat had a restroom/WC on board, but not all tours might.
When to See Whale Sharks in La Paz
The whale shark season during which close to 100 whale sharks visit La Paz Bay falls between the months of October and April.
During this time, you can swim and snorkel with whale sharks right off the coast of La Paz, in the warm and shallow bay just off the El Megote sand dunes.
During the summer months, around the end of April to the beginning of October each year, the whales migrate north in the Sea of Cortez.
The best time to see whale sharks in La Paz is therefore over the winter months.
If you visit La Paz in early October, you should reach out to local operators since they communicate with each other to stay up to date about when the whale sharks arrive. The water and weather will be much warmer then, too.
In December, the month we swam with the whale sharks, the water was a bit chillier (around 65°F or 18°C). Thankfully, tours include wetsuits, which helps!
That said, if you are visiting in winter you should plan extra days around your trip. The wind is strong during this time which often results in closing the boat port. If the wind is too strong, the water will be too choppy and your tour may need rescheduling.
Other Places to See Whale Sharks in Baja & Mexico
From May to September, the whale sharks in La Paz migrate north and can be found around San Luis Gonzaga and Bahía de Los Ángeles in Baja California.
If you are traveling around the Yucatán Peninsula and Riviera Maya during the summer months, then you can snorkel and swim with whale sharks off in places such as Isla Holbox or Cancun.
FAQ & Fun Facts About Whale Sharks
What are whale sharks?
Whale sharks (scientific name Rhincodon typus) are filter-feeding carpet sharks. They are also the world’s largest-known fish; the largest of which measured 18.8 m (or about 61 ft!) long.
And are whale sharks whales or sharks?
As mentioned above, whale sharks are sharks, not whales! You can identify this by the tail, fins, and gills of whale sharks. Whales and orcas will swim with an up-down tail movement, while sharks’ tails move side to side.
What do whale sharks look like?
Whale sharks are so cute! I call them the polka-dotted shark, as they have a unique pattern of dots and lines all over their body and head.
Fun Fact: Whale sharks’ patterns are individually unique like a human fingerprint. Researchers can actually track individual whale sharks thanks to this! You can even ID whale sharks at Sharkbook.ai by uploading photos you take during your whale shark tour.
What do whale sharks eat?
As filter feeders, whale sharks feast on plankton and other small organisms. This is one reason why whale sharks feed in the plankton-rich waters in the bay of La Paz in the Sea of Cortez. As Hector explained to us during our excursion, strong ocean winds blow in all these nutrients inland and then concentrate in the peaceful bay.
Are whale sharks dangerous?
Good news! Whale sharks are harmless to humans. Despite their size and appetite, they are not interested in us. The fact that we can get so close to these beautiful and prehistoric creatures amazes me.
Do whale sharks have predators? What eats whale sharks?
Even though they may be the largest fish in the seas, juvenile whale sharks can be hunted by killer whales (orcas), great white sharks, and apparently, even blue marlin and other sharks.
How big are whale sharks?
Most adult whale sharks will grow up to 12m (40 ft) in length and can weigh up to 19,000 kg (41,000 lbs).
How long do whale sharks live?
Amazingly, these majestic beasts age well! Whale sharks can live to be 70–100 years old. (“Grandpa shark do-doo doo, do…”) 😃
How You Can Help Whale Sharks
By responsibly participating in ethical whale shark tourism, you can help spread awareness of these majestic beings and their endangered status.
Humans are the number one threat to whale sharks, especially across Asia where they are highly valued for their meat and oil.
Enormous cargo ships also pose a massive risk to the health and livelihoods of whale sharks; not only do they injure and kill whale sharks with their propellors (as whale sharks are slow-moving and feed at surface level), but they also pollute and disrupt feeding behavior.
Awareness of ethical whale shark tourism can positively contribute to local economies and reveal to local populations the whale sharks’ true value—not for food or oil but as sentient beings.
In cases like in the Philippines, whale shark tourism has had an impact on people’s beliefs surrounding the inherent value of wildlife.
With awareness and education, we can slowly make better choices for our planet and the natural world. After all, our livelihoods with the wild are interconnected.
If they thrive, we thrive.
As you set out to swim with whale sharks in La Paz (or elsewhere in the world), please keep this in mind (and share your encounter with friends and family!).
Thanks for reading! Feel free to reach out @bucketlistbri on socials or drop your comments or questions in the comment box below.
PIN IT FOR LATER 🦈
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