Prior to having kids me and Michelle had been to La Paz to snorkel at Los Islotes with the Sea Lions and had done a very quick swim with Whale Sharks. But at that time there was no regulations nor was there any visibility in the late afternoon, so we were disappointed by this initial experience. I’m sooo glad we tried again, this time in the hands of an experienced guide and a great company to work with. To get on this particular adventure, we went through Cortez Expeditions in La Paz and were not disappointed.
The anticipation had been building for this experience for days as we danced around windy winter weather, kenneling Quincy, and the largest unknown – would our girls actually jump in the water with the world’s largest fish? Further complicating the trip was the fact that the port had been closed for the 2 days before our trip due to high winds and at 0830, had yet to be opened by the Port Captain. We waited on the dock as no less than 20 pangas lined up with tourists all in the same predicament.
Finally, the highly anticipated announcement came over VHF radio: the Capitan de Puerto officially opened the port! Pangas one by one fired up their engines and headed out to the next stage of the process. We all donned our required orange PFDs and arrived at a nearby dock where we waited for the government regulator to hopefully tell us we were approved as one of the fortunate fourteen boats to be afforded the opportunity to swim with the whale sharks in the magote for the morning. We were definitely one of the first and waited as the panga crowd began to grow around us. Finally, our guide Carla was summoned to tell the official how many passengers she had onboard and we were given the go ahead. Bring it on!
The regulations put in place in Mexico to protect these endangered species were impressive. From the limits on number of pangas and swimmers in each group to the maximum boat speed allowed in the magote, regulations were strictly followed and the tour operators worked as a team to ensure a valuable experience was had by all. La Paz only attracts the juvenile whale sharks while the adults are found elsewhere in much deeper waters. We were given a brief introduction to these magnificent beings during our short 15 minute boat trip over to their feeding grounds by our guide who was appropriately wearing whale shark patterned leggings (the kids absolutely loved it!)
It was a cloudy day on the magote and therefore, the guides rely on spotting fins on the water’s surface vs visualizing their enormous bodies in the water. Funny, I always thought the distinct white spotted pattern would be so easy to visualize from the surface, but it camouflages them so well beneath the ocean that it isn’t until we were gliding over one that I saw my first one close-up. At this point, the girls had an idea of what they were in for and between the darker waters, the classic shark fin on the surface and the size of the shadow that just passed below our boat – they were both hyperventilating with a combination of fear and excitement. We were the first group of the two in our boat to jump in and finally we found one swimming slow enough nearby that it was time to go. We channeled our best inner Jaques Cousteau, fins sitting over the side of the boat waiting for the signal and one by one, jumped in to the dark waters. When the bubbles cleared and I located my 7 year old who of course, beat me into the water, I was looking face to face at a beautiful whale shark heading straight towards me (Ok it was totally below me, but everything looks closer underwater!). I was awestruck and intimidated, but not afraid – they move slowly with such grace and beauty. To swim alongside them gives you time to examine not only their overwhelming mass, but their immense fan club of cleaner fish who swim along with them from literally head to tail. Did I mention we were swimming with juvenile whale sharks? The “tiny” ones??? I’m going to estimate that the largest one we swam with was just shy of 20 ft. The girls’ reactions after the first swim was just brilliant. Teeth chattering away, they had huge smiles and couldn’t stop talking about how much they weren’t scared, just thrilled and wanted to go again! If you are in the area, this is an epic experience that shouldn’t be missed.
The author is Tulum’s HelmsMistress and filmed both of these short videos. You can read her stuff every single Weds when we have WiFi
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Music in the videos from Los Chicharrones Guapos used WITH Permission.