Best Places to Swim with Whale Sharks in 2024

Swimming alongside the world's largest fish, the majestic whale shark, is a bucket list experience. Here are 10 of the best and least touristy locations around the world to fulfill your dream of a responsible whale shark swim.

10. Sogod Bay, Philippines

From below photo of a massive whale shark and a group of swimmers in the distance above in Sogod Bay
Several responsible tour operators offer whale shark watching tours in Sogod Bay. These tours typically include transportation to the bay, snorkeling gear, and the guidance of experienced local guides.

Sogod Bay offers a unique opportunity for snorkelers and divers to swim alongside these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat. Unlike other locations where whale shark interaction is heavily regulated or involves feeding the animals, whale shark encounters in Sogod Bay are more passive. Here, tourists can observe the whale sharks as they glide through the plankton-rich waters.

Leyte offers a more natural encounter with whale sharks compared to Oslob. Here, interactions are based on the sharks' natural feeding patterns, without any human interference. While sightings aren't guaranteed, as with any wildlife experience, the upside is far fewer crowds. In Padre Burgos and Pintuyan, Southern Leyte, you might even have the entire area to yourselves for a truly unforgettable encounter!

Whale shark season: The best time to visit Sogod Bay for whale shark sightings is from November to May. Whale shark sightings are not guaranteed, as these are wild animals. However, the chances of seeing a whale shark are good during the peak season.

9. Cenderawasih Bay, Indonesia

A whale shark and diver just beneath the bagans in Kwatisore Bay, Cenderawasih Bay
Snorkeling in Raja Ampat's archipelago boasts a hidden gem for whale shark encounters at Kwatisore Bay in Cenderawasih Bay. The combination of warm water, lack of current, and clear visibility are unstoppable for encounters with whale sharks.

If you want prolonged, up-close encounters with the world's biggest fish. This remote haven boasts pristine coral reefs and a unique opportunity to swim alongside these gentle giants in a tranquil setting.

Cenderawasih Bay has risen in popularity in recent years due to the presence of "bagans," traditional fishing platforms that attract whale sharks with the promise of a fishy feast. Here, divers and snorkelers alike can witness these awe-inspiring creatures up close, so don't forget to bring your snorkeling camera for this trip.

Whale shark season: The whale shark season in Kwatisore Bay runs from October to December. This coincides with the calmest seas and the highest chance of encountering these gentle giants in this remote paradise.

8. Utila, Honduras

A whale shark feeding on the surface waters of Utila, Honduras
Utila is best known as a diving paradise, with the world's second-largest barrier reef just offshore. The crystal-clear waters are teeming with marine life, making it a haven for scuba divers and snorkelers.

Utila, Honduras is a laid-back island in the Caribbean Sea, just off the coast of Honduras. It's the smallest of the Bay Islands, but it packs a punch when it comes to natural beauty and marine life. It also happens to be one of the best places in the world to swim with whale sharks. These gentle giants can be seen year-round in the waters around the island, so there’s a chance you’ll be lucky enough to swim with one.

Whale shark swimming tours are offered by many dive shops on Utila. The tours typically involve taking a boat out to the spots where whale sharks are known to congregate. Once a whale shark is spotted, swimmers will be given the opportunity to jump in the water and snorkel alongside it.

Whale shark season: Whale sharks in Utila are present year round but their numbers peak from February to May.

7. Bay of La Paz, Mexico

A snorkeler taking a selfie with a group of whale sharks in Bay of La Paz, Mexico
Forget about feeding these gentle giants! Utila strictly limits snorkelers and boats to minimize disruption. Their well-managed approach ensures whale sharks enjoy their natural feast undisturbed.

The Bay of La Paz, on the Baja California Peninsula, offers a diverse range of marine encounters, including whale sharks, sea lions, and many species of rays. Snorkeling tours are strictly regulated to ensure responsible interaction with the wildlife. Here, snorkelers can explore underwater ecosystems teeming with life, with the possibility of a breathtaking encounter with a whale shark.

Whale sharks seem to favor this beautiful bay for a reason! Science suggests it might be a breeding ground, thanks to water conditions, plentiful food, and shelter from predators. The area is well-protected too, limiting boats and swimmers to ensure the whale sharks can enjoy their natural buffet of plankton. These regulations follow the successful model used for whale shark encounters at Australia's Ningaloo Reef.

Whale shark season: In the bay of La Paz swimming with the whale shark is allowed between October and April. This period also offers pleasant water temperatures and good visibility for snorkeling, along with the increased chance of spotting these magnificent creatures.

6. Mafia Island, Tanzania

Photo of a whale shark in shallow fishy water in Mafia Island, Tanzania
Mafia is truly a special place with whale sharks in abundance, and the season when these magnificent animals aggregate here is longer than anywhere else on the East African coast.

Mafia Island, a lesser-known gem off the coast of Tanzania, offers a relaxed atmosphere and pristine beaches for a tranquil escape. Whale shark encounters are a highlight, but the island boasts vibrant coral reefs teeming with marine life. Snorkelers can explore underwater wonders while having the chance to encounter these gentle giants.

Mafia's a year-round whale shark haven, but for an easier encounter, visit between October and March. During this peak season, abundant plankton near Kilindoni (west coast) draws these gentle giants to the surface for feeding, making them more readily spotted! When food dips, they venture deeper or further out.

Whale shark season: The warm water season from October to March offers the best chance of encountering whale sharks in Mafia Island. Calm seas and pleasant weather make this period ideal for snorkeling adventures and enjoying the island's laid-back charm.

5. South Ari Atoll, Maldives

Photo of a snorkeler above a whale shark in South Ari Atoll, Maldives
For the best chance to see whale sharks, head to the south end of South Ari Atoll, especially during calm weather.

The Maldives are synonymous with luxury and pristine beach snorkeling, and South Ari Atoll offers the chance to combine a luxurious getaway with a thrilling encounter with whale sharks. This atoll is a designated whale shark sanctuary, with regulations in place to ensure responsible interaction. Snorkelers can marvel at these gentle giants gliding through the crystal-clear waters.

Another fantastic place to spot whale sharks is Baa Atoll, famous for its UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve, Hanifaru Bay. During the right season, Baa Atoll is home to hundreds of manta rays feeding on plankton, which also attracts whale sharks. The peak season to see whale sharks in the Maldives is from May to November.

Whale shark season: Whale sharks can be encountered year-round in the Maldives, but the peak season is from May to November. This period offers the best combination of calm seas, high visibility underwater, and the most frequent whale shark sightings.

4. Tofo Beach, Mozambique

Underwater photo of a large adult whale shark in Tofo Beach, Mozambique
Mozambique's coast offers year-round whale shark chances, but for the best shot, head to Tofo Beach between October and March. Plankton blooms attract these giants then, making sightings more likely.

Paradise found! This charming beach destination, lies in southern Mozambique and boasts miles of palm-fringed coastline. Whale shark encounters are a highlight, the area is also known for manta rays, dolphins, and even seasonal sightings of humpback whales. Here, snorkelers can explore vibrant coral reefs teeming with colorful fish while keeping an eye out for these gentle giants.

Set sail on an unforgettable ocean adventure! Many local operators offer whale shark safaris, bringing you face-to-face with these majestic creatures in their natural habitat, leaving you with memories that will last a lifetime.

Whale shark season: Whale sharks are most abundant from October to March, coinciding with the warm water currents. This warm season also makes for pleasant snorkeling conditions and enjoyable exploration of the surrounding coastline.

3. Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia

Over and underwater split photo of a whale shark underneath a tourist boat in Ningaloo Reef, Western Australia
Western Australia's Ningaloo Reef is a magnet for whale sharks. This 300km fringing reef is one of the world's largest and a rare place where these gentle giants reliably gather each year.

Ningaloo Reef, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, boasts the largest whale shark aggregation in Australia. This underwater wonderland offers a chance to snorkel alongside whale sharks, manta rays, turtles, and a dazzling array of reef fish. Ningaloo Reef's sheltered location provides calm waters, ideal for snorkeling adventures.

Swim with peace of mind at Ningaloo! Licensed operators ensure eco-friendly tours and most even offer a "no sighting, free next tour" guarantee in case you miss these gentle giants.

Whale shark season: Whale shark season peaks from March to June, coinciding with the coral reef spawning. This period offers the best chance of encountering whale sharks alongside the vibrant explosion of life on the reef.

2. Donsol Bay, Philippines

Aerial photo of a whale shark and outrigger guide boat in Donsol Bay, Philippines
Skip the crowds and artificial feeding! Whilst Oslob remains the whale shark swimming hotspot in the Philippines, Donsol Bay offers are more ethical approach.

Donsol Bay, on the southern tip of Luzon Island, is considered the birthplace of whale shark tourism. Renowned for its focus on responsible interaction with these gentle giants, Donsol Bay offers a unique opportunity for snorkelers. Here, local, certified guides help you observe whale sharks in their natural habitat, ensuring a respectful and unforgettable encounter.

Strict rules limit boats and interactions, ensuring a calmer experience. Plus, Donsol prioritizes natural behavior, so you'll see these majestic creatures feeding freely, not lured by handouts like in Oslob. It may not guarantee a sighting, but the chance to see them in their natural habitat makes it unforgettable.

Whale shark season: November to May offers the best chance of encountering whale sharks. Calmer seas and higher plankton concentrations during this period make for a smoother snorkeling experience and a higher chance of spotting these magnificent creatures.

1. Isla Holbox, Mexico

Aerial of whale shark in Isla Holbox, Mexico
During one aerial survey around Isla Holbox, 420 individual whale sharks were seen in the ‘Afuera’ aggregation, an area of just 18 square kilometers, outside the Whale Shark Biosphere Reserve.

Isla Holbox, a charming island off the Yucatan Peninsula, offers a relaxed atmosphere and a beautiful setting for your whale shark encounter. Regulations are in place to ensure responsible practices and protect the sharks. Here, snorkelers can glide alongside these gentle giants in the turquoise waters, with the possibility of spotting manta rays and colorful reef fish darting through the coral reefs.

Whale shark season: Whale sharks frequent the area from May to September, coinciding with the plankton blooms that attract them. This period also offers pleasant weather conditions for enjoying the island's beaches and laid-back vibes.

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