By: Sarah Reid
Swimming alongside the largest fish in the sea is one of the ultimate bucket-list experiences. Lucky, then, that there are a few destinations around the world where in-
season sightings of whale sharks are almost guaranteed.
- When to go: tours depart daily from late May to September, when the whale sharks arrive to feed and mate. July to August is peak season.
- Where to stay: some tour companies offer speedboat pick-up from Cancun and Playa del Carmen, but relaxed Holbox is a great alternative to the main tourist centres (and closer to the sharks). Lodging ranges from cheap hostels (try Tribu Hostel) to mid-range guesthouses (Holbox Apartments and Suites) and a smattering of plush hotels.
- Operators: Willy’s (holboxwhalesharktours.net) is among the most reputable.
- When to go: the highest concentration of sharks arrives between March and April, then in fewer numbers from September to December.
- Where to stay: accommodation is mostly limited to dive hostels (try Underwater Vision). For more comfort, all-inclusive Deep Blue Utilaoffers dedicated whale shark trips in season.
- Operators: check in with the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Centre, or jump on one of the daily dive boats headed to the north side of the island, where most sharks are spotted.
- When to go: whale sharks arrive to feed between April and July following a mass coral spawning.
- Where to stay: most tours depart from Exmouth, with pick-ups from local caravan parks and hotels.
- Operators: Ningaloo Whalesharks has its own spotter plane, upping your chances of spotting sharks and spending more time swimming with them than you would on other tours.
Gladden Spit, Belize
- When to go: April and May are the most consistent months for sightings; most are spotted a few days after the full moon.
- Where to stay: the sandy streets of Placencia, which loosely – and fittingly – translates to ‘Pleasant Point’, offer a handful of affordable cabana-style accommodation, such as Julia’s. The more upscale Turtle Inn, also in Placencia, has its own dive school.
- Operators: Placencia’s Sea Horse Dive Shop runs diving and snorkelling tours to GSSCMR in season.
Donsol Bay, Philippines
- When to go: whale sharks generally arrive between November and June, with sightings peaking from February to April.
- Where to stay: surprisingly, Donsol is still a sleepy town with a handful of places to stay. Try Elysia Beach Resort or Dancalan Beach Resort.
- Operators: Donsol EcoTour and Whale Shark Adventure and Toursboth offer single day tours and multi-day packages.
Tofo Beach, Mozambique
- When to go: sightings of 50-strong congregations are not uncommon from October to March.
- Where to stay: choose from backpacker lodges to more comfortable B&Bs such as Baia Sonambula Guest House.
- Operators: dive centres, including Tofo Scuba and Diversity Scuba, organise daily snorkelling trips in season.
- When to go: whale shark encounters are a pot-luck affair in these parts, but they’ve been spotted year-round, especially from April to June.
- Where to stay: prices drop if you sign up for a scuba course at comfortable dive lodges such as Big Blue.
- Operators: dedicated snorkelling trips aren’t the norm, so if you’re not a diver, ask if you can tag along with a dive boat headed to a whale shark hotspot.
- When to go: operators in the area run weekly, year-round snorkelling trips to South Ari. You can track whale shark sightings as they happen by downloading the local Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme's Whale Shark Network Maldives app.
- Where to stay: many island resorts and guesthouses offer their own tours.
- Operators: contact the MWSRP for more information.
Bay of Ghoubbet, Djibouti
- When to go: whale sharks generally start arriving in late October, and remain in the bay until February. Peak season is November to January.
- Where to stay: base yourself in Djibouti City and try the Atlantic Hotel.
- Operators: Dolphin and Siyyan Travel & Leisure both operate liveaboard dive expeditions and day-long snorkelling trips.