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Swim with Whale Sharks
Swimming alongside the largest fish in the sea is one of the ultimate bucket-list experiences. Lucky, then, that there are a handful of destinations around the world where in-season sightings of whale sharks are almost guaranteed. Remember to keep a respectful distance from the gentle giants, resisting the urge to touch them or to use flash photography.
Local fishermen in Holbox, an island off the Yucatán Peninsula, paid no attention to the whale sharks that frequented their waters every summer, since they didn’t consider the animals a food source. But when tourists who’d been swimming with the creatures in Africa started spreading the word that whale sharks were to be found in Holbox, the whale sharks became one of the town's prime attractions.
When to Go: Mid-July through the end of August for the best encounters.
Gladden Spit, Belize
The spawning of cubera snappers draws the whale sharks to Gladden Spit, near Placencia, Belize (about 100 miles south of Belize City), and three days either side of the full moon gives you the best chance at seeing the mammoth fish. Boats have a 90-minute window in which to catch the whale sharks, while divers and snorkelers are required to maintain a 10-foot distance. Flash photography isn’t permitted to protect the animals, but don't worry, diving with the mammoth creatures is a mind-blowing encounter worth every bit of stringent-rule-following.
When to Go: Plan your visit between April and May, when the snapper spawning lures the whale sharks to Gladden Spit.
Impromptu snorkel sessions between dives are when nearly all whale shark encounters occur in Utila — one of the few places in the world where the animals can be spotted year-round. The deeper waters off the north side of the island are where the animals are most often seen, and guides look for the cues of water boiling with jumping tuna and flocking seabirds.
When to Go: Year-round.
Cabo San Sebastian, Mozambique
Home to one of the greatest concentrations of whale sharks in Africa and pristine coral reefs unpressured by mass tourism, Mozambique is one those swoon-worthy, off-the-beaten-path destinations that wins you serious bragging rights among your buddies. Most encounters with the whale sharks here happen when the animals are feeding on plankton and krill near the surface. Cabo San Sebastian's reefs (66 to 131 feet deep) are where they’re often seen, with most animals around 30 feet long.
When to Go: November through February offers the best conditions.