Behemoths as big as school buses with gaping four-foot-wide mouths and 300-plus rows of tiny teeth are roaming the ocean, but fear not, whale sharks are gentle giants and the world’s largest fish, who filter-feed on tiny creatures like plankton and fish eggs. A mystery to scientists over the years, these polka-dotted swimmers of warm-water seas were rarely spotted in the wild — even the ultimate underwater explorer, Jacques Cousteau, only encountered the elusive whale shark twice in his career. But lately the solitary nomads have been found in the rich feeding grounds off Madagascar, Australia, the Philippines, Yucatán and La Paz, and a bucket-list swim with one is even better than you can imagine.
Eco-adventure company Explora Baja delivers an exquisite whale shark experience. A simple shaded skiff whisks a small group to the turquoise shallows of the Bay of La Paz in the Sea of Cortez, a place Cousteau called the “aquarium of the world.” Once a whale shark is spotted, mask-and-fin-donning swimmers quietly slip into the sea for an eye-to-eye, adrenaline-surging snorkel. Faint stripes and white-dotted designs — each pattern is unique as a fingerprint — color the gray-blue creatures, which pose no threat to humans. Remoras cling to their fins and bellies, along for the ride.
This epic whale shark adventure is further enhanced by a stay at the lovely Costa Baja Resort, a sprawling property 15 minutes outside of sleepy La Paz, with a hotel, villas, private homes, a yacht-dotted marina, swim-up bar, spa, Gary Player golf course and five fab restaurants. A stunning beach club also awaits with fire pits, daybeds, an infinity pool, frosty margaritas, carne asada tacos and friendly service. With your toes in the sand and a cold drink in hand, you’ll already be planning your return, as it’s impossible to get those gentle giants out of your mind. costabajaresort.com
La Paz’s whale shark season runs November through April. Only opt for certified captains with permits who follow the regulations and whose boats bear the whale shark flag.