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Dive Review of Ocean Tours in
Cozumel and the Mexican Yucatan/Isla Mujeres

Ocean Tours: "Whale Shark Snorkel becomes Whale Shark Harassment", Sep, 2016,

by mark magers, CA, US (Sr. Contributor Sr. Contributor 20 reports with 23 Helpful votes). Report 9239 has 1 Helpful vote.

No photos available at this time

Ratings and Overall Comments 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Accommodations N/A Food N/A
Service and Attitude N/A Environmental Sensitivity 1 stars
Dive Operation N/A Shore Diving N/A
Snorkeling 1 stars
Value for $$ 1 stars
Beginners 3 stars
Advanced 3 stars
Comments We’ve been diving for 25 years and not once had we seen a whale shark that was not on a National Geographic TV show. Once we decided we were going to Yucatan, we signed up for a whale shark snorkel tour that got high marks from Trip Advisor. The good news – we saw several tiburon ballena, with some 6-7 foot mantas along for the ride. Just beautiful. It was worth the 1.5 hour boat ride each way.
The bad news – the whole enterprise - and by that I mean the industry, not just one operator - is a giant scary mess. The whole process is a shameful reflection of the primacy of tourist dollars over the good of the animals (which we of course played a role in, sadly!). Important bad thing #1 – we hit the very end of the season, and there were 30 boats in a small area, where the critters were feeding. This was not 30 boats tied to mooring buoys, or even anchored, it was 30 boats circling, moving, droping snorkelers in the water, pulling them out. It was a nightmare. When we got close and saw all the boats in the whale shark rodeo, we looked at each other and wondered if it was even safe to jump in. Each boat had 8-10 people in snorkel gear. The boat captains jockeyed for position for drop their snorkelers, 2 at a time with an in-water marinero, to swim 2-3 minutes max with the animals. Each pair (there were 5 pairs, so 10 people on our boat) got 3 times in the water. We stopped after 2. So at best 10 minutes of snorkeling with whale sharks. I was told later by a local divemaster that they had seen over 100 boats out at the peak of the season. Important bad thing #2 – at least on our boat, the re-entry ladder was at the back – right next to 2 x 115hp Yamaha outboards. The captain actually engaged the props while the first 2 snorkelers were climbing aboard. Scared the hell out of us – we have logged 100s of scuba dives and this is just not done, it is way too dangerous. Fortunately, it did not happen again on our trip. Add to that the 30 (or heaven forfend 100!) boat captains jockeying to get their customers in the water – nothing good about this at all. Small bad thing – the facility where the bus takes you to board the boats is truly awful. The toilets did not flush, they overflowed. It smelled terrible. The parking lot area looked to be full of sewage. Not sure, but not a comforting feeling. You pay over $100 per person, the toilets should work. And there were probably 70-80 people in total all waiting at the same area, all wanting to use the facilities. We’ve been to quite a few remote dive sites where things are pretty primitive, and that does not bother us. Wading in sewage does.
Ocean Tours works hard to merchandise everything they can, shirts, etc. They take your picture as you walk to the boat, and try to sell it to you when you return, just like an amusement park. They charge extra for a wetsuit ($15 cash each, on the van ride out!), otherwise you have to wear a life jacket, which of course makes snorkeling a real pain. If we had paid $50 for this per person, I would say, OK. We paid $200 per person once wetsuits and tips happened. We stopped for a “snorkel” on the way back, off Playa Norte of Isla Mujeres. Pretty much nothing living under water. World’s most boring snorkel. Halfway through I popped my head up and asked our leader donde esta pesca – she was not amused. After that, we went to Playa Norte for lunch - and as the boats didn’t pull up on the beach, we ate standing in the water with our food floating on life vests. Amusing, but if you needed to use the restroom you needed to walk into shore and pay the staff to use the facilities. We basically stayed off the boat at this point, since the crew and a few fellow tourists filled the on-board air with cigarette smoke. Personal bias, but not enough brisas to make it less noxious.
I applaud the skill of the captains; I have no idea how they manage the free-for-all. I applaud the temerity of the marineros who jump in with people mostly not accustomed to snorkeling, in the open ocean, for the brush with whale shark fame. Had we known it would be like this we just would not have gone. Glad we saw the whale sharks. Feel bad about the rest of it, including the harassment of the animals – the marineros are supposed to “prevent” this, but when you have that many boats in a small area – no way it cannot be bad for the animals. Sigh.
So net, if you plan to do one of these, try to find out independently what really happens. Combining safety concerns with animal harassment is, well, No Bueno.
We will try again in La Paz in December, with a whale shark research who helps fund the research by taking people like us along to hopefully swim with the magnificent beasts in a much less harassing way. We shall report back.

Reporter and Travel

Dive Experience 251-500 dives
Where else diving GBR, Saba, Montserrat, Dominica, Barbados, Cuba, USVI, Belize, Honduras, Mexico, Panama, Ecuador, HI, WA, CA, RI
Closest Airport Cancun Getting There

Dive Conditions

Weather sunny Seas choppy, currents
Water Temp -86°F / -30°C Wetsuit Thickness 3
Water Visibility 50-100 Ft/ 15-30 M

Dive Policy

Dive own profile no
Enforced diving restrictions This is a "supervised" snorkel, lasts only a few minutes
Liveaboard? no Nitrox Available? no

What I Saw

Sharks None Mantas 1 or 2
Dolphins None Whale Sharks > 2
Turtles None Whales None
Corals N/A Tropical Fish N/A
Small Critters N/A Large Fish N/A
Large Pelagics 5 stars

Underwater Photography 1 (worst) - 5 (best):

Subject Matter N/A Boat Facilities N/A
Overall rating for UWP's N/A Shore Facilities N/A
UW Photo Comments [None]
Was this report helpful to you?
Report currently has 1 Helpful vote

Subscriber's Comments

By Valera Sakhnenkoin ON, CA at Nov 08, 2016 20:43 EST  
Hi Mark, I agree with your report, as we spent a week at Isla Mujeres this August, to snorkel with whale sharks. My initial inclination was to take whale shark snorkeling tour three times, but after the first day I changed my mind, and I will not do it anymore. It was not a very pleasant experience.
By Howard Kaiserin MO, US at Mar 30, 2019 08:25 EST  
Hi Mark: Our first experience which I mentioned in a review a few years ago was similar to yours. The mosh pit just can't end in anything but a serious injury and being two hours away from help isn't reassuring. That's why we went with Rafael de le Parra - see my second isla Mujeres review. He actually moved a mile or so away from the crowd of 20-25 boats and told us not to shout or point so as not to attract the attention. Very good advice.
By report author: mark magers in CA, US at Mar 31, 2019 09:19 EST  
Howard, I am glad someone is trying to do it right. We had a far better experience later on in La Paz, with a marine biologist researcher.
By Howard Kaiserin MO, US at Mar 31, 2019 10:20 EST  
Was that the same time of year? We've done a snorkel off the Midriff Islands with whale sharks while on a liveaboard - the visibility was iffy and only saw a few juveniles. Who did you go with in La Paz and is there any snorkeling around? We're treating a non-diver and beginner snorkeler so need to scout out the degree of difficulty. Thanks in advance. Howard Kaiser
By report author: mark magers in CA, US at Mar 31, 2019 10:25 EST  
We went in mid-December, 2016.I don't think it was the optimal time, but that was when we ere there. we went with Dra. Dení Ramírez Macías, Directora Tiburón Ballena México. www.whalesharkmexico.com. It is all pretty easy snorkeling, vis was a little challenging in December but still very fun.
By Howard Kaiserin MO, US at Mar 31, 2019 10:28 EST  
Sorry- saw your dateline on the La Paz trip=December. One other comment on the Isla Mujeres situation: it became very obvious to me that regulations regarding number of people in the water per boat and more significantly, the number of people in a boat were viewed as just suggestions- I saw zero enforcement. That first year, the whale sharks would just take off. Can't blame them. But a storm ever comes up, that place could be a nightmare.
By Howard Kaiserin MO, US at Mar 31, 2019 12:17 EST  
Sorry- saw your dateline on the La Paz trip=December. One other comment on the Isla Mujeres situation: it became very obvious to me that regulations regarding number of people in the water per boat and more significantly, the number of people in a boat were viewed as just suggestions- I saw zero enforcement. That first year, the whale sharks would just take off. Can't blame them. But a storm ever comes up, that place could be a nightmare.
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Note: The information here was reported by the author above, but has NOT been reviewed nor edited by Undercurrent prior to posting on our website. Please report any major problems by writing to us and referencing the report number above.

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