Whitetip reef sharks
Jill Richmond

Five Places to See Sharks in the Wild

Five Places to See Sharks in the Wild

Jul 30, 2020|Natural HistoryWhere we travel| by Holbrook Travel

When it comes to public relations, sharks face an uphill battle. They’ve been unfairly stigmatized with a menacing reputation, and as a result many are illegally killed by humans each year. In reality, of the world’s hundreds of shark species, the vast majority pose little to no threat to people.

Swimming with sharks can be a powerful experience, especially when done responsibly. You can help ensure both your own safety and that of the shark by maintaining a respectful distance, watching for any changes in behavior, and responding accordingly. If you're ready to take the plunge, here are five places you can swim, snorkel, and dive with these graceful “sea dogs,” as they were once known.

 Whitetip reef shark by Jill Richmond

Galápagos Islands

You don't have to be an expert diver to enjoy the archipelago's underwater wonders. There are abundant snorkeling spots that even beginners can enjoy. Whitetip reef sharks are commonly seen in the shallow waters around the islands, and are recognizable by the distinctive white tips marking their dorsal and tail fins. They can even be seen from land at Las Tintoreras, an islet south of Isabela Island. Here, the sharks come to rest in a shallow, narrow channel that's visible from the lava-formed path above. For more experienced divers, the remote Wolf and Darwin Islands sometimes host large schools of hammerhead sharks.

 Whale shark by Christian Jensen

Yucatán Peninsula

Whale sharks are not only the largest of all shark species, but also the largest of all fish; an average adult is 32 feet long and 20,000 pounds. These gentle giants are filter feeders, primarily eating plankton and small squid or fish. They're known for their docile nature and are virtually harmless to humans. While they live in tropical and temperate oceans worldwide, one of the most reliable places to see whale sharks is off the Yucatán Peninsula between May and September; there are multiple locations where snorkelers can even swim right alongside them. (If you do happen to see a whale shark somewhere in your travels, be sure to share your observations to help researchers better understand these mysterious creatures.)

 Hammerhead shark

Cocos Island, Costa Rica

Cocos Island, 340 miles off Costa Rica's Pacific coast, is a renowned destination for SCUBA divers, known in particular for the large schools of hammerhead sharks that can number in the hundreds. Also present are whitetip reef sharks, whale sharks, silky sharks, silvertip sharks, and other marine life like dolphins and whales, sea lions, rays, sea turtles, coral, and fish. Due to its location, this national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site can only be reached by a 36-hour boat ride. 

For a more accessible adventure, travelers can take an easy day trip to Caño Island near the Osa Peninsula, where snorkelers can see whitetip reef sharks, silky sharks, bull sharks, and the occasional whale shark, as well as sea turtles, dolphins, rays, and tropical fish. 

 Zebra shark

Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Probably the most well-known reef in the world, Australia's Great Barrier Reef can be experienced a variety of ways, from SCUBA diving and snorkeling to glass-bottom or semi-submersible boat tours, and even flightseeing. Look for blacktip and whitetip reef sharks, grey reef sharks, epaulette sharks, wobbegong sharks, lemon sharks, and zebra sharks (sometimes also called leopard sharks), among others. Of course, sharks are just one of the many reasons to explore the world's largest reef system. The opportunity to see thousands of fish and coral species, plus sea turtles, starfish, urchins, molluscs, whales, dolphins, and one of the world's most important dugong populations make this a bucket-list destination for many travelers.

 Nurse shark by J. Craighill Photography

Cuba

Owing to a combination of limited coastal development and governmental protections, Cuba has garnered attention for the relative health of its coral reefs. Twenty-five percent of the country's waters are marine protected areas, and popular snorkeling spots can be found both in the Atlantic Ocean to the north and the Caribbean Sea to the south, including the Bay of Pigs, Guardalavaca, María la Gorda, Cayo Jutías, and Cayo Coco, among many others. In the waters around Cuba, you may be able to see silky sharks, Caribbean reef sharks, nurse sharks, bull sharks, and even whale sharks.