Reaching lengths of 40 feet and weighing up to 21 tons, the whale shark is the largest fish in the sea. It’s technically a shark but because of its size and filter feeding habits, it behaves more like a whale.

For divers and adventure seekers around the world, the chance to swim alongside a whale shark is an opportunity of a lifetime. Calm and majestic, the whale shark is also an illusive creature, which makes close encounters all that more special.

Typically, whale sharks appear in some of the world’s best diving locations, which makes a whale shark sighting trip perfect to combine with diving. Often times, boat captains search for whale sharks during a rest period between dives.

The captain will come to a spot where the whale shark is present, everyone will jump in the water with a mask and snorkel to swim alongside the enormous creature. But the opportunity doesn’t last long as whale sharks rarely stick around for much time.

If swimming with a whale shark is at the top of your bucket list, here are five places you have to check out:

Baja, California

For closest and easiest place to see whale sharks nearest the United States is to explore the Sea of Cortes in Baja, California. Choose any number of dive boat providers in La Paz or Cabo.

Belize

For a whale shark destination on the Atlantic side look no further than Belize. Here the scuba diving is spectacular and inexpensive and all the dive boat captains are proficient in spotting whale sharks. They’ll get you where you need to be from Amberghis Caye or Caye Caulker.

Mozambique

For a whale shark search for all the beaten path, consider Mozambique in Africa. Here you will have to be a more intrepid traveler. But if you’re willing to put in the effort, the rewards are entirely justified. Here consider  Praia do Tofo and the Bazaruto Archipelago for the best chances of swimming with whale sharks.

Maldives

In the Maldives among the Pacific Islands, whale sharks are a presence year-round. The best place to spot a whale shark in the Maldives are in the South Ari Atoll where the elegant creatures like to hang out. To track the whale sharks of this region in real time download the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme’s Whale Shark Network Maldives app.

Thailand

There are several places to spot whale sharks in Thailand, but one of the best lies in the island of Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand. Along with great whale shark sighting opportunities, Koh Tao is also one of the quietest, most laid back islands in Thailand that also has good infrastructure and excellent diving. Here you can still get a rugged ocean front bungalow for under $30 per night.

Philippines

The Philippines is another island nation known for whale sharks. One of the best places in the Philippines to spot whale sharks is around the island of Cebu located in the Central Visayas region. Not only is there group opportunities for diving, but it’s one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

Tanzania

Another off-the-beaten path whale shark adventure exists in the African nation of Tanzania. Here you’ll have your best luck at the swimming with the big fish on Mafia Island. From October to February, sometimes even March, are the best times. That’s when the waters are flooded with plankton, attracting the massive creatures.

Photo credit: Wikimedia