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David and I have been trying for SO LONG to swim with whale sharks! We’ve tried several times to find them on our own, but also we paid for two trips to see whale sharks – one in Ningaloo, Western Australia, and one in Ari Atoll, Maldives. Neither time was successful (we even got a refund in Ningaloo) so when I read that Nosy Be was an exceptional place to swim with whale sharks I thought, alright, let’s try this again.
Booking the whale shark swim was surprisingly hard (and the other guests that were with us said the same thing too). I looked at three primary companies and was flexible on dates. These companies are all small, so the person making the bookings is usually also the person out on the trips too. Also, the internet is pretty unreliable. The day before our trip our organizer was trying to call me to arrange our transport and couldn’t get through. Patience and flexibility pay off.
We ended up booking with Salakav’ Dive Shop by the Vanila Hotel. The shop has several boats, but they were all going out on diving trips. Nathalie had arranged to hire an additional, independent boat to take us out looking for whale sharks.
We were with our friends Carlos and Linda from S/V Mirniy Okean, and another American couple. The six of us piled in our boat, with a small canopy for shade and an outrigger for stability. We had two Malagasy guides with us, one to drive the boat and one to search for whale sharks. Off we went!
To find the whale sharks, our guides look for schools of jumping tuna. The tuna are feeding on smaller fish, which are feeding on plankton. The whale sharks also eat this plankton, so the schools of jumping tuna mean there are likely whale sharks too.
And there were! The first spotting was amazing! The whale shark was resting diagonally, with its mouth up at the surface. We slipped into the water as carefully as we could, trying not to scare the whale shark.
It definitely takes a certain amount of finesse on our part and on our guides’ part. In the beginning, we were splashing around too much. Also, many of the drops we did were only a few seconds of whale shark time. The whale sharks are often on the move even before we get in the water. We did have a few times where we carefully followed the whale shark in the water (they move fast) and the whale shark ended up circling back and giving us another great moment.
One time, I guess maybe the whale shark didn’t turn as our guide expected him too, and I jumped in the water to realize I was practically on top of the whale shark with its big mouth coming towards me!
While swimming with whale sharks is a big thing here, we only saw one other boat with snorkelers. Instead of a small group, it was maybe 20 people crammed in a speed boat with bright orange lifejackets. Regulations only allow for one boat at a time and ten people in the water at once. This other boat didn’t seem to be following the rules, and I was much happier to be having our intimate experience.
We also saw dolphins and manta rays, plus even being in the feeding frenzy of the tuna was amazing!
Our guides took us to swim with the green sea turtles at Sakatia before we returned to the dive shop.
So; mission accomplished! We finally saw amazing whale sharks!
Most hotels are located on the west side of the island, which is good for access to many adventures. Hell-Ville itself is pretty limited for hotels.
A great benefit of traveling in a country like Madagascar is that the cost is very low. Staying at some of the most expensive hotels on Nosy Be, like the four-star Ravintsara Wellness Hotel or the three-star Vanila Hotel & Spa, is less than $250 a night.