It’s whale shark season in Cancun, a natural occurrence marked by the return of the peaceful species to the warm waters off Mexico’s Caribbean coast each summer.

Visitors can swim and snorkel with the creatures, which measure 15 to 50 feet in length and weigh as much as 15 tons. Grandeur is the only intimidating aspect of these gentle giants, whose diet consists of plankton, which is what brings them back annually to Cancun’s nutrient-rich waters. The swimming experience is completely safe for curious travelers, according to Jesus Almaguer, CEO of the Cancun Convention & Vistors Bureau.

“This is an opportunity to showcase our efforts to conserve this endangered species to communities here and abroad,” Almaguer said.

Several tour operators offer whale shark tours for spectators as well as for those who want to jump in the water and swim alongside the gentle giants. EcoColors Tours introduced its tour 14 years ago, and it was recognized by the Mexican Ministry of Tourism as the country’s best nature tour at this year’s Tianguis Turistico trade show in Acapulco. More than 4,000 visitors signed on with the operator for the whale shark swims in 2014, a number that is expected to increase to 7,000 this season.

Price for a tour, including hotel pickup, boat transport, briefing session, snorkel, lunch and return to hotel starts at $165 per person. Ceviche Tours, which has offered a whale shark swimming experience since 2007, also has been recognized for its contributions toward protecting and preserving the species and sustaining the environment. Its tours start at $125 per person.

Visitors to Cancun between July 18 and 24 can take part in the eighth annual Whale Shark Festival, expected to attract 5,000 visitors to Cancun. Along with the tour, the festival includes traditional dancing, local food, a costume parade and a sand sculpture contest. Proceeds from the festival go to the Blue Realm Project and Amigos de Isla Contoy, two organizations dedicated to the conservation of marine life and ecotourism in the Mexican Caribbean.

Credit to Travel Weekly for this article