Swimming with Whale Sharks
Ever seen a whale shark? If no, don’t sweat it as they tend to be difficult to spot even in world class diving destinations but swimming with whale sharks should top any traveller’s list. In fact, if you ask any diver, nine times out of ten, their dream dive includes a whale shark sighting. But in Tofo, Mozambique practically all year round (best time of year for whale shark sightings is between October- April) is a good time for some whale shark spotting. Their name aptly describes their physical appearance – they look like sharks and are the size of a whale. The whale shark is the largest fish species ranging anywhere from 7-14 meters and despite its size is one of the gentlest fish in the ocean. The whale shark is a filter eater which means that unlike most sharks they don’t eat meat, only plankton and small fish. As a result, whale sharks pose not real risk to divers/snorkelers – unless you accidentally get whipped by one of the shark’s large wins. They can even be playful, allowing swimmers to hitch a ride.
Not only is the diving some of the best scuba diving sites in the world, but Mozambique is quickly topping the charts of almost any traveler to Africa, hosting world class beaches, dry rugged interiors and an Afro- Latino vibe (Mozambique was colonized by the Portuguese). Despite its attraction for travellers it still maintains an untouched vibe. The beaches, particularly in Tofo, are covered in white, pristine sand blanketed by the warm Indian Ocean. Even if you aren’t much of a diver / snorkeler, Tofo is a tropical paradise crammed with beach huts, yoga retreats and surf schools. Travellers can also spend some time exploring historical villages around Inhambane and local markets selling everything from fresh 2 meter long fish to talking dolls.
However, If you are up for thrill of swimming with whale sharks take a bus from Maputo to Inhambane where you can grab a chapas (mini bus) to Tofo, a picturesque little beach town, a 20K drive from downtown Inhambane. There are numerous budget accommodations along the beach. My favourite is Fatimas ($20-40), a bare-bone, shared bathroom guesthouse with thatched huts built right on the beach outfitted with sand floors. Another higher end option is Turtle Cove a yoga/surf school which offers a range of accommodation options from dorm rooms ($12) to chalets with hot-water ($44).
Swimming with Whale Sharks in Tofo
Dino’s, a short walk down the beach from Fatima’s, is a popular beachside bar serving Mozambiquan rum and plates piled high with fresh garlic shrimp. After you have filled your stomach, travel down the beach and hop on a whale shark snorkelling trip. Since the mammals are surface feeders, they stay close to the surface and are easily spotted by the snorkel boats (each boat usually has a spotter sitting on an elevated chair keeping his eyes out for these massive creatures). While the spotter knows exactly where the whale shark is located, as a snorkeler, you jump into the water completely blind to the whale shark’s existence – you could technically jump right on top of it. I had the terrifying, yet exhilarating experience of jumping out of the boat 5 centimetres away from the whale shark’s mouth.
Not only is Tofo, Mozambique one/if not the best spot in the world to go swimming with whale sharks, from June to October its the humpback whale migration season where divers can hear whale songs. This period is also a great time to catch a glimpse of giant manta rays. Apart from these fish sightings, Tofo has some beautiful coral reefs as well as some terrifying shark reefs in the south (Pinnacles and Pandaine).
Getting to Tofo – Swimming with Whale Sharks
You can fly into the in Inhambane airport from either Johannesburg or Maputo (Mozambique’s capital) or take a 6-12 hour bus ride from Maputo with Oliveras (apprx $17). If you can find a company offering a fast luxury option it may be worth the extra cash as Oliveras buses often breaks down (my 6 hour trip turned into a 13 journey), the seats are broken, no a.c. and you are not necessarily guaranteed a seat. Upon arriving in Inhambane grab a chapas ($0.60) to Tofo beach (apprx. 45 minutes) from behind the local market.
Swimming with whale sharks is a once in a lifetime experience that should not be missed.