Swimming with Mexico's Whale Sharks
6 days with
Natural Habitat Adventures
Day 1: Cancún, Mexico / Riviera Maya
Our whale shark tour begins on arrival at Cancún airport, where you are met and transferred to our hotel. Enjoy a welcome dinner and orientation with our Expedition Leader this evening.
Day 2: Cenote Visit / Isla Holbox
After breakfast, we drive three hours north, bound for Holbox Island. Along the way we stop at a freshwater cenote, one of the Yucatán’s most enticing natural wonders, where those who wish may enjoy a refreshing swim or snorkel. Cenotes, fed by subterranean rivers, were sacred to the Mayans as entrances to the mythical underworld, and were their only source of fresh water in the jungle. Our journey continues to a Mayan community where we have a picnic lunch under hundred-year-old trees at an orchid sanctuary. Once we reach the north coast of the peninsula, we board our boat for the short ride to Holbox Island. Our tranquil destination is home to the tiny fishing village of Holbox, unspoiled beaches, streets of white sand, and abundant fresh seafood. Our hotel is set amid palm-studded gardens and fronts an expanse of inviting sandy beach.
Day 3: Swimming with Whale Sharks / Isla de los Pájaros
After an early breakfast, we set off in search of the whale sharks that migrate to this area between May and September. We generally find them 20 to 25 miles offshore, so our boat ride can take up to two hours. When we locate them, we enter the water two at a time with our guide, who helps us swim within arm’s reach of them for several minutes at a time. Whale sharks aren't actually whales at all, despite their enormous size—they are the biggest fish in the world, reaching up to 45 feet in length and weighing some 15 tons. They feed on plankton near the surface of the water and are easily visible with their distinctive gray and white-patterned skin. To be underwater with these enormous, gentle creatures is an experience that many describe as life-altering. We may also spot giant manta rays and bottlenose dolphins during our boat rides. This afternoon we travel by motorboat to Isla de Los Pájaros, a protected mangrove island that is a nesting sanctuary for flamingos, pelicans, roseate spoonbills, frigatebirds and cormorants.
Day 4: Whale Sharks / Island Tour
A second excursion offshore offers another magical encounter with the whale sharks. After lunch at our hotel, we explore the island Holbox-style—in golf carts! Our guides, who have years of experience exploring the island, know just where to take us to observe local wildlife and tropical birds in their natural environment.
Day 5: Puerto Morelos / Mesoamerican Reef Snorkeling
Bid farewell to Holbox’s charms this morning as we cruise back to the mainland and return to the Azul Beach Hotel. A submarine paradise awaits as we snorkel over the second largest coral reef in the world—located right in front of our hotel! This is the northern end of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef that stretches some 620 miles to Belize, an underwater ecosystem with myriad types of tropical marine life. Along with colorful coral and huge schools of fish, we’re likely to see sea turtles, manta rays and sponges in the transparent Caribbean waters. This fragile ecosystem, like most of the world’s coral reefs, is threatened by human impacts of pollution and global warming, and we leave more conscious of the critical need to protect its astounding biodiversity. This evening we'll enjoy a farewell dinner together.
Day 6: Cancún / Depart
Our whale shark adventure comes to a close as we transfer to the airport this morning for departing flights.
All This Included
Just off the tip of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula is a small island largely untouched by tourism, despite its proximity to Cancún. Isla Holbox might go unnoticed entirely, except for some unique visitors who come to its warm ocean waters each summer. Their presence is hard to ignore, since they average 40 feet long and weigh 15 tons. These are gentle whale sharks—not whales at all, despite their size, but actually the world’s largest fish. Docile and unafraid, they allow us to swim close enough to observe the checkerboard pattern of pale yellow dots and stripes covering their thick gray skin.
Airport transfers on Day 1 and final day only
Van and boat transportation between Puerto Morelos and Isla Holbox
Meals from dinner Day 1 to dinner Day 5
Purified drinking water during activities and purified drinking water and soft drinks at meals
Services of NHA Expedition Leaders
All permits, entrance fees and taxes
Alongside our naturalist Expedition Leaders, swim with enormous, friendly whale sharks – the world’s biggest fish!
Explore idyllic Holbox Island, a traditional fishing community with streets of white sand and virtually no cars
Visit Isla de los Pájaros – “Bird Island” – teeming with frigates, flamingos, pelicans, herons and egrets, and snorkel over the world's second-largest barrier reef
Holbox Island: Villas Paraiso del Mar
Bahia Petempich: Azul Beach Hotel
Group Size Limit: Approximately 15 Travelers.
Dates for 2016 are tentative and will be allocated to guests on a first-come-first-serve basis. 2016 fees may change slightly.
Not Included: Travel to and from start and end points of trip, early arrival or late departure airport transfers, meals on Day 6, alcoholic beverages, some gratuities, items of a personal nature (phone calls, laundry, internet, etc.), passport fees, optional travel insurance.
Physical Requirements: Moderate / Flexible. This adventure does not require a high degree of physical fitness. However, in order to be in the water with the whale sharks you are required to swim a minimum of 150 feet, and you must be able to climb a 4-rung vertical ladder to re-enter the boat by climbing over the side. Less agile swimmers or travelers unable to climb the ladder can view the whale sharks from the boat, which is also a wonderful nature experience. In order to join this trip, you must be able to climb stairs, as our accommodation on Holbox Island are bi-level and do not have elevators. Additionally, in order to participate in all activities, you should be able to walk unassisted a minimum of 1/2 mile, as this itinerary involves a series of short walks. Snorkeling is also an option during the trip. It is easy to learn, and we expect that most guests have little or no experience. Travelers should be aware that the heat and humidity may be very high and roads may be bumpy.
You should arrive in Cancún in time for dinner at 6 pm on Day 1 and can depart Cancún anytime on the final day.
Please ask your Vacations To Go travel counselor for more information.
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The prices shown are U.S. dollars per person, based on double occupancy, and subject to availability. Prices quoted for land/cruise arrangements are subject to increase without notice. Once we have received your deposit, land/cruise prices are guaranteed. Air prices quoted via phone or email are subject to increase and are guaranteed only from the time that full payment is received. Also, air prices or air promotions mentioned on this site or on the phone do not include baggage fees imposed by airlines.